Analyzing the great head coaching debate
FLORHAM PARK, NJ — A recent article on ESPN debated the top 10 NFL head coaches, and the Jets’ Rex Ryan cracked the list at number seven. Not a bad feat considering the state of the Jets recent head coaches (see Mangini, Eric; Edwards, Herman; Groh, Al). However, his New York counter-part was ranked slightly higher at the number six spot. By now we’ve all seen or heard about this article, but after some careful deliberation about the possible slight by the ESPN writers I can’t help but disagree with them.
The NFL, more than ever, is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league and outside of a select few, I can’t think of anyone who has done a better job over the last two years than Ryan. He has taken his Jets, once unheralded and without respect, to back-to-back AFC Championship games. And he’s been able to do all this winning on the road, in January, against the top teams in the conference.
The obvious slight against Ryan is his unimpressive regular season record (18-14 over two seasons), however in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, Ryan has played in meaningful games while Coughlin was left pondering how to take that next step for the following season. Coughlin has produced a Super Bowl victory within the last five years, but every year outside of that has been lackluster. But before I dive any further in on this topic, I would like to point out who I believe are the top ten coaches in the NFL as of right now:
- Bill Belichick, New England Patriots (ESPN’s #1)
- Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers (#2)
- Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints (#5)
- Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles (#3)
- Rex Ryan, New York Jets (#7)
- Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers (#4)
- John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens (#10)
- Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons (#9)
- Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (#6)
- Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans (unranked)
The formula that I based my decision on goes a little something like this: Playoff Appearances + Playoff Victories + Super Bowl Victories x Culture of team inherited + the ability to turn said culture around + tenure/.5 (the recent success of first or second year head coaches with their teams have caused me to not put as much into tenure, although longevity is definitely something to admire with the current state of the NFL) . Not exactly the scientific method, but it’s a start.
Yes, Ryan is the only head coach in the top six without a Super Bowl ring – even without a Super Bowl appearance to his name. That, however, is outweighed by how quickly he was able to turn a disenfranchised Jets’ culture into one that now expects to win. With a boisterous, slightly braggadocios personality, Ryan’s team has adopted that complexion faster than any other team I’ve seen circa the 2001 Patriots. The team that wasn’t supposed to produce so much so soon took the mantra “fake it until you make it” and ran with it. With a still-developing quarterback, almost an entirely re-vamped team, and a new scheme the Jets stopped taking losing as a result and people took notice. Name me another head coach to have that type of immediate impact and I’ll show you a guy who’s had a lot of success in his following years. This, more than anything, is what I believe separates the good coaches from the great ones.
Ryan has capitalized on the opportunities given to him (see the final two games of the 2009 season) and never apologized for them. Instead, he has used them as stepping stones to further quiet any skeptics who say he didn’t belong. Since obtaining the Jets head coaching position, Ryan has racked up 10 road victories and four more in the playoffs. Those numbers are only bettered by Peyton’s 12 regular season road wins and one playoff road win (in the Super Bowl) and McCarthy’s eight road victories and four road playoff wins. Belichick has 8 road wins to zero playoff wins in that two-year span. Tomlin has 10 road victories and has won 2 playoff games (at home) while Coughlin has seven road wins and zero playoff appearances to show for it.
Getting back to the debate within New York, Ryan vs. Coughlin, there really is no comparison. Like I said, Coughlin has the bling on his ring finger to boast that he is worthy of a higher ranking, but what has he done for New York recently? Well, he’s guided his team to two ugly late season collapses to miss the playoffs, with the last one nearly costing him his job. What made the 2007 Giants so special is that they hit their stride towards the end of the season, not come out of the gates firing like in ‘08 and ‘09. Contrary to Ryan, Coughlin’s personality has never been his strong point. In fact, he was told to lighten up to reporters and players and lift some of his strict rules (remember his ridiculous fines for being early to team meetings?).
“I favored coaches that walked into tough situations, won relatively quickly and then sustained the improvement over more than one season,” Mike Sando said in a statement issued through an NFC West blog spokesman.
I’m in agreement with Sando here. The problem for Ryan is that the only improvement he can make is obtaining a Super Bowl ring, something that has plagued the Jets since Broadway Joe. However given his popularity amongst his players and players around the league, convincing top-notch players to come to New York and play for Ryan should not be an issue. So I see the ceiling only rising for Ryan and his band of braggarts in the coming seasons.
While many, myself included, believe Ryan was slightly by his number seven selection in the great heading coaching debate, somehow I think Ryan and his players will prove that, at the end of the day, it is only that…a debate. And luckily for them debates aren’t played on the gridiron.