I've already written a piece praising Jim Caldwell's nearly flawless performance this year, and I don't want to recover the same ground today, but it's time to make the case for Caldwell as the best coaching performance in 2009. Forget for a moment that the Coach of the Year award should go to the best coach. It doesn't. It goes to the coach who most often out performs expectations. That leads to some iffy winners from time to time. Past coaches of the year include: Mike Smith, Lovie Smith, Dick Jauron, Jim Haslett, Jim Fassel, Dom Capers, Ray Rhodes, Wayne Fontes, Lindy Infante (SERIOUSLY), and Jim Mora.
Jim Caldwell has excelled in every area of coaching. His team is disciplined (fewest penalties in the NFL). He's been a good in game coach. He hasn't lost a game...you know, little stuff like that. Still, barring a 16-0 record, it might not be enough. Even if Indy goes 16-0, he might not win.
This season, the prime candidates are:
Jim Caldwell, Colts:
Pros: Undefeated. Disciplined team. Has handled every hurdle. Indy has had lots of injuries and young players playing more than expected, but they've been prepared and ready to play.
"Overperform Rating": Low, but should be high. Revisionist history says, "Of course the Colts won 12 games! They always do!". But everyone forgets that many in the media had the Colts pegged for a 2nd place finish in the South and no more than 10 wins. The Colts are better than people expected, but everyone has forgotten what they expected because the expectations were stupid in the first place.
Cons: He coaches Peyton Manning. Everyone assumes Peyton runs the team anyway. There is the perception that this is really Dungy's team and he is just a caretaker. He is quiet and doesn't play 'media games'
To win: His odds are rising. He could win at 15-1 if the Saints don't go undefeated. 16-0 should do it though (one would hope). Everyone has to be satisfied with how Indy finishes.
Sean Payton, Saints:
Pros: Undefeated. He's seen as an offensive innovator. He's young, media friendly and dynamic. He's taken on the 16-0 issue with gusto (which may or may not be smart, but the media likes it). His team is considered by almost every major poll to be the best in football. He "outcoached" Belichick on Monday Night Football. The Saints are seen as a sympathetic story.
"Overperform Rating": High. The Saints were on few preseason lists as division winners let alone #1 overall seeds. The Footballoutsiders for instance had them as an 8 win team.
Cons: Everyone acknowledges that the biggest difference between the 08 and 09 Saints is their defense. Gregg Williams has brought a blitzing style that has translated into massive improvement. Payton has already won the award once.
To win: He's the odds on favorite. 16-0 would be a lock. As long as the Saints go 2-1, he should viewed as a top choice.
Marvin Lewis, Bengals:
Pros: Bengals field one of the toughest defenses in the league, and Marvin is a defensive guy. Swept the 'tough' AFC North for the first time in franchise history.
"Overperform Rating": Off the charts. The Bengals were expected to bad, mostly because they are always bad. FO had them down for 7 wins, and they already have nine and a division title in a division with defending champs Pittsburgh and AFC finalist Baltimore.
Cons: The Bengals are losing steam. They've won 2 of 4 over Detroit and Cleveland, but still have to play San Diego and the Jets. They may top out at just 10 wins. Also, I don't think most people think Lewis is a great coach.
To win: Hope the first two guys lose a game, take the 2 seed in the AFC
Brad Childress, Vikings:
Pros: Convinced Brett Favre to come to Minnesota
"Overperform Rating": Low. The Vikings are better than people thought, but they are crazy talented and won 10 games last year. Sure the Favre thing has worked, but the Vikings were picked by many to win the division. FO had them slated to win 9 games and be a playoff contender. They've been better than that, but not dramatically so.
Cons: He's a terrible game manager. He's not well respected as a coach. If he wins, it will be a referendum on his decision to bet his career on Favre.
To win: Win out, snake the 1 seed from the Saints (still possible, right?)
Jack Del Rio, Jaguars
Pros: Searching...Searching....Searching...nope. Can't think of any. Just kidding. Has taken a young roster in a city that doesn't care and has them on the brink of the playoffs. If they steal a spot, he could well be the winner.
"Overperform Rating": If they make the playoffs, off the scale. The Jags aren't a good team, and everyone knew it coming in. Ok, so the Outsiders had them down for 10 wins, but no one else did.
Cons: Jags are fading fast. They finish with Indy and New England and Cleveland on the road. They won't make the playoffs and Del Rio will quickly fade as a candidate.
To win: Make the playoffs
Josh McDaniels, Broncos
Pros: Young, Belichickian guy. Fiery with his team. Won the Jay Cutler showdown. Got Brandon Marshall in line.
"Overperform Rating": Excellent. The Broncos were expected to be bad, but they've won 8 games already. FO had them down for 5 wins.
Cons: Broncos started 6-0. They've gone just 2-5 in their last 7 games. He was the odds on favorite early, but is now just a second tier candidate.
To win: Win 11 games and the AFC West. Hope everyone else on the list stumbles.