With the coaching carousel threatening to turn any week now, much of the attention has been on head coaches who might be on their way out. But let's go the other way. Several coaches have done terrific jobs with their teams this season. Heading into Week 8, which head coach is your leading candidate to be named Coach Of The Year at the end of the season?
Frazier has worked a miracle in MinnesotaIt would be hard to convince me that anyone has done a better job than Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier. He came into the season with no expectations, an injured running back, a second-year quarterback who'd shown few flashes last season, and a defense so young, Jared Allen barely knew the names of his teammates.
Now, thanks to Christian Ponder's improvement and the stunning play of their D, the Vikings are 5-2. That win over the San Francisco 49ers is the shining star on their résumé, even if it came at home. Who expected this? No one. Well, maybe general manager Rick Spielman did when he hired Frazier to patch up a fractured ship. So far, so good.
Looking ahead, Philbin will get Fins to make some noiseThe question asks who'll be the best coach "at the end of the season," so let's do a little projecting. The AFC is very thin. I like the Miami Dolphins' chances of improving down the stretch and sneaking into a wild-card spot. That would make Joe Philbin my pick for Coach of the Year.
He's done a fantastic job with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and he has this team playing tough every week. The Dolphins, who were expected by many to be among the worst in the NFL, are better than their 3-3 record indicates.
Frazier has Vikings going above and beyondMy pick for Coach of the Year at this point is the Vikings' Leslie Frazier because his team has exceeded my expectations. I thought the Vikings were a year away from being a good team, but Frazier's leadership and general manager Rick Spielman's astute personnel moves accelerated the process.
Frazier's decision to insert Christian Ponder into the starting lineup last season sped up the young quarterback's development, which is one of the reasons Minnesota is 5-2 heading into a showdown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night. Also, hiring defensive coordinator Alan Williams has worked out well, as evidenced by the play of his unit (especially the secondary, led by rookie safety Harrison Smith). My runner-up would be Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, whose 3-3 squad is two overtime losses away from being 5-1.
Colts blessed with two top-notch leadersI'm going with two coaches, actually: Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians. Think about what the Indianapolis Colts have had to deal with since the end of last season: losing Peyton Manning, hiring a new head coach in Pagano and drafting a new franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck. The 2012 season began with a porous defense, then Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and had to step down. Arians, the offensive coordinator, has since filled in as interim coach and will continue to do so for who knows how long.
Despite all the upheaval, the Colts are somehow 3-3 and in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt, having beaten the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings along the way. Luck's growth hasn't been stunted one bit by everything that's gone on, and Indianapolis has been able to hide its defensive shortcomings just well enough to win. I can't tell you how impressed I am with Pagano and Arians, who have artfully guided the Colts through it all.
Seahawks winning thanks to Carroll's gutsy leadershipPete Carroll is your coach of the year, hands down. The Seattle Seahawks are the second-best team in the NFC right now. It's true; the Seahawks have beaten the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots at home. Their defense is one of the toughest going.
Seattle's players have taken Carroll's "always compete" mantra to another level. Look at the comebacks against the Packers and the Patriots; the Seahawks were counted out in both games, but found a way to win.
The most impressive thing is that Carroll's doing this with a rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson, even though the Seahawks spent a truckload of money to add veteran Matt Flynn during the offseason. Most organizations would have selected the starting quarterback based on financial factors. But Carroll stuck to his guns and went with the guy who he thought gave his team the best chance to win. Players appreciate that, and you can see as much on the field.