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Ranking all 32 NFL head coaches by big-game résumé: Rams’ Sean McVay behind only Chiefs’ Andy Reid

Head coaches aren’t the end-all, be-all when it comes to Super Bowl contention in the NFL. Only one team hoists the trophy each year, after all, so even the best of the sideline leaders struggle to achieve, let alone sustain, ultimate glory. It’s why we’ve used a number of factors to sort through all 32 head coaches in our annual ranking for 2024.

One of the strongest measures of a head coach’s value, however, might well be big-game reliability. It’s one thing to entice a fan base with inspiring quotes and offseason practices; it’s another to consistently make — then advance in — the playoffs. So we’ve sorted all 32 head coaches into tiers according to their postseason achievement, identifying which of them enter 2024 with the most encouraging big-stage résumé:  

*Inexperienced on the big stage (18)

More than half of the NFL’s 32 head coaches (56%, to be exact) have led two or fewer playoff runs. And 11 of those 18 have yet to coach a single postseason game. There’s certainly a difference between, say, the Miami Dolphins‘ Mike McDaniel, who’s reached the playoffs twice in two years, and the New York Jets‘ Robert Saleh, who’s still seeking his first postseason game entering Year 4.

But since football is often a war of attrition, memorializing not only success but sustained success, we’ve excluded the following from the higher tiers, as they’re still looking to prove themselves in the big picture: Kevin Stefanski (2 playoff appearances), Mike McDaniel (2), Todd Bowles (2), Dan Campbell (1), Kevin O’Connell (1), DeMeco Ryans (1), Brian Daboll (1), Raheem Morris (0), Dave Canales (0), Mike Macdonald (0), Jonathan Gannon (0), Matt Eberflus (0), Antonio Pierce (0), Robert Saleh (0), Brian Callahan (0), Jerod Mayo (0), Shane Steichen (0) and Dennis Allen (0).

*Frequent absentee (1)

This coach simply isn’t a regular in the postseason, despite a past dabble with playoff success.

Playoffs: 2 of 6 seasons (33%) | Wins: 3 of 5 (60%)
Conference titles: 1 for 1 (100%)
Super Bowls: 0 for 1 (0%)

Quinn is revered for his defensive mind, fresh off a nice run with the Dallas Cowboys, but as a head man, he hasn’t overseen a playoff appearance since 2017. His Atlanta Falcons went a combined 14-23 from 2018-2020, and his one Super Bowl appearance included an infamous blown lead.

*Endangered champions (3)

These coaches reached the mountaintop years ago, and they may still guide playoff appearances with regularity, but they’ve recently struggled to convert postseason entries into ultimate glory.

13. Sean Payton (Broncos)

Playoffs: 9 of 17 seasons (53%) | Wins: 9 of 17 (53%)
Conference titles: 1 for 3 (33%)
Super Bowls: 1 for 1 (100%)

Payton isn’t as automatic as you might think when it comes to even making the playoffs. Truth be told, his clubs have been just as spotty in the tournament. Yes, his 2009 New Orleans Saints were magical, but he’s reached just a single conference title game since lifting the trophy with Drew Brees.

12. Mike McCarthy (Cowboys)

Playoffs: 12 of 17 seasons (71%) | Wins: 11 of 22 (50%)
Conference titles: 1 for 4 (25%)
Super Bowls: 1 for 1 (100%)

The former Green Bay Packers leader deserves more respect for the frequency at which his clubs make the dance; only five coaches listed here have a better career playoff-entry rate. The trouble is, since Aaron Rodgers helped him hoist the trophy in 2010, he’s reached just a single NFC title game.

11. Mike Tomlin (Steelers)

Playoffs: 11 of 17 seasons (65%) | Wins: 8 of 18 (44%)
Conference titles: 2 for 3 (67%)
Super Bowls: 1 for 2 (50%)

Tomlin is unique in that he’s both 1.) already entrenched as an all-timer, and 2.) still widely respected as one of the game’s best motivators. Even so, his Steelers have proven more scrappy than special for a long time now. Since an AFC title-game bid in 2017, he’s gone 0-4 in playoff games over the last six years.

*Lightning in a bottle (3)

These coaches have led legitimate title bids, but most of their success has so far been confined to a small stretch.

10. Zac Taylor (Bengals)

Playoffs: 2 of 5 seasons (40%) | Wins: 5 of 7 (71%)
Conference titles: 1 for 2 (50%)
Super Bowls: 0 for 1 (0%)

Talk about a boom-or-bust résumé. Taylor went an abominable 6-25-1 before Joe Burrow stayed healthy in 2021, then oversaw back-to-back AFC Championship appearances. His work without an injured Burrow late in 2023 has raised his stock a bit more, but his big-picture trajectory remains unclear.

9. Doug Pederson (Jaguars)

Playoffs: 4 of 7 seasons (57%) | Wins: 5 of 8 (63%)
Conference titles: 1 for 1 (100%)
Super Bowls: 1 for 1 (100%)

If you take out Pederson’s Cinderella run with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, he’s gone a combined 47-50-1 as a head coach, with a 2-3 mark in the postseason. You can’t eliminate that, though, for his offensive boldness helped propel Philly’s championship. It also aided Jacksonville’s underdog push in 2022.

8. Nick Sirianni (Eagles)

Playoffs: 3 of 3 seasons (100%) | Wins: 2 of 5 (40%)
Conference titles: 1 for 1 (100%)
Super Bowls: 0 for 1 (0%)

Might we actually be underrating Sirianni entering 2024? His 2023 collapse was ugly as can be, complete with failed staffing shakeups, and he’s rightfully under pressure to capitalize on an all-star roster. He’s also the only coach listed here to make the playoffs every year he’s had the job. If only his 2022 squad had sealed the deal.

*Forever on the doorstep (5)

These coaches have shown a persistent knack for reaching the playoffs or even advancing in the postseason, but most have yet to meet ultimate expectations. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time.

7. Sean McDermott (Bills)

Playoffs: 6 of 7 seasons (86%) | Wins: 5 of 11 (45%)
Conference titles: 0 for 1 (0%)
Super Bowls: N/A

Besides Nick Sirianni, there isn’t another coach here who’s been more automatic as a playoff contender, and McDermott’s been doing it for closer to a decade. There are true shades of early career Andy Reid here, with an even-tempered leader just waiting and waiting to finally get over the hump.

6. Matt LaFleur (Packers)

Playoffs: 4 of 5 seasons (80%) | Wins: 3 of 7 (43%)
Conference titles: 0 for 2 (0%)
Super Bowls: N/A

Yes, LaFleur enjoyed an MVP-caliber Aaron Rodgers to make NFC title games in each of his first two seasons. He proved his mettle, however, by nearly guiding Jordan Love right back to the conference championship in 2023. At just 44, it certainly feels like LaFleur will get another chance to reach the top game.

5. Jim Harbaugh (Chargers)

Playoffs: 3 of 4 seasons (75%) | Wins: 5 of 8 (63%)
Conference titles: 1 for 3 (33%)
Super Bowls: 0 for 1 (0%)

You could make a case he belongs more in the “lightning in a bottle” group, considering he only spent four years with the San Francisco 49ers before the move to the college ranks. Harbaugh was one of the NFL’s sharpest in his last pro stop, however, coming within one win of a Super Bowl bid in three straight years.

4. John Harbaugh (Ravens)

Playoffs: 11 of 16 seasons (69%) | Wins: 12 of 22 (55%)
Conference titles: 2 for 4 (50%)
Super Bowls: 1 for 1 (100%)

Is he “forever on the doorstep” or an “endangered champion,” considering he won it all back in 2012? Harbaugh doesn’t fit neatly into any category. His endurance and adaptability entering Year 17 are nearly unmatched. The knock is he’s only returned to the AFC title game once since that first Lombardi Trophy was lifted.

3. Kyle Shanahan (49ers)

Playoffs: 4 of 7 seasons (57%) | Wins: 8 of 12 (67%)
Conference titles: 2 for 4 (50%)
Super Bowls: 0 for 2 (0%)

Injury-riddled 2017-2018 seasons put a damper on Shanahan’s career playoff-entry rate, but his contenders have been powerhouses when they make it, as evidenced by his 49ers advancing to the NFC title game in four of the last five years. All signs point to his well-stocked group remaining one of the league’s juggernauts.

*The big-game standard-setters (2)

These head coaches have impressive experience both making and conquering the playoffs. They aren’t perfect, but they’re the safest bets when it comes to getting a win when it matters most.

2. Sean McVay (Rams)

Playoffs: 5 of 7 seasons (71%) | Wins: 7 of 11 (64%)
Conference titles: 2 for 2 (100%)
Super Bowls: 1 for 2 (50%)

Besides the man up top, McVay is the only coach listed who’s both won a Super Bowl in the last decade and whose teams have made the playoffs 70% of the seasons he’s worked. Whether with Jared Goff or Matthew Stafford, the man has squeezed the most out of Los Angeles, reinforcing his league-wide appeal.

1. Andy Reid (Chiefs)

Playoffs: 19 of 24 seasons (79%) | Wins: 26 of 42 (62%)
Conference titles: 5 for 11 (45%)
Super Bowls: 3 for 5 (60%)

Who else could it be? Reid’s stamina is stunning, considering he’s been a playoff regular since the early days of his time as Eagles coach. Even more impressive are the ways he’s adapted, reforming his Chiefs teams to fit personnel strengths. Once considered the good-but-not-elite coach who could sniff but never win the big game, Reid is now a stone-cold lock for the Hall of Fame, teaming up with Patrick Mahomes to put Kansas City in four of the last five Super Bowls, three of which he’s left victorious.

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Author: Cody Benjamin
July 11, 2024 | 8:56 am

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