Ranking Sean McVay Among NFL Head Coaches
One must take a litany of factors into consideration when ranking head coaches. Experience, success, where and how much value they add in-game, management, and organizational control.
With those things in mind, tiers of talent quickly emerge and when thinking specifically of Sean McVay, it is clear that he is among the top ten head coaches in the league. Based on that extensive list of criteria here are the top ten active coaches in the NFL. Collectively, this list represents 19 trips to the Super Bowl, 82 trips to the playoffs, and a collective record of 1339-794-4 for a 62.8 winning percentage.
- Bill Belichick
- Andy Reid
- Sean Payton
- John Harbaugh
- Mike Tomlin
- Pete Carroll
- Sean McVay
- Bruce Arians
- Sean McDermott
- Kyle Shanahan
McVay finds himself sandwiched in the rankings among veteran NFL head coaches. He is still a young coach, but he already has a solid track record of success. That said, He is still somewhat inexperienced compared to the six veteran coaches rated above him. But, he also has a better winning percentage than all but Bill Belichick, and even Belichick only saw one winning season in his first four seasons as a head coach. In fact, only Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh had better-winning percentages than McVay in their first four seasons, 67.6% and 67.1% to McVay’s 65.7%.
Both of those coaches, the argument could be made, landed in more favorable situations with both the Ravens and the Steelers coming off winning seasons in the recent past. The Rams hadn’t posted a winning season in over a decade before McVay took over. He turned a 4-11 team into a playoff team in one season. Sean Payton is the only other coach above McVay on the list that took a perennial loser and turned them into a playoff threat.
Another feather in McVay’s cap is that almost every other higher-rated coach has also had the luxury of coaching with a future hall of fame quarterback on their roster. John Harbaugh may be the only exception. Lamar Jackson could prove to be his HOF’er, but as of today, the jury is still out on him. For Reid, Donovan McNabb hasn’t been voted in, yet, but Patrick Mahomes may be the first player ever given a gold jacket while in mid-throw.
Why being behind these six legendary coaches is an interesting position is it seems like McVay is poised to move up this list. What sanctifies the men ahead of him has been their ability to traverse the NFL landscape over a long period of time. McVay has obviously met the challenges of his first four years head-on and come up the victor in most cases.
What is most impressive about McVay so far is his ability to make smart decisions even when they seem impossible. The decision to move on from Todd Gurley and Cory Littleton come to mind. The decision to hire Brandon Staley is another example of just how smart McVay makes the Rams organization. Furthermore, his most unique and valuable contribution is his ability to develop the people around him. He has turned late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents into legitimate starters. This has allowed the Rams to add elite talent like Jalen Ramsey and now Matthew Stafford.
This will prove to be a pivotal year in McVay’s legacy as a coach. Up until now, he has only had Jared Goff to helm his offense. At times, Goff made the offense look unstoppable. Others, it ground to a halt. Some blamed McVay, claiming the NFL had caught up to him and that he wasn’t the offensive wunderkind the world hailed him as.
Some don’t see Stafford as a big enough upgrade to get the Rams to the next level. But this is where McVay can prove that he is among the best coaches in the NFL. Stafford played at a very high level for Jim Caldwell, but he has never played for an offensive-minded coach quite like McVay. If McVay can unlock Stafford and as a result show that his offense is even more high-powered, as it once seemed, he will prove he can survive long term in the NFL.
Breaking into that top level isn’t the only side of the story for McVay’s ranking among NFL coaches. The NFL is currently engulfed in a seismic change that will decide who ranks where in the near future.
While McVay is at the bottom of a list of coaches that have long sustained track records of winning football, he is also at the top of the list of young up-and-coming head coaches (Not that Bruce Arians is young*). Just outside the top ten are names like Kevin Stefanski, Matt LeFleur, and Brian Flores. Of course, Shanahan is lurking at 10. He is the only coach on the list with a sub .500 record, but his offensive acumen keeps him in the conversation. All of these coaches are trying to be the new guard and looking to supplant McVay and those legends that precede him.
Meanwhile, the old guard is feeling the brunt of the seismic change. Belichick, Payton, and Tomlin are all in various stages of transitioning away from the quarterbacks that have helped make them legends. Pete Carroll also finds himself precariously close to the same edge with Russell Wilson becoming increasingly disgruntled with the Seahawks organization. Part of the rift with Wilson is that he isn’t feeling supported by his protection, nor by the playmakers, nor with playcalling. Carroll hopes that new offensive coordinator, and McVay acolyte, Shane Waldron, will be the cure to what ails that relationship.
Being a top-ranked coach with a Hall of Fame quarterback is one thing, rebuilding a team once that QB is gone is wholly another. How these four coaches manage the next few seasons will shed light on just how great they are. If any can maintain the level of success they have had in the past they will cement their legacy among the best ever. Belichick discovered what life without Tom Brady was like and promptly drafted Brady’s body double, in Mac Jones. While the future’s for Payton and Tomlin are left dubious.
The opposite is happening among most of the remaining coaches in the top 10. Reid, Harbaugh, McDermott, and maybe Shanahan are shepherding the next class of potential Hall of Fame quarterbacks. The near future for these coaches will propel these coaches to higher heights, (Again Arians is an outlier. Brady has shown no signs of slowing, and Arians’ Buccaneers are a favorite to repeat. But, Brandy will age eventually. Right?) Reid already has an unimpeachable record as a head coach, but how he finishes his career alongside Patrick Mahomes in his prime and has the potential to solidify his standing among the very best. John Harbaugh is in a similar position with Jackson.
McVay once again finds himself sandwiched between the new guard and the old guard. He doesn’t have a fresh face QB on a rookie deal, but he himself is still a young innovative coach with many years of proving ground ahead of him. But because there is so much amazing up-and-coming QB talent with equally good coaching, McVay has to win now and win big with Stafford to prove he is ranked among the elite coaches and still beats out the new guard.
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*Bruce Arians is a curious case for rating. Of course, he won the Super Bowl after helping put the finishing touches on an already good team. His ability to turn that particular team into a well-oiled machine by the later part of the season is very impressive.
He also built a good team in Arizona around Carson Palmer, which is also impressive. He also didn’t get his first head coaching gig until he was 60. So Arians has never been a young head coach, per se, but only has three more seasons than McVay under his belt.