This past NFL regular season we saw the positive impact that good coaching can have on a team. Some of the best coaches are master motivators who have the ability to get the best out of their players in order to win. It’s something that shows on the field when you watch what separates the good teams from the bad teams.
Which is why this season may be one of the toughest years to pick who deserves to win the Coach of the Year Award. This is due to the fact that there are a multitude of worthy candidates that deserve to win the award.
Tennessee Titans: Mike Vrabel
Despite the fact that the Titans were expected to be a playoff team before the start of the season, no one would have expected them to be this successful with the adversity they faced. Some of the injuries they had came from key offensive players.
The Titans were flying high at 6-2 in large part because their offense consisted of superstar running back Derrick Henry carrying the offense. By the time Henry suffered a Jones fracture in his foot he already had 937 rushing yards eight weeks into the season. He finished the regular season 9th in rushing yards despite the fact that he only played in eight games. That alone shows that Henry was on an absolute rampage carrying the ball.
Last season Henry had 843 rushing yards in his first eight games, and he finished the regular season with over 2,000 yards rushing. Who knows how many rushing yards Henry would have finished with if he played in every game, and had an additional game because of the new schedule.
To say that the Titans had big injury problems this past season would be a massive understatement. Over the course of the regular season, the Titans had fielded 91 different players, a new NFL record which they broke in week 12. The Titans were 3rd in the league when it came to most games missed by players due to injury with 336.
They were the only team out of the top five to make the playoffs. They also had 54 players on injured reserve over the course of the season, which was the fifth-most in the NFL. They are one of only two teams in the top ten of that category to make the playoffs.
During the offseason, the Titans lost some valuable members of their squad, like their offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, Tight End Jonnu Smith, and Wide Receiver Corey Davis. They replaced Davis with talented Atlanta Falcons Wide Receiver Julio Jones, but he only played in ten regular-season games, while also having career lows in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.
One of the biggest reasons for the Titans’ success was the transformation they had on defense. Last season the Titans’ defense was 24th in points per game, but this season they were 6th in the same category.
The argument in favor of Vrabel being Coach of the Year is pretty strong. When you consider how much he had to overcome this season with the massive amount of injuries and roster turnover. Along with the fact that the Titans clinched the number 1 seed for the first time in 13 seasons, he is certainly worthy of winning Coach of the Year.
Cincinnati Bengals: Zac Taylor
After winning just six games in his first two seasons as Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, Zac Taylor knew that in year three his team needed to make a jump. And the Bengals did just that, by going 10-7 and winning the AFC North for the first time since 2015.
In the process of that, the Bengals had to take care of business against their divisional opponents. For the first time in six years, the Bengals managed to sweep the Baltimore Ravens, and they also managed to sweep the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time in 12 years.
This season Taylor’s offensive play calling was put on full display. In his second year, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow had a 70% completion percentage, threw for over 4,600 yards, and 34 touchdown passes. Running back Joe Mixon had more rushing touchdowns this year (13) than he did in his last two seasons combined (8), and he also finished the regular season third in rushing yards with 1,205.
The Bengals offense also went from 29th in points per game to 7th this season. Their incredible receiving trio featured rookie standout Ja’Marr Chase, along with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Although Chase was the one that by far stood out the most and had the biggest impact. The former LSU star was taken by the Bengals with the 5th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft; just one year after they took Burrow, his college quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft.
In his rookie year, Chase finished the regular season with 81 catches, 1,455 receiving yards (4th most in the NFL), and 13 touchdowns (3rd most in the NFL). Chase had a fantastic season especially for a rookie, and he was able to show why the Bengals made the right decision by drafting him over an offensive lineman.
Higgins and Boyd also had very nice seasons as complementary pieces. Higgins had 74 receptions, 1,092 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. Boyd finished the regular season with 67 receptions, 828 receiving yards, and five touchdowns.
Taylor is certainly a viable candidate to be coach of the year with what he and the Bengals have been able to achieve this season. Considering how poor the Bengals were when Taylor started in 2019 to where they are now, it’s amazing to see how far they have come. Especially when you consider the fact that if Taylor had another bad season coaching the Bengals, he might have lost his job after the season.
Las Vegas Raiders: Rich Bisaccia
It’s very rare for an interim head coach to win coach of the year. The last person to do it was Bruce Arians in 2012 with the Indianapolis Colts. But if there was anyone who deserved it would be Rich Bisaccia.
The 2021 Las Vegas Raiders have had a rollercoaster season, and that’s putting it lightly. At the start of the season, Bisaccia was the Special Teams Coordinator and Jon Gruden was the head coach, but that changed after Gruden resigned five weeks into the season when a series of racist, misogynistic, and homophobic emails from Gruden resurfaced.
Bisaccia, who had never been a head coach before, would have the tough task of taking over a 3-2 team playing in the AFC West, one of the toughest divisions in football. Bisaccia won his first two games in charge, and the Raiders were 5-2 heading into their bye week.
During their bye week, Raiders second-year wide receiver Henry Ruggs III was involved in a fatal car crash where he smashed into another vehicle resulting in the death of a 23-year old woman. This also resulted in Ruggs being charged with driving under the influence and reckless driving. The Raiders ended up terminating Ruggs’ contract after the incident.
The Raiders went 1-5 in their next six games, and their one win came off a game-winning field goal in overtime against the Dallas Cowboys. In the middle of that stretch, the Raiders’ second first-round pick from the 2020 NFL Draft, Damon Arnette, was released on November 8th after he posted a video showing off firearms while threatening people.
At 6-7, their chances at making the playoffs were slim to none and all hope seemed lost. But the Raiders didn’t quit on Bisaccia, as they managed to win their last four games of the season by a combined 12 points, and three of those four games were won off of game-winning field goals by Daniel Carlson. The Raiders finished the regular season 10-7 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
For someone who has never been a head coach, let alone an interim, to go through all of that in one season, and still manage to get his team into the playoffs, is a remarkable accomplishment.
Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Sirianni
Going into this season, very few people expected the Philadelphia Eagles to make the playoffs. They were coming off a disastrous 4-11-1 season, where their franchise quarterback Carson Wentz struggled mightily and played so badly that he was benched with four games left in the season.
This also resulted in the Eagles going through some massive turnover with firing their head coach Doug Pederson just three years after winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history. The Eagles would also trade Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts just two years after signing him to a four-year $128 million contract extension.
In replacing Pederson, the Eagles hired somewhat of an unknown individual in Nick Sirianni who at the time was the Colts’ offensive coordinator. The reaction to Sirianni getting hired was mostly confusion, and a lot of people wondering ‘who is this guy?’
When Sirianni had his first chance to speak with the media and fans in his introductory press conference, it did not go well, to say the least. In a setting where reporters were not even present and the press conference was on zoom, Sirianni looked nervous, scared, and unconfident. Not the qualities you would like to see in a head coach.
Sirianni got off to a rough start in his first season as a head coach, as the Eagles were 2-5 after their first seven games. This resulted in the Eagles changing their offensive philosophy in a drastic way.
During the first seven games of the season, the Eagles were a pass-first offense that didn’t incorporate the run game nearly enough in their offense. They were averaging only 117 rush yards per game in that seven-game span.
The Eagles would go 7-3 in their last ten games allowing them to sneak into a wild card spot and make the playoffs finishing the regular season at 9-8. During that ten-game stretch, the Eagles completely changed their offensive style and became a run-first team. They went from averaging 117 rushing yards per game in the first seven games to 189 in the last ten.
The thing that hurts Sirianni’s coach of the year chances is the fact that the Eagles only beat one team with a winning record during the regular season and that was the 9-8 New Orleans Saints, who were starting third-string quarterback Trevor Siemian.
But the Eagles did win five more games than the previous season in their first under Sirianni. They also managed to turn around a season where they looked dead at 2-5 and managed to totally reshape their offense which significantly benefited their team.
This season the impact of good coaching has been put on full display. As a result, there are plenty of coaches that deserve to be awarded coach of the year. The coaches that are listed above all had to deal with either challenging circumstances or managed to really get the best out of the talent that they have been given. Coaches that have the ability to do either of those things are the ones that usually shine the brightest and stand out the most.
Tune in to the NFL Honors show on Thursday, February 10th at 9 p.m. ET to find out who will be named AP Coach of the Year.