Recently, there was an article on NFL.com written by Bucky Brooks, ranking the top 5 candidates for NFL coach of the year. The article list these 5 coaches (in order):
- Andy Reid, Chiefs
- Jason Garrett, Cowboys
- Jim Caldwell, Lions
- Jack Del Rio, Raiders
- Bill Belichick, Patriots
After seeing this list, I have some definite opinions on where Coach Mularkey fits into this list, and even why some of them are on the list at all. Let's take these candidates one at a time.
Andy Reid, as the article states, has won 20 out of the last 23 regular season games. However, if this is supposed to be about this season I'm not sure it's fair to consider those prior 10 games. Therefore, let's just give him the 10 out of the last 13. That's still a fair comparison, and I think he definitely deserves to be on this list. He has dealt with injuries in key positions, but still had crucial victories over the Broncos, Raiders (twice), and Falcons.
Jason Garrett, although I'm sure he is a capable coach, I've always thought of him more lucky than a true coaching genius. Yes, he is dealing with 2 rookies in key positions, but at least in one of those positions it wasn't a stretch to get a quality player. Ezekiel Elliott was a high first-round pick and most likely going to have an easier time behind the great offensive line of the Cowboys. Also with this line, Dak Prescott was going to have plenty of time to throw the ball. To be quite honest, I can't see why Garrett is on this list.
Jim Caldwell is a surprising choice for the list and on the surface he may actually be worthy, but when you look deeper he seems like a bag full of confusion. With early losses to the Packers, Titans, and Bears, and wins over very shaky teams like the Eagles, Redskins, and Jaguars. He seems to be a coach that squanders the talent he has more than focus them. Yes, the Lions are currently in the lead of the NFC North, but I forecast that this Lions team won't be there much longer.
Jack Del Rio is a coach I believe that mirrors Mike Mularkey. He has had coaching opportunities in the past without success, but now has found a home where he is thriving. He has taken a young QB in Carr and WR in Cooper, and turned this offense into a potent weapon. Also, even though the Raiders have some issues on defense, they are coming together nicely.
Finally, Bill Belichick, I hate to admit it, is one of the best coaches in history. This season he started with his biggest crutch (Brady) suspended. He came out of the first 4 weeks with a 3-1 record. Now he continues to win without his 2nd best player (Gronkowski). Admittedly, he is one of my least favorite people on one of my least favorite teams, but you cannot deny that he wins.
Seeing how I would eliminate both Caldwell and Garrett from his list, that means I need to add 2 more. So, let me make the pitch for a couple of coaches here. The first one is obvious. I think Mike Mularkey is extremely deserving to be in this list. This Titans team has been a screwed up mess over the last couple of seasons, and even before that was heading into chronic mediocrity. Granted, he has been given much better players to work with by Jon Robinson. Although Ken Wisenhunt had many of these players, he showed that he was absolutely not a match for this franchise. So, Mularkey was able to build this group of players into a true team. That is harder to do at the NFL level than any other. He has also put together a fantastic staff with the additions of Russ Grimm as the offensive line coach, Terry Robiskie as offensive coordinator, and moving Dick LeBeau to full-time defensive coordinator. He truly should be in this list.
The other coach to consider is Dirk Koetter of the Buccaneers. Many of the same issues the Titans possessed also belonged to the Bucs. However, Koetter has harnessed Jameis Winston to take this team to a tie for 1st in the NFC South (yet another Titans similarity).
So, here is my list in order. I'm trying not to be "homer", but I'll let you make that judgement.
- Jack Del Rio
- Mike Mularkey
- Bill Belichick
- Andy Reid
- Dirk Koetter
At this point I believe the Coach of the Year is still up for grabs. Coach Mularkey could very well end up being at the top of this list with a successful playoff run. This has been a truly impressive coaching job by a man that has been minimalized over his career. All I can say is well done, Coach Mularkey, well done.