Who says coaching doesn't matter?
Supporters in San Francisco and Houston certainly will attest to the value of an exceptional leader after watching their franchises claim division crowns despite facing difficult circumstances. For their work, Jim Harbaugh and Gary Kubiak have been roundly touted as the frontrunners for Coach of the Year, an award handing out by the Associated Press at the end of the season.
Harbaugh, who inherited a 49ers' squad that hadn't reached the postseason since 2002, has established his team as a viable contender in the NFC despite lacking a full offseason to implement his plan as a first-year coach. He has done it in impressive fashion by transforming perennially underachieving quarterback Alex Smith into a winning playmaker after six disappointing seasons. More importantly, he has energized the franchise with his infectious personality.
Kubiak has also been impressive in guiding the Texans to the top of the AFC South despite the extended absences of his top three players -- Mario Williams, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson -- to injuries. Some of the credit should go to new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips for his work with the NFL's No. 1 defense, but the fact that Houston has won games with three different starting quarterbacks is a testamant to Kubiak's offensive mastery. His work with rookie T.J. Yates, in particular, has showcased his ability to put his players in a position to succeed despite their circumstances.
While I certainly admire and respect the work of Harbaugh and Kubiak in their respective situations, the coach most deserving of the Coach of the Year award is Denver's John Fox. Here are three traits that he has displayed over the course of the season that make him worthy of the award in my mind:
The NFL's best coaches are willing to cater their schemes to fit the strengths of their personnel, and Fox has certainly demonstrated adaptability in building the Broncos offense around the talents of Tim Tebow.