Gary Kubiak, you have your work cut out for you.
The current coach of the defending champion Denver Broncos took a 12-4 team with a soon-to-be-retired quarterback to the promised land last season, upending the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl.
That game pitted two very defensive-minded coaches against one another in a game where pivots, one old in Peyton Manning and one young in Cam Newton, were nearly irrelevant.
This is Kubiak’s second head coaching job in the NFL and spoiler alert, he makes this list.
Many great coaches have graced the sidelines in NFL history, guiding monstrous men to new heights. And if you didn’t know it already, the Super Bowl trophy, which Kubiak hoisted in February, is named after one of them (spoiler alert again, he makes the list).
We have scoured the record books and have made our choices for the best head coaches of all 32 teams. In most cases, tie-breakers went to those with the most championships, regardless of winning percentage. Here they are, AFC to NFC.
New England Patriots – Bill Belichick
Might as well start with the greatest coach of the last 20 years, Bill Belichick. Love him or hate him, all he does is win and he could arguably be the greatest NFL head coach of all time. In 16 seasons, he has guided the Patriots to a sterling 187-69 record (.710 winning percentage). Even better, Belichick’s record in the post-season is 22-9, including four Super Bowl championships and six AFC championships. If not for an improbable loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, his 2007 team might have gone 19-0.
New York Jets – Wilbur Charles “Weeb” Eubank
In the 53 year history of the Jets, the team has had some good head coaches, like Bill Parcells, Rex Ryan and Herman Edwards. None were better, though, than Weeb Eubank. The Indiana native had already won two NFL championships with the Baltimore Colts (1958-59) when he took over the Jets in 1963 (they were the Titans for three years before that). His first three seasons, the Jets went 5-8-1 and didn’t post a winning record until 1967 (8-5-1). But, in 1968, with Joe Namath calling plays, the Jets broke through, going 11-3 and winning Super Bowl III against Don Shula and the Baltimore Colts.
Buffalo Bills – Marv Levy
The ranks of Buffalo Bills head coaches from the time the team entered the AFL in 1960 have included the likes of Lou Saban, Chuck Knox and now Rex Ryan. The name most synonymous with Bills success — and failure — however, is Marv Levy. Four straight years, Levy helmed the Bills to the Super Bowl, four times he came away a loser — do you remember “wide right!” Levy took over the team in 1986 and in 12 seasons posted eight winning records. Between 1990 and 1993, the Bills were a collective 49-15 and 9-4 in the playoffs. Overall, the Hall of Famer won 112 and lost 70 regular season games and went 11-8 in the post-season.
Miami Dolphins – Don Shula
Another who could lay claim to GOAT status as a NFL head coach would be the legendary Don Shula. For 26 years he held sway over the Fish, fashioning a 257-133-2 record (.659), including the only undefeated season in NFL history. Those 1972 Dolphins went 14-0 and then 3-0 in the post-season, culminating with a 14-7 victory over Washington in Super Bowl VII. It was the first of two Super Bowl victory for Shula and the Dolphins. Shula also won a NFL championship with Baltimore in 1968 and five AFC championships. His teams in Miami had winning records in 20 of 26 seasons.
Denver Broncos – Mike Shanahan
Dan Reeves could have been numero uno here and current coach Gary Kubiak might be sometime in the future. However, Mike Shanahan gets the nod, based on the fact that he was the first coach to guide the Broncos to a championship, doing it twice in 1997 and 1998. Reeves, a great coach in his own right, lost three Super Bowls in four seasons in the late 1980s. Kubiak, in just his first season at the controls last year, won a title. Shanahan had only two losing seasons in the 14 he spent in the Mile High City. His overall record as 138-86 (.616) and his playoff mark 8-5 (8-4 against other great head coaches).
Kansas City Chiefs – Hank Stram
The Chiefs first coach — even before they were the Chiefs — was also their best all-time. Hank Stram started his 17-year NFL head coaching career with the Dallas Texans of the old AFL, who turned into the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963. The Texans were AFL champions in 1962 and four years later Stram piloted the Chiefs to another AFL championship and a berth in Super Bowl I, which they lost to Green Bay. Stram and the Chiefs would return to the big game in 1969, winning the AFL championship again and beating Minnesota in Super Bowl IV. Stram coached 15 years with Dallas/K.C., winning 124, losing 76 and tying 10 (.620 winning percentage). He was 5-3 in the playoffs.
Oakland Raiders – John Madden
A .750 winning percentage is nearly unheard of this day in age. That John Madden was able to oversee his Raiders’ teams to a 103-32-7 record between 1969 and 1978 is astonishing. Of course, Madden and his crew would have to suffer through a loss in the AFL championship game in 1969, then four losses in the next six seasons in the AFC championship game. It all paid off in 1976, when the 13-1 Raiders ran the table in the playoffs and beat Minnesota 32-14 in Super Bowl XI. As far as regular season success went, Madden’s .750 winning percentage was even more meritorious when you consider he beat other great coaches of his day at a .660 clip (32-16-2 record and 6-5 in playoffs).
San Diego Chargers – Don Coryell
There was a pretty good reason that Don Coryell will be forever known as an innovator who’s football tenets still hold sway over modern day offences. In a nutshell, “Air Coryell.” He brought his pass heavy offence (that he honed as coach of San Diego State for over a decade) with him to the NFL. As a point of matter, two of Coryell’s assistants at SDSU were John Madden and Joe Gibbs (both of whom are on this list too). During his tenure with the Chargers (1978 to 1986), the Chargers led the NFL in passing (Dan Fouts was QB) for a record six consecutive seasons. Coryell’s record in San Diego was 69-56 in the regular season, 3-4 in playoffs.
Cincinnati Bengals – Marvin Lewis
With all due respect to Paul Brown, Marvin Lewis is the best head coach the Cincinnati Bengals have ever had. Sure he’s lost every playoff game he’s ever coached (0-7, thanks to Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones on that last one), but in the near 50-year history of the Bengals, they have only won exactly five (out of 19). Sam Wyche and Forrest Gregg got the Bengals to the Super Bowl (both losses), however, Lewis has the longest tenure by far (208 games and counting) and has guided the Bengals to the most consecutive winning seasons, five and counting since 2011. All he needs is a post-season breakthrough and that will end any argument here.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Chuck Noll
In terms of longevity, Pittsburgh has been home to just three head coaches since 1969. Incredible when you consider that AFC North rivals Cleveland are on their 18th in that same time frame. And, this was the toughest one to pick, considering that each of Chuck Noll, then Bill Cowher, and now Mike Tomlin have had Super Bowl success and outstanding regular seasons as well. But, Noll gets the nod based on games coached (342, 193-148-1; 16-8 playoff record) and the fact he won four Super Bowls with the Steelers. The Hall of Famer was at his best, too, when coaching against rivals like Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys, who he beat twice in the Super Bowl.
Baltimore Ravens – John Harbaugh
John Harbaugh is only 128 games into his reign as the Raven’s head coach and already he’s all-time. Yes, the Ravens were a disappointing 5-11 in 2015, yet, the sense is the Ravens won’t be down for long. In just eight seasons, Jim’s older brother has had six winning records and 77-51 overall record, a sterling 10-5 playoff mark and a Super Bowl championship. That title came at the expense of then-San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim. The elder Harbaugh had to earn everything he’s received thus far, too, spending 23 years as an assistant in the college and pro ranks.
Cleveland Browns – Paul Brown
If the late, great Paul Brown can view from the afterlife what has become of his beloved and eponymous Browns, he’d surely fall off his cloud in disbelief. Cleveland was never sorry under Brown, a forward thinker who used game films to study opponents, employed full-time assistant coaches and tested his players on their knowledge of the playbook. Considering the sad state of the team now, you’d think they threw out the game films and playbooks. Brown, who also founded the Cincinnati Bengals, coached the Browns to a 158-48-8 record, as well as 9-5 in the post-season and seven league championships (four times AAFC champs and three times NFL champs).
Houston Texans – Gary Kubiak
Kubiak is enjoying the fruits of his labors with the Denver Broncos — for a little while at least — having gone 12-4 with them in 2015 and putting the icing on that cake with a Super Bowl victory. We’ll boost his ego here as well and name him the best coach in the Texans very brief history. New coach Bill O’Brien actually has a winning record in two seasons (18-14), but a 0-1 playoff record doesn’t put him numero uno in our books. Kubiak didn’t finish his stint with more wins than losses (61-64), yet he managed to guide the Texans to their first of just two post-season victories with a win over Cincinnati in the 2011 wild card playoffs. That playoff victory followed Houston’s first ever AFC South title when they went 10-6.
Indianapolis Colts – Tony Dungy
Before the Colts moved to Indy, they had great bench bosses in Baltimore, including Don Shula (who is the Dolphins’ greatest), Weeb Eubank (Jets finest) and Ted Marchibroda. The mantle of Colts’ GOAT coach, though, goes to Dungy, the first African American coach to win a Super Bowl title. In 2006, the Colts were 36 years removed from a Super Bowl championship, won by the Baltimore version which had Johnny Unitas at QB. Dungy guided the Colts to a 12-4 record that season and ran the table all the way from the wild card at 4-0 to win it all. In seven seasons with Indianapolis, Dungy’s mark was an astounding 85-27 (.759) and 7-6 in the playoffs. He was voted into the Hall of Fame this year, deservedly so.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Tom Coughlin
We actually thought Coughlin is one of the better head coaches in New York Giants history, however, he lost to another legendary coach there. The consolation prize, though, is best coach in the Jaguars 21-year history. Their first head coach ever was successful pretty much from the get-go, taking a 4-12 team from their inaugural season to a 9-7 record in 1996 and an AFC championship berth (they lost to New England 20-6). Coughlin got the Jags to up their game in successive seasons, going 11-5 in both 1997 and 1998 and 14-2 in 1999. Ultimate post-season success was not to follow, with a loss in the wild card game in 1997, a defeat in the divisional playoffs in 1998 and another AFC title loss in 1999. Coughlin’s overall record with the Jags was 68-60 regular season and 4-4 in the playoffs.
Tennessee Titans – Jeff Fisher
The Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans employed the revolving door approach to head coaches from the time the team took the field in 1960. Lou Rymkus coached parts of two seasons and won a AFL championship and Wally Lemm coached nine games (as Rymkus’ replacement) and also won a title. Thereafter, no Oilers/Titans coach lasted more than 90 games until Fisher. Hired midway through the 1994 season to replace Jack Pardee, Fisher managed to remain bench boss for 262 games, winning 142 and losing 120. His playoff mark was a so-so 5-6, but he did get the Titans to their only Super Bowl appearance in 1999, losing to his future team, the Rams, 23-16.
Washington Redskins – Joe Gibbs
There was a time when Joe Gibbs wasn’t a NASCAR racing mogul. In fact, he was the best coach the Washington Redskins have ever had. So good, they brought him back for a second go-around. Gibbs, who first started coaching in D.C. in 1981, beat out George Allen for the ‘Skins GOAT coach. In his first 12 seasons on the sidelines, Gibbs record was an amazing 124-60. He won four NFC championships and three Super Bowl titles. The first one, XVII against Miami, came at the expense of fellow Hall of Famer Don Shula. Gibbs’ third and last one, XXVI versus Buffalo, he beat the Bills’ hard luck Marv Levy. Overall, Gibbs led the Redskins to a 154-94 record (.621) and a very impressive 17-7 post-season mark.
Philadelphia Eagles – Andy Reid
We’re sure to get arguments from the historians out there over our choice, since Greasy Neale won two championships during the team’s 1940s heyday. We like Andy Reid, though, who had a tough but long stint with the Eagles for 14 seasons. In 224 games, Reid’s Eagles won 130, lost 93 and tied one. In 19 playoff contest, Philly won 10 and lost nine. He got the Eagles all they way to Super Bowl XXXIX against New England after a 13-3 season in 2004, only to lost to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in a narrow 24-21 loss. That was the Eagles’ first appearance in the big game in 24 years, too.
New York Giants – Bill Parcells
Again, the football history aficionados may disagree with us here, but “the Tuna” is our greatest of all-time where the Giants are concerned. We like him over Steve Owen because he coached fewer than half the games (127 to Owen’s 268) and won the same number of championships (two). We also like him over Tom Coughlin, who doesn’t have as good a regular season record (.531 winning percentage to Parcells’ .611) and also the same number of titles at two. Parcells and the Giants went 14-2 in 1986, then 3-0 in the playoffs culminating in a Super Bowl XXI victory over the Denver Broncos. Four seasons later, the Tuna had the Giants back in the big game after going 13-3, winning Super Bowl XXV against Buffalo, 20-19.
Dallas Cowboys – Tom Landry
The argument is made here that Tom Landry, Hall of Famer, is the greatest coach in the history of the NFL. Between 1960 and 1988, Landry coached in 418 games in an astounding 29 seasons, all with Dallas, winning 250, losing 162 and tying six (.607 winning percentage). In the playoffs, Landry’s sure hand got the Cowboys five NFC championships and two Super Bowl wins (VI against Miami and XII over Denver). Landry will be forever known as a defensive innovator responsible for the 4-3 “flex” defence, made lethal by the “Doomsday Defence” of the 1970s.
Arizona Cardinals – Bruce Arians
The Cardinals have had many homes (Chicago, St. Louis, Phoenix) and many head coaches since 1920. They also have exactly one championship, won in 1947 by Jimmy Conzelman. There have been a few other good ones like him, such as Curly Lambeau and Don Coryell for brief periods. We’re giving the nod to current coach Arians, though, since Conzelman’s legacy was tainted by an original stint where the Cards went 8-22-3 under his guidance (he was 26-9 in the second championship-winning incarnation). Arians, who has yet to taste a Super Bowl victory cigar, has started his NFL career off the right way, winning 34 of his first 48 games with Arizona and going 1-2 in the playoffs. He’s a keeper.
Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll
If Bill Belichick has an equal in the NFC, our vote would go to Seattle’s Carroll. Since 2010, he is one of the winningest coaches in the NFL, going 60-36 (.667 percentage) in the regular season and 8-4 in the playoffs. In just his fourth season, Carroll took the Seahawks all the way to a Super Bowl championship with a 13-3 regular season and 3-0 record in the post-season capped by a 43-8 thrashing of the Denver Broncos in the title game. Only a questionable play call in Super Bowl XLIX against New England (resulting in a 28-24 loss) kept him from two titles in a row. We have to say, in this day and age with free agency and parity, Carroll is one of the better ones.
Los Angeles Rams – Chuck Knox
There is still time for current coach Jeff Fisher, who we tabbed as best in Tennessee Titans history, to become the greatest coach in Rams’ history too. Just not yet. So, while Dick Vermeil won a title with the Rams in 1999, it seemed kind of fluky, in that he had a miserable record for two seasons leading up to that championship season. For our money, Chuck Knox, who had two stints, was their best coach. He presided over five great years in the 1970s (73-77), winning 54 and losing just 15 (with one tie). Voted coach of the year in 1973 (he won the award three times), playoff success was that year was elusive, as it was in four consecutive seasons after that. Overall, he was 69-48-1 in eight campaigns and 3-5 in playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers – Bill Walsh
Sorry George Seifert, but Bill Walsh narrowly beats you for GOAT coach of the 49ers. By the narrowest of margins, three Super Bowl titles to two, Walsh is our guy. Seifert may have had a better regular season slate (98-30 to Walsh’s 92-59-1), but Walsh presided over one of the greatest dynasties (ie Joe Montana and Jerry Rice) the team and game has known. Walsh went 2-14 in his rookie season of 1979, yet by 1981 the Niners were 13-3 and Super Bowl champions. He proved it was no fluke in 1984 when San Fran nearly completed a perfect season, with only a 20-17 mid-season loss to Pittsburgh marring what could have been. The late Walsh capped his outstanding career behind the Niners’ bench with a 10-6 mark in 1988 and a third Super Bowl championship.
Minnesota Vikings – Bud Grant
Very few coaches have had the opportunity to coach in four Super Bowls and very few, like Marv Levy, have had the misfortune of losing all four. Even still, Minnesota’s Bud Grant is the team’s best all-time and enjoyed a stellar 18-year career patrolling the Vikes’ sideline. A member of both the Football Hall of Fame and Canadian Football Hall of Fame (he won four Grey Cups with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before crossing over to the NFL), Grant posted career numbers of 158 wins, 96 losses and five ties with Minnesota. The Vikes were NFL champs under Grant in 1969, before losing to Kansas City in Super Bowl IV. His Vikes would also be NFC champions again in 1973, 1974 and 1976.
Green Bay Packers – Vince Lombardi
How could you not name the guy for whom the championship trophy is named as the greatest in Packers’ history? Now, it was hardly a slam dunk, but there is little argument that quote machine Lombardi is it. Before Lombardi there was Curly Lambeau (who the stadium is named for) and after we have seen Mike Holmgren and Mike McCarthy, both great in their own right. Lombardi’s winning percentage, though, in the regular season, stands as the team’s best (.753; 89-29-4) and his 9-1 mark in the playoffs is unparalleled. The man who said “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” lost his very first playoff game and 1960 and never lost another after. His Packers would win the first two Super Bowls in NFL history and neither of them by less than two touchdowns.
Detroit Lions – Buddy Parker
Like the Cleveland Browns, there was a time when the Detroit Lions didn’t suck so much. And you have to go back many years, about 60 to be exact, when the Lions regularly ruled the football kingdom. Buddy Parker was in charge between 1951 and 1956, fashioning a 47-23-2 record in six seasons. He guidance led to two straight NFL championships in 1952 and 1953. Parker went 9-3 in 1956, but lost in the NFL championship, while his successor, George Wilson, won an NFL championship in 1957 when the Lions were 8-4. The Texas native also coached eight seasons with Pittsburgh before retiring in 1964.
Chicago Bears – George Halas
We have to say the Chicago Bears have been blessed with some excellent coaches since the team first started chucking the pigskin in anger in 1920. And the first of them, George Halas, was also greatest. Known also as “Papa Bear” and “Mr. Everything”, Halas was a player, coach, owner and football pioneer. He first started coaching the Bears, known as the Decatur (then Chicago) Staleys in 1920 and would coach his 497th and last game with the team in 1967. Halas would retire with a 318-148-31 record — in many separate stints — and five NFL championships. Curiously, he had teams like the 1948 Bears who finished with a 10-2 record, but didn’t make the championship game. Halas finished with a 6-3 career playoff mark.
Carolina Panthers – Ron Rivera
The Panthers’ aren’t a storied franchise, yet, but give it time. Under the tutelage of coach Ron Rivera and with a great young arm in Cam Newton, the Panthers could be dynastic sooner, than later. Rivera, like John Fox before him, has had to suck back the bitter taste of a Super Bowl defeat, but it doesn’t mean he isn’t a great coach. Rivera gets tabbed as greatest for his career winning percentage of .596, which is highest among the four who have coached the ‘Cats. Overall, Rivera is 47-32 -1 and 3-2 in the playoffs, including that 24-10 loss to Denver in Super Bowl 50. The California native paid his dues as a NFL assistant coach for 13 years and he’s collecting on them now.
Atlanta Falcons – Mike Smith
The pickins’, as they say in Georgia, are completely slim when it comes to great Atlanta Falcons’ coaches. Exactly three coaches in their 50-year history have winning records and one of them, Wade Phillips, hardly qualifies having coached just three games (2-1 record). Of the other two, Leeman Bennett was 46-41 between 1977 and 1982 and Smith logged a Falcons’ best 66-46 mark (.589 winning percentage). Smith was able to guide the Falcons to five straight winning seasons between 2008 and 2012, but those teams would only win one playoff game in five. Smith was AP coach of the year in 2008 and Sporting News COY in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
New Orleans Saints – Sean Payton
Payton’s had some pretty great predecessors, including Mike Ditka and Jim Mora, so the fact he is the team’s greatest holds water. The best coach the Saints have known in their nearly 50-year history has forged a commendable 87-57 record in two stints, as well as a 6-4 playoff mark and a Super Bowl championship in 2009. The 2009 AP coach of the year rose through the NFL’s assistant coaching ranks and took a Saints’ squad to its highest ever heights in 2009 when they beat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. The only blemish on an otherwise great career would be “Bountygate.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jon Gruden
The Bucs have had exactly two winning coaches in 40 years and they would be Tony Dungy — our pick for the Colts’ top coach — and Jon Gruden. The latter is our selection here for the fact that he was better in the playoffs and won the team’s only Super Bowl (XXXVI after a 12-4 campaign in 2002). Gruden helmed the club from 2002 until 2008. He coached the Oakland Raiders from 1998 to 2001 and then took the Buccaneers from an also-ran 9-7 team in 2001 to that 12-4 record and a championship in 2002. His teams wouldn’t fare as well later in his tenure, but consider that since he was fired at the end of the ’08 season, Tampa has had one winning record and five seasons of 10 or more losses.