Being a head coach in the NFL has to be one of the most intense, pressure packed jobs on the planet. Given that coaches are evaluated on wins and losses alone, the pressure to win at all costs is incredibly high. The margin for error for NFL coaches is incredibly slim as one bad season can cost them their livelihoods. And sometimes, that one bad season is caused by something entirely out of their control, such as injuries, or an incompetent GM stocking their rosters with players who can’t really play very well anymore.
Still, some coaches thrive on the pressure and forge some truly impressive careers. Bill Walsh. Bill Belichick. George Seifert. Tom Flores. Tom Coughlin. The history of the NFL is filled with coaches like these seem to find a way to connect with their players, get the best out of them and grind out a staggering number of wins, as well as find ways to will their teams to the ultimate prize – the Lombardi trophy. Many of them, multiple times.
On the other side of the coin though, there are coaches who seem like they’re the ultimate big game coaches. They seem to forge a mythical, perhaps even legendary, status that they truly have not earned. Yet for some reason, whenever there is a head coaching vacancy in the NFL, their names are among the first to be bandied about to fill those open slots. While many of these men are decent enough coaches, their records don’t quite match the hoopla that seems to surround them. Some of them are truly gifted coordinators, but should never be entrusted to run an entire team.
But for whatever reason, some of these coaches either find a way to stay in their gigs far longer than they should, or have their names permanently attached to the coaching carousel when a job becomes available.
While acknowledging that this list is far from comprehensive, let’s look at just a few of these mind-bogglingly overrated NFL coaches.
10. Jim Schwartz
Aside from one season in which he took the perennially terrible Detroit Lions to the playoffs – only to get blasted by Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the first round – Schwartz was a terrible head coach. In four seasons at the helm in Detroit, Schwartz guided the Lions, who were armed with big name talents like Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, to a 29-51 record. That’s a .363 winning percentage if you’re scoring at home. Now a defensive coordinator with the Buffalo Bills, he’s helping lead something of a revival of the Bills’ defense. They’re better on that side of the ball than they’ve been in some time – an achievement that will undoubtedly earn him a few more looks as a head coach in the league. Hopefully though, he enjoyed his “Rudy moment” when his Bills players carried him off the field following a victory over Detroit earlier this season, because that may be the high point of his career.
9. Jim Mora
Playoffs? Did you say playoffs? Yeah, Jim Mora was better known for his press conference meltdowns than he was for anything he did on the football field. As a head coach of both the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, Mora won a pile of regular season games. He posted a career record of 125-106 to be precise, and has always been held in high regard in NFL circles. But it was his utter futility in the postseason that doomed him to making lists like these. Mora’s teams posted an abysmal 0-6 playoff record over the course of his career, and he still holds the distinction of being the only head coach in the NFL to have won more than 100 regular season games without winning a single game in the postseason. You could say he’s almost like the Peyton Manning of the coaching world.
8. Andy Reid
Andy Reid had a good, long run as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, coaching them from 1999-2012. At one point, he was the longest tenured coach in the NFL. He holds the team record for wins (130), winning percentage (.583), and playoff wins (10). He coached the Eagles to six division titles, and five trips to the NCF Championship Game. As impressive as those stats might be, Reid was never able to get over the hump and capture a Super Bowl win despite having rosters loaded with talent. He was finally fired following the 2012 season, and the Kansas City Chiefs were there to scoop him up, hoping against all hope that he can get that Super Bowl monkey off his back and bring a title to Kansas City. Yeah, good luck with that.
7. Jason Garrett
One of the biggest mysteries in the universe is how Jason Garrett is still gainfully employed. The only explanation is that he’s a loyal Jerry Jones man, having played for the temperamental owner for 7 seasons, and serving as the team’s offensive coordinator from 2007-2010 before he was named the head coach. Since his promotion, Garrett has posted a record of utter mediocrity, putting together three consecutive 8-8 seasons, and no postseason appearances despite having some truly talented players to work with. Though this is a strange time to include Garrett on this list, as they’re off to a solid 5-1 start in 2014, Cowboys fans are undoubtedly holding their breath, waiting for the inevitable collapse that leads to another mediocre season.
6. Norv Turner
Norv Turner is one of the more innovative offensive minds in the game. He’s put together some truly dynamic offenses in his time in the league. And he’s one of those coordinators who always manage to get a lot of run whenever there is an opening for a head coaching gig. It’s almost as if people somehow forget what a terrible head coach he really is. He’s been the head coach for Washington, the San Diego Chargers, and the Oakland Raiders, and has compiled a career record of 114-122-1. His postseason mark is a mediocre 4-4, and he’s never led his team to a Super Bowl win. He’s now leading a revival of the Minnesota Viking’s offense behind rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, which should inexplicably earn him some mentions as possible head coaching material once again.
5. Chuck Knox
I know, I know, this is tantamount to heresy for some. Chuck Knox is one of the more revered figures in NFL history. He was certainly a very good head coach in the league for a lot of years. But the truth of the matter is – well – Knox was a bit overrated. In 22 years as the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, and Buffalo Bills, Knox put together an impressive 186-147-1 record. The knock on Knox though, is that in all those years in the league, he had exactly zero conference championships and zero Super Bowl titles. Like Mora, he was great in the regular season, but when the lights of the playoffs were the brightest, he never came through in the clutch.
4. Mike Ditka
This should probably have the city of Chicago declaring war on me. But let’s face facts folks, Ditka was a good coach. But he certainly wasn’t a great coach. He made his reputation on the shoulders of somebody else – Buddy Ryan and that hellacious 46 defense he created. Outside of one magical season in 1985, Ditka didn’t really do much as a head coach. And let’s not forget that three season trainwreck he oversaw as the coach of the New Orleans Saints when he traded away his entire draft for Ricky Williams, and put together a record of 15-33 in the Big Easy before he was dismissed. Overall, Ditka’s record as a head coach is 121-95, with a career playoff mark of 6-6 – more importantly, in that Super Bowl winning season in ’85, Ditka’s team went 3-0, meaning the rest of his head coaching tenure resulted in a 3-6 playoff record. Ditka has a near legendary status in the city of Chicago, but the fact is, Iron Mike only has one more title win to his credit than the Chicago Cubs over the last century.
3. Mike Shanahan
Mike Shanahan is living proof that one player can make your entire reputation. To this day, many still see him as “the Genius,” and there are plenty of teams out there willing to give him a shot – despite the fact that without the real genius that was John Elway, Shanahan has never really come close to winning another Super Bowl, and his postseason mark since Elway’s retirement is a paltry 1-4. It’s important to note that seven of Shanahan’s eight playoff wins were in Denver’s two Super Bowl winning seasons. And let’s not forget the three memorable years he spent as the coach in Washington where he compiled a record of 24-40. Yup, that’s genius at work there. If not for Elway, Shanahan wouldn’t have the reputation that he still inexplicably seems to enjoy.
2. Jeff Fisher
Jeff Fisher seems like a nice enough guy. He’s just not the great head coach some people seem to believe he is. In seventeen seasons as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans, Fisher compiled a 142-120 record, but only made the playoffs six times. Overall, his playoff record in the Music City was a less than stellar 5-6 with zero Super Bowl wins – though they did get really close once! But the fact of the matter is that in Tennessee, Fisher had as many losing seasons (6) as he did playoff seasons (6), and had five more seasons that were a mediocre 8-8. Despite that track record, the St. Louis Rams couldn’t wait to get their hands on him after he was ejected from Tennessee. In his three seasons at the helm in St. Louis, Fisher has compiled a 15-21-1 record, and despite putting together a truly dominant defense, hasn’t come close to qualifying for the playoffs. Yet the seat beneath him remains inexplicably cold.
1. Jon Gruden
No other coach that I can think of has enjoyed a reputation built on such a flimsy foundation as Jon Gruden. Yes, he helped bring the Oakland Raiders back to respectability after a decade lost in the wilds. But in Oakland, he was never the big game coach the team needed, putting together a mediocre 2-2 playoff record. However, he made his bones by winning the Super Bowl following the 2002 season – a game in which he vanquished his former team, the Raiders. Of course, Gruden had a few things working in his favor – first, he inherited a stocked and loaded Tampa Bay Buccaneers team from Tony Dungy. Make no mistake, it was Dungy’s team that won that Super Bowl. Secondly, Gruden faced his former assistant, Bill Callahan, in that fateful title game. And Callahan, who was most assuredly not a good coach, didn’t change a thing from the plays Gruden ran, to the terminology used, to the signals the team used on the field. It’s a lot easier to win a big game and make it look easy when you know exactly what play is coming at you at any given time. Following that Super Bowl win, after Gruden was allowed to put his own stamp on the team, Tampa Bay enjoyed far less success. Despite that fact though, Gruden continues to be one of the most sought after coaches in the NFL.
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