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Who was the better head coach: Marvin Lewis or Jack Del Rio?

Lewis’ long-time friend is rumored to be the Bengals’ next defensive coach. His head coaching career measures fairly even with Lewis as well.

Oakland Raiders v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Rumor surfaced on Sunday that the Bengals wanted to hire Jack Del Rio as their new defensive coordinator.

If true, this would be a great move. The only active coaches in the NFL with more head coaching experience are Bill Belichick and Andy Reid. His dozen years of head coaching experience would give a huge boost to the worst defense in the NFL last season.

But this got us thinking, who is the better head coach? Del Rio or Marvin Lewis?

These two have been connected for almost two decades.

The two coaches were on the same staff in the late 1990s and early 2000s when they won the Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. Del Rio was the linebackers coach for Lewis’ defense before taking the defensive coordinator job for a year with the Carolina Panthers. Both would get their first head coaching stint in 2003. By 2005, both were in the playoffs, and both were eliminated in the first round.

The beginnings of their careers are nearly identical, so who had the better overall career as a head coach? Let’s examine the numbers:

Lewis vs. Del Rio

Coach Seasons Games Wins Losses Ties PCT Playoff games Playoff wins Playoff losses Playoff PCT
Coach Seasons Games Wins Losses Ties PCT Playoff games Playoff wins Playoff losses Playoff PCT
Marvin Lewis 16 256 131 122 3 0.518 7 0 7 0
Jack Del Rio 12 187 93 94 0 0.497 4 1 3 0.25

In order to figure out which is the most successful, we’ll look at five different categories to determine which one would win in this hypothetical arena.


To gauge how well each coach did in the earlier parts of their head coaching careers, let’s look at what their teams looked like before they got there.

We all know the story of the Bengals. Dick LeBeau, arguably the worst head coach in franchise history, led the Bengals to a 2-14 season in 2002, bottoming out an 11-year stretch of misery.

Del Rio took over a 6-10 Jacksonville Jaguars team that finished in third place in the AFC South in 2002. His tenure began only four years removed from a 14-2 season in which the Jaguars won first place in the AFC Central, but lost in the Conference Championship to Jeff Fisher’s Tennessee Titans.

Del Rio was the second head coach in Jaguars franchise history, following Tom Coughlin who took over when the team was founded in 1995. Coughlin recorded four-straight winning seasons from 1996-1999, winning the division crown twice in that stretch. But he then recorded three losing seasons, so the franchise gave him the boot.

Point being, while the Bengals were wallowing in the basement of the AFC Central, the Jaguars enjoyed more success in the same division.

But as the Bengals were rising up the ranks of the AFC, the Oakland Raiders were quickly falling. The Raiders of the 2000s were just as miserable as the Bengals of the 1990s.

As soon as Del Rio and Lewis got the reigns of their first head coaching jobs, Bill Callahan recorded the first of what ended up being 13 straight seasons of a .500 or worse performance for Oakland. The Raiders shuffled through Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable, Hue Jackson, and Dennis Allen before settling on Del Rio, who had been the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos since losing his job in Jacksonville in 2011.

When Del Rio took over the Raiders in 2015, it only took him two years to record the teams’ first winning season since 2002.

However, he couldn’t sustain his success, and was axed after a 6-10 season in 2017. So his one good season with the Raiders ended up just being a flash in the pan as the Raiders would go 3-13 the year after he left.

Winner: Lewis

Regular Season

As you can see, Lewis has a better career winning percentage, going .518 in his only stint as a head coach.

Del Rio, on the other hand, ended his stint with the Jaguars with a .489 winning percentage, and even though he finished his Raiders tenure with a .521 percentage, that wasn’t enough to elevate his career record to above .500. The only reason he has a winning percentage in Oakland is because of his only winning season there. If not for 2016, Del Rio would be 13-19.

It’s also noting that Del Rio has never won a division crown. He finished second in the AFC South twice and second in the AFC West once. In 2016, Del Rio’s Raiders were tied for the second-best record in the AFC, but lost the tiebreaker to the Kansas City Chiefs, so were forced to settle for second place in the West.

Lewis, on the other hand, won his division four times and came in second another four times. So Lewis had more second place finishes than Del Rio in addition to the first place finishes that Del Rio never achieved.

Even though Lewis coached 69 more games (which is four seasons plus change), he was more productive with the seasons he had than Del Rio could manage.

Winner: Lewis


Just about any head coach could beat Lewis in a discussion about the playoffs, but Del Rio in particular has a slightly better record. Del Rio’s only playoff win came as the head coach of the Jaguars, beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh in 2008. Since Lewis can’t even do that in the regular season, Del Rio wins this section by a wide margin.

Winner: Del Rio

Coaching tree

Neither coach has that great of a coaching tree, but we’ll take a look just for fun.

Lewis’s assistants that became head coaches include Leslie Frazier, Mike Zimmer, Jay Gruden, Vance Joseph, and Hue Jackson. While Jackson might be the worst head coach in NFL history, Gruden and Zimmer have both made the playoffs in recent years.

Del Rio’s coaching tree consists of Mike Smith, Dirk Koetter, and Anthony Lynn. The latter is the most successful coach in the list, while Smith and Koetter failed to leave their mark in the NFL.

For right now, Lewis edges out Del Rio in this category mostly due to the number of branches on the tree. But if Lynn lives up to his potential, he might be enough to tip the scales.

Winner: Lewis


How will these coaches be remembered? It’s hard to say at the moment.

We know that Lewis left Cincinnati as the longest-tenured and winningest head coach in franchise history. His 16 seasons, 256 games, 131 wins, 122 losses, 3 ties and playoff appearances are all the most ever in Cincinnati. As much as the last few seasons soured his legacy, Lewis is one of the best head coaches the Bengals have ever had.

While Del Rio hold the Jaguars record for most seasons and games coached, Coughlin edges him out in pretty much every other category. Both are tied at 68 wins for the most in franchise history, but Coughlin has more playoff berths, games coached, and wins. Not to mention, Coughlin has more hardware than Del Rio to cement himself in franchise lore.

With the Raiders, Del Rio may be the best coach they have had in recent years. However, when you consider the whole history of the organization, Del Rio pales in comparison to other spectacular head coaches like John Rauch, John Madden and Tom Flores.

If you want to look at awards, both have been recognized as Coach of the Year from a different organization. Lewis won the AP award in 2009 and Del Rio won the Earle “Greasy” Neale award (also known as the Maxwell Football Club COTY Award) in 2016. Since the AP’s award is more widely recognized, Lewis gets the slight edge here.

When we look at both the mark left on the franchises and the quality of hardware won, Lewis takes the cake.

Winner: Lewis

The longtime Bengals coach wins out in most categories in this debate, so Lewis is deemed the better head coach in our opinion.

While connections between the two run deep from the beginning of their careers, the two will just miss each other. While Lewis was not technically the defensive coordinator in 2018, he was for all intents and purposes after he fired Teryl Austin. So Del Rio will look to fill Lewis’ spot and hopefully do a better job.

If the rumors are true and the Bengals want to hire Del Rio as their defensive coordinator, he will have his work cut out for him. His wealth of head coaching experience will help the young Taylor as he begins his own head coaching career.