Silverman: Smith, Kubiak Lead This Year’s Class Of Top NFL Coaches
By Steve Silverman
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There’s going to be a lot of carnage in the NFL this year on New Year’s Eve.
When the regular season ends Dec. 30, 10 or more coaches could lose their job the next day.
The NFL is not a place for the patient, yet the two most successful coaches in this year’s regular season have benefited from owners who take a long-term view.
Heading into Week 14, both Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons and Gary Kubiak of the Houston Texans have 11-1 teams, and it would be a major upset if either of those clubs lose their No. 1 seeds in the NFC and AFC, respectively, when the regular season ends.
Smith could easily have lost his job last year. He has never won a playoff game and his team has turtled when it reaches the postseason. Last year’s 24-2 wild-card loss to the Giants was particularly galling to owner Arthur Blank.
Going into that game, the Falcons and Giants were looked at as near-equals, but the Giants were simply the tougher team. They punched the Falcons in the mouth early in the game and Atlanta had no response.
That’s usually not a good way for a head coach to keep his job. But Blank turned the other cheek and the likable Smith has responded — in the regular season.
The Texans seemed to have the talent to become a playoff team long ago, but they didn’t make the postseason until last year. Kubiak seemed just a tad too laid back, but owner Bob McNair didn’t care about his coach having a soft-as-butter personality and demanding respect. He wanted an intelligent football coach who had a plan for each of his players to play their best football.
Smith and Kubiak are the favorites for the Coach of the Year Award as the season has reached the three-quarters mark and turns for home.
However, there are other coaches who deserve serious consideration. Start off with John Fox in Denver. In many ways, Fox had the easiest job of any coach once the Broncos signed Peyton Manning in the offseason.
If Manning was healthy and could still throw the football – and he proved that early on – all Fox had to do was put together a strong defense.
No matter how the Broncos may say that Mike McCoy is their offensive coordinator, Manning is running the show. And that show has been a beauty, with the Broncos winning seven in a row.
If Fox had wanted to put his imprint on the offense, it’s doubtful the Broncos would not have the fifth-ranked offense in the league.
Greg Schiano is not going to win any popularity contest with his peers, but he can coach in the NFL. His predecessor Raheem Morris had lost control with the Bucs in 2011 and the team was awful and lost its discipline, so it was obvious that Schiano had to give his players a plan and make sure that they followed it to the letter.
That was good enough to get the Bucs on track, but he also has rebuilt the confidence level of quarterback Josh Freeman. Freeman was a big stiff a year ago, throwing 16 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions.
This year, Freeman has been one of the better stories in the NFL. His TD-interception ratio has improved to 23-to-8. Freeman is no dinker and dunker, either. He has 43 passes of 20 or more yards and 13 of 40 or more.
Schiano is playing a big part of that improvement.
Bruce Arians has done a superlative job in Indianapolis since being asked to step in for head coach Chuck Pagano following his cancer diagnosis. Much has been made of the team wanting to win for their sick head coach and they have been engaged emotionally.
That’s just a small part of what the Colts have been able to do. This was the worst team in the league last year and while they have a highly touted rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck, Arians has gotten the best out of the offensive line and a no-name running attack. He also has found a way to coax an All-Pro type year out of Reggie Wayne.
Arians will give way to Pagano when he is able to take the coaching reins again. However, Arians may become the top name on a lot of head coaching lists when the firing season begins on New Year’s Eve.
Who’s your pick right now for Coach of the Year? Let Steve know in the comments below!