They’re on the sidelines every Sunday. Some appear steady and composed, but others look red-faced and tense. A head coach of a National Football League (NFL) team is an insanely challenging job and the pressure to win is extreme, so emotions can run high. Just watch the eruptions after a “bad” call.
Before competition, a coach is tasked with developing a game plan, and then if during competition it’s not working, tweaking it. They must manage practices and lead by either praising or punishing players to make sure the team holds together on the gridiron, especially when the going gets rough. They must work with their offensive and defensive coordinators who design and implement schemes and formations, and in the end, all that matters is the final score. It takes supreme talent and unwavering commitment to meet all of these challenges. This select group of leaders, some with military experience, has truly shined on the field. Learn how these 10 best NFL coaches of all time made significant contributions to the sport.
10 Best NFL Coaches of All Time
- Don Shula
Don Shula holds the record for most wins in NFL history (328), and the most Super Bowl appearances (six). In 1970, he became the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Prior to that, he was the head coach of the Baltimore Colts. Before becoming a coach, he played defensive back for the Cleveland Browns, and his career was put on hold when he was activated as a member of the Ohio National Guard during the Korean War. He served for almost a year before returning to the NFL.
- Vince Lombardi
Vince Lombardi is the icon of NFL coaches. In fact, the league’s championship trophy is named after him. In 1959, he was named the head coach and General Manager of the Green Bay Packers. During his second year there, the Packers made it to the NFL championship game and lost. He vowed that would never happen again. He kept his word. He never had a losing season, and won three NFL championships and two Super Bowls. In 1954, before coming to the NFL as an assistant coach with the New York Giants, Lombardi spent five years coaching under Red Blaik at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He often credits the Army football team for shaping his disciplined methods.
- George Halas
Nicknamed “Mr. Everything” and “Papa Bear,” George Halas with an outstanding 324 career wins, coached the Decatur Staleys, the Chicago Staleys, and the Chicago Bears for over 40 years, with only six losing seasons during that time. The Staley family became involved in the American Professional Football Association (which later became the NFL), and Halas acted as their representative. He then moved the team to Chicago, and in 1922, adopted Bears as the name. He played defensive end and wide receiver, while also serving as head coach. He helped create the T-Formation which is still widely used today. Halas served in the U.S. Navy in both WWI and WWII, and he set up an annual charity game that benefited relief agencies of the Armed Forces.
- Tom Landry
Sporting his signature fedora and famous for his cool, calm demeanor, Tom Landry was the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys for 29 seasons. During his tenure from 1960 to 1988, the Cowboys enjoyed 20 consecutive winning seasons. They also reached five Super Bowls and won two in 1971 and 1977. This innovative leader is the master mind of the 4-3, the most common base defense in the NFL today. In WWII, Landry served as a bomber co-pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, achieving the rank of Second Lieutenant.
- Bill Walsh
The father of the West Coast Offense which still torments defenses to this day, Bill Walsh is considered the greatest offensive mind to ever coach the NFL. In 1979, he became the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and his rocky start soon turned around when he drafted Joe Montana. With this star quarterback and the help of Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, and Charles Haley he perfected the West Coast Offense and led the 49ers to three Super Bowl titles in 1981, 1984, and 1988.
- Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick, in only his second year as head coach of the New England Patriots, led the team to their first Super Bowl victory in 2001. They went on to win three more in 2003, 2004, and 2014. In 2007, although his team was undefeated during the season, they narrowly lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. His is known for his attention to detail and defensive strategy, even though the Patriots also have a very successful offense. He is currently still coaching.
- Chuck Noll
As the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 to 1991, Chuck Noll led his team to four Super Bowl wins within six years—1974, 1975, 1978, and 1979. He was very skilled at finding talent and selected four future Hall of Fame recipients in his first five picks—Mike Webster, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, and Lynn Swann—and his Steel Curtain Defense completely overwhelmed his opponents. During the 1970’s, his dominant teams included Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, and Rocky Bleir who has served in the military and is known for his devotion to military veterans and wounded warriors.
- Joe Gibbs
Despite an 8-8 debut season as head coach of the Washington Redskins in 1981, Joe Gibbs led his team to victory in Super Bowl XVII the following year. In 1983, the Redskins won the NFC Championship game, but lost against the L.A. Raiders. They won the Super Bowl again in 1987 against the Denver Broncos and in 1991 against the Buffalo Bills. In 1993, he retired and then in 2004, Redskins owner, Daniel Synder, enticed him to return. His innovations include the Tip Formation and the single back, double, and triple tight end set.
- Paul Brown
Known as the greatest teacher of football, Paul Brown has a long list of successful coaches and players that he guided. Some of them include: Otto Graham (player), Don Shula (player), Bill Walsh (coach), and Blanton Collier (coach). In 1946 following WWII, Brown became the manager of the Cleveland Browns in the All-American Football Conference (AAFC). The Browns won all four years in that league, and when it folded, the team moved into the NFL winning three championships in the 1950’s. Later, from 1968 until 1975, he coached the Cincinnati Bengals. He is the first coach to assemble a library of game films, give his players intelligence tests, put face masks on helmets, use radio transmitters to communicate with players on the field, and to instruct players in a classroom setting.
- Bill Parcels
Bill Parcels, the turnaround artist, transformed struggling franchises into winners and was the first coach to take four teams to the postseason. As the head coach of the New York Giants, he won two Super Bowls (1986, 1990), and as the head coach of the New England Patriots he won his third (1996). In the 1998 season, he took the New York Jets to within one game of a fourth Super Bowl. Each time he took over a team they had won only five or fewer games in the previous season, and in all four times, Parcells had the team in the playoffs by his second season.