The Schein Nine  

 

Bruce Arians/Steve Keim: NFL's top coach/general manager duo

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Earlier this week, the Arizona Cardinals rewarded head coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim with well-deserved contract extensions.

I instantly tweeted that Arians and Keim are the best head coach/general manager combination in the NFL. The natives got restless, loudly voicing their opposition. And it wasn't just the wonderful readers via Twitter. I heard from executives in the NFL who had strong takes on the subject.

Consequently, the crack editorial staff at NFL.com thought it would be a swell idea to turn this into a Schein Nine. This is why I align myself with these geniuses.

Before we get into the rankings, allow me to explain my parameters for this exercise. I am primarily judging coach/GM tandems on where they stand right now, with an eye to the future. I will, of course, acknowledge precedent. You can't ignore the past. But it cannot be the be-all, end-all factor, either. For example, Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese have collected a pair of Lombardi Trophies. I've called Coughlin (not Bill Parcells) the best coach in New York Giants history and a future Hall of Famer. Yet you won't find that coupling listed below, given the franchise's recent failures and a lack of trust that those two men will still be employed by the Giants in 365 days.

One important note: As you will see, I didn't include Bill Belichick. I wrote a column before Super Bowl XLIX explaining why Belichick had already established himself as the greatest football coach ever. So I'm certainly not taking a shot at the Hoodie by excluding him here. The thing is, in addition to coaching the team, he also manages personnel. Belichick basically has final say on everything in New England. So the Patriots' one-man show doesn't really have a place in a column about dynamic duos. Bill is in a class -- a category -- by himself.

OK, now that we're straight on my general rationale, let's get into it! Here are my top nine coach/GM combos in the game today:

9) Bill O'Brien/Rick Smith, Houston Texans

How about a nice surprise right off the bat?!

I voted for O'Brien as Associated Press Coach of the Year in 2014. One year into his Texans tenure, this much is clear: He's a special, fantastic head coach. Meanwhile, Smith has done a good job stockpiling talent through the years. I think this franchise is primed for a big jump over the next two seasons. I'm looking into the crystal ball with this pick, taking Houston's tandem over those in Carolina (the failure to supply Cam Newton with enough help at WR remains disconcerting), Dallas (brilliant year, but Jerry Jones is not a legit and trustworthy GM) and Philadelphia (I love Howie Roseman, but Chip Kelly now has control, and we need to see how that plays out) -- as well as Cincinnati and Kansas City.

8) Mike McCoy/Tom Telesco, San Diego Chargers

These guys had a lot to clean up when they took over in January 2013, but they've done a solid job and turned in a pair of 9-7 seasons (snagging a road playoff victory in the 2013 campaign). Bright days are ahead in San Diego.

7) Mike Tomlin/Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh just enjoyed a bounceback season, following a couple of frustrating (and playoff-free) 8-8 campaigns. The talent pool seemed to be drying up a short time ago, but some solid drafting has replenished the roster and helped the Steelers transition from an older team to one that can win while simultaneously retooling.

6) Chuck Pagano/Ryan Grigson, Indianapolis Colts

Grigson gets dinged for whiffing on the Trent Richardson trade, but he's had strong drafts. Plus, the Vontae Davis acquisition, initially mocked in some circles, has provided excellent returns. Pagano is a very good head coach who consistently puts his team in position to win. The Colts have gone 11-5 with a playoff bid every season since these two were hired in 2012.

5) Sean Payton/Mickey Loomis, New Orleans Saints

Yes, 2014 was a lost season for the Saints. Wholly disappointing. That said, you cannot disrespect this pair. Since they joined forces in 2006, the Saints have gone 80-48 and won a Super Bowl. And it's not like this franchise had a pronounced track record of success in the preceding years: Payton has guided New Orleans to the playoffs five times -- the same number of postseason bids nabbed by the Saints in their first 39 years of existence, prior to Payton's arrival.

4) Mike McCarthy/Ted Thompson, Green Bay Packers

Green Bay collapsed at the end of the NFC Championship Game. But don't allow that recent letdown to cloud your overall judgment on this extraordinary pair. The Packers have gone 94-49-1 (with a Super Bowl win) during the McCarthy/Thompson regime. Yes, it's a team judged by titles -- and one isn't enough, considering Green Bay has the best quarterback in football -- but you cannot minimize the wins and losses, and how they are set up brilliantly for the future.

3) Pete Carroll/John Schneider, Seattle Seahawks

I don't feel good about putting Seattle's duo at No. 3. To me, the top three are pretty interchangeable -- maybe I should call them 1A, 1B and 1C. Schneider pounded the table for the Seahawks to draft Russell Wilson. That's a résumé builder. Schneider's a brilliant talent evaluator and a tireless worker. Seattle has deftly crafted contracts for sustained success.

And Carroll, despite his ridiculous decision to not give Marshawn Lynch the ball at the end of the Super Bowl, is a great head coach who gets the most out of his players with the competition at every position mantra.

2) John Harbaugh/Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore is brilliant. The Ravens' brass is fantastic, always seemingly eight steps ahead, knowing exactly when to say goodbye to free agents, when to pay money to their own and when to shop for outside help. And nobody -- I mean nobody -- runs the war room on draft day better than Newsome, Eric DeCosta and Co.

Harbaugh doesn't get the credit he deserves. He's a spectacular coach, plain and simple.

Every year, the Ravens' upside is to compete for a Super Bowl. That's saying something. Harbaugh and Newsome have a whopping 72-40 record in their time together.

1) Bruce Arians/Steve Keim, Arizona Cardinals

It is rather remarkable what these two have accomplished over their two years in the desert. Arians just won AP Coach of the Year by a landslide. Keim has been recognized as Executive of the Year by numerous outlets. Playing in the toughest division in the NFL, the Cardinals have gone 21-11 in that span.

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Think about all the injuries and adversity that has hit this team, especially this past year. Both quarterbacks went down. Darnell Dockett didn't play a down after suffering a preseason injury. Daryl Washington let the organization down by getting suspended for the entire season. No team in the NFL has persevered through choppy waters better than the Cardinals. Keim and Arians constantly turn over the bottom of the roster to adjust to injuries.

Keim and Co. consistently find players to step in and contribute in a positive way. As Arians told me on "Schein on Sports," my SiriusXM Radio show: "I trust Steve and his staff. He finds the guys. He signs them on a Tuesday, and I say, 'OK, great -- now let's go coach 'em up and plug 'em in.' " It's not that easy -- but the Cardinals certainly make it seem that way.

Some would knock the Cardinals for not having a quarterback -- and admittedly, I am not a Carson Palmer fan. But you have to acknowledge that Arians has maximized Palmer (when healthy) and resurrected his career. Keim has wisely resisted the urge to reach for a quarterback in the draft, trusting Arians to get the most out of Palmer while he addresses other needs and unearths gems (like John Brown in Round 3).

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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