fb-pixel Skip to main content
Chad Finn

Ranking the other AFC East coaches during Bill Belichick’s tenure

Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan didn’t always see eye to eye.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

When Bill Belichick was hired as the 14th head coach in New England Patriots history on January 27, 2000, these were his sideline peers in the AFC East:

Wade Phillips (Bills), Jim Mora (Colts), Al Groh (Jets) and Dave Wannstedt (Dolphins).

Only Phillips and Mora were holdovers from 1999. The Jets turned to Groh when Belichick resigned after a single day on the job, while Wannstedt was hired after Jimmy Johnson quit in mid-January.

If it feels like a long time ago, that’s because, well, it was. But so much has happened since — 22 different coaches have come and usually gone in the division since Belichick arrived in Foxborough — that it almost feels even longer than 16 seasons.


If you’d insisted to me that the fellow AFC East head coaches when Belichick joined the Pats were, I don’t know, Marv Levy, Ted Marchibroda, Walt Michaels and, Don Shula, I might have bought the misdirection for a moment.

Then I would have remembered the bemusing truth: That quartet is far too collectively successful to have coached in the AFC East in the Belichick age.

Of those 22 men to have coached in the division against Belichick — with Todd Bowles and the recently fired Rex Ryan having each helmed a pair of teams in that span — it is comically difficult to determine who is the second-most successful.

How do I know this? I counted them down, of course, from worst to a theoretical first runner-up.

Almost all have been vanquished by poor performance, unrealistic expectations, and the burden of having to face Belichick twice per season, though there is an interesting new kid in town.

Check out this list, snicker if you must, and then thank your lucky stars again that Robert Kraft coughed up a first-round pick for Belichick despite his below-.500 career record 16 years ago. There are a few franchise quarterbacks. He remains the only franchise coach.


To the defeated …

22. Cam Cameron: Dolphins (2007)

Yep, he’s worse than the interim guys. The Dolphins’ lone win of Cameron’s lone season came in overtime against the Ravens in Week 15, when Cleo Lemon hit Greg Camarillo with a 64-yard touchdown pass. If you squinted in that moment, they were almost reminiscent like Dan Marino to Mark Clayton. OK, not really. They still looked like Cleo Lemon to Greg Camarillo, just much luckier than usual.

21. Chan Gailey: Bills (2010-12)

Also worse than the interim guys. Why? In three seasons, Gailey’s teams had a negative-295 point differential. That seems hard to do, even with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback for 45 of those games.

20. Anthony Lynn: Bills (2016, interim)

He’s 48 years old, and he’s won a playoff game more recently as a player (for the 1998 Super Bowl champion Broncos) than the Bills have as a franchise (1995; their last playoff appearance was in ’99). I suppose that somehow passes for hope.

19. Dan Campbell: Dolphins (2015, interim)

The only NFL coach I’ve ever seen who acted like he was auditioning to be a Gronkowski brother.

18. Perry Fewell: Bills (2009, interim)

Took over for Jauron in Week 11 and went 3-4 the rest of the way, including a 30-7 win over the casual 14-1 Colts in the season finale. They’ve had worse.

17. Jim Bates: Dolphins (2004, interim)


A longtime and well-regarded assistant coach, Bates took over in Week 11 after Dave Wannstadt was fired with one win in nine games and promptly led the Dolphins to a 3-4 finish. That included one of the weirdest losses of the Belichick era, a 29-28 Miami win in which A.J. Feeley led the then 2-11 Dolphins over the 12-1 Patriots by overcoming a 28-17 deficit in the final 2 minutes and 7 seconds.

16. Gregg Williams: Bills (2001-03)

The eventual Bountygate mastermind saw his first Buffalo team win three games while being outscored by an average of nearly 10 points per game. Somehow he kept his job for two more years. The high? A 31-0 over the ‘’they hate their coach’’ Patriots in Week 1 in 2003. The low? The bookend 31-0 loss to the eventual champion Patriots in the season – and Williams’s — finale.

15. Joe Philbin: Dolphins (2012-15)

Admit it: You can’t even remember what he looks like. Don’t sweat it. I imagine the same applies to many of his former players, who in 2012, by the way, dropped on us the most boring edition of Hard Knocks yet.

14. Dick Jauron: Bills (2006-09)

I’m not sure whether this is amusing or sad, but the Bills went 7-9 in each of his three full season – and that 7-9 in 2007 was good for second place in the division, a mere nine games back of the Patriots.

13. Mike Mularkey: Bills (2004-05)

Went 9-7 in his first season, which I suppose is impressive within the context of his 26-46 overall coaching record with three teams (2012 Jaguars, 2015-16 Titans).


Bill Belichick (right) and Jets coach Eric Mangini hugged it out at midfield after the Patriots defeated New York in a playoff game.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

12. Eric Mangini: Jets (2006-08)

Wouldn’t you love to see the look on Belichick’s face the first time he heard the nickname ‘’Mangenius.’’ Mangini is so dead to Belichick that he couldn’t be more dead to him if he were actually, you know, dead. It did seem like he could coach initially (10-6 in ’06), but it was his Jets rather than the Patriots that crumbled into a heap after Spygate, winning just one of their next eight games after the season-opening rout by the Patriots. They finished a mere 12 games out in the division that year.

11. Todd Bowles: Dolphins (2011, interim); Jets (2015-16)

With a game to go, the Jets have allowed 85 more points than they did in 16 games last year while scoring 142 fewer. I thought Bowles – who went 2-1 during his interim stint in Miami, the only loss coming by a touchdown to the Super Bowl-bound Patriots – was a budding star as a coach when the Jets went 10-6 last year. They’re 4-11 now, and come January, I’m not even sure he will be an employed coach. There’s an interesting book to be written about all of the seemingly good things that have gone bad for this franchise. Might require more than one volume.

10. Doug Marrone: Bills (2013-14)

In his second season, he rode the magic of Kyle Orton to nine wins and a second-place finish – both ties for franchise highs for the Bills since 2000. He then opted out of his contract, presumably recognizing that there was nowhere to go but down after that breathtaking Buffalo high.


9. Nick Saban: Dolphins (2005-06)

He went 9-7 his first year, 6-10 the next, and then left to begin his unspoken but nearly fulfilled quest to become the greatest college coach of all-time. I suspect he would have eventually succeeded in the NFL had he stuck around and at least figured out how to feign actual human emotions such as empathy and humor. Now that you mention it, yes, it also probably would have helped to have chosen Drew Brees over Daunte Culpepper in March 2006.

8. Al Groh: Jets (2000)

A longtime colleague of both Parcells and Belichick (who had him on his staff in Cleveland), Groh was the beneficiary, if you want to call it that, of the latter’s decision to resign as HC of the NYJ after one day on the job before the 2000 season. Groh went 9-7 before leaving to coach his alma mater, Virginia. No word on whether he broke the news to Parcells with a hastily scribbled resignation note.

7. Herm Edwards: Jets (2001-05)

He played to win the game. He won 48.2 percent of his games with the Jets, though he did mix in two 10-win seasons.

6. Wade Phillips: Bills (2000)

He was 8-8 in his one season that overlapped with the Belichick era in New England, but the Bills won 21 total games in his first two years, 1998-99. I’m counting partial credit for those here. One of those one-side-of-the-ball whizzes who hits his ceiling a defensive coordinator. Right, like Rex Ryan. Or Pete Carroll until he gained an edge.

5. Tony Sparano: Dolphins (2008-12)

He talked a good (and expletive-laden) game, even if his team didn’t always play one (he was 29-33 overall, playoffs included.) Sparano always struck me as how Joe Pesci would have interpreted Al Pacino’s role in ‘’Any Given Sunday.” He is, however, the only coach other than Belichick to finish first in the AFC East since 2003 – his 11-5 Dolphins won a tiebreaker with the 11-5 Brady-less Patriots in 2008.

4. Rex Ryan: Jets (2009-14), Bills (2015-16)

In six seasons with the Jets, he was 46-50. In a game shy of two with the Bills, he was 15-16. His teams finished no better than .500 in any of his last six years. But his Jets did end the 2010 Patriots season, and impressively so. Not sure how much longer he can turn that win into opportunity and profit, but at least he remains undefeated in offseasons and press conferences.

3. Adam Gase: Dolphins (2016)

Is he already the best coach in the division during Belichick’s 16 seasons? I’m only half-kidding, maybe even just a quarter-kidding. Heck, I’m not sure I’m kidding at all. After a 1-4 start, the Dolphins have won 9 of 10. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a perennial tease, was thriving before he injured his knee, the defense is talented and tough, and Jay Ajayi is a force of nature at running back. Gase has done a remarkable job, and remember: He was the offensive coordinator in Denver when the Broncos ended the Patriots season in the 2013 AFC Championship Game. Keep an eye on this guy. Patriots fans shouldn’t trust him. He might actually be more than competent. He might actually be good.

2. Jim Mora: Colts (2000-01)

Playoffs? Playoffs? Uh, yes, actually. The Colts, in Peyton Manning’s third season (and first great one), made the postseason as a wild card with a 10-6 record. It was their second-to-last season in the AFC East. Imagine if there had been no realignment and Brady and Manning had been division rivals for all those years. (FYI: Mora’s famous rant came in 2001. The Colts finished 6-10.)

Dave WannstedtAP

1. Dave Wannstedt: Dolphins (2000-04)

No, really. This is No. 1. In 16 years, this is the best the Patriots’ division rivals could do. I don’t know that he gets a lot of respect, probably because his mustache has always looked like it’s glued on crooked, but Wannstedt had a respectable run in Miami, winning between 9 and 11 games in each of his first four seasons. He is just one of three coaches to win a division title during Belichick’s reign, having done so in 2000 while Belichick was fumigating the mess Pete Carroll and Bobby Grier left behind. That’s one more AFC East title than Jimmy Johnson won with the Dolphins.

Follow Chad Finn on Twitter at @GlobeChadFinn.