The 5 best coaches in the history of Atlanta Falcons

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons
New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons / Al Messerschmidt/GettyImages

The Atlanta Falcons have had 18 different head coaches in the history of the franchise. Considering the team's difficult history, it can prove challenging to rank any of Atlanta's past leaders. The Falcons are yet to win a Super Bowl and have had only six division titles in team history.

Outside of the Matt Ryan and Michael Vick eras, there has been little but misery for Falcons fans. The head coach position has often been a revolving door the team cannot find an answer to. One that continued this past offseason with the firing of Arthur Smith and the addition of Raheem Morris. This team's history at the head coach position is checkered at best.

With this in mind, we must look at the difficult history of the franchise with very specific criteria to determine who deserves a spot in the top five.

Criteria for ranking

Looking at Atlanta's history at the head coach position, the criteria is simple.

The first is which head coaches were able to hold the position past their first two years on the job. Atlanta's history at the position is extremely volatile, save a few names that stand out when looking back at franchise history.

Retaining your job requires a consistent level of winning, which leads us to the second-biggest factor in these rankings: playoff appearances. For a franchise with as frustrating a history as Atlanta, the criteria includes double-digit-win seasons and finding a way into the playoffs.

The top 5 head coaches in Atlanta Falcons history

5. Jim L. Mora

Jim Mora was hired by the Atlanta Falcons in 2004 and remained with the team until 2006. He makes this list based less on his own accomplishments and more on the lack of capable coaches in franchise history.

Mora went 26-22 during his time with Atlanta. Year 1 is the reason he makes this list, with an impressive run. The Falcons went 11-5 and blew out the Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs. An NFC Championship appearance is a coaching oddity in Atlanta history deserving of immense credit.

No matter how it played out from there, Mora pushed the 2004 Falcons to their absolute ceiling. He led the team to a 15-17 record over the next two seasons, followed by questionable comments about leaving Atlanta. As many fans might remember, this didn't sit well with owner Arthur Blank, and the two sides parted ways after two middling seasons.

Mora's legacy in Atlanta remains his first season, which gave a tired fanbase hope once again. He left Atlanta with a .542 winning percentage that ranks only behind our top choice on this list and interim head coach Wade Phillips, who coached three games.

Jim Mora remains an interesting piece of Atlanta Falcons history and, considering his competition, is deserving of the No. 5 spot on this list. Based on the talent he was given, Jerry Glanville is the only one who could challenge Mora's ranking. However, considering the respective playoff results, the nod goes to Mora this time around.

4. Leeman Bennett

Leeman Bennett served as Atlanta's head coach from 1977-82. Despite his seemingly short tenure, he is an important part of Falcons history. The franchise was founded in 1966 and was often the doormat of the league.

The team only managed nine wins once in its history before Bennett took over. The three seasons before his tenure began, the team had won only 15 combined games. In Year 1, the head coach stepped in and won nine games for only the second time in franchise history.

That was followed by a frustrating 6-10 season that would help Bennett and the team reset. In 1980 the team won double-digit games for the first time in the history of the franchise. Winning 12 games set the team up for a divisional-round matchup against the Cowboys.

The game had an all-too-familiar fourth-quarter collapse and resulted in a 30-27 Cowboys victory. But despite how it ended, Bennett was the first head coach in the history of the franchise to win double-digit games and build a respected team.

This accomplishment cannot be overlooked in Atlanta's history. Steve Bartkowski deserves credit as well, though it was the head coach who really signaled things were changing for the franchise.

Bennett finished the next two seasons with Atlanta going 12-13 with a wild-card loss in the shortened 1982 season. Perhaps not realizing how good it had it, the franchise opted to move on from Bennett after the coach was unable to break through in the playoffs.

The franchise would not find another coach with a winning record until the aforementioned Mora in 2004. Looking back at his career, Bennett was the first head coach to put the Falcons on the map and give them a sense of respectability. For that alone, he is deserving of a spot on this list.

3. Dan Quinn

Dan Quinn was the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons from 2015-20 and went 43-42 in that time. Let's start with why Quinn is deserving of this spot before laying out why he can't be considered higher. He brought a fresh attitude and perspective to the Falcons.

His somewhat cheesy "brotherhood" mantra was bought into by his players and staff. The Falcons went 8-8 in his first season, but the change was obvious. This was a team that believed in each other and the head coach. The results would show up next season with Quinn's team making its infamous Super Bowl run in Year 2.

Matt Ryan won MVP and the Falcons went 11-5 and ran through the NFC playoffs. It is inarguably the most impressive offensive season in Atlanta history. So why isn't Quinn ranked higher? We have to look at sustained winning and what you did with the talent you are given.

Once Quinn lost his star OC, this team's persona completely shifted. Quinn was unable to adjust and find the magic he did in the 2016 season. The Super Bowl collapse seemed to take belief away not only in Quinn, but from the players in each other as well.

Despite this, Quinn's team went 10-6 the following season and beat the Rams in the first round before falling to Nick Foles and the Eagles.

This is where anything good about Quinn's tenure ended.

The head coach would go 14-23 the rest of his time in Atlanta, including memorable blowouts and collapses that furthered Atlanta fans' misery. Quinn's place on this list is simply based on what he accomplished in 2016 and 2017 — the last true years of success that this franchise has seen. However, it remains fair to question how much of this success belongs to Quinn and how much to an all-star staff.

2. Dan Reeves

Dan Reeves was the Atlanta Falcons coach from 1997-2003 and went 49-59 in that time. How does a coach with a losing record earn the second spot? What ranks Reeves ahead of Bennett and Quinn simply boils down to the degree of difficulty.

Looking back at the talent Reeves had to work with, the limitations were clear. The well-respected coach elevated Atlanta in his second season, making it all the way to the Super Bowl — Atlanta's first appearance in franchise history. This accomplishment alone carries a lot of weight with the bar as low as it is in Atlanta. Reeves had an impressive run in Year 2 and can't be faulted for losing to a loaded John Elway-led Broncos squad.

However, what keeps Reeves from earning the first spot on this list is what happened in the years following. The next three seasons, Reeves' team managed only a combined 17 wins. The following season was a wild-card berth. The next year was Dan's final season with the team after a 3-10 start forced the franchise to move on.

Despite all this, Reeves was the first coach to take the Falcons to a Super Bowl. He remains second in all-time wins and is tied for first in all-time playoff wins with Dan Quinn.

Both head coaches caught lightning in a bottle and struggled for the rest of their tenures. However, what puts Reeves ahead in the conversation is the win totals, degree of difficulty, and the talent Quinn had in comparison.

Sadly, Quinn and Reeves are often remembered more for their failures than what they accomplished for the franchise. Despite this, both deserve credit for being the only two individuals to ever lead this franchise to a Super Bowl and both rank inside the top four in all-time wins and are tied for the most career playoff victories.

1. Mike Smith

Ranking Mike Smith first overall might be a controversial choice. However, there are few valid arguments otherwise. Reeves and Quinn both went deeper in the playoffs, but neither could sustain success at the level Smith did.

Mike Smith was hired in 2008 and remained with the Falcons until 2014. It is easy to make an argument that if not for front-office missteps, his tenure would have been far longer. Smith leads the franchise in career wins, going 66-46 in Atlanta.

In Smith's first five seasons, the team won double-digit games four times and made the playoffs each year. His tenure included the team's first division title since 2004. Smith led the Falcons to two of their four NFC South titles.

The problem for Smith was an inability to win in the playoffs. His teams in the first five seasons were always good but never great. Running up against legendary quarterbacks or the Giants' great defense, things simply never fell Atlanta's way.

A part of this was a clear ceiling with Smith and Matt Ryan. Another was the inability to put together a great defense.

After a great five-year run, the wheels fell off in the 2013 season with the team going 10-22 in Smith's final two years. Looking back, it is easy to see the lack of pieces Smith had in 2013 and the increase of Ryan's turnovers that stemmed from the quarterback pressing to cover for an iffy defense.

Smith's ending in Atlanta might have demanded a change. However, his first five seasons were by far the most consistent run of winning in recent Atlanta history. No head coach has come close to putting together five consecutive seasons of playoff contention.

For a seemingly cursed franchise, it isn't Super Bowl rings or appearances that determine who sits atop these rankings. It is sustained winning and playoff appearances for a franchise that so rarely has seen such results.

Smith's legacy is two division championships and four playoff berths, accolades no other coach can match with Reeves and Quinn each only having two good seasons and one magical run each. For better or worse, Mike Smith is the best coach in franchise history.

Winningest head coaches in Atlanta Falcons history by total wins


Years Coached



Win %

Mike Smith





Dan Reeves





Leeman Bennett





Dan Quinn





Norm Van Brocklin