Americans Name Belichick and Lombardi Greatest Coaches of All Time; Duke’s ‘Coach K’ Ranks Sixth

Mike Krzyzewski, the newly retired head coach of the Duke men’s basketball team, finished in a tie for sixth
April 11, 2022 at 5:00 am UTC

NFL Hall of Famer Vince Lombardi, the namesake of the Super Bowl trophy, won five NFL championships with the Green Bay Packers during a seven-year stretch in the 1960s. Decades later, Bill Belichick has etched his name on the Lombardi Trophy six times as head coach of the New England Patriots. 

A recent Morning Consult survey asked respondents to write in whom they consider the greatest sports coach of all time, and Americans said Lombardi and Belichick are tied at the top.

Americans Name Belichick, Lombardi Greatest Coaches of All Time

Respondents were asked to write in who they thought was the greatest coach of all time
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Don’t know/no opinion/unintelligible responses not included. Active coaches are shown in dark blue.
Survey conducted April 5-6, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,209 U.S. adults, including 1,396 respondents who wrote in whom they consider the greatest sports coach of all time.

NFL, NBA coaches dominate list of best ever

  • In a battle of the fedora versus the hoodie, 10% of respondents said Lombardi and another 10% said Belichick, who also won two Super Bowls as a New York Giants defensive coordinator, were the best coaches of all time when asked to name their choice in an open-ended survey. Phil Jackson, an 11-time NBA champion as a coach and a cornerstone to the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers dynasties of the mid-1990s and early 2000s, respectively, trailed the pair at 7%. John Madden, the late legendary NFL coach and TV analyst whose name has been attached to Electronic Arts Inc.’s popular football video game franchise for 30-plus years, tied with Jackson at No. 3. 
  • Seven of the survey’s top 10 coaches have spent their careers predominantly in either the NFL or NBA, with the other three individuals — UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden, Alabama football coach Nick Saban and the now-retired Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski — mostly or solely coaching in college basketball or college football. Wooden, a UCLA men's basketball coaching legend and winner of 10 NCAA titles in an unprecedented 12-year period during the 1960s and 1970s, led all college coaches, coming in fifth. Four percent of respondents answered the query saying he was the all-time best coach.
  • Pat Summitt, an eight-time NCAA tournament champion as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers women's basketball program, ranked No. 21, making her the survey’s top-ranked female coach. Meanwhile, just three of the top 15 best coaches are still actively coaching in their respective sports: Belichick, Saban and the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich.

The impact

Of the survey’s top 15 sports coaches ever, 10 names are connected to football, either in the pro ranks or collegiately, while five are tied to basketball. The NFL, and football more broadly, dominates the American sports news cycle throughout the year. The NFL accounted for nine of the top 10 telecasts through March, with the lone outlier being President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1. 

The MLB and NHL, meanwhile, failed to place any coaches in the top 15 (ex-New York Yankees manager Joe Torre and veteran NHL head coach Scotty Bowman performed best in their respective leagues, at No. 18 and 29, respectively) — an outcome symbolic of their relative struggles to attract large audiences.

The survey was conducted April 5-6, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,209 U.S. adults, including 1,396 respondents who wrote in whom they consider the greatest sports coach of all time.

A headshot photograph of Mark J. Burns
Mark J. Burns
Sports Analyst

Mark J. Burns is a sports analyst on the Industry Intelligence team, where he conducts research, authors analyst notes and advises leaders in the sports industry on how to apply insights to make better business decisions. Before joining Morning Consult, he served as a beat reporter at Sports Business Journal, covering the business of hockey and soccer. Mark graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in history and holds a Juris Doctor from Belmont University. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].

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