Blockbuster or flop? Spotlighting the best — and worst — NFL head coaches

While much of the country spent the summer debating whether “Oppenheimer” or “Barbie” was the blockbuster of the year, Yardbarker NFL writers reviewed the work of the league’s 32 head coaches and assigned each of these leading men to a tier.

In sticking with the spirit of cinema, we named the tiers after either a movie title, genre or actor to help rationalize if each coach is producing an Academy Award- or a Razzie-level performance.

We took into consideration the coach’s overall résumé but put extra emphasis on recent performance vs. expectations. That’s why although Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy won a Super Bowl with Green Bay, he landed in a lower tier because three of his past five seasons have produced winning percentages below .500 and two of them fell far short of what was expected for “America’s Team.”

The coaching tiers are listed below with a writer’s commentary for each coach. Coaches are listed alphabetically within the tiers. — Michael Gallagher

1: ‘OPPENHEIMER””BARBIE’ TIER | Blockbusters

BILL BELICHICK | NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (Regular season: 298-152/Playoffs: 31-13) — Post-Tom Brady, the world has changed for the Belichick-led Patriots, but 7-9, 10-7 and 8-9 records the past three seasons don’t diminish
the future Hall of Famer’s legacy. The 71-year-old has won six of his eight Super Bowls appearances as New
England’s coach and ranks second all time in wins, including playoffs (329). However, with Mac Jones instead of Brady at QB, this “Lord of the Rings” may not coach in a Super Bowl any time soon. — Colum Dell

SEAN PAYTON | DENVER BRONCOS (Regular season: 152-89/Playoffs: 9-8) — Payton is one of the top offensive minds in the league. While he served as Saints HC from 2006 to 2021, New Orleans finished top 10 or better in scoring offense 12 times. Payton, who won a Super Bowl with the Saints, has the sixth-most regular-season wins among active HCs. Expect him to turn the Broncos around after six straight losing seasons in Denver. This won’t take “Mr. Miracle.” — Clark Dalton

ANDY REID | KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (Regular season: 247-138-1/Playoffs: 22-16) — After guiding Kansas City to three Super Bowls (including two wins) in the past four seasons, Reid continues to climb the all-time HC rankings. “He might be the greatest coach of all time,” former NFL star Michael Vick, who played for Reid in Philadelphia, said recently on Tyreek Hill’s podcast. Could he be the leading man — even over Belichick — with a few more Super Bowl wins with superstar QB Patrick Mahomes? At 65, Reid is six years younger than “The Hoodie.” — Clark Dalton

MIKE TOMLIN | PITTSBURGH STEELERS (Regular season: 163-93-2/Playoffs: 8-9) — Tomlin not only won a Super Bowl in his second year in Pittsburgh, but he also owns the NFL record for most consecutive non-losing seasons (16) to begin a coaching career. Some reviewers have heaped scorn on Tomlin in recent years because the Steelers have not won a playoff game since the 2016 season, but he always seems to have Pittsburgh in contention by season’s end. — Aaron Becker


PETE CARROLL | SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (Regular season: 161-112-1/Playoffs: 11-11) — Even though Carroll, at 71, is the oldest coach in the NFL, he still has a way of relating with younger players and convincing them to run through a wall for him. “I see him happy all the time, like Willy Wonka. He’s just having a good time,” former Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett once said of Carroll. In his 13 years with the Seahawks, they have been a model of consistency, winning at least 10 games nine times and missing the playoffs just twice over the past 11 years. — Adam Gretz

JOHN HARBAUGH | BALTIMORE RAVENS (Regular season: 147-95/Playoffs: 11-9) — Although he helped deliver the franchise’s second Super Bowl championship and owns the NFL record for most road playoff wins (eight), he is quite average in the postseason (11-9). Does he have what it takes to land in the “Blockbuster” tier? With QB Lamar Jackson signed to a $260 million contract and the addition of weapons like WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers, Harbaugh must deliver. — Aaron Becker

SEAN McDERMOTT | BUFFALO BILLS (Regular season: 62-35/Playoffs: 4-5) — The Buffalo faithful are experiencing similar highs to the late 1980s and early 1990s teams, thanks to the hard-nosed culture McDermott has implemented. (Think Kurt Russell in “Miracle.”) McDermott was hired in 2017 and immediately helped the Bills snap a 17-year playoff drought. Since 2019, Buffalo has been a perennial contender. The Bills’ 47 wins over the past four seasons trail only Kansas City. — Colum Dell

SEAN McVAY | Los Angeles Rams (Regular season: 60-38/Playoffs: 7-3) — Pre-McVay, the Rams were mired in the mediocrity of the Jeff Fisher and Steve Spagnuolo eras, going 13 consecutive years without a winning record. McVay produced five winning seasons in his first five years, taking the team to two Super Bowls in that time — winning one of them — and acting in several annoying Campbell’s soup commercials. The Rams have since sold their souls to the salary-cap gods. If McVay can return the Rams to “Glory Days” — with a team on which all 14 rookies made the initial cut — his status will soar.  — Adam Gretz

DOUG PEDERSON | Jacksonville Jaguars (Regular season: 51-45-1/Playoffs: 5-3) — In his first season with the Jags in 2022, Pederson snapped a four-year streak of fourth-place finishes and guided the team to its first playoff appearance since 2017. The Jags’ 27-point comeback win in the playoffs over the Chargers was pure “Magic.” In his six seasons as HC, Pederson has taken his team to the playoffs four times and won a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles. — Michael Gallagher

KYLE SHANAHAN | SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (Regular season: 52-46/Playoffs: 6-3) — The 49ers have boasted one of the league’s most dominant ground games during Shanahan’s watch while also fielding a punishing defense that can shut down almost any offense. He has taken the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game in three of the past four years. Does he have the team’s QB situation finally figured out with Brock Purdy, the ultimate “Underdog“? — Adam Gretz

NICK SIRIANNI | PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (Regular season: 23-11/Playoffs 2-2) — After Sirianni stammered through his introductory news conference like George McFly in “Back to the Future,” Eagles fans hoped he’d make like a tree and get out of here. Then suddenly he’s punching out Biff (the rest of the NFC) and kissing Lorraine at the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance (Super Bowl LVII). After going 3-6 to begin his head-coaching career, Sirianni has rebounded to win 22 of his next 29 games and an NFC title. — Bruce Ewing

ZAC TAYLOR | CINCINNATI BENGALS (Regular season: 28-36-1/Playoffs: 5-2) — Taylor is on his way to establishing himself as one of the better head coaches in the NFL, but his first two seasons with the Bengals were unimpressive (6-25-1). That was, of course, before QB Joe Burrow — “The Ultimate Weapon” — burst onto the scene. That does bring up the question of whether Taylor’s success is more a product of Burrow than any coaching genius. Nonetheless, it is hard to win in this league, and Taylor has coached Cincinnati to back-to-back AFC title games and a Super Bowl appearance the past two years. — Aaron Becker

MIKE VRABEL | TENNESSEE TITANS (Regular season: 48-34/Playoffs: 2-3) — Vrabel might be the top head coach in the AFC South simply for his ability to do more with less. The Titans set an NFL record with 91 different players used during the 2021 season, and yet, somehow, Vrabel still led that team to a 12-5 record, its second straight division title and first No. 1 playoff seed since 2008. After missing the playoffs last season, though, will we “Remember the Titans” and Vrabel come January? — Michael Gallagher

3: DWAYNE JOHNSON TIER | ‘Rock’ solid

DAN CAMPBELL | DETROIT LIONS (Regular season: 17-28-1/Playoffs: 0-0) — Over two seasons with the Lions, Campbell has transformed the perception of the much-maligned franchise. However, he really only has an 8-2 finish during the second half of 2022 to point to as a positive on his short head-coaching résumé. Campbell won only four of his first 23 games, but if he can lead Detroit to a repeat of last year (9-8) or better, he’ll become only the fourth Lions head coach since 1973 to post back-to-back winning seasons. Lions fans would party like the frat boys in “Animal House.” — Mike Santa Barbara

MATT LaFLEUR | GREEN BAY PACKERS (Regular season: 47-19/Playoffs: 2-3) — LaFleur’s fifth season as head coach of the Packers might be his most challenging. Despite owning three 13-win seasons and two playoff victories, he enters 2023 in limbo, paired with a side of something to prove. For LaFleur, whether good or bad, there’s no more Aaron Rodgers to rely on. Can he mold Jordan Love into a great replacement? If this “Love Story” is a smash, he’ll rise on these tiers. — Mike Santa Barbara

4: WESTERNS | A little sizzle but no steak … yet

MIKE McDANIEL | MIAMI DOLPHINS (Regular season: 9-8/Playoffs: 0-1) — Beyond his razor-sharp wit and self-deprecating humor, McDaniel has quickly earned a
reputation as having “A Beautiful Mind” for designing and calling plays. In McDaniel’s first season as a head coach, Miami survived a late-season skid to clinch a postseason berth and nearly upset the AFC East champion Bills with a third-string quarterback. As long as starting QB Tua Tagovailoa’s health holds up, Miami’s offense should continue to be one of the most explosive in the league under McDaniel. — Colum Dell

FRANK REICH | CAROLINA PANTHERS (Regular season: 40-33-1/Playoffs: 1-2) — It speaks to how much Reich is respected in the NFL that not even three months after Indianapolis fired him, he landed another head-coaching gig. Reich received a raw deal with the Colts, starting a different QB in the opener all five years and working under owner Jim Irsay, who — based on his public interactions with RB Jonathan Taylor — may have not been the easiest person to have as a boss. With all of the dysfunction in Indy, it’s remarkable his tenure was closer to “Apocalypse Now” than “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” — Eric Smithling

RON RIVERA | WASHINGTON COMMANDERS (Regular season: 98-90-2/Playoffs: 3-5) — With a team that used three different starting quarterbacks, Rivera showed “True Grit” in getting the Commanders to eight wins last season, but he hasn’t had a winning season since 2017. With a record eight games over .500, Rivera has seen “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” in 12 years as a head coach, but if young gunslinger Sam Howell doesn’t work out in 2023, new ownership will bring in a new sheriff. — Bruce Ewing

KEVIN STEFANSKI | CLEVELAND BROWNS (Regular season: 26-24/Playoffs: 1-1) — Stefanski joined the Browns in 2020 and earned NFL Coach of the Year honors after leading Cleveland to an 11-5 record and the team’s first postseason win since the 1994 season. A new era seemed to begin in Cleveland, but the team has had back-to-back losing seasons since (8-9, 7-10). This year will be an important one for Stefanski after another active offseason that should help QB Deshaun Watson return to form. This situation feels like “Downsizing,” that 2017 flick with the awful ending. Stefanski may do some downsizing of his own if he doesn’t get this team to the playoffs. — Aaron Becker

5: NETFLIX ORIGINALS TIER | Too new for critical review

BRIAN DABOLL | New York Giants (Regular season: 9-7-1/Playoffs: 1-1) — After their team went 4-13 in 2021, New York Giants fans had “Knives Out” for head coach Joe Judge. Daboll has been much sharper since taking over in 2022. Not only did he bring the team its first winning season since 2016, but he got the Giants their first playoff win since 2011 and the NFL Coach of the Year Award for himself. Time will tell if 2022 was a “House of Cards,” but thanks to Daboll, Giants fans can finally chill. — Bruce Ewing

MATT EBERFLUS | CHICAGO BEARS (Regular season: 3-14/Playoffs: 0-0) — Eberflus had little to work with on a still retooling Bears team. However, with Justin Fields entering his third year at quarterback and many offseason additions on both sides of the ball, the Bears seem ready to take a giant leap forward. Unfortunately for Eberflus, you are what your record says you are. Last season, despite winning two of three to start the season, the Bears won only once the rest of the way. Still, on “Any Given Sunday” …  — Mike Santa Barbara

JONATHAN GANNON | ARIZONA CARDINALS (Regular season: 0-0/Playoffs: 0-0) — Gannon has what might be the NFL’s worst roster. Arizona won just four games a year ago, gutted the team of veterans this offseason and is not going to have starting quarterback Kyler Murray for the start of the season. Gannon comes in with a reputation as a defensive coach — he helped construct a top-10 defense in Philadelphia. He better be patient in Arizona, but his debut season feels like the second coming of “Dark Phoenix.” — Adam Gretz 

KEVIN O’CONNELL | MINNESOTA VIKINGS (Regular season: 13-4/Playoffs: 0-1) — O’Connell was impressive in his first season as head coach, leading the Vikings to a 13-4 finish and an NFC North title. The Vikings won nine games by seven points or less in 2022, so this felt more “Smoke & Mirrors” than anything else. In 2023, the competition in the division has improved, with the Detroit Lions seemingly on the cusp of big things and the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers gaining ground.  — Mike Santa Barbara

DeMECO RYANS | HOUSTON TEXANS (Regular season: 0-0/Playoffs: 0-0) — With Houston his first head-coaching gig, there’s not much to judge Ryans on other than his body of work as an assistant. In two seasons as defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, they finished with a top-three defensive unit both years, including the No. 1-ranked defense and scoring defense in 2022. With rookie QB C.J. Stroud to coach up, Ryans must have a defense that delivers, or this will be “A Bumpy Ride.” — Michael Gallagher

ARTHUR SMITH | ATLANTA FALCONS (Regular season: 14-20/Playoffs: 0-0) — The most successful head coaches have either a strong offensive or defensive identity, which Smith is certainly developing. The former Titans offensive coordinator is already earning a rep for fielding some of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. In three of his four seasons as either an offensive coordinator or head coach, Smith’s teams have finished in the top three in rushing three times, but they’ve bombed on the field, going 7-10 and 7-10. — Eric Smithling

SHANE STEICHEN | INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (Regular season: 0-0/Playoffs: 0-0) — Like Ryans, the only thing to judge Steichen on so far is his work as an assistant, and like Ryans, his work as a coordinator — Steichen ran the offense in Philly — was impressive. Under his guidance, the Eagles had the No. 3 overall offense and scoring offense in 2022, but with a rookie QB in Anthony Richardson and a lacking offense, he is in for a long season. At least for Year 1, this feels more like “The Lone Ranger” — ugh, what a terrible movie — than “Oppenheimer.” — Michael Gallagher

6: ‘WATERWORLD’ TIER | Sinking into … oblivion?

DENNIS ALLEN | NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (Regular season: 15-38/Playoffs: 0-0) — Allen is the “Evan Almighty” of NFL head coaches. He’s solid in a supporting role but not someone strong enough to be a leading man. He revived a moribund Saints defense as its coordinator but was 7-10 in his first year in charge of the team. One thing that might help him this year is being more aggressive. Football Outsiders ranked him as the third-least aggressive coach in the league last year, going for it on 4th-and-short only six times in 99 potential opportunities. — Eric Smithling

TODD BOWLES | TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (Regular season: 34-50/Playoffs: 0-1) — Bowles, gearing up for his sixth season as a full-time head coach, seeks his first winning record since his debut with the New York Jets in 2015 (after a brief 2-1 stint as interim HC in Miami). Since going 10-6 that season, he is 22-43, including a disappointing 8-9 mark with Tampa Bay last season in Tom Brady’s final year. Without Brady, he’s stuck with Baker Mayfield at QB. (Sheesh, talk about “Second String.”) Storm clouds are already forming in Tampa Bay. — Eric Smithling

JOSH McDANIELS | LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (Regular season: 17-28/Playoffs: 0-0) — McDaniels excelled when he was Patriots offensive coordinator, helping New England win three Super Bowls in 13 seasons. However, he hasn’t parlayed this into head-coaching success. In his first season with Las Vegas, the Raiders finished 6-11 after a playoff appearance in 2021. McDaniels is betting on a roster overhaul this season. Regardless, it’s likely that he’ll be “Leaving Las Vegas” — sorry, we couldn’t resist — if he disappoints again. — Clark Dalton

MIKE McCARTHY | DALLAS COWBOYS (Regular season: 155-97-2/Playoffs: 11-10) — With 125 wins in 13 years as Packers head coach, Lambeau proved to be a “Field of Dreams” for McCarthy, but not even Super Bowl-winning coaches are untouchable, as McCarthy found out in 2018, when he was fired after two straight losing seasons. His 30-20 regular-season record with Dallas is great, but Cowboys fans were expecting more from this coaching hire. Without a deep playoff run in 2023 with a loaded roster, McCarthy’s Dallas tenure will be seen as an epic flop. — Bruce Ewing

ROBERT SALEH | NEW YORK JETS (Regular season: 11-23/Playoffs: 0-0) — Although the former 49ers defensive coordinator has been instrumental in transforming New
York’s defense into a top-five unit in the league, his record is cause for concern. The
honeymoon phase with new quarterback Aaron Rodgers may be in full swing, but if the Jets
falter in the early going, tensions could escalate — just like in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” — and Saleh could pay.  — Colum Dell

BRANDON STALEY | LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (Regular season: 19-15/Playoffs: 0-1) — Staley wasn’t awful in his first two seasons with Los Angeles, but it’s likely a better HC could have accomplished more with an elite QB like Justin Herbert. “If it doesn’t work this year, they’re not getting rid of Herbert. They’re getting rid of [Staley]. Coaches are already circling that Chargers job,” NBC Sports’ Mike Florio recently said on “The Dan Patrick Show.” “Hot Seat,” indeed.— Clark Dalton


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