NFL Head Coaches: Ranking the AFC East
Effective Sunday, Sean Payton will be suspended as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints. That’s led to a lot of discussion about how much his absence—along with that of assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games—will matter as it relates to the on-field results of the Saints in 2012.
Few regard Payton as anything but an elite offensive mind and one of the most accomplished head coaches in all of football: his resume includes a Super Bowl victory and multiple division championships since taking over a downtrodden Saints franchise in 2006.
And although it’s probably impossible to precisely gauge the impact a head coach has on his team, it’s likely the Saints will experience some growing pains without Payton on the sidelines.
That has me thinking about head coaches around the game, and what each one means to his franchise. With that in mind, I’ve decided to rank the head coaches, broken down by division.
To start, the AFC East.
1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Any head coaching list starts with Belichick, the undisputed defensive mastermind in football and the most decorated coach in the league. He has three Super Bowl wins, five appearances in the big game, and a decade of success that hasn’t been matched in a long time, and never during the free-agency era.
His players respect his every word, his teams are disciplined, and his creativity remains underrated.
To boot, Belichick serves as the team’s de facto general manager. Although he’s had some notable draft whiffs in recent seasons, he’s also pinpointed such elite prospects as Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Nate Solder, and undrafted gems in Kyle Love, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Sterling Moore.
2. Rex Ryan, New York Jets
Say what you will about his brazen demeanor and larger-than-life personality, but Ryan navigated the Jets to consecutive appearances in the AFC Championship game in his first two years on the job. From a pure football standpoint, he’s one of the best at game-planning on defense, and his players love to play for him.
Now, we’d be remiss not to mention that Ryan’s words often supercede his team’s results, and they have a tendency to provide more backlash and superfluous media hype than anything else.
It seems, and emphasis on seems, like Ryan may be approaching 2012 by letting his team’s play on the field do the talking, but then again, it’s still March.
3. Chan Gailey, Buffalo Bills
There wasn’t a lot of fanfare when he was hired in Buffalo, but Gailey seems to be on track in developing his team into a more consistent winner. They fired out of the gates in 2011, and should be much improved this upcoming season with a revamped defense led by Mario Williams.
Gailey’s a whiz on offense, implementing his signature spread attack and optimizing some of Buffalo’s weapons, but his future may be defined by his ability to straighten out Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. If he can succeed by minimizing turnovers, Gailey and Buffalo have a chance to make noise next season.
4. Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins
He’s really an unknown, as the understated Philbin has never been a head coach—at any level—but has earned praise from those he has previously worked with, which includes Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, and Kirk Ferentz at the University of Iowa.
But until we’ve seen him patrol the sidelines for a handful of games, it’s hard to target what kind of head coach he’ll be. I like the assembling of a strong staff for Philbin in Miami, but he’ll need to figure out what to do with an offense without an established top receiver and a weak offensive line. How Philbin handles that will dictate his early success—or potential lack of it—as a head coach.