1. My Vote: Bill Belichick (New England Patriots)
Parted ways with troubled tight end Aaron Hernandez. Moved on from receiver Wes Welker. Only had injured tight end Rob Gronkowski on the field for seven games this season. Offensive Lineman Sebastian Volmer was lost for the year and running back Shane Vereen has only played half the season. Receiver Danny Amendola missed a few games. Rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins missed several weeks, to both injuries and being deactivated due to underwhelming play. Key defensive starters were lost for the year: linebacker Jerrod Mayo, defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. The secondary has played banged up and missed games the entire second half of the season, highlighted by cornerback Aqib Talib. New England is 11-4 heading into week 17, boasting the second best record in the NFL. He’s shuffled the supporting cast around quarterback Tom Brady while piecing together a defense to do enough to win games. The Patriots are sixth in scoring, tenth in points allowed, and with some help they have a chance to snag they top seed and home -field advantage in the AFC. How? Coach Belichick gets my vote hands down.
2. Runner-Up: Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs)
Kansas City had the first pick in the draft after going 2-14 last year. Granted, this team made the playoffs and had six Pro Bowl players on the roster, Andy Reid has them back in the postseason. Offensively, he draws up as many plays as possible to get running back Jamaal Charles the ball. Quarterback Alex Smith was brought on board to take care of the ball, and apparently receiver Dwayne Bowe received a contract extension to block on the outside. There isn’t anything to talk about offensively,now tack on their 11-4 record heading into a meaningless week 17 for them. They too have the second best record in the league, tied with a few other teams. The defense has been the strength of the team. They lucked out in the first half of the season by facing inexperienced quarterbacks, but they still found a way to win games despite having a one-man offense of their own. They simply played a weaker schedule that a team with the top pick should play, and although they have fallen off some they created enough of a cushion that clinched a wildcard berth.
3. Under-the-Radar: Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals)
Cincinnati is predicated on playing stout defense, and somehow they kept afloat despite losing several defensive starters: defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Robert Geathers, as well as defensive backs Leon Hall and Taylor Mays. More than float actually, ranking eighth against the pass and the run, sixth overall while allowing the sixth fewest points. With a young offensive nucleus, led by receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals are the 12th ranked offense that clinched the NFC North at 10-5. Coach Lewis brought this franchise up from the ashes, and persevered through some down years, only to have them back on the map the past few seasons. Often overlooked, he is worthy of this is a regular season award and although he is 0-4 in the playoffs, that could change this year. Year in and year out, you hear rumors of his coordinators leaving for head coaching positions, he’s a coach’s coach and that means a lot for them to come back under his tutelage.
4. Chip Kelly (Philadelphia Eagles)
He molds the offense around a talented team that went 4-12 a year ago. Lighting up the scoreboard this season with the third most yards, Coach Kelly has called beautiful gameplans throughout the year, putting the ball in his playmakers’ hands. LeSean McCoy is the league’s leading rusher, receiver DeSean Jackson is having a Pro Bowl season, and receiver Riley Cooper has flourished in the offense stepping in for the injured Jeremy Maclin. The offensive line is the most athletic, and he mixes in two tight ends with an array of formations at the fastest tempo in the NFL with the most offensive plays per game. All that with two different starting quarterbacks, balancing that situation while grooming Nick Foles to be efficient but a weapon with his big arm. With Foles they play balanced, with Vick they were more of a run-option team, and heading into the final week with an opportunity to win the division they lead the league in rushing. His energy has spread to a young defensive unit that is underrated. Aside from a few pour outings, the D has allowed less than 22 points in 10 of their last 11 games. They’re also ranked sixth in the redzone.
5. Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints)
No one goes marching into the Superdome. After a year hiatus, Coach Payton’s return to the sideline makes it look like the offense hasn’t missed a beat. His importance could be argued as second to none in comparison with the other coaches, as he has Drew Brees and company scoring the 7th most points and the sixth most yards. What may be even more impressive, he’s also shown the ability to teach other coaches, because it looks like he took defensive coordinator Rob Ryan under his wing. The defense has some talent, but the unit has overachieved by ranking eighth. They are fourth against the pass while limiting opponents to the sixth fewest point total. Whenever the Saints finally make that leap to improve on the road, that’s when he’ll be Coach of the Year again.
Honorary Mention (Because you can’t give everyone the award)
Ron Rivera (Carolina Panthers)
Make no question about it, Coach Rivera and the Panthers are having a great season. If this team was on point last year he would certainly be higher on this list. Carolina is young and needed an extra year to blossom, and they have arrived. Currently in the lead to capture the second seed and a bye, they have one more week to hold off the Saints for the NFC South crown. He has molded a defense with some high draft picks, and they are the real deal as he does an excellent job of protecting his secondary. He has also helped to turn quarterback Cam Newton into an MVP candidate, just looking at them you can his weapons aren’t as effective as they once were. Tight End Greg Olsen has found a home and a prominent role in Carolina, and you can see that the team has taken the identity of a coach that was on the hot seat. More than anything, I see that he saved his job by thrusting his name into this conversation and showing he can build a program. The thing is, the defensive-minded coach finally got the D to play his way, whereas the offense is a one-man show.
Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks)
There is probably a split opinion on Coach Carroll. He has built an elite program and a team that is likely to clinch home-field advantage. The offense is pro-styled, hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch, activating beast mode. Playing off the success of the ground game, he calls play-actions for dual-threat quarterback Russell Wilson. He hasn’t has receiver Percy Harvin for more than a handful of plays all season, and the receivers on the field aren’t big names. They just lost their first home game in two years, the energy he brings continues to ignite a unit and it’s because of the position he puts his players in. The defense has the league trying to copy their scheme and personnel, they’re simply the class of the NFL. Seattle keeps winning, not only in front of the loudest crowd in the league but on the road as well. The downside, where the other half views him, as a guy that gives his players enhancements in college and the pros. His players keep getting caught and suspended, but I bet you most players would play for him if they could.
On The Cusp (for obvious reasons)
Bruce Arians (Arizona Cardinals): The reigning Coach of the Year is in the process of entrenching his name among the best. He’s guided the Cardinals to double-digit wins with a shot at the postseason. Without much of an offensive line nor running game. Program builder.
John Fox (Denver Broncos): Best record in the league. Best offense. Weak defense. Team plays better with him, above average when he missed games to health issues. He knows how to deal with veterans.
Joe Philbin (Miami Dolphins): Kept the locker room together after all that drama between Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. They’re currently the favorite to lock up the final spot in the AFC playoff bracket.
Mike McCarthy (Green Bay Packers): Quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down and has missed half the season, yet they are in a division showdown in week 17 for the division crown. No one wants to see them in the playoffs if they make it.
Mark Trestman (Chicago Bears): Made the jump from the CFL, he has turned the Bears into an offensive juggernaut. They are third in points scored, he would be higher on the list with a healthier defense as four starters went down.
Mike McCoy (San Diego Chargers): Another coach that deserves some recognition, his first year with the team has been a roller coaster. He has rekindled the fire under Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, and quietly has his defense getting healthy for a playoff push.