Playoff Top Twelve: Head Coaches

As we finish up our week long Playoff Top Twelve, we hit the coaches.  This ranking is done based mostly upon the answer to the question:  “Who do you trust most in a playoff game?”  I have tried to encompass my thoughts on the coaches’ experience, preparation/gameplan ability, in-game scheme adjustments, motivational ability, and late-game decision-making (e.g. clock management, 4th down decisions, etc.).  This year was actually pretty tough, as we are loaded with excellent coaches in the playoffs this year (basically the usual cast of characters – Norv Turner, Brad Childress, Wade Phillips, etc. – did not quite make it in this year).

12). Todd Haley – Chiefs.  (1 organization, 2 seasons, 14-18 regular season, 1 division title, 0-0 in playoffs) 

I actually like Todd Haley and think that he is probably going to have a pretty long, successful head coaching career.  But, on this list, he has to rank at the bottom because, right now, he is still a guy with a 14-18 record and zero playoff experience…as a head coach.  Remember, though, he was the offensive coordinator on that Arizona team that just missed winning the Super Bowl with a mediocre defense, so the certainly has playoff credentials as a coordinator.

Never accused of being soft-spoken, Todd Haley is ready to start his playoff career as a head coach

11). Pete Carroll – Seahawks.  (3 organizations, 5 seasons, 40-40 regular season, 1 division title, 1 wild card, 1-2 playoffs) 

It doesn't come with a house for two in Malibu, but life in the NFC West has its perks

I was very close to putting Carroll at #12 to give the Seahawks the sweep of the bottom spots in this week’s rankings.  However, there were a couple reasons that I have him at #11, and actually think that he is a very pretty good coach.  One, despite his short tenures, he has won just about everywhere he has been.  He coached in New England (back when they were a pretty downtrodden franchise) for three years without a losing record, including two playoff appearances.  Then, he went to USC, and we all know what he was able to do out there.  Then, he came to Seattle, and in his first year, with zero talent, somehow managed another playoff appearance.  You don’t think that Pete Carroll had a lot to do with how well the Seahawks played on that do-or-die Sunday night against the Rams?  The guys is certainly a motivator, which runs thin after a while with professionals, but, if used in moderation, can be awfully effective.  That being said, he was only 7-9 this year, and he is only a .500 NFL coach.

10). Mike McCarthy – Packers.  (1 organization, 5 seasons, 48-32 regular season, 1 division title, 2 wild cards, 1-2 playoffs, 1 NFC Championship appearance) 

Honestly, I have no idea what to think about Mike McCarthy, even after 5 years in Green Bay.  He has made the playoffs three times and, with only a minor bump in the road, brought that franchise through one of the toughest situations for a team I have seen in any sport (that whole saga with #4).  But, on the other hand, they have a ton of talent, and he has only managed ONE playoff win in five years?  And, with the complete implosion in Minnesota this year, there is no reason that they should not have have won NFC North (with all due respect to Chicago).  I know that they were hurt by a ton of close losses, but doesn’t come back to the coach, at least in some part?  I think his in-game decision-making leaves a lot to be desired, and, unlike Andy Reid, does not yet have the postseason success to allow us to overlook it.  I was actually strongly considering putting McCarthy at the very bottom of this list, but, in the end, I thought his experience and regular season success was enough to rank him slighly above Haley and Carroll, but one more flame-out in the playoffs, and I am completely off of the McCarthy bandwagon.  Consider yourself warned, Mike.

"Just when I thought I finally deserved more headlines than my brother."

9). John Harbaugh – Ravens.  (1 organization, 3 seasons, 32-16 regular season, 3 wild cards, 3-2 playoffs, 1 AFC Championship appearance) 

This is where it really gets tough to rank them.  As evidenced by his #4 on last year’s list of top playoff coaches, I really think Harbaugh is an excellent coach.  I have him down here at #9 more because I think this year’s crop of playoff coaches is just better than last year’s (and because I think Caldwell may have surpassed him).  Harbaugh took over a franchise that was at a real crossroads after the departures of Brian Billick and the late Steve McNair, and all he has done is win three road playoff games in his first two runs through the AFC.

8). Jim Caldwell – Colts.  (1 organization, 2 seasons, 24-8 regular season, 2 division titles, 2-1 playoffs, 1 AFC Championship appearance, 1 Super Bowl appearance) 

Interestingly, Harbaugh, Caldwell, and McCarthy were #4 through #6 last year, and this year, even though they all have better resumes, considering they have another playoff team to their names, they are #8 though #10.  But, again, that just shows you that when you have a playoff round without Norv, Brad, and Wade, the baseline is elevated.  That being said, I do not think that Jim Caldwell gets enough credit for the job he has done now for two years as a head coach in Indy.  He, basically, went undefeated last year and won the AFC, while this year, he faced an ungodly number of injuries and still won 10 games and the AFC South title.  Yes, he does have Peyton Manning, so it is really hard to evaluate him, but I cannot imagine that Caldwell does not deserve at least some of the credit for this team’s successes.

7). Mike Smith – Falcons.  (1 organization, 3 seasons, 33-15 regular season, 1 division title, 1 wild card, 0-1 playoffs) 

Am I too high on Mike Smith?  Maybe.  Is there reason to be this high on him?  Absolutely.  Can we think back, for a second, at just where the Atlanta Falcons franchise was before he got there.  In the wake of the Michael Vick debacle, they fired Jim Mora, Jr., and brought in the high-profile college coach, Bobby Petrino to run the team, and former high-profile college quarterback, Joey Harrington, to make everyone forget about Vick.  Well, it, not surprisingly, blew up in their face, and they were absolutely terrible.  Mike Smith comes in, drafts Matt Ryan, and the team goes to the playoffs.  They take a small step backwards last year before exploding this year at 13-3.  All the evidence points to Mike Smith as being a terrific head coach.  Granted, he has yet to win a playoff game, so, to be consistent, he should probably be ranked below guys like Caldwell and Harbaugh, but I am not sure that they could have done with this franchise what Smith has in such a short period of time.

6). Lovie Smith – Bears.  (1 organization, 7 seasons, 63-49 regular season, 3 division titles, 2-2 playoffs, 1 NFC Championship appearance, 1 Super Bowl appearance) 

"Man, you guys think Cutler throws a lot of picks? Don't you remember Sexy Rexy?"

On the proverbial “hot seat” coming into the season, Lovie Smith has proven once again that he is one of the best head coaches in the National Football League.  Actually, read the last part of that sentence again.  It even sounds strange to me, and I wrote it.  Is Lovie Smith one of the NFL’s best coaches?  Well, since I am sure not many people jump to say “yes,” stop and think of the success he has had in Chicago and then think about the talent with which he has done it.  Prolonged success for head coaches is usually accompanied by at least one thing:  a great quarterback.  Belichick has Brady; Dungy had Manning; Reid had McNabb; and, even as far back as you want to go with Walsh and Montana, Shula and Marino, Knoll and Bradshaw, and even Lombardi and Starr.  No, please do not take this the wrong way.  I am not saying that Lovie Smith is Vince Lombardi; I am just trying to make the point that all these guys had great quarterbacks.  But, Lovie Smith has now won three division titles with three different quarterbacks.  He even made the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman.  And, it is not like the Bears of Lovie’s time had a Walter Payton to handoff to or any big-time receiving weapon. Lovie Smith does not jump out at you as a fantastic coach, but don’t we often look at “doing a lot with a little” as evidence of a good coach.  Well, Lovie has, at least on the offensive side, certainly done a lot with very little to work with.

5). Rex Ryan – Jets.  (1 organization, 2 seasons, 20-12 regular season, 2 wild cards, 2-1 playoffs, 1 AFC Championship appearance) 

I have gone back and forth numerous times on Rex from the day he took the job in New York.  His bravado is awesome, but is it good for winning football games?  His charisma is perfect for HBO, but is it good for the locker room or the sideline?  His brutal honesty with the press creates fantastic copy, but does it undermine his players, particularly his young quarterback?  I am not quite sure how to answer these questions, but for now, I am going to go with what I see, and what I see is a team that overachieved last year, causing them to be extremely overrated this year, which completely hides the fact that they probably overachieved again this year.  And, they still have a playoff run to put a cap on this season.  I have a soft spot for anything to do with the Ryan family, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think Rex is doing a great job in New York, in two years, and has pulled 20 wins (plus 2 playoff wins) out of a team that probably had 14-win talent.

Mike was better as Quincy McCall in Love & Basketball than anything he's done on House

4). Mike Tomlin – Steelers.  (1 organization, 4 seasons, 43-21 regular season, 3 division titles, 3-1 playoffs, 1 AFC Championship appearance, 1 Super Bowl appearance, 1 Super Bowl title) 

What does Mike Tomlin have to do to be considered elite?  In my opinion, he may have already done it.  He won the division in his first year and then the Super Bowl in his second, and, arguably, this year, he has done the best job of his career.  This team started 3-1 with Dennis Dixon at quarterback.  They lost Polamalu a couple of times this year, but kept on trucking.  He has a fantastic demeanor and a knack for the moment, and I think he is about to have yet another one of those Super Bowl rings.  He has got it all, and the sky is the limit for his coaching ability.

3). Andy Reid – Eagles.  (1 organization, 12 seasons, 118-73-1 regular season, 6 division titles, 3 wild cards, 10-8 playoffs, 5 NFC Championship appearances, 1 Super Bowl appearance) 

For a long time, I have wanted to write a post on how NFL coaching is a strange profession that mandates a two sets of skills that are so polar opposites that it is unfair for us to expect these human beings to excel in both, and maybe our evaluation of them is too far on one side to the near ignoring of the other.  The first part of NFL coaching occurs from Monday through Saturday.  This part involves evaluating your opponent, evaluating your own team, and devising a system that creates the best possible mismatches of your guys against theirs.  This skill is deliberate, calculated, and strategic – much like a game of chess.  Then, you get to Sunday afternoon and the other part of coaching, the part where you have to make split-second decisions and adjustments depending on game situations.  This part accentuates on-the-fly decision-making, instant evaluation, and the motivational and inspirational ability – much like a game of doubles tennis.  These two skills involve incredibly divergent skill sets.  In fact, being good at one is usually at the detriment of the other.  For instance, if you are someone adept at split-second decision-making, you may tend to lack some of the discipline to sit down and make detailed evaluations with unlimited resources.  On the other hand, if you excel at the deliberate, thorough evaluation activities, you may find it difficult to switch into a mode of making instant assessments.  In my opinion, I think, while both areas are vital, I think it is far more important to be the best Monday through Saturday coach you can be.  A good gameplan will usually overcome incorrect replay challenges or wasting a timeout or two.  However, the majority of football fans only evaluate coaches by their ability on Sundays.  That is why most people think that Andy Reid is a bad head coach.  He wastes timeouts.  He is terrible at replay challenges.  His two-minutes offenses are infuriating.  But, couldn’t that just be a manifestation of the things that makes his such a great coach?  His insistence on complete analysis, his obsession with details, his “paralysis by analysis.”  Yes, that is a detriment on Sundays, but it may be the reason the Eagles win.  And, I will take all these wins, even if it makes me pull my hair out on Sunday afternoons.  Let’s face it, coaches have one job – to win.  And, Andy Reid does that as well as anyone (but one) of this generation.

2). Sean Payton – Saints.  (1 organization, 5 seasons, 49-31 regular season, 2 division titles, 1 wild card, 4-1 playoffs, 2 NFC Championship appearances, 1 Super Bowl appearance, 1 Super Bowl title) 

I ranked Payton at #3 last year, saying:  “I have, in the past, been accused of being way too high on Sean Payton, so maybe this is just another example of that, but I think he is a fantastic coach.  I know that he missed the playoffs in two of his first three seasons in New Orleans, but let’s not forget that it is the SAINTS.  His offensive gameplans gave me nightmares when he was with the Giants, and he has brought that ability to New Orleans with him.  Plus, he seems like a guy that the players trust and respect to the fullest.”  After Super Bowl run of last year, I feel a little vindicated, and I am no longer gunshy about saying that Sean Payton is the second-best coach in the NFL. 

1). Bill Belichick – Patriots.  (2 organizations, 16 seasons, 162-94 regular season, 8 division titles, 15-5 playoffs, 4 AFC Championship appearances, 4 Super Bowl appearances, 3 Super Bowl titles) 

Think this "being this best" thing ever gets old?

As easy as it was to put Brady as the #1 quarterback, it was that much easier to pick his coach as the #1 coach.  Bill Belichick is the best coach I have ever seen in any sport.  Ho-hum, another 14-2 season for the master, and this year, he has done it with talent that may even be considered “marginal.”  The defense is average.  Brady’s weapons are good, not great.  Randy Moss is gone.  Mike Vrabel and Teddy Bruschi are gone.  All those ungenius coordinators – Romeo, Charlie, Josh – are gone.  Yes, they don’t miss a beat.  What is the constant?  He is, and he’s the best.

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One Response to Playoff Top Twelve: Head Coaches

  1. Doogan says:

    Give me Mike Tomlin at #2 and bump Lovie Smith down a few spots.

    This year’s power ratings, based on all your ratings. Like last year, took the average of the three offensive ratings (but a slight added emphasis on quarterback) and the values for defense and coach and added them up, if that makes sense. Whatever, here are the results:

    1. Steelers- 31.3 (and your pick to win it all, so that makes sense!)
    2. Pats- 31
    3. Saints- 26
    4. Eagles- 24
    5. Falcons- 21.3
    6. Bears- 21
    7. Packers- 20.7
    7. Jets- 20.7
    9. Ravens- 19.7
    10. Colts- 14.7 (surprisingly low on them)
    11. Chiefs- 10.7
    12. Seahawks- 4 (nice!)

    So, according to these numbers, the Jets have a good chance of pulling the upset over Indy tomorrow, and the Eagles should handle the Pack at home.

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