SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Jim Harbaugh has been an NFL coach for all of three seasons. And in those three years his San Francisco 49ers have gone to the NFC title game (losing in overtime at home to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants), to the Super Bowl (falling in heartbreaking fashion to the Baltimore Ravens) and to another NFC title game (dropping another heartbreaker at the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks).
So Harbaugh has shown he can coach, and as such he was ranked as the No. 8 coach in the NFL in an ESPN.com poll of 30 league “insiders” (eight current general managers, four former GMs, four personnel directors, four executives, six coordinators and four position coaches).
ESPN Insider Mike Sando asked his panel to “provide a 1-5 rating for every head coach” in the NFL and New England’s Bill Belichick led the way with 28 votes in the first tier. He was followed by Seattle’s Pete Carroll (23) and New Orleans’ Sean Payton (22).
“Once votes were collected, I averaged the ratings for each coach to produce a 1-32 order,” Sando wrote. “I separated them into tiers at logical cut-off points, based on the voting results (including the tier in which each coach got the majority of his votes, and his average overall score).
“Twenty-three coaches averaged better than a 3.0 on the 1-5 scale (1 was best, 5 worst), and no coaches landed in Tier 5.”
The rest of the Top 9 was comprised of Kansas City’s Andy Reid, the New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin, the Green Bay Packers’ Mike McCarthy, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and then the Brothers Harbaugh, with Jim ahead of John, despite John owning that Super Bowl title over him.
As Sando observed, “No NFL coach has more total victories than (Jim) Harbaugh since his arrival with the 49ers in 2011. He and Belichick are each 41-14 over that span, with no other team posting more than 37 victories.
“One GM said he downgraded Harbaugh from a 1 to a 2 over tension between Harbaugh and the front office. Another executive said a 1 should have no real flaws, and that Harbaugh's combustible temperament qualifies as a flaw. Another GM said, ‘the personality stuff is going to show up’ in a negative way at some point in the future.
“A former player working as a personnel evaluator downplayed some of the other concerns. ‘That gets a little old, the animation on the sideline and those things,’ he said, ‘but at the end of the day, he is a good coach. He understands what he is doing. He has won everywhere he has been. I think his guys play for him. You may not like the person, but you like the product. As a player and a coach, you separate that from the other stuff. You are not necessarily best friends with everyone you work with, but if I believe in what you are saying, OK, I can roll with you. That is what I see with him.’”
The lowest-ranked coach? That would be the Oakland Raiders’ Dennis Allen.