NFL Head Coach Rankings 2021: Who is the best in the league?

There are no more boogiemen in the NFL head coaching fraternity. Adam Gase is gone. There is a ton of unknown with the NFL head coach rankings because so many are going into their first, second, or third seasons. However, only one can boast a résumé good enough to be named the best head coach in the league.

Current NFL head coach rankings | 12-32

Ranking the NFL head coaches by number is not the end-all, be-all. Instead, the tiers each coach appears in should be considered most.

Rookie head coach tier

We’ll kick our rankings off with the NFL head coaches getting their first shot in 2021.

32) David Culley, Houston Texans

I feel bad for David Culley, but he has to know what he’s getting into. The Texans are an absolute train wreck. Unless things turn around above Culley, it’s tough to see how this works out for him.

31) Urban Meyer, Jacksonville Jaguars

Urban Meyer has already stirred the pot with the hiring of disgraced Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle, despite Doyle resigning after less than two days on the job. The Jaguars also brought in former Florida Gator Tim Tebow, who Meyer coached previously. Meyer’s record as a head coach in college football is undeniable. However, so is his propensity to disappear from a situation at just the right time.

30) Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions

Dan Campbell has a long road ahead of him. The Lions’ roster doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence, and the general history of the franchise doesn’t either. The rookie head coach certainly has a knack for theatrics, whether it be wearing helmets in press conferences or talking about biting off kneecaps.

29) Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia Eagles

It was thought that Nick Sirianni was hired to help fix Carson Wentz, but they instead sent the QB to Indianapolis in a trade. Still, Sirianni did create some impressive offensive game plans in his time with the Colts. Like many new head coaching hires, this one is for developing the quarterback. The Eagles are hoping Sirianni can do just that with Jalen Hurts.

28) Arthur Smith, Atlanta Falcons

Arthur Smith is going to a team transitioning from contender to full rebuild, but he still has Matt Ryan at the helm. He also happens to have Calvin Ridley and now Kyle Pitts to play with. Smith had the Tennessee Titans’ offense playing incredibly efficiently in his two seasons as their offensive coordinator.

27) Robert Saleh, New York Jets

It wasn’t easy to choose between Robert Saleh and Brandon Staley as the highest-ranking rookie NFL head coach, but Saleh’s Jets have a few more questions to answer overall. It’s always difficult to know from the outside looking in, but he appears to be a coach guys are willing to put their neck on the line for. His defenses have always been fun to watch, especially in the secondary. The first draft with him as head coach was outstanding.

26) Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers

Staley’s defense with the Los Angeles Rams was impressive, and he still has a great defensive line and secondary duo with Joey Bosa and Derwin James. They need to both stay healthy, but their talent is unbelievable. Staley has a quarterback in Justin Herbert that just won the OROY award and set records. In addition, the Chargers have one of — if not the best — route runners in the league.

Probably not the guy tier

The next tier of NFL head coaches in our rankings may soon see their time coming to an end if they don’t turn things around in 2021.

25) Jon Gruden, Las Vegas Raiders

What Jon Gruden has done in Las Vegas is well-deserving of the final spot of all non-rookie head coaches in these NFL rankings. He’s blown up the offensive line, and he obviously has too much control of roster decisions.

The team has reached multiple times now in drafts and selected three safeties in the 2021 NFL Draft after drafting Johnathan Abram in 2019. Gruden’s return to the NFL might not last half as long as what his contract is for if the Raiders don’t improve next season.

24) Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Zac Taylor is probably not the long-term answer for the Cincinnati Bengals. The hire was an awkward one from the start, as the first-time head coach had been nothing but a quarterbacks coach prior.

Nevertheless, if he can aid in the development of Joe Burrow, that could be enough to keep him around while the roster rebuilds. There is a bit of offensive firepower aboard, but they have a lot to piece together before they’re contenders in a tough AFC North.

Still early, but there’s been ups and downs

Next up in our tier of NFL head coaching ranks is another group of guys who could be on the outside looking in after the 2021 season.

23) Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals improved to 8-8 in Kliff Kingsbury’s second season as head coach. The team appears to be building, but they still lack what I would define as adequate cornerback talent on the roster.

Kingsbury is self-aware enough to know that he failed up from Texas Tech to the NFL. The team now has what feels like a bus-load of viable receiving options on the roster. Still, they play in what is the best division in football. If they can compete there, Kingsbury will climb on this list going into 2022.

22) Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears

Matt Nagy is a difficult name to place in the NFL head coach rankings. He doesn’t yet have a losing season in his three years as a head coach. His defenses have bailed him out, but he’s somehow still found a way to win eight games in the past two seasons despite playing in a division with two better teams in the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. Drafting Justin Fields could be exactly what the doctor ordered for Nagy’s future.

21) Vic Fangio, Denver Broncos

It feels weird to say we don’t know much about a 62-year-old head coach, but we really don’t. The Broncos’ roster appears solid outside of the most important position — quarterback. They have what will most likely end up as the best secondary in the NFL. We could definitely be singing a different tune when it comes to Fangio if Drew Lock can take a leap in Year 3.

Long time decent coaches tier

These NFL head coaches have been around for a while and are likely safe for at least another year or two.

20) Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings

It’s important to note that just because Mike Zimmer lands 20th in the NFL head coach rankings does not mean that he is a bad football coach. A revamped defense in 2021 could make us feel differently about where he should rank. However, it’s tough to get around his two playoff wins in seven seasons as the Vikings head coach. One of them was a miracle missed tackle against the New Orleans Saints.

19) Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Mac Engel may have said it best when the hire was announced.

“McCarthy is a solid, slightly dull, NFL head coach with a long résumé, and a Super Bowl win.”

It’s tough to gauge just how much Mike McCarthy changed his ways after his stint with the Packers. The Cowboys lost their franchise quarterback and both offensive tackles in 2020. There simply isn’t much that inspires confidence in his ability to lead the Dallas Cowboys further than they’ve been over the past 25+ years.

Young coaches that look promising tier

These young head coaches could catapult to the top of the rankings in 2022 with strong outputs this coming season.

18) Joe Judge, New York Giants

I was skeptical of the former special teams coach making assistant coaches run laps at practice, but the Giants appeared well-coached in 2020. Their defense was much improved, and the offense survived despite being held back by an injury to their star running back, a lack of high-end wide receiver output, underwhelming quarterback play, and Jason Garrett.

Additionally, the Giants’ roster improved during the offseason. It all comes down to whether Daniel Jones can limit his turnovers.

17) Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins

Brian Flores is where the list of guys I think are truly good NFL head coaches starts. Despite only receiving mediocre quarterback play in 2020, the Flores-led Dolphins managed to win 10 games after winning just five the year prior.

It also came with underwhelming receiver play and a group of running backs that lacked inspiration as well. Nevertheless, the Dolphins outpaced their rebuild in 2020, and the 2021 team is more talented. As a result, Flores should begin to receive more national credit in his third season as head coach.

16) Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers

Matt Rhule is a program changer. He took a bad Temple team and made them a winner. He took the job at Baylor that nobody else wanted for good reason and brought them back to their winning ways in his third season with the team.

Although I didn’t necessarily agree with their decision to trade for Sam Darnold instead of drafting a rookie quarterback, turning Darnold around would be wonderful to see, given his perceived upside coming out of USC.

15) Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns

Kevin Stefanski has the opportunity to absolutely skyrocket up this list, but 2020 was only Year 1 for the young head coach. His roster is incredibly talented. As long as he can keep his quarterback on the rails, the Cleveland Browns should be another 11-plus-win team in an AFC North that had three teams reach that mark in 2020. If he can get Baker Mayfield to take the next step, this is a Super Bowl contending roster.

Established and good tier

The next tier of head coaches is a group of well-respected guys looking to take that next step in their careers with a Super Bowl victory.

14) Ron Rivera, Washington Football Team

Riverboat Ron has a defense that’s ready to compete for the best in the NFL in 2021. Although the team only went 7-9 last season, they suffered from some of the worst quarterback play in the league.

Ryan Fitzpatrick will most likely be a roller coaster, but the overall product offensively should look better. The team added Curtis Samuel to take some pressure off Terry McLaurin. Rivera took over what was a complete mess of a franchise and made the team into a respectable foe in the NFC East.

13) Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers

Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay are two offensive-minded head coaches who’ve worked to revolutionize the run game. Shanahan’s use of motion, and his use of receivers in the run game, allow him to rank in the top half of the NFL head coach rankings.

He might deserve to be even higher, but quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t been healthy outside of the 2018 season (when they went to the Super Bowl). It’ll be tough to make excuses for him if he doesn’t win with either the current starter or the future franchise quarterback in Trey Lance.

12) Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans

Mike Vrabel’s teams have won nine-plus games in each of his first three seasons as a head coach. Benching Marcus Mariota was his first big decision, and it turned out to be a possible career-defining one. Ryan Tannehill has looked the part of a franchise quarterback, and Derrick Henry’s career has taken off since Vrabel’s arrival.

The former Patriots’ great appears to connect with his players well. Adding Julio Jones to the mix should make for some fireworks in 2021.

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