On the NFL Network this morning there was some debate on whether or not Mike Shanahan would be a coach of the year candidate if the Redskins ended up in the playoffs or even with a winning record. There were some pros and cons thrown around by the hosts, here are a few thoughts of mine.
Shanahan’s credentials look good on the “worst to first” meter. The Redskins were 5-11 last year, the third straight season they have posted double-digit losses and it was the fourth straight season they finished last in the NFC East and out of the playoffs.
If the Redskins can finish at 10-6 and win a playoff spot, Shanahan’s coach of the year credentials would be very similar to those of Jim Harbaugh, who took the 6-10 49ers to 13-3 and the NFC West title last year. Mike Smith, Marvin Lewis, and Sean Peyton have won honors in recent years with similar turnarounds.
The award sometimes goes to a coach of a good team that has a great season. Bill Belichick did the worst-to-first thing about 13 years ago and his Patriots have posted double-digit wins every year since 2003. But he won in 2007 for coaching the Patriots to a perfect regular season and again last year when his team was 13-3.
So who is Shanahan’s competition for the award? In the “sustained excellence” category you have Smith, whose Falcons are 11-1 and Gary Kubiak of the 11-1 Texans. Kubiak has brought his team from 6-10 in 2010 to 10-6 and their first playoff spot last year to their current status as AFC Super Bowl favorites.
For another comeback team, you have to look at the Colts. They were 2-14 last year, which was bad enough to “earn” the top overall draft pick. That became Andrew Luck and he has been a big part of the Colts’ resurgence to an 8-4 record. They are very likely to be a playoff team.
But who is the Colts’ coach when it comes to award consideration? Chuck Pagano is the head coach but he started a leave of absence after three games to start treatment for leukemia. Bruce Arians has been the interim head coach since then. There is not word that Pagano may return before the regular season is over. It is an unusual set of circumstances; most of the time an interim coach is involved with a team only after the head coach has been fired.
No matter how they sort it out in Indy, though, it is going to be hard for them to give coach of the year to anyone but he Colts’ coach. Perhaps they should split it up and give it to the entire coaching staff.
That’s the way it looks right now with a fourth of the season still to be played. If the Colts stumble down the stretch and the Redskins win out and take the division, Shanahan would certainly be a strong candidate, perhaps even the favorite, to take home the coach of the year award.
Like All-Pro teams and MVP awards, coach of the year is voted on when the regular season ends but before the playoffs start so any postseason accomplishments do not come into play.
It would the first such honor for Shanahan in his career. When his Broncos went 12-4 and won the Super Bowl in 1997 Jim Fassel of the Giants was the coach of the year. The next season Denver was an NFL-best 14-2 and defended their championship but Dan Reeves, who Shanahan beat in the Super Bowl, won the coaching honors.