Bill Bender, in a ranking for the Sporting News, placed six of the eight active Super Bowl winning coaches at the top of his list of best NFL figureheads. The Seattle Seahawks’ Pete Carroll dropped two spots to fourth in Bender’s 2018 list, with the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick heading the chart and newly crowned Philadelphia Eagles’ boss Doug Pederson taking Carroll’s former place in second.
Nobody thinks these rankings matter, but we are a month away from training camp so it’s still somewhat interesting to break down the methodology. And it’s clear Bender gave much better consideration for coaches with a title in their rear view, rather than favoring the newly touted crop.
In addition to the top six filled out by Mike Tomlin, Mike McCarthy and Sean Payton, two other former championship holders arrive in the top 16 including John Harbaugh, who used to lead a model of consistency achieving the playoffs in each of the Baltimore Ravens’ first five years under his guidance but has only been back one time since winning it all in 2012. Harbaugh came in 11th, ahead of widely respected but youthful Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay.
However the choicest example of a guy riding former glory is certainly Jon Gruden, who placed 16th despite not coaching at any level since 2008 and his last Super Bowl all the way back in 2003. Bender clearly prefers veterans over unproven upstarts—all five rookie coaches finished 25th or lower—and perhaps rightly, but is it fair to consider the elder Gruden “proven” in any sense in the contemporary NFL? Even Jay Gruden (22) receives less credit for his more recent stewardship of an actual professional franchise.
It’s also head-scratching what he sees that separates the Arizona Cardinals’ Steve Wilks (28) and Chicago Bears’ Matt Nagy (29) from Tennessee Titans’ Mike Vrabel (31) and Detroit Lions’ Matt Patricia (32), since all are equally inexperienced.
Bender does find some rising stars beside McVay among the fledgling group, however in a strange order: The Buffalo Bills’ Sean McDermott (18) and Los Angeles Chargers’ Anthony Lynn (19) both finish above the San Francisco 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan (20), whom most would consider the premier young coaching talents in the league. In a similar set of rankings from this time last year (albeit by a different writer from a different outlet), Shanahan appeared all the way at number 13 despite never before having worn the headset in a top role. My personal preference may not rate Shanahan as highly as other speculators, but Bender seems to rely on win-loss record a little too hard if he thinks McDermott showed more leadership over the course of 2017.
When reviewing that list last July, I went out on a (pretty sturdy) limb by predicting Bruce Arians wouldn’t make it through the season, which caused Cardinals fans to squawk but turned out to be right. New Arizona coach Wilks is probably safe in transition, but glancing at Bender’s list this time I’m tempted to finger Adam Gase as the most likely casualty the next time around. But Arians had been ranked ninth on Jason Lisk’s chart, so Gase (21) doesn’t look as much like a called shot. Among the top 10 coaches in Bender’s ratings, I would tend to figure McCarthy or possibly the Carolina Panthers’ Ron Rivera (10) have a chance to bite the turf in 2018.
What about you? What coaches are over/underrated? Does Pete Carroll still get too much benefit of the doubt from his past dominance? And who looks like he’s bound to sweat under the focused rays of the microscope in the coming football autumn?