Best Head Coaches in Cleveland Browns History

Updated on September 14, 2020
Former Cleveland Browns head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer, Paul Brown, is pictured on his 1952 Bowman football card. Brown was the first coach of the Cleveland Browns and is the only former coach to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Former Cleveland Browns head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer, Paul Brown, is pictured on his 1952 Bowman football card. Brown was the first coach of the Cleveland Browns and is the only former coach to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. | Source

Who Are the Greatest Head Coaches in Cleveland Browns History?

The Cleveland Browns had a revolving door of head coaches during the 2010s, but when looking at those who have made the play calls for the team throughout history, there are a lot of men to be celebrated. Only one coach since 2008 has posted a winning record, but five others throughout history have taken the Browns to the postseason—and two have won championships.

The Browns will get back on the winning track again, and finding a reliable head coach will be an important step to get there. With seven different head coaches since 2010, Cleveland has lacked continuity in an area that used to be extremely stable. Only 3 men coached the team over its first 29 years of existence, while 7 would handle the duties for the next 21 years. Since 1999, when the Browns returned as an expansion franchise, however, there have been 11 head coaches in 22 seasons (and a 12th will wear a headset for the 2020 season).

For now, let's focus on better times. A list of the top five head coaches in Cleveland Browns history follows, as well as a handful of honorable-mention candidates and a list of every head coach in franchise history.

Selection Criteria for This List

With so many coaches who have taken the Browns into the playoffs, there were some tough choices in regards to which spot which coach should slot into on this list of the five greatest head coaches in Browns history. Criteria used to make this list included:

  • Legacy Honors (Hall of Fame, Ring of Honor, etc.)
  • Coaching success (winning percentage, postseason appearances, etc.)
  • Longevity (years spent with the Browns)

Only games coached with the Browns are factored into this list, so while Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg was a great player for the Green Bay Packers and also coached for 11 total seasons, his 18–23 mark over three seasons with the Browns won't make the cut here. So without further ado, let's count down the five best head coaches in Cleveland Browns history! Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on these selections.

New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick (right), shakes hands with former Cleveland Browns coach, Hue Jackson, after a 2017 game. Belichick was the final head coach of the Browns before the team was moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season.
New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick (right), shakes hands with former Cleveland Browns coach, Hue Jackson, after a 2017 game. Belichick was the final head coach of the Browns before the team was moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season. | Source

5. Bill Belichick

  • Years Coached With the Browns: 1991–95
  • Record: 36–44
  • Playoff Appearances: 1994

William "Bill" Belichick had spent several seasons as an assistant coach in the NFL, and finally got his head coaching break when he was finally hired by the Cleveland Browns in 1991. In 1988, Belichick had interviewed for Cleveland's vacancy when Marty Scottenheimer was fired. He instead stayed with the New York Giants, and won a Super Bowl in 1990 as their defensive coordinator. Belichick was 38 years old at the time he was hired by the Browns, making him the youngest head coach in the league, but he didn't take the NFL by storm as some disruptive young coaches have.

Belichick would ultimately face a losing record in four of his five seasons in Cleveland, though he did lead the Browns to the postseason in 1994. Cleveland finished 11–5 that season, and beat the New England Patriots in the first round of the playoffs. Despite a losing record in 1995, it was Belichick's understanding that he would follow the Browns to Baltimore when Modell moved the team there for the 1996 season, but he was fired instead. He's since become one of the greatest head coaches in the history of the NFL, and has won six Super Bowls with the Patriots.

Bill Belichick's Coaching Record With the Browns

Year
Games
Wins
Losses
Ties
Winning %
1995
16
5
11
0
0.313
1994
16
11
5
0
0.688
1993
16
7
9
0
0.438
1992
16
7
9
0
0.438
1991
16
6
10
0
0.375
Former Cleveland Browns head coach, Sam Rutigliano, is seen in the locker room during the 1979 season. By finishing the year at 9–7, it was Rutigliano's first winning season at the helm of the Browns.
Former Cleveland Browns head coach, Sam Rutigliano, is seen in the locker room during the 1979 season. By finishing the year at 9–7, it was Rutigliano's first winning season at the helm of the Browns. | Source

4. Sam Rutigliano

  • Years Coached With the Browns: 1978–84
  • Record: 47–50
  • Playoff Appearances: 1980, '82
  • Awards: UPI NFL Coach of the Year (1979–80)

When the Cleveland Browns hired Sam Rutigliano, they did something they had never done in the first 31 years of the franchise—hire a head coach from outside the organization. Rutigliano was the fifth coach in the history of the Browns, and was hired off of the New Orleans Saints' assistant coaching staff. It didn't take long for him to become a beloved figure in Cleveland. By 1980, he had the Browns in position to make the postseason. Behind the arm of quarterback Brian Sipe, who was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player that season, the Browns won their division. But they lost in the first round of the playoffs on the famed "Red Right 88" play call.

Cleveland would make the postseason in the strike-shortened 1982 season, but again faced a first-round exit. The Browns finished at 9–7 in 1983 but missed the playoffs, and the team started to unravel in 1984, scuffling to a 1–7 start. That's when Rutigliano—who also served as vice president of operations for the Browns—was fired and replaced by his defensive coordinator, Marty Schottenheimer.

Sam Rutigliano's Coaching Record With the Browns

Year
Games
Wins
Losses
Ties
Winning %
1984*
8
1
7
0
0.125
1983
16
9
7
0
0.563
1982^
9
4
5
0
0.444
1981
16
5
11
0
0.313
1980
16
11
5
0
0.688
1979
16
9
7
0
0.563
1978
16
8
8
0
0.500
*Fired mid-season ^Strike-shortened season

3. Marty Schottenheimer

  • Years Coached With the Browns: 1984–88
  • Record: 44–27
  • Playoff Appearances: 1985–88
  • Awards: UPI AFC Coach of the Year (1986)

When Marty Schottenheimer was promoted to head coach of the Cleveland Browns in the middle of the 1984 season, he inherited a talented team that had scuffled to a measly 1–7 record over the first eight games. The former defensive coordinator would make the most of his first head coaching job, however, directing the Browns to a 4–4 finish that season. Then, he pushed Cleveland to four postseason appearances after that. Schottenheimer's Browns won three straight division titles from 1985–87, and made the postseason as a wild card in '88. In both 1986 and '87, Cleveland advanced to the conference championship game, but lost to the Denver Broncos.

Schottenheimer and Cleveland owner, Art Modell, agreed to mutually part ways following the 1988 season, despite the talented core Schottenheimer had built still being intact. Schottenheimer wanted to continue serving in a dual role as head coach and offensive coordinator in 1989, while Modell believed the Browns needed a full-time offensive coordinator to get past the best teams in the league. Even though he was criticized throughout 1988 for taking on the extra responsibilities, Schottenheimer's stubbornness won out when he decided to amicably move on rather than realign his assistant coaching staff. He would continue on to coach Kansas City, Washington, and San Diego, though none of his teams ever made the Super Bowl.

Marty Schottenheimer's Coaching Record With the Browns

Year
Games
Wins
Losses
Ties
Winning %
1988
16
10
6
0
0.625
1987*
15
10
5
0
0.667
1986
16
12
4
0
0.750
1985
16
8
8
0
0.500
1984^
8
4
4
0
0.500
*Strike-shortened season ^Hired mid-season

2. Blanton Collier

  • Years Coached With the Browns: 1963–70
  • Record: 76-34-2
  • Playoff Appearances: 1964–65, 1967–69

Blanton Collier became the second coach in Cleveland Browns history after Paul Brown was abruptly fired following the 1962 season, and Collier certainly tried to keep pace with the team's winning tradition that had been established. Collier led the Browns to four NFL championship games, and won the title in 1964—the last championship in franchise history. In that game, Collier's Browns upset the heavily favored Baltimore Colts 27–0 in one of the greatest games in NFL history. Collier spent eight seasons under Brown as a backfield coach from 1946–53, and then came back to Cleveland as an assistant in 1962 after being relieved of his head coaching duties at the University of Kentucky. Collier's head coaching style was in contrast to Paul Brown, allowing him to quickly earn the respect of his players, despite being quite reserved and soft-spoken.

The Browns appeared in the NFL championship game again in 1965, then advanced in 1968 and '69, but weren't able to find victory. Blanton finished his career with a 3–4 playoff record. After the 1970 season, Collier announced his retirement as head coach due to a hearing ailment, but stayed with Cleveland as a scout and quarterbacks coach. It was said the league lost a true gentleman when Collier stepped down, paving the way for his offensive coordinator, Nick Skorich, to take over as head coach.

Blanton Collier's Coaching Record With the Browns

Year
Games
Wins
Losses
Ties
Winning %
1970
14
7
7
0
0.500
1969
14
10
3
1
0.769
1968
14
10
4
0
0.714
1967
14
9
5
0
0.643
1966
14
9
5
0
0.643
1965
14
11
3
0
0.786
1964
14
10
3
1
0.769
1963
14
10
4
0
0.714
Former Cleveland Browns head coach, Paul Brown, is seen on the videoboard during his Ring of Honor induction.
Former Cleveland Browns head coach, Paul Brown, is seen on the videoboard during his Ring of Honor induction. | Source

1. Paul Brown

  • Years Coached With the Browns: 1946–62
  • Record: 158-48-8
  • Playoff Appearances: 1946–55, 1957–58
  • Awards: Pro Football Hall of Fame (1967), Browns Ring of Honor, UPI NFL Coach of the Year (1957), NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team

Under the guidance of Paul Brown, the Cleveland Browns dominated the All-America Football Conference from 1946–49 and became one of the most feared teams in the NFL during the 1950s. Brown was also a co-founder of the franchise, and during his 17-year tenure as head coach, Cleveland won seven championships, made the postseason 12 times, and had just one losing season. The Browns won every championship in the short-lived AAFC, then picked up NFL titles in 1950, '54, and '55. Brown's postseason record as head coach was 9–5.

On top of his on-field success, Brown was also an early innovator of several common practices in today's NFL. He was the first coach to use film to scout opponents and hire a staff of assistant coaches, and he also invented the facemask, the practice squad, and the draw play. Most importantly, however, he played an integral role in breaking football's modern color barrier. In 1946, he signed the two black players in the AAFC—fullback Marion Motley and defensive end Bill Willis. Brown, however, discredited his efforts as being an attempt to further civil rights—he just wanted the best football team he could have.

By 1962, new owner Art Modell and Brown had significant disagreements on the direction of the franchise, which led to Brown's firing on January 7, 1963. His firing remains one of the most controversial moments in franchise history, even though many players didn't like Brown's strictness. After several years away from football, Brown co-founded and coached another Ohio NFL team—the Cincinnati Bengals. He was involved with that franchise until his death in 1991.

Paul Brown's Coaching Record With the Browns

Year
Games
Wins
Losses
Ties
Winning %
1962
14
7
6
1
0.538
1961
14
8
5
1
0.615
1960
12
8
3
1
0.727
1959
12
7
5
0
0.583
1958
12
9
3
0
0.750
1957
12
9
2
1
0.818
1956
12
5
7
0
0.417
1955
12
9
2
1
0.818
1954
12
9
3
0
0.750
1953
12
11
1
0
0.917
1952
12
8
4
0
0.667
1951
12
11
1
0
0.917
1950
12
10
2
0
0.833
1949
12
9
1
2
0.900
1948
14
14
0
0
1.000
1947
14
12
1
1
0.923
1946
14
12
2
0
0.857
Former Cleveland Browns interim head coach, Gregg Williams, questions an official during a 2018 game. Technically, he is the only Cleveland coach since the 1980s to have a winning career record.
Former Cleveland Browns interim head coach, Gregg Williams, questions an official during a 2018 game. Technically, he is the only Cleveland coach since the 1980s to have a winning career record. | Source

Honorable Mentions

Several other Cleveland Browns head coaches have left an indelible mark on franchise history, but fell just outside the top five.

Nick Skorich

The third head coach in franchise history was Nicholas "Nick" Skorich, who led the Cleveland Browns from 1971–74. Cleveland made the playoffs in the first two seasons of Skorich's tenure, but were unable to win a game—though they nearly upset the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins in the first round. Skorich had a hand in drafting several future stars of the Browns, including quarterback Brian Sipe, running back Greg Pruitt, and offensive lineman Doug Dieken. His career record was 30-24-2.

Bud Carson

Leon "Bud" Carson didn't coach the Cleveland Browns for very long, but in his limited time, he accomplished a fair amount. In his only stint as an NFL head coach, Carson led the Browns to a divisional championship in 1989, but the team lost to the Denver Broncos in the conference championship game for the third time in four seasons. Carson was fired mid-way through the 1990 season, and finished 11-13-1 with the Browns.

Gregg Williams

It's unusual that an interim coach would make a list of a team's best coaches, but with the futility the Cleveland Browns have seen in recent years, the spark that Gregg Williams ignited in the second half of 2018 was the brightest the franchise had seen in years. Williams took over for the fired Hue Jackson halfway through the season, and led the Browns to a 5–3 record the rest of the way—technically leaving him as the only Cleveland coach with a winning career record since the 1980s. The Browns ultimately passed on hiring Williams for the 2019 season—instead picking Freddie Kitchens, who was fired after one season.

Former Cleveland Browns head coach, Hue Jackson, is seen protesting an officials' decision during the 2018 season. Jackson was one of the most unsuccessful coaches of all-time, going 3-36-1 over 2 1/2 seasons in Cleveland.
Former Cleveland Browns head coach, Hue Jackson, is seen protesting an officials' decision during the 2018 season. Jackson was one of the most unsuccessful coaches of all-time, going 3-36-1 over 2 1/2 seasons in Cleveland. | Source

How Many Head Coaches Have the Cleveland Browns Had?

The Cleveland Browns have had 21 head coaches in their 71-year history, and a year-by-year list of every coach's record follows.

Who Is the Current Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns?

The Cleveland Browns formally announced on January 13, 2020, that Kevin Stefanski was hired as the 18th head coach in franchise history.

Kevin Stefanski is introduced as the 18th head coach in the history of the Cleveland Browns on January 14, 2020.
Kevin Stefanski is introduced as the 18th head coach in the history of the Cleveland Browns on January 14, 2020. | Source

Cleveland Browns Head Coach History

Year
Coach
Games
Wins
Losses
Ties
Winning %
2019
Freddie Kitchens
16
6
10
0
0.375
2018
Gregg Williams
8
5
3
0
0.625
 
Hue Jackson
8
2
5
1
0.313
2017
Hue Jackson
16
0
16
0
0.000
2016
Hue Jackson
16
1
15
0
0.063
2015
Mike Pettine
16
3
13
0
0.188
2014
Mike Pettine
16
7
9
0
0.438
2013
Rob Chudzinski
16
4
12
0
0.250
2012
Pat Shurmur
16
5
11
0
0.313
2011
Pat Shurmur
16
4
12
0
0.250
2010
Eric Mangini
16
5
11
0
0.313
2009
Eric Mangini
16
5
11
0
0.313
2008
Romeo Crennel
16
4
12
0
0.250
2007
Romeo Crennel
16
10
6
0
0.625
2006
Romeo Crennel
16
4
12
0
0.250
2005
Romeo Crennel
16
6
10
0
0.375
2004
Terry Robiskie
5
1
4
0
0.200
 
Butch Davis
11
3
8
0
0.273
2003
Butch Davis
16
5
11
0
0.313
2002
Butch Davis
16
9
7
0
0.563
2001
Butch Davis
16
7
9
0
0.438
2000
Chris Palmer
16
3
13
0
0.188
1999
Chris Palmer
16
2
14
0
0.125
1995
Bill Belichick
16
5
11
0
0.313
1994
Bill Belichick
16
11
5
0
0.688
1993
Bill Belichick
16
7
9
0
0.438
1992
Bill Belichick
16
7
9
0
0.438
1991
Bill Belichick
16
6
10
0
0.375
1990
Jim Shofner
7
1
6
0
0.143
 
Bud Carson
9
2
7
0
0.222
1989
Bud Carson
16
9
6
1
0.594
1988
Marty Schottenheimer
16
10
6
0
0.625
1987
Marty Schottenheimer
15
10
5
0
0.667
1986
Marty Schottenheimer
16
12
4
0
0.750
1985
Marty Schottenheimer
16
8
8
0
0.500
1984
Marty Schottenheimer
8
4
4
0
0.500
 
Sam Rutigliano
8
1
7
0
0.125
1983
Sam Rutigliano
16
9
7
0
0.563
1982
Sam Rutigliano
9
4
5
0
0.444
1981
Sam Rutigliano
16
5
11
0
0.313
1980
Sam Rutigliano
16
11
5
0
0.688
1979
Sam Rutigliano
16
9
7
0
0.563
1978
Sam Rutigliano
16
8
8
0
0.500
1977
Forrest Gregg
13
6
7
0
0.462
 
Dick Modzelewski
1
0
1
0
0.000
1976
Forrest Gregg
14
9
5
0
0.643
1975
Forrest Gregg
14
3
11
0
0.214
1974
Nick Skorich
14
4
10
0
0.286
1973
Nick Skorich
14
7
5
2
0.571
1972
Nick Skorich
14
10
4
0
0.714
1971
Nick Skorich
14
9
5
0
0.643
1970
Blanton Collier
14
7
7
0
0.500
1969
Blanton Collier
14
10
3
1
0.769
1968
Blanton Collier
14
10
4
0
0.714
1967
Blanton Collier
14
9
5
0
0.643
1966
Blanton Collier
14
9
5
0
0.643
1965
Blanton Collier
14
11
3
0
0.786
1964
Blanton Collier
14
10
3
1
0.769
1963
Blanton Collier
14
10
4
0
0.714
1962
Paul Brown
14
7
6
1
0.538
1961
Paul Brown
14
8
5
1
0.615
1960
Paul Brown
12
8
3
1
0.727
1959
Paul Brown
12
7
5
0
0.583
1958
Paul Brown
12
9
3
0
0.750
1957
Paul Brown
12
9
2
1
0.818
1956
Paul Brown
12
5
7
0
0.417
1955
Paul Brown
12
9
2
1
0.818
1954
Paul Brown
12
9
3
0
0.750
1953
Paul Brown
12
11
1
0
0.917
1952
Paul Brown
12
8
4
0
0.667
1951
Paul Brown
12
11
1
0
0.917
1950
Paul Brown
12
10
2
0
0.833
1949
Paul Brown
12
9
1
2
0.900
1948
Paul Brown
14
14
0
0
1.000
1947
Paul Brown
14
12
1
1
0.923
1946
Paul Brown
14
12
2
0
0.857

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