Every year, 32 men enter their name into the NFL Coach of the Year sweepstakes. Every year, 31 of them fall short. That’s because the only true way to correctly ascertain the deservingest recipient of all is through process of elimination. Although the headline is a bit of a spoiler (headlines: definitely overrated), let’s conduct an objective, untainted, bias-free experiment anyway, and see where it takes us.
Who automatically isn’t the 2018 NFL Coach of the Year? We know 17 men who aren’t — all the guys without winning records this season. Out are:
Arizona’s Steve Wilks*, Atlanta’s Dan Quinn, Buffalo’s Sean McDermott, Carolina’s Ron Rivera, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis*, Cleveland’s Hue Jackson*, Denver’s Vance Joseph*, Detroit’s Matt Patricia, Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy*, Jacksonville’s Doug Marrone, Miami’s Adam Gase*, New York’s Pat Shurmur and Todd Bowles*, Oakland’s John Gruden, San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan, Tampa Bay’s Dirk Koetter* and Washington’s Jay Gruden.
Fifteen men made the first cut. Who also isn’t in consideration? Anyone who faltered down the stretch in a bid to make the playoffs. You can’t be the CoY if you’re not playing in January. Out are:
- Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer
- Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin
- Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel
Apparently, not a great year to be named Michael. If you can help it.
Of course we’re down to 12 men. Their teams are in the playoffs. Next to go, among the somewhat deserving, is any coach whose team won fewer games, or the same amount, as last year. As if we’re gonna reward someone for showing no improvement, or taking a step back. I think not. Out are:
- New England’s Bill Belichick (minus two wins)
- Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson (minus four wins)
How about the guys whose teams did pretty well in 2017, were expected to be pretty good this season, and turned out pretty good? What did they accomplish? “Look at all this talent! I made it perform to expectations, in line with their existing and proven ability!” Are we supposed to be impressed? Out are:
- Baltimore’s John Harbaugh. That Ravens defense was excellent last year, continued to be excellent this year, and they won one more game than last year.
- Kansas City’s Andy Reid. The Chiefs were preseason AFC favorites and performed near expectations.
- Los Angeles’ Anthony Lynn. Same story as the Chiefs.
- Los Angeles’ Sean McVay. The Rams were good to begin with, then they added talent, and then they blew the 1 seed with a mediocre showing in December. A Super Bowl favorite got a first-round bye. Wowee. It would probably have taken a special coaching talent to prevent LA from winning 12 games.
- New Orleans’ Sean Payton. The Saints were one freak play from the NFCCG a year ago and entered 2018 as arguably one of the five best teams. Drew Brees had the most impressive season of his storied career, which reflects well enough on Payton, but more well on Brees himself. It’s not like Payton is a bad choice; New Orleans won 13 games. But did he really do the best job of all 32 coaches? I doubt it.
Who does that leave? Not a lot. Our survivor pool is down to five accomplished men. Let’s use one final argument to eliminate coaches who benefited from good fortune: did the team receive a star or superstar addition during the season? Great coaches shouldn’t receive accolades for being suddenly spoiled with a new All-Pro talent. They ought to be rewarded for overcoming something like the loss of one. Say, if a Hall of Fame safety were to break his leg in Week 4, and his coach still guided the team to the playoffs, it would be more notable than another coach reaching the postseason after adding the best defensive end in the game. Out are:
- Chicago’s Matt Nagy. (Here, have Khalil Mack. Are you kidding me?)
- Dallas’ Jason Garrett. (Amari Cooper to a team that lacked only playmaking receivers — hell, maybe Jerry Jones is the real Coach of the Year.)
Two candidates remain alongside Carroll: Houston’s Bill O’Brien and Indianapolis’ Frank Reich. Interestingly, all three teams started slow — the Seahawks 0-2, the Texans 0-3 and the Colts 1-5. Props to each coach for pulling off a comeback story within the season.
Interestingly, all three teams were in almost every game — the Seahawks lost six times by a total of 28 points, the Texans five times by 20 points, and the Colts six times by 46. Kudos again to each coach for keeping his team in pretty much every game until the end. Only Reich’s Colts lost by more than one score at any point.
But here’s the difference: Carroll’s squad took their lumps against a far more difficult top-end schedule. While the Texans and Colts avoided top DVOA teams and lost to middling teams, the Seahawks were busy facing the top 5 teams in DVOA five times. Yes, five games against the five best teams.
Seattle: 6 games against top 10 DVOA teams, 2-4 record. 8-2 otherwise.
Houston: 3 games against teams in the top 10, 1-2 record. 10-3 otherwise.
Indianapolis: 1 game against teams in the top 10, 0-1 record. 10-5 otherwise.
Carroll’s Seahawks got the job done against tougher opponents, all year, without the benefit of any significant additions. They thrived after losing the entire Legion of Boom, two Pro Bowl defensive linemen and their top touchdown-maker, relying on their third-string free safety by the end, while bringing in new coordinators all around and working in new talent everywhere. For perspective, Russell Wilson, Justin Britt and Bobby Wagner are the only holdovers from the Super Bowl years who played 15 or more games. Wilson was alone in appearing in all 16.
O’Brien and Reich didn’t overcome the tougher schedule or tougher circumstances their colleague in Seattle did. So there’s only one possible conclusion. Pete Carroll, by process of elimination, is the 2018 NFL Coach of the Year.