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Records of Great Coaches Against Great Coaches

ESPN is counting down its top 20 coaches in NFL history. So far, we have:

Old school Parcells/Belichick

Can you believe the Jets hired Pete Carroll? I would never go there.

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

No doubt, the final five coaches are Don Shula, Chuck Noll, George Halas, Vince Lombardi; and Bill Walsh. But this post isn’t me complaining about those rankings or coming up with my own system.

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.

Vince Lombardi43301300.6984401
John Madden50321620.6611650.545
Bill Cowher76423310.55911560.455
Mike Shanahan86483800.55812840.667
Mike Holmgren63352800.55611740.636
Tom Coughlin71393200.5498530.625
Don Shula127685810.5392010100.5
George Halas91474040.5381101
Tony Dungy47252200.5327340.429
Marv Levy94504400.53213760.538
Bill Walsh36191700.5286330.5
George Seifert40211900.5259450.444
Paul Brown61322900.5253120.333
Bill Parcells121625900.51214950.643
Jimmy Johnson56282800.58620.75
Marty Schottenheimer105505500.47610190.1
Chuck Noll99455400.45513850.615
Tom Landry86394700.45311470.364
Dan Reeves83374510.45210370.3
Bill Belichick68303800.44111650.545
Joe Gibbs92405200.43511650.545
Hank Stram59243230.4324220.5
Bud Grant47182720.40410190.1
Sid Gillman52193210.3751010
Curly Lambeau57163830.3071010

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.

GCoach 1Coach 2WLTWin %PGPWPL
8Paul BrownCurly Lambeau8001000
4Tony DungyDan Reeves4001000
4John MaddenSid Gillman4001000
3Joe GibbsMarv Levy3001110
3Joe GibbsChuck Noll3001000
3Mike HolmgrenDan Reeves3001000
3Dan ReevesBill Walsh3001000
3George SeifertJoe Gibbs3001220
3Don ShulaPaul Brown3001110
3Don ShulaHank Stram3001110
2Bill BelichickGeorge Seifert2001000
2Tom CoughlinJimmy Johnson2001110
2Tom CoughlinMarv Levy2001110
2Tom LandryHank Stram2001000
2John MaddenMarv Levy2001000
2Bill ParcellsTony Dungy2001000
2George SeifertDon Shula2001000
2Don ShulaBill Belichick2001000
2Don ShulaJimmy Johnson2001000
2Bill WalshMarty Schottenheimer2001000
1Paul BrownBud Grant1001000
1Tom CoughlinDan Reeves1001000
1Tom CoughlinGeorge Seifert1001000
1Bill CowherJoe Gibbs1001000
1Tony DungyJoe Gibbs1001000
1Tony DungyJimmy Johnson1001000
1Joe GibbsBud Grant1001110
1Bud GrantSid Gillman1001000
1Jimmy JohnsonBill Belichick1001000
1Jimmy JohnsonChuck Noll1001000
1Tom LandrySid Gillman1001000
1Marv LevyBill Belichick1001000
1Marv LevyBud Grant1001000
1Vince LombardiPaul Brown1001000
1Vince LombardiChuck Noll1001000
1Vince LombardiHank Stram1001110
1John MaddenTom Landry1001000
1Bill ParcellsChuck Noll1001000
1Dan ReevesBud Grant1001000
1Dan ReevesTom Landry1001000
1George SeifertChuck Noll1001000
1Mike ShanahanJoe Gibbs1001000
1Mike ShanahanBill Walsh1001000
1Don ShulaMike Holmgren1001000
1Don ShulaMike Shanahan1001000
1Bill WalshMarv Levy1001000
6Tom CoughlinBill Belichick5100.833220
6Mike HolmgrenTom Coughlin5100.833000
6Bill ParcellsDan Reeves5100.833110
6Mike ShanahanDan Reeves5100.833110
3Bill CowherDan Reeves2010.833000
10Marv LevyDan Reeves8200.8110
5Marty SchottenheimerMike Holmgren4100.8000
5Mike ShanahanBill Parcells4100.8110
9Mike HolmgrenTony Dungy7200.778110
12Bill ParcellsJimmy Johnson9300.75000
12Dan ReevesMarty Schottenheimer9300.75220
4Bill BelichickMike Holmgren3100.75000
4Paul BrownGeorge Halas3100.75000
4Bill CowherBill Parcells3100.75101
4Tony DungyTom Coughlin3100.75000
4Bud GrantHank Stram3100.75101
4Mike HolmgrenGeorge Seifert3100.75220
4Jimmy JohnsonMike Holmgren3100.75220
4John MaddenBud Grant3100.75110
4Chuck NollSid Gillman3100.75000
4Dan ReevesBill Belichick3100.75000
4Marty SchottenheimerJoe Gibbs3100.75000
4George SeifertBill Parcells3100.75101
2George HalasBud Grant1010.75000
23Marv LevyDon Shula17600.739330
18Vince LombardiGeorge Halas13500.722000
9Don ShulaBud Grant6210.722220
7Jimmy JohnsonMarv Levy5200.714220
7Vince LombardiTom Landry5200.714220
10Marty SchottenheimerChuck Noll7300.7000
12Chuck NollPaul Brown8400.667000
9Tony DungyMike Shanahan6300.667220
9Chuck NollTom Landry6300.667220
9Dan ReevesChuck Noll6300.667211
6Paul BrownTom Landry4200.667000
6Bill CowherMarv Levy4200.667211
6George HalasSid Gillman4200.667000
6Mike HolmgrenBill Cowher4200.667101
6Bill WalshJoe Gibbs4200.667101
6Bill WalshTom Landry4200.667110
3Tom CoughlinMarty Schottenheimer2100.667000
3Bill CowherDon Shula2100.667000
3Bud GrantBill Walsh2100.667000
3George HalasTom Landry2100.667000
3Mike HolmgrenJoe Gibbs2100.667220
3Jimmy JohnsonMarty Schottenheimer2100.667000
3Jimmy JohnsonMike Shanahan2100.667101
3Chuck NollBill Walsh2100.667000
3Marty SchottenheimerGeorge Seifert2100.667000
3George SeifertBill Cowher2100.667000
3George SeifertMarv Levy2100.667000
3Mike ShanahanMarv Levy2100.667000
49George HalasCurly Lambeau301630.643110
14Don ShulaChuck Noll9500.643321
11Vince LombardiDon Shula7400.636110
11Don ShulaMarty Schottenheimer7400.636330
8Tom CoughlinJoe Gibbs5300.625000
8Bill CowherMarty Schottenheimer5300.625101
8John MaddenPaul Brown5300.625110
8Don ShulaTom Landry5300.625101
13Marv LevyBill Parcells8500.615101
13John MaddenHank Stram7420.615101
23Bill ParcellsJoe Gibbs14900.609110
10Mike ShanahanMike Holmgren6400.6110
5Bill BelichickBill Parcells3200.6110
5Bill CowherTony Dungy3200.6110
5Jimmy JohnsonDan Reeves3200.6000
5Jimmy JohnsonGeorge Seifert3200.6220
5Mike ShanahanBill Cowher3200.6211
5Don ShulaJoe Gibbs3200.6101
12Tom LandryBud Grant7500.583431
12Tom LandryBill Parcells7500.583000
14Bill CowherBill Belichick8600.571312
7John MaddenDon Shula4300.571321
7Don ShulaBill Parcells4300.571000
7Bill WalshBill Parcells4300.571312
24Hank StramSid Gillman131010.563000
9Dan ReevesGeorge Seifert5400.556202
9Marty SchottenheimerMarv Levy5400.556202
9Mike ShanahanBill Belichick5400.556110
9Don ShulaGeorge Halas5400.556000
11John MaddenChuck Noll6500.545523
21Mike ShanahanMarty Schottenheimer111000.524110
16Tom CoughlinBill Cowher8800.5000
16Joe GibbsTom Landry8800.5110
12Tom CoughlinMike Shanahan6600.5211
10Bill BelichickTony Dungy5500.5321
10Paul BrownSid Gillman5500.5110
10Tom CoughlinBill Parcells5500.5202
8Paul BrownHank Stram4400.5000
8Joe GibbsJimmy Johnson4400.5000
8Marv LevyChuck Noll4400.5000
6Bill BelichickMarty Schottenheimer3300.5110
6Bud GrantChuck Noll3300.5101
6Mike HolmgrenBill Parcells3300.5220
4Joe GibbsDan Reeves2200.5110
4Chuck NollHank Stram2200.5000
4Bill ParcellsMarty Schottenheimer2200.5000
4Don ShulaBill Walsh2200.5101
2Bill BelichickJoe Gibbs1100.5000
2Bill BelichickChuck Noll1100.5000
2Bill CowherJimmy Johnson1100.5000
2Tony DungyMarty Schottenheimer1100.5000
2Sid GillmanVince Lombardi1100.5000
2Bud GrantVince Lombardi1100.5000
2Mike HolmgrenMarv Levy1100.5000
2Tom LandryMarty Schottenheimer1100.5000
2Dan ReevesDon Shula1100.5000

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.

  • Libertarian soldier

    I am not a numbers guy as you are, but how is 25 an even number?

    • Kibbles

      Because through a fluke of genetics we have five fingers on a hand, which makes 25 really easy to count on our fingers (it’s a hand’s worth of hands).

  • JeremyDe

    Swamped at work, so can’t think/search now, but I seem to remember 2 PFR posts that tackled similar questions. I found one blog post. Some guy I never heard of at PFR http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=2331 The other one I believe was using regression to look at given a team’s record in Year X (or maybe it was an average of the 2 or 3 previous years) and what would be the expected record in Year X+1, and then using that to compare coaches to show which coaches performed better than the expectation.
    Can’t find the other post though. Not sure if it was on PFR or SR or somewhere else….

  • Kibbles

    Shanahan surprised me- top 4 in both regular season and playoff winning percentage. 5th in regular season wins, 3rd in playoff wins, 4th in total wins. I knew he had a pretty good record against great coaches, but still, for a guy who doesn’t seem to have done that much since Elway retired that’s a really impressive resume. He has a .500 or better career record against every “great coach” he’s played except for Don Shula (only one game, and it came when he was coaching the Raiders) and Tony Dungy (3-8 lifetime).

  • I’m surprised by the Belichick numbers, too. Those years with the Cleveland Browns weren’t kind to him at all.

  • Richie

    I was surprised to see Walsh came up with the fewest matchups amongst other “top” coaches. Makes you wonder if maybe his 49ers generally had easier schedules over the years. Although it’s also somewhat of a self-fulfilling stat. If you are a really good coach and dominate a decade, it makes it less likely that other coaches (particularly in your division or conference) are going to keep their jobs long and/or perform well enough to be considered a “great”.

    I know Walsh only coached 10 seasons, but still had way fewer matchups than other coaches that only coached about 10 years (Johnson, Madden).

    Here’s the average number of matchups each of the coaches had per season.

    Coach Games Years avg Decades
    Parcells 121 19 6.4 80s, 90s
    Johnson 56 9 6.2 90s
    Gibbs 92 16 5.8 80s
    Levy 94 17 5.5 80s, 90s
    Cowher 76 15 5.1 90s, 00s
    Madden 50 10 5.0 70s
    Schottenheimer 105 21 5.0 80s, 90s, 00s
    Shanahan 86 19 4.5 90s, 00s
    Noll 99 23 4.3 70s, 80s
    Lombardi 43 10 4.3 60s
    Coughlin 71 17 4.2 90s, 00s
    Shula 127 33 3.8 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s
    Belichick 68 18 3.8 90s, 00s
    Holmgren 63 17 3.7 90s, 00s
    Seifert 40 11 3.6 90s
    Dungy 47 13 3.6 00s
    Reeves 83 23 3.6 80s, 90s
    Walsh 36 10 3.6 80s
    Stram 59 17 3.5 60s, 70s
    Landry 86 29 3.0 60s, 70s, 80s
    Gillman 52 18 2.9 50s, 60s
    Grant 47 18 2.6 70s, 80s
    Brown 61 25 2.4 50s, 60s, 70s
    Halas 91 40 2.3 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s
    Lambeau 57 33 1.7 20s, 30s, 40s

  • xmenehune

    how about something more relevant this season
    Coaches record for the past dozen or bakers dozen year, say from 2000?
    It would be ok, to leave in coaches who are not coaching or are on someone’s staff, just curious….

  • horn

    Where is Dick Vermeil? Took the worst franchise in football to the Super Bowl, and then the last-place Rams to a SB win. Certainly plenty of games v Parcells, Gibbs, Noll, Levy, Shanahan, Dungy, Cowher, Belichick, et al combined.