It's that time of year when the press that covers the National Football League starts taking stock of the jobs done by the 32 men charged with winning football games and making their cases for this coach and or that coach for the Coach of the Year award.
Now, there are several "Coach of the Year" awards, but the one that is held in the highest regard is probably the one given out by the Associated Press who, back in 1989, saw fit to give their award to Lindy Infante. So it's not like winning the award validates you as an all-time great. It just means you did an excellent job coaching your team that particular year.
A little over a month ago, conventional wisdom held that Jim Harbaugh would probably win the award for guiding a San Francisco 49ers team most thought would struggle and hover around mediocrity to a division championship that they wrapped up in early December.
Now sentiment seems to be shifting toward John Fox and the incredible run he and his Denver Broncos have been on since Fox inserted Tim Tebow into the starting lineup.
I have no problem with either of these takes. Both coaches are doing fantastic jobs with their squads.
Even after acknowledging all of the above, it's still hard for me to wrap my head around how Packers head coach Mike McCarthy doesn't deserve this award, especially if his team goes 16-0 in the regular season. (The award is voted on shortly after the conclusion of the regular season, so how a coaches team performs in the postseason is irrelevant - which, of course, is somewhat silly.)
Head coaches are judged on many things, but ultimately their job is to win football games. Not only has McCarthy's team won every game its played this year, they have done so as the defending Super Bowl champions. When Bill Belichick won the award in 2007 (a year I thought McCarthy should have won it as well) his Patriots did not come into each game as the Champs, ready to take the best shot every team could give. (Well, at least not until later in the year when it was apparent they were the best team in the league and were running over teams. Remember, the Ravens gave them a hell of a scare during a chilly Monday Night Football appearance, along with some others along the way.)
The Packers, on the other hand, have not only been circled on teams calendars during the (non-existent) offseason, the pressure has only mounted as the Packers have continued to elongate their 19 game winning streak, which now threatens to eclipse the Patriots' record 21 straight games.
Early on in the year, McCarthy saw his Pro Bowl safety lost for the year three weeks before he saw first his starting right and then left tackles go down two of the next three weeks. Then, he saw both of his starting inside linebackers go down on Thanksgiving.
McCarthy and his staff - and let's be clear, part of being a good head coach is in your development of and working with your assistant coaches - simply inserted their replacements and carried on. Very little changed from a game planning or playcalling standpoint.
Yes, it helps that general manager Ted Thompson and the personnel department have provided quality depth. But the league is littered with underachieving and underperforming talent - just ask Eagles fans. McCarthy and his staff have their guys ready to go at a moments notice and the team doesn't miss a beat.
That's excellent coaching.
So yes, Jim Harbaugh has done a great job - but are you really Coach of the Year if you lose to the Cardinals in a game you desperately need if you want to entertain the idea of home field advantage in the playoffs?
As for John Fox, yes, he's done an excellent job of resetting his team after naming Tebow his starter. But are you really Coach of the Year because you inserted Tebow into the lineup to appease your fanbase, the idea being that once that experiment failed you could start rebuilding in earnest - only to watch as Tebowmania breaks out across the NFL? Yes, Fox has done a fantastic coaching job. Folks have praised Fox's adjustment to Tebow and the way he has "slowed down the game" to try and limit opponents possesions. I'm sorry, but why did it take Kyle Orton flaming out spectacularly for the coach to realize - hey, I don't exactly have an offensive powerhouse here.
Coach of the Year for essentially catching unexpected lightning in a bottle?
No, the choice is Mike McCarthy. His team has won every game, many of them handily. They have faced what McCarthy likes to call "adversity situations" head on and overcome every one of them.
Mike McCarthy is your Coach of the Year.
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