The 5 best head coaches in the history of the Dallas Cowboys

1992 NFC Championship Game - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers
1992 NFC Championship Game - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers / James Smith/GettyImages

The Dallas Cowboys' Super Bowl drought is approaching 30 years, but they are still regarded as one of the NFL's preeminent franchises. They're 11th all-time in wins despite playing some 300 games less than the teams ahead of them.

In terms of championships, only the Patriots and Steelers have more than the Cowboys' five and only the Patriots have more Super Bowl appearances than Dallas. While countless Hall of Fame players have passed through the franchise, most of the success can be attributed to great coaching.

With 981 wins to account for, along with six Super Bowl titles and a whopping 36 playoff appearances which is tied with the Packers for the most of any team, let's narrow down the best head coaches in the history of the Cowboys.

The top 5 head coaches in Cowboys history

5. Mike McCarthy

McCarthy's inclusion might come as a surprise, but his impact on the franchise since he arrived in 2020 is undeniable.

Taking over for Jason "the clapper" Garrett who fittingly finished 8-8 in his final season, McCarthy has led the Cowboys to three consecutive12-win seasons. He unfortunately doesn't have the playoff success to show for it, but a Dallas team hasn't won 12 games in consecutive seasons since it happened four years in a row in the 1990s.

Say what you will about the Cowboys falling short in the playoffs under McCarthy, but he's instilled a consistency that fans haven't seen since the team won three Super Bowls in four seasons from 1992-1995. McCarthy's .627 winning percentage is the highest of any Cowboys head coach. He's flourished in the regular season in spite of an owner that refuses to spend big in the offseason.

In McCarthy's first season calling plays in 2023, Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb enjoyed the best season of their careers.

The media loves to rag on McCarthy because it's the trendy thing to do. While he needs a deep playoff run to cement his standing among the best coaches in Cowboys history, he's been an absolute revelation to the franchise after Garrett's middling tenure.

4. Bill Parcells

There is no head coach in Cowboys history that did more with less than Parcells.

For starters, Parcells inherited a team posted three straight 5-11 seasons before his arrival. Incredibly, he led Dallas back to the playoffs in his first year at the helm in 2003 and they made the playoffs in two of his four seasons. He was unable to capture a postseason win, but he rebuilt the roster and set the team up for future success.

Under Parcells, the Cowboys drafted Hall of Famers DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten, as well as Pro Bowl cornerback Terence Newman and Pro Bowl running back Marion Barber. However, Parcells' most impactful feat in Dallas was signing quarterback Tony Romo as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and molding him to a Pro Bowler by the 2006 season.

The emergence or Romo ended a run of mediocrity at quarterback in Dallas that festered since Troy Aikman retired after the 2000 season. Parcells was only 34-30 in his four seasons as Cowboys head coach, but his impact as far as developing a winning culture and retooling the roster was significant.

3. Barry Switzer

Switzer succeeded Jimmy Johnson as Cowboys head coach after Johnson mutually agreed with owner Jerry Jones to step down after leading Dallas to a Super Bowl win in 1993.

There are two ways to view Switzer's tenure in Dallas. On one hand, he took over a championship roster that won back-to-back Super Bowls. As long as he didn't screw it up, the Cowboys should be right back in the big game.

On the other hand, Switzer was hired to be the coach of a Super Bowl or bust team. He also replaced a legend in Johnson who was adored by fans and restored and then catapulted the Cowboys' brand in five years on the job. It was a no-win situation for Switzer. Either he would shoulder all the blame if Dallas fell short, or all credit would go to Johnson if they won it all.

To Switzer's credit, he was up to the task. While the Cowboys didn't reach the heights they (likely) would have if Johnson stayed on, they were 40-24 under Switzer. They lost in the NFC title game in his first year in 1994, but won the Super Bowl the following year.

Did Switzer have it "easy" relative to most coaches? No doubt, but he still deserves credit for taking Dallas back to the promised land.

2. Jimmy Johnson

It is absolutely criminal that it took until 2023 for Johnson to join the Cowboys' Ring of Honor. Simply put, the polarizing America's Team moniker doesn't exist without Johnson. As if taking over a three-win team wasn't a tall enough task, Johnson also replaced a coaching legend in Tom Landry.

The Cowboys won just one game in Johnson's first season in 1989, but they had an impressive six-win improvement the following year. That can be attributed to the famous Herschel Walker trade four games into the 1989 season that Johnson orchestrated. The draft picks acquired in that deal turned into Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Darren Woodson and Kevin Smith.

By 1991, Dallas posted an 11-5 record and won a playoff game. They lost in the divisional round, and that would be Johnson's only playoff blemish in his five years at the helm.

The Cowboys were Super Bowl champs in 1992 and '93. In total, Johnson posted a 44-36 record, which is incredible given he went 1-15 in his first season, and 7-1 in the playoffs. It's widely believed that Dallas would have rattled off four straight Super Bowls had Johnson stayed on as coach.

Due to a rift with owner Jerry Jones that has puzzled Cowboys fans to this very day, Johnson mutually agreed to abandon his post after the 1993 season. The silver lining to it all is that Johnson left Dallas on top.

1. Tom Landry

The first head coach of the Cowboys in 1960, Landry might be the most iconic head coach in the history of the NFL. His 29-year run with Dallas is tied with Curly Lambeau for the longest tenure with one team of any NFL head coach.

The Cowboys didn't win a single game in Landry's first season (0-11) and they were a combined 25-53 over his first six seasons. The rough patch was understandable for a debutant head coach presiding over an expansion team. The rest, as they say, is history.

Landry went on to set an NFL record with 20 straight winning seasons spanning 1966-1985. In total, Dallas was 250-162 (.605 winning percentage) under Landry, took home 13 division titles and made the playoffs 18 times in a 20-year span. The historic run culminated in two Super Bowl wins in 1971 and 1977, five total Super Bowl appearances and 12 appearances in the conference championship.

The 5 best head coaches in Cowboys history by wins



Years with Cowboys

Lifetime Record


Tom Landry




Jason Garrett




Jimmy Johnson




Barry Switzer




Mike McCarthy