Commentary

My top 20 NFL coaches

Originally Published: May 21, 2013
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

TOP 20 CoachesESPN.com IllustrationLombardi, Noll, Landry, Belichick and Walsh won a combined 18 NFL titles.

I've been instructed by the ESPN gendarmes not to reveal who made our Greatest Coaches in NFL History poll. But I know who I voted for, and I know who the group voted for, and one of us must've voted on nitrous oxide, because we're a Carnival cruise ship apart on some picks.

20. Dan Reeves -- Gruff and grouchy, the man went to four Super Bowls, three with John Elway and one against him. That says something, doesn't it? And in that one, he woke up on game day to find out his best defensive player had been busted by an undercover hooker.

19. Ray Flaherty -- Don't start with me. Just because he coached before Netflix doesn't mean he wasn't great. Invented the screen pass. Invented situational substitution. Won two NFL titles and a bunch of division titles in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), which was a very big deal despite TMZ never having heard of it.

18. Tom Coughlin -- Won two Super Bowls with The Wrong Manning.

17. Marv Levy -- Made four straight Super Bowls. You say he never won The Big One. I say he won two Grey Cups. History buff. Once said, "This is not a must-win. World War II was a must-win."

16. Hank Stram -- Easily the most persnickety man on this list. Always wore a jacket and tie and, often, a red vest underneath. Saw him do it on a 100-degree Sunday. As thorough and obsessed a coach as has ever lived. He never had an offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator or special teams coach with the Chiefs. Never needed 'em.

15. George Allen -- Would've been a great general. He'd find a way to beat you if all he had was two right tackles and a spatula. Never had a losing season. Won 71 percent of the time. OK, so it never happened for him in the playoffs. Sue.

14. Jimmy Johnson -- Still can't believe he's not in the Hall of Fame. Do you think Cowboys fans would take him back right now? Made all those egos work, the largest of which was his.

13. Sid Gillman -- You like the NFL, right? Well, the NFL wouldn't be the NFL without Sid Gillman, who did for football what color did for television. He was the first to throw it deep and stretch the field. He was the first to study film religiously. (When he was with the Chargers, he did it in his garage.) The former movie usher turned the NFL into a show.

12. Curly Lambeau -- Six NFL titles. First to use the forward pass as his main weapon. Won two out of every three games with the Packers. Oddity: Lambeau never went to Lambeau Field. When he was alive, it was called New City Stadium. Cue the music. Cue John Facenda. The frozen TUN-dra of New … City … Stadium. Not the same.

11. Bud Grant -- The Norse God. He looked like the guy Hollywood hires to play a football coach. Always wore the expression of an Easter Island statue, even as Gary Cuozzo or Joe Kapp was fumbling away another Super Bowl. Maybe if he could've relaxed the rules a little on his players, like Chuck Noll, he would've won one of those four Super Bowls. Wasn't going to happen.

10. John Madden -- No matter where you visited Madden, whether it was at his apartment in The Dakota in New York City, or his house in Carmel, you'd find him in a big easy chair in front of about five TVs. The man's whole life has been football -- playing it, coaching it, and describing it. A name known to both grandpa and grandson. He's the very face of this game and what a grand face it is.

9. Chuck Noll -- Four Super Bowl wins in six years. Then why isn't he higher, you ask? Because he did it with only one quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, and one defense, the Steel Curtain. The Rooneys go on winning long after Noll. And once Bradshaw left? Noll went 62-67.

8. Bill Walsh -- This will torque people off, having Walsh this low, but I answer with two words: Joe Montana. He won all three of his Super Bowls with Joe Montana. Still, a very smart guy. One of the smartest things he did? Quit just before Montana did.

7. Don Shula -- Best thing ever said about Shula was by Bum Phillips: "He's awfully smart. He can take his'n and beat your'n. Or he can take your'n and beat his'n." Nobody won more games than Shula. Nobody coached in more Super Bowls (six). I have him lower than most people because … well, I just felt … OK, maybe I messed this up.

6. Tom Landry -- The Fedora had 20 straight winning seasons, made five Super Bowls, and was my mom's favorite coach because he looked so nice on the sideline, unlike certain coaches in cut-off, bottom-of-the-hamper sweatshirts you might find at your finer Goodwill stores.

[+] EnlargeVince Lombardi and George Halas
Vernon Biever/Getty ImagesThe Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi, but there wouldn't have been an NFL without George Halas.

5. George Halas -- Greatest car salesman in history. There's no NFL without Halas. Played, owned, founded, coached, and nurtured this league. But did you know he was the MVP of the Rose Bowl?

4. Bill Belichick -- A mad scientist. Stores his blood in the freezer at night. Would've made a terrific despot way back when. The man already has been to five Super Bowls and he's only 61. The way he's going, he could make it to seven, a record. You say, "What about your one-quarterback rule NOW?" And I say, "How do you know Tom Brady would be Tom Brady anywhere else? He wasn't Tom Brady in college, was he?"

3. Paul Brown -- I have him ahead of Walsh because without Brown, there would be no Walsh. Or West Coast offense, which was born of Brown's ideas. Brown didn't just win three NFL titles, he won four AAFC titles with Cleveland for an all-time high of seven championships. You know anybody else with an NFL team named after him?

2. Joe Gibbs -- OK, here's where you start throwing shoes. But it goes back to quarterbacks. Nobody has ever come close to doing what Gibbs did, which is win three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, none of whom are in the Hall of Fame. That's like crossing the Pacific in a Little Mermaid floatie.

1. Vince Lombardi -- OK, the chalk pick, but do you think Bart Starr would be in the Hall of Fame without him? How about Jim Ringo or Herb Adderly? The talent didn't make Lombardi. Lombardi made the talent. This former Latin teacher got a job nobody wanted -- coaching the 1-10-1 Packers -- and proceeded to win 74 percent of his games after that. Seventy-four percent!

Now let me tell you whom I didn't vote for.

I didn't put Bill Parcells in the top 20. Lot of people are going to file a grievance over that. Fine coach, fun guy, but his regular-season coaching record was only .570, which ranks below most of the coaches in my top 20. Plus, Parcells' stature was blown up because he did his best work in New York, which is the scuba mask of the world. Everything you do in New York looks one-third bigger than it really is.

I stiffed Mike Shanahan, too. Like Parcells, Shanahan is a wizard, but both his Super Bowls came with one quarterback, Elway. He has won one playoff game in the 13 years since. Needs to prove it.

Lastly, I didn't vote for Tony Dungy. People act as if he won two Super Bowls: the one with Indy and the one Tampa Bay won the year after he was fired. Kim Kardashian just got pregnant with Kanye West. Does Kris Humphries get credit for that? And yes, he won a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning, but your muffler guy could win one with Manning in those years. Wonderful man, though.

Anyway, if you have any beefs, run them all through Adam Schefter.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com

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