Do you realize we are less than two weeks away from training camp getting up and running? That three weeks from Friday, we’ll be enjoying the first tailgate of the season, for the preseason home opener*? Yeah, where the hell did summer go**?!?!?!
(*: I am undecided on attending. On one hand, I’d rather burn a half day PTO and spend a nice Friday afternoon getting my ass kicked eight ways from Friday at washers by Dusty. (Which will happen on Thursday this week at the Royals game. The safest bet in life: Dusty -2 1/2 in a game to 15.)
On the other hand, (gregg voice) ITS PRESEASON!!! There’s a reason why I’ve made one preseason game in the last five years: they’re utterly unwatchable. The fact that the NFL charges FULL PRICE for these exhibitions pisses me off like very little else does in life.)
(**: speaking of time flying by … do you realize a week from yesterday was this site’s founding? My little baby’s growing up! I feel a potential retrospective coming up later this week, possibly ...)
So, in recognition of the impending dawn of the season, it’s time to haul out an annual tradition on this site: the Stevo NFL Coaches Power Poll!
A few ground rules to explain the ratings, then let’s do this.
* 1 is Chuck Noll good, 32 is Rich Kotite / Ray Rhodes awful. (And as always, I consider Chuck Noll the best NFL head coach of my lifetime.)
* Anyone who appears after Romeo Crennel, is a head coach I would fire Crennel to hire. Anyone who appears before Romeo Crennel, is someone I would not fire Crennel to hire.
* First time head coaches tend to rank very low in their Stevo Coaches Power Poll debut. This doesn’t mean I don’t think the guy is a good to great coach – it’s a reflection of the fact that all they are at this point is a POTENTIALLY good to great head coach. For instance, in the 2007 Power Poll (sadly no longer available), I ranked Mike Tomlin 17th, and noted “by next year, you’ll be able to drop the 1” from his ranking. (I was right). Conversely, I also thought Steve Spagnoulo would be a home run hire for the Rams. Uum, whoops? (There IS one first-year head coach though for 2012 that I am VERY high on, because I think the guy is going to be a huge success. He might actually rank ahead of Romeo by the time we get there, that’s how highly I think of the guy …)
* Finally, my feelings about the team do not factor into these rankings. They never have. This is all about the head coach’s capabilities.
Prior Year’s NFL Coaches Power Polls:
*due to drunken oversight, there is no 2010 edition.
And now … the 2012 Stevo NFL Coaches Power Poll!!!
32. Pat Shurmur, Cleveland Browns. Put it this way – when you’re hiring Brad Childress to right the offense enough to save your job come January? It’s over. Thankfully, the Browns should be in “quit on our coach” mode by the time the Chiefs roll into Cleveland in mid-December.
31. Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins. This is the rare first-time head coach I don’t need to give a year or two to prove himself. This was a horrible hiring, and when the Dolphins are looking for his replacement 20 some odd months from now, you heard “this was a horrible hiring” here 55th.
30. dennis allen, oakland raiders. At least he came to them from denver, where he turned in a solid year presiding over the defense. I think this guy is in over his head … but someone able to screw BOTH the unlovable raiders and the abortionable broncos at the same time? In the words of Sgt. Rick Hunter, “it works for me!”
29. Mike Mularkey, Jacksonville Jaguars. What in the name of God was Gene Smith thinking, giving this proven failure a second chance to run a team into the iceberg? Mularkey was HORRENDOUS in Buffalo (although his team’s upset of the Chiefs in 2005 cost us a playoff berth). Mularkey is a perfectly capable offensive coordinator. He’s a TURRIBLE head coach, as Jags fan is about to find out firsthand.
28. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings. I have rarely whiffed on a coach as badly as I whiffed on Frazier last year. I still think this guy is going to be a decent head coach. His first year in the full-time gig left a lot to be desired, however.
27. Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts. Put it this way – Pagano could walk to midfield, drop trough, and crap on the Colts horseshoe … and he’d STILL be a better coach than Jim Caldwell. I don’t hold out much hope for this hire – like Mularkey, I think Pagano is a great coordinator and a poor hire as the main guy. But again, after Jim Caldwell, there is NOWHERE to go but up.
26. Norv Turner, San Diego “Super” Chargers. Oh Norv, how I am going to miss you when the long-overdue canning comes in January. The Chargers have underachieved at a level over the last five years that the 1990s Chiefs are making fun of … and you can argue NO team “underachieved” in the 1990s more than the Chiefs (3-7 playoff record (including 5 “one and done” appearances), 0 AFC Championships, 0 Super Bowls). Norv is the ULTIMATE “great coordinator, horrible head coach” in this league. I’d hire Norv Turner yesterday to coach my offense. I’d rather be Mike Tyson’s personal punching bag, than have him as my team’s head coach.
25. Mike Munchak, Tennessee Titans. Solid first year. I’m just not sold on him long-term. And I should NOTE: from this point forward, I would NOT cancel my season tickets if this guy was my team’s head coach. Remember the years when Ray Rhodes ranked in the top 10 best coaches in the league, that’s how awful the entire league’s coaching fraternity was? Damn. These GM’s are getting smarter.
24. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals. Three “one and done” playoff berths in a decade … but to Lewis’ credit, with one exception (2010), the Bengals have been in playoff contention every year entering December. Could be a huge year for Lewis, as expectations are higher and the young talent needs to keep delivering on the field.
23. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys. Before you scream at me for ranking a pretty decent coach 23rd best in the league … just keep reading the remaining 22 names on this list, and you tell me who you’d put Garrett ahead of.
22. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears. Bears were keeping pace (as much as possible anyways) with the Pack and Lions before Jay Cutler’s season ending injury. If Cutler starts 14 games this year, the Bears will be a wildcard team. If he starts 16? Lovie could be making his 3rd NFC Title Game appearance in 7 years.
21. Ken Whizenhunt, Arizona “Super” Cardinals. Bad couple years in the desert for Whiz and his boys. 2012 doesn’t look much more promising. Still, this is a team that will be in wildcard contention come mid-December (even if on the fringes of it) with no franchise quarterback, no running game, and an atrocious secondary. That’s solid coaching, which is what Whizenhunt is – solid.
20. Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams. When the Chiefs were doing their coaching search this past January, “The Voice of Reason” and I both examined Fisher’s record in Tennessee extensively (because we were both fine with Fisher as the hire). Turns out … Fisher’s not as good as he seems. Only six playoff berths in six years. He’s lost three times as the one seed, at home, in their opening playoff game. Basically? He’s Marty Junior. Which, don’t get me wrong, I’d be thrilled to have as my team’s head coach. I’m just saying, there’s better options on the table … one of which I believe we hired.
19. Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans. La de freaking da, the Texans win the South last year. If Gary Kubiak’s team hadn’t won the division, he’d go down in history as one of the worst hires in franchise history. I never would have given him an extension this offseason, as the Texans did. The Texans should win the AFC South again this year, and probably for the next 2-3 years to come, unless Jake Locker or Blaine Gabbert crack their low-ceiling potential. But that doesn’t mean I’m sold on Kubiak. Not at all.
18. Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs. Well, let’s focus on the positive – the team clearly responded to the coaching change last fall, his gameplan against Green Bay (with virtually no advance notice) was beyond flawless, and the man did win ten games with Derek Anderson under center with the Browns. And … that’s about it. I am not thrilled with the hire. But I can live with it. Romeo strikes me in many ways as Barry Switzer Junior -- competent enough to not f*ck it up, but incapable of adapting to the slighest deviation of plans for the seasons. Let's hope the 2012 Chiefs make me even more fondly remember the 1995 Cowboys than I already do.
17. Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions. He’s a solid coach. Solid, not spectacular. Taking the Lions to the playoffs is nothing short of a lifetime achievement.
16. Rex Ryan, NY Jets. Two AFC Title Game appearances in his first two seasons, and a disappointing .500 season last year. He’s a little too over-the-top for my liking … but there’s no doubt his players love him and buy in to what he’s selling. And whatever you think of The Sanchize … you don’t win 4 road playoff games in two years unless you’re at least semi-competent. I expect a rebound season out of the Jets, and Coach Rex.
15. Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers. Big second year upcoming for the Panthers, who many are tabbing as a serious sleeper to not only win the NFC South, but make some noise in the playoffs. I agree the NFC’s sleeper is in the South … I just don’t think this is the team.
14. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints. A huge dip in the rankings for a coach I like, and have liked, dating back to the late 1990s when he oversaw Jim Fassel’s offenses in New York, and made Kerry Collins a Pro Bowl / Super Bowl quarterback. Drop is due to a year-long suspension due to getting caught in BountyGate. If any coach is in for a surprise firing this January, Payton is one to keep an eye on, if the Saints manage to win without him.
13. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks. The man who failed in New York and failed in New England … has yet to post a winning record in Seattle. Why rank him 13th? Because both his Seahawks teams have dramatically overachieved, even winning a playoff game in his first season over a team with twice as many victories (13 to 7) as his team had. I liked how the Seahawks didn’t quit at 2-6 at the midpoint – they won 5 of their last 8 as a sign of things to come. I loved the Matt Flynn signing as well. This is the biggest threat the 49ers face over the next few years in the NFC West … and to be honest? I think the Seahawks can overtake them, as soon as this fall.
12. Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I’m willing to wager that this is the highest I’ve ever ranked a first year head coach. And I’m also willing to wager he’s going to earn this lofty ranking pretty damned quickly. Look it, the guy turned Rutgers – RUTGERS!!! – into a legitimate national championship threat in an (albeit) wacky 2007 season. The man can flat out coach. You know who he reminds me of? Jimmy Johnson. College guy, takes a doormat program to unheard of heights, then immediately does things when he reaches the pros that endears his players to him, and ensures their blind loyalty going forward. Schiano’s going to be a damned good pro coach, just like he was a phenomenal college coach. I really liked this hire, in a “Tampa Bay is winning the NFC South this fall” kind of way.
11. Chan Gailey, Buffalo Bills. The man I wanted the Chiefs to hire in 2009 (they opted for Todd Haley). A man whose teams usually overachieve. His guys are always prepared to play, are almost never caught by surprise, and he’s one of the brightest offensive minds of the last 20 some odd years in this league. I mean, my God, this man made Kordell Stewart AND Jay Fiedler Pro Bowl caliber quarterbacks! To say nothing of what he accomplished here in KC with Tyler Thigpen.
And now, we’ve reached the Top Ten … and to be honest? I’d probably pee my pants with glee if ANY of these was employed by the Kansas City Chiefs …
10. Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons. Three years, three winning seasons, two playoff berths. A grousely underrated hire in 2009, he’s turned into the dean of that year’s coaching class. Has a very bright future ahead of him, and I know I’m looking forward to watching what his defense has in store for the Chiefs in our home opener. This man is a brilliant head coach who is never caught unprepared. Thank God Romeo’s had six months to prepare to face him.
9. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers. True story – this guy was Elvis Grbac’s quarterback coach in Kansas City. So if ANYONE from the KC Metro area ever says “yeah, I saw how great a coach McCarthy was going to be”? Call them on their bullshit. McCarthy has exceeded any reasonable expectations, let alone irrational ones, since his surprise promotion to the main gig in 2006. Only one losing season (the year Favre left). Four playoff berths in six years, and a Super Bowl championship to boot. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.
8. Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins. Look it, I get it that Shanahan hasn’t been “as successful” without john elway as he was with him. To which I reply “no sh*t, Sherlock”. I consider elway the greatest to ever take a snap under center, and this is a man of whom I will proudly piss on his tombstone someday (hopefully sooner rather than later). You don’t replace an elway, you learn to adapt without him, which Shanahan has done relatively well, all things considered. Turning RGIII loose in Shanahan’s gameplan? Look out NFC! The Redskins are on the rise, and I will be shocked (provided Dan Snyder stays the course) if the Skins don’t reach a Super Bowl within the next 4 years.
7. john fox, denver broncos. The man just won a division championship and a playoff game against the defending conference champions with timothy r. tebow as his quarterback. How ANYONE can question fox’s coaching capabilities, I have no idea. The man reached two NFC Title Games with Jake Delhomme under center for crying out loud. I am FRIGHTENED … no, scratch that – TERRIFIED … to see what fox can do with a legitimate franchise quarterback under center.
(Told you these were unbiased rankings – Crennel barely cracks the top 20, and not one but TWO donkey coaching greats are in the top 10.)
6. “Fat” Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles. Oh, sweet Jesus, how I wish the Eagles had fired him after their tremendous underachievements last year. The ONLY complaint you can make about Reid is his clock management (which, to be fair, IS abysmal). The solution is obvious – hire a Mike White type coach to manage your replays and timeouts, like Dick Vermeil did here in KC. Problem solved. Reid is a brilliant offensive coach, knows his limitations enough to not even bother with the defense, and has enough GM acumen to know when to dump an overrated backup quarterback on multiple occasions (2nd rounders for Jay Feeley, Kevin Kolb, AND Donovan McNabb for Christ’s sake!) Any team this guy patrols the sidelines for? Is an instant threat to win the division, and do some damage come January. Don’t believe me? Reid was hired before the 1999 season. Since then, the Eagles have had a losing record exactly twice – Reid’s debut in 1999 (5-11 … but won their last three), and 2005 (the TO debacle that spiraled to 6-10). Every other year, the Eagles have been at least .500 … and 9 of the last 12 years, they’ve reached the playoffs, reaching the NFC Title Game in 5 of those 9 appearances (and one Super Bowl as well). The fact that Reid ranks sixth, tells you how strong the top five are …
5. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants. At some point, you can’t ignore the on-field results anymore. Personally? I can’t stand Coughlin, and think he’s the luckiest son of a bitch to come down the pike since Barry Switzer. But again, at some point? You can’t ignore the on-field results anymore, and after winning two Super Bowls in four years? You can’t ignore the on-field results anymore.
The reason I so strongly dislike Coughlin, is that he’s the ultimate “all or nothing” coach. Either your team is going to play for a championship, or their season ends week 17. Rarely does a Coughlin team simply “reach” January and post a one-and-done. Either they make a run at least to the conference title game … or they fail to qualify for the chance to get there. For me? I’d rather have a Marty type run, where at least you know you’ll be playing in January every year, than have a 1 in 5 shot of the ultimate success. But that’s just me.
4. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers. Without question, the best first season coaching job since … his brother took the Ravens to the AFC Title Game in 2008? I’d argue Jim’s was better, because at least John was inheriting a solid team that just had a down year (the 2006 Ravens did go 13-3, while the 2007 4-12 squad got Brian Billick fired). Since … Rex Ryan in New York, Barry Switzer in Dallas, George Seifert in San Fran, or Bud Carson in Cleveland (all of whom at least played for a conference title)?
I expect the 49ers to take a step back this year, due to a tougher schedule and a legitimate divisional rival capable of beating them in the Seahawks. But what the lowest ranked Harbaugh in this year’s coaches poll achieved last year? Was pretty damned good.
3. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots. Wait, he ISN’T the best coach in the league according to me? Over the last ten years, absolutely he is. Over the last couple seasons? Not a chance in hell he tops either of the two AFC North rivals still to appear.
It’s easier to win with a franchise QB that is a sure-fire “44-0 vote” Hall of Famer under center. (Ask Jim Caldwell if said sure fire “44-0” first ballot Hall of Famer can hide coaching deficiencies). Belichick isn’t deficient – far from it. I’d argue last year might have been his best coaching job since 2001. But if I had to pick a coach for ONE game, on the road, with a Lombardi Trophy on the line? At best, Belichick is my third choice. At least amongst active coaches. (For retired / dead coaches, I’d prefer Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, and on occasion, Mike Holmgren, the most criminitely underrated head coach of the last 20 years in the league.)
2. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers. Picking between the top two, leaves no losers amongst those who read this … because they’re that damned solid. (Although it does tend to leave a lot of losers in the fanbase of their opposition on a particular Sunday or two each year.)
I love Tomlin. I’d follow that man through the gates of hell itself if he led the charge. Mike Tomlin is everything I thought Herm Edwards would eventually develop into (and maybe he still will – I still think UCLA blew it by opting for Jim Mora Jr over Edwards … and I actually like Mora Jr. Not a bad hire … but not the best hire, which was Herm).
To replace a legend coming off a Super Bowl win and fifteen ridiculously successful years, takes a special kind of coach. Bill Cowher was that kind of coach, replacing Chuck Noll (who, again, I regard as the best NFL head coach of my lifetime). Mike Tomlin has been more than up to the challenge, winning the AFC North in his first year, winning a Super Bowl in his second, and never failing to be playing beyond week 17 since.
But unfortunately for Mr. Tomlin … I can’t even rank him as the best head coach in his division, and the 2012 Stevo NFL Head Coaches Power Poll winner is …
1. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens. For one reason, really. He doesn’t have a sure-fire Hall of Famer under center. Look it, I’d trade Matt Cassel for Joe Flacco yesterday – Christ, I’d trade Matt Cassel for Elvis Grbac yesterday, that’s how little I think of Cassel. So give Harbaugh that much credit – he knows his guy’s limitations, and builds the gameplan to overcome said limitations. Dick Vermeil and Al Saunders did this brilliantly in KC with Trent Green. Jim Harbaugh does this beyond brilliantly in San Fran with Alex Smith (although I’m in the minority – I think Smith is a decent quarterback … provided he’s in the right system.) And nobody was better at maximizing mediocre talent under center than Ernie Zampeze in the 1990s with the Cowboys*.
(*: I am fully aware Troy Aikman is a Hall of Famer, a proud member of the Cowboys Ring of Honor, and deservedly so on both counts. Having said that, do you REALLY think Aikman was ANYTHING other than the 4th best QB in any given year in the NFC in the 1990s? Do you rank Aikman ahead of Steve Young? (I don’t). Ahead of Brett Favre? (Nope). Randall Cunningham in his prime to open the decade in Philly? (Nope). Scott Mitchell in Detroit in his prime in the middle of the decade? (Just seeing if you’re still paying attention … but you can actually make a damned good case for Mitchell, believe it or not, if stats were the only thing that mattered.)
What Harbaugh has milked out of this Ravens team (four playoff berths, six playoff wins, two AFC Title Game appearances) is nothing short of remarkable, given that the defense has been running on fumes since before he arrived, they have no aerial attack to speak of, and their featured runner has routinely been hurt. All they do, is go 11-5, 12-4 every year, and threaten to win the AFC.
That’s why John Harbaugh wins the 2012 Stevo Coaches Power Poll rankings post. Partly because yes, he legitimately earns it … but also because, that playoff game two years ago at Arrowhead, between the Chiefs I love and Harbaugh’s Ravens?
Was a CLINIC in how to boatrace an opponent, a CLINIC in how to maximize matchup disadvantages and advantages. That entire second half was a textbook / benchmark coaching performance on how to win when it counts.
Here’s to hoping SOMEONE at One Arrowhead Drive paid attention to the woodshed beating laid on us that day, and I’m looking squarely at you Romeo as I type that …