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NFL's Best Coaches 2020

Updated On: July 3, 2020, 6:25 pm ET

Five of the NFL’s 32 head coaches have spent time on Andy Reid’s staff. That number is four for Bill Belichick, though it balloons to six if you include his former players Mike Vrabel and Kliff Kingsbury. If you count Reid and Belichick themselves, 13 of the league’s 32 bosses can be linked to just two trees. For all that imitation, Reid and Belichick own the past four AFC Championships, and three of the past four Super Bowls. The fourth was won by Reid disciple Doug Pederson. It would seem there is a clear takeaway: To win in the NFL, it is better to set trends than follow them. 

Two men who have followed that advice are Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, Reid and Belichick’s past two Super Bowl victims. They offer hope that, maybe one day, someone else might lead this list. As for now, Belichick and Reid remain without peer. As I say every year, players, owners, assistants, injuries and acts of God can matter as much as coaching acumen. That’s why, though this is a rankings article, I try not to think of it that way. I view it as more of a compendium, an assessment of where the league’s 32 coaches find themselves right now. How they got here and where they might be going. Last year’s list can be found here. 2018’s is here.     

1. Bill Belichick 
Career Record: 273-127 (.683)  
With The Patriots Since: 2000 
Last Year’s Ranking: 1

The inclination will be to turn 2020 into a referendum on the great Pats debate: Tom Brady or Bill Belichick? I won’t indulge. It’s unknowable, and it doesn’t matter. That doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge the “post-Brady” wonders Belichick has already worked. With his aging quarterback saddled with an underwhelming supporting cast, 2019 Belichick oversaw a defense that allowed a league-low 225 points. Never in New England had the NFL’s greatest mind surrendered so few points. That formed the backbone of Belichick’s 10th straight 11-win campaign, and 16th in 20 years. That includes 2008, when a torn ACL limited Brady to 11 attempts. We already know Belichick is going to keep on winning. That doesn’t say anything about Brady, who is probably the best to ever do it. It just means that a Lennon found a McCartney. It’s not an either/or. It’s both, but the nature of Belichick’s position means he will get to keep doing it longer than his former quarterback, putting his records further out of reach and adding more glorious chapters to an already incomparable career.

         

2. Andy Reid  
Career Record: 207-128-1 (.618)  
With The Chiefs Since: 2013 
Last Year’s Ranking: 2

We didn’t need a Super Bowl to tell us Andy Reid’s place in the pantheon. He is the second best coach of his generation, and one of the greatest of all time. We got a Lombardi anyways, forever inoculating Reid against “he never won the big one” caveats while validating two decades of precise, innovative football. Reid has won at least nine games each of his seven seasons with the Chiefs, averaging 11. He has made the playoffs 15-of-21 years as a head coach, doing so with such disparate quarterbacks as Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes. In a copycat league, Reid has always been a trendsetter. 62-year-old Reid’s résumé is now complete, but his tutelage of 24-year-old Mahomes means the Super Bowls could just be getting started.      

3. Sean Payton
Career Record: 131-77 (.630)  
With The Saints Since: 2006 
Last Year’s Ranking: 6

Remember Sean Payton trade rumors? They seem funny now as Payton basks in his second Saints wind, but they were often fueled by the man himself. Payton had seemed to reach the limits of what he could accomplish with record-breaking quarterback Drew Brees. The duo lit up scoreboards and stuffed stat sheets but couldn’t keep the other team out of the end zone. Payton appeared hungry for a change of scenery. He got it in the form of the Saints’ already-legendary 2017 draft class, which has revitalized both coach and team to three straight 11-win campaigns, including 13 each of the past two years. It hasn’t simply been the case of an old dog doing his usual tricks. After a decade of passing pyrotechnics, Payton rediscovered his preferred balance on offense, using two-back attacks to set up Brees’ unparalleled efficiency. Frustration has been found in the playoffs, though Payton has quietly become the 27th winningest coach in NFL history, with the 21st best winning percentage. Only Bill Belichick, Andy Reid and Mike Tomlin have more victories amongst current sideline bosses. Payton can sidetrack himself — hello, Taysom Hill — but his reinvigorated pursuit of a second Lombardi is not about to run out of steam.   

4. John Harbaugh 
Career Record: 118-74 (.615)  
With The Ravens Since: 2008 
Last Year’s Ranking: 8
 

John Harbaugh has been the Ravens’ coach for 12 seasons. In Year 1, he reached the AFC Championship Game. In Year 5, he won the Super Bowl. In Year 12, he notched a career-best 14 victories. Harbaugh’s accomplishments have come in the hyper-competitive AFC North, most of them with statuesque quarterback Joe Flacco. Harbaugh’s seat has gotten hot once or twice over the years, most recently in 2018. His coolant arrived in the form of Lamar Jackson, a rare young talent, but one who necessitated a complete overhaul of the Ravens’ substance and style on offense. That is not the sort of change most NFL coaches are willing to make, let alone in Year 11. Harbaugh did it in the middle of the season, saving his job and pointing the Ravens back toward a bright future. “If you don't like change, you're gonna like irrelevancy even less,” has become one of Harbaugh’s mantras. That is manifested in his embrace of analytics. You are not going to become an old NFL dog without learning new tricks. Harbaugh got the memo and has put himself in excellent position to become just the 14th head coach to win multiple Super Bowls.    

5. Doug Pederson 
Career Record: 38-26 (.594)  
With The Eagles Since: 2016 
Last Year’s Ranking: 4

Doug Pederson quickly gained a reputation as the league’s analytics prince, but his recent seasons have been more MacGyver than mathematics. If you need to win a playoff game with your backup quarterback, Pederson is your man. A 4-0 finish to steal the division after starting 5-7? Pederson will get it done. Craving normalcy? Pederson hasn’t really had it since Carson Wentz’s 2017 ACL tear. That’s when things got weird and have stayed so. A huge part of it has been personnel. The Eagles routinely don’t have it in the secondary, while the injuries got so bad on offense last year that “Greg Ward” spent time as the No. 1 receiver. Pederson continues to make lemonade out of lemons, which can obscure his continued devotion to cold, hard logic. Even at 9-7, the Eagles remained one of the league’s most efficient offenses last season, as well as one of the most aggressive on fourth down. Pederson knows what he’s doing, and it will look even better if his team can get just a little bit healthier with a little bit better roster.      

6. Mike Tomlin
Career Record: 133-74-1 (.642)  
With The Steelers Since: 2007 
Last Year’s Ranking: 7

The Steelers have only three playoff victories since their defeat in Super Bowl XLV in 2011. They are coming off an 8-8 campaign. So why has Mike Tomlin’s value never been clearer? “(Coach Tomlin) straight up went high school football coach and drew up how we were going to defend Cleveland,“ an anonymous player told ESPN’s Dianna Russini after the Steelers’ Week 13 win over the Browns. “He saved the game.” Let’s not make too much of that. It was simply Tomlin doing his job. But that’s what he did all year after Ben Roethlisberger went down in Week 1. Essentially playing without a quarterback, Tomlin rallied his team to an 8-8 finish. Amongst their defeats were a two-pointer to the 11-5 Seahawks, a four-pointer to the NFC champion 49ers and a three-pointer to the 14-2 Ravens. Six of their eight losses were to playoff clubs. Again, this was with Mason Rudolph and “Devlin Hodges” under center. Tomlin did everything he could to keep his overmatched squad in the hunt until they collapsed to three straight losses after an improbable 8-5 start. Tomlin should have more playoff victories. The same is true of every other long-term coach not named Bill Belichick.     

7. Sean McVay
Career Record: 33-15 (.688)  
With The Rams Since: 2017 
Last Year’s Ranking: 3

The key to Sean McVay’s success as a play-caller has been his manipulations of Jared Goff. With the offensive line in disarray and Todd Gurley looking like a shell of his former self, it was much more difficult in 2019. Increased pressure had Goff running for the hills, and Gurley was not an effective safety valve. In the context of that offensive dysfunction, 9-7 was almost impressive. There remains zero doubt about McVay’s ability to scheme offense. The question has become if he’s biting off more than he can chew in other areas. Les Snead is the general manager, but McVay’s fingerprints are all over the team’s hyper-aggressive moves in the trade market. The Rams now have an over-leveraged roster and a shortage of draft picks to fix last year’s issues. McVay has also parted ways with war horse DC Wade Phillips in favor of obscure 37-year-old Brandon Staley. McVay is doubling down on his McVay-ness. Long term, McVay remains a strong bet. He is one of the NFL’s best coaches with obvious room to grow. Short term, McVay might have to work through some growing pains before getting back to the Super Bowl.    

8. Kyle Shanahan 
Career Record: 23-25 (.479)  
With The 49ers Since: 2017 
Last Year’s Ranking: 15

Kyle Shanahan’s quarterback finally got healthy, but that is not the reason he reached his first Super Bowl as head coach. The key to Shanahan’s 2019 was trust in his key lieutenants coming to fruition. Robert Saleh on defense. John Lynch in the front office. As they did their thing, Shanahan did his, deploying a lethal rushing onslaught despite lacking anything resembling a true lead back. Shanahan ground his opponents into dust with the running game while picking his spots with an uneven passing attack. That’s what makes the 49ers’ 2019 so promising. Shanahan wasn’t undermanned only in the backfield, but also the receiver corps. This was not an offense overflowing with weapons or excellent individual performances. It was Shanahan making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. It’s the trait that separates exceptional coaches from ordinary ones. Leaning on scheme instead of talent isn’t the easiest way to make an NFL living, but Shanahan has now proven both as an assistant and head coach that he has the right Super Bowl stuff.      

9. Pete Carroll 
Career Record: 133-90-1 (.596)  
With The Seahawks Since: 2010 
Last Year’s Ranking: 5

Pete Carroll has stacked up victories everywhere he’s been. Now it’s become a vision quest for the league’s oldest coach, who must not only win, but do it his way. That means running the ball — come hell or high water — despite having one of the most efficient, explosive quarterbacks of the 21st century. Russell Wilson has been reduced to openly begging for a more aerial, up-tempo offense, but there is little reason to expect 68-year-old Carroll to change his ways as he chases his platonic ideal of football. For all the internet fuss, the results have remained strong. The Seahawks have averaged 10 wins in six seasons since their Super Bowl triumph, never posting fewer than nine. It’s just impossible not to think that Carroll could have it even better if he stopped handicapping his offense. Wilson is a nuclear weapon at quarterback. The Seahawks have to stop employing him like a WWI-era dogfighter. Carroll is not only one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, but football history. Nothing between now and retirement will change that. It would still be nice to see him go down swinging instead of running.    

10. Mike Zimmer 
Career Record: 57-38-1 (.599)  
With The Vikings Since: 2014
Last Year’s Ranking: 9

Mike Zimmer’s stone age 2019 football produced a playoff victory and head-coaching gig for OC Kevin Stefanski. If you are going to insist on establishing the run, that’s not a bad outcome. Another good outcome was having Gary Kubiak at the ready to replace Stefanski. Kubiak will continue to pound the rock and complement it with a devastating play-action attack, playing into both Zimmer’s wishes and Kirk Cousins’ strengths. Defensive-minded Zimmer takes care of his side of the ball. That’s a huge bar for any head coach to clear. The next step is finding the right stewards for the unit you don’t coordinate, and Zimmer has done so in Kubiak, Cousins and Dalvin Cook. Kubiak’s old school mentality makes for easy jokes on Twitter, but it also has him in excellent position for his fourth playoff appearance in seven years.

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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.

21. Kliff Kingsbury
Career Record: 5-10-1 (.344)  
With The Cardinals Since: 2019 
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Kliff Kingsbury looked every bit a rookie in 2019, taking the year to figure out just who he wants to be on offense. Should the Cardinals be run or pass heavy? Should the passing game be horizontal or vertical? Kingsbury could never quite find the right personnel groupings at wide receiver. Through it all, Kyler Murray stayed on schedule and Kenyan Drake became a star. A lack of flexibility and backup plans have tripped up past offensive auteurs — hello Chip Kelly — but Kingsbury has already shown that won’t be his NFL issue. Kingsbury was always vexed by his defense in college, where personnel is paramount. No matter how good his offensive system was, Kingsbury had to spend half his time trying to convince 18-year-old DBs and DEs to come to the high plains of Texas. That’s not a concern in the socialistic NFL, where every team has equal access to the player pool. With GM Steve Keim and DC Vance Joseph taking care of the defense, Kingsbury can focus on what he does best: Designing offense. He had almost too many ideas in 2019. The increased clarity that should come after a year on the NFL job figures to have Kingsbury’s attack taking a big step forward in 2020.    

22. Vic Fangio 
Career Record: 7-9 (.438)  
With The Broncos Since: 2019 
Last Year’s Ranking: — —
 

Vic Fangio was one of the oldest first-time head coaches in NFL history. Wisdom seemed to be in short supply his first four games, where the Broncos featured a rudimentary offense while losing to also-rans Oakland, Chicago and Jacksonville. Things got better from there, with the Broncos finishing 7-5. The real turning point came in Week 13, when Fangio handed the keys to second-round rookie Drew Lock. The offense remained arch conservative, but Lock flashed big-play ability as the Broncos eased to a 4-1 finish that included a blowout win over the Texans. Fangio is going to handle his side of the ball. That is one of the bare minimum requirements for any NFL head coach, yet surprisingly few reach it. Fangio’s tenure will hinge on whether he can move past his offensive inertia. The Broncos’ weapons-focused draft suggests Fangio and GM John Elway understand the stakes.     

23. Dan Quinn
Career Record: 43-37 (.538)  
With The Falcons Since: 2015
Last Year’s Ranking: 19

Out of coordinators to fire after 2018 — including special teams — Dan Quinn was reduced to demoting himself following the Falcons’ miserable 2019 start. Quinn’s staff took a collaborative approach to defensive play-calling down the stretch and rallied for a 6-2 finish. Nice, but it was irrelevant thanks to the 1-7 beginning. Through five years, Quinn’s head-coaching career remains one Kyle Shanahan-fueled Super Bowl run and little else. Quinn has cycled through offensive bosses since Shanahan’s departure while time and again letting his defense undermine Matt Ryan. Coaches who can’t even take care of their own side of the ball tend not to last long. Quinn’s shelf life has already been longer than he could have reasonably expected. Quinn’s players seem to enjoy playing for him, but his opponents enjoy playing against him even more. Not every coach gets a fair shake. Quinn has and failed. It will soon be time for the Falcons to move on.  

24. Zac Taylor 
Career Record: 2-14 (.125)  
With The Bengals Since: 2019 
Last Year’s Ranking: — —
 

They waved Zac Taylor into the club because his friend Sean McVay was already inside. Perhaps he should have waited in line a little longer. Nothing about the Bengals’ disastrous 2019 necessarily seemed like it was Taylor’s fault, but there were also few signs he was the right man for the rebuild. Whereas the Dolphins’ Brian Flores coached his way out of a tank, Taylor steered the ship directly into the league’s worst record. Now an unusually young head coach — Taylor turns 37 in May — will be looking to turn his franchise around with an unusually old No. 1 pick. Joe Burrow’s rookie season will be his age-24 campaign. The Bengals addressed their severe talent deficiency with a free-spending free agency. Three top-65 picks are joining the veteran reinforcements. Help is on the way. Hopefully Taylor learned a thing or two as he won a game or two. 

25. Adam Gase 
Career Record: 30-34 (.469)  
With The Jets Since: 2019 
Last Year’s Ranking: — — 

In 2018, then Dolphins coach Adam Gase oversaw a skill corps led by Ryan Tannehill, Kenyan Drake and DeVante Parker. How did they fare their first season without him? Career year, career year, and … you guessed it, career year. This long-established Gase trend achieved transcendent levels of farce in 2019, as did his offense. Sam Darnold got hurt then saw ghosts. Le'Veon Bell received zero blocking and looked done. Robby Anderson sleepwalked through September-November before coming alive in December (again). You could credibly argue none of this was Gase’s fault. The bigger problem is, every time there was a question, Gase didn’t have an answer. Why do Gase’s players show their biggest improvement once they’ve been traded away? Why is the thing he’s most excelled at been antagonizing his own talent? Maybe Gase is one of the hardest-luck coaches in NFL history. He’s led two directionless franchises and been victimized by injury in both spots. The thing is, if you haven’t made your own luck through 64 games, you’re probably never going to. Little from Gase’s first job suggested he deserved a second chance. Little from 2019 suggested he’ll get more than two years in New York.      

26. Matt Patricia 
Career Record: 9-22-1 (.297)  
With The Lions Since: 2018 
Last Year’s Ranking: 2
2

Although I do not believe Matt Patricia is a good coach, it seems harsh to call him one of the worst. But what else can you call 9-22-1? Patricia was hired to be the Lions’ Bill Belichick. In two years, he has barely matched Belichick’s win total from his worst season with Tom Brady. Matthew Stafford’s back injury loomed large over the Lions’ 1-11 finish in 2019, but it was Patricia’s defense that was most out of order. It surrendered 63 more points than the year prior, while Patricia chased off Quandre Diggs and alienated Darius Slay. Although the wins have not stacked up, reports that Patricia’s players don’t like him have. If you’re neither a winning coach nor a player’s coach, then what are you exactly? Patricia has a few things to cling to. After a disastrous 2018 offensive approach, Patricia course corrected with a more modern, explosive aerial attack in 2019. The coach can’t be blamed for Stafford’s injury. Meanwhile, even after Stafford went down, five of the Lions’ eight losses without their quarterback were by one score. The Lions’ bad luck was real. 2020 will be the final word on whether Patricia has any good luck to make.  

27. Doug Marrone 
Career Record: 37-45 (.451)  
With The Jaguars Since: 2016 
Last Year’s Ranking: 21

Concrete takeaways from Doug Marrone’s four years in Jacksonville are few and far between. One thing that’s for certain? He can’t overcome bad management. It is GM Dave Caldwell who has assembled one overwrought roster after another. It was ex-exec Tom Coughlin who fined players for standing on the sideline wrong. But it is Marrone who has treaded .343 water since the Jags’ fluke AFC Championship Game run in 2017-18. Supposedly an offensive-minded head coach, Marrone has cycled through coordinators as the Jags have played retrograde offense. You can get away with that when the other side of the ball is historically good. That alibi disappeared just as soon as it emerged, with the Jags defense’s regression hitting harder and faster than even the most skeptical of observers could have expected. So far, the front office has been content to pass Marrone’s mediocre buck. Most places, he would be out of a job already. With Gardner Minshew looking set to be the Jags’ 2020 quarterback, “most places” will soon be Jacksonville.        

 

New Hires (In Alphabetical Order)

Joe Judge, Giants  
Career Record: — —

With the Sean McVay coaching tree in a bear market, teams have retreated to the safety of Bill Belichick bonds. The Giants dug deeper than most, unearthing 38-year-old special teams coordinator Joe Judge. Working on the third unit since arriving in New England in 2012, Judge added WRs coach to his résumé in 2019. Before that, he was a “special teams assistant” for Nick Saban at Alabama. Judge began his Giants tenure by literally refusing to say the names of his players, let alone confirm their depth chart standing. It was the kind of FootballMan™ gambit that anyone other than Belichick has trouble pulling off. We know nothing about Judge except for the coaches he’s worked for. What we do know is that your former boss is rarely predictive when it comes to NFL success.   

Mike McCarthy, Cowboys 
Career Record: 125-77-2 (.618)
 

The Cowboys wanted a culture change after a decade of clapping through Jason Garrett’s underachievement. Mike McCarthy’s grim intensity is certainly that, but the Packers changed McCarthy’s stale culture into a 13-3 NFC Championship Game appearance last season. McCarthy, for his part, has claimed he learned from his final few years of Packers failures. One manifestation of this was his retainment of Kellen Moore as offensive coordinator, a surprising delegation of powers from an offensive micro-manager. Anyone who remembers McCarthy’s 2018 play-calling will agree it was a wise decision. Like most coaches, McCarthy won in Green Bay when a strong overall roster overlapped with a star quarterback. He will have both in Dallas. Will McCarthy be the reason the Cowboys win? No. Can they win with him? Yes.

Matt Rhule, Panthers 
Career Record: — —

Matt Rhule has promised an unconventional approach in Carolina, but he started his tenure with the most conventional of NFL coach developments: He signed a bunch of his former players. As Rhule fired up the Temple-to-Carolina pipeline, the Panthers moved on from franchise icon Cam Newton. This came just two months after fellow linchpin Luke Kuechly shockingly retired. It will be a season of change in Carolina, though one with exciting new energy not only from Rhule but wiz kid offensive coordinator Joe Brady. Rhule’s jump from Baylor to the big leagues will take place in a division that also features Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. It could be a few years before the project takes off. That’s something hedge fund magnate owner David Tepper insists he understands. Used to be big bets and the long game, Tepper has gone all in on analytics and new thinking. It will be a while before we know if it pays off.  

Ron Rivera, Washington
Career Record: 76-63-1 (.546)
 

Ron Rivera is Washington's eighth full-time coach since Daniel Snyder purchased the team in 1999. Like Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan before him, he arrives with a winning record. Those have never lasted long in Snyder’s D.C. Snyder’s teams have won 10 games three times in 21 years. That includes 1999, a group Snyder had nothing to do with. Rivera won at least 10 games three times in nine years in Carolina, though all six of his other squads finished below .500. Rivera was low-floor, high-ceiling with magnetic talent Cam Newton at quarterback. There is no such cornerstone in Washington, though Dwayne Haskins can’t be written off just yet. Like Jack Del Rio in Oakland, Rivera arrives as a stabilizing force. Like Del Rio in Oakland, the pathway to more might not be there. Rivera is a decent man without a decent team. This project will take many years to come to fruition. “Many years” is not a phrase that exists in Snyder’s lexicon. Even if Rivera lays the foundation, it will almost certainly be someone else putting on the roof.    

Kevin Stefanski, Browns 
Career Record: — —
 

Where does Mike Zimmer end and Kevin Stefanski begin? In his 1.5 years as Vikings offensive coordinator, Stefanski was under unambiguous orders to run the damn ball. He did so quite successfully in 2019, complementing the run game with one of the league’s most effective play-action attacks. Kirk Cousins’ play-action percentage spiked from 20.8 in 2018 to 31.4. Even that fell under the shadow of a different coach, “offensive advisor”/play-action maestro Gary Kubiak. It was telling that when Stefanski departed, it was Kubiak who took the reins. Stefanski must fix Baker Mayfield, who was bad in general last season but somehow the league’s worst play-action passer according to Pro Football Focus. Stefanski must also scheme around a leaky offensive line, something he has experience with from his time in Minnesota. A Vikings assistant since 2006, we just don’t have much to go on with 37-year-old Stefanski. The Browns believe they are getting a bright young offensive mind who is open to the team’s latest embrace of analytics.   


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