By Steve Silverman
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NFL head coaches tend to be more revered than their counterparts in Major League Baseball, the NBA or the NHL. The sheer size of a 53-man roster means that he must demonstrate command over his players and the strength to make tough decisions.
There’s a lot more military might to NFL head coaches than there are the leaders of the other sports.
However, that’s just the first impression.
Head coaches have to be expert strategists, motivators and planners. In past generations, they also had to be first-rate teachers. In today’s game, that aspect of the profession is largely left up to the assistants. However, the best head coaches will not ignore that aspect, as they will make “suggestions” to players that can alter their career paths.
With the season less than a month away, we look at the head coaches who are most likely to have the biggest impact on their teams.
Bill Belichick, New England Patriots – Three Super Bowl titles means that Belichick has earned a spot in the Hall of Fame any time he wants to call it a career. While it has been a decade since his Patriots won their last Super Bowl, his team’s consistency is testimony to his intelligence, preparation and knowledge of the game.
No coach is better than Belichick when it comes to finding his opponent’s weakness and exploiting it. All coaches study film; Belichick sees things that most coaches miss. His teams have been to the playoffs 10 of the last 11 seasons, and the Pats recorded an 11-5 record without an injured Tom Brady in 2008, the only year they didn’t make it.
Is there any doubt that the Patriots will make it back to the postseason again in 2014?
Tom Coughlin, New York Giants – While Coughlin will turn 68 at the end of the month and is the oldest coach in the league, he has changed his style more than anyone. Coughlin was a disciplinarian and martinet who threatened players that didn’t follow his orders.
However, Coughlin changed his style prior to the 2007 season and started treating his players like men. The Giants won the Super Bowl that year, and new Hall of Famer Michael Strahan points to Coughlin’s personality change as a big reason for the team’s success. The Giants now play for Coughlin, and not in spite of him.
Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks – Give general manager John Schneider quite a bit of the credit for developing a solid partnership with Carroll. The two were in agreement that the Seahawks roster was not what it should have been prior to the 2010 season, and they went through a dramatic turnover in personnel. Not only did the Seahawks bring in new players, but they valued competitiveness and a willingness to overcome adversity more than talent.
It has paid off dramatically with a Super Bowl triumph last season and a near-miss the year before. Carroll is perhaps the best communicator in the league. He does not regularly threaten his players, he simply pushes the right buttons and inspires them. The Seahawks should remain in contention for the foreseeable future.
John Fox, Denver Broncos – Even though the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl last season, it was a very difficult time for Fox. A midseason heart condition sent him to the hospital, but the calm foundation he had laid allowed the team to remain on track with veteran defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio running the show.
Fox, who was a sharp defensive coordinator during his run with the Giants from 1997-2001, is a relatively calm leader who tends to be honest and straight-forward with his players. That has earned him loyalty, and a team that leaves everything on the field for him.
John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens – You can criticize Harbaugh for his decision to take the low road on Ray Rice. He should have been out front with criticism of his star player for his physical altercation with his fiancé last winter, and the criticisms he did dole out were half-hearted and weak. However, when it comes to his strategy and communication with his players, Harbaugh nearly always gets the job done.
He excels at giving his players an extra dose of confidence and the belief that they will play their best in the biggest games. He knows when to crack the whip, but he also knows when to back off so his players can perform at their best in key games.
Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers – McCarthy is one of the smartest and sharpest strategists in the league. He can give Belichick a run for his money in that category. It doesn’t hurt that he has perhaps the most physically gifted quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. McCarthy is on the same page as Rodgers, and he nearly always gives his quarterback a playbook that allows him to take advantage of most defenses.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy
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