Bill Parcells Bill Walsh Mike Shanahan Tony Dungy Andy Reid

Image for article titled Under the Coaching Tree: Ranking the Top 10 Coaching Trees in NFL History

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Hohoho, people! Christmas is here and good old Santa Claus is coming down the chimney with just what you wished for. However, if you’re an NFL head coach, that probably means going down the chimney with a talented assistant to don your baton to make you look even better. Until they go to their own head coaching gig of course, in which case you wish them the best and hope for a solid replacement.

Great head coaches don’t always create other great head coaches under their wing. Bill Belichick is arguably the greatest head coach of all time, and his coaching tree has a variety of stinkers like Matt Patricia, Josh McDaniels (a solid OC nonetheless), Bill O’Brien (who got mad very quickly), and Nick Saban (remember, this relates to her achievements as an NFL head coach). The only truly great head coach Belichick has ever had on his coaching staff was Brian Flores, and we all know how that turned out. Belichick was the head coach to 2021 NFL Coach of the Year Mike Vrabel when Vrabel was a player, but I won’t count that on Belichick’s tree — just like I wouldn’t count Don Shula and Mac Speedie on Paul Brown’s tree. These mentorships came as players, not coaches, and as such should not be considered part of the ‘coaching tree’.

Belichick hasn’t had the best of luck in helping assistants become great head coaches, but some coaches have been nabbing hit after hit in the coordinator department. Maybe it’s luck. Maybe it’s an incredible eye for coaching talent. This Christmas, I wanted to find the best coaching trees in NFL history, the types of trees that would turn heads in the living room on Christmas Eve.

“But how would I do that? What are the guidelines?” You may be wondering. Thank you for your concern.

For starters, I’m just counting people’s records as head coaches. I don’t care how great an offensive coordinator or defensive genius these guys were. If they didn’t make it as a head coach, they didn’t get any of the credit. Second, everyone under each tree had to serve on the head coach’s staff for at least one season. That doesn’t necessarily mean as an offensive or defensive coordinator. They could have become an O-line coach or a defensive backs coach, but they had to serve at least one season under the star at the helm. Third, and I shouldn’t have to say this, but this list is my preference. I looked at the regular season winning percentages, post-season appearances, post-season winning percentages, conference championship totals, and Super Bowl wins of each tree and used those for my credentials to determine the order of this list. In some places it can get confusing. For example, one of the stats I use in this list is Seasons per Super Bowl (S/SB – how many seasons between Super Bowls for each tree as a collective whole). Of course, since some of the coaches trained on these trees before the Super Bowl era, I only had to consider the seasons they trained in the Super Bowl era for this statistic. I also understand that as the NFL has progressed it’s gotten a little easier to get into the postseason as the postseason brackets have widened. Although some trees have a higher postseason percentage than others on this list, that doesn’t necessarily mean they did better in the postseason. Finally, while there are some trees with shiny branches that stand out from the rest, I look at each branch on each tree. Any assistant-turned-head coach will be considered for this piece, and a string of bad head coaches could make a big branch look bad.

Also, I will not include coaches that have emerged in the second generation of coaching trees. I’m only looking for direct descendants of each of these trainers. For example, while Andy Reid can be traced back to Bill Walsh, he only ever worked under Bill Walsh’s student, Mike Holmgren. Therefore, Reid falls under Holmgren’s tree, not Walsh’s. got it Good.

Because some coaches on this list still have students who are currently head coaches in the NFL, I’ve given certain coaches additional playoff appearances to their totals based on whether or not their teams would be in the postseason if it started today.

I really hope I covered everything. With all that said, here is our top 10 list of the best coaching trees in NFL history.