I question the validity of the Coach of the Year award because it should go to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick every single season, but it doesn’t. The fact that Belichick has only won it twice in the past decade, despite being the best coach in the league, should be enough to raise eyebrows.
Belichick is held to crazy standards that no other coaches need to attain in order to win the award. The award usually goes to the coach at the helm of a former-bottom 10 team that reaches the playoff, or the coach of the team with the best record, or the coach of a team that had to overcome the most injuries to earn a playoff berth. Those are all fine qualifications for winning the award.
The issue is that Belichick has to accomplish two out of the three in order to win the award, and even then he’s penalized for having quarterback Tom Brady (even though Ron Rivera won coach of the year with MVP Cam Newton at quarterback).
Another reason the award is crazy is that every single coach in the league knows that Belichick is the best in the business. It’s not even a question and they’ll openly acknowledge it.
Hat tip to the Globe’s Ben Volin for highlighting the new coach questionnaires that are in the NFL media guide, where coaches have the opportunity to answer a few questions, including “who is the toughest coach you’ve ever had to face?”
Now some, like the Seahawks Pete Carroll or the 49ers Jim Harbaugh list Mike Ditka and Texas Christian’s Gary Patterson, respectively, because they did not have NFL experience against Belichick as a head coach. And some like the Vikings Leslie Frazier and Harbaugh list Bill Walsh from their playing days, while the Raiders Jack Del Rio lists Forrest Gregg.
Those are fine answers because they are from times that predate Belichick.
But if you want to know who comes to mind when the coaches mention a contemporary, well, you shouldn’t have to ask.
Oakland Raiders Dennis Allen (2012): “Bill Belichick, because he always has his team prepared for every situation.”
Jacksonville Jaguars Mike Mularkey (2012): “Bill Belichick, because he always has a team that is well-prepared and very disciplined”
Indianapolis Colts Chuck Pagano (2012): “Bill Belichick.”
San Diego Chargers Mike McCoy (2013): “Bill Belichick, because of his team’s preparation and its attention to detail.”
Kansas City Chiefs Andy Reid (2013): “Bill Belichick.”
Buffalo Bills Rex Ryan (2015): “Bill Belichick, because of his intelligence.”
Denver Broncos Gary Kubiak (2015): “Bill Belichick, because you don’t know what to expect from him.”
Tennessee Titans Mike Mularkey (2016): “Bill Belichick, because he always has a team that is well-prepared and very disciplined.” (this is his same answer from when he was hired by the Jaguars)
Now there were a few other answers.
Hue Jackson mentioned Mike Tomlin in both 2011, for his Raiders job, and this past year for his Cleveland job, which is reasonable because he’s faced the Tomlin-led Steelers as a member of the Ravens (2008-09), Bengals (2012-15), and now the Browns (2016-). Former Browns offensive coordinator and head coach Rob Chudzinski mentioned former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau for the same reason.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera named Norv Turner- likely because Turner hired Rivera to be his linebacker coach, and then his defensive coordinator in San Diego, which ultimately earned Rivera his current head coaching job with Carolina.
Jets head coach Todd Bowles listed Bill Parcells after spending his playing career facing Parcells (and Bill Belichick) twice a year in the NFC East. Parcells gave Bowles his first job in the NFL with the Jets, and then brought Bowles along with him to his stops with the Cowboys and Dolphins. There’s a deep history and understandable respect here.
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher named Tom Coughlin and the two have a long history. Fisher was made head coach of the Rams in 1995, the same year Coughlin became head coach of the division rival and expansion Jaguars. The two faced off 17 times until Coughlin’s firing in 2002.
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley highlighted Mike Shanahan, saying “his teams put stress on a defense.”
Of all the listed coached, over half mentioned Belichick as the toughest coach to face in the entire league. And if the coach didn’t specifically mention Belichick, they said that the Patriots were the toughest team to face, or their favorite memory is linked to the Patriots.
Bradley, Chudzinski, Del Rio, Ryan, and Andy Reid all listed the Patriots as the toughest or greatest team they’ve ever had to face.
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano (2012) said the Patriots are the greatest team he’s ever competed against, and his toughest game was the Ravens 2012 AFC Championship game against New England.
Chargers head coach Mike McCoy (2013) said his most memorable moment was losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl as a member of the Panthers coaching staff.
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell (2014) said his toughest games was the 2006 AFC Championship game against the Patriots.
Browns head coach Mike Pettine (2014) said his most memorable moment was beating the Patriots in the 2010 playoffs, and his most embarrassing was losing to the Patriots during the Buttfumble game.
There’s no question that Belichick is considered the greatest coach and his teams are considered the greatest teams. It’s why he and the Patriots are the gold standard in the NFL right now. It’s also why the Coach of the Year award should really be the “Coach not-named-Belichick of the Year.”
The questionnaires had a few other fun answers. Pete Carroll named Matt Cassel the funniest player he ever coached. Jim Harbaugh said Bobby Orr was his favorite athlete as a child. Pat Shurmur said Danny Amendola was the toughest player he ever coached. Gus Bradley said Lawyer Milloy was the best athlete he’s coached.
Former Patriots offensive coordinator and current Texans head coach Bill O’Brien’s questionnaire reads like a love poem to the Patriots:
FAVORITE VACATION SPOT: Cape Cod
WHICH NFL TEAM DID YOU FOLLOW AS A CHILD: New England Patriots
FAVORITE ATHLETE AS A CHILD: Larry Bird
WHO’D MAKE A GREAT HEAD COACH: Mike Vrabel and George Godsey
GREATEST OVERACHIEVER: Danny Woodhead and Wes Welker
BEST PURE ATHLETE: Randy Moss
TOUGHEST PLAYER: Tom Brady
MOST INSPIRATIONAL PLAYER: Tom Brady
FUNNIEST PLAYER: Matt Light
TOUGHEST GAME YOU’VE EVER COMPETED IN: Super Bowl
MOST KNOWLEDGEABLE FOOTBALL WRITER YOU’VE EVER MET: Peter King, John McClain, Mike Reiss
Now all these answers were as they related to his experience as a coach, but come on. It’s hard not to love the responses, top to bottom.