5 best head coaches in Cleveland Browns history 

Who stands atop the mountain as the best head coach in Cleveland Browns history?
Marty Schottenheimer, Cleveland Browns
Marty Schottenheimer, Cleveland Browns / Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns have been around since 1946 and have had some of the best players and coaches in league history represent them. While not every coach found success in Cleveland — even the great Bill Belichick was 36-44 with the Browns — several have produced great runs.

Currently, Kevin Stefanski finds himself amid a solid stretch, winning 11 games in two of his first four seasons. While he’s been the Browns' top coach since they returned to the league in 1999, he doesn’t top the list in terms of all-time great coaches.

Let’s see where Stefanski falls and who stands atop the mountain as we identify the five greatest head coaches in Cleveland Browns history.

Criteria for selection

  • Playoff appearances
  • Impact on franchise success
  • Regular-season record
  • Longevity

The top 5 head coaches in Cleveland Browns history

5. Sam Rutigliano

Years with the Browns: 1978-84
Regular Season Record 47-50
Playoff Record: 0-2

Hired in 1978 following stints as an assistant with the New York Jets, New England Patriots, and New Orleans Saints, Sam Rutigliano helped turn the Browns around. They were 8-8 during his first season with the club and then reeled off a 9-7 record in 1979.

Known as the “Kardiac Kids” due to their penchant for comeback wins, Rutigliano‘s bunch finally made the playoffs in 1980 on the strength of an 11-5 record. Led by NFL MVP Brian Sipe, they had their first postseason game in hand until the infamous “Red Right 88” play resulted in an interception and victory for the eventual Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders.

Rutigliano still took home the NFL Head Coach of the Year Award for his work, but they never recaptured the magic from that season despite making it back to the playoffs in 1982. The Browns were just 4-5 during the strike-shortened season and were again one-and-done in the postseason.

A 1-7 start in 1984 proved Rutigliano’s undoing. He not only fell under .500 as a head coach but was also fired halfway through the season. Despite that disappointment, he remains one of the top coaches in franchise history.

4. Kevin Stefanski

Years with the Browns: 2020-Present
Regular Season Record 37-30
Playoff Record: 0-2

For some reason, Browns fans don’t understand what they have in Kevin Stefanski.

Since returning to the NFL in 1999, they’ve cycled through 12 different coaches. Only Gregg Williams had a winning record, albeit just 5-3 as the interim in 2018. That’s changed now thanks to Stefanski, who finally brings credibility to a franchise that's been starving for continuity through the past three decades.

As a rookie head coach, Stefanski led the Browns to an 11-5 record, and despite being at home with COVID-19, he helped devise a game plan to secure the first playoff win since the early 1990s. They held their own against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round as well but fell just short.

The Browns suffered through two losing seasons after that but remained highly competitive. They were a far cry from the franchise that had just gone 1-31 a couple of years before his arrival.

Stefanski pulled off another 11-win campaign in 2023 to snap the losing streak, taking his second Head Coach of the Year Award in four seasons. He was praised for his calm demeanor, keeping the team focused despite starting five different quarterbacks and watching many other stars suffer injuries, such as running back Nick Chubb.

The Browns go into the 2024 season with a deep roster and one of the more respected coaching staffs in the NFL. Stefanski boasts a record of 37-30 and could be the one to finally put them over the hump. If he does, maybe he will then get recognized for the stability he's brought to the table.

3. Marty Schottenheimer

Years with Browns: 1984-88
Regular Season Record 44-27
Playoff Record: 2-4

Marty Schottenheimer was the defensive coordinator under Sam Rutigliano from 1980 through 1984. He took over as the interim head coach in 1984 when Rutligiano was fired and finished the season 4-4. That was enough for the franchise to trust him with the job going forward, and he proved more than capable.

Schottenheimer went 8-8 in his first full campaign as the head coach but won the division and made the playoffs. They went one-and-done, but Schottenheimer led them to a 12-4 mark in 1986. That was the first of three consecutive seasons with double-digit wins and the first of two straight trips to the AFC Championship Game.

Schottenheimer had some great moments as he and Bernie Kosar kept the team relevant throughout his tenure. Even so, he was unable to pull off the impossible — taking Cleveland to the Super Bowl.

Following a playoff loss to the Houston Oilers, team owner Art Modell announced Schottenheimer and the team would be parting ways — just another reason Modell is the most hated man in Cleveland sports. Schottenheimer coached in the league for 21 years, including a 10-year run with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was one of the more beloved figures in the NFL but couldn’t ever win the big one, something that followed him throughout his career.

2. Blanton Collier

Years with the Browns: 1963-70
Regular Season Record 76-34-2
Playoff Record: 3-4
Notable Stat: NFL Championship 1964

From 1946 through 1953, Blanton Collier was the right-hand man for Paul Brown. The assistant head coach was beloved by players, which helped ease the tension the often-gruff Brown could create.

Collier ended up leaving in 1954 to take the head coaching position at Kentucky and had a record of 41–36–3 in eight years. He was let go as the Wildcats hired an assistant under Bear Bryant, which opened the door for a return to Cleveland.

Collier was brought back as an offensive assistant in 1962 and said he was happy to be home. He and Brown had remained friends, and the two continued to work well together, but only briefly.

When Collier installed an audible system for the offense, he was praised by the press. This irritated Brown, and he put an end to the idea, leading to the belief that Brown wanted all the good press to be centered around him. Already at odds with star running back Jim Brown, this proved to be enough motivation for Art Modell to fire Brown and replace him with Collier.

The Kentucky native had instant success with at least 10 wins in each of his first three seasons and five of eight campaigns. In 1964, they were 10-3-1 and upset the Baltimore Colts to win the NFL Championship.

Collier began to lose his hearing, leading to his retirement following the 1970 campaign. That was also his worst season as a coach, leading the Browns to a 7-7 record. In all, he was 76-34-2, finishing second in franchise history for wins behind only Paul Brown.

1. Paul Brown

Years with the Browns: 1946-62
Regular Season Record 158-48-8
Playoff Record: 9-5
Notable Stat: AAFC Championship (1946-49), NFL Championship 1950, 1954, 1955

The short-lived AAFC was dominated by the Cleveland Browns, who were led by the head coach they were named after: Paul Brown.

Brown was 47-4 during those first four seasons, and his team won the title every year. The league ended up disbanding ahead of the 1950 campaign, but due to its success and popularity, it was merged into the NFL. It was expected to be humbled by the big league, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, Cleveland went 10-2 and announced its arrival with a 35-10 beatdown of the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles. The Browns later won the NFL Championship on a last-second field goal from Lou Groza, shocking the Los Angeles Rams in the process.

By this time, Brown had entered legendary status. His titles in the NFL and AAFC were impressive, but he also won a National Championship with the Ohio State Buckeyes, proving he could win at any level.

For a total of 17 years, Brown was the leader of the franchise and worked with star players such as Otto Graham, Jim Brown, and Groza. He led it to two more titles in 1954 and 1955 and, in all, had 158 wins. Following a 7-6-1 campaign, he was fired by Art Modell. The infamous Cleveland owner had been involved in a rift with Brown for some time and finally pulled the trigger, replacing him with the more popular Blanton Collier.

Brown responded by starting the Cincinnati Bengals franchise and coached it from 1968 through 1975. He might have given the Browns one of their top rivals but still remains the greatest head coach to ever grace their sidelines.

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