Is Bill Belichick the greatest head coach of all time?

Who is the greatest head coach ever?

By: Brock Wells

Bill Belichick has a chance against the Chicago Bears on Sunday to become the second-winningest coach in NFL history, breaking a tie he currently holds with legendary Bears coach George Halas. At that point, only Don Shula would be ahead of him. But Shula has just three NFL championships as a head coach to Belichick’s six, so how does one weigh one resumé against the other?

It’s essential to keep in mind when considering who is the greatest fill-in-the-blank of all time that raw numbers in and of themselves are difficult to draw meaning from. Numbers don’t lie, but they do need to be properly contextualized in order to have their significance grasped. Neither Halas nor Shula patrolled over a dynasty as consistent in its command as Belichick has. Halas’s teams were in the NFL championship game on numerous occasions, but they failed to meet .500 on several occasions as well.

During the near-20-year run of the New England Patriots’ dynasty, the team never had a losing record, and only won less than ten games once. Shula’s teams weren’t as consistently dominant, with periods where the team would finish with less than ten wins with regularity beginning in the mid-‘80s. Between 2000 and 2019, Belichick’s teams finished lower than second in their division just once, in 2000, Belichick’s first season as head coach of the team.

The question of winning percentage is also interesting to consider. What are we to make of coaches, like John Madden and George Allen, who had a higher all-time winning percentage than Belichick but far less postseason success? The length of time these coaches were at the helm is also relevant here.

All-time winning percentages:

  • Bill Belichick – .673
  • George Halas – .682
  • Don Shula – .677
  • George Allen – .712
  • John Madden – .759
  • Vince Lombardi – .738
  • Tom Landry – .601

Years as a head coach:

  • Bill Belichick – 28
  • George Halas – 40
  • Don Shula – 33
  • George Allen – 12
  • John Madden – 10
  • Vince Lombardi – 10
  • Tom Landry – 29

This ultimately comes down to being able to make sense of all these different numbers. What is the significance of a peak of team performance against longevity? Halas coached 40 years and Madden coached 10. But for Belichick, longevity has meant continued success. Even in the non-Tom Brady years, the Patriots have remained relevant, though not dominant, in the NFL landscape. That’s because Brady wasn’t the franchise. Belichick built teams with an unbelievable amount of ability that sustained for almost two decades consecutively. It’s difficult to say he isn’t the greatest head coach in NFL history for that reason.

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