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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Top-10 Defensive Coaches in NFL History

Top-10 Defensive Coaches in NFL History

History's greatest schemers
Publish Date: 06/30/2022
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

10) George “Papa Bear” Halas

George Halas invented defense in the National Football League. I should reiterate the fact that he pretty much-invented defense. Without Halas, there is no defense. Halas is the originator of the “Monsters of The Midway” George Halas would become known as “Papa Bear Halas” because he would coach the team to 5 NFL Championships Games, and they decisively won all of them and then became the full-time owner of the team. While Halas was a coach, he was twice voted the AP NFL Coach of the Year, twice voted the Sporting News Coach of the Year and twice voted the UPI NFL Coach of the Year.

9) Bill Arnsparger

Arnsperger was on the coaching staff for all but one of Shula’s Super Bowl appearances and was present for both Super Bowl victories and Shula’s NFL Championship victory. One of those victories was the culmination of the undefeated season in which Arnsparger’s “The No-Name Defense” played a vital role. Arnsperger fielded an impressive 26 top-five defenses based on yards per game or points per game which is amongst the three highest totals of all time. Of those 26 top-five defenses, an unrivaled five finished in first place based on points per game, and another two finished in first place based on yards per game. One could place it on longevity, but those with similar numbers to his also had considerably long careers. Under the Arnsperger regime, Dick Anderson and Doug Betters won the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Video: Thunder and Destruction No Name Defense

Thunder and Destruction No Name Defense

8) Bud Carson

It wasn’t until Bud Carson arrived in Pittsburgh that the famed “Steel Curtain” defense was born. The Steel Curtain – mainly its 1976 incarnation – is considered one of the best defenses of all time, if not the best of all time. Carson’s Steel Curtain fielded four Defensive Player of the Year Award winners in five seasons in Mel Blount, Jack Lambert and Joe Green (twice). Those were four of the first six Defensive Player of the Year Awards issued in the NFL. Additionally, Carson would go on to reach four Super Bowls – three with the Steelers and once with the Rams – and would win three of them. During his tenure as a defensive coordinator or a head coach, Carson fielded one first-place defense based on points per game and four first-place defenses based on yards per game allowed. All in all, Carson fielded 15 top-five defenses based on points per game or yards per game. If all the above isn’t enough, Carson is the only person to field two top-ten defenses of all time; the 1976 Steelers and the 1991 Eagles.

Bud Carson is highly underrated; as a head coach, he led the Cleveland Browns to the AFC Championship game in 1989. Additionally, he is considered the architect of Cover 2. If being considered the architect of the Cover 2 defense isn’t enough, then one has to consider that people feel as if Carson “invented” the Quarter Defense in the 1979 post-season.

7) Buddy Ryan

Buddy Ryan sent five defensemen to the Pro Bowl in 1985, and the Bears went 15-1 largely due to his innovative 46 defense. They would also go on to win the Super Bowl because the 46 defense only yielded 10 points during the post-season. During the ’85 season, Mike Singletary would also win his first of two Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Ryan essentially resurrected the “Monsters of the Midway”. Still, unfortunately for the Bears the Eagles were looking for a head coach and hired Ryan. When heading to Philadelphia, Ryan would help construct the 1991 Eagles, which was a top 10 defense of all time. Ryan would produce another Defensive Player of the Year Award with another Hall of Famer in Reggie White. Ryan would take the Eagles to three consecutive post-season berths from ’87 to ’90, but unfortunately, he wouldn’t win a game, resulting in his dismissal. Though he probably shouldn’t have been, his release resulted in Bud Carson and Richie Kotite being placed in charge and producing the 1991 Eagles mentioned above. Ryan had three Super Bowl appearances in his NFL career. As the Jets linebackers coach, he played a role in them upsetting the Baltimore Colts and forcing the eventual merger between the AFL and NFL. He would return to the Super Bowl with the Vikings but would lose. Finally, he won one as a significant contributor with his 46 Defense in 85.

Video: 1985 Chicago Bears 46 Defense

1985 Chicago Bears 46 Defense

6) Bud Grant

Grant’s “Purple People Eaters” fielded 3 Hall of Fame defensive linemen (yes, I am saying that Marshall should be in the Hall of Fame). Under Bud Grant’s regime, Alan Page won the very first AP Defensive Player of the Year Award. Another essential aspect that has helped Grant place this high is that Buddy Ryan – who makes this list – was a one-time defensive coordinator for Grant. Grant fielded 12 top-five defenses based on points per game or yards per game allowed during his tenure as the Vikings head coach and all of them were in years that were close to one another allowing them to dominate the NFC for a decade. Of those 12 defenses, three managed to place first in points per game allowed, and three managed to place first in yards per game allowed.

5) Chuck Noll

Noll’s Steelers appeared in four Super Bowls and won all four of them, including the fourth in which he beat former defensive coordinator Bud Carson. This – combined with Carson’s lack of sustained success throughout his career – led one to think that Noll was the true brain trust of the Steel Curtain defense which happened to be one of the most successful defenses regarding sustained success. The 1976 Steelers are universally considered a top-five defense of all time. Noll can easily claim the most Defensive Player of the Year Award winners as all four apply to Carson; Mel Blount, Jack Lambert, and Joe Green (twice) won the award under his regime. Additionally, he was instrumental in drafting Rod Woodson, who would also go on to win the award-giving Noll five Defensive Player of the Year Award winners to his name. Noll finishes amongst the top in all defensive categories. In the NFL, Noll fielded 21 top-five defenses based on points per game or yards per game and an additional eight top-five defenses in the AFL. Noll managed to field two first-place defenses based on points per game in the NFL and two more in the AFL. Finally, Noll produced two first-place defenses based on yards per game in the NFL and three more in the AFL. Noll’s coaching tree includes Bud Carson, who placed top ten on this list, and guys such as Tony Dungy. Noll also was asked to approve of Bill Cowher – Β as his successor. There are few knocks against Noll but countless reasons why he should be this high. Check out the top sports betting sites for betting on the NFL.

Video: Chuck Noll, Most Successful American Football Coach, Dies MUST SEE

Chuck Noll, Most Successful American Football Coach, Dies MUST SEE

4) GeorgeΒ  Allen

Allen was a defensive coordinator for “Papa Bear” Halas and was originally just a scout for the Rams. However, Allen parlayed this into an NFL career. In his first entire season, As Hallas’ defensive coordinator Allen lead the Bears to allowing a league-low 144 points, which was 62 less than the next closest team. While in Chicago, Allen drafted Hall of Famer Dick Butkus. He also was the coordinator for future Hall of Famers Bill George and Doug Atkins during their most productive years. He would later return to the Rams, where he would aid in the development of the “Fearsome Foursome” with the legendary Deacon Jones. His second stint in Los Angeles was marred by the fact that he and owner Dan Reeves had multiple falling-outs; however, he was capable of winning a UPI NFL Coach of the Year Award. It would not be his last, however, as he would eventually win two AP NFL Coach of the Year, two Sporting News Coach of the Year, a PFW NFL Coach of the Year and another UPI NFL Coach of the Year Award. During his time as a head coach and defensive coordinator, Allen fielded 21 top-five defenses based on points per game or yards per game. Two of these defenses were first-place finishers because they allowed the least points in the league, and two were first-place finishers because they allowed less yardage than the rest of the league.

Video: George Allen career summary

George Allen career summary

3) Wade Phillips & Bum Phillips

Two of the most overlooked and under-appreciated coaches in NFL history, and throw in two of the most innovative also. The two common concepts Bum Phillips is often credited with bringing to football in general, and the NFL are the numbering system for defensive fronts and the professional version of the 3-4 defense. Phillips worked for Paul “Bear” Bryant at Texas A&M in 1958, and it was there that the current numbering system (one-technique, three-tech, five-tech, etc.) became standard nomenclature.

Bum invented the 3-4, and from watching Super Bowl 50, it looks like his son Wade has perfected it. Wade utilizes blitzing linebackers better than any coach in the history of the NFL. The big knock on Bum and Wade was they could get there, but they couldn’t win it. Will this year changed that as Wade’s defense completely throttled Cam Newton and the panthers.

Video: Rams Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips Talks New Book

Rams Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips Talks New Book “Son of Bum” & More – 5/2/17

2) Bill Belichick

Belichick’s career started under Bill Parcells, and he quickly took off by helping Lawrence “LT” Taylor become arguably the best linebacker in the history of the NFL. Taylor was capable of winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award an unprecedented three times while under Belichick’s tutelage. LT remains, to this day, the best 3-4 outside linebacker to ever play, partly due to Belichick’s tutelage.

If that weren’t enough, Belichick put his game plan to perfect utilization in Super Bowl XXV and was capable of stymieing the Buffalo Bills’ K-Gun attack to the point that the Hall of Fame selection committee felt that his game plan should be preserved in the Hall. A feat that has only been accomplished three times and only by two individuals.

After taking the head coaching job at New England, he masterminded another Super Bowl upset in Super Bowl 36, slowing down the greatest show on turf. Then his defensive wizardry against Peyton Manning in the playoffs has been legendary.

Video: Super Bowl XXXVI: Rams vs. Patriots highlights

Super Bowl XXXVI: Rams vs. Patriots highlights

1) Tom Landry

Landry invented the defense that over 85% of NFL defenses have used since its inception; the modern-day 4-3 defense. Yes, that was Landry’s brainchild. But he also invented the “Flex Defense” as well. With these two innovations, Landry was capable of fielding the infamous “Doomsday Defense” that helped lead the Cowboys to five Super Bowl appearances and two wins.

Before becoming the head coach of the Cowboys, Landry was the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants. During his tenure, the Giants went to three NFL Championship games, winning only one. That brings Landry’s career to 8 World Championship appearances and three victories.

Perhaps his ability to win is why he was twice voted the UPI Coach of the Year, once voted the Sporting News Coach of the Year and once voted the AP Coach of the Year.

Video: Doomsday Defense

Doomsday Defense

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