Broncos Roundtable: Where does Sean Payton rank among AFC West coaches right now?

Zac Stevens Avatar
February 25, 2024

In less than 12 months, the AFC West changed drastically.

In Dec. 2022, the head coaches in the division were Andy Reid, Nathaniel Hackett, Brandon Staley and Josh McDaniels.

By Dec. 2023, only Reid was left.

The division has nearly a completely new look with Sean Payton running the Denver Broncos, Antonio Pierce taking over the Las Vegas Raiders and Jim Harbaugh leaving the University of Michigan for the Los Angeles Chargers.

With Harbaugh officially joining the division, where does Payton rank among the coaches in the AFC West?

The DNVR Broncos Crew breaks it down.

Where does Sean Payton rank among the AFC West head coaches?

Zac: Third — Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh are neck and neck for the No. 2 spot in the AFC West behind Andy Reid.

But when the Broncos were searching for a coach last year, Jim Harbaugh was No. 1 on my board. So, I’ll stay true to my board, even with Harbaugh now with the Chargers. There are also plenty of signs that point to Harbaugh being the Broncos’ top choice during their coaching search last year too.

But Payton is really close with Harbaugh for the second-best head coach in the division.

Harbaugh will have to prove that the NFL game hasn’t passed him by as he hasn’t been in the league since 2014. But his four years with the San Francisco 49ers were about as good as it gets, outside of winning a Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, the Chargers got a massive upgrade going from Brandon Staley to Jim Harbaugh.

The good news is Sean Payton is a helluva coach too.

Henry: Third — Andy Reid is the best coach in the NFL. Of course, he’s the best coach in the AFC West, too.

You could make a case for either Jim Harbaugh or Sean Payton as the second-best in the division, but I’m going with Harbaugh.

In his brief NFL stint in the 2010s, Harbaugh turned the 49ers into perennial contenders. Before Harbaugh arrived, the 49ers had gone eight years without a winning season. Under Harbuagh’s reign, they made three NFC Championship Games in four years.

Payton has a long track record of success. I think he proved himself once again in 2023, when he improved the Broncos’ record by three wins and helped Russell Wilson prove he’s still a deserving starting quarterback in the NFL.

Payton is one of the NFL’s best coaches, but Harbaugh’s batting average in the NFL is too high to beat even with the small sample size.

RK: Second — This one is simple to me, there are two coaches in this division that have won a Super Bowl: Andy Reid and Sean Payton. They are one and two easily with Reid obviously getting the nod to be No. 1.

Jim Harbaugh did some impressive things with the 49ers back in the day but was never able to get over that hump and one thing I definitely won’t do is factor his success at Michigan over the last couple years to factor into this ranking. As we know, college coaching success and NFL coaching success have little to no correlation.

Harbaugh is a very good coach but going to the Chargers will end up putting a stain on his resume.

Sean Payton is a Super Bowl winner and turned a mostly-irrelevant Saints franchise into a perennial contender. Even his work turning around the Broncos season last year was impressive. Payton gets the nod to be No. 2.


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