Ranking the 2017 NFL Head Coaches

By Jason Lisk
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[Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of the story below misstated the number of recent championship game appearances by the Packers under Mike McCarthy.]

Which NFL coach would you take for the next few years? These NFL coaching rankings are trying to not only look back, but are also forward-looking. Thus, I am including coaches who have not coached a game yet. I’m trying to predict which coaches I would want and who I think are most likely to have success in the near future and still be coaching in four years

#1 Bill Belichick

 

#2 Pete Carroll

The old guys are dominating the top of the coaching ranks. Pete Carroll seems like a young 65, and the Seahawks have won at least 10 games in five straight years. Not bad for a guy that was once fired after one season with the Jets.

#3 Mike Tomlin

Mike Tomlin is still only 45 years old, has 103 career wins, and has never had a losing season in Pittsburgh. He bristles at perception as a “player’s coach” but he’s more than ably succeeded the Cowher decade for more than a decade.

#4 Dan Quinn

Too high? Well, consider that Dan Quinn already reached a Super Bowl in his second season, and was a highly successful coordinator before that. Atlanta will be replacing Kyle Shanahan at offensive coordinator and this season will test Quinn as the Falcons look to bounce back from the Super Bowl collapse.

#5 John Harbaugh

The Ravens have been in a relatively down period in the last few years, after the Super Bowl win. John Harbaugh had reached the postseason in each of the first five years in Baltimore, and is still one of the best there is.

#6 Andy Reid

Yes, Andy Reid has his clock management issues, and he’s not Belichick. He’s also won consistently for 15 years with a slew of different quarterbacks, and the Chiefs just drafted another one for him to develop.

#7 Sean Payton

Sean Payton has his flaws and the team cannot get the defense right, resulting in three straight 7-9 seasons. If he were fired in New Orleans, he would be snapped up quickly elsewhere just like Reid was in Kansas City, for a team looking for an offensive overhaul.

#8 Mike McCarthy

The Packers have made the playoffs eight straight years with Mike McCarthy in charge and Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. How long can the relationship continue? McCarthy reached the NFC Championship Game season last year after a very slow start, the second appearance in three years, and is back off any hot seat set by heightened expectations of always being in contention.

#9 Bruce Arians

Bruce Arians took awhile to get a NFL head coaching job, but he has shown his detractors to be wrong. The Colts best season of the Luck/Pagano era came when Arians was filling in as interim, and last year was his first losing season. Look for the Cardinals to rebound this year.

#10 Jack Del Rio

Jack Del Rio continued chopping wood and got his second chance in Oakland and has rebuilt the team into a contender, and his time in Jacksonville looks very successful in retrospect, in comparison to what has happened with the Jaguars since he was fired.

#11 Ron Rivera

Ron Rivera was still on the hot seat until the Panthers surged to the Super Bowl two years ago, but then the team failed to respond after the Super Bowl loss and got off to a horrible start a year ago. This seems like a crossroads season that will determine if Rivera coaches for awhile or not.

#12 Adam Gase

Adam Gase rose through the coaching ranks quickly, was part of some dominant passing offenses with Peyton Manning in Denver, had a successful season in Chicago, and immediately turned around the Miami Dolphins in his first year as a head coach. The future is bright for Gase and I expect him to make be around for awhile.

#13 Kyle Shanahan

I’m sure putting a guy who hasn’t coached yet is an eye opener, but if we are projecting forward, Kyle Shanahan fits some of the check marks for a successful candidate. A guy who is still young but has been a coordinator in a variety of situation, Shanahan should be able to turn around the 49ers eventually. Many of the most successful hires were hot coordinators in their mid-to-late 30’s (

#14 Ben McAdoo

He would rank much lower on fashion and hipness lists, but Ben McAdooimmediately came in and helped revitalize a Giants team that had been slipping over the last several years of the Coughlin era.

#15 Jason Garrett

I’m sure there are some that would want Jason Garrett much higher, after last season. But that marked only his 2nd playoff appearance in six years, with only one playoff win. Garrett is another disappointing season, with higher expectations, from being out, so I cannot put him higher.

#16 Marvin Lewis

How long will Marvin Lewis continue to coach, while having zero career playoff wins? He falls squarely in the middle of these rankings, ahead of the uncertainties but certainly no lock himself. He did survive an off year last season with injuries, but I’m not sure he will be back if the Bengals don’t rebound.

#17 Mike Zimmer

Zimmer is another guy who didn’t get his shot for awhile, but has done well. His health issues (with multiple eye surgeries) and uncertainty with his offense make his longterm outlook cloudy.

#18 Mike Mularkey

Mularkey is getting his third opportunity and we’ll see if it is a charm. Expectations in Tennessee are heightened after 9-7 a year ago, and offensive additions to aid Marcus Mariota. Those expectations will raise the pressure if they do not deliver in 2017.

#19 Bill O’Brien

Positives: Bill O’Brien has gone 9-7 in each of the last three years, and made the postseason twice, while having a revolving door at QB. Negatives: some of the QB issues are of O’Brien’s own doing and that’s supposed to be his side of the ball. He gets a chance to develop DeShaun Watson now, but the leash may be short because Houston has gotten away with being in a weak division until now.

#20 Jay Gruden

Gruden navigated the Robert Griffin III/Kirk Cousins drama and has put up decent enough results with Dan Snyder as owner, which is no small task. The team could not hold on to a playoff spot a year ago, and with attrition and Cousins’ contract still up in the air, it feels like a tenuous season for Gruden.

#21 Dirk Koetter

Koetter got to go from offensive coordinator to taking over in Tampa Bay, and the team finished with 9 wins. He’s not young, so don’t expect a long leash if the Bucs can’t get into the postseason soon with Jameis Winston at QB.

#22 Anthony Lynn

Most new coaches fail, and Lynn has the extra burden of going to a new market with the Chargers’ move. While it may seem like taking a non-coordinator is a risk, usually guys that get promoted from a background where they weren’t longtime coordinators have had some success initially. With Rivers in place and a team that had a ton of injuries (and soul crushing losses with Mike McCoy) the possibility for a rebound is there.

#23 Sean McVay

McVay is younger than some of the players he will be coaching. The recent history of young hires is a mixed bag, with plenty of collossal busts. Then again, he is a complete change from the dour Jeff Fisher era, and McVay is expected to develop Jared Goff.

#24 Doug Marrone

The Marrone saga in Buffalo was one of the most bizarre in a league full of drama. He’s now resurfaced with a Jacksonville team that has been down for too long. Expectations will be low early, and Marrone will get his opportunity to salvage Blake Bortles after a tough season a year ago.

#25 Sean McDermott

Sean McDermott showed you don’t have to bolt immediately after a Super Bowl run, as he still got a job a year later, when Carolina regressed. McDermott is going into a Buffalo situation where people graduating high school have never seen a Bills playoff win. He will hope the bald look works for him as much as it did for Dan Quinn a year ago.

#26 Vance Joseph

Vance Joseph goes into a situation with an established defense, but also expectations and no sure thing on offense anymore. I don’t expect a long leash if Joseph can’t get the Broncos to rebound to the playoffs.

#27 Doug Pederson

I might be unfair here, but I didn’t see much out of Pederson a year ago that screamed future star at coaching. He was an interesting hire anyway, and is not young as far as coaching prospects go. The Eagles started hot a year ago, but the offense was a mess for most of the season. This seems like a year when they must make the leap or Pederson will be on the hot seat.

#28 Chuck Pagano

It is a bit surprising that Pagano was retained, but even with Ryan Grigson out, Pagano doesn’t have much room for error. The Colts have missed the playoffs the last two years in a weak division, and it seems like we are wasting Andrew Luck prime years.

#29 Hue Jackson

Jackson gets this year to show some promise in Cleveland after last year’s 1-15 debacle. The expectations aren’t for the playoffs, as the Browns accumulate future assets, but they are to look like a far more competent team that can be competitive in games.

#30 Jim Caldwell

The Lions weren’t a great team but won close games. Those things tend to even out, and if they do, Caldwell won’t be long for Detroit. Making the playoffs at 9-7 kept him on for one more season.

#31 John Fox

With Jeff Fisher finally out of coaching, John Fox takes the role of veteran coach collecting checks. The Bears don’t seem to have much hope, and Fox’s .533 career win percentage could dip even lower.

#32 Todd Bowles

Fair or not, Bowles is dead man walking. The Jets’ roster is depleted, and the team imploded a year ago after a surprising 10-win season in 2015. The list of coaches like Bowles, defensive coordinator types who have a decent first year but collapse in year two, isn’t promising.

 

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