Heading into *NFL Honors*, a two-hour primetime awards special airing nationally on Feb. 4, from 9-11 p.m. ET on NBC, we've asked our analysts to chime in with their own selections for the league's most prestigious individual accolades.
Today's topic is Coach of the Year, and there are plenty of deserving candidates. Jim Harbaugh worked wonders during his very first NFL season, transforming a 6-10 team in 2010 into the 13-3 NFC West champs and falling just short of Super Bowl XLVI. Meanwhile, Mike McCarthy led the defending Super Bowl champion Packers to a near-perfect regular season; John Fox fostered Tebowmania in Denver; Gary Kubiak overcame a series of injuries to key players to guide Houston to the franchise's first ever playoff appearance; and Jim Schwartz turned around one of the game's most downtrodden franchises in Detroit.
Let's open the question up to our analysts: Who deserves to win the NFL's Coach of the Year?
- Jason Smith NFL.com
Harbaugh really is the only choice
The Coach of the Year in the NFL is Jim Harbaugh. I don't think you can even contemplate casting a vote for anyone else. A team mired in sub-.500 rolls for the better part of the last decade suddenly earns a first-round bye in the playoffs? Game over.
Sure, you can say some of the pieces were there on defense, but the job Harbaugh did in turning Alex Smith into an above-average quarterback is worth my vote alone. Seventeen touchdown passes to just five interceptions on the season for Smith, or roughly one in every 100 pass attempts. That's a touchdown-to-interception ratio above 3-to-1, despite the fact Smith really had no wide receivers to throw to all year. Some kind of magic. My only concern is sometimes players buy into a head coach who has a different kind of personality in Year 1, but then grow tired of the shtick and begin tuning him out by Year 3.
No denying the seasons enjoyed by Jim Harbaugh, John Fox, Gary Kubiak and Jim Schwartz -- all of whom led their teams to the playoffs. For me, though, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy deserves the award. The Packers became THE hunted team in the NFL after their Super Bowl XLV triumph, yet they still managed the league's best regular season record at 15-1. Well done, Coach McCarthy.
What John Fox did cannot be overstated -- turning around a woeful defense and getting players to buy into a relative offensive overhaul to cater to Tim Tebow. Jim Harbaugh is the Coach of the Year, though. He and his staff put together a team that rarely made mistakes and won six games in the fourth quarter. Plus, he got Alex Smith to look like a real NFL starter. There was more talent in San Francisco than Denver, but it was unbridled talent.
Harbaugh, who is one of the few college coaches to step in and succeed right away, was able to harness what was in the locker room and make one of the more impressive turnarounds in recent years. Now, the question is can things be sustained?
Jim Harbaugh is easily the Coach of the Year. The 49ers were a 6-10 team without an identity last season. Enter Harbaugh. Suddenly, they're a 13-3 club that plays ferocious defense, safe offense and can win games via special teams (with the NFC Championship Game clearly being the exception).
The most impressive aspect of Harbaugh's initial campaign is that he did it despite losing time to the lockout, and with a quarterback nobody wanted. San Francisco came excruciatingly close to making the Super Bowl in Harbaugh's first year as head coach. Really, the question should be: What will he do for an encore?
Jim Harbaugh defied all odds to rebuild the Niners in one season, and they were amazingly close to getting to a Super Bowl that was beyond the imagination of all San Francisco fans back in August. Not to mention, the guy had hardly any prior NFL coaching experience after spending two seasons (2002-03) as an Oakland Raiders assistant.