ESPN is counting down its top 20 coaches in NFL history. So far, we have:
No. 20: Tony Dungy
No. 19: Mike Shanahan
No. 18: Sid Gillman
No. 17: Marv Levy
No. 16: Hank Stram
No. 15: Bud Grant
No. 14: Tom Coughlin
No. 13: Jimmy Johnson
No. 12: John Madden
No. 11: Bill Parcells
No. 10: Curly Lambeau
No. 9: Joe Gibbs
No. 8: Tom Landry
No. 7: Bill Belichick
No. 6: Paul Brown
Grading coaches across eras is even more difficult than it is with players. How do you compare Lambeau, who coached for 33 years and won 6 NFL championships, to Belichick? Lombardi became a head coach in ’59, Shula in ’63. But how do you vault when over the other when Lombardi died in 1970 while Shula was still coaching in 1995? John Madden has the best winning percentage among coaches with at least 100 games, but he took over a team that went 25-3 in the two years before he arrived. What’s the appropriate way to compare him to Walsh or Johnson?
Instead of trying to answer the difficult questions, I’ll answer something I’m very well-equipped to handle. I’ve seen people cite the records of certain coaches against each other as evidence for or against a particular coach. That’s an obviously flawed way to break a divide, but hey, it’s Friday in the offseason, so let’s look at head-to-head coaching records.
Since ESPN doesn’t have a monopoly on determining the eligibility for my posts, I decided to include five more coaches to bring us to an even 25. Marty Schottenheimer is sixth all-time in wins, George Seifert won 65% of his games and two Super Bowls, and Dan Reeves is in the top ten in both playoff wins and regular season wins. I’m also going to include Mike Holmgren and Bill Cowher, because personally, I have a very hard time separating those two from Dungy when it comes to ranking coaches (despite all three having very different coaching styles, they all seemed equally effective to me). Jeff Fisher and George Allen drew the short straws after I gave this supplemental list about five seconds of thought. If you think I’m wrong, you’re probably right.
So how have these coaches fared in games against the other 24 coaches? The table below shows the results of all games, playoff and regular season combined. Lombardi coached 43 times against the other 24 men on the list, and went 30-13 in those games for a 0.698 winning percentage. While that includes playoff games, I also wanted to separately highlight playoff production. Lombardi went 4-0 in playoff games against these coaches.
Now, let’s take a look at each coach vs. coach matchup. I’ve only listed each matchup once to make the search function more friendly. The table is sorted by winning percentage and then by games played. Here’s how the first row reads. There were 8 games where Paul Brown coached against Curly Lambeau. Brown went 8-0-0, for a 100% winning percentage. The teams did not play in any playoff games. Of course, all eight games came from ’50 to ’53, when Lambeau had left the Packers and was coaching first the Cardinals and finally the Redskins. You can type the name of one or two coaches into the search box and see the results.
As for that Holmgren-Dungy-Cowher tier? Holmgren went 7-2 against Dungy and 4-2 against Cowher, which includes the controversial loss in Super Bowl XLV. Cowher went 3-2 against Dungy, including an upset win in the playoffs. You can see how any coaches fared by typing both (or either) names into the search box.
One of the surprising ones, to me, was Belichick. Maybe it’s because I’m a Jets fan, but it seems like the Patriots win every game they play. If you type Belichick into the search box and sort by games played (the left column), something surprising comes up. Belichick doesn’t have a winning record against any of the coaches he’s faced six or more times. He’s 6-8 against Cowher, 5-5 against Dungy, 4-5 gainst Shanahan, 1-5 against Coughlin, and 3-3 against Schottenheimer. Maybe that doesn’t surprise you, but it caught my eye.
Let me be clear: I don’t think head-to-head records amounts to anything more than trivia. I love trivia, hence today’s post. But I’m certainly not advocating that anything more be read into this post than that.