Coaching in the NFL isn't an easy job. But there are certain guys who stand above the rest and have sustained periods of success. And it doesn't always happen right away. Tom Landry, one of the best coaches of all time, went 0-11-1 in his first season with the Dallas Cowboys; Bill Parcells was 3-12-1 in his first season with the New York Giants; and even the great Bill Walsh was 2-14 with the San Francisco 49ers in 1979.
It takes time to develop a personal style that resonates with the players and it can take time to get the personnel in place to fit your style. And part of what you need is a patient organization that lets you perfect your style and get those players. One theme running among my picks for the top coaches in NFL history is that ownership gave them a chance after their initial struggles. And in most cases, they rewarded that ownership with a Super Bowl title or two. Here are my top 20 coaches of all time:
1. George Halas
Halas is No. 1 for me because of his longevity and excellence. The man coached the Chicago Bears for 40 seasons. Let me repeat that: 40 seasons. All he did was win six NFL titles and compile a record of 324-151-31 (.682), while sustaining a competitive team over his entire coaching career. Perhaps his most impressive statistic is that his teams were under .500 in only six of his 40 seasons.
2. Vince Lombardi
The namesake of the Super Bowl trophy, Lombardi is a legend. He turned around a Packers franchise in 1959 that hadn't had a winning season since 1947. He had an astonishing winning percentage of .750, and most important was 9-1 in the playoffs. And his Green Bay teams in the 1960s won three straight championships (one NFL title and the first two Super Bowls). The man simply knew how to win.
3. Chuck Noll
I remember watching Chuck on TV when I was young and I also was fortunate enough to play against him. His teams were always disciplined and believed in fundamentals. Chuck was 12-30 in his first three seasons (think about that by today's standards), but the Rooneys saw something special in his coaching ability and stuck with him. A class man, Chuck always won with humility. And he did a lot of winning, leading the Steelers to four Super Bowl wins and 11 division titles in his 23 years.
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images
Don Shula knows a thing -- or two -- about winning titles.
4. Don Shula
The winningest coach in NFL history, Shula was an incredible 328-156-6 (.678) in the regular season and won 19 division titles. He was a disciplined coach and really got the most out of his players. His teams didn't turn over the ball and didn't commit penalties. His record of 328 regular-season wins won't be broken -- and he also holds the distinction of being the coach of the last undefeated team, the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
5. Bill Walsh
The innovator of the West Coast offense, Walsh was way ahead of his time in terms of the tempo with the ball. He had the first offense predicated on timing and getting the ball out of a quarterback's hands quickly. And he had the QB to pull it off in Joe Montana. His creativity and three Super Bowl wins are why he's this high on my list.
6. Tom Landry
I was a Cowboys fan growing up and all I can remember is that hat. Landry's teams were innovative -- the Cowboys were one of the first teams to get into the shotgun and line up with three wide receivers. Not only was it fun to watch, but it was fun to play against. A class guy and two-time Super Bowl champion, Landry was responsible for making sure that the NFC East went through the Cowboys (he had 14 division titles).
7. Bill Belichick
A great football mind, what stands out about Belichick is his ability to constantly evolve both his philosophy and how players fit his system. He was really the first to usher in the era of two tight ends as receivers and spreading defenses out on offense to create better matchups. His success with New England over the past 13 years speaks for itself, with three Super Bowl wins (and two more appearances) and 12 straight outright or shared AFC East titles.
8. Bill Parcells
Parcells always inherited teams that weren't winning, but was able to turn them around using his program and his presence. When Bill Parcells steps into a room, you feel his presence. He has won everywhere he has been with a philosophy of having a big, physical defense and running the ball. And that has led to two Super Bowl wins and a terrific career.
9. John Madden
Madden simply embodied the Raiders. His teams played loose and they were confident. They were always big, physical and fast under the late Al Davis. And all Madden did was win, with seven division titles and a Super Bowl victory in his 10 seasons with Oakland. In fact, he has the highest winning percentage of any coach since 1927.
10. Paul Brown
Another big-time winner, Brown won 14 division titles, three NFL titles and four All-America Football Conference titles. He was also a big innovator, starting the practice of calling plays from the sideline and hiring a full-time staff on a year-round basis to scout players.
11. Joe Gibbs
Gibbs understood his strengths (running the football, big offensive lines) and played to them. A three-time Super Bowl champion, his teams wore you down on offense.
12. Mike Shanahan
A two-time Super Bowl winner, he really doesn't get enough credit for what he has done. His zone scheme running the football is a nightmare to defend and his teams have always been terrific closing out games when they have a lead. With Robert Griffin III, he has the most dynamic QB he has had since John Elway.
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Tony Dungy succeeded in both Tampa and Indianapolis.
13. Tony Dungy
I have worked with and known Tony for a long time. He built up a great team in Tampa. A true player's coach, his players never wanted to disappoint him. And his teams never beat themselves. I was happy he got a Super Bowl win in Indy.
14. Curly Lambeau
The founder of the Packers and namesake of one of the most hallowed stadiums in the NFL, he won six NFL titles and eight division titles with Green Bay.
15. Tom Coughlin
A strict disciplinarian, Coughlin simply knows how to win. With two Super Bowl titles now under his belt, he's in the Hall of Fame discussion.
16. Bud Grant
A player's coach, Grant was always stoic on the sideline. He ran a wide-open offense, which he could do with Fran Tarkenton at the helm. He would be higher on the list if he'd won that elusive Super Bowl.
17. George Allen
Allen always seemed to be nervous, pacing up and down the sideline. He took care of his players and had smart teams made up of veterans. He had a .712 winning percentage in the regular season, but was only 2-7 in the playoffs.
18. Dick Vermeil
An emotional coach, Vermeil also was a workaholic. You could never prepare enough for him. I played for him in Philadelphia and he gave everyone a chance, no matter where you were drafted, something we saw again with the emergence of a onetime nobody in Kurt Warner. A Super Bowl champion with the Rams, he also won four division titles.
19. Marty Schottenheimer
An excellent football coach, Schottenheimer would be higher on this list but he kept running into John Elway in Cleveland and Kansas City. And that's part of the reason why he had a 5-13 playoff record and never reached a Super Bowl -- that and some really bad luck with fumbles. A very good coach, Schottenheimer was 200-126-1 (.613) in the regular season.
20. Marv Levy
Another player's coach, Levy had some talented teams in Buffalo and was adept at dealing with differing personalities. Even though he didn't win one, going to four straight Super Bowls is one of the all-time incredible accomplishments.