On Monday Pro Football Focus published an article that claimed that only five other coaches, Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, Andy Reid, Kliff Kingsbury and Pete Carroll, are more valuable to their team than the Green Bay Packers’ Matt LaFleur. The criteria for this study, which is based on data from 2011 to 2021 and attempts to divorce roster talent from results, are as such:
Using this idea in ranking the current NFL head coaches, we try to do two things: 1) properly account for a team’s talent level, and 2) predict something less volatile than wins.
The coaches are the random effect, giving us an estimate for their contribution to points scored or allowed. We can then use Pythagorean wins to estimate how many games the coach would win with an average team, defined as a team scoring and allowing 348 points in a season. This was the average mark for all teams between the 2017-2021 seasons.
Aside from Arizona’s Kingsbury, who has registered a 24-24-1 record over his NFL career and has yet to win a playoff game, all coaches ranked ahead of LaFleur have brought their respective franchises a Super Bowl ring. One thing you’ll notice if you go through PFF’s rankings, which is especially influential in the case of Kingsbury, is how heavily offensive success is favored over defensive success. New England’s Belichick is ranked first in both offensive and defensive contributions, after isolating a team’s roster talent, but his 131 points above average offensively is roughly worth four times what his league-leading defensive contribution is.
LaFleur ranks eighth offensively and ninth defensively from a points gained/allowed perspective per PFF, meaning only Belichick and Harbaugh have overseen better offenses and defenses relative to talent than LaFleur. The eight coaches who have yielded better offenses per this metric than LaFleur are Belichick, Harbaugh, Kingsbury, Reid, Dallas’ Mike McCarthy, San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan and Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel, though, the Los Angeles Rams’ Sean McVay is tied with LaFleur at 55 points above the offensive average.
Currently, it’s hard to make a case that Kingsbury or McCarthy are better offensive minds than LaFleur, or even that offensive coaches are truly responsible for defensive production, but Pro Football Focus’ look at the coaching landscape is at the very least an objective look at how coaching rankings might play out on the field, even if you have issues with the methodology.