This past weekend, Chuck Noll – the legendary coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers who won four Super Bowl championships during his tenure with the team – passed away at the age of 82. In honor of the all-time great, NFL Network spent a lot of time on Saturday and Sunday running programming that focused on Noll’s title-winning teams.
In watching shows like America’s Game, it was impossible not to be struck by the way in which the head coach turned a one-time doormat into what is arguably the greatest franchise in league history. He transformed pro football in the Steel City.
That puts Noll atop the list of Steelers head coaches, although that group is stacked with other Super Bowl winners. Which got the editors at cover32 thinking about who is the greatest coach in the history of each franchise.
But that’s just step one in the process. Once the greatest coach was determined, it was time to rank each of the coaches who were selected from 1-32.
The results make up this week’s Power Rankings: The greatest coaches in each franchise’s history:
1. Vince Lombardi (Green Bay Packers) – Curly Lambeau won more games (209 to 89) and more titles (six to five), but one coach has the stadium named after him while the other one has his name etched on the NFL’s championship trophy every year. Lombardi won five NFL titles, including the first two Super Bowls, during a seven-year stretch; he’s the epitome of championship football.
2. Bill Walsh (San Francisco 49ers) – Yes, George Seifert has a gaudy .766 winning percentage during his eight years at the helm in San Francisco, a stretch that included a pair of Super Bowl titles, but it was Walsh who laid the groundwork for his success. One of the greatest offensive minds in league history, Walsh turned a losing franchise into a dynasty, winning three championships of his own in the ’80s.
3. Paul Brown (Cleveland Browns) – Why are Browns fans frustrated? Because the greatest coach in franchise history retired 52 years ago, only to be followed by 17 men who couldn’t escape his legend. During his 17 years at the helm in Cleveland, Brown posted a .767 winning percentage, won four AAFC titles, captured three NFL championships and named the franchise after himself. That’s pretty darn good.
4. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots) – People may not like Belichick’s tactics, but it’s impossible to argue with the results. During his time in New England, the Patriots have won 11 AFC East titles in 14 seasons, made five Super Bowl appearances and hoisted three Lombardi Trophies; that’s a staggering level of success. And Belichick isn’t done yet, as the book is still being written.
5. Tom Landry (Dallas Cowboys) – Jimmy Johnson gets some serious consideration for this spot, given that he won two Super Bowls in the 1990s with the Cowboys and left a team in place that won another two years after he left. But Landry’s résumé is just too good; the legendary coach won 250 games during his time in Dallas, led the team to five Super Bowls and won two titles; longevity wins out on this one.
6. Don Shula (Miami Dolphins) – The accolades for Shula are astounding, as his résumé is stacked with accomplished, most of which occurred during his time in south Florida. He’s the NFL’s all-time winningest coach with 347 victories, 257 of which came in Miami. He also led the Dolphins to 12 AFC East titles, five Super Bowl appearances and two NFL championships.
7. George Halas (Chicago Bears) – It’s like comparing apples and oranges, trying to measure one of the founders of the league (Halas) against the other great coach in Bears history (Mike Ditka); they simply had the job in eras that were too vastly different. But Halas won six NFL championships across his four stints as the team’s head coach and he helped create the game; that’s almost impossible to beat.
8. Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers) – Winning four Super Bowl titles puts Noll in an elite group, as he’s the only head coach in NFL history to accomplish that feat. Considering he did it in a six-year span, after taking over one of the most-hapless franchises in the league just five years before the first title, it’s evident that he was one of the greatest coaches in the history of the league.
9. Joe Gibbs (Washington Redskins) – Gibbs is underappreciated in terms of the greatest coaches in NFL history, especially for a guy who won three Super Bowls; his name rarely comes up in conversations about the all-time best, but it should. Not only did he win three titles, but each one was captured with a different starting quarterback; he never had a Hall-of-Fame signal caller to ride.
10. Bill Parcells (New York Giants) – Given that the team’s early success seemed to be with a different coach each time (Earl Potteiger, Steve Owen, etc.), this ultimately came down to two guys who won a pair of Super Bowls with the G-Men – Parcells and Tom Coughlin. Ultimately, Parcells won out because his first championship team (1986) was dominant. The other three Super Bowl winners weren’t.
11. John Madden (Oakland Raiders) – An entire generation knows Madden only for his colorful work in the broadcast booth, while yet another simply is aware of him as the guy from the video games. But before any of that, he was a great coach for a decade with the Raiders. In 10 years, his Oakland teams made eight playoff appearance, won seven division titles, played in two Super Bowls and won a title.
12. Mike Shanahan (Denver Broncos) – Red Miller has the highest winning percentage (.645) in franchise history. Dan Reeves led the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances in the 1980s. But ultimately, it was Shanahan who got them over the hump, bringing the first championship in franchise history to Denver in 1997, something he was able to repeat the next year.
13. Hank Stram (Kansas City Chiefs) – There was a lot of support for Marty Schottenheimer in this spot, as he won three division titles and made seven playoff appearances during his decade in Kansas City. But ultimately, Stram’s ability to win the big game – two AFL titles and one Super Bowl during his time with the Texans/Chiefs – put the Hall of Fame coach at the top of the list.
14. John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens) – Considering that two of the three coaches in franchise history – Harbaugh and Brian Billick – have won Super Bowl titles, this was essentially a coin flip. But Harbaugh ultimately got the nod because of the fact that he made the playoffs in each of his first five seasons as head coach and has never had a losing season (Billick had two).
15. Sid Gillman (San Diego Chargers) – Don Coryell helped change the game with his revolutionary passing attack, but he couldn’t get to a Super Bowl. Bobby Ross got the Chargers to their only appearance in the big game, but couldn’t win a title. And Marty Schottenheimer won a lot of games, but flopped in the playoffs. Thus, the coach who got to five AFL title matches and won one gets the top spot in San Diego.
16. Marv Levy (Buffalo Bills) – After a less-than-successful stint in Kanas City, people wondered why Ralph Wilson tabbed the then-61-year-old Levy to take over the Bills in 1986. But he proved the doubters wrong, leading Buffalo to the playoffs eight times during his 12-year career with the team. But he earned a spot in Canton because he guided the franchise to a record four consecutive Super Bowls.