How do you measure a coach's greatness?
In the NFL, coaches are judged solely on their ability to win the Super Bowl. While division titles and gaudy regular-season records garner significant respect in coaching circles, the game's best bosses display the leadership skills and tactical expertise to secure the brass ring.
Sure, this stringent standard prevents some of the NFL's most successful coaches from receiving proper recognition, but the expectations certainly are not changing in a game that celebrates winning at the highest level. Coaches with championship hardware are placed on a pedestal, while their lesser counterparts eventually land on the hot seat with the clock ticking on their respective tenures.
That's why I'm fascinated by the coaching careers of Philadelphia's Andy Reid and San Diego's Norv Turner. Both have enjoyed successful runs as NFL head coaches, but both have also failed to guide championship-caliber teams to a Super Bowl win. This perceived underachievement has put them squarely on the hot seat in 2012.
Let's compare Reid and Turner in four critical categories to see which coach is superior and more likely to guide his team to that elusive championship this fall:
The most important aspect of a head coach's job at the NFL level is to set the direction for the team. He must create an environment that challenges players to maximize their individual talents, while also encouraging players to sacrifice personal agendas for the sake of the team. This is challenging for coaches of all levels, but in the NFL, the ego of young, rich pro players makes it difficult for even the most personable coaches to foster chemistry within the locker room.
Reid is regarded as one of the best in the business at blending different personalities into a cohesive unit. Just look at the success of the Philadelphia Eagles with the likes of Terrell Owens, DeSean Jackson and Michael Vick occupying prominent roles on the squad. The strong -- and, at times, disruptive -- personalities of these players scared off some teams, but Reid has been able to blend character risks into the Eagles' locker room without damaging a winning culture. Owens certainly threatened that chemistry, but Reid dismissed the cantankerous receiver before he divided the locker room. This is a testament to Reid's extraordinary feel for the pulse of his team, and it demonstrates his willingness to make hard decisions when it comes to maintaining a winning environment.
Reid also deserves credit for the Eagles' consistency throughout his tenure. He has guided nine teams to the playoffs in the 13-year tenure, with six of those squads winning the division. All in all, he has won over 60 percent of his games and amassed 10-plus wins in eight different seasons.
Turner has been just as successful during his tenure as the San Diego Chargers' head man. He has won over 61 percent of his games in San Diego and captured three division crowns in his five-year tenure. Most importantly, he has guided the team to three postseason wins after the Chargers failed to win in the playoffs under Turner's predecessor, Marty Schottenheimer.
Part of Turner's success in San Diego can be attributed to his ability to get teams to perform well at the end of the season. He has compiled a 21-3 regular-season record in the months of December and January, which has allowed the Chargers to overcome slow starts or extended slumps. In the NFL, playing well down the stretch can mean everything, and Turner has the ability to push all of the right buttons at the right time.
Reid is a disciple of the Mike Holmgren, but the Eagles' version of the West Coast offense has dramatically changed over the course of his tenure. The Eagles have evolved from a dink-and-dunk unit that relied on slants and short crosses to methodically move the ball down the field into a high-powered offense that pushes the ball down the field on an assortment of vertical routes. As a result, the Eagles are one of the best big-play offenses in the NFL.
From a schematic standpoint, Philly's offense is built upon a vertical passing game enhanced by clever deception and movement in the backfield. Reid utilizes motions and shifts to mask his intentions, but also adds bootleg and fake-reverse action to create big-play opportunities down the field. The Eagles are also an excellent screen team, with the majority of their screens directed to running backs near the red zone. This creates scoring chances for explosive playmakers in space. In the running game, the Eagles employ a zone-based running scheme that feeds off of cutback lanes. Although Reid is not a big proponent of running the ball, he has been able to generate exceptional production from his backs despite limited opportunities.
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Turner is regarded as one of the best teachers of the old Sid Gillman/Don Coryell passing game. After learning the nuances of the system under Ernie Zampese, Turner has crafted an exquisite, timing-based scheme that features vertical routes on the perimeter. The premise is to get the ball to receivers on the move before defenders can come out of their breaks. When executed properly, the timing and precision of the passing game is indefensible. As a result, Turner's squads routinely score points at a dizzying clip, fueled by a host of big plays on the perimeter.
In San Diego, Turner tweaked the system to feature the "Bang-8" (skinny post) and go-route on the outside to take advantage of the size and athleticism of his receivers. He also utilized a series of square-ins, deep crosses and option routes to free tight end Antonio Gates over the middle. He used similar tactics as the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys during the early 1990s to take advantage of the unique talents of Michael Irvin and Jay Novacek, but his expanded scheme in San Diego has been more impressive to watch.
Turner features a power-based running game with rushers expected to pound the ball relentlessly between the tackles. He routinely gives the ball to his feature back 20-plus times a game to soften up the defensive interior, and create aerial opportunities off play action. When both aspects of the offense are working well, the Chargers torment opponents with a balanced offensive approach that yields big plays, while also allowing the team to control the clock.
The most successful coaches in the league put a premium on developing their own players, providing sustained success over a period of time.
During Reid's tenure, the Eagles have excelled at building and developing a roster utilizing homegrown talent. Philadelphia is not afraid to put young players on the field in limited roles early in their careers before transitioning them into starting jobs. For instance, Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy began as situational players before earning significant roles on the offense.
Although that plan has been an integral part of every NFL team's blueprint for success, Reid's quarterback development separates him from most. He helped Donovan McNabb grow into a perennial Pro Bowler during an impressive 10-year run as the Eagles' starter. While that was expected from a player taken second overall in the 1999 draft, the colossal failures of McNabb following his departure reveal the exceptional work done by Reid and his staff to mask his flaws. Reid also developed the likes of A.J. Feeley and Kevin Kolb into viable NFL starters by prepping them on the practice field.
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However, it's the surprising development of Vick into a polished pocket passer that has earned Reid recent praise in coaching circles. He has transformed an athletic, run-first playmaker into an efficient pocket passer in a three-year period. From polishing his footwork to fostering better decision making, Reid has taken Vick's game to another level and made him one of the most dangerous players in the NFL.
Turner is also regarded as a fine teacher and developer. He was integral in the development of Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith into Hall of Fame players. Not to mention helping Brad Johnson and Gus Frerotte earn Pro Bowl honors. Turner's reputation has only been enhanced by his work with Philip Rivers.
Rivers has blossomed into a superstar under Turner's tutelage. He has passed for 4,000-plus yards in four consecutive seasons, while also tossing at least 27 touchdowns in each. Rivers' remarkable efficiency is reflected in his ability to compile a passer rating of 101.8 or higher in three of those seasons. More importantly, he has played well down the stretch and guided the Chargers to key wins in the final month of the season.
The ability to win the game on the field routinely comes down to a few decisions made on the sideline. From in-game adjustments to clock management, the league's best coaches are able to steal victories with their organizational skills. Reid has won a number of games throughout his career, but his staunchest critics cite management miscues in big games as his most glaring flaw.
While several factors go into the execution of plays under pressure, it is a coach's job to get his players to play at their best while under duress. The Eagles have routinely fallen short of the mark in two-minute situations and are not viewed as a great come-from-behind team. From McNabb's casual approach to the two-minute drill in Super Bowl XXXIX to numerous timeout gaffes that have taken away opportunities to win in a game's waning moments, the failed execution is a reflection of Reid and his preparation.
Turner is also a lightning rod for criticism when it comes to game management. He has been burned repeatedly by misuse of timeouts early in games, and a lack of clock awareness has cost the Chargers in critical situations. Although some of the blame can rest with Rivers when he decides to burn a timeout to avoid a poor play call against a particular defense, the inexcusable timeouts due to late substitutions or communication errors rest on the head coach and his staff.
The best coaches in the league are able to find a way to win games despite unfavorable circumstances. Whether dealing with a host of injuries or overcoming a poor start, the leadership shown by the head coach sets the tone for the franchise. Although Reid and Turner have shown the ability to lead their teams to division titles, I believe Reid is a superior coach based on his overall consistency and development of personnel. Granted, the Eagles have underachieved at times under his watch. But the fact that he has won 10-plus games in eight of his 13 seasons and guided his team to a Super Bowl suggests he has a formula that is conducive for sustained success in the NFL. It hasn't led to a Super Bowl ring yet, but you have to be in the tournament to have a shot at the title, and Reid's presence on the sideline certainly keeps you in contention.