The players on the field get most of the credit for making big plays and racking up wins for their team. But the coaches pacing the sideline deserve a share of the credit too.
Good head coaches can make the difference between a good team and a great team, or a playoff team and a lottery team. They are the ones responsible for game planning and getting every player to know the playbook and their roles on the team. They have to keep the team unified, and they have to call the plays on game day. There isn't a more stressful or demanding job in professional sports, and these 10 men handled it admirably.
Bill Belichick was just named the AP Coach of the Year for the third time in his career, but he's not the only head coach who was fantastic in 2010. Here are nine other coaches who deserve some recognition.
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The Jets were early Super Bowl favorites after advancing to the AFC championship game last season. They didn't quite meet expectations this year despite improving their record from 9-7 to 11-5, but Ryan still did up a stand-up job keeping his team of misfits together and getting them into the playoffs.
There was the holdout by stud cornerback Darrelle Revis, the DUI by Braylon Edwards, the suspension of Santonio Holmes and the Sal Alosi tripping allegations. Then, of course, there was the foot fetish scandal. With so many off-the-field distractions it's a wonder the Jets even made it as far as they did.
Pete Carroll's last stint in the NFL was a forgettable one, a career 27-21 in four seasons with the Jets and Patriots. But he decided to rejoin the professional coaching circuit in 2010 and somehow led the Seattle Seahawks to an NFC West title.
Sure, they finished just 7-9. But this was a team that was supposed to spend the entire year in the NFL cellar. Instead, Carroll found a way to get another decent season out of the ageless Matt Hasselbeck and transformed former draft bust Mike Williams into a top NFL receiver.
Like the Jets, the Packers were a popular Super Bowl pick going into the 2010 season. They got off to a shaky start with a 3-3 record through the first six games, including consecutive overtime losses to Washington and Miami. But they finished 10-6 and clinched a playoff berth in the last week of the regular season with a statement 10-3 win over the Chicago Bears.
McCarthy has overseen the transformation of Aaron Rodgers from a bench player to one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and he has also helped build one of the league's most ferocious defenses.
The Falcons were the class of the NFC from day one and ran through the opposition on their way to a league-best 13-3 record. Most of the credit should go to quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner and cornerback DeAngelo Hall, but Smith was a steady and capable leader.
His candidacy will take a big hit because of only a 5-3 record over winning teams, including two wins over the rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Playing the NFC West and AFC North for half the season is not really the best way to get ready for the playoffs.
The Steelers have been as good of a team as there is in football during Tomlin's four seasons in Pittsburgh. They finished 12-4 and earned their third NFC North title in four years.
Their defense got them to the Super Bowl, but Tomlin deserves credit for keeping the Steelers afloat during Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension and repeated injured to NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Troy Polamalu.
Nobody expected the Bears to be good after finishing 2009 with a 7-9 record, especially after firing four offensive coaches. But Brian Urlacher's return to the field provided a big boost to the defense and quarterback Jay Cutler revitalized the offense.
Smith made the Bears a factor in the NFC again, earning a 11-5 record and a first-round bye. It should've been common sense for any head coach to get the ball in Devin Hester's hands, but Smith actually listened and made the record holder a double threat on special teams and offense.
Morris turned the Bucs around from a floor mat (3-13 in 2009) into a playoff contender (10-6 in 2010) in one short season. He mentored two promising rookies, wide receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount, into legitimate NFL talents. He also helped Josh Freeman become one of the best quarterbacks in the league and made the defense respectable.
Most people would put Morris higher on this list, but his 1-5 record against teams with a winning record is not very impressive for supposedly a top head couch. (And that's only if you want to include the 23-13 win over New Orleans in Week 17 when the Saints had already packed it in.)
Haley took the Chiefs from dead last in the AFC West in 2009 to a division title in 2010, guiding Kansas City to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. The Chiefs led the league in rushing behind bruiser Jamaal Charles and the Matt Cassel-Dwayne Bowe connection on offense terrorized defenses throughout the NFL.
Haley ranks higher than Morris here because his team actually made it to the playoffs. Although one has to wonder how much of that has to do with his coordinators, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, both of whom have head coaching experience.
Reid made a gutsy move by trading Eagles' legend Donovan McNabb to a division rival and handing the team over to Kevin Kolb. He made an even gutsier move by making Michael Vick the starter instead.
Philadelphia had its share of ups and downs during the season, but there wasn't a more dynamic player than Vick in the entire league. Reid reconfigured the Eagles' offense on the fly to adapt to Vick's play-making ability established one of the league's most potent offenses. The 10-6 record and NFC East title don't do justice to how Reid managed to change the franchise's identity without missing a beat.
Belichick won this award in 2003 and 2007, and the future Hall-of-Famer will win it again for 2010. But his most recent work might be his best ever.
New England finished the 2009 season with a 10-6 record and a first-round playoff exit, and appeared to be headed into rebuilding mode with a defense that looked like it was ready to file for social security. Instead, the Patriots emerged in 2010 as the best team in the NFL with a league-best 14-2 record.
Tom Brady was great, but Belichick was even better.
He overcame early season-ending injuries to Ty Warren, Kevin Faulk and Leigh Bodden, three impact players that the Patriots were expected to rely on. He overcame the holdout of All-Pro guard Logan Mankins. He overcame the trade of Randy Moss, who had been the key to the Patriots' offensive attack for three seasons. He made BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, two undrafted running backs, into household names. He made rookies Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski into unstoppable players on offense and rookies Devin McCourty and Brandon Spikes into NFL stars on defense.
The Patriots also somehow have six of the top 100 picks in the 2011 NFL Draft. Belichick shouldn't just be the Coach of the Year, he's the runaway Executive of the Year. Nobody comes close.