Last weekend saw Andy Reid’s season come to an end with another crushing defeat. Through Reid’s very successful 21 years as a Head Coach in the NFL every year has ended in disappointment. Despite the fact that he has led his teams to 206 NFL victories, he has never won the game that matters. He has won zero NFL titles. Obviously he is the best coach to never win a NFL Championship! Or maybe not.
Looking back we find many quality coaches that never won a NFL Title. First we need to remember that the NFL had a long history prior to the Super Bowl era. The first Super Bowl was played in 1967, but the NFL started in 1920. That’s 47 years of play before the Super Bowl. Looking back at history we find six coaches who have a legitimate claim to be the “Best Coach to never win a NFL Championship”. It just so happens that every one of them coached in the Super Bowl Era.
George Allen: 118-54-5 .681 Playoffs 2-7
Los Angeles Rams 1966-1970 49-17
Washington Redskins 1971-1977 67-30
What a controversial figure George Allen was. He was “Papa Bear” George Halas’ of the Chicago Bears, top defensive assistant in the early 1960s. The coach George Halas had personally picked to replace him when the time came for Halas to retire. Instead, Allen signed a contract with Rams’ owner Dan Reeves to coach the Los Angeles Rams in 1966, despite the fact that he was still under contract to the Chicago Bears. The Bears then sued the Rams and Allen for breach of contract, a suit the Bears would win, but the Bears would settle for $1 in compensation.
Taking over a Rams team that hadn’t had a winning record in 8 years, he immediately went 8-6 in 1966 (they were 4-10 in 1965) and then led the team to a league best record of 11-1-2 in 1967 where Allen was named NFL Coach of the Year. Rams owner Dan Reeves and Allen never got along, so when the Rams slumped to a 10-3-1 record and missed the playoffs in 1968, Reeves dismissed his head coach. The outcry from the press and fans was expected, but to the astonishment of all the players then rebelled, with 38 of the 40 players on the roster signing a petition to get Allen his job back. Reeves relented and offered Allen a two year extension.
In 1969 the Rams responded by winning their first eleven games, and appeared to be the best team in football, but they collapsed, losing their final three regular season games, then were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by Bud Grant’s Minnesota Vikings. The Rams followed that with a 9-4-1 season in 1970, again missing the playoffs, and Reeves again let Allen go. This time it stuck.
George Allen then signed to coach another down and out franchise, the Washington Redskins. Allen immediately traded for many of his former players with the Rams, and took a franchise which hadn’t done anything for two decades and made them a playoff team. In his first year they went 9-4-1 and made the playoffs. In his second year they would go 11-3 in the regular season and then win the NFC Title, before losing to the undefeated Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII.
With his success came a price; as Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams famously said about his coach; “George was given an unlimited budget and he exceeded it.” George Allen would coach the Redskins for five more years, leading them to a winning record all five years, and into the playoffs three more times, but they would never win another playoff game, so he was fired after the 1977 season, and never coached again in the NFL. Allen would pass away suddenly in 1990 at the age of 72 while the head coach of the Long Beach State 49ers.
Bud Grant: 168-108-5 .607 Playoffs: 10-12
Minnesota Vikings 1967-1985 168-108
Bud Grant began his professional career playing for the Minneapolis Lakers of the NBA, where he won an NBA Championship in 1950. After the 1951 NBA season Grant turned to football, and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL. Grant was a very good defensive end and a standout wide receiver for the Eagles, but when his contract expired in 1952 he elected to sign with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. He became a star in the CFL, earning All Star honors three times. In 1957 the Blue Bombers hired Grant as their new head coach. He would coach in Winnipeg for 10 years, leading the Bombers to six Grey Cup Championship Game appearances and four Grey Cup titles.
After compiling a record of 122-66-3 in Canada, the Minnesota Vikings convinced Grant to give the NFL a try. The Vikings, an expansion team in 1961, had never had a winning season until Bud Grant’s second year as Head Coach. From 1968 until 1982 the Minnesota Vikings were a perennial NFL powerhouse, only missing the playoffs three times, and being one of the favorites every year. The Vikings would make their only Super Bowl Appearances during his reign, losing in Super Bowl IV to the Kansas City Chiefs, Super Bowl VII to the Miami Dolphins, Super Bowl IX to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowl XI to the Oakland Raiders. He’s tied with Dan Reeves and Marv Levy for the most career losses in the Super Bowl.
Despite being a direct contemporary of George Allen, two coaches could not be less alike than George Allen and Bud Grant. Grant was solid, never controversial. He coached the same NFL team for 18 years. His owners never wanted to fire him, and the fans loved him. Even today, at age 90, he is a beloved figure in Minnesota.
Marv Levy: 154-120-0 .562 Playoffs: 11-8
Kansas City Chiefs 1978-1982 31-42
Buffalo Bills 1986-1997 112-70
Another find from the Canadian Football League, Marv Levy began his coaching career with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. In four years in the CFL he would lead Montreal into the playoffs all four years, winning the Grey Cup in two of those seasons (1974 and 1977). The Kansas City Chiefs then lured Levy into the NFL in 1978. His time with the Chiefs did not lead to much success, and he was fired in 1982. His reputation would be created when he was hired to coach the moribund Buffalo Bills in 1986.
From 1988 to 1996 the Bills would win the AFC East Championship six times, be in the playoffs another two times, and more astounding go to the Super Bowl four consecutive times. The Patriots just made their third straight Super Bowl, joining the early 1970s Miami Dolphins in that rarefied air, but that’s still one short of the Bills record of four straight.
A final footnote on Levy (who turned 93 last August), as a Chicago Cub’s fan he attended the 2017 World Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago, one of only a handful of people to witness a game in the 2017 Series and also the Cubs previous World Series appearance in 1945 (when he was on furlough from the United States Army at the end of World War II).
Dan Reeves: 201-174 .536 Playoffs 11-9
Denver Broncos 1981-1992 110-73
New York Giants 1993-1996 31-33
Atlanta Falcons 1997-2003 49-59
Dan Reeves’ (no relation to the Dan Reeves who owned the Rams from 1941 to 1971) winning percentage is significantly lower than the other coaches listed. It still seems fair to put him in the conversation. Reeves was a quarterback in college at the University of South Carolina, he also starred on the Gamecocks baseball team. Undrafted after his senior year, he was still offered contracts from the NFL Dallas Cowboys, the AFL San Diego Chargers, and Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates. Signing with the Cowboys he had a solid eight year career that included an All-Pro season in 1966, two Super Bowl appearances, including a win in Super Bowl VI.
Immediately after retiring as a player he became an assistant under Tom Landry for the Dallas Cowboys. After an 8-year stint as a Landry assistant, he became the youngest coach in the NFL when he signed to lead the Denver Broncos in 1981. He was fortunate to obtain John Elway in 1983, and despite many disagreement between the two, they would combine to lead the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances between 1986 and 1989, all resulting in blow out losses. After a sub par 8-8 season, but mainly due to his public squabbles with his star quarterback, Reeves was fired in 1992.
Reeves then signed on with the New York Giants, who he led for four rather uneventful years that included only one playoff appearance.
The Atlanta Falcons immediately hired Reeves after his release by the Giants, and despite his sub .500 record in Atlanta, did lead them to their first Super Bowl appearance. He was named Coach of the Year following the season, but unfortunately, in an ironic twist, would lose to John Elway and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII, 34-19. He had a well documented quadruple-bypass heart surgery late in the season during the Falcons Super Bowl campaign. It seems to have worked, as the deeply religious Reeves is still going strong at age 75.
Marty Schottenheimer: 205-139 .596 Playoffs 5-13
Cleveland Browns 1984-1988 44-27
Kansas City Chiefs 1989-1998 101-58
Washington Redskins 2001 8-8
San Diego Chargers 2002-2006 47-33
Marty Shottenheimer had a 6 year playing career as linebacker with the Buffalo Bills and the Boston Patriots from 1965-1970 before embarking on a highly successful, but ultimately bitter 21 year stint as a head coach in the NFL. His 205 wins is the most by a coach who never appeared in a Super Bowl or NFL Title Game.
His first head coaching job was with the Cleveland Browns, and despite winning three division titles in four years, and making the playoffs every year, he was dismissed due to Cleveland’s playoff frustrations. His team in Cleveland was the victim in two of the most heartbreaking losses in NFL playoff history. Dan Reeves’ Denver Broncos defeated Schottenheimer’s Browns in back to back years in the AFC Championship Game in games now known as “The Drive” and “The Fumble”, that prevented Marty from getting an early taste of a Super Bowl.
After his dismissal by the Browns he was immediately picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs where he had a winning record in 9 of his 10 years, winning three AFC West titles and making the playoffs in seven of those seasons. Unfortunately his playoff woos continued with only three wins in the seven appearances and another loss in an AFC Championship Game. He would then lead the Washington Redskins for one year, then spend his final five years with the San Diego Chargers.
Schottenheimer’s Chargers would win two AFC West Titles in his five years, including a NFL best 14-2 record in 2006. Again his team lost in their first round playoff game (24-21 to the New England Patriots) after the regular season, and despite the stellar record Marty was fired. This would be Marty’s final opportunity to coach in the NFL, but he would coach one year in the United Football League in 2011, winning the UFL Title with the Virginia Destroyers. Small consolation for his lifetime of playoff disappointments. Marty, who is the winning-est eligible coach not elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is currently battling Alzheimers disease in North Carolina supported by his wife (Pat) of 50 years.
Andy Reid: 206-137 .600 Playoffs: 11-14
Philadelphia Eagles 1999-2012 130-93
Kansas City Chiefs 2013-2019 65-31
That brings us back to Andy Reid. Reid played the offensive line for Brigham Young University from 1978-1980, then after graduation began his coaching career as a graduate assistant on Lavelle Edwards’ BYU staff. He spent nine years as a college assistant before graduating to the NFL in 1992. In 1999 he was a surprise pick by to lead the Philadelphia Eagles as head coach. It took him two years, but Reid turned the Eagles into a NFC East powerhouse, winning the NFC East title 6 times and making the playoffs in 9 of the next 11 years. As noted Reid’s playoff record is actually pretty good. His Eagle’s teams made the NFC Championship four years in a row from 2001-2004, but only advanced to the Super Bowl once, losing Super Bowl XXXIX to the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick, 24-21. He would wind up leading the Eagles to five NFC Championship games and six division titles in his 14 years in Philadelphia, but when the team failed to make the playoffs in 2011 and 2012 he was let go.
The Kansas City Chiefs quickly pick up Reid as head coach for the next season. Reid’s Chiefs have made the playoffs in 5 of his 6 years as head coach, but their playoff record during these years has been disappointing. Despite the regular season record and the three straight AFC Western Division titles, Kansas City has only two playoff wins during this time. The Chiefs’ heartbreaking 37-31 overtime loss to the New England Patriots was just one more opportunity lost for Reid’s coaching legacy. Reid now holds the record for most career NFL Coaching wins without a NFL championship in history. This is a record Reid would gladly give up in the years to come. At age 60 he should have several more years with the Chiefs, and with a standout young quarterback the Chiefs will be one of the favorites again next year.
So, Who is the Best to Not Win?
As you can see, Andy Reid is in the discussion as the best of the group, but does he have the best argument? Reid’s 206 wins is the most by the six coaches, but his winning percentage only ranks third, behind George Allen and Bud Grant. His teams have only made one Super Bowl which put him well behind Grant, Levy, and Reeves, who all have participated in four. He has coached for two franchises (Philadelphia and Kansas City) that have only won one (Kansas City in 1970) Super Bowl Title in the Super Bowl era. The Eagles did win three NFL Championships prior to 1967.
Reid’s argument is probably better than Marty Schottenheimer’s, but it’s close. The two records match up well. Each coached for 21 years in the NFL. Schottenheimer overall record is very similar, 205-139, compared to Reid’s 206-137. Reid made a Super Bowl, and also participated in six conference championship games; Schottenheimer’s teams never reached a Super Bowl and went 0-3 in Conference Championship Games. It’s very close, but we’ll go with Reid.
Marv Levy has much different strengths and weaknesses than Reid. He has a worst winning percentages during a significantly shorter time. Levy won only 154 games, which is 52 games fewer than Reid, and Reid is still adding to his total. Both Reid and Levy coached the Kansas City Chiefs, Reid’s record in Kansas City is much better. Advantage, Reid? Well, Levy has his strengths. His other franchise, the Buffalo Bills, is one of the weakest franchises in the NFL. The Bills have made the playoffs 14 times in the 53 years since the Super Bowl era, in eight of those years their coach was Marv Levy. The Bills have made five Conference Championship Games, Levy was their coach in four of them; also Marv Levy was their leader in all four of their Super Bowl appearances. Then add in Levy’s outstanding CFL record and that probably lifts him slightly ahead of Andy Reid.
Marv Levy actually matches up with Dan Reeves very well. Four Super Bowl appearances apiece. Reeves was a blow-out loser in all four games, while Levy’s Bills were routed three times while losing one that they probably should have won, Super Bowl XXV. Most of Reeves’ success was with one of the NFL’s most storied franchises, the Denver Broncos, who have participated in five Super Bowls when Reeves was not their coach. His other trip to the big game was with a franchise much like Levy’s Bills, the Atlanta Falcons. Reeves belongs in the conversation, but he seems slightly behind both Reid and Levy.
This brings us to the two coaches who began their careers in 1966 and 1967; George Allen and Bud Grant. Let’s start with George Allen. He only coached 12 years, which is by far the shortest tenure of the men listed here. Due to his intense personality he never got along with any of his bosses (George Halas, Dan Reeves, Edward Bennett Williams). This is a strike against Allen. His winning percentage is the best of the group and 4th best of all time. He turned around two floundering franchises quickly. His ability to win quickly is by far the best of the group. This is a powerful argument for him. The fact that his teams tended to fade late in the season and his playoff record is dismal makes it hard to make him #1. A very underrated coach, his record is probably better than both Levy and Reid, but behind his contemporary Bud Grant.
Bud Grant coached the Minnesota Vikings for 17 years. The Vikings made all four of their Super Bowl appearances under his leadership. His winning percentage is worse than George Allen’s, but better than the other five men listed. There are two negatives to his record. #1 is his record in Super Bowls. The Vikes were routed in all four games, including a 23-7 thrashing at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV when Minnesota was a two touchdown favorite. This is a legitimate concern, but the other five coaches listed have very similar stories. The other is he only won 168 games in his NFL career. That puts him well behind three of the men we’re comparing him to (Andy Reid, Marty Schottenheimer, Dan Reeves). This argument is not very compelling. Grant coached in the CFL for ten years before entering the NFL. His record in the CFL is magnificent. As earlier noted Marv Levy’s record in the CFL is outstanding, but Bud Grant’s is clearly better. Adding his wins in the CFL and NFL his win total is 290. He won four CFL Championships. In competition this close that matters! The best answer to the question “Best Coach to Never Win a NFL Championship” is Bud Grant.