NFL Coach of the Year 2012: Odds and Predictions for Top 8 Candidates

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIIJanuary 31, 2012

NFL Coach of the Year 2012: Odds and Predictions for Top 8 Candidates

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    The 2011 NFL regular season is finished, as is every playoff round except for the Super Bowl.

    With the winner of the AP NFL Coach of the Year award set to be announced at Saturday's NFL Honors awards show (9 pm EST, NBC), we are going to take a forward-thinking approach to the debate, and set odds on the final eight candidates we believe deserve consideration.

    We probably could have expanded the final odds results to have included more than eight candidates, but the realistic odds of them being included would have resulted in a minuscule odds percentage, so we are cutting it off at the top eight candidates. 

    What is ironic about the results of the AP NFL Coach of the Year Award voting, is that in some ways it can be like the kiss of death. In the 2010 voting, Bill Belichick won, but the two runner-ups to Belichick—Raheem Morris and Todd Haley—were both fired the following year.

    From the 2009 voting, Mike Smith won the award, and the two runner-ups to him—Tony Sparano and Jeff Fisher—were both relieved of their jobs. Maybe the votes place a higher level of expectations on the coach, which is too hard to duplicate.

    On to the presentation.

8. John Fox, 20:1 Odds

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    John Fox, head coach of the Denver Broncos, inherited a team that went 4-12 in 2010 and started off the 2011 season right where they left off, going 1-4 in their first five games.

    The fan base was screaming for Fox to play quarterback Tim Tebow whenever they had the opportunity, and the only thing Kyle Orton was consistent with was losing ball games. 

    So, Fox decided to succumb and give the ball to Tebow to see what he could do, skipping over backup quarterback Brady Quinn completely. Tebow proceeded to win seven of the next eight games, which turned out to be a sufficient enough winning streak to win the AFC West, despite losing their final three regular season games. 

    The Broncos upset the Steelers in overtime in their first playoff round, and that was just icing on the cake in what has to be considered a very positive season for the Broncos. A large percentage of the credit has to go to Tebow and his ability to lead a football team, while another percentage could go to divine intervention.

    For whatever reason, the Broncos wound up winning the AFC West division, and coach John Fox pulled the right strings at the right time to make it happen. 

    For that he deserves some consideration for NFL Coach of the Year. 

7. Bill Belichick, 20:1 Odds

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    I could make a case to rank New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick higher than No. 7 on our list, but if we can talk frankly, he just won the NFL AP Coach of the Year award in 2010, so forgive me for giving somebody else their just due.

    In fact, Belichick has already won the award three times (2003, 2007 and 2010), so I don't think anybody in New England needs to lose any sleep over where he is ranked. 

    Belichick deserves consideration on several fronts. He took a defensive that had a number of holes and worked with them throughout the season to the point that they gave up a tremendous number of yards, but found ways to create turnovers. And they learned how to shut down the opposition offense when the game was on the line. 

    The way that the Patriots defense got better down the stretch, and how they performed in the playoffs—even when quarterback Tom Brady wasn't at his best—is a tribute to Belichick and his coaching skills. 

    No matter what you think of Belichick and his methods, you have to admire his track record. Since taking over the Patriots in 2000, Belichick has led his team to five different Super Bowl appearances.

    I can't endorse him higher for Coach of the Year in 2011, but I would endorse him for NFL Coach of the Decade. 

6. Tom Coughlin, 20:1 Odds

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    Tom Coughlin was on the hot seat when the New York Giants were sitting at 6-6 after losing a heart-breaking game to the Green Bay Packers in Week 13. The Giants had already missed the playoffs the last two years running, and it was safe to assume that if they missed the playoffs three years in a row, Coughlin was probably as good as gone. 

    But the Giants then proceeded to go on a roll, which saw them win three of the final four regular season games to win the NFC East division, and then win their first three rounds of the playoffs to advance to the Giants' second Super Bowl appearance under Coughlin since he assumed control of the team in 2004. 

    This year Coughlin had to deal with a myriad of injuries which limited his defensive line, and his secondary was wiped out for a good portion of the first half of the season. He also had to find ways to win with a running back committee that was also injured and banged up.

    With all of the pressure that he had to cope with, Coughlin found a way to inspire his team, and rally his troops to play at another level of intensity and desire. When their backs were against the wall, Coughlin and the Giants found new ways to keep winning. 

    That is why I believe he deserves consideration for NFL Coach of the Year. 

5. Gary Kubiak, 20:1 Odds

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    Out of every coach in this presentation, no other head coach had to find a way to cope without the best players on their team being lost for the year than did Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak.

    It wasn't just on one side of the ball, either—it was key injuries across the board. Not only that, but since the Texans had never made an appearance in the playoffs, Kubiak knew that he had to deliver this year or he would probably be relieved of his job.

    Talk about pressure.

    Mario Williams and Matt Schaub were lost for the season. Arian Foster and Andre Johnson were lost for key stretches of time. Backup quarterback Matt Leinart was lost the very first week he became a starter to replace Schaub.

    When the playoff chase was getting down to crunch time, Kubiak had to turn to a fifth-round draft pick and rookie quarterback, T.J. Yates, to win the AFC South division. Kubiak guided Yates to win key games down the stretch, and the Texans wound up with their first playoff game in franchise history. 

    Not only did they win the AFC South, but they also won their first playoff game in history as well. Now, I am aware that some credit has to go to Wade Phillips, the new defensive coordinator hired by the Texans to turn around a defense that was awful in 2010. But the head coach is often the person held ultimately responsible (look at how many head coaches were fired in 2011 as an example).

    Kudos to Kubiak for getting the job done, and that is why he is here on this presentation. 

4. Marvin Lewis, Odds: 10:1

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    Out of the eight head coaches that I selected for consideration, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is the only other coach who has already won the AP NFL Coach of the Year Award other than Bill Belichick. Lewis won the award in 2009. 

    Lewis has been in charge of the Bengals team since 2003. In the past three years, Lewis has seen his team's record go up and down like the stock market. In 2009, they went 10-6 and won the AFC North. In 2010, they were 4-12 and he wound up coaching in the Senior Bowl as a result. Now, in 2011, they reversed course again and wound up in the playoffs with a record of 9-7. 

    Sure, we can argue that the Bengals really didn't have many (if any) wins over quality opponents in 2011. But the fact is that they beat who they were supposed to beat and did it with enough consistency that they qualified for the playoffs.

    To have done that with two key rookies, quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, and the key veterans they lost from 2010 in Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, is a tribute to Lewis and his coaching ability.

    Now if he can only come back in 2012 and have a winning record to back this year up, we will like him even more.  

3. Jim Schwartz, Odds 10:1

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    Everybody is aware that Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is an emotional guy.

    You only have to recall the way that he felt slighted by San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh to know that he has the ability to react quickly to things he doesn't believe are right. His team tends to take on his image, and they react in kind. 

    But one thing is clear. The Detroit Lions have been making steady progress under the direction of Schwartz, and he has been able to turn around this organization that was usually associated more with owing the No. 1 overall draft pick than it was for winning football games.

    Since taking over the Lions in 2009, the team has gone 2-14, 6-10, and then 10-6 to qualify as a Wild Card playoff team in 2010, snapping the Lions' long playoff drought.

    The next step or goal for Schwartz and the Lions will be to win the NFC North division. That is a tall order because Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers present a huge challenge. But that is the goal, and his work is cut out for him.

    He also needs to be able to find a way to harness the emotional Ndamukong Suh and turn his reputation and productivity around before he declines any further. That is all just par for the course for somebody we consider to be in the running for NFL Coach of the Year.

2. Mike McCarthy, Odds 10: 1

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    I have to admit that I am still somewhat baffled that Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy did not come away with the AP NFL Coach of the Year Award in 2010, as the AP gave it to Bill Belichick for the third time instead. 

    McCarthy has done a marvelous job with the Packers. Over a stretch of games that began with the last two regular season games in 2010—including the playoff run that led to a win in Super Bowl XLV—McCarthy led the Packers on a run that saw the Packers win 21 of 22 games.

    How is it possible that a coach leads his team to a record of 21-1 and can't win the Coach of the Year Award? 

    As unfair as it seems, I believe that is exactly what is going to happen. We still have one head coach yet to reveal, and since I believe this other coach is going to win the award this year, it means that Mike McCarthy is going to be left out in the cold again.

    Sometimes life isn't fair, and with respect to the NFL Coach of the Year Award, McCarthy is extremely deserving. I just think that 2010 should have been his year. For Packers fans, I feel your pain. You have a right to feel cheated on behalf of your head coach. 

1. Jim Harbaugh, Odds 2:1

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    For my money, I just don't see how you can give the 2011 NFL AP Coach of the Year to anybody except San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.

    Harbaugh took a team that was only 6-10 in 2010 and guided them to a record of 13-3. To improve seven full games in one season is quite an accomplishment. 

    To do that with a quarterback in Alex Smith, who had been struggling to find himself for so many years in the NFL, and a team that was clearly dealing with limited weapons overall on offense is even more remarkable. Harbaugh was able to find a way to deliver tons of confidence to Alex Smith, and he in turn led his team to one remarkable win after another. 

    Call it college enthusiasm, or that Harbaugh was a breath of fresh air compared to Mike Singletary, but the 49ers responded to his coaching and it showed in the quality wins that the team pulled off in 2011.

    The 49ers owned victories in the regular season over playoff teams such as Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New York Giants and the Detroit Lions. They defeated the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs, and only lost to the Giants in the NFC Championship game due to a fumble in overtime by a backup punt returner.

    In short, Harbaugh led his team on an amazing turnaround and came oh so close to taking his team to the Super Bowl, which is something that very few experts could have dreamed was possible in 2011.

    For doing all of that, he deserves to be the 2011 NFL AP Coach of the Year award winner, (with sincere apologies to Mike McCarthy).