The Greatest Football Coaches In NFL History

Many men have strolled the sidelines of NFL games as a head coach, but few of them have left a long-standing impact on football. The league has now existed for more than a century but the all-time great coaches have never been forgotten by lovers of the game, whether it was because of their innovations, their personal style or simply the way they collected wins.

After looking through the record books for all NFL coaches, with detailed stats provided by Pro Football Reference, we’ve chosen the best to ever lead a pro football team. Did your favorite coach make the cut?

25. Mike Shanahan (1988-2013)

It took legendary Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway more than a decade to win a Super Bowl, but under Mike Shanahan’s tutelage, he won two of them. Aside from those two championships with Denver in the late 1990s, Shanahan had a 20-season career that was full of victories. He racked up a record of 170-138, giving him a .552 winning percentage — including a .616 winning percentage during his time with the Broncos. He also had brief stints with the Los Angeles Raiders and Washington Redskins, taking the latter team to the playoffs in 2012, just a year before his retirement.

24. Bill Cowher (1992-2006)

When Bill Cowher took over for Chuck Noll as the Steelers head coach in 1992, he was stepping into mighty big shoes. He turned out to be a brilliant replacement, making the playoffs in his first six seasons on the job and leading the team to 10 playoff appearances and two Super Bowl appearances in his 15-season career. His overall record was 149-90-1, making for a very respectable .623 winning percentage. He’s one of the few figures in all of sports to go out on top, retiring from the game less than a year after winning the 2006 Super Bowl, his only ring.

23. Tom Flores (1979-1994)

Tom Flores made history in 1981 by becoming the first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl but his career was more than just that anecdote. As a player, he won a championship with the Kansas City Chiefs before he switched to coaching and led the Oakland Raiders to two titles within four years. He spent 12 seasons as a head coach, going 97-87 and 8-3 in the playoffs, including 2-0 in the big game. His .727 winning percentage in the postseason is one of the best marks in history.

22. Tom Coughlin (1995-2015)

Consistently underrated during his long career leading NFL teams, Tom Coughlin is one of only two coaches able to say he beat Bill Belichick’s Patriots in a Super Bowl — a feat he accomplished twice. Those two thrilling championships came with the New York Giants in 2008 and 2012 but he already had built a hell of a resume before that. As the inaugural head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1995-2002, he led the new franchise to two AFC Championship Games, which might be even more impressive than making Eli Manning into a two-time champion.

In 20 seasons on the job, Coughlin won 170 games and was 12-7 in the playoffs.

21. Mike Holmgren (1992-2008)

The case could be made that Mike Holmgren is the best eligible coach that hasn’t been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 17 seasons as a head coach with the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, Holmgren led his teams to 12 playoff appearances and three Super Bowl appearances, going 1-2 in the big game. His .592 career winning percentage is also stellar. Holmgren deserves plenty of credit for being a quarterback whisperer, going back to his days as the quarterbacks coach for the 49ers, helping guys like Joe Montana, Steve Young, Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck reach their full potential.

20. Andy Reid (1999-Present)

Andy Reid’s 203 regular season wins are the seventh-most in history — and the second-most among active coaches — but his legacy still gets dinged for not yet winning a Super Bowl in 21 seasons on the job with the Eagles and Chiefs. In fact, his 12-14 record in the playoffs is the first thing detractors will point out, but Reid’s .613 winning percentage in the regular season can’t be argued with. If Reid does finally earn that ring, he’ll be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer unquestionably. Even without the ring, he should be destined to land in Canton.

19. Tony Dungy (1996-2008)

In his final season as a head coach, Tony Dungy capped off an unprecedented run of leading his teams to the playoffs 10 consecutive times, a span that covered his final three years with Tampa Bay and his entire tenure with the Indianapolis Colts. In those years with the Colts, from 2002-2008, Dungy went 85-27 for an insane winning percentage of .759 and a Super Bowl win. Despite all those playoff appearances, he was only 9-10 in the postseason but finishing your career at 139-69, which is 70 games above .500, makes you one of the all-time greats.

The fact that he became the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl in 2007 was just icing.

18. Sean Payton (2006-Present)

Since 2006, Sean Payton has been the coach of the New Orleans Saints, turning them into one of the most dependable winners in the league after decades of misery for their fans. In 13 seasons, he’s gone 128-76, for a career winning percentage of .627, which is the third-best mark among all active coaches. In that time, Payton has an 8-6 record in the playoffs and a 1-0 record in the Super Bowl, which he won in 2010 with the help of one of the bravest calls in the history of the game.

17. John Harbaugh (2008-Present)

The careers of Sean Payton and John Harbaugh have been remarkably similar but we gave the nod to the latter because of Payton’s involvement in the Saints “bountygate” scandal and his dependability on Drew Brees. As the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens since 2008, Harbaugh has overseen some drastic personnel changes — like the retirements of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and the benching of Joe Flacco for Lamar Jackson — keeping the team as one of the league’s most feared teams all the while. In 12 seasons, he’s gone 114-74 in the regular season, for a .606 winning percentage, and 10.6 in the playoffs, for a .625 winning percentage.

In 2013, he led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory, cementing his status as one of the great modern coaches.

16. Pete Carroll (1994-Present)

In the middle of his NFL career, Pete Carroll decided to coach college football, turning the USC Trojans into one of the game’s great dynasties, winning two national championships. When he came back to the NFL in 2010, he quickly cleared a path for himself on this list. In his tenure with the Seattle Seahawks since that year, Carroll has gone 99-56, for a .638 winning percentage, and seven playoff appearances. Overall, his career winning percentage — including his time with the Patriots and Jets — is .602, which is still outstanding, but when you throw in his 2014 Super Bowl ring, he vaults up the list.

15. George Seifert (1989-2001)

George Seifert was part of the coaching staff for all five of the Super Bowl wins for the San Francisco 49ers franchise, including leading two of them as the head coach. He took over for the legendary Bill Walsh in 1989 and didn’t miss a beat, basically torching the rest of the league for 11 seasons. He went 114-62 in the regular season, for a .648 winning percentage and a 10-5 record in the playoffs for a .667 winning percentage. In his eight seasons as the 49ers head coach, his teams never posted a record worse than 10-6 and only missed the playoffs once.

14. Hank Stram (1960-1977)

One of the most likable head coaches in NFL history, Hank Stram may be most famous for his suave sideline style and expert use of the word “matriculate” when pumping up his players. Aside from those obvious attributes, Stram was a genius when it came to tinkering with the game, helping turn it into the modern sport it is today. He pioneered the I formation and the use of dual tight ends, not to mention introducing the NFL to Gatorade. Stram spent nearly his entire career with the Kansas City Chiefs, winning two championships and going 131-97-10 as a head coach.

13. Bill Parcells (1983-2006)

The New York Giants were a complete joke when Bill Parcells took over as head coach in 1983, but when he left in 1990, they had won two Super Bowls and were the toast of the league. In addition to his two rings, “The Big Tuna” finished his 19-season career with a mark of 172-130-1 and an 11-8 mark in the playoffs. An expert mentor of fellow masterminds, Parcells’ coaching tree is legendary and includes three guys on this list.

12. Guy Chamberlin (1922-1927)

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Guy Chamberlin’s nickname was “Champ” and it couldn’t be more fitting. There was no more efficient coach in football history, with Chamberlin’s teams winning four championships in his career, which lasted only six seasons. He won those titles with three different clubs, a feat that’s never been matched by another coach, and his .784 career winning percentage is the best in history even 90 years later.

11. Chuck Noll (1969-1991)

There are only two NFL head coaches who won at least four Super Bowls in their tenures and Chuck Noll was the first to do it. He spent his entire 23-season career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, leading those legendary “Steel Curtain” teams to 12 playoff appearances and a perfect 4-0 mark in the big game. Other than the many rings, Noll’s regular season record of 193-148-1 isn’t quite as incredible but he was clearly a master in the postseason, where he went 16-8.

10. Curly Lambeau (1919-1953)

There’s a good reason the Green Bay Packers have played their home games at Lambeau Field since 1965, the year Curly Lambeau died. The formidable coach co-founded the team in 1919 and led it as a player and coach, acting as the team’s head coach from that year until 1949. In that lengthy span, Lambeau dominated the league with a revolutionary passing game, winning six NFL championships from 1929-1944. Overall for his career as a head coach, Lambeau won 226 games and racked up a winning percentage of .631, which is remarkable when you consider it was over the course of more than 30 seasons.

9. John Madden (1969-1978)

Few people have left the kind of impact on football that John Madden did — and that’s despite him having a relatively short tenure as a head coach. In just 10 seasons on the job, all with the Oakland Raiders, Madden took his teams to the playoffs eight times and won a Super Bowl. His teams basically never lost, with him amassing an incredible winning percentage of .759 on a regular season record of 103-32-7. That winning percentage is the second best among all head coaches in history, slightly better than Vince Lombardi’s mark of .738.

Beyond his coaching career, Madden left a permanent impact on many football fans with his career as a TV analyst from 1979-2008 and by lending his name to one of the world’s most popular sports video game franchises, “Madden NFL.”

8. Tom Landry (1960-1988)

Another constant innovator was Cowboys icon Tom Landry, who coached Dallas for his entire career. He masterminded the now-standard 4-3 defense and won a remarkable 250 games. He posted a career .607 winning percentage over the course of 29 seasons, winning five NFC Championships. Landry — and his trademark hat — were 20-16 in the playoffs and 2-3 in the Super Bowl, making him one of those rare multiple winners of the Lombardi Trophy. He remains the benchmark of what all Cowboys coaches should be compared to, even if none have yet matched him.

7. Joe Gibbs (1981-2007)

When the Washington Redskins ruled the football world, it was because of Joe Gibbs’ excellent leadership. In 16 seasons as a head coach, all in Washington, Gibbs led the team to 10 playoff appearances and four Super Bowls, winning three of them in a nine-year span. Overall, he went 154-94, for a .621 winning percentage in the regular season and a stunning 17-7, for a .708 winning percentage in the playoffs. After he initially retired in 1992, the Redskins coaxed Gibbs back for a four-season run in 2004 that included two playoff appearances.

6. Bill Walsh (1979-1988)

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When you think of California cool and West Coast-style football, Bill Walsh has to be the guy who comes to mind. He engineered the dynasty of the San Francisco 49ers that dominated the NFL for more than a decade starting in the 1980s. Aside from his impeccable use of a collared shirt on the sideline, Walsh was simply a winning machine. In 10 seasons at the helm, his 49ers made the playoffs seven times and went 3-0 in the Super Bowl. Along with his .609 career winning percentage, Walsh was known as an excellent mentor of budding coaches, with six men on this list being able to trace their careers back to his coaching tree.

5. George Halas (1920-1967)

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Now we’re getting into the true Mount Rushmore-worthy coaches of football history and George Halas would be the George Washington of that group. “Papa Bear” was a co-founder of the NFL and the founder and first coach of the Chicago Bears, a team he led for a record 40 seasons. In that marathon span, Halas amassed 318 wins and a .682 winning percentage in the regular season, which is the 10th-best ever. His Bears teams also won six championships, which ties him at second among all coaches.

Halas is remembered not only for winning a ton of games but for opening the game up to a mass audience, pioneering the practice of having his games broadcast over the radio.

4. Don Shula (1963-1995)

There’s only one coach in NFL history to complete a perfect season with a Super Bowl win at the end of it and that’s Don Shula. That legendary 1972 Miami Dolphins campaign is only one reason he deserves a place among the all-time great coaches, though. In 33 seasons as a head coach, Shula won 328 games and took his teams to 19 playoff appearances, both of which are the most in history. His mark of 2-4 in the Super Bowl is less than stellar but appearing in six of them is a feat in itself. The fact that anyone could have a .677 winning percentage despite coaching in nearly 500 games is a true testament to Shula’s timeless brilliance.

3. Paul Brown (1946-1975)

You know you were a pretty damn good coach when an entire team is named after you. Ohio football legend Paul Brown was the founding coach of both the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals, the former team being named for him and the latter team still playing in a stadium that bears his name. During his remarkable career, Brown earned a record of 213-104-9 but it was his 158-48 record with the Browns that is truly stellar. The seven championships he won with the Browns are still the most for any NFL head coach and his innovations in the game make him one of the true icons.

Brown was the first coach to use game film to scout opponents and the first to hire a staff of coordinators to help call plays, two things that are cornerstones of the modern game.

2. Vince Lombardi (1959-1969)

There might be no name in NFL history that carries as much weight as Vince Lombardi’s — and there are several great reasons for that. The iconic Packers coach steamrolled his opponents in just a 10-year career, winning five championships, including the first two Super Bowls. His 9-1 record in the playoffs is incredible, leading to a .900 winning percentage that is the best in NFL postseason history. His regular seasons were no less lopsided, as he went 96-34-6, for a .738 winning percentage that is the third best in history.

If he hadn’t tragically died of cancer in 1970, cutting short his brilliant career, it’s unthinkable how many more wins Lombardi, pictured kneeling below, could’ve racked up.

1. Bill Belichick (1991-Present)

The greatest chess master in football history, Bill Belichick has been able to dominate the game at a time when its athletes and coaches are more prepared than they’ve ever been. In 25 seasons so far with the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots, “The Hoodie” has won a record six Super Bowls and has coached in nine of them overall — and that doesn’t include the two he won as a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants. Belichick has amassed a record of 271-125 for a .684 winning percentage in the regular season and a stunning record of 31-11 for a .738 winning percentage in the playoffs.

There’s simply no more feared coach in football history than Belichick, who hasn’t had a losing season since 2000.