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Ranking NFL Head Coaches

Finally, there’s a grading site for head coaches. How does Denver’s Vance Joseph stack up?

New York Jets v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Head Coach Ranking

A new website has been trending on NFL twitter today: The website is more or less in the same vein as Pro Football Focus, though it grades head coaches rather than players and uses a 1 to 10 scale rather than 1 to 100.

The website’s grading metric is called HCR. An example of stunning creativity, that stands for “Head Coach Rating”. They offer an overview page that goes into pretty decent detail on what HCR is all about, which is worth a read for anyone who’s interested. For our purposes, I’ll just outline the five areas that they grade coaches on:

  1. Play Calling: How good are the play calls, within the context of the game and field situation?
  2. Personnel Utilization: Is the coach using the right players, and is he using them in ways that complement their skill sets or clash with them?
  3. Game Planning: Was the gameplan a good strategy or not?
  4. In-Game Adjustments: How well do coaches respond to matchup problems and/or strategies they’re confronted with during the game?
  5. Clock Management: How well does the coach manage the clock and make decisions about time outs, offensive tempo, etc?

It’s a very intriguing idea, and could potentially fill a gaping hole in fan-accessible NFL analysis. That said, there are a couple of factors that indicate you should probably take HCR’s rankings with a grain of salt for now.

First, simple lack of track record. HCR has grades on the coaches for all of the current season, but just got their Twitter account going a week ago. That’s a good indicator of just how new this thing is, and with that naturally comes some volatility and a dialing-in process. Second, only one person grades each game. That introduces potential issues as well, and I hope they’ll transition to a more consensus-based approach.

The Top Coaches

If the coaches are being graded, then surely there’s some sort of pecking order being established as well. HCR provides a comprehensive 1-32 ranking for all head coaches based on their cumulative grades. They also provide a ranking within each of the grading categories outlined above.

Here are the top 5 overall coaches through Week 14:

  • 1. Bill Belichick: 8.0
  • 2. Sean Payton: 7.9
  • 3. Doug Pederson: 7.8
  • 4. Sean McVay: 7.7
  • 5. Mike Zimmer: 7.6

And the bottom 5 overall coaches:

  • 28. Vance Joseph: 6.0
  • 29. Jack Del Rio: 5.9
  • 30. Hue Jackson: 5.9
  • 31. Chuck Pagano: 5.7
  • 32. Steve Spagnuolo: 5.2

And let’s take a look at the top and bottom five coaches in each grading category:

Head Coach Ranking

Rank Play Calling Personnel Utilization Game Plan In-Game Adjustments Clock Management
Rank Play Calling Personnel Utilization Game Plan In-Game Adjustments Clock Management
1 Sean McVay (7.8) Sean McVay (8.2) Doug Pederson (8.2) Sean Payton (8.2) Bill Belichick (8.5)
2 Sean Payton (7.8) Bill Belichick (8.2) Sean Payton (7.9) Sean McVay (7.9) Doug Pederson (8.0)
3 Bill Belichick (7.5) Doug Pederson (8.1) Bill Belichick (7.7) Bill Belichick (7.9) Mike Zimmer (7.6)
4 Mike Zimmer (7.5) Sean Payton (8.1) Mike Zimmer (7.7) Mike Zimmer (7.7) Sean Payton (7.6)
5 Doug Pederson (7.4) Mike Zimmer (7.6) Sean McVay (7.6) Jim Caldwell (7.6) Dan Quinn (7.3)
28 Pete Carroll (5.7) Hue Jackson (6.1) Adam Gase (6.2) Bruce Arians (5.9) Jason Garrett (6.2)
29 Vance Joseph (5.7) Steve Spagnuolo (6.0) Mike Mularkey (6.1) Hue Jackson (5.8) Adam Gase (6.2)
30 Jack Del Rio (5.4) Jack Del Rio (5.9) Chuck Pagano (6.1) John Fox (5.8) Chuck Pagano (6.1)
31 Chuck Pagano (5.2) Vance Joseph (5.9) Steve Spagnuolo (6.0) Chuck Pagano (5.2) Hue Jackson (5.2)
32 Steve Spagnuolo (5.0) Chuck Pagano (5.8) Vance Joseph (5.6) Steve Spagnuolo (4.0) Steve Spagnuolo (5.0)

Vance Joseph

So, how does the Broncos’ head coach stack up? As you can probably tell already, not well. Here’s Joseph’s coach detail page:

As bad as that is, HCR doesn’t actually have Joseph listed as the worst head coach in the AFC West. His 6.0 overall grade beats Jack Del Rio’s 5.9, which put the Raiders coach at 29th overall. Both pale in comparison to the Chiefs Andy Reid (6th) and the Chargers’ Anthony Lynn (14th). Who would have imagined that when the Broncos beat the Chargers back in Week 1?

It’s not all bad news, though. Or at least not all terrible news. Despite being in the bottom 4 head coaches in three different areas, and the very worst at game planning, Vance Joseph did decently in the last two areas. His in-game adjustments are good enough for 24th. That’s not great, but it’s significantly better than 30th, 31st, or 32nd. And his clock management is actually pretty decent, at 17th.

What’s more, tonight he’ll lead his team against one of the few coaches demonstrably worse than him: Chuck Pagano, who is one of two coaches to appear in the bottom 5 of every single category.

Will the Broncos retain Vance Joseph’s services next season? I have no idea. But if they do, and he wants to survive the season or even try for a third year in the top job, he’ll need to improve dramatically from his 2017 form.

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