NFL coaches like Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan get too much credit and too much blame. Players win and lose games; coaches make relatively few decisions that really change the course of their teams' season.
Still, having a coach of the right disposition on the sidelines is highly valuable. The ideal person for the job is one who can draw the best out of his players by motivating them well and keeping them happy. Several coaches across the league are developing reputations for doing exactly that.
Week 7 has two really good coaching match-ups, with Eagles coach Andy Reid visiting the Titans and head coach Jeff Fisher, while Mike Tomlin and the Steelers will take on Tony Sparano's Dolphins.
Who will get the upper hand in those contests? Who are the NFL's best all-around coaches? Without further ado, here are the top 10 guys with headsets in the league.
Say what you will about the way Carroll ran his program at USC, or about the way he left it when times got tough, but the man has guided a fairly anemic Seahawks team to a stunning 3-2 start.
Carroll is the master of keeping his team loose—he has seemed to work his magic by convincing his squad to just blindly get after it each week, and to have fun doing it.
It has been 16 years since the Houston Oilers hired Jeff Fisher as head coach. During that time, not much has changed: Fisher's moustache has turned gray and the team moved to Tennessee, but you know, other than that, not much.
The Titans last reached the Super Bowl over a decade ago, and it is a testament to Fisher's presence in the locker room and his football IQ that he has survived this long in spite of some lean seasons. Overall, he consistently oversees overachieving teams, and no coach in the NFL may be as universally respected by his peers.
When his brother Jim was a successful NFL quarterback in the 1990s, John looked as though he might never even be the most famous NFL Harbaugh. Now, while Jim has had tremendous success coaching Stanford's football team, John has announced himself as a coach equal to the task of fighting it out with the Steelers, Patriots and Colts for AFC preeminence.
He is cerebral and strategic, rarely loses control and always seems upbeat. He has a strict rule against comparing players, preferring to look purely at the positive things they bring to the table. In a comparison of NFL minds, though, Harbaugh stacks up awfully well.
It may well be that Caldwell is riding the wave of success first initiated by Tony Dungy, but it's hard to argue with Caldwell's track record. In his first season at the helm, the Colts went to the Super Bowl after a 14-2 regular season.
Caldwell reached his position after Dungy retired, having worked previously as an assistant and quarterbacks coach with the Colts. Since Indianapolis has, you know, a pretty good quarterback, it seems fair to say that Caldwell was a part of their success even before he reached the big chair.
Smith is six games into his third season at the controls in Atlanta, and his Falcons are an impressive 24-14 so far.
Smith took over a team ostensibly in shambles, but got the best out of rookie signal-caller Matt Ryan right away in 2008. Ryan and Smith led the Falcons to the playoffs that year, but Atlanta didn't make it in 2009. They could well be headed back this season, though, as they sit atop the NFC South.
Love him or hate him, Belichick just does not stop winning. His Patriots are again very much in the mix for a playoff berth in the AFC, and once they get there, they are always a threat to show up in the Super Bowl. All this, even after trading wide receiver Randy Moss for no apparent reason.
Belichick's success story of the year so far is Danny Woodhead, the Jets castoff who has provided a much-needed big-play spark to the New England offense.
Payton's persistence—not to mention his renowned aptitude for the offensive passing game—have been tested this season by injuries to both of the team's star running backs, Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas. Still, here sit the Saints, defending Super Bowl champs and current co-leaders of the NFC South at 4-2.
For all the team's struggles so far, Payton remains confident in their ability to overcome all once the playoffs roll around, and that attitude seems to have spread through the locker room. New Orleans seems dangerous again this season.
Does any coach in football receive more consistent and unjustified criticism?
Every year, it seems, the media spend the early part of the season decrying Coughlin's teams and their inconsistency. Yet, the Giants are in first place in the NFC East. If they stay there, it will mark the fifth time they have reached the playoffs in six seasons. Not only that, but of course, they beat Belichick's Pats in Super Bowl XLII.
If Belichick is not the NFL's most polarizing coach, Ryan is. From his well-documented rants on "Hard Knocks" to his general brashness to his comical girth, Ryan is a larger-than-life figure in a city that craves those kinds of men.
Ryan also happens to captain one of the best-manned ships in the league, with two top-tier cornerbacks, a Hall of Fame-worthy running back and a studly young quarterback—just the tip of the team's iceberg.
Still, given all the big egos on this team, it should give Jets fans comfort to know that Ryan will always have the team firmly in hand—his being by far the biggest ego in the room.
Headed for his third playoff appearance in four seasons, and in the running for a second super Bowl berth, Tomlin has managed to hold the Steelers together despite the best efforts of his superstar quarterback and his erstwhile Super Bowl MVP wide receiver, the latter having been shipped out this offseason just to dump some trash from the roster.
Tomlin is fiery, disciplined and football-smart. He is everything an NFL coach ought to be.
He has a long way to go to become the best coach in Steelers history (Chuck Knoll and Bill Cowher being two very sturdy candidates already), but he just might do it.