In April, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed head coach Mike Tomlin to a three-year contract extension that binds him to the team through 2024. At the time, Steelers president Art Rooney II said, “Mike is one of the most successful head coaches in the National Football League, and we are confident in his leadership to continue to lead our team as we work to win another championship.”
Yet unlike Steelers ownership, not everyone is sold on the idea that Tomlin is in, say, the top quarter of all NFL head coaches. On Tuesday, Eric Eager of Pro Football Focus (PFF) published his ranking of the best head coaches in the NFL ahead of the 2021 season.
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“In ranking the top head coaches heading into the 2021 season, the criteria were quantitative,” explained Eager, noting that “a coach’s ability to get more wins out of his team than wins above replacement of their roster, their ability to win games by multiple scores (as well as lose relatively few games by multiple scores) and fourth-down decisions all factored into these rankings.”
Kansas City’s Andy Reid is No. 1
As for the rankings, the list features a seemingly arbitrary seven names, led by Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs, “the standard by which the rest of the league is evaluated,” says Eager, who notes that “the Chiefs have never gone under their market season win total, and they are again the Super Bowl favorites going into the 2021 regular season.”
Eager also notes that Kansas City’s loss in Super Bowl LV represented “the first time the Chiefs fell by multiple scores since 2017 and the first time they failed to score a touchdown since 2014.”
Baltimore’s John Harbaugh is No. 2
Next on Eager’s list is John Harbaugh, who “will forever have a place in lists like these after getting a team quarterbacked by Joe Flacco across the finish line in 2012,” he quips.
“What is most impressive about Harbaugh is how much he’s adapted to the needs of the NFL circa 2021…. Whether it’s by building defenses from back to front, adapting his team to suit the needs of a once-in-a-generation talent at the quarterback position or listening to the math on fourth-down decision-making (he went for it 64% of the time when he should have in 2020, among the league’s highest rates), Harbaugh … currently and has a Hall of Fame case to make.
The Best of the Rest…?
In order of ranking, Reid and Harbaugh are followed by Matt LaFleur (Green Bay), Sean McDermott (Buffalo), Sean Payton (New Orleans), Bill Belichick (New England) and Kevin Stefanski (Cleveland).
There’s nary a mention of Tomlin, despite the fact that he has never finished a season with a losing record. In fact, if he finishes 9-8 or better in 2021, he will break the record he currently shares with the late Marty Schottenheimer for most consecutive non-losing seasons to start a career.
Tomlin has compiled a 145-78-1 record, winning Super Bowl XLIII and coaching the team to an appearance in Super Bowl XLV. All told, his 145 wins are tied for 21st all-time (with Pete Carroll) and he has more career wins than all but two of the coaches on Eager’s list, as Belichick and Reid have 280 and 221, respectively. This as compared to Payton, who has 143 career victories in 15 seasons, and Harbaugh, who has 129 in 13 campaigns.
Meanwhile, Tomlin is just four victories away from matching Bill Cowher’s career total of 149. Cowher, who was head coach of the Steelers from 1992-2006, will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. Earlier this month, he released his memoir, Heart and Steel.
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