The battle to be the league MVP is one that is very often reserved for the players on offense, and while it is great to debate who the best player was in any given season, it’s also a good idea to talk about the coaches who make it all happen.
A player can have an off year and still remain on his team, or perhaps land somewhere new for a fresh start, but a bad season for a coach can often mean that they are updating their resume in the middle of the season.
It’s about time that we started talking about the potential candidates for NFL Coach of the Year, keeping in mind that new favorites might emerge by the time we reach the final week of the season. Still, the men listed below are the ones who are making it happen right now.
Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals)
When Kingsbury was plucked from the college ranks to assume the head coaching position with the Arizona Cardinals, there were a lot of people who assumed that it would be a very short reign. Certainly, things looked bleak in his first season in charge, leading the Cardinals to a 5-10-1 record in 2019, which was followed up by an 8-8 record in 2020.
Patience has paid off for the Cardinals, though, as they allowed Kingsbury, a bit of an offensive guru, to work with QB Kyler Murray, who has gone from strength to strength in his 3 seasons as the starting QB for Arizona. The result is that Arizona is 9-2 on the season in 2021 and looking like a legitimate Super Bowl contender. He would certainly appear to be the coach to beat and a certain winner of the Coach of the Year Award if the Cardinals continue to rack up wins the rest of the way.
Bill Belichick (New England Patriots)
If you don’t know what Belichick has accomplished in his time with the New England Patriots, we would need to assume that you have been living under a rock for the past 20 years. We all know about the Super Bowls and the partnership that he has with Tom Brady, but everyone wondered how what would go once the GOAT jumped ship and went to Tampa Bay.
With Brady winning a Super Bowl with the Bucs last year and the Patriots going 7-9, many were quick to suggest that it was Brady who was propping up the Patriots all those years. We all may have spoken too soon, as New England are rolling in 2021 and looking unbeatable with a rookie QB under center. Belichick deserves a ton of credit for turning the ship around after a minor blip on the radar last year.
Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans)
This is where things begin to get interesting, as Mike Vrabel might well be seeing his stock begin to fall a little with the Titans losing 2 in a row. Tennessee is still 8-4 on the season, and it is worth remembering that they are missing their best weapon, with RB Derrick Henry potentially out for the season through injury.
If Vrabel can right the ship, win the division, and take the Titans to the postseason with Henry on the sidelines, then you can bet that his odds will shorten again. You certainly would not bet against him doing that, as he has been excellent as a head coach. He went 9-7 in his first season in charge, but the Titans missed the playoffs. It was the same record in 2019, but this time, he led his team to the AFC Championship Game, which they lost. That was followed by an 11-5 record and an early playoff exit last season. I have a feeling that the Titans will rebound and finish strong.
Brandon Staley (LA Chargers)
It has been a pretty quick rise to prominence in the NFL for Staley, with this season being his first as a head coach in the league. Prior to this season, Staley spent time with the Bears and Broncos as an outside linebacker’s coach before jumping to the LA Rams as the defensive coordinator.
He helped the Rams D become the best in the league in points and total yards allowed, so it was no real surprise that he became a viable head coaching candidate. In his first season with the Chargers, he has taken his team to a 6-5 record, but he is going to need some time to rebuild what is a porous defense. Getting this team to the playoffs would be huge in his first season, but he needs to be a little more consistent in the final weeks for that to happen.
Mike McCarthy (Dallas Cowboys)
Being the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys is a bit of a thankless task, as they have a fan base who look at the season as being Super Bowl or bust. That makes life very tough for any head coach, as it is almost impossible to live up to the expectations placed in this franchise in any given season. McCarthy came in with a very solid pedigree, winning a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers and leading them to 8 straight playoff appearances.
A losing season in 2017 ended that streak, while a poor start the following year cost him his job. McCarthy was out of work for one full season before landing with the Cowboys. The 2020 season was a huge disappointment, with the Cowboys going 6-10, albeit with QB Dak Prescott out for most of the season. They have bounced back in a big way and are atop the NFC East with an 8-4 record. Winning a poor division might not be enough to get McCarthy the award, unless the Cowboys go on a late run and win it in some style.