Ranking the top 10 NFL head coach/quarterback combos

By Rachel Wold

Year in and year out, certain NFL teams constantly deal with the dreaded task of hiring a successful head coach and/or securing a talented quarterback.

Just ask the Cleveland Browns, who would undoubtedly love to trade their nightmare of a situation with another team in better standing.

This leads us to recognize at the other side of the spectrum. Some NFL franchises are blessed with coaches and quarterbacks who go together like apple pie and ice cream.

Whether it is chemistry, producing a winning record, or both, here are 10 of the best coach/quarterback combos in the NFL.

10. Andy Reid and Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

Courtesy of Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports

After spending 14 seasons as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Reid was signed to come to the aid of the waning Kansas City Chiefs in 2013.

The Chiefs’ record has since improved immensely with the team having recorded 31 wins and 17 losses, leading to three postseason games in Reid’s three years.

Smith also joined Kansas City in 2013 after losing his starting job to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick the previous year. A change of scenery has done wonders for Smith, who has passed for more yards and touchdowns in each of his three seasons with the Chiefs than he ever did in San Francisco.

The numbers Smith produces aren’t mind-blowing, partly because of Reid’s run-heavy scheme and partly because he just isn’t a prolific passer, but he has managed to keep his interceptions (20) quite low compared to his touchdowns (61).

Overcoming a five-game losing streak early in 2015 to win their next 11 games in a row, Reid’s Chiefs fell only one game short of winning the AFC West.

On the rise while the Denver Broncos scrounge up a quarterback, the winning duo of Reid and Smith should not be underestimated in 2016.

9. Jason Garrett and Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

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Garrett’s marriage to the Dallas Cowboys has lasted for ages. After spending 1993 through 2000 playing for the team, Garrett has since spent 2007 until now as an offensive coordinator, assistant head coach and now head coach.

Even though the Cowboys have had only one postseason run during Garrett’s leadership which came in 2014, the chemistry he and Romo have developed is not easily broken.

Setting the team’s horrific 2015 season aside, the Cowboys have won no less than eight games during the Garrett/Romo era. If the Cowboys can keep the injury bug away and Romo returns in full health, then the team will hopefully pick up where it left off after a successful (12-4) 2014 playoff run.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, they have the luxury of playing in the NFC East where no team is ever a sure bet to win coming out of the gate in any given season.

8. Sean Payton and Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints


Payton began his head coaching job for the Saints in 2006 after spending nine previous NFL seasons as a quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys.

Since arriving in New Orleans, Payton has coached the team through 10 postseason games, including the franchise’s one and only Super Bowl championship in 2009. The Saints have also experienced the most postseason appearances under Payton’s leadership

Brees was also signed by the Saints in 2006 and has had a tremendous career ever since. Passing for no less than the 4,418 yards and 26 touchdowns in his debut year, Brees has eclipsed the 5,000-yard mark three times. His career-high season came in 2011 when he completed 71.2 percent of his passes for 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns.

At 37, Brees is still playing as tough as nails despite a couple of ailments he worked through last season. Another run at a Super Bowl is obviously the task at hand while the Payton/Brees combo still has a few potential seasons left.

7. John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

John Harbaugh Ravens

Harbaugh and Flacco have been working together with the Baltimore Ravens since 2008.

After spending 10 seasons with the Eagles as the special teams coordinator and working one season with the secondaries and safeties, Harbaugh was signed to his first head coaching job.

Flacco was selected by the Ravens in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft. And with the exception of his 2015 season, the 6-foot-6 quarterback had yet to miss a game. In an unusual down-season for Harbaugh’s Ravens, the team won only five games and lost Flacco in Week 10 to an ACL tear.

If the Ravens’ ugly 2015 season could be swept under the rug, it is worth noting that Harbaugh/Flacco duo has never lost more than eight games in any one year.

Furthermore, the Ravens have made the playoffs in six of the last eight seasons. This includes the famous power outage Super Bowl win against the San Francisco 49ers in 2012.

Assuming that the Ravens will have their ducks lined up in a row this year, the team should hopefully rebound after making some key offseason moves and getting Flacco back to full health.

6. Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Courtesy of Benny Sieu, USA Today Sports

Tomlin signed on as head coach to the Steelers in 2007 after spending five seasons as a defensive backs coach with the Buccaneers and one year as a defensive coordinator with the Vikings.

During Tomlin’s tenure with Pittsburgh coaching Roethlisberger (drafted in 2004), the team has made it to the playoffs in six of nine seasons. This led to two Super Bowl appearances, including a victory over the Arizona Cardinals in 2008.

Being one of the league’s top-scoring offenses, the Steelers ranked second overall in points scored (423) in 2015. Currently, Roethlisberger leads the franchise in all-time passing yards with 42,995 on the books. He recently passed for career-high 4,952 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2014.

Signed to a new contract just last season will keep Roethisberger and Tomlin a fighting force in the AFC North through the 2019 season. This is of course barring any serious injury to Roethlisberger, who is an unusually resilient athlete.

5. Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals

Matt Kartozian, USA Today Images

Since the 2013 additions of Arians and Palmer to the Cardinals, the franchise experienced a revival, recording 34 wins compared to only 14 losses.

This is Arians’ first official NFL head coaching job after spending an extensive career working with five other teams in the league. From 1989 through 2012, Arians served primarily as an offensive coordinator, but also coached quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends.

Palmer has thrived under the tutelage of Arians. At the age of 36, the veteran set career-highs in 2015 in both passing yards (4,671) and touchdowns (35). He also boasts a successful 29-9 win/loss record over his three seasons as a Cardinal.

Since Arians’ arrival, the Cardinals have been to the playoffs in two of his three seasons. And when the team lost Palmer after only six games in 2014, the show still went on but was clearly missing him offensively. The team won 11 games under multiple backups while Arians was named the AP Head Coach of the Year.

Sporting one of the best defenses and the highest-scoring offense in the NFL last season, look for the Cardinals to make it rough once again this year, for their NFC West competition.

4. Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Courtesy of USA Today Images

Prior to McCarthy’s appointment as head coach for the Packers in 2006, he spent 1993 through 2005 with various NFL teams as both a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

Rodgers was drafted in the first round in 2005 but didn’t start under McCarthy until 2008 after Brett Favre’s long tenure behind center came to an end in Green Bay. Since working together as starter and coach, the Packers have been to the playoffs in seven of this dynamic duo’s eight seasons. This would include one Super Bowl championship from 2010 when the Packers reigned victorious over the Steelers.

Dominant within their NFC North division, the Packers have finished no less than second in the last seven consecutive seasons.

One of the most successful quarterbacks of the league, Rodgers has averaged 4,008 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and only eight interceptions per year as a starter. At only 32, which is the new 22 when it comes to some quarterback’s ages, Rodgers and coach McCarthy look to be a force for years to come.

3. Ron Rivera and Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Courtesy of USA Today

The Panthers have enjoyed growing success since 2011 after signing Rivera as head coach and drafting Newton first overall.

This is Rivera’s first head coaching job after he spent 1999 through 2010 with the Eagles, Bears and Chargers working as a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator.

With Rivera’s expertise being on defense, he hasn’t done too shabby of a job coaching his dual-threat 6-foot-6 quarterback, who seems to be a perfect complement to his coach’s temperament. Anyone who watches Newton knows he isn’t afraid to do what it takes to make plays and score touchdowns. Front-flipping into the end zone can’t be easy for Rivera to witness from the sidelines.

Nevertheless, after working together for five seasons, Newton and Rivera have made it postseason the last three years in a row.

This past season saw the Panthers post a near perfect record losing only to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16 and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.

With how strongly the Panthers are playing overall as a unit, Super Bowl 50 will likely not be Rivera’s and Newton’s last dance with a championship game.

Newton is only 26, and like fine wine he should only improve with age. If the Panthers can come out of the gate strong in 2016 and post multiple wins, they’ll give their struggling NFC South competition a run for the money once again.

2. Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

Carroll has an extensive NFL history dating back to 1984 that includes head coaching gigs with the Jets for one year (1994) and the Patriots for three seasons (1997-1999).

After taking a break to coach at USC from 2001 through 2009, Carroll returned to the NFL and has coached the Seahawks since 2010.

However, drafting Wilson in 2012 has been the catalyst that made the Seahawks into such a successful franchise. Who would have known a third-round pick intended to serve as a backup quarterback would have flourished so brilliantly as a starter?

As a result, the Seahawks have seen the postseason in each of Wilson’s four years. This would also include two Super Bowl appearances and one victory against the Denver Broncos in 2013.

A threat both through the air on on foot, Wilson has steadily improved. With that trend looking to continue, there should be plenty more playoff action in store however long the Carroll/Wilson reign continues.

1. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, New England Patriots

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This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Belichick/Brady combo, for obvious reasons, rounds out our top 10.

The selection of Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft and signing of Belichick that same year has been the recipe for the Patriots’ success a decade and a-half.

After spending time with six other NFL teams including head coaching the Cleveland Browns, Belichick hit the jackpot once Brady took center stage in 2001. During Belichick/Brady tenure, the Patriots have participated in six Super Bowls, having won four.

Plus, the Patriots wouldn’t know what it is like to go home at the end of the regular season, having not done so since 2008. That by the way, was the year Matt Cassel started for Brady in 15 games. The only other season the Patriots missed the playoffs with Brady was in 2002.

Playing as strong as ever with no signs of decline in sight, Brady may see the better side of 40 when all is said and done with his NFL career. And knowing that all good things eventually come to an end, it wouldn’t be surprising for Belichick to follow his quarterback out the door when that day finally arrives.

But until then, there could certainly still be another Super Bowl or three to be had while the going is good in New England.