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Top 10 NFL Head Coaches of All Time

(Image by: Matt Di Domenico)

Written By: Matt Di Domenico

Twitter: @didomenicomatt5

They were the ones that taught, inspired, and led some of the best NFL players of all time. Each one viewed a certain style of coaching as the best method. Some used their powerful booming voice and others used just a blank stare. Some were very creative, and others were straightforward. But what they all have in common is they were able to coach their football teams to execute at a very high level. Of course, the main question is, who were the best NFL head coaches of all time? Below are the rankings for the top 10 NFL head coaches of all time with a breakdown of each head coach's accomplishments, coaching story, and much more.

10. Bill Parcells

N.Y. Giants (1983-1990), New England Patriots (1993-1996), N.Y. Jets (1997-1999), Dallas Cowboys (2003-2006)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class Member 2013

2-Time Super Bowl Champion (XXI, XXV) 3 Super Bowl Appearances (XXI, XXV, XXXI)

Record: 172-130-1, Playoffs: 11-8

5 Division Titles

Best Play/Formation: 1990 NFC Championship Game- Gary Reasons Fake Punt

His nickname was “The Big Tuna'' and he has one big resume in NFL coaching. Bill Parcells was able to lead four different NFL teams to playoff appearances during his career as a head coach. Parcells had a loud impactful voice that reminded you of a typical jersey guy. Parcells was a very competitive coach that had a rash personality with a lot of turmoil. That personality would allow him to push his players to demand excellence. Some of his best players that were able to reach that excellence were Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms, Carl Banks, and Curtis Martin. Parcells was so rough on his players because he wanted the best for them and he wanted them all to be winners on the football field. A huge influencer in Parcells’ life was one of his closest friends named Mickey Corcoran. Corcoran was Parcells’ high school basketball coach and was a second father figure to him. Corcoran even followed Parcells throughout his coaching career and brought uplifting messages to him. One of those messages was when Parcells and his N.Y. Giants lost in the 1985 divisional round game to the eventual Super Bowl champions. Corcoran expressed to Parcells that he had to find a way to beat the Bears and get his football team over the hump in the playoffs. Parcells spoke about how much of a head snapper Corcoran’s statement was to him and helped Parcells lead his Giants to their first Super Bowl championship in the 1986 season. After the 1986 Super Bowl, Parcells spoke to his team and made the famous statement of “The rest of your life men, nobody can ever tell ya that you couldn't do it cause ya did.” Parcells was able to reach two more Super Bowls after that 1986 season adding only one more additional championship over the Buffalo Bills.

(Gary Reasons Fake Punt)

9. Chuck Noll

Pittsburgh Steelers (1969-1991)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class Member 1993

NFL 100 All-Time Team Member

4-Time Super Bowl Champion (IX, X, XIII, XIV)

Record 193-148-1, Playoffs: 16-8

9 Divisional Titles

Best Play/Formation: Super Bowl XIV- 60 Prevent Slot-Hook and Go

Chuck Noll was a very quiet but controlling head coach that was able to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise into a dynasty in the 1970s. The first draft selection when Noll took the role as Steelers head coach in 1969 was “Mean” Joe Greene. Greene turned into one of the best if not the best defensive tackle of all time in part of Noll's coaching. Greene surely was the main foundation of what Noll built in Pittsburgh alongside 9 other hall of farmers that Noll brought in (Terry Bradshaw, Mike Webster, John Stallworth, Donnie Shell, Jack Lambert, Franco Harris, Jack Ham, and Mel Blount). Noll was never a head coach that would give his Steelers teams inspiring speeches before games or give them emotional lifts when they made mistakes. Noll was a head coach that would reprimand his players if they made a clear mistake on the football field. This was a head coach that valued the importance of being a teacher and wanted his players to understand that they had certain expectations to reach because it was their profession. Noll always made it a point to his players that they always had more room for improvement. Coach Noll looked at his relationships with his players as business-like, especially with his franchise quarterback Terry Bradshaw. Bradshaw and Noll's relationship was very rocky which was evident from Bradshaw's point of view. The two were able to work effectively with each other, however. During Nolls’ time with the Steelers, they were able to win four Super Bowls going back-to-back twice. The Steelers were also able to win 9 divisional titles with Noll at the head coaching spot.

(60 Prevent Slot-Hook and Go)

8. Joe Gibbs

Washington (1981-1992), (2004-2007)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class Member 1996

NFL 100 All-Time Team Member

3-Time Super Bowl Champion (XVII, XXII, XXVI), 4 Super Bowl Appearances (XVII, XVIII, XXII, XXVI)

Record: 154-94, Playoffs 17-7

5 Divisional Titles

Best Play/Formation: Super Bowl XVII- I-Left Tight Wing-Fake Zoom-70-Chip

A head coach that was able to have great success in two sports (NFL and NASCAR). Joe Gibbs was a brilliant mind that was able to help create “Air Coryell” with the San Diego Chargers in the mid 1970’s. Having great success with the Chargers led to Gibbs gaining the head coaching job in Washington. The challenge for Gibbs early on was he had to adjust his offenses to the type of players that were in place on the roster already. In the action of changing his philosophy throughout his time in Washington, it allowed him to win three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks (Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien). Gibbs truly was a dedicated head coach. Gibbs was so dedicated to the Washington team that it got to a point where he had a pull-out bed couch in his office to sleep in till the next morning and he removed all the clocks out of the meeting rooms. Being so committed to his job, Gibbs was able to create outstanding plays and formations that allowed his Washington offenses to have major success. Coach Gibbs had to solve a huge issue of controlling the dominant Lawrence Taylor, so he thought of an idea of putting two tight ends in the game and having one block/chip Taylor off the line. This allowed Gibbs to utilize a new innovation with the H-Back of setting them in motion to create new formations. This new innovation really helped when blocking at the edges and running straight ahead. That motion of the H-Back helped a lot in Gibbs’ offenses in the counter run game as well. In Super Bowl XVII, Gibbs inputted a package that would have all his positional players exploding into different formations to cause confusion on the defense and it worked mighty to Washington's advantage. Gibbs did overwork himself however and it did cause him to retire in 1992 but he was able to make a small return in 2004. Under coach Gibbs, Washington made it to four Super Bowls and won 5 divisional titles.

(I-Left Tight Wing-Fake Zoom-70-Chip)

7. George Halas

Decatur Staleys/Chicago Staleys/Chicago Bears (1920-1967)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class Member 1963

NFL 100 All-Time Team Member

6-Time NFL Champion (1921, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1946, 1963)

Record: 318-148-31, Playoffs: 6-3

10 Divisional Titles

Best Play/Formation: 1940 NFL Championship- T Formation

“Papa Bear '' was George Halas’ nickname and it fits his rough personality perfectly. Halas was one of the founding fathers of the NFL and he was the head coach for the Chicago Bears for 40 years. Coach Halas was able to win 6 NFL Championships and won 318 games during his time as the Bears head coach. The Bears were able to win 10 divisional titles under Halas’ coaching as well. Halas was so tough, at times would make his teams practice in horse manure if they did not play up to his expectations. The media would call the Bears “The Monsters of the Midway” because Halas had furious teams with great defensive play throughout his time as head coach. Halas had great players that played under him on both sides of the football that included Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Sid Luckman, Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, and many more. Halas was able to invent the T formation which he taught to his quarterback Sid Luckman. Under the T formation, it allowed Halas and the Bears to win the 1940 NFL Championship game against Washington. Halas and the Bears had so much success against Washington because of how confusing the formation was with its different options as the play ran. The T formation was then running throughout football programs across the country after the championship game. What made Halas even better as head coach and personnel of the Bears was, he showcased game film, scouting reports, and a skybox crew to watch/record games in the NFL. Putting the Bears on the map helped form coach Halas as one of the best NFL head coaches of all time.

(T Formation)

6. Tom Landry

Dallas Cowboys (1960-1988)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class Member 1990

NFL 100 All-Time Team Member

2-Time Super Bowl Champion (VI, XII), 5 Super Bowl Appearances (V, VI, X, XII, XIII)

Record: 250-162-6, Playoffs: 20-16

13 Divisional Titles

Best Play/Formation: Flex Defense

Before Tom Landry even became a head coach, he was a player and defensive coordinator for the N.Y. Giants in the 1950s, which translated to him becoming Dallas Cowboys head coach in the 1960 season. During his coaching career, Landry was able to create/improve the 4-3 defense and made the “Flex Defense.” The Flex Defense had a main purpose of protecting the middle linebacker and keeping him free to make plays on ball carriers. Landry made this defense because in the base 4-3 defense, offensive guards and tight ends could easily get to the middle linebacker. In the flex, Landry had two defensive linemen close to the line of scrimmage and two away from the line of scrimmage. These defensive linemen would shoot into the gaps while the strong and weak side linebackers would read the running backs' steps and shoot into the other gaps. This would then allow the middle linebacker to make the play/tackle on the ball carrier. If you wanted to characterize coach Landry, what comes to mind the most is the man in the funny hat with a very stone-faced look. Coach Landry did not have the coaching style of being vocal and getting into his players' faces. Landry’s players knew they would receive that stone face look if they messed up because Landry demanded precise execution. What helped Landry in his pursuit for the Cowboys' first Super Bowl win was adjusting/simplifying the offense for quarterback Roger Staubach. This allowed the Cowboys to excel and win Super Bowl VI. There was always belief in the system and innovative ideas by coach Landry. Coach Landry inputted the action of the offensive line to rise into a two-point stance to distract the defense and allow the running backs to shift. Additionally, there was always some kind of new trick play or “exotic play” that Landry would put on display in a game. Some examples of these exotic plays that were run are half-back options, double passes, flea flickers, reverse hand-offs, and double reverses. Whatever allowed the Cowboys to take momentum in a game, coach Landry was going to try it.

(Flex Defense)

5. Paul Brown

Cleveland Browns (1946-1962) Cincinnati Bengals (1968-1975)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class Member 1967

NFL 100 All-Time Team Member

3-Time NFL Champion (1950, 1954, 1955)

4-Time AAFC Champion (1946, 1947, 1948, 1949)

Record: 213-104-9 Playoffs: 9-8

14 Divisional Titles

Best Play/Formation: Draw Play

The man who the Cleveland Browns are named after. When you think about one of the best creators in NFL history, you think of Paul Brown. Coach Brown brought in certain invitations such as the quarterback pocket, halfback draws, the 40-yard dash, and of course the facemask. In addition, Brown saw the importance of challenging his players' intelligence on and off the football field. This was the first coach to put all of his plays on paper and expected his players to study them. A huge reason for Brown's success in winning 3 NFL titles was because he used film to break down his teams and had his coaching staff study it. Brown would give grades to his players during the season based on their film. These players could then see the errors they made on the field and could then make improvements on those errors. Early on, Brown had an assistant coach upstairs observing the field of play to give him information based on what they saw at the high advantage point. When calling plays, Brown used a shuttle system of two offensive guards to sub in and out of the huddle with a play call. Later on, Brown put a radio receiver in the quarterback's helmet. This radio receiver allowed the quarterback to hear the play call coming from the sideline. Eventually, other NFL teams complained about the innovation and it was outlawed in the league for almost 4 decades. One of the biggest impacts that coach Brown made was he did not care about race. If you could play, he wanted you on his football team. Under the 14 divisional titles, Brown was able to coach some of the best players in the history of pro football that include the likes of Jim Brown and Otto Graham. Coach Brown later finished his coaching career with the Cincinnati Bengals after getting fired by new Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell in 1962. In Cincinnati, Brown and his assistant coach Bill Walsh were able to create a new innovative offense when franchise quarterback Greg Cook got hurt. This offense later became the “West Coast Offense” and it was designed for a less talented armed quarterback which was Virgil Carter. The offense was created on timing passing with short routes intended for the receivers to gain extra yards after the catch. By the end of Brown's coaching career, he had a record of 213-104-9.

(Draw Play)

4. Don Shula

Baltimore Colts (1963-1969), Miami Dolphins (1970-1995)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class Member 1997

NFL 100 All-Time Team Member

2-Time Super Bowl Champion (VII, VIII), 6 Super Bowl Appearances (III, VI, VII, XVII, XIX)

Record: 328-156-6, Playoffs: 19-17

16 Divisional Titles

Best Play/Formation: Super Bowl VII: Howard Twilley 28-Yard TD

The NFL's all-time leader in career wins is Don Shula. Shula only had two losing seasons in his entire coaching career and was able to reach the Super Bowl six times. Coach Shula was a player’s coach under Paul Brown and an assistant coach in Baltimore before taking the head coaching job for the Colts at age 33. When Shula took the head coaching job for the Colts, he was younger than some of his own players. During his time in Baltimore, Shula was able to coach some of the best players of all-time that includes Johnny Unitas, John Mackey, Raymond Barry, and Gino Marchetti. The Colts were very successful under Shula but were never able to win the Super Bowl and eventually lost to the underdog N.Y. Jets in Super Bowl III. The Miami Dolphins owner was able to convince Shula to leave the Baltimore Colts and coach for his team in 1970. On his second team, coach Shula was a madman to his players and had some of the best players of all-time in Miami as well. Some of those great Dolphins players included Larry Little, Bob Griese, Paul Warfield, Mercury Morris, Larry Csonka, Dan Marino, and many more. The Dolphins players would have to practice 4 times a week, have 12-minute runs, were not allowed to have water on the practice field, and could not be late. The Dolphins were able to have dominant success because of how hard Shula would push his players to their absolute breaking point. Shula led his Dolphins to a 17-0 season and won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1972 & 1973. Coach Shula was able to change his schemes, system, and psychology of his teams throughout his career with the Dolphins. The Dolphins were able to switch from a running team to a passing team several times. Wherever Shula could make an impact or prepare his team to be ready for game day, he would.

(Super Bowl VII: Howard Twilley 28-Yard TD)

3. Bill Walsh

San Francisco 49ers (1979-1988)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class Member 1993

NFL 100 All-Time Team Member

3-Time Super Bowl Champion (XVI, XIX, XXIII)

Record: 92-59-1, Playoffs: 10-4

6 Divisional Titles

Best Play/Formation: “The Catch” Sprint Option with Slide

The complete football mastermind. Before Bill Walsh’s head coaching career took off, he learned under hall of fame head coach Paul Brown in Cincinnati. Walsh was able to help coach Brown create an offense that was based on the short passing game with a high completion rate percentage. This offense allowed the receivers to produce a huge amount of yardage after the catch. In Cincinnati, Walsh was looking to take over the head coaching duties when Brown retired in 1975. Instead, Brown picked Bill Johnson as the next Bengals head coach which resulted in Walsh leaving Cincinnati. Years later, Walsh was then hired by the San Francisco 49ers to be head coach in 1979 where he was able to reinvent that offensive scheme he used in Cincinnati. That offense would be given the name, the west coast offense. Being able to revamp the offense allowed Walsh to create a dynasty in the 1980s. Walsh always wanted his teams prepared going into a game and would have the first 15 plays scripted. The 49ers gained a tremendous amount of success and launched their dynasty against the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 championship game. Walsh designed a play for Dallas Clark to stop and slide in the back of the endzone to make a leaping catch to win the game. “The Catch” would be considered the best play in NFL history. Some of the best players in NFL history also played under Walsh including Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Dwight Clark, Ronnie Lott, and more. Coach Walsh had an innovative football mind, but he was also a master in handling people by psychology. For example, rather than yelling at his players when they made a mistake, he would yell at his assistant coaches instead. The art in this was players would feel bad for their position coaches getting yelled at by Walsh which resulted in the players wanting to correct their mistakes for the sake of their coaches. The minds of the 49er’s players were always getting messed with by coach Walsh. Two players Walsh messed with the most were Joe Montana and Steve Young. Coach Walsh used a creative but destructive concept called creative tension. Walsh would play Young and Montana against each other and would have a rotation of who was the starting quarterback. Walsh did this because he knew that the 49ers would be getting the best play out of Montana and Young. Eventually, this creative tension messed up the team's chemistry. Coach Walsh eventually made the decision to have Montana as the starting quarterback for the rest of the 1988 season which resulted in a Super Bowl win for Walsh and his last game as an NFL head coach.

(“The Catch” Sprint Option with Slide)

2. Vince Lombardi

Green Bay Packers (1959-1967) Washington (1969)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class Member 1971

NFL 100 All-Time Team Member

3-Time NFL Champion (1961, 1962, 1965)

2-Time Super Bowl Champion (I,II)

Record: 96-34-6, Playoffs: 9-1

6 Divisional Titles

Best Play/Formation: Power Sweep

The man who has the Super Bowl trophy named after him and literally put the town of Green Bay on the map. Vince Lombardi was more than a head coach; he was an icon in life. Before Lombardi became a famous head coach for the Green Bay Packers, he was the offensive coordinator for the N.Y. Giants and successfully coached great players like Frank Gifford and Rosey Brown. Lombardi was then hired by the Packers in 1959 and made a drastic impact on the organization. Lombardi was able to win five NFL Championships and brought new discipline to the players that were brought in. Coach Lombardi was a madman and would work long hours throughout his coaching career in Green Bay. The iconic “Lombardi Time” which was 15 minutes ahead of normal time was demanded to be followed by his players. Lombardi wanted his players to chase perfection and would chew them out consistently. Coach Lombardi demanded that his players use their brain, precision, and teamwork when playing football. The play that reflects the Lombardi Packers the most was the Power Sweep. This play was run tremendously with the outstanding backs in Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung. Lombardi coached 13 NFL hall of famers and some of his best players were Jerry Kramer, Willie Wood, Jim Ringo, Willie Davis, Herb Adderley, and of course Bart Starr. Lombardi was more than a coach, to his players, he was like a father. Lombardi did not care what skin color a man had on his team. If the man could play football at a high level, they would play for him. Players would also get graded roughly in Lombardi’s grading system. For example, Dave Robinson made a key play in the 1966 championship game to win the game, but Robinson went out of position during the play. Since Robinson did not follow his role on the play, coach Lombardi gave Robinson a -2. The most important concept in Lombardi’s coaching career was trusting his players. In one of the coldest games in NFL history, Lombardi trusted the judgment of Bart Starr’s view on the field which allowed them to win the 1967 championship game on a quarterback sneak. Coach Lombardi ended his career in Green Bay capturing the first two Super Bowls and had a brief stop in Washington in 1969 before passing away from colon cancer.

(Power Sweep)

1. Bill Belichick

Cleveland Browns (1991-1995), New England Patriots (2000-Present)

NFL 100 All-Time Team Member

6-Time Super Bowl Champion (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX, LI, LIII), 9 Super Bowl Appearances (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLII, XLVI, XLIX, LI, LII, LIII)

Record: 280-136, Playoffs: 31-12

17 Divisional Titles

Best Play/Formation: Super Bowl XXVI- F-Right Fade- 50 Quickout Go-Z Slant

It does not matter if you love him or hate him, Bill Belichick simply has put himself as the greatest head coach in NFL history. Before Belichick became such a successful head coach, he worked his way up the coaching ranks. A positive effect on Belichick's coaching career was when he acted as the defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells which concluded in both of them winning two Super Bowls with the N.Y. Giants. Belichick then coached the Cleveland Browns until 1995 because team owner Art Modell announced that the Browns would be moving to Baltimore. Five years later, Belichick was hired to be the head coach for the New England Patriots where he is still coaching today. Coach Belichick has won 17 division championships and has nine Super Bowl appearances, winning six of those Super Bowls (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX, LI, LIII). The majority of the Super Bowls that Belichick has coached in are considered some of the best football games in NFL history. Coach Belichick has always gotten his players ready to play at a high level. The translation of his iconic statement “Do Your Job” was a message to Belichick’s players to follow the role that they have been asked of and to do it well. If the players do their job, everything will work out in the way they want it to. The Patriots have produced two dynasties because of the hard-working players that were coached, drafted, or brought in by Belichick. Players such as Tom Brady, Willie McGinest, Rodney Harrison, Wes Welker, Adam Vinatieri, Ty Law, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski were able to produce under Belichick at a high level. A reason why Belichick has been able to coach his teams to have so much success for such a long time is that he is able to evolve his methods as the game evolves. Belichick has run several different offensive and defensive schemes during his time as an NFL head coach. Coach Belichick of course is still coaching to this day with the Patriots and will try to continue his success as an NFL head coach.

(F-Right Fade- 50 quick-out go-Z Slant)

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