During the week leading up to the NFC and AFC Championship Games, Adam Schein, a radio host, a columnist for NFL.com, and a card-carrying Falcons hater for some reason, posted an article on NFL.com ranking the four coaches who had led their teams to their respective conference championship games. He ranked Mike Smith last among the four remaining coaches.
In early April, Schein donned his coach-ranking hat again to come up with his version of the top nine head coaches in the NFL. Mike Smith was listed as one of the toughest omissions from the list. Yes, last year's AOL Sporting News Coach of the Year, the third time Smith has received that honor in his brief five-year career, was not on Schein's list at all.
Schein's ranking system places a significant priority on overall career performance, including Super Bowl wins. For example, Mike Shanahan (.450 win percentage over his past five seasons) and Andy Reid (4-12 last year, and subsequently fired by the Philadelphia Eagles) were both listed in Schein's top nine. When establishing power rankings for teams, should one consider the Super Bowls the Cowboys won in the 1970s and 1990s as a factor in ranking their team's ability to compete in the league today? Of course not.
With that in mind, let's rank the top five NFL head coaches heading into the 2013 season.
First of all, we're going to only look at coaches with two or more years of experience. Sorry, Chuck Pagano, you had an exceptional season in Indianapolis, and we all respect the way you fought through adversity, personally, as you fought cancer, and professionally, as you turned around a struggling franchise with a rookie quarterback, but you're out of the running.
Although I don't believe it paints an accurate picture of their current relevance to this list, I do think a lifetime winning percentage should at least factor into this discussion. The top five in that category among active NFL head coaches are Jim Harbaugh (.774), Mike Smith (.700), John Harbaugh (.675), Mike McCarthy (.661) and Mike Tomlin (.656).
Winning in the regular season is great, but Falcons fans understand, maybe better than anyone else, that playoff wins matter more. The top six (because of ties) active NFL coaches for playoff win percentage are John Harbaugh and Bill Belichick (both .692), Rex Ryan (.667), Tom Coughlin (.632) and Mike Tomlin and Sean Payton are tied for fifth (both .625). Of those coaches, all but Rex Ryan have won Super Bowls, and all but Bill Belichick have won a Super Bowl in the last five years.
But, you can't win in the playoffs if you can't get to the playoffs. The active NFL coaches with the most playoff appearances in the last five years are John Harbaugh (5), Bill Belichick, Mike Smith, Mike McCarthy (all with 4), and Mike Tomlin, Sean Payton and Andy Reid (all with 3).
Because recent history is more relevant than total history when projecting a coach's ability to win in the coming season, let's look at the active NFL coaches with the best winning percentages over the past five seasons. Jim Harbaugh is first (.774), Bill Belichick is second (.750), Mike Smith is third (.700), John Harbaugh is fourth (.692) and Mike McCarthy is fifth (.662).
Based on that data, my power rankings for the top five active NFL coaches are as follows.
- Bill Belichick. His career win percentage is skewed by a few abysmal years in Cleveland, but his last five seasons have been stellar, with a .750 win percentage and four trips to the playoffs, as well as an AFC Championship and a Super Bowl appearance in 2011.
- John Harbaugh. His career win percentage is lower than his brother Jim’s, and Mike Smith’s, but he has been exceptional in the postseason. He also just won a Super Bowl. The Ravens have made some weird offseason decisions, so who knows what next season holds for them, but John Harbaugh is an excellent coach.
- Mike McCarthy. He’s top five in career win percentage, as well as his win percentage over the past five years, and he’s tied with Mike Smith and Bill Belichick for the number of playoff appearances over the past five seasons. He also won a Super Bowl in 2010.
- Mike Smith. He has the second-best career win percentage in the league, and is third in the league over the past five years. He’s taken the Falcons to the playoffs four out of the last five seasons, and got the team to the NFC Championship Game in 2012. If Smitty had more playoff wins, he would be higher on this list. With a .200 win percentage in the postseason, and no Super Bowl appearances or wins, objectively, this is where Smitty belongs on this list. But he’s number one in my heart.
- Jim Harbaugh. He’s at the bottom of the top five because we’re working with a small sample size, as he has been a head coach for just two years. The rest of the coaches listed have sustained a high winning percentage over at least five years. In two years in the league, he’s managed a .774 win percentage, two trips to the NFC Championship Game, and one Super Bowl appearance.
What would your power rankings look like for the top five coaches in the NFL?