Great teams have great coaches and great coaches are usually at the foundation of a team’s potential Super Bowl run.
New England’s Bill Belichick is as responsible for the Patriots’ six Super Bowl titles as Tom Brady has been. Sean McVay’s youth is inspiring a wildfire in the NFL with teams looking for that next young coordinator that could be their next great head coach. With a healthy Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson could have the Eagles back in the Super Bowl once again, giving hope to all career backup quarterbacks.
Here are the top 10 NFL head coaches entering this season:
10) Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
Matt Nagy has only coached in the NFL for one season. In that one year, he turned around a disappointing franchise, transformed a potential bust of a quarterback into the signal caller of one of the best scoring offenses of the league, and earned the Coach of the Year award for it all.
The Bears finished with a top-10 scoring offense and the best defense in the NFL with their first NFC North crown since 2010 and their first winning record since 2012 – all of this following four straight seasons in the basement of the division. If Cody Parkey makes that potential game-winning 43-yard field goal in the final seconds, the Bears could’ve went a lot further than the wild card.
But Nagy is only heading into his second season at the helm, and while he has the team heading in the right direction, he could also suffer from a sophomore slump, sending the Bears back to where they just were, in the basement. The kicker to Nagy’s success in 2019, and his place on this list, is finding the right kicker. Nagy and the Bears’ lingering memories of just how they lost the last game of the year has carried into their offseason camps and Nagy’s biggest decision of the season may be one nobody ever really thinks about.
9) Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts
Frank Reich was born to be a head coach, like his father before him. He just had a lot to learn and, at the beginning of the season, he learned everything under fire. Like Nagy above him on this list, Reich is another head coach that could also suffer from a sophomore slump in 2019. That still doesn’t take away from what he did with a struggling franchise and a struggling quarterback in Andrew Luck.
Reich, who’s most known for orchestrating one of the NFL’s greatest comebacks with the Buffalo Bills back in the early 90s, did similarly with a Colts franchise that suffered through three seasons without a winning record and resurrected a battered quarterback. While the focus was placed on the Colts offense, it was really their defense that guided the team’s turnaround on the field last season, finishing in the top 10 in 2018 after spending the previous three seasons in the bottom third of the league.
But, again, Reich is only entering his second season as a head coach, and the start to his first season didn’t go well at all with Indianapolis losing five of their first six games. But, like a true comeback artist, he led the Colts to a wild card berth, becoming just the second team ever to start 1-5 and reach the playoffs. His true value at the helm could be dictated in how he gets the Colts to build off of their successful 2018 campaign, especially if he doesn’t have another slow start.
8) Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t have a great season in Pittsburgh last year. Now only did the team miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013, the Steelers were a complete mess both on and off of the field. He mishandled both the Le’Veon Bell season-long holdout and the season-long reality drama that was Antonio Brown.
For what it’s worth, Tomlin might be wearing out his welcome in Pittsburgh. That’s a possibly weird idea considering that Tomlin’s been as consistent as one can be throughout 12 seasons at the helm, 12 seasons that include a pair of Super Bowl appearances (one win) in eight trips to the playoffs. The Steelers have also only missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons once under Tomlin.
Although he bungled both Bell and Brown’s situations, he is still one of the best leaders and coaches in the league, and his overall body of work earns him some benefit of the doubt that 2018 was just a blip on the radar heading into what should be a turnaround season for the Steelers.
7) Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers
Entering his third season at the helm, Anthony Lynn has the Chargers trending in a steep, upward direction. Whether or not they maintain it will be seen in 2019.
Lynn has drastically improved the Chargers from mediocre to legitimate contender. They went from nine wins in Lynn’s 2017 debut to 12 wins and an appearance in the AFC Divisional round last year where they lost to eventual Super Bowl champion New England, marking their first playoff appearance since 2013.
But the question surrounding Lynn entering 2019 is whether or not his run-focused offense can work in a spread, run-pass option era of the NFL. In Lynn’s two seasons, L.A.’s rushing yards increased from 1,595 in 2017 to 1,873 last season in less carries, (419 to 399) due to better run productivity, but with an aging Philip Rivers the Chargers should be more run focused, which as worked so far.
Lynn’s biggest accomplishment would be a second-straight trip to the postseason, something the Chargers haven’t done since making four-straight trips to the postseason from 2006-2009, a stretch that included one trip to the AFC conference championship game in 2007. The only team that really stands in Lynn and the Chargers’ way is Kansas City, which the Chargers showed they can handle well in their late-season win at Arrowhead last year.
6) Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
In ways like Mike Tomlin has been in Pittsburgh, Pete Carroll has been consistent since arriving in Seattle in 2010.
However, since their pair of Super Bowl trips in 2013 and 2014, the Seahawks and their “Legion of Boom” have been a shell of what we all saw at the beginning of his tenure, reaching the playoffs in three of the last four seasons since their Super Bowl loss to New England after the 2014 season. The question is whether he can get out of his offenses’ way in 2019. Russell Wilson threw just 427 times in 2018, his least since 2013, which, in the end, cost Seattle in the playoffs, although his shell of a defense still held their own.
Despite those downsides, he’s still one of the best, consistent, and most reliable coaches in the NFL.
5) Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
It’s not easy to turn a once-damaged quarterback into a surefire Hall of Famer, but Sean Payton has done that with Drew Brees at the helm. The only problem between the two isn’t what they’ve done statistically on the field, but what they haven’t done trophy-wise.
Payton has only been to one Super Bowl in his tenure as the Saints head coach and three NFC title games in 12 years, including last year against the Rams. But he’s also missed the playoffs with three-straight 7-9 campaigns from 2014-2016. In short, while he’s not a bad coach and has created one of the greatest offenses in the league, he also hasn’t been consistent, and with Brees getting up there in age, one can only wonder what Payton’s coaching life would be with another quarterback.
4) Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles
They also didn’t start their first-ever Super Bowl defense well, going 4-6 to open the year. So, after going to the tape, and back to his version of a Captain Comeback in Nick Foles, he guided the Eagles to a 5-1 finish and a trip back to the playoffs where they got lucky with the goal posts against Chicago before just losing to New Orleans on the road.
Even with a worse season in 2018 compared to the 13-3 and Super Bowl year that was 2017, Pederson proved that he can guide his team through the obstacles of any type of season.
3) Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid’s done this for a long time, and if you look at his track record with quarterbacks, they’ve all done really, really well. His only problem is the lack of hardware to follow his overall coaching record, which feels like an excuse, although valid, to not consider him a top coach.
But here are the facts: he’s five wins away from 200 career wins, and his .611 winning percentage placing him seventh all-time (his 195 wins are eighth all time at the moment). He’s developed one solid quarterback after another, from Donovan McNabb and revitalizing a just-out-of-prison Michael Vick in Philadelphia, to establishing Alex Smith as an elite game manager and now creating a superstar in Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City with an offense that scored a cool 565 points last season, third most in NFL history.
If Reid can ever get his game-management in check, he could end his career with that elusive Super Bowl ring by the time it’s all said and done.
2) Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams
Sean McVay makes other 30-year-old guys question their career decisions. He started his third decade of life with one of the greatest coaching debuts ever in NFL history, and then built on it the year after.
He’s beaten current NFL coaching gurus in Pete Carroll, Andy Reid, and Sean Payton, and if he had just a little more experience in the big game, he might’ve successfully went toe-to-toe with Bill Belichick in last year’s Super Bowl. But looking at his early body of work, he’s only trending skyward and he could have his ring and trophy sooner than we all think.
Entering Year 3 though, he will have his set of challenges, which will definitely dictate how great of a head coach he could be. But McVay is young enough to take everything in stride and learn and develop, something not every NFL head coach gets.
1) Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
There’s no way, with six Super Bowl rings with the Patriots alone, that Bill Belichick wasn’t going to be the top head coach on this list or any other.
Since he threw Tom Brady in for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001, his Patriots have won less than 10 games just once (2002) and have averaged 13 wins since 2003, including the 2007 16-0 perfect regular season. Toss in three straight trips to the Super Bowl, which could become four after the 2019 campaign, and Bill Belichick could go down as the greatest head coach in NFL history when he calls the end to his career.
Winning Super Bowls haven’t always been automatic for Belichick and Co. though. The Giants ended their perfect run in 2007 and Nick Foles became as much of a cult hero in 2017 Eli Manning has (twice) against the Pats. And even when Brady was lost for the season in the 2008 kickoff, the Patriots with backup Matt Cassel still went 11-5 with a top-10 offense. But, we all know that Belichick is better with Brady.
He’s 39 wins away from 300 for his career, and could potentially reach in within the next four, five years at his current pace.
But, as Belichick would say, “we’re on to 2019.”