Ranking AFC West head coaches: Jim Harbaugh's bold debut with Chargers

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The AFC West has undergone a seismic shift at head coach over the last two years. While one head coach is coming off back-to-back Super Bowls, the other three head coaches in the division have been prominent hires who were made over the last two offseasons.

Jim Harbaugh is the latest of those hires as he finally stopped flirting with the NFL and took the LA Chargers job. As the most polarizing head coaching hire of the offseason, it is worth seeing where he stacks up against his new peers.

Ranking every head coach in the AFC West:

4. Antonio Pierce, Las Vegas Raiders

Antonio Pierce was a great story for the Las Vegas Raiders last season. Pierce commanded the locker room after taking over for Josh McDaniels and did such a good job that Vegas had no choice but to hire him full-time. Pierce is a leader of men and he led the Raiders to a 5-4 record after a disastrous start under McDaniels.

All that being said, it is impossible to rank Pierce ahead of the decorated head coaches in the division when he only has nine games coached. Sure, those nine games were a great story, but it is important to not become prisoners of the moment over a small sample size.

It is also important to note that only one of those five wins was a "good win" (and it was as good as it gets, beating the Chiefs on Christmas). The other four wins were against the New York Giants, New York Jets, LA Chargers (without Justin Herbert), and Denver Broncos (with Jarrett Stidham).

3. Sean Payton, Denver Broncos

Sean Payton is one of two Super Bowl-winning head coaches in the AFC West but he still checks in as the third-best head coach heading into 2024. As much as Payton may have accomplished before, he is yet to prove anything on the Denver Broncos and, quite frankly, hasn't proven anything since Drew Brees retired.

Payton won his lone Super Bowl 15 years ago. Since then, Payton is 5-7 in the playoffs and has been a .500 head coach since Brees retired. Truly great head coaches don't "retire" to get away from New Orleans after their quarterback retires only to force his way to a different team a year later.

Payton can absolutely move up this list if he proves himself with a young quarterback in Bo Nix. But as it stands right now, Payton looks a lot more like Mike McCarthy than any Broncos fan cares to admit.

2. Jim Harbaugh, LA Chargers

Jim Harbaugh has not coached in the NFL in a decade and he still checks in as the second-best head coach in the AFC West. There are quite a few divisions where Harbaugh would be ranked No. 1 but there is a future Hall of Famer leading back-to-back Super Bowl champions in the division.

Harbaugh has won everywhere he has coached as a result of his culture-shifting coaching style. Fans are already seeing the shifts in mentality from the Chargers before training camp even begins, which is such a welcomed sight after the last three seasons under Brandon Staley.

It might not happen right away but given Harbaugh's track record, there is a good chance the Chargers will be in the Super Bowl conversation in the next half-decade. Sure, it has been 10 years since Harbaugh coached in the league, but he was the biggest hire in recent NFL history for a reason.

1. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs

Andy Reid isn't just the best head coach in the AFC West, he is the best active head coach in the NFL. Now that Bill Belichick is out of the picture, Reid holds the No. 1 spot without any controversy as he has led the Chiefs to new heights over the last half-decade.

Granted, it helps having the best quarterback in the sport but Reid was successful before Patrick Mahomes came around. Kansas City often outperformed expectations prior to Mahomes' arrival and all it took was Reid to find the right QB to win three Super Bowls in five years.

Barring the greatest run in NFL history by Harbaugh and the Chargers, Reid's spot as the No. 1 coach in the AFC West is etched in stone until he decides to hang it up and retire.