The San Francisco 49ers are one of the most storied franchises in NFL history. That doesn’t happen by accident. They have a reputation of landing high-quality coaches and the team is hoping Kyle Shanahan is the next great one.
Shanahan led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and a trip to the Super Bowl after the 2019 season. He is a great offensive mind but before him, the 49ers had some coaches that revolutionized the game.
There is no doubt who No. 1 is on this list. The rest of the list, however, is certainly up for debate. Here are the top five coaches in Niners history.
5. Dick Nolan
Nolan tallied 54 wins for the 49ers from 1968-1975. He saw great success beginning in 1970 with a 10-3 season and a playoff berth. Nolan did develop an enemy during his tenure. That enemy: The Dallas Cowboys.
In 1970, Nolan and John Brodie, who was named the league’s MVP, led San Francisco to their first of three-straight division titles. They made a run to the NFC title game only to get knocked out by the Cowboys. The 49ers would return to the NFC Championship game in 1971 and got bounced by Dallas once again. The team made the playoffs for the third-straight year in 1972. This time they did not make the title game but Dallas still got the better of them in the Divisional round.
Aside from three games against the Cowboys, Nolan coached strong teams in San Francisco. The 49ers went 27-13-2 from 1970-1972. Nolan will be remembered as one of the first great coaches for the franchise.
4. Jim Harbaugh
Harbaugh’s tenure in San Francisco did not last as long as expected. After an 8-8 campaign in 2014, he left for the collegiate ranks to take the reins at Michigan. Harbaugh’s first three years were enough to land him on this list, however.
In 2011, Harbaugh led San Francisco to a 13-3 record. He was named Coach of the Year for his efforts. The 49ers would then make a run to the NFC Championship game but would eventually fall to the New York Giants. Harbaugh would take the team to two more NFC Championship games and to the Super Bowl in 2012.
Harbaugh quickly became one of the best coaches in the league and definitely one of the most animated on the sideline. He finished his tenure with a 44-19-1 record. The also 49ers went 5-3 in the postseason under Harbaugh. If he would have stayed in the NFL, he could have been higher on this list.
3. Steve Mariucci
Mariucci gains a slight advantage on this list by sticking around a little longer than Harbaugh. Mariucci was on the sidelines in San Francisco for six years. He inherited a strong team and did not disappoint while at the helm.
In his first year, Mariucci went 13-3 and won the NFC West. The season would end with an NFC Championship game loss. The team would go on to win double-digit games in four of the six years led by Mariucci. They made the playoffs after those four seasons but could never make a run all the way to the Super Bowl. They also did not reach the NFC title game after 1997. The 49ers were eliminated twice in the Divisional round and once in the Wild Card game.
Mariucci coached from 1997-2002. He went 57-39 during his time in San Francisco.
2. George Seifert
Before Mariucci, there was Seifert. He was the hand-picked successor of the all-time great who lands at No. 1 on this list. He took over a stacked team with Joe Montana under center. In 1989, Seifert coached his first season in for the Niners. Montana was named NFL MVP after a 14-2 season. They outscored opponents 126-26 in the playoffs on their way to a Super Bowl.
Montana was named MVP once again in 1990 and the 49ers went 14-2 for the second-straight year. Seifert is responsible for coaching through a major transition at quarterback. And he did it well. He led Steve Young to two MVP awards and another Super Bowl title post-Montana. He is one of 13 coaches to win multiple Super Bowls.
What Seifert accomplished as a head coach is impressive. He finished with a 98-30 record in San Francisco. The team never had less than 10 wins under Seifert and they missed the playoffs just one time from 1989 through 1997.
Seifert has the best winning percentage in team history. He was also a defensive genius and it showed. Ultimately, he resigned from the head coaching position when the 49ers did not offer him a contract extension.
1. Bill Walsh
The 49ers hired Bill Walsh in 1979 to attempt to right the ship for the struggling franchise. Early on, this did not work out. Walsh went 8-24 in his first two seasons, but it all changed when Joe Montana stepped in at quarterback.
Walsh drafted Montana in the third round of the 1979 NFL Draft. He became the full-time starter in 1981 and never looked back. In 1981, Montana and Walsh led the Niners to their first ever Super Bowl title. Walsh would go onto win double-digit games six more times. He led the 49ers to three Super Bowl victories.
Walsh is credited with implementing the West Coast offense. Montana was the perfect quarterback to run this style. The West Coast was all about quick, accurate passes. Montana has the footwork and accuracy and Walsh had the genius offensive mind. He is one of the best to ever coach in the NFL
The 49ers won 92 games with Walsh on the sideline. They won six division titles and made the playoffs in seven of Walsh’s 10 years. Nothing is impossible, but it would take quite a career to knock Walsh off his pedestal as best coach in 49ers’ history.