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The top 10 coaches in NFL history

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November 16th, 2020

With a focus on regular-season record and postseason success, number of Super Bowl titles, and overall impact on the game of football, let’s count down the 10 greatest coaches in NFL history.   

10. Bill Parcells

Teams: New York Giants (1983-1990), New England Patriots (1993-1996), New York Jets (1997-1999), Dallas Cowboys (2003-2006)
Super Bowl titles: 2
Win percentage: .569
Playoff record: 11-8

The New York Giants wallowed in misery before the "Big Tuna" became coach in 1983. From 1984-1990, the G-Men reached the postseason five times and won two Super Bowls, before Parcells retired in 1990.

In 1993, Parcells returned as head coach of the New England Patriots, who at the time were in a six-year postseason drought. Parcells led the team to two playoff berths and fell to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI.

The Jets were 1-15 the year before Parcells arrived and never had a losing record with him on the sideline.  

From 2003-2006, Parcells pulled off one more makeover in Dallas, where he reached the postseason with his fourth team. He is the only coach in NFL history to lead four franchises to the playoffs and three franchises to a conference championship game.

9. Tom Landry

Team: Dallas Cowboys (1960-1988)
Super Bowl titles: 2
Win percentage: .607
Playoff record: 20-16

From 1970-1978, Landry guided Dallas to five Super Bowl appearances, including three in four seasons. His team's success, in addition to Dallas' games receiving ample TV coverage, inspired the Cowboys’ nickname as “America’s Team.”

Across 29 seasons, Landry won 250 games (fourth-most in NFL history) and made the playoffs 18 times (tied for second).

His regular-season win percentage ranks just 33rd, while his .556 playoff win percentage comes in at 34th.

Landry won two Super Bowls, in 1972 and 1978. His run of 20 consecutive winning seasons is an all-time record.

8. Joe Gibbs

Team: Washington Redskins (1981-1992, 2004-2007)
Super Bowl titles: 3
Win percentage: .621
Playoff record: 17-7

Over his 16-year career in Washington, Gibbs led Washington to 10 playoff appearances, four NFC championships, and three Super Bowl wins.

He is the only coach to win Super Bowls with three different starting quarterbacks — Joe Theismann (1982), Doug Williams (1987), and Mark Rypien (1991).

Gibbs coached in 24 playoff games, tied for the fifth-most in NFL history, and won 17 (fourth).

The Washington legend endured just three losing seasons, and two occurred during his brief second stint with the franchise.

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Joe Gibbs coached Washington to three Super Bowls during his 16-year tenure. (Aaron M. Sprecher/Icon Sportswire)

7. Chuck Noll

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers (1969-1991)
Super Bowl titles: 4
Win percentage: .565
Playoff record: 16-8

The man behind the “Steel Curtain,” Noll arrived in Pittsburgh in 1969 and carried a playoff-starved team to the promised land.

Before Noll’s hiring, Pittsburgh hadn’t reached the postseason since 1947. From 1972-1979, the Steelers made eight consecutive playoffs runs, won seven division titles, and earned four Super Bowl wins in six years.

Across 23 seasons, Noll had a 193-148-1 record and coached in 24 playoff games.

His four Super Bowl victories are the second-most by an NFL coach. He also never lost a Super Bowl appearance.

6. Bill Walsh

Team: San Francisco 49ers (1979-1988)
Super Bowl titles: 3
Win percentage: .609
Playoff record: 10-4

Despite just a 10-year coaching career, Walsh left a long-lasting impact on the NFL.

The pioneer of the West Coast offense, Walsh needed just two seasons to turn a floundering franchise into a Super Bowl winner and one of the most lethal offenses in the league.

From 1981-1988, Walsh won three Super Bowl titles (tied for third-most by an NFL coach) with Joe Montana under center.

His 1984 team is considered one of the greatest in NFL history, as San Francisco became the first to win 15 regular-season games and went on to defeat Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins, who were coached by another great on our list.

5. George Halas

Team: Chicago Bears (1920-29, 1933-1942, 1946-1955, 1958-1967)
NFL championships: 6
Win percentage: .682
Playoff record: 6-3

Halas not only coached the Chicago Bears for 40 seasons, but he founded and owned the franchise, which began as the Decatur Staleys in 1920.

The same year, Halas became one of the co-founders of the National Football League, which merged with the American Football League to form the modern NFL in 1966.

Across four separate stints with Chicago, Halas won six NFL championships and collected 318 wins (both the second-most by a coach).

He finished with 170 wins above .500, the second most behind Don Shula, and his .682 win percentage is 10th-best in NFL history.

4. Paul Brown

Teams: Cleveland Browns (1946-1962), Cincinnati Bengals (1968-1975)
NFL championships: 3 (plus 4 AAFC championships)
Win percentage: .672
Playoff record: 9-8

The only coach with more NFL championships than Halas is Brown (seven). Four of those championships came as a member of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), which merged with the NFL in 1949.

The coach and founder of the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals recorded 213 wins (seventh-most in NFL history) during his 25-year career.

Brown is credited as the first coach to use game film to scout his opposition, call plays from the sideline, hire a full-time staff of assistants, and helped break football's color barrier.

He also allegedly invented the face mask — one of football's most crucial pieces of equipment — after quarterback Otto Graham suffered facial injuries during a game in 1953.

3. Don Shula

Teams: Baltimore Colts (1963-1969), Miami Dolphins (1970-1995)
Super Bowl titles: 2 (plus one NFL championship before the Super Bowl era)
Win percentage: .677
Playoff record: 19-17

No NFL coach has recorded more wins than Shula, who piled up 328 regular-season victories across 33 seasons.

The iconic coach won one NFL championship with the Baltimore Colts, then joined a Miami team that went 3-10-1 a year before Shula was hired.

In Shula’s first season in South Beach, he achieved a 10-4 record and lost in the divisional round. The following year, 1971, he fell in the Super Bowl, then won back-to-back titles the next two seasons.

Shula’s greatest accomplishment is his perfect season in 1972. The Dolphins are the only team in NFL history to go undefeated in the regular season (14-0) and postseason.

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New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

2. Bill Belichick

Teams: Cleveland Browns (1991-1995), New England Patriots (2000-present)
Super Bowl titles: 6
Win percentage: .677
Playoff record: 31-12

With more Super Bowl wins, appearances (nine), and playoff victories (31) than any coach in NFL history, Belichick has found a way to win when the games matter most.

His 277 regular-season wins are just 51 shy of Shula’s record, but one knock on his career has been his time in Cleveland.

Belichick saw just one winning season as Browns head coach, but he did win a playoff game against Parcells’ Patriots in the 1994 wild-card round.

Belichick also served as Giants defensive coordinator under Parcells and won two Super Bowls in 1987 and 1991.

In 2007, Belichick nearly completed a perfect season in New England, but his 16-0 Patriots were upset by the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

1. Vince Lombardi

Teams: Green Bay Packers (1959-1967), Washington Redskins (1969)
Super Bowl titles: 2 (plus three NFL championships before the Super Bowl era)
Win percentage: .738
Playoff record: 9-1

The man who famously said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” lived up to his mantra.

During nine seasons as Packers head coach and one with Washington, Lombardi went 96-34. His .738 win percentage is third-best in NFL history, behind Guy Chamberlin, who coached six seasons, and John Madden, who coached 10.

What made Lombardi even more impressive was his .900 record in the postseason.

His Packers are the last team to win three straight titles, including wins in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

Lombardi never had a losing season and the Super Bowl trophy is fittingly named after him.

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