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PFF’s head coach ranking has Dallas Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy in the top 10

A vote of confidence for Mike McCarthy.

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Washington Football Team v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

It is difficult to be underrated while being affiliated with the Dallas Cowboys, but sometimes that phenomenon tends to happen. An argument can be made that no head coach gets less credit for winning a Super Bowl in modern history than Mike McCarthy does, but that was very long ago and with a different team.

The overall point is that McCarthy is a pretty good coach for the most part, and one recent ranking very much reflects that.

PFF’s head coach rankings have Dallas Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy inside of the top 10

Recently the folks over at PFF decided to rank all of the head coaches in the NFL through their own evaluation method. It is a bit complicated so we will lay it out for you to understand for yourself.

Ranking NFL head coaches from an analytics perspective is a Sisyphean task for one simple reason: It’s easy to win games with good players. Barring a calamity or an incredibly poor surrounding roster, most competent NFL coaches would still manage to be competitive for a playoff spot with Patrick Mahomes as their starting quarterback.

Using this idea in ranking the current NFL head coaches, we try to do two things: 1) properly account for a team’s talent level, and 2) predict something less volatile than wins. We do this by creating a multilevel model where the fixed effects are the salaries of each starter on both sides of the ball, including an indicator for if the player is a rookie, and the target is points scored or allowed in a season. A starter is defined as the player who took the most snaps at their position, filtering out key injuries. This was altered for several positions, such as the top three players being considered for wide receiver, cornerback, safety and linebacker, as well as the top two players qualifying for guard, tackle, edge and interior defender.

The coaches are the random effect, giving us an estimate for their contribution to points scored or allowed. We can then use Pythagorean wins to estimate how many games the coach would win with an average team, defined as a team scoring and allowing 348 points in a season. This was the average mark for all teams between the 2017-2021 seasons.

It is difficult to look at McCarthy’s recent history and not think that he has had a lot of success. The issue with him has always tended to be that people exclusively credit the success he has been a part of to other people while giving none to him. That is silly regardless of what coach or team you are talking about.

PFF’s top 10 is filled with few surprises save for Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury at number four, but that is a subject for a different day.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy came in at number 10.


Offensive Rank: 5/26 (+68 points scored a season)

Defensive Rank: 25/26 (+15 points scored a season)

While there were criticisms of McCarthy’s play calling in Green Bay — he doesn’t call plays in Dallas — he has had no issue helming prolific offenses throughout his career. His Achilles heel, however, is his seeming inability to oversee defensive performances that live up to his teams’ talent level.

Interestingly enough, the Achilles heel noted for McCarthy did not seem to totally exist during his more successful season at the helm of the Cowboys. One would assume that McCarthy’s ability to field successful offenses over and over would mean having an elite defense would put his team over the top in a total way, and while that did happen at times last year the picture never totally came together on a consistent basis.

It doesn’t feel unfair to say that McCarthy has made better lemonade with the lemons he has been dealt with than his predecessor, but the standard for his current job is high enough and now has a lot of pressure to end a drought.

Do you think that Mike McCarthy is a top 10 coach in the NFL?

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