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The 15 Winningest Playoff Coaches in NFL History

by: Esteban On  Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Tags:  Coaches   Football   NFL   NFL Playoffs   Super Bowl  

winningest nfl playoff coaches

Don’t look now, but if the New England Patriots make it to the Super Bowl to this year, Bill Belichick will tie Cowboys legend Tom Landry for most playoff wins by a coach. Then, obviously, if they win, he’ll sit in the top spot all by himself.

However, that wouldn’t necessarily make Belichick the winningest playoff coach in NFL history. You can’t define the “winningest” coach simply by counting the number of wins. By that same logic, Andy Reid would be considered a bigger playoff winner than Vince Lombardi—the guy they named the championship trophy after—because he has 10 playoff wins to Lombardi’s nine. Moreover, by to that same logic, the “winningest” playoff coach of all-time, Landry, would also be the second-losingest playoff coach of all-time by virtue of his 16 playoff losses. Thus, simply adding up wins and losses doesn’t make much sense. 

So here is what we are going to do.  We’re going to rank NFL coaches according to playoff winning percentage. And to make our rankings, coaches must meet just two small qualifications. First, there is a 10-game minimum to weed out the flukes. And second, the coach must have won a championship—because who cares if you won a bunch of games but never the one that mattered most?

Now, this method of determining the “winningest” coaches does eliminate a few big names. But for the most part it paints a pretty good picture of who the best playoff coaches in NFL history really are. So sit back and take a look.



Honorable Mentions

16 george halas - winningest nfl playoff coaches

So what big names didn’t make the top 15? Well, there’s Marv Levy, who coached the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls and went 11-8 (.579) in the process. However, he never won the Super Bowl, and that makes a pretty huge difference. 

There’s also some guy named Don Shula. He won championships with two different teams, has more total wins than any other coach, and he has the only perfect season in NFL history. However, his 19 playoff wins are balanced by 17 playoff losses, giving him a winning percentage of .542. And that places him just 19th among the coaches that meet the qualifications of 10 games and a championship.

However, the biggest omission from the list is probably George Halas (pictured). The founder and legendary coach of the Chicago Bears won five championships, and his total playoff winning percentage was a robust .667. However, he coached before the NFL expanded the playoffs, so he only coached nine total playoff games.

Some might argue I should make an exception for Halas, given all those championships and the fact that he fell just one game short of the minimum. However, who’s to say he would have won those championships if his teams had to play those extra games? So, sorry, but the ghost of George Halas will have to be content with a very honorable mention.


15. Tom Landry


Record: 20-16 (.556)

Yep, the great Tom Landry may have more playoff wins than any coach in NFL history—including two in the Super Bowl—but in terms of winning percentage he’s just 15th. Those 20 playoff wins were counterbalanced by 16 playoff losses, which are second only to Don Shula’s 17.

Don’t get me wrong, Landry is a legend. But he also had seven 11-win teams that did not advance to the Super Bowl to go along with five losses in championship games. So you just can’t say he’s the winningest playoff coach.


14. John Madden

14 john madden raiders - winningest nfl playoff coaches

Record: 9-7 (.563)

Madden coached a whopping 20 fewer playoff games than Tom Landry. However, he’s got just one fewer championship (Madden’s Raiders won the Super Bowl in 1976) and his total winning percentage is just a tad higher.

Sorry, Cowboys fans. Those are the numbers.


13. Mike Shanahan

13 mike shanahan - winningest nfl playoff coaches

Record: 8-6 (.571)

Ironically, if Shanahan’s Redskins didn’t make the playoffs last year and lose to the Seahawks in the Wild Card game, he’d have a playoff winning percentage of .615 and would be two spots higher on this list thanks to his success with the Broncos.

This fact alone should prove that doing a list of winningest playoff coaches is not the same as doing a list of best coaches period. Then again, unlike Denver fans, Washington fans might say Shanahan doesn’t belong on either.


12. Bill Cowher


Record: 12-9 (.571)

Bill Cowher coached the Steelers to 10 playoff appearances in 15 seasons, so this is obviously a guy who knows what he’s doing. However, without the Steelers’ 4-0 run en route to a victory in Super Bowl XL, Cowher’s playoff record would be just 8-9. So make of that what you will.


11. Bill Parcells

11 bill parcells - winningest nfl playoff coaches

Record: 11-8 (.579)

If Bill Parcels had just coached the New York Giants, his playoff record of 8-3 (including two Super Bowl wins) would give him a winning percentage of .727 and put him in the #2 spot on this list. And if he’d just coached the Giants, Patriots (2-2), and Jets (1-1) he’d be 11-6 with a playoff winning percentage of .647—good enough two swap places with the next guy on the list. However, as we all know, Parcells also coached the Cowboys. And with the Cowboys, he went 0-2, dropping his playoff winning percentage down to .579.

Oh well.


10. Tom Coughlin

10 tom coughlin - winningest nfl playoff coaches

Record: 12-7 (.632)

Just like our last guy, Bill Parcells, if Tom Coughlin had just coached the Giants, he’d be 8-3 in the playoffs and #2 on this list. However, he started his career as a head coach in Jacksonville, where he coached the Jags to a 4-4 record in the playoffs. Then he went to New York.

Of course, taking the Jags to the playoffs in five of their first six year and winning games in three of them is actually a pretty amazing accomplishment. But the rules are the rules. So Coughlin comes in at number ten.


9. George Seifert

9 george seifert 49ers - winningest nfl playoff coaches

Record: 10-5 (.667)

When you think “49ers coach” only one name comes to mind: Bill Walsh. However, lets not forget old George Seifert. He took over for Walsh when he retired after Super Bowl XXIII and the Niners didn’t miss a beat. They made the playoffs in all but one of his eight years as coach, and that year they were 10-6. And of course they won the Super Bowl two more times and only went one year without a playoff win.


8. Chuck Noll

8 chuck noll steelers - winningest nfl playoff coaches

Record: 16-8 (.667)

Noll may not be the leader in total championships at a coach, but he is the undisputed king of the Super Bowl era. There are a handful of guys with three Super Bowl victories on their resumes, but so four Noll is the only one with four.

If we were measuring “winningest” by championships, Noll would be much closer to the top.


7. John Harbaugh

7 john harbaugh - winningest nfl playoff coaches

Record: 9-4 (.692)

I know this seems kind of crazy since John Harbaugh has only been a head coach in the NFL for six seasons, but the numbers don’t lie. The guy took the Ravens to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, and they won at least one game every time. And of course, last year, they went 4-0 and won the Super Bowl.

So while it’s way too early to talk about John Harbaugh as one of the best ever, he’s definitely on that kind of trajectory.


6. Jimmy Johnson

6 jimmy johnson - winningest nfl playoff coaches

Record: 9-4 (.692)

Who knows what would have happened if NFL idiot Jerry Jones hadn’t fired Jimmy Johnson because he couldn’t handle Johnson getting all the praise for winning two consecutive Super Bowls. Would they have won three in a row? Four? It’s impossible to say. All we know for sure is that Johnson’s tenure in Dallas ended for no good reason at all, and that he couldn’t muster the same playoff success in Miami (2-3) that he enjoyed in Dallas (7-1).


5. Bill Belichick


Record: 18-8 (.692)

Love him (because you’re a hooded sweatshirt enthusiast) or hate him (because he’s a cheater), there’s no denying that Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches in NFL history.

Okay, well, maybe there is some denying. Tom Brady is a pretty good quarterback, and Belichick’s career arc coincides perfectly with Brady’s. But it can’t be all Brady, right?

In any case, the point here is that Belichick wins in the playoffs. He was 1-1 with the Browns and he’s 17-7 with the Pats, which includes three Super Bowl wins. Which is a lot.


4. Joe Gibbs

4 joe gibbs - winningest nfl playoff coaches

Record: 17-7 (.708)

During Joe Gibbs’s first stint as head coach of the Redskins from 1981 to 1992, he took them to the playoffs in eight of 12 seasons, went 16-5, and won three Super Bowls—which was kind of legendary.

During his second stint as head coach of the Redskins from 2004 to 2007, he took them to the playoffs two times in four seasons and went 1-3—which was kind of mediocre. But hey, during his second stint he still did a hell of a lot better than Mike Shanahan.


3. Bill Walsh

3 bill walsh - winningest nfl playoff coaches

Record: 10-4 (.714)

Ah yes, the aforementioned Bill Walsh. He took a team that had never won a championship in its first 35 years of existence and created a dynasty that produced five in 14 seasons. Sure, technically he only personally presided over three of them, but still.


2. Tom Flores


Record: 8-3 (.727)

That’s right, kids. There was a time when the Raiders were not terrible. In fact, they were actually a dynasty at one point. John Madden, who we’ve already seen, coached them to one Super Bowl victory in 1976. Then Tom Flores (who is not to be confused with Marv Albert) coached them to two more in 1980 and 1983.

With just 11 total playoff games coached, Flores barely sneaks onto our list. And he would later go on to be the coach of some terrible Seattle Seahawks teams. But his playoff numbers are what they are. So here he is at #2.


1. Vince Lombardi

1 vince lombardi - winningest nfl playoff coaches

Record: 9-1 (.900)

There’s a pretty simple reason they named the championship trophy after Vince Lombardi: he won more of them (5) than all but one guy—George Halas.

Only two of those championships were Super Bowls, of course, because Lombardi only coached the Packers for two years during the Super Bowl era. But that doesn’t matter. Whether it was called the NFL Championship of the Super Bowl, winning the last game of the year always meant you were the best. And there was only one time when Lombardi lost the last game of the year—or any other playoff game for that matter.