Most Overrated NFL Head Coaches
Coaching in the NFL can mean everything, and good ones tend to rise to the occasion.
But just because a coach wins a title or reaches the playoffs doesn’t mean he’s lived up to the hype. There have been coaches who have cost organizations Super Bowls and dynasties just by their inability to get out of the way.
These are the coaches who fit that description. They are the most overrated head coaches in NFL history.
NFL tenure: Denver Broncos (1981-92), New York Giants (1993-96), Atlanta Falcons (1997-2003)
Regular-season record: 190-165-2 (.535)
Playoff record: 11-9 (.550)
Why he’s overrated: Dan Reeves was good with upstart teams. He guided the Denver Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances. He even got the "Dirty Bird" Atlanta Falcons to one in 1998. But Reeves was unable to get over the hump in the Super Bowl, or even keep the championship games close.
Reeves-coached teams were outscored 170-59 in four Super Bowls, including Super Bowl XXXIII, where he and the Falcons ironically were knocked off by John Elway and the Broncos in Elway’s final NFL game.
Consider also that Reeves was 80-92-1 without Elway as his quarterback, and the coach's 165 losses are tied with Jeff Fisher for the most in NFL history, and you might see why Reeves is more well thought of than he should be.
NFL tenure: Green Bay Packers (2006-18)
Regular-season record: 125-77-2 (.618)
Playoff record: 10-8 (.556)
Why he’s overrated: A .618 win percentage and Super Bowl win screams legitimacy, but it feels more like disappointment when those are your credentials after coaching two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history for your entire tenure.
The Packers always seemed to win largely in spite of Mike McCarthy’s coaching acumen, particularly in the Aaron Rodgers era where the quarterback pulled miraculous wins out of nowhere.
McCarthy’s playoff record at Lambeau Field, was just 4-3, and with a 1-3 record in conference championship games, McCarthy is overvalued.
NFL tenure: Cincinnati Bengals (1984-91), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1992-95)
Regular-season record: 84-107 (.440)
Playoff record: 3-2 (.600)
Why he’s overrated: Sam Wyche is one of two coaches to lead the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl, which in theory makes him a miracle worker. But that 12-4 season ended in a 20-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII and was more an outlier than indicator.
Wyche finished .500 or worse in 10 of his 12 seasons as a head coach, including a 23-41 record as the Bucs coach. That flat out doesn’t cut it.
NFL tenure: Cleveland Browns (1984-88), Kansas City Chiefs (1989-98), Washington Redskins (2001), San Diego Chargers (2002-06)
Regular-season record: 200-126-1 (.613)
Playoff record: 5-13 (.278)
Why he’s overrated: Marty Schottenheimer was a great coach. Unfortunately, when the playoffs rolled around, so did Marty Ball, an uncharacteristic conservative streak that led to six straight playoff losses, five of which came at home, to close his career.
NFL tenure: New Orleans Saints (1986-96), Indianapolis Colts (1998-01)
Regular-season record: 125-106 (.541)
Playoff record: 0-6 (.000)
Why he’s overrated: Jim Mora may have been a quote machine, but he was largely ineffective at coaching NFL teams.
Perhaps perfectly, the man best known for once squealing "playoffs?!" in a news conference never won a postseason game, failing in all six tries including five games at home.
He entered the 2018 NFL season tied for the most regular-season wins without a playoff victory. That dubious honor now belongs to Marvin Lewis all by himself.
NFL tenure: Cincinnati Bengals (2003-present)
Regular-season record: 130-119-3 (.522)
Playoff record: 0-7 (.000)
Why he’s overrated: It’s hard to believe Marvin Lewis has lasted 15 seasons in Cincinnati, but here we are. To be fair, Lewis has presided over the longest coaching tenure in franchise history, with the most wins and third-best win percentage.
The problem has come in the playoffs, where Cincinnati hasn’t won a game — including four home playoff losses, and two to the rival Steelers.
Lewis likely isn’t going anywhere, much to the chagrin of Bengals fans everywhere.
NFL tenure: Los Angeles Rams (1973-77, 1992-94), Buffalo Bills (1978-82), Seattle Seahawks (1983-91)
Regular-season record: 186-147-1 (.558)
Playoff record: 7-11 (.389)
Why he’s overrated: Chuck Knox appeared to be the classic "coach before the coach" in a lot of ways.
He built a program in Los Angeles, guiding the Rams to three straight NFC championship game appearances, but left before the Rams reached the Super Bowl in 1979.
He coached the Bills and Seahawks, reaching the AFC championship game with the latter in 1983, but never could get over the hump to the Super Bowl.
NFL tenure: Miami Dolphins (2005-06)
Regular-season record: 15-17 (.469)
Playoff record: 0-0
Why he’s overrated: Nick Saban is hands down the best college football coach ever. But the NFL is a completely different animal, and it’s the one thing he never mastered.
Saban long had been rumored to coach in the NFL after successful tenures at Michigan State University and LSU, and he finally jumped in with the Dolphins. But it didn’t exactly go to plan. Saban was 9-7 his first season, then went 6-10 and bolted for the University of Alabama at season’s end.
Why would Saban even appear on this list? Well, NFL rumors still crop up for him — despite his God-like status at Alabama.
NFL tenure: Baltimore Ravens (1999-2007)
Regular-season record: 80-64 (.556)
Playoff record: 5-3 (.625)
Why he’s overrated: Brian Billick was considered a brilliant offensive mind that turned the Minnesota Vikings into an offensive machine in the late 1990s. But Billick’s lone Super Bowl team was offensively challenged, riding an all-world defense to a 4-0 playoff run and 34-7 win over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
Billick was just 60-52 thereafter, and only 1-3 in the postseason.
NFL tenure: Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans (1995-2010), St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams (2012-16)
Regular-season record: 173-165-1 (.512)
Playoff record: 7-9 (.438)
Why he’s overrated: Jeff Fisher presided over tumult when the Oilers moved to Tennessee, and still is the franchise’s only coach to reach the Super Bowl.
But he finished with six straight sub-.500 seasons in Tennessee and Los Angeles combined and was fired midseason in 2016 after failing to properly use Rams standout running back Todd Gurley.
NFL tenure: Arizona Cardinals (2007-12), Tennessee Titans (2014-15)
Regular-season record: 48-71 (.403)
Playoff record: 4-2 (.667)
Why he’s overrated: You’d think the coach to lead the Cardinals to the Super Bowl would be considered underrated.
But Ken Whisenhunt finished his six-year tenure in the NFL with just one double-digit-win season (2010) and was 21-50 over the final five seasons in Arizona and Tennessee combined.
Whisenhunt is a competent offensive mind, but probably should remain coaching that side of the ball only.
NFL tenure: Oakland Raiders (1998-2001, 2018-present), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-08)
Regular-season record: 97-91 (.516)
Playoff record: 5-4 (.556)
Why he’s overrated: Jon Gruden might not be on this list if not for the infamous "Tuck Rule" game. In another universe, he goes on and becomes Bill Belichick, and the Patriots coach appears on this list. The world will never know.
The problem with Gruden is he was given $100 million to fix the Raiders and doesn’t appear to be remotely close to doing so.
Gruden was the hot coaching name for years, but was only 14 games over .500 for his career entering 2018 in Oakland. That record has gotten worse in his second act with the Silver and Black.
NFL tenure: Houston Oilers (1985-89), Atlanta Falcons (1990-93)
Regular-season record: 60-69 (.465)
Playoff record: 3-4 (.429)
Why he’s overrated: Jerry Glanville was clever in his anecdotes, but generally speaking couldn’t produce on the field when it counted.
Glanville was beloved, particularly among the 1991 "2 Legit" Falcons, but outside of two 10-win seasons, one apiece in Houston and Atlanta, Glanville had four double-digit-loss campaigns in eight NFL seasons and never got past the divisional playoffs.
NFL tenure: Baltimore Colts (1954-62), New York Jets (1963-73)
Regular-season record: 130-129-7 (.502)
Playoff record: 4-1 (.800)
Why he’s overrated: You’d think the only champion in Jets history would get a pass, but Weeb Ewbank was a feast-or-famine head coach in the NFL.
In his three championship seasons, his clubs were a combined 20 games over .500. But in every other season, the Jets and Colts were 19 games below .500, and somehow, he only won two titles in the Johnny Unitas era in Baltimore.
With the Jets, he was just 71-77-6, with just two playoff appearances to his ledger in 11 seasons in New York.
NFL tenure: New York Jets (2009-14), Buffalo Bills (2015-16)
Regular-season record: 61-66 (.480)
Playoff record: 4-2 (.667)
Why he’s overrated: Rex Ryan was entertaining, brash and prone to creating bulletin-board material for opponents. He also never managed to get it done when it counted most.
Sure, Ryan is one of only two coaches to beat Bill Belichick in the playoffs in Foxborough this decade, but that was his final playoff victory, and he went 41-54 in the regular season thereafter.
Still, fans call up their local talk-radio stations pining for Ryan’s services. Of course, he wasn’t the first Ryan to pull this.
NFL tenure: Philadelphia Eagles (1986-90), Phoenix Cardinals (1994-95)
Regular-season record: 55-55-1 (.500)
Playoff record: 0-3
Why he’s overrated: Like Rex, Buddy Ryan was a good talker and a defensive guru. Unfortunately, like his son, he never could back up the talk when it mattered most.
Buddy Ryan built a legitimate program in Philadelphia, but didn’t win a playoff game with two home defeats. That didn’t exactly endear him with the fans in Philly, and he was fired.
He went to Phoenix trying to bring legitimacy to the Cardinals organization, but that didn’t happen either. Ultimately, he’s overrated much like his one-time boss in Chicago, Mike Ditka.
NFL tenure: Chicago Bears (1982-92), New Orleans Saints (1997-99)
Regular-season record: 121-95 (.560)
Playoff record: 6-6 (.500)
Why he’s overrated: Many recognize the 1985 Chicago Bears as one of the most dominant teams in NFL history, but they also acknowledge it was a comet, and that is largely because of Mike Ditka.
The head coach and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan built a feared team in Chicago, but Ditka lost four of six home playoff games after the Bears' 46-10 rout of the Patriots in Super Bowl XX and went just 20-44 in his final 64 games between Chicago and New Orleans.
Ditka is beloved in Chicago still because he delivered the city its only football championship in the Super Bowl era, but you have to wonder what would’ve happened if someone else had the helm.
NFL tenure: New York Jets (2001-05), Kansas City Chiefs (2006-08)
Regular-season record: 54-74 (.422)
Playoff record: 2-4 (.333)
Why he’s overrated: It’s ironic that Herm Edwards is known for "playing to win the game," since his tenure with the Jets was marked by conservative teams.
Edwards was the consummate player’s coach, but that wore off quickly after first-year playoff berths in both New York and Kansas City. Edwards went just 6-26 in his last two seasons with the Chiefs — after they were forced to compensate the Jets with a draft pick for talking about the position without prior approval — and has not returned to the NFL.
He did get back into coaching at Arizona State University in 2018, showing off that first-year magic with a 7-5 showing with the Sun Devils.
NFL tenure: Philadelphia Eagles (1976-82), St. Louis Rams (1997-99), Kansas City Chiefs (2001-05)
Regular-season record: 120-109 (.520)
Playoff record: 6-5 (.545)
Why he’s overrated: Dick Vermeil was one of the best human beings to coach in NFL history, and it was a joy to watch him ride off into the sunset after his Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV for his first coaching championship, even if he spoiled it by coming back with the Chiefs two years later.
Unfortunately, that didn’t cover for his largely unsuccessful term with the Rams and botched Super Bowl appearance as coach of the Eagles that ended in a 27-10 drubbing at the hands of the Oakland Raiders.
Fortunately, Doug Pederson, Nick Foles and the 2017 Eagles helped take Vermeil off the hook by winning Super Bowl LII.
NFL tenure: St. Louis Cardinals (1973-77), San Diego Chargers (1978-86)
Regular-season record: 111-83-1 (.572)
Playoff record: 3-6 (.333)
Why he’s overrated: Let’s start by saying we regret having to put Air Coryell on this list, but the truth can’t be ignored. Coryell lit the NFL on fire with his pass-happy, offensively driven teams, especially in San Diego.
But Coryell and the Chargers couldn’t ever get over the hump to the Super Bowl, losing consecutive home playoff games in 1980 and 1981 and in the AFC championship game in consecutive seasons in 1981 and 1982.
Thus, the narrative was set that high-flying offenses couldn’t get it done when it counted most.