Saints head coach Sean Payton has been in the news for the wrong reasons this offseason, as he finds himself square in the middle of a scandal that compelled Roger Goodell to hand out the most severe punitive action of his tenure.
Payton—barring an unlikely successful appeal—will miss all of the 2012 season, presumably starting as soon as his appeal has been heard and subsequently ruled upon by Goodell (again, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who thinks the Commissioner will reverse course on this one).
In his absence, we’ll likely find out more about how much he means to his team, as some believe it will result in a regression of results on the field.
That remains to be seen, but it isn’t too soon to rank the current crop of head coaches in the NFC South.
Take a look to see how they stack up in my eyes.
This list may have to be amended to account for Payton’s potential replacement, because if Bill Parcells takes the temporary reins in New Orleans he’ll also take the top spot on my rankings.
But for now, Payton is the cream of the crop in the NFC South. He’s got the hardware to show for his success, and I love his ability to game plan and expose defensive weaknesses.
And although Drew Brees didn’t seem to understand Payton’s year-long suspension, he made it clear how he feels about his head coach. His sentiments seem to be shared by his teammates, and many who have worked with Payton.
The guy can flat coach.
While Payton is known for his often-incendiary sideline demeanor, Smith prefers a more understated approach to his sideline etiquette—at least most of the time.
But going about his business quietly has served Smith well, as he’s won more than two thirds of his games as a head coach, and has thrice led the Falcons to the playoffs.
The hurdle for Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan to climb over is winning when it matters most—in the playoffs. They’ve yet to do so in three tries together. Nonetheless, Smith has proven he was the right man for the job when hired back in 2008.
I’ll be the first to admire the brilliance of Cam Newton, but credit Ron Rivera too for the Panthers' resurgent 2011 (OK, I know they won just six games, but did you see them in 2010?).
All that being said, Rivera will need to vastly improve his defense in 2012, as the Panthers were a sieve last season and nowhere near a playoff-caliber unit in Rivera’s first year at the helm.
That’s probably an indication that they’ll look defense early and often in the draft, with Dontari Poe and Luke Kuechly amongst the likely first-round targets.
The fact that Schiano is at the bottom of this list says a lot about the caliber of coaches in the NFC South, because I thought the hire of the former Rutgers coach was a grand slam.
Schiano stands for discipline, knows how to build a program, and players respect him to the nth degree (a family member of mine was a recent member of the Scarlet Knights football program who has long raved about his coach).
He has his work cut out for him in Tampa Bay, where the Bucs lost 10 straight games to end 2011, although they worked hard and opened their wallets during free agency to infuse the roster with talent.
Landing Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks will dramatically help an offense in need of stability, and Schiano found himself a really good quarterback tutor for Josh Freeman in new offensive quarterback Mike Sullivan.
His credentials? Eli Manning’s former position coach. Not bad.
I see Schiano as a future NFL coaching star. He wont be on the bottom of this list for long.