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Goal Line Stand

NFL's Best Coaches 2020

by Patrick Daugherty
Updated On: July 3, 2020, 6:25 pm ET

11. Sean McDermott
Career Record: 25-23 (.521)  
With The Bills Since: 2017 
Last Year’s Ranking: 16

The Bills have two playoff appearances this century. They have come under Sean McDermott over the past three seasons. Although McDermott is still working on the franchise’s first postseason victory since Bill Clinton was president, he has confirmed himself as one of the top coaching hires of the past half-decade. Already one of the league’s best defensive game-planners, McDermott has coordinated top-three units by yards allowed each of the past two years. The Bills’ 259 points against last season were the second fewest in the NFL. McDermott knows defense, period. He’s still working on the rest. A brash front office presence alongside his handpicked GM Brandon Beane, McDermott’s executive aggressiveness has handicapped his offense, where the project is now tied to Josh Allen. Allen’s concerns coming out of the Mountain West were accuracy and decision-making. They had the looks of fatal flaws in 2019, never more so than in the Wild Card Round, where Allen’s stupefying choices down the stretch helped snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. McDermott is the coach of the future in Buffalo. He’s probably still a quarterback away from translating that into annual winning campaigns and playoff appearances.          

12. Mike Vrabel
Career Record: 18-14 (.563) 
With The Titans Since: 2018 
Last Year’s Ranking: 17

The Titans have reeled off four straight 9-7 campaigns. The past two have come under Mike Vrabel. Progress? It certainly feels like it. After the Titans narrowly missed the playoffs in 2018, Vrabel’s squad made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game in season two. Bold action from Vrabel played a huge part, as the sophomore coach benched would-be franchise player Marcus Mariota after a 2-4 start. Ryan Tannehill, of all people, sparked the 7-3 finish, complementing Vrabel’s preferred rushing attack with deadly play-action passing. Vrabel allowed his quarterback to play to his strengths, and the result was one of the NFL’s most dangerous teams in the second half of the season. Rushing volume/passing opportunism can leave little margin for error, but Vrabel has done his part by quickly whipping the Titans’ defense into a top-10 unit. There is still a chance this proves to be a mirage. Vrabel has nevertheless done most of the things good coaches do through his first two years on the job.     

13. Frank Reich 
Career Record: 17-15 (.531)  
With The Colts Since: 2018 
Last Year’s Ranking: 13

In 2018, it all came together for rookie head coach Frank Reich. Healthy quarterback. Elite draft class. Road playoff victory. In 2019, it all fell apart. Andrew Luck retired in training camp, and injuries ravaged both sides of the ball. That Reich still emerged with a 7-9 club was a victory. One of Reich’s calling cards is his adaptability. In 2018, he pushed the pace, running the league’s fastest offense. In 2019, he slowed it down, accommodating Jacoby Brissett’s more deliberate style. For 2020, he will be reuniting with Philip Rivers, a declining player who had his best three-year stretch under Reich from 2013-15. Reich will be giving Rivers something he almost never had with the Chargers: A dominant offensive line. Reich and Rivers were never pedal to the metal together in San Diego, but Rivers’ quick release behind an actually functioning line will give the duo a lot of different options. Things would have gotten away from any coach in Indy last season. Reich still seems like the man best positioned to put them back on track.   

14. Bruce Arians 
Career Record: 56-39-1 (.589)  
With The Bucs Since: 2019 
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Bruce Arians is a great coach. Is he still an engaged one? His 2019 Bucs squad sometimes felt like a science project, one designed to get longtime assistants Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles head-coaching opportunities. Both coordinators did strong work in certain areas, but Jameis Winston’s turnovers doomed Leftwich while a lack of talent hamstrung Bowles. From the beginning, Arians seemed oddly disengaged, struggling to summon the fire that burned throughout his Cardinals tenure. Perhaps another year of going through the 7-9 motions re-lit Arians’ pilot light, as you don’t sign Tom Brady if you’re lacking for ambition. As stubborn as they come — Arians adjusts for no one — handing the offensive reins to Brady will be difficult but perhaps liberating. After years of sweating the small stuff, Arians seems to be settling into CEO duties. Even if it’s for only one season, Brady is a better bet for the stock price than Winston. 

15. Matt LaFleur 
Career Record: 13-3 (.813)  
With The Packers Since: 2019 
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Matt LaFleur tied for the NFL’s best record his first year on the job. It was often difficult to tell how. The Packers boasted merely the league’s ninth best point differential (+63), while their pythagorean record suggested a 10-6 team. LaFleur’s squad went 8-1 in one-score games, a famously fickle statistic. The Packers scored zero more points than they managed in 2018, though an improved defense surrendered 87 fewer. Tasked with sparking Aaron Rodgers, LaFleur instead oversaw one of the sleepier campaigns of the future Hall-of-Famer’s career. By design, LaFleur’s approach was boring, with the Packers attempting the league’s 13th most rushes (411) after finishing dead last (333) the year prior. Perhaps LaFleur has stumbled on the perfect formula for the sunset years of Rodgers’ career. It’s also possible he was one lucky man. None of this is to say LaFleur is bad or 2019 can be ignored. We just need more information.     

16. Matt Nagy
Career Record: 20-12 (.625)   
With The Bears Since: 2018 
Last Year’s Ranking: 12

Reality bit hard for Matt Nagy in 2019. The Bears’ defense scarcely regressed on its dominant 2018 form, but Nagy’s offense supplied 141 fewer points. Only the Bengals, Jets and Washington lit the lamp less often, while the Bears’ -156 point differential decline was 32 more than any other team. It’s a miracle that 8-8 was the result. With no first-round pick and only Nick Foles to challenge Mitchell Trubisky, even .500 will be difficult to maintain for 2020. It will require a herculean effort from Nagy, who was fun and creative as a rookie head coach in 2018. Creativity, of course, is hard to pull off with sub-par athletes, which is what Nagy has at critical spots on offense. Overseeing a flawed roster with little upside on his side of the ball, Nagy is being set up to fail.    

17. Bill O’Brien 
Career Record: 52-44 (.542)  
With The Texans Since: 2014 
Last Year’s Ranking: 14

Every sport needs a few figures who provoke utter bafflement. In the NFL, Bill O’Brien’s capacity to astound knows no bounds. For 2019, he decided he would go 10-6 to win the AFC South for the fourth time in six years … with a -7 point differential. He then oversaw a stirring Wild Card comeback only to blow a 24-0 first half lead in a 51-31 Divisional Round loss. For his six-year career, O’Brien boasts a .542 winning percentage but has outscored his opponents by only 23 points across 96 games. Things grow stranger in the front office, where O’Brien keeps winning power struggles and rewarding himself with promotions. He actually did not intend for that to be the case in 2019, but when his clumsy pursuit of Patriots executive Nick Caserio turned out to be obvious tampering, he was forced to back away. With no one to check his power this offseason, BOB formally named himself general manager before making one of the worst trades in NFL history. O’Brien didn’t even shop star wideout DeAndre Hopkins, a fact made clear by the fact that other GMs were forced to answer for his inexplicable acquisition of David Johnson. It is easy to believe O’Brien would have long ago been out of a job without Deshaun Watson, though that discounts the fact that he’s won divisions with Brock Osweiler and Brian Hoyer as his primary quarterbacks. Nothing about the man or his football team makes sense. I am not expecting that to change in 2020. 

18. Anthony Lynn
Career Record: 26-23 (.531) 
With The Chargers Since: 2017 
Last Year’s Ranking: 11

Anthony Lynn has gone full Charger. In Year 1, he went 9-7 with a +83 point differential. No playoffs. Year 2, 12-4 and +99. Year 3? 5-11 and … -8. The Chargers had the league’s 16th best point differential but got the No. 6 overall pick. How does that happen? Philip Rivers, that’s how. Rivers is now gone. Lynn will be the first Chargers boss since Marty Schottenheimer in 2005 to coach a different quarterback. Maybe now he can finally put his stamp on this team? In the Rivers Rollercoaster’s wake is an excellent defense and weapons at every level of the offense. No longer inextricably linked to his quarterback, ex-RBs coach Lynn is free to implement his vision as he sees fit. Well respected by his players, Lynn has enough talent at his disposal to turn what is typically a 3-4 year job into a much longer gig.     

19. Jon Gruden
Career Record: 106-102 (.510)  
With The Raiders Since: 2018 
Last Year’s Ranking: 23

If you look at the standings, they would show you the Raiders improved by three games last season. Popping the car hood tells a different story. Although better than 2018’s abysmal -177 mark, the Raiders’ -106 point differential was still the sixth worst in the league. 6-4 and in the playoff hunt entering Week 12, Jon Gruden’s squad embarked on a four-game losing streak where they were outscored 136-49. For the climax, they lost 20-16 to the go-nowhere Jags in the final game at Oakland Coliseum, getting booed off the field in what should have been a bittersweet moment. Through two seasons on the job, Gruden’s offense has averaged 302 points, an anemic number for an “offensive mind.” For the second straight year, Derek Carr grew more efficient under Gruden’s tutelage, but it did not result in more points or big plays. Marcus Mariota isn’t going to help improve those deficiencies. It would be uncharitable to call Gruden a bad coach. It would be accurate to say that at age 56 in his second go-round with the Raiders, he has not been a difference maker. The progress needs to be more than incremental in 2020 for that to change.      

20. Brian Flores
Career Record: 5-11 (.313)  
With The Dolphins Since: 2019 
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Brian Flores began his head-coaching career by going 0-4 and getting out-scored 163-26. What would have normally produced one-and-done talk was all part of the plan for the tanking Dolphins. What happened next wasn’t. A roster that management wanted to quit on itself instead rallied for a 5-7 finish, including 4-4 in the second half of the season. Flores’ squad put an exclamation point on its failed pursuit of the No. 1 pick with a dynasty-ending victory over the Patriots in Week 17. This was not the front office’s initially desired outcome, but the trade off — worse draft position for confirmation that the new guy can actually coach — was worth it. One year is one year, and arbitrary endpoints abound in Flores’ inaugural campaign. The fact that there were any good stretches to highlight speaks to a coach and rebuild that are both ahead of schedule.

Patrick Daugherty
Patrick Daugherty is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .