NFL head coaches receive a brunt of criticism when their teams struggle. They don’t necessarily find themselves on the receiving end of applause should things go in a different direction. That’s typically reseved for star quartebacks and other players on the field.
Even then, coaches play a major role in the success of a team. There wouldn’t be a Joe Montana without Bill Walsh. Despite his recent struggles, Bill Belichick is one of the primary reasons Tom Brady finds himself as a seven-time Super Bowl champion.
Heading into conference championship Sunday, there’s four NFL head coaches remaining with an opportunity to hoist the Lombardi in Arizona next month.
They range from the inexperienced such as Philadelphia Eagles’ second-year coach Nick Sirianni to the more experienced in that of former Eagles head man Andy Reid. Below, we rank the four with Philadelphia joining the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals in vying for a ticket to the big game.
4. Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia Eagles
- Nick Sirianni coaching record: 23-11, .676 winning percentage
Sirianni wasn’t necessarily a popular hire of the Eagles ahead of the 2021 season as Doug Pederson’s replacement. He had led two top-10 scoring offenses in three seasons as the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive coordinator heading in. But there were other candidates with better resumes.
About that? Philadelphia is coming off a regular season in which it finished tied for the best record in the NFL at 14-3. It ranked No. 3 in the NFL in scoring and yielded the eighth-fewest points. Jalen Hurts turned into an MVP candidate under his watch.
In his postseason debut as a head coach, Sirianni then led Philadelphia to a blowout 38-7 win over the New York Giants during the divisional playoffs. It’s going to be a much different monster in the NFC Championship Game against a 49ers team that has won 12 consecutive games. If Philly were to come out on top, Sirianni would be seen as one of the best NFL head coaches today. It’s that simple.
3. Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals
- Zac Taylor coaching record: 28-36-1, .438 winning percentage
Much like Sirianni, Taylor wasn’t a popular hire in 2019. His only previous experience as a play-caller came with the Miami Dolphins in 2015. That didn’t end swimmingly as Miami’s offense finishing 26th in total yards and 27th in points.
In his first season with Cincinnati, Taylor led a team that went 2-14 and finished 30th in scoring. At that point, it seemed to be a mistake.
Even after struggling in 2020, things seemed to turn around for Taylor and his Bengals. That led to a shocking Super Bowl appearance the following season. Cincinnati now heads into the AFC Championship Game having won 10 consecutive games and coming off a blowout road victory over the favored Buffalo Bills.
We have to put this into perspective from an historical point of view. Despite earning two Super Bowl appearances back in the 1980s, this is the first time Cincinnati is playing in back-to-back conference title games. This just goes to show us how much of an impact Taylor has made for the organization.
2. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
- Kyle Shanahan coaching record: 52-46 record, .531 winning percentage
Shanahan’s record in San Francisco doesn’t seem too great. But it really is all about his body of work since taking over a sinking ship in 2017. Since the start of the 2019 season, he’s led the 49ers to three NFC Championship Game appearances and a Super Bowl. They have three winning seasons during that span after accomplishing this feat just three times over the previous 16 seasons.
San Francisco is now aiming for its second NFC title in four seasons. Shanahan has this squad looking like a complete juggernaut following a blowout win over the Seattle Seahawks to open the playoffs and last week’s victory over the hated Dallas Cowboys. It has won 12 consecutive games by an average of two touchdowns.
If Shanahan can lead his 49ers to a sixth Lombardi Trophy with rookie seventh-round pick Brock Purdy at quarterback, he’ll become a franchise legend in the same vein as the late-great Bill Walsh and continue to be seen as one of the best NFL head coaches of the modern era. This road continues against the Eagles in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.
1. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
- Andy Reid coaching record: 247-138-1
With four more regular-season wins, Reid will pass the great Tom Landry for the fourth-most in the history of the league. While that will have to wait until next season, he’s leading a legit contender in hopes of winning a second career Super Bowl title.
How good has Reid been over the years? Dating back to his days with the Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2012), he’s earned a whopping 18 playoff appearances. This span has seen Reid-led team win 12 games or more nine times.
If that weren’t enough, the Andy Reid coaching tree consists of the likes of Todd Bowles, John Harbaugh and Doug Pederson — all three of whom led their teams to the playoffs this season. Reid can further cement his status as one of the greatest NFL head coaches of all-time with another Super Bowl title.