Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Come on. Is this really a surprise? Let's see ... three Super Bowl rings, five Super Bowl appearances and nine playoff appearances in the past 11 seasons. Don't forget three more Super Bowls as a defensive coordinator, including two rings with the Giants. Simply put: the most accomplished head coach of our time.
David Stluka/Associated Press
2. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
Hard to say he's underrated anymore. And it's equally hard to make fun of him anymore for looking constipated on the sidelines because of all the success. Coughlin's genius is his ability to keep the eye, his roster's eye, on the prize, despite all obstacles. Last year's 6-6 start would've swayed other teams -- and lesser coaches -- from winning it all.
Mike Roemer/Associated Press
3. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
Some dudes just have a killer instinct. McCarthy is like that dungeon master in D&D who just wasn't happy until he annihilated your knight, cleric, wizard, the whole damn party. He's a master strategist who knows how to move his pieces. Oh, and he has a Vince Lombardi Trophy to his credit.
Mark Duncan/Associated Press
4. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
This is where this ranking bid-ness gets tough. Who would you most like to have leading your team after Belichick, Coughlin and McCarthy? How about Tomlin, a guy whose won the Super Bowl with a different brand of Steelers team (a passing club) and has missed the playoffs just once in five seasons?
5. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
Some people might feel this is a little high for him, but it's hard to argue with his track record. The former special teams coach took over a 5-11 club following the 2007 season and led it to the AFC Championship Game in his first season. The Ravens haven't missed the postseason during Harbaugh's tenure and have made it to the conference championship twice.
Michael Perez/Associated Press
6. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles
This is yet another ranking that scores of Eagles fans might argue with. Reid is a lot like Van Halen. They would never top their first album and, at least with David Lee Roth, never had a No. 1 album. Reid has never surpassed his initial run of four straight NFC Championship Game appearances and didn't get over the hump with frontman Donovan McNabb. But how do you argue with a track record that includes a Super Bowl berth and nine playoff teams in 13 seasons? By comparison, in the 17 seasons prior to Reid's arrival, the Eagles appeared in no Super Bowls or championship games, while only fielding six playoff teams.
Marcio Sanchez/Associated Press
7. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers
This is high praise for the first-year boy wonder. The memory of Harbaugh running around Texas Stadium with his helmet after leading the 3-0 Colts to an upset road win is burned in my memory -- that exuberance was released again and again in 2011, as the 48-year old rookie head coach turned around the 49ers, who hadn't made the playoffs since 2002 before last season.
G. Newman Lowrance/Associated Press
8. John Fox, Denver Broncos
Fox did a bang-up job in his first year in Denver, but not by being some genius or X's and O's guy. Fox knows how to lead by being himself and getting his players to play for him. But more importantly, he can adapt. The guy whose r�sum� was built on the defensive side of the ball flipped the script in 2011, working with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to modify the offense to fit Tim Tebow's strengths. By "modify," I mean junk a pro-style offense and run the old college "zone read." The result? From 4-12 to playoffs in one year.
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
9. Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams
Fisher cut his teeth as an Eagles assistant under Buddy Ryan and found himself in charge in Tennessee when Jack Pardee was fired in the middle of the 1994 season. Fisher helped that franchise weather a tumultuous departure from Houston and playing in three different cities in three years. After settling in Nashville in 1999, Tennessee made the playoffs six times under Fisher until he left the team following the 2010 season. He also came one outreached arm from going into overtime in Super Bowl XXXIV. Always one of the most respected organizational leaders, Fisher has a mountain of a task facing him in St. Louis. Does he still have it?
David Drapkin/Associated Press
10. Rex Ryan, New York Jets
Love him or hate him, the braggadocious Jets head coach has led his club to two AFC Championship Games in three years on the job. While last year's 8-8 season was not ideal, league parity pretty much ensures that even the best coaches can look mediocre. Bill Belichick has had four losing seasons. Bill Parcells went 6-10 once. Tom Landry went 3-13 in his last season. This year we'll see what Ryan is made of.
Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press
11. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears
Ranking Smith is like trying to collect your thoughts on why you own an Astrovan. He's been more than serviceable, but it seems like he always comes up short, even among his own fans. Is that fair? He's taken Chicago to a Super Bowl and a couple of NFC Championship Games, but many Bears fans have called for a more aggressive leader. That's not Lovie. Game management has been another issue. What's not an issue is his stable influence and results -- an annually competitive team that hasn't lost 10 games since 2004. Prior to Smith's arrival, the Bears had lost at least 10 games in five of the previous seven seasons.
Paul Connors/Associated Press
12. Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals
For the most part, Whisenhunt has done a great job. How about leading the Cardinals to a championship win for the first time in 60-plus years (2008 NFC Championship)? But he's got to prove he can do it without Kurt Warner.
John Bazemore/Associated Press
13. Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons
Nice track record for the underrated Smith: four seasons, all winners. The issue is that Atlanta can't get out of the first round of the playoffs. An 0-3 record in the postseason lands Smith in the Marino-hole.
Tony Tribble/Associated Press
14. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
Would you believe the third longest tenured head coach in the NFL is Marvin Lewis? The former Ravens defensive coordinator has been at it since 2003 and should be given credit for bringing this club back to respectability, with three playoff appearances since 2005. Considering Cincy hadn't gone in over a decade prior to his arrival, that ain't bad. But it's time to win a playoff game. Some Bengals fans are ready to see a new head coach on the sideline. At least they won't have to see Chris Crocker letting people run by him.
Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
15. Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans
Like Lewis, Gary Kubiak has been at it awhile. He finally got Houston to the promised land, beating Lewis' squad. Kubiak fixed his club by being on board with the Wade Phillips hire at defensive coordinator, which made all the difference, as the Texans shot from 30th to second in the NFL. What can Kubiak do this year with a full deck, i.e. a healthy Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson?
Gail Burton/Associated Press
16. Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins
Shanahan must be red-faced about his tenure in Washington thus far. The guy who looks like he's always just been skiing might be doing a lot of that soon if he can't improve on a dismal 11-21 record over the past two years. It begins and ends with Robert Griffin III. Shanahan has done good work with quarterbacks before, but some wonder aloud if he's always too busy looking for another John Elway instead of what he has in his driveway.
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
17. Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions
Schwartz has turned it around in Detroit, or so it seems, but a) doesn't have the Super Bowl rings like Shanahan, and b) despite a better recent record than say, Fisher or Whisenhunt, needs to have more than one decent season to jump up the list. While Detroit was a feel-good story in 2011, the postseason performance was difficult to watch.
Denis Poroy/Associated Press
18. Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers
The new Couglin look of constipation resides in San Diego, where Chargers fans in Pacific Beach must be vomiting over the no-change-is-good-change football team (well, the college peeps in PB are probably vomiting for other reasons.) So why keep Turner? Well, there are several reasons. San Diego's offense, for which he is in control, has been in the top five every year he's been there. And Turner's overall record in SoCal is 49-31. There aren't a lot of guys who can match that. Do Chargers fans really want Marty-ball back? Don't answer that.
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
19. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
Tough to gauge Pete Carrol right now. Is his style working? He's been given more than one year, unlike his stint in New York (1994). He wasn't nearly as bad in New England as he was painted. And in Seattle, he took his club to the playoffs while looking like an 8-year-old jumping on his bunk bed after Seahawks wins in 2010. Bottom line here: Seattle is 14-18 in his two seasons.
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
20. Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs
Crennel did a serviceable job taking over for Todd Haley late in 2011, winning two of three. The Chiefs, despite numerous injuries, upset the undefeated Packers just one week after losing 37-10 under the insufferable Haley in New York. Yet, while Crennel has five -- five! -- Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach, his stint in Cleveland was very Derek Anderson-ian. Of course, Belichick didn't exactly do well in Cleveland, either.
David Duprey/Associated Press
21. Mike Munchak, Tennessee Titans
Peyton Manning hated to turn down the Titans because of Munchak. Munchak's own guys played for him in 2011. He went 9-7, barely missing the playoffs, in his first year on the job. The low ranking here is only because of inexperience as a head coach on any level.
Tom DiPace/Associated Press
22. Chan Gailey, Buffalo Bills
From the did-you-know-department: Did you know Gailey is the only head coach in NFL history to take his team to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, and then be fired? Gailey's ill-fated run with the Cowboys at the close of the '90s might have prepared him for the short leash that stares down all NFL head coaches. Entering his third season in Buffalo, is it playoffs or bust for the 60-year-old?
Tom DiPace/Associated Press
23. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Few Cowboys fans think Garrett is the man for the job. He's certainly taken a lot of grief for his playcalling. In fairness, Dallas' offense finished 11th last season and seventh the year before. The question is whether he can be his own voice in an ownership-dominated organization, as well as handle the play caller-head coach double duties.
Mike McCarn/Associated Press
24. Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers showed flashes last season, and seemed to have nowhere to go but up. Late game failures and miscues were the tell tale signs of a young football team, not necessarily a coach in over his head. That said, Rivera still has much to prove.
Phil Sears/US Presswire
25. Mike Mularkey, Jacksonville Jaguars
Also with much to prove is Mike Mularkey, who is on his second stint as an NFL head coach. Mularkey led the Bills to their last winning campaign, in 2004, a 9-7 year that was marred by a season-ending loss to the Steelers, who played their backups in a game Buffalo needed to win to make the playoffs. Fail. Mularkey resigned the next season and has been pretty much been an OC since.
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
26. Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins
Philbin has been one of the league's most valuable ancillary parts the past few seasons, teaming with Mike McCarthy to lead one of the most formidable attacks in the league. An extremely resilient man, it's doubtful he'll let the disappointing offseason in Miami affect his football team.
Andy King/Associated Press
27. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings
The jury is still out on Frazier, but last season his Vikings folded late in games too often. He did a nice job down the stretch taking over for the ill-fated Brad Childress in 2010, leading a reeling 3-7 team to a 3-3 finish.
Michael Conroy/Associated Press
28. Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts
Pagano hasn't coached a down in the NFL, but did a heckuva job with the Ravens as defensive coordinator last season, leading the league's third-ranked defense. Those veteran Ravens defenders respected the first year DC enough to heed his message, and Baltimore came thisclose to making the Super Bowl because of that defense, and of course, Pagano. A lifelong coach, it should be interesting to see how he fares in Indy.
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
29. Pat Shurmur, Cleveland Browns
It's been a tough go for the Browns' Shurmur. A man hired for his offensive acumen seemed to be lost in space in the play-calling department on occasion last season. Team president Mike Holmgren seemed so eager to push Eric Mangini out the door following a 5-11 season. It's a good thing too, because Browns fans were rewarded with a 4-12 gem last year.
Paul Sakuma/Associated Press
30. Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders
Who knows what to expect of Allen, but he's already got the mild-mannered Carson Palmer in a tizzy over the playbook. That Palmer is one charismatic guy when he's fired up too. Except not at all.
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press
31. Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Harsh, I know. But Schiano has never coached at the NFL level. Making his gig harder was the struggle to assemble a staff. Rookie head coaches need a quality cabinet, and Schiano had to mix and match in order to get a decent group to turn around a 4-12 ballclub. Good luck.
Kevin Terrell/Associated Press
32. Joe Vitt (and whoever else), New Orleans Saints
If the Saints go 11-5 and win the NFC South this season, it will be a huge sell for organizational continuity. But who will have the gig during the six games that Vitt is off the bridge? Dalton Hilliard available?
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