Monday, September 8, 2008

nfl coaching rankings, 2008 edition

Every year, I rank the NFL head coaches, worst to first. Since at least 2000, when a buzzed Steve and probably sober Gregg first did this on the couch in the 'Woods after the Chiefs improbable, amazing 23-22 win to close down Real Mile High.

So, here's the 2008 edition of my rankings.

Before getting underway, three quick notes:

1. 32 is Rich Kotite bad. 1 is Chuck Noll good.
2. The rankings are in order of who I'd want coaching the Chiefs. For example, Herm ranks 9th ... which means there are 8 current head coaches I'd take over Herm. And 23 I would choose Herm over.
3. First year head coaches will struggle in these rankings. Regardless of my thoughts on their coaching ability, they have yet to prove that my confidence in them translates into on-field success. For example, last year Mike Tomlin was in the low teens, even though as I noted "next year, you can figure the 1 drops off the front of this mark". I liked Tomlin, a lot. (Still do, as the rankings will show). But he hadn't proven yet he could get the job done. So ...

(trick daddy voice) let's go!

32. Scott Linehan, Rams. I thought this was an awful hire at the time 3 years ago. I've seen nothing since to convince me this guy is capable of overseeing a franchise. His teams are often mismatched and outcoached. They play with the emotion and intensity of me after 16 beers and a couple ounces, as witnessed in yesterday's debacle at the Fake Vet. (And witnessed by me and friends at 311 earlier this summer...) Definite front runner for "first coach fired", possibly as soon as their bye week. And deservedly so.

31. Brad Childress, Vikings. Another awful hire, another decent coordinator in over his head as the man in charge. Yes, I picked the Vikes to win the NFC Norris. But if that prediction comes true, it will be despite Childress running the show, not because of him.

30. Rod Marinelli, Lions. Another solid coordinator in over his head as a head coach. 6-2 start last year was the facade. 1-7 finish was reality. In Rod's defense, not even God himself could win with Matt Millen making personnel decisions. But yikes. Not a coach I want to see patrolling the sidelines at Arrowhead. Even on the visitors sideline, the Lions deserve better than this ...

29. Romeo Crennel, Browns. Yes, Cleveland went 10-6 last year. Another aberration. Crennel is a tremendous defensive coordinator. He is a horrible, horrible head coach. He had 6 months to prepare his team for that opener against Dallas yesterday. The Browns "coming out party". It was a catastrophe. Unprepared, undisciplined. Romeo Crennel football.

28. Marvin Lewis, Bengals. Its been 5 years. All Bengals fans have to show for those 5 years is one division title, one winning season, one playoff berth, and one drunken fight involving me and an irate fan back in 2003. Lewis' job security has to be pretty weak right now.

27. Jim Zorn, Redskins. This might be the worst coaching hire since ... uuh ... wow, this is just an awful hire. As offensive coordinator, fine. (Even though Holmgren calls the plays in Seattle). But why hire him for that role first and then say "screw it, why not just give him the top job"? Unless everyone else turned it down of course. His team was completely overmatched Thursday night. Expect to see a lot of that this fall.

26. Mike Nolan, 49ers. Full disclosure: I loved the Nolan hire a few years ago. I have always liked this guy, but for whatever reason, this just isn't working. Its probably his final season in San Francisco, but I hope he gets another chance. Some coaches really improve in their 2nd gig. (Think "Bill Belichick" and "mike shanahan" to name a couple). I think Nolan is one of those guys.

25. Tony Sparano, Dolphins. I've been impressed so far, but again, first year head coaches I'm going to undervalue because they haven't proven anything yet. I think this is a good hire though, and I'd expect the Dolphins to be back amongst the AFC elites again within a couple of years. (It doesn't hurt that Parcells is getting the players for him either).

24. Eric Mangini, Jets. I am not a fan. Brady's injury and Favre's arrival probably buy him another season, but its yet another step down for my 2nd favorite team. If I was his boss, I'd have fired him for Spygate. That's about as chicken sh*t as it gets, ratting out your former boss for cheating ... when the only reason you're in your current job is because of said cheating. Ridiculous.

23. John Harbaugh, Ravens. Another hire I liked this offseason. Anyone who serves on "Fat" Andy Reid's staff has my respect. (Save for maybe Marty Mornhinweg, arguably the worst head coach in NFL history). If you're good enough to coach for Reid, you're probably good enough to run your own team. Guess we're gonna find out.

22. Mike Smith, Falcons. Another solid hire this offseason, I thought. He'll have plenty of time to grow into the job, and he's already shown he can implement a solid game plan that maximizes his limited strengths, while minimizing the Falcons' huge weaknesses. I like this hire. I expect a significant rise in the rankings next year for this guy.

21. Ken Whizenhunt, Cardinals. Getting the Cardinals to .500 is a huge achievement, no matter who's calling the shots. This franchise has won one playoff game in 60 years. If Seattle takes a step back, this team figures to step into the breach. "The Whiz" seems to be a solid, middle of the road head coach to me. Perfectly acceptable ... so long as he's not coaching your team.

20. Lane Kiffin, raiders. I like Kiffin, a lot ... but as long as the white-track-pants-suited one is in charge, nobody is going to be successful in oakland. (Save for number one on these rankings ... whoops just gave that away. And no, "Sur" William Callahan is not number one ...) Kiffin gets huge cred with me for pointing out his boss' utter incompetence, and for refusing to back down from the direction he thinks the team should head in. His second coaching gig, he'll attain greatness. Kind of like shanarat, I guess.

19. Norv Turner, Chargers. What a rise, from 32 to 19 in a year. A division title, two postseason wins, and solid AFC Title Game showing tend to do that. Has Norv turned the corner from "joke" to "semi-competent"? Not if yesterday is any indication, as the Chargers lost at home as a 10 point favorite to an undermanned Panthers squad.

And yes, if you had week one in the "when will Steve drop the first "THAT'S THE NORV TURNER I KNOW AND LOVE" blast on the deck after a Chargers complete collapse to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory ... congratulations. Because we're all winners here, when the Chargers are staring a deep, deep hole in the face: at den / vs Jets on the MNF stage Favre loves the next two weeks ...

(Note: from this point on, I am perfectly fine and acceptable with any of these remaining 18 coaches coaching the Red and Gold. And that number has gone up by 2 since last year, when only 16 reached the coveted "Steve's Cool With Them Coaching His Team" status. Welcome Mike Tomlin and Gary Kubiak to the good side of the rankings!!!)

18. Lovie Smith, Bears. Its hard to believe it was just two years ago the Bears were the class of the NFC. The QB situation is a mess ... but Lovie is a solid, steady coach who won't lose control of the team, and knows how to keep his team in the game long enough to steal a win or two. Solid coach whose team I probably undervalued this year.

17. John Fox, Panthers. Three years ago, he'd probably have ranked 2nd or 3rd. But its been a rough couple years for the Panthers. Still, he's a solid coach, proven winner, and if this is it for him in Carolina, some team will be smart and pick him up. Solid head coaches are hard to find. Fox is the definition of the word solid.

16. Tom Coughlin, Giants. Yes, his team won the Super Bowl, and his coaching deserves significant praise for that accomplishment. The game plan against the Patriots was nearly flawless, and Coughlin clearly made the adjustments needed from their week 17 meeting to their showdown 6 weeks later. But overall, I'm not a huge fan. Coughlin's good for a while. Eventually his style turns the team against him. Which puts him squarely in the middle of the pack in my rankings.

15. Dick Jauron, Bills. Wow, there are actually this many decent coaches in the league. My Lord, how much can change in a decade. I like Jauron. Always have. Brilliant defensive mind smart enough to let a smart offensive mind run the offense. Commands the respect of his team. They never quit on him. Has only had one winning season (2001 Bears), but has the Bills poised for a tremendous 4-5 year run. A run whose arrival might have been pushed up a year thanks to Brady's injury.

14. Sean Payton, Saints. Another coach I have always loved, dating back to the 99-00 Giants teams whose offense he coordinated. Down season last year for the Saints, as they fell short of expectations, but they tremendously overachieved in 2006, Payton's first season. Saints figure to be among the NFC elites this year, and Payton is a big reason why.

13. Gary Kubiak, Texans. This is the first AFC South coach to appear. And he's 13th out of 32. No wonder this division is football's finest. I should hate Kubiak on account of his donkey ties ... and the fact that he employs shanarat's kid as his offensive coordinator ... but this guy is dynamite. Great hire. Great coach. Texans are another team on the rise, and coaching won't hold them back.

12. Mike McCarthy, Packers. This ranking would probably be 4-5 spots higher if it wasn't for the Favre debacle. Hey, I'm all for planning for the future ... but when you've got a team that was (literally) a play away from reaching the Super Bowl, you don't kick the architect of that achievement to the curb because you want to start someone else. Stupid. Still, McCarthy is a good head coach that, other than the Favre brain fart, has done little wrong in his time on the job.

11. Wade "Son of Bum" Phillips, Cowboys. Another guy I just freaking love. All this guy does is reach the playoffs everywhere he coaches. No, he's never won it all. Hell, he's 0-4 in the playoffs. But his teams are disciplined, prepared, and usually overachieve. Exactly what you want in a head coach.

10. Mike Tomlin, Steelers. Last year I think he checked in at 17. So he didn't quite drop the 1 from his ranking, but still. The Steelers are set at coach for the next decade. This guy is never out-thought, never caught unprepared. His teams play hard and smart every time out. And he's 1 for 1 at winning the division. Always a big plus in my book, the ability to win the division.

9. Herm Edwards, Chiefs. My thoughts on this man are well known. I'd follow that man through the gates of hell itself. X's and O's, he could improve. Time management can drive me crazy. But any objective person knows his teams always play hard, they never quit, and they always play above their talent level. I wrote last year that Herm should move upstairs and replace Carl, and I remain convinced that a Herm / Kuharick front office is the best way to go. But as long as he's on the sidelines, I'm not overly concerned for where this team will be 3 years from now.

8. Jack Del Rio, Jaguars. Del Rio is the man I wanted the Chiefs to pursue and hire last offseason, under my whole "move Herm upstairs" theory. Solid head coach whose only non-winning season was his first. If the Jags are dumb enough to let him go, he won't be unemployed for long.

7. Tony Dungy, Colts. This ranking is not so much about Dungy, as much as it is the guys above him. Really, anyone from this point on is Hall of Fame caliber. And everyone from this point on has at least appeared in the Super Bowl, and 4 of the remaining 6 have won it at least once.

6. Mike Holmgren, Seahawks. How awesome would it be to see Holmgren on the Arrowhead sidelines next year? His final year in Seattle ... hell, I already projected he'll reach his 4th Super Bowl as a head coach, so obviously I'm high on the guy and his team. As rock solid as they come. Is never caught unprepared, and has had a great run in Seattle the last decade, much like the 7 years before that in Green Bay. Some team will be lucky to hire him for his 3rd tour of duty.

5. Jeff Fisher, Titans. The longest tenured coach in the league, is also one of the best. His 15th year at the helm of the Titans should be another solid one. Every year his teams are in postseason contention, and usually manage to get in. That's all you can ask out of a coach in the modern era: be good enough to get in. Because anything can happen once you get in the postseason.

4. mike shanahan, broncos. Last year he was number one. Last year ... was not a good one for the self-titled "supreme leader". Many feel this will be his final season with the broncos. If that is the case, its a mistake. You never get rid of a coach unless his replacement is better than the coach you just fired. Never go backwards. Good luck finding someone better than shanarat.

3. "Fat" Andy Reid, Eagles. Holy cow I love this guy. Arguably the best move the Philly franchise has made since importing some guy named Richard A. Vermeil from the left coast back in the mid 70s. This guy can flat out coach. He went 5-11 in his first season, and 6-10 in the TO tarnished 2005 debacle ... and other than that, has never finished worse than .500. Made the playoffs 6 of 9 years. 4 straight NFC Title Games, a last second field goal away from that being 5 of 6 NFC Title Games.

2. Bill Belichick, Patriots. No, he's not number one in my rankings. For three reasons. (1) He's well below .500 without Brady at the helm. If they stay afloat now, with Brady gone until September of 09, then he might move up a spot. (2) the Spygate scandal. I'm not outraged by it, but if it didn't give him a clear, defined competitive advantage, why do it? And (3) the guy at number one has done more with less than Belichick has. And Belichick has never worked for al davis. Unlike ...

1. Jon Gruden, Bucs. The man won two division titles in 4 years in oakland. He then moved on to Tampa ... and promptly won a Lombardi Trophy. Bucs have won the division 3 of his 6 years at the helm, including two "worst to first" turnarounds in 05 and 07. And did I mention the man managed to win consistently with al davis as his boss?!?! Congrats, Jon. You get the designation of "Best NFL Head Coach" as designated by me. I'm sure you're clearing out room on the trophy shelf as I type ...

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