Who is the Coach of the Year?
by Rick Rockwell
Unbelievably, only the National Football League’s rookie coaches are true contenders for Coach of the Year honors this year.
One of those coaches has his team already in the playoffs. Two of those coaches have their teams poised to take a playoff spot.
No, Jim Zorn, the coach of Washington’s red and gold is the only rookie coach not among that select and high-performing group. Recently, in trying to kiss-up to the team’s management that believes in coddling superstar running back Clinton Portis, Zorn called himself “the worst coach in America.” (This came after Zorn had benched Portis for part of a game.) And then his team went out and severely wounded the Philadelphia Eagles (my wounded Hero Team!) and their chances to make the playoffs. Zorn’s bunch is already out of the playoff hunt, but with a win this weekend, they could be over .500 for the year in a very tough division.
Actually, much of the Coach of the Year voting is likely to be decided on the field this weekend.
Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons has the inside track on the voting. His team is already in the playoffs. The Falcons are playing for a bye week and the second seed in the league’s playoff scheme. Certainly, Smith’s case has been helped along by a rookie quarterback sensation (Matt Ryan). Smith also enjoyed the acquisition and emergence of Michael Turner as one of the league’s premiere running backs. And then there’s the Falcons’ staunch defense to consider too. Some might argue some of these pieces were in place before Smith arrived in Atlanta. But what folks can’t forget is that the Falcons were in disarray when Smith took charge; the team was disillusioned by not just the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal but also over a coach that bolted mid-season. In one year, Smith and a revamped Falcons front office have made the Falcons contenders. Getting all that new talent to gel as a team isn’t easy.
Then there’s John Harbaugh in Baltimore. Coach Harbaugh also found a way to make a rookie quarterback (Joe Flacco) click and moved the Ravens’ moribund offense into third gear and respectability. If the Ravens roll this weekend over the floundering Jaguars like they did last week over the inconsistent Cowboys, then not only will Harbaugh get his team into the playoffs but also he has an argument in the Coach of the Year sweepstakes. However, Harbaugh’s argument carries less of an edge than Smith’s in Atlanta. The Ravens were a playoff team just two years ago. The team has one of the league’s best defenses, a hallmark of the Ravens for years, and the Ravens retained Rex Ryan as defensive coordinator, a carry-over from the Brian Billick era. And then one of the wisest general managers in the game, Ozzie Newsome also provided Harbaugh with plenty of the right talent. (Newsome, by the way, has actually rebuilt the Ravens three times now — twice since the Super Bowl championship in 2001.)
But the hands-down choice for Coach of the Year should be Tony Sparano in Miami, if his team manages to beat the New York Jets this weekend and head to the playoffs. Sparano took a team that was 1-15 last year and turned it into one that would challenge for a division championship. Last year, folks were writing about the Dolphins like they are writing this year about the winless Detroit Lions (the difference being the Lions are worse than the 2007 Dolphins, if that is possible, and are likely headed to the first 0-16 season). Sure, Sparano had front office help too. The legendary Bill “The Tuna” Parcells revamped the Dolphins’ sorry operation (this column actually predicted as much but who knew it would happen this quickly?) and remade the roster. (Those folks in Dallas have more proof that Parcells, without the meddling of owner Jerry Jones might have delivered them a championship. The foundation of the Cowboys is still the team The Tuna built.) Parcells’ best move: acquiring quarterback Chad Pennington, his old protégé from when The Tuna steered the operations of the New York Jets. But again, Sparano deserves the bulk of the credit. He is the innovator who unleashed the revamped single wing formation (now called the wildcat) on the league and many teams copied the Dolphins’ success. Sparano faced a rebuilding challenge more monumental than any of the other coaches. He deserves the accolades, perhaps even if his team fails this weekend.
Week 17 Office Pool Predictions
Game of the Week: Dolphins at Jets (Jets)
Upset Special: Washington at 49ers (Washington)
Cowboys at Eagles (Cowboys)
Titans at Colts (Colts)
Jaguars at Ravens (Ravens)
Seahawks at Cardinals (Cardinals)
Giants at Vikings (Vikings)
Patriots at Bills (Patriots)
Raiders at Buccaneers (Buccaneers)
Broncos at Chargers (Chargers)
Bears at Texans (Bears)
Chiefs at Bengals (Bengals)
Panthers at Saints (Panthers)
Lions at Packers (Packers)
Rams at Falcons (Falcons)
Browns at Steelers (Steelers)
Last Week: .313
2008 Season: .615
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Coach of the Year
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Who is the Coach of the Year?