As a seasoned veteran of NFL fandom, I’m no stranger to the revolving door at the head coaching position.
The competitive, win-now nature of modern day football has created a results-driven business, which puts the pressure on coaches to deliver immediately or be shown out. Ken Whisenhunt of the Tennessee Titans and Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins have been this season’s victims, and one cannot help but doubt the futures of Chuck Pagano, Jim Tomsula, etc. at their respective teams.
Even Sean Payton and Tom Coughlin, who are Super Bowl winners, may be out of a job in 2016.
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In spite of the never-ending musical chairs game of head coaching, let’s celebrate the coaches who have done brilliantly for their teams by putting them in a good position to make a championship run. There are a lot of worthy candidates, but these are the candidates with the best chance of winning Coach of the Year honours:
1. Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
Who could have guessed that a coach, in charge of a miserable 3-8-1 team, seemingly on the brink of being fired just over a year ago would currently be at the helm of a 14-0 team in pursuit of perfection, especially after losing Kelvin Benjamin for the season before it even began?
While analysts and media personalities have fallen over themselves in their haste to crown Cam Newton as league MVP, “Riverboat Ron”, as he is popularly called, continues to lead his team to victories from backstage.
His hard-nosed defensive background has been mirrored in the Panthers’ aggressive and intimidating style of play, which has been a huge factor in their otherworldly season. This has also led to the meteoric rise of Josh Norman, who may well be the best cornerback in the NFL at the moment.
Rivera’s Panthers are the favourites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and have a very strong chance of winning it all in February; anything less would be a huge disappointment.
2. Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
The defending champion is making another run at securing his second consecutive Coach of the Year award, and he has done more than enough to merit consideration. Last year, his Arizona Cardinals looked like the best team in the NFL through the first ten weeks and appeared to be on its way to becoming the first team in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be as the Cardinals were plagued by injuries, most notably to QB Carson Palmer, which all but ended their Super Bowl quest. This year’s edition of the Cardinals are back on track and are perhaps the most dangerous team to the Panthers.
The loss of star defensive back Tyrann Mathieu to a season-ending ACL tear will be a very big blow to the team and may prove to be fatal to their chances, but with the talent they possess and the coaching prowess of Arians, you had better not count the new NFC West champions out. Arians guaranteed that his team would be dressing up in Levi's stadium’s locker room, home of Super Bowl 50 and I don’t know about you but I’d rather not bet against him.
3. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are the hottest team in the NFL…well if you don’t count the Steelers, Seahawks, Panthers and Cardinals. But they’re really hot right now, and for good reason.
After defeating the Texans in week 1, the Chiefs went ahead to drop five games straight, including an agonizing defeat to the Broncos, which was gift-wrapped and delivered following a plethora of costly mistakes. As if that wasn't bad enough, they lost their best offensive weapon, Jamaal Charles, for the year to a torn ACL.
At that point, it looked like the Chiefs were done and could only hope to squeeze 5 wins out of an apparently lost season. The playoffs were out of the question. Fast-forward to the present and the Chiefs are well and truly alive in the playoff race. Reid has rallied his team to a ten-game winning streak and the Chiefs are a lock to make the playoffs, especially as they are likely to win out. Come playoff time, this team could cause some major damage especially when you consider how shaky Denver has looked recently. Watch out for these Chiefs!
4. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Love him or hate him, Bill Belichick, quite frankly, doesn’t care in the slightest. All he cares about is how to win the next game. The unsentimental, ruthless and business-like attitude is part and parcel of the persona of the man who is, in my opinion, the greatest head coach of the Super Bowl era.
Label him as you please but he’s the most consistent head coach in the National Football League, which is why he has been at the helm for 15 years. Coming off another Super Bowl win, many expected the losses of Revis Island, Brandon “P.I” Browner, Shane Vereen, and the other players crucial to their victory to damage their Super Bowl aspirations.
Some even predicted that the Dolphins (otherwise known as the Lolphins in some parts) or Bills would vanquish the Beast of the East and win the division. Look how that ended. The Patriots only went ahead and claimed their seventh successive AFC East title (13th in the last 15 years). Tom Brady finds your lack of faith disturbing. Even with the Arsenal-like injury list, the Patriots march on relentlessly in their quest to become only the second team in NFL history to win back-to-back Super Bowls twice.
Worthy mentions: Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers; Todd Bowles, New York Jets; Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings.