Of all the postseason awards to be announced the night before the Super Bowl (when everyone will have stopped being interested in who wins them), the most interesting award this year could be coach of the year.
It’s typically the most subjective of the awards, despite the objectivity of a team’s win-loss record. The more accurate measure comes from performance relative to expectations, and nothing is more subjective than expectations and the extent to which they’re exceeded.
This year, various favorites have emerged from time to time. When the 2-14 Chiefs started 9-0, Andy Reid appeared to be a lock. When the Panthers won eight in a row after starting 1-3, Ron Rivera moved to the top of the list. Now, with the Dolphins winning five of seven games in the wake of the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito mess, Joe Philbin (pictured) becomes perhaps the most viable candidate to secure the title.
But it’ll be impossible to make an accurate assessment until the regular-season ends and the playoff seedings are set. If, for example, the Panthers secure the No. 2 seed and a bye in the NFC, Rivera’s candidacy improves dramatically. If the Dolphins finish the job and qualify for the playoffs by winning their final two games, Philbin could be the favorite.
Other coaches deserve consideration, too, based on how their teams finish. If the Patriots secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC, Bill Belichick should get some votes. If the Ravens complete their late-season climb to the AFC North title — and possibly swipe a bye — John Harbaugh deserves votes.
How about Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who’ll possibly win the NFC East despite no prior NFL experience? Or Bears coach Marc Trestman, who may win the NFC North in his first year of running a team after many years as an assistant and no prior opportunities to take over the top job?
If the Saints rebound and take the No. 2 seed, should Sean Payton get consideration for instantly turning his team around after a one-year suspension?
The NFC West has produced a trio of candidates. The Seahawks arguably have the most talent in the league, but Pete Carroll has guided them through periods of injury on the offensive line and injury/suspension in the secondary. The 49ers continue to find a way to thrive under Jim Harbaugh. And Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, in his first year as a head coach, could become the first back-to-back winner since Joe Gibbs in 1982-83, and the first to ever win the award in consecutive years with different teams.
The winner won’t begin to become clear until the dust settles on the regular season. Even then, chances are a healthy debate could emerge — and that the 50 total votes could result in the first tie since George Allen and Don Shula shared the honor in 1967.