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RotoPat’s 2023 NFL Coach Rankings

Andy Reid

Andy Reid

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The generational shift has happened. The standard-issue new head-coaching hire is now a tastefully outfitted, impeccably fit 38-year-old who played football but never above the Division II level. They likely come from the offensive side of the ball — 27-of-42 hires post-Sean McVay — and they probably know either McVay or Kyle Shanahan. 17 percent of the hires made in the post-McVay era come from those two coaching trees alone. It’s yet another example of NFL groupthink, but this time the results speak for themselves. These coaches are winning playoff games and reaching Super Bowls. Only McVay himself has cradled the Lombardi, but the league’s old coaching guard has already lost the war even if there are still a few minor battles where the combatants forgot to stop fighting.

As I say every year, players, owners, assistants, injuries and acts of God can matter as much as coaching ability. That’s why, though this is a rankings article, I try not to think of it that way. I view it as more of an almanac, an assessment of where the league’s 32 coaches find themselves right now. How they got here and where they might be going. Last year’s list can be found here. 2021’s is here.

2023 NFL Head Coach Rankings

1. Andy Reid, Chiefs

Career Record: 247-138-1 (.641)
With The Chiefs Since: 2013

Last Year’s Ranking: 2

First things first: We know it’s not just the quarterback. Andy Reid had already reached five conference championships and made the playoffs 13 times in 19 years before Patrick Mahomes came aboard. Now, has the quarterback helped? Umm, yes. But isn’t that what elite coaching is all about? As long as you keep properly setting the pins, you will eventually assemble the right players to knock them down. Reid has been fortunate enough to find someone who bowls a Super Bowl-winning strike 40 percent of the time. Mahomes would be the first person to tell you it wouldn’t be possible without Reid’s foundation. From play-calling to roster-building, Reid has few peers in all the areas that matter most. He is a strategic genius. He is a canny executive. He is a leader his players want to win for. He is one of the greatest coaches of all time in the middle of an imperial phase showing no signs of slowing down. With all due respect to Bill Belichick, Reid is the best coach going in 2023.

2. Bill Belichick, Patriots

Career Record: 298-152 (.662)
With The Patriots Since: 2000

Last Year’s Ranking: 1

There is no need for qualifying statements, but I will make one anyways. I still believe Bill Belichick is the greatest coach in modern history. If I had to win a game this Sunday, I would pick Belichick over anyone else on this list. But we can’t ignore what has happened as Tom Brady has been ushered out and Patrick Mahomes ushered in. Belichick’s longtime understudy Andy Reid has had a better five years and it’s not particularly close. That is not to say Belichick has cratered to the degree some believe. The undisputed worst three-year stretch of his Patriots career has still included making the playoffs with a rookie quarterback and coming within a game of the postseason in 2022. Belichick isn’t sinking to some perilous depth. But he still might if he’s not careful. That was the clear takeaway from Belichick’s disastrous, hubristic decision to have Matt Patricia and Joe Judge run his offense in 2022. Belichick believed his own hype. He thought he could make literally anybody his offensive coordinator and have success. It turned out Patricia couldn’t even get the plays in. Never one to belabor a mistake, Belichick got the message. Patricia is out, actual offensive play-caller Bill O’Brien is in. Even BOB’s addition is emblematic of a certain lack of imagination for the 70-year-old Belichick, but he was never going to reinvent the wheel. He is just turning it ever so slightly after last season’s comeuppance, and even that will probably be enough for the greatest football coach of the 21st century.

3. Sean McVay, Rams

Career Record: 60-38 (.612)
With The Rams Since: 2017

Last Year’s Ranking: 3

Rarely had a coaching life appeared so charmed. Through five years on the job, Sean McVay had never had a losing season, reaching two Super Bowls and winning one. The laws of gravity didn’t seem to apply as McVay fell in and out of love with expensive acquisitions at dizzying speed, eschewing the draft-and-development philosophy typically fundamental to sustained success in this salary-capped league. Until last season. McVay and Les Snead‘s years of charge-card living revealed depth that had been pared to the bone, and problems that simply could not be solved during the course of a regular season. That’s the risk you take when you are all in on every campaign. It also didn’t help that McVay has been a victim of his own success on the sideline. Arguably no one has a keener eye for coaching talent. That’s why it keeps getting poached away to run other teams. The other shoe dropping just one year after his championship triumph left McVay bewildered and pondering retirement at the age of 36. He has not only decided to return, he has gotten down to business. McVay has pruned both his roster and coaching staff as he commits to the dirty work of rebuilding. Except it could easily prove to be a reload. Every NFL coach gets humbled. Aside from Bill Belichick himself, no one has a greater mastery of the finer details than McVay. It won’t be a comeback. It will be expected.

4. John Harbaugh, Ravens

Career Record: 147-95 (.607)
With The Ravens Since: 2008

Last Year’s Ranking: 4

John Harbaugh hasn’t changed. His luck has. After winning at least one playoff game each of his first five seasons, Harbaugh has just two postseason victories in the past 10 years. That’s despite finishing at or above .500 eight times in that timespan. The 2019 Ravens had one of the greatest regular seasons in NFL history. Fate has simply had other plans. The most recent problem has been back-to-back stretch run injuries for Lamar Jackson. In 2021, it resulted in an 8-3 team finishing in an 0-6 slump and out of the playoffs. In 2022, the Ravens managed to make the Wild Card Round against the Bengals before backup quarterback Tyler Huntley literally gave the game away with a goal-line fumble six. Not that Harbaugh is blameless. He held onto fire-and-brimstone OC Greg Roman 1-2 seasons too long. Roman’s style of play seems to have become a flashpoint with franchise player Jackson, who is currently in the midst of a trade demand. Unfortunate, but Harbaugh didn’t become one of the best coaches in the NFL by being a reactionary. He was too patient with Roman, but he has admitted his mistake with passing-based OC Todd Monken. Always on the vanguard of what’s new — embracing dual-threat quarterbacks, adopting EPA-based decision-making — Harbaugh will find a way out of his quarterback mess. Hopefully his luck responds in kind.

5. Kyle Shanahan, 49ers

Career Record: 52-46 (.531)
With The 49ers Since: 2017
Last Year’s Ranking: 7

It took a little time, but the system works. After failing to eclipse six wins in three of his first four seasons, Kyle Shanahan has now made the NFC Championship Game in three of the past four. This, even as his quarterback plans keep finding new and exciting ways to go up in smoke. For a while it seemed like Shanahan might owe a surprising amount of his success to Jimmy Garoppolo. Beleaguered though he’s long been, a healthy “Jimmy G” was the common denominator between Shanahan’s first two conference title tilts. Then Garoppolo broke his leg and gave way to the literal final pick of the draft. Had Brock Purdy‘s ulnar collateral ligament not evaporated into thin air on live television during this year’s conference championship game against the Eagles, Shanahan might have again been Super Bowl bound. Instead, we are left to wonder who will be under center Week 1. Whoever it is will be calling the shots for one of the league’s most carefully constructed rosters, one where Shanahan has as much influence as any head coach. Shanahan’s vision can sometimes be irritating — no one needs to motion Kyle Juszczyk this many times — but is perhaps the most finely honed in football.

6. Mike Tomlin, Steelers

Career Record: 163-93-2 (.636)
With The Steelers Since: 2007
Last Year’s Ranking: 6

They keep upping the difficulty level on Mike Tomlin and he keeps finishing above .500. At or above .500 is somewhere Tomlin has been for all 16 of his Steelers seasons. Maybe that sounds like we are setting the bar too low. After all, what does .500 really get you? Tomlin hasn’t won a playoff game in six years. But that is the wrong way of looking at it. The higher your baseline is, the more likely it is to produce favored outcomes, and Tomlin’s remains amongst the highest in football. This is a coach whose team started 2-6 with Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett last season and still finished at 9-8. That was one year after they made the playoffs with Ben Roethlisberger averaging 6.2 yards per attempt, and three years after they went 8-8 with Mason Rudolph and “Duck” Hodges. Tomlin has been on the job long enough that he has dealt with every conceivable issue. There have been bad defensive years. Bad offensive line years. The current bad quarterback years. Coordinator problems, Antonio Brown problems, etc. It hasn’t fallen apart because no one holds together a roster like Tomlin. Maybe he will need another Roethlisberger to take it back to the next level. That it hasn’t crumbled is a testament to elite coaching.

7. Sean McDermott, Bills

Career Record: 62-35 (.639)
With The Bills Since: 2017

Last Year’s Ranking: 5

There is only one thing left for Sean McDermott to do. As it happens, it’s the hardest thing in football. So it is only fitting that the Bills’ 2022 was as difficult as a 13-3 season can get. They lost a home game to a snowstorm. They watched their franchise player injure his elbow and play increasingly erratically thereafter. Then there was Week 17. Damar Hamlin, a rising young safety, nearly died on the field in Cincinnati. It was the scariest moment in the history of the league, and uncharted territory for McDermott. And yet, the Super Bowl remained within reach. At least until the Bengals laid bare the Bills’ issues in the Divisional Round. An awful offensive line. A nonexistent rushing attack. No Plan B in the passing game behind Stefon Diggs. Hero ball turnovers from Josh Allen. Watching the game, you wondered how this team got there in the first place. Maybe they did, too, after all they had been through in 2022. It will either be the beginning of the end for this era of Bills football or the final launchpad of adversity they needed to get themselves over the hump and into the big game. Judging from McDermott’s first six years at the helm, our guess is the latter.

8. Nick Sirianni, Eagles

Career Record: 23-11 (.676)
With The Eagles Since: 2021

Last Year’s Ranking: 15

Nick Sirianni has seen it all in two years. With a young coach that would usually mean something like “went 1-15 the first season, saw all three of his quarterbacks get injured the next.” For Sirianni it means he made the playoffs in Year 1 after changing his entire offensive approach on the fly. Year 2? He did it again, going from 32nd in pass attempts to 23rd while maintaining the league’s most lethal rushing attack. He took Jalen Hurts from project to dual-threat to MVP candidate. And, oh yeah, he reached the Super Bowl and lost by a field goal. Sirianni has sprouted the NFL’s hottest new coaching tree — both OC Shane Steichen and DC Jonathan Gannon cashed in their 2022s for head-coaching gigs — by being its most adaptable man. His 2022 offense finished first in rushing EPA and ninth in passing. Sirianni finished No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ “critical call index,” a complicated metric that measures fourth down decision-making. Trusting his personnel, Sirianni ordered the fourth most fourth down attempts and converted the second most. Sirianni “takes what the defense gives him” and then beats them over the head with it. Maybe next time they won’t call defensive holding.

9. Mike Vrabel, Titans

Career Record: 48-34 (.585)
With The Titans Since: 2018

Last Year’s Ranking: 9

Mike Vrabel was doing it again. Despite roster issues that would have most teams in the Hue Jackson Zone, the Titans were 7-3 and somehow cruising to another AFC South title. That was even with Malik Willis setting the quarterback position back 10 years in Weeks 8 and 9. But there were indications even the man himself wasn’t believing in Titans Devil Magic for 2022. Vrabel was warring with GM Jon Robinson behind the scenes, and was certainly an accomplice to his Dec. 6 ouster after the Titans had lost two straight to fall to 7-5. They wouldn’t win another game. After years of whipping together a defensive whole greater than the sum of its parts and scoring points with a ‘70s-style rushing attack, Vrabel’s carefully constructed but cheaply made house blew down. It was the first real setback for a coach who spent the first four years of his sideline career overachieving and going toe-to-toe with the league’s best. Vrabel has been a one seed. He’s reached the AFC Championship Game. He’s beaten Bill Belichick in the playoffs. He will be back.

10. Doug Pederson, Jaguars

Career Record: 51-45-1 (.531)
With The Jaguars Since: 2022
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Doug Pederson arrived in Jacksonville with a Lombardi to his name, but the 2022 expectations were far more modest: Just don’t become the shame of the city, the state or this great nation. Urban Meyer may have been coach for less than one calendar year, but his football wreckage was akin to a Category 5 hurricane. Meyer was so bad, so disinterested that he nearly killed the Jaguars’ golden goose. Left to figure things out for himself as his coach imbibed on discounted pitchers and Papa John’s, Trevor Lawrence was distinctly Gabbert-ian as a rookie. Pederson had to save Lawrence’s career before anything else. He did so in the form of a torrid 6-1 post-bye run that not only put Lawrence’s career back on track, it got the Jags into the playoffs. While there, Pederson’s team was able to erase a 27-0 Wild Card deficit against the Chargers due in no small part to Pederson’s typically daring decision to go for two down 30-26 with 5:25 remaining. The ensuing walk-off field goal earned Pederson a Divisional Round shot at his former boss Andy Reid. That’s where the Jags’ run ended, but it’s clear Pederson has been rejuvenated after the dismal end to his Eagles tenure. A quarterback guru who enhances his team’s odds to win with aggressive decision-making, Pederson is the kind of coach you need in the modern game.

Don’t forget, for the latest on everything NFL, check out NBC Sports EDGE’s Player News, or follow @NBCSEdgeFB or @RotoPat on Twitter.

11. Pete Carroll, Seahawks

Career Record: 161-112-1 (.589)
With The Seahawks Since: 2010
Last Year’s Ranking: 11

If we had only known. What on the outside looked like a stubborn refusal to embrace modernity was instead Pete Carroll trying to save his football team from itself. He knew what happened when Russell Wilson cooked, even if we refused to see it. Pete won the power struggle and now he’s won the argument. In Year 1 after Russ, Carroll not only returned to the playoffs, he made Geno Smith a Pro Bowler and Comeback Player of the Year. There were caveats. Although Smith easily outplayed Wilson’s Broncos implosion, it still wasn’t the kind of year the Seahawks experienced during Wilson’s prime. And while Smith’s play was nice, it was barely enough to paper over continued struggles on Carroll’s side of the ball. Carroll’s past two defenses have been by far the worst of his time in Seattle. The Seahawks only made the playoffs as the seventh seed that didn’t exist two years ago. This was not “mission accomplished” even if the Wilson schadenfreude was enough to power over 80 percent of the homes in the greater Seattle area. With Smith bound to regress in 2023, Carroll needs to finally figure out his failings on defense after proving he wasn’t the problem on offense.

12. Zac Taylor, Bengals

Career Record: 28-36-1 (.438)
With The Bengals Since: 2019

Last Year’s Ranking: 12

Zac Taylor has Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins: Good. Knowing how to use them: Better. There were no more ill-fated dalliances with trying to establish the run in 2022. Just all Burrow, all the time. The result was the Bengals shaking off any possible Super Bowl hangover and improving from 10-7 to 12-4 as they once again ended up at Arrowhead Stadium for the AFC Championship Game. Instead of an overtime triumph, the result this time was a walk-off field goal loss to the best coach and quarterback going. That stings, but the Bengals have staked a claim to being the Chiefs’ most formidable AFC roadblock over the Bills. Taylor’s most important job is staying out of Burrow and DC Lou Anarumo‘s way, but he has taken on the role of sideline leader with gusto, becoming a fiery presence between the Burrow and Anarumo lines. Maybe Taylor is just in the right place at the right time. If so, he’s had the good judgment to not bite the hands that feed him, and offer enough of his own contributions that he won’t be the reason this team doesn’t reach what is beginning to seem like its Lombardi destiny.

13. Matt LaFleur, Packers

Career Record: 47-19 (.712)
With The Packers Since: 2019
Last Year’s Ranking: 8

Like 2021, the Packers’ season began with a surprise loss and ended in bitter defeat. Unlike 2021, there were no divisions or MVPs being won in between. Easy mode finally switched off for Matt LaFleur, who struggled for answers as he confronted problems both old and new. Thin receiver corps are nothing out of the ordinary during LaFleur’s time in Green Bay, but thin receiver corps without Davante Adams at the top? That was one of many reasons the Packers’ point total plunged from 450 to 370. Another, more glaring issue was Aaron Rodgers’ sudden regression from MVP-level output to the worst form of his career. Rodgers tossed double-digit picks for the first time since 2010 while posting-career worst marks in both QB rating and QBR. As Rodgers went, so went the Packers. That raises questions, of course, about how much credit LaFleur can claim for the 39-10 start to his career. We’ll get an answer right away in 2023 as the Pack shift to a triggerman drafted and developed under LaFleur’s tutelage, Jordan Love. Everyone is going to look worse without an Aaron Rodgers at their disposal. LaFleur can prove his worth simply by keeping the Pack competitive in a division chock full of young coaching talent.

14. Dan Campbell, Lions

Career Record: 17-28-1 (.380)
With The Lions Since: 2021
Last Year’s Ranking: 18

The most caffeinated presence ever captured by your rear-view mirror, Dan Campbell is gaining on you in a hurry. We still don’t know if he will ever catch up. It can’t just be bad luck that the Lions haven’t won a playoff game in over 30 years and have never hoisted a Lombardi Trophy. This is a bad organization. But it’s a bad organization that seems to have finally gotten something right in Campbell. Rarely has a culture change been this profound. Campbell’s team is winning football games — eight of its final 10 to close out 2022 — and doing so in ways observers didn’t think possible. The Lions scored the fifth most points in the league last season with Jared Goff at quarterback. The same Jared Goff considered a mercy throw-in to the Matthew Stafford trade. Detroit’s offense turned Jamaal Williams into the NFL touchdown leader. Maybe these aren’t quite lemons, but Campbell is making some truly delicious lemonade out of the spare parts left behind by previously more prolific offenses. So Campbell has the scoring down. He has the leadership down. He just needs a working defense, and GM Brad Holmes has done excellent work stocking it with building blocks. Campbell wouldn’t be the first Lions savior to face-plant. He is tantalizingly close to being the first to succeed.

15. Brian Daboll, Giants

Career Record: 9-7-1 (.559)
With The Giants Since: 2022
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

New York sports fans know a few things about wild expectations. There is no way they could have dreamed big enough for Brian Daboll‘s first year on the job. Armed with only the distressed assets of the Dave Gettleman era — a first-round quarterback whose fifth-year team option was declined, a first-round running back who missed 20 games over the previous three seasons, and zero pass catchers to speak of — Daboll squeezed 107 more points out of his offense than Joe Judge managed in 2021. He took the Giants to the postseason for the first time since 2016 and won them a playoff game for the first time since Super Bowl XLVI, passing the Vikings out of the building in the Wild Card Round. It was a testament to sheer scheme, something no Giants coach had even attempted since Ben McAdoo. It was a monument to true leadership, something no G-Man had possessed since Tom Coughlin. It was an absolute home run, one the Giants are now betting Daboll can run back with Daniel Jones. This is where it gets complicated. Getting to 9-7-1 with Jones required every trick in Daboll’s book. He will have to write several new chapters to make Jones a true franchise player.

16. Kevin Stefanski, Browns

Career Record: 26-24 (.520)
With The Browns Since: 2020

Last Year’s Ranking: 13

Just in case Kevin Stefanski wasn’t sure if 2020 — 11-5 with the reincarnated Browns’ first-ever playoff victory — was too good to be true, 2022 drove the point home. Stefanski’s team took another step back even after adding supposed franchise player Deshaun Watson. That was due in no small part to Watson’s 11-game suspension following dozens of sexual assault allegations, but the Browns actually got worse upon Watson’s return, averaging eight fewer points than they managed under Jacoby Brissett. It was as if Stefanski had no plan for how to adjust from his laborious, station-to-station Brissett offense to Watson’s more high-flying approach. Of course, that is the kind of change much easier to make in the offseason than Week 13. It is the only thing that matters for Stefanski heading into 2023. The limited success Stefanski has had in Cleveland was predicated on the running game and hiding the quarterback. As the Browns have learned the hard way, there is nowhere to hide their cynical Watson acquisition.

17. Mike McDaniel, Dolphins

Career Record: 9-8 (.529)
With The Dolphins Since: 2022
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

2022 was never going to be easy for Mike McDaniel. Although he arrived in Miami with an impeccable pedigree — over a decade working for the first family of football, the Shanahans — he was replacing an unjustly fired head coach and dealing with outsized expectations. One of the main reasons Brian Flores was sent packing was octogenarian owner Stephen Ross’ increasing lack of patience. So it wasn’t just McDaniel who was in. It was also Tyreek Hill for a boatload of draft picks. Translation: This geek better win us some games. For McDaniel, nine victories was just enough for the Dolphins’ first postseason appearance since 2016. It was barely enough after the ‘Fins endured a 1-5 skid to end the regular season, but McDaniel reminded why he was hired in the first place in Miami’s narrow Wild Card defeat in Buffalo. McDaniel’s team almost beat the preseason Super Bowl favorite on their own field with Skylar Thompson under center. Like his old bosses, the young man knows how to manage and manipulate a quarterback. McDaniel can do his job on offense, and now he has one of the best to do it on defense. Vic Fangio believed enough in McDaniel’s program to sign on for 2023. With Fangio and Jalen Ramsey arriving, the sky-high hopes aren’t going anywhere. McDaniel showed enough in 2022 to believe he might have what it takes to deliver on them.

18. Robert Saleh, Jets

Career Record: 11-23 (.324)
With The Jets Since: 2021
Last Year’s Ranking: 20

It looked like maybe we were getting somewhere with Robert Saleh. Then the Jets went nowhere with Zach Wilson. Wilson made evaluating the Jets’ second-year head coach difficult as Gang Green literally did not score a touchdown in any of its final three games, but Saleh’s progress from 2021 was still evident. For starters, there was the way he handled his starter. In the thick of a playoff race, Saleh didn’t hesitate to bench a quarterback who was supposed to be his franchise player. You could argue it wasn’t actually a tough decision, but how many sophomore head coaches would have the fortitude to sit down a former No. 2 overall pick whose “record” was 5-2? Then there was the defense. Perhaps the front office deserves the credit for putting the players together, but the Jets allowed 188 fewer points than the year prior. They went from dead last in points against to fourth. Maybe Joe Douglas set up the pins. As he did in San Francisco, Saleh knocked them down with aplomb. It can be tough to envision greatness when a head coach finds himself 11-23 after two seasons, but Saleh looks like he will be a dangerous man with Aaron Rodgers.

19. Kevin O’Connell, Vikings

Career Record: 13-4 (.765)
With The Vikings Since: 2022
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Now what does one do with that? It’s a good thing to win 76.5 percent of your games as a rookie head coach. It’s a strange thing to do so while getting out-scored on the season. It’s a depressing thing to do so when the end result is getting passed out of the postseason by Daniel Jones. All of it was oh-so-Vikings for Kevin O’Connell, who at least did his job on his side of the ball even if it produced … the (almost) exact same amount of points Minnesota scored the previous year under Mike Zimmer. Having not fixed Zimmer’s defensive woes — the Vikes somehow allowed a near identical amount of points, as well — O’Connell made his first big change when he fired overmatched DC Ed Donatell. There is only so much O’Connell can do on defense. On offense? He did make the Vikings more efficient, taking them from a dismal 25th in offensive success rate to eighth. That suggests much better play-calling and sequencing, the No. 1 reason O’Connell was hired. The positives outweighed the negatives. There are just a lot more negatives to eliminate before we will truly know if O’Connell is a good head coach.

20. Brandon Staley, Chargers

Career Record: 19-15 (.559)
With The Chargers Since: 2021

Last Year’s Ranking: 14

One step forward, 27 steps back. Despite unending skepticism of his abilities, Brandon Staley made the playoffs as a sophomore head coach. Then his squad blew a 27-0 lead. He got out-analytics’d by Doug Pederson in the process, further exacerbating the sense of identity crisis that hangs around both this team and its coach. In a league with Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert might have the most pure arm talent. So why did NextGenStats chart his 2022 average intended air yards as 6.7, lower than only Matt Ryan and Daniel Jones? Staley finally got the memo and fired check-down maven OC Joe Lombardi, but as has been the case with many of his problems, he let the situation fester for too long. There is still hope. Staley did indeed improve in 2022, bumping the Bolts from 9-8 to 10-7 and the postseason. He also earned high marks for his decision-making, checking in fourth in SumerSports’ win probability added model. Maybe his analytics perception is meeting reality. The next step is to finally carry his weight on his side of the ball. A defense that was 24th in EPA per play in 2021 was only 19th in 2022 despite a massive talent infusion. Staley seems to be learning. It needs to be faster if he wants the chance to finish the Herbert job.

21. Mike McCarthy, Cowboys

Career Record: 155-97-2 (.614)
With The Cowboys Since: 2020

Last Year’s Ranking: 21

Mike McCarthy is the first Cowboys coach since Jimmy Johnson to win 12-plus games in back-to-back seasons. He just notched the franchise’s third playoff victory since the 90s. How did he celebrate? By “moving on” from the coordinator who furnished him back-to-back top-five offenses, the second of which received five starts from Cooper Rush You see, the Cowboys weren’t running the ball enough in McCarthy’s opinion. He called their 19-12 Divisional Round loss to the 49ers a “shootout” before literally saying he didn’t want to be the No. 1 offense in the league. “I want to be the No. 1 team,” McCarthy elaborated. “And if we’ve got to give up some production and take care of the ball a little better to get that, then that’s what we’ll do because we have a really good defense.” McCarthy put an exclamation point on his retrograde thinking by making Brian Schottenheimer his new top offensive assistant. Kellen Moore did all he could to get the Cowboys at least middle of the pack in most advanced 2022 metrics. That is an area where McCarthy has made it clear he would rather be dead last. He wants to go back in time and take the Cowboys with him. He will succeed, with the likely result being the loss of his job.

22. Arthur Smith, Falcons

Career Record: 14-20 (.412)
With The Falcons Since: 2021

Last Year’s Ranking: 19

Arthur Smith, fake sharp” has become an article of faith on “analytics Twitter.” Smith likes to run the ball, ergo he is bad. And yet, Smith’s Falcons were one of only five teams to generate positive rushing EPA in 2022, and they did so with a fifth-round rookie and 31-year-old gadget player as their lead backs. It wasn’t just Derrick Henry: Smith can design a rushing attack. That’s good news since his Falcons quarterbacks have been the remains of Matt Ryan, Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder, the latter two of whom were amongst the league’s worst signal callers in 2022. The problem comes in divining Smith’s intent. Is he running out of necessity, or does he want to live this way with limited quarterbacks? Has he voluntarily imprisoned himself in the Ryan Tannehill box? We still can’t say, and we probably aren’t going to find out in 2023. The Falcons appear to be on the outside looking in of a first-round QB, and even if they snag one, it’s going to be a project like Anthony Richardson or Will Levis. Smith could just keep running this 7-10 scam in perpetuity if he maintains a quarterback excuse. With Drake London and Kyle Pitts at his passing-game disposal, Smith needs to begin exploring if there is another level to his scheme. If the QB makes that impossible, no one could blame him for spending another year in his rushing cocoon.

23. Todd Bowles, Bucs

Career Record: 34-50 (.405)
With The Bucs Since: 2022
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

For Todd Bowles’ big second chance, he got the GOAT. He went 8-9. It still produced a division-winner in the wretched NFC South, but this was anything but a showcase for Bowles’ skills. Of course, it’s not entirely clear what he could have done differently as Tom Brady became allergic to getting hit behind what remained a solid pass-blocking line. Watching the Bucs, it felt like they were far too conservative. Dipping into the data, their pass rate over expected of five percent was still in the top five. No one ran the ball on a lower percentage of their first downs. Ben Baldwin actually charted Bowles as being slightly more aggressive on fourth down than Bruce Arians. Nothing Bowles did “felt” right, but that was just as likely Brady’s fault as the head coach’s. We can’t blame Bowles for how many problems he inherited with this aging roster. We can wonder why he didn’t find more creative solutions. Now things are likely to get far, far worse with Brady swapped out for Baker Mayfield. Many astute observers, Arians chief among them, thought Bowles deserved a second chance. Circumstance seems intent on wrecking it.

24. Matt Eberflus, Bears

Career Record: 3-14 (.176)
With The Bears Since: 2022

Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Matt Eberflus beat Kyle Shanahan and Bill Belichick in his first year as head coach. Never mind who he lost to. Eberflus had a hopeless rookie assignment and did not exceed expectations. This was a tanking roster intent on bottoming out. Mission accomplished. The No. 1 pick awaits. As for Eberflus the coach, we don’t have much to go on. He’s a defensive mind whose hollowed-out unit allowed the second most points in 104 years of Bears football. The glimmers of hope came on the other side of the ball, where Eberflus set about correcting Matt Nagy‘s greatest folly: He let Justin Fields run. The sophomore quarterback would have broken the QB rushing record if not for a late season shoulder injury. A great adjustment by the head coach. Hopefully he is given the talent to issue a lot more corrections in 2023.

25. Ron Rivera, Commanders

Career Record: 98-90-2 (.521)
With The Commanders Since: 2020
Last Year’s Ranking: 17

In 12 years as an NFL head coach, Ron Rivera has won 5-8 games nine times. All three of the exceptions featured Cam Newton at quarterback. He’s won a playoff game in 2-of-12 seasons, one of which came when the 7-8-1 Panthers beat the Ryan Lindley-"led” Cardinals in 2014. The mediocrity has been accompanied by a “bad quarterback” alibi in Washington, but anyone who has only three winning campaigns in nine Newton seasons probably isn’t doing it right. With either Sam Howell or Jacoby Brissett under center for 2023, Rivera isn’t about to unlock another level to his game, but the Commanders remain committed to his leadership all the same. That is an area where Rivera excels, but even that began to founder in 2022 as he seemed driven to madness by Carson Wentz. By the end of the season, Rivera didn’t even know what it took for the Commanders to make the playoffs. Although seemingly a Hall-of-Fame person, Rivera is anachronistic coach who won’t be there by the time Washington finally takes the next step.

26. Dennis Allen, Saints

Career Record: 15-38 (.283)
With The Saints Since: 2022

Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Dennis Allen won 41.2 percent of his games last season. That was a career high. The man has been dealt losing hands and … lost. A lot. The plan to change that revolves around Derek Carr, who briefly played for Allen as a rookie in 2014 before the head coach was fired after getting off to an 0-4 start. In the eight years since, Carr’s teams have won more than eight games once. A marriage made in heaven this is not. It’s true that Allen does his job on defense. In nine seasons since returning to New Orleans, Allen’s unit has finished outside the top 10 in points allowed only once. We just have no clue what it is he wants to accomplish on offense, and that if Carr is the Saints’ big idea for 2023, we aren’t going to get any closer to finding out. Conservative to his very core — no offense had fewer fourth down attempts in 2022 — Allen is shaping up as the perfect fall guy for the Saints’ post-Drew Brees/Sean Payton hangover. If Allen wants to change that rotten luck, he needs to get a lot more aggressive about creating his own good fortune.

27. Josh McDaniels, Raiders

Career Record: 17-28 (.378)
With The Raiders Since: 2022
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Four of the Raiders’ 11 2022 losses came in genuinely agonizing fashion. That won’t be a problem in 2023. These games shouldn’t be close enough to choke away. Committed to a program of arrogance and alienation, Josh McDaniels seems uninterested in questions like “how did Derek Carr‘s efficiency crater under my tutelage even though we added Davante Adams?” Instead, he couldn’t wait to get Carr out the door in favor of one of the only quarterbacks even less inspiring than the Raiders’ longtime franchise player. Jimmy Garoppolo‘s main qualification to replace Carr seems to be that he played for McDaniels in New England. Such moves are the hallmark of a lack of coaching imagination, something that has been painfully evident for McDaniels every time he is cleaved away from Bill Belichick. Failing as an offensive coordinator is bad enough. Even worse is McDaniels’ leadership. How bad is this guy in the locker room? He was forced to trade Darren Waller after spoiling his wedding. Maybe that move was already in the works. That would merely highlight another one of McDaniels’ issues. He seems to resent anyone who had the audacity to be successful before he got there. In the ultimate team sport, McDaniels isn’t making any friends. It has left him with a paucity of victories, and little hope for a franchise that keeps swinging big at head coach only to strike out.

New Hires (In Alphabetical Order)

Jonathan Gannon, Cardinals

Career Record: — —

The 17th game helped, but Jonathan Gannon‘s 2022 Eagles defense had the third most sacks in NFL history. Then it didn’t lay a finger on Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl as it forced only two punts. It’s tempting to say something snide like “mixed season,” but it wasn’t. Gannon was one of the league’s most successful assistants and was pursued as such. He ended up with a gut-job gig, albeit one that allegedly has its franchise signal caller. Gannon has been all smiles and bromance as he begins to confront his Kyler Murray conundrum — and hopeful savior. It seemed Murray needed an older-school coach like Sean Payton to get him to buy into a system, any system. Gannon, at least publicly, is taking the opposite approach, trying to win Murray over with positivity. It’s tempting to describe such problems as superficial — isn’t the players being good the only thing that matters? — but Gannon’s Murray strategy could be the most fateful decision he makes during his time in the desert. If it works, he’s a 40-year-old first-time head coach with a cornerstone quarterback. If it fails, Gannon will be coordinating again by 2025.

Sean Payton, Broncos

Career Record: 152-89 (.631)

Sean Payton just caught one of the biggest fish of his life. The question is, does he want to throw it back? The Payton/Russell Wilson dynamic will define an era in Denver. Payton has already signaled he’s a skeptic, guaranteeing Jarrett Stidham $5 million and claiming he’s an “important signing.” Perhaps it is all just a bit of theater to scare Wilson straight after he lost another locker room. Payton and Wilson are certainly a good fit for each other on paper. Wilson’s completion percentage had been creeping near 70 before his recent regression, while he has the down-field ability to revive the “Ted Ginn role” that had been a staple of Payton’s offense before Drew Brees’ arm died. Wilson just has to get with Payton’s program. If he doesn’t, it’s either going to be Stidham time for Wilson or Jeff Fisher/Jon Gruden time for Payton. Nobody wants that. Payton’s track record is long enough to believe things won’t end up that way.

Frank Reich, Panthers

Career Record: 40-33-1 (.547)

You make the playoffs with 39-year-old Philip Rivers and suddenly you think anything is possible. That was when the bartender needed to cut Frank Reich and Colts GM Chris Ballard off. No more veteran reclamation projects. 18 months and two failed stopgaps later, owner Jim Irsay had finally had enough. He blamed Reich instead of Ballard, sending him packing after Week 9. Irsay’s pique of passion never seemed particularly logical, but it has worked to Reich’s advantage. A quarterback whisperer until his pupils required hearing aids, Reich will finally be working with a young franchise player after the Panthers traded up to No. 1 overall. Like Irsay, Panthers owner David Tepper doesn’t seem terribly long on patience or vision. Also like Irsay, there is a chance Tepper’s latest bold gambit lands him a genuine franchise player, allowing him to curb his more reckless impulses. If so, Reich seems like one of the better men for the young quarterback job.

DeMeco Ryans, Texans

Career Record: — —

Everything the Texans’ recent coaching hires were not, DeMeco Ryans arrives in Houston on the upswing of his career instead of the downslope. Rather than pushing mandatory retirement age for a CEO, Ryans is a youthful 38. Perhaps most intriguing to the Texans is the fact that he loves the organization. He spent the first six years of his excellent linebacking career in Houston. Afterwards he went to Kyle Shanahan finishing school as a coach. The Shanny tree continues to churn out intriguing head coaches, including on Ryans’ defensive side of the ball. Although unproven, Ryans’ arrival has had the feel of a fog being lifted. The Texans are finally interested in going forward instead of sideways. The challenge ahead is daunting and will be co-piloted by a first-round quarterback. Ryans wouldn’t be the first rookie head coach to fail in such a setup. It just isn’t pre-ordained the way it was with David Culley and Lovie Smith in what were intentionally hopeless situations orchestrated by a wayward franchise. With Ryans, the Texans are trying to get right.

Shane Steichen, Colts

Career Record: — —

Well he can’t be any worse than the last guy. For all the talk of Colts owner Jim Irsay‘s erratic nature, he hired only four head coaches between 2002-22. Even for Irsay, it’s easy to stay patient when you have Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. But Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan? Less so. Irsay snapped last fall and made the worst decision of his ownership. Mr. Even Stephen Frank Reich was out, and high school coach/ESPN commentator Jeff Saturday was in. Although hardly an outsider, Saturday had not set foot on an NFL sideline since 2012. Paired with the league’s worst quarterback situation, the result was a 1-7 record with a -87 point differential. Fever dream over. Saturday has been returned to the television studio after Irsay used an exhaustive — and we do mean exhaustive — search to make another surprisingly clear-headed hire in the tradition of Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, Chuck Pagano and Reich. Shane Steichen called the plays for the Eagles’ forward-thinking, scarily adaptable offense the past two seasons and can be counted on to make the most of his talent in Indy. Whether there will be enough of it for Steichen to coach out his contract is another matter. He is the right man in the right place. We’ll see if it’s the right time.