8. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
The Packers fan base has been highly critical of McCarthy. This may be rooted in them being spoiled by great success over the years and panicking in the face of defeat, but nonetheless, his job has been called for. Realistically, McCarthy will not and should not lose his job. He is the most lackluster coach left in the playoffs, though. His handling of offensive play calling this year, bouncing between himself and the offensive coordinator, has been questionable. Generally speaking, the coordinators on the staff are underwhelming and McCarthy has struggled to address that. Granted, Green Bay’s biggest issue this year was injuries, but McCarthy did little to overcome them.
The Packers win over Washington last week was a direct result of Aaron Rodgers finding a way to be himself again. Rodgers found his spark, moving and throwing with the confidence that he had lacked for the majority of the season. With him looking as good as ever, the Packers rolled through Washington and on to the next round, and it is tough to credit McCarthy for the win, let alone the marginal success the team found during the season.
7. Gary Kubiak, Denver Broncos
In a year or two, it would make sense to see Kubiak a few spots higher on this list, but as his first year back as a head coach, he needs to reclaim his stake. When Peyton Manning was healthy and not entirely horrendous, Kubiak gave him the reigns of the offense- undoubtedly a smart move with as well-versed as Manning is. Once Brock Osweiler stepped into the starting role, Kubiak cooked up an offense very well tailored to Osweiler’s strength to give him the best shot to win. Winning with Osweiler was certainly a task, but Kubiak found a way to hold up.
That said, Kubiak does have the caveat of inheriting an outstanding defense. The Broncos defense is arguably the best in the league and has been a key factor in keeping opponent’s scores down and getting the ball back in Denver’s hands. Kubiak is a solid coach with a brilliant offensive mind, not to mention he has handled personnel fairly well throughout the year.
6. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
Tomlin, like McCarthy, has had his job quietly called for, but he has done a good job with the Steelers this year despite injury and an atrocious defense. The personnel on the Steelers defense was an absolute mess at nearly every position, but Tomlin did his best to manage both sides of the ball well enough to get Pittsburgh into a wild card spot, and anything can happen once you get into the playoffs.
Tomlin’s saving grace has been the offense, coordinated by Todd Haley. The two concocted one of the most lethal offenses in the league, even without Le’Veon Bell. Tomlin also managed to keep the team alive during Roethlisberger’s four game stint of injury, winning two of the four games. Now, with Antonio Brown doubtful and Roethlisberger struggled with a hurting shoulder, Tomlin is going to need a miracle to pull out a win this weekend, but they beat Denver earlier this season.
5. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Reid is far from the most exciting coach in the league, but he has proven that he can win in this league and has done so at a high level this year despite losing Jamaal Charles. His West Coast system is a perfect fit for Alex Smith, and Reid is finally playing with a new found version of Smith who is willing to attack down the field if he needs to. More than anything, this could be rooted in the acquisition of Jeremy Maclin, who Smith seems to be quite comfortable with. Regardless of the fruit, Reid’s system has come to full fruition and has taken the Chiefs to the next level.
This offensive success was absolutely necessary to maximize the defense. The Chiefs defense has been among the best for years, but it has little to show for it because of the poor offense Smith produced. With Reid now having a rhythmic Smith and a still dominant defense, he has all the makings to take the Chiefs to the next round.
4. Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
Rivera is the most interesting coach in the league right now because he flipped his mentality completely. For a while, Rivera was the stern, empowering father figure to his players. He didn’t tolerate anything but business. Eventually, Cam Newton got him to realize the culture had to change and the team needed to let loose and be a little abrasive. Rivera embraced the change and his team became the most dominant team in football this year, nearly reaching the ever elusive 16-0 mark.
The defense came out with an intense, fiery passion to punish anyone who dare score on them. Their front seven was a monstrous force. Their secondary was a group of ball hawks, lurking around for passes to intercept. On offense, the entire squad rallied behind CaMVP, showing a new fire that had not yet been seen from this Panthers team. Rivera saw what needed to change, embraced it and has seen unbelievable success because of it. That is a smart coach.
3. Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
The Arians offense has taken the NFL by storm. Wherever he has gone, Arians has had great success, but his Cardinals offense feels special. Carson Palmer was resurrected from his knee injury and came back dealing in Arians’s vertical, aggressive offense. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Arians was able to get outstanding usage out of previously unsung heroes like rookie David Johnson and a seemingly revived Chris Johnson. Both running backs exceeded expectations and played a part in allowing the passing offense to thrive.
On top of his masterful offense, the Cardinals defense has not lost a step from its elite level even though defensive coordinator Todd Bowles departed before the year. Arians is a great players coach, both in the sense that he is a likable person who understands how to handle adults and in the sense that he is a damn good coach who knows how to get the most of a player’s talents. Arians does it all.
2. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
Carroll’s track record at multiple levels of intense, high-stake football speaks for itself. Carroll’s Seahawks have found themselves in the Super Bowl two years in a row, managing to win the first one. That is a feat in and of itself, but it is absurd that he has them on track to possibly make it their a third time consecutively, a feat that has not been done since the Buffalo Bills went four times in a row in the early 90’s.
Success is no coincidence for Carroll. He brings in great staff and players, and gets every last ounce of ability out of them. Carroll has turned plenty of questionable picks, like Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner, into great players, and turned a 5th round receiver-turn-cornerback into who we now know as Richard Sherman. Oh, Carroll also nabbed Russell Wilson in the third round and has groomed him into a top five quarterback, height be damned. Carroll’s knack for finding players who fit what he does and get players to rally behind his ideals is outstanding.
1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick. The Hood. The greatest coach of all time. It does not matter what title you use when addressing him; Belichick is a special breed. The intense attention to detail that he brings is matched only by the great Bill Walsh. He is as focused as they come, and he gets results. The Hood does not stop until it gets what it wants. This is why Belichick has won four Super Bowls as a head coach and three coach of the year awards. He is the master of his craft and nobody will ever dethrone him.
Defense is Belichick’s specialty, but he has become so well versed in that, that he has become an offensive genius as well. He is brilliant all around and consistently surrounds himself with other smart people. It is not a shock that Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, the offensive and defensive coordinators for the Patriots, are highly sought after head coach candidates. Belichick grooms these young coaches, as well as does a great job of putting players in the best position to succeed and getting them to be as disciplined as possible. Belichick’s attention to detail and execution of those details is legendary. He is a generational coach.