ESPN: 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh ranks 8th among NFL coaches, Raiders Dennis Allen ranks last



Who is the best coach in the NFL? While there are surely plenty of good ones out there from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Tomlin, it’s hard to argue who the clear-cut number one guy is. And while a healthy debate can be had at the local bar in regards to this topic, it was ESPN who came out with their own formulated rankings as 30 ESPN Insiders chimed in on their analysis. View the photo gallery below to see how all 32 NFL coaches stacked up against each other. Do you agree with the list? Start the discussion here on

Mike Sando Analysis:
8. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers (1.80 average)

The 49ers instantly went from colossal underachievers to championship contenders when Harbaugh arrived from Stanford, where he had built that program into a power. No NFL coach has more total victories than Harbaugh since his arrival with the 49ers in 2011. He and Belichick are each 41-14 over that span, with no other team posting more than 37 victories. “Win a Super Bowl and he is a 1 to me,” one executive said.

Some noted that Harbaugh inherited a deep and talented roster, and that his hard-charging personality wears on people. One GM said he downgraded Harbaugh from a 1 to a 2 over tension between Harbaugh and the front office. Another executive said a 1 should have no real flaws, and that Harbaugh’s combustible temperament qualifies as a flaw. Another GM said, “the personality stuff is going to show up” in a negative way at some point in the future.

“I think the jury is out on Jim still, I really do,” a former GM said. “A lot of people think he is a genius. I’d rather have the other brother. I think Jim could get [out-schemed] any day and give you that look afterward like, ‘We never saw that [coming].'”

For what it’s worth, others have lauded Harbaugh and his staff for their creative use of personnel and formations, and for the nuance within their running game — and even the former GM quoted above said that he would be OK with having Harbaugh as his head coach.

A former player working as a personnel evaluator downplayed some of the other concerns. “That gets a little old, the animation on the sideline and those things,” he said, “but at the end of the day, he is a good coach. He understands what he is doing. He has won everywhere he has been. I think his guys play for him. You may not like the person, but you like the product. As a player and a coach, you separate that from the other stuff. You are not necessarily best friends with everyone you work with, but if I believe in what you are saying, OK, I can roll with you. That is what I see with him.”

2. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks (1.23 average)

Carroll’s sky-high ranking was one of the revelations of this project. I figured Carroll would be on the rise following the Seahawks’ Super Bowl championship, but second in the NFL to Belichick already?

“With Pete, the way they manage the game and manage their personnel is probably better than anybody,” one GM said.

It has been a total transformation, with Carroll and GM John Schneider working well together to stock the roster with young players the staff has developed consistently. Consider: In the three years before Carroll’s arrival, Seattle lost 19 games by more than seven points. Their current 45-game streak without such a defeat dates to Week 9 of the 2011 season and is the longest in the league. Belichick’s Patriots are second with just two such defeats over the same span.

One former GM who listed Carroll as a 2 said he did not think Carroll was quite innovative enough from a scheme standpoint to rank near the very top. However, another voter said he had read Carroll’s book multiple times, trying to glean whatever he could.

“He relates great to players, is a great motivator, good manager, can put together a good staff; he is connected with all that and you have to give that guy a lot of credit personally for their defensive scheme and how they play it,” a former GM said. “The other thing Pete does a good job of is, even when there is controversy, he goes with the flow and doesn’t come down too hard. He coaches people loose instead of being uptight. Players can perform and react very well. He does not have to jump in. And he is not afraid to play young guys, which is another really good thing.”

The three coaches atop this ranking have all won Super Bowls, but none has won one quite the way Carroll did this past season: 43-8 over a record-setting Denver team. “When you say his name, the first thing you think of is the absolute a– whipping he issued to John Fox in the Super Bowl,” one executive said. “If it had been a tight game and the ball bounced one way at the end, he lucked out. But the absolute dominant fashion they won that game in, people are going, ‘Holy crap.’ No disrespect to Joe Flacco, but he did not beat Flacco. He beat Peyton Manning, and he beat him soundly.”


Ryan is the Founder/CEO of, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at or call him at (408) 622-0996.