May 16, 2014; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee (11) bumps fists with head coach Gus Bradley during rookie minicamp at Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
It’s a high honor in the NFL to win Coach of the Year. It signals great accomplishment in the face of great adversity. Who has a chance to claim it in 2014?
Bill O’Brien – Houston Texans
A fast track way to win Coach of the Year is to inherit a talented team that happened to have a bad season. That is what Andy Reid did in Kansas City and on paper it seems that is the case for Bill O’Brien with the Houston Texans. The former Penn State coach has a defense in place littered with talent from J.J. Watt to uber-athletic rookie Jadeveon Clowney and a defensive coordinator in Romeo Crennel to bring it together. Throw in a lot of veteran experience on offense and the pieces are there for a quick turnaround, especially in that wide open AFC South.
Dennis Allen – Oakland Raiders
After two-straight seasons of going 4-12, Dennis Allen finally seems to have the roster in place that he wants. The Oakland Raiders spent big in free agency and followed it with a productive NFL draft. A strong mix of veteran leadership and young skill are in place. Getting it to mesh quickly will tell the tale of 2014 for Allen. Oakland has not had a winning record since 2002. Breaking that painful streak would almost guarantee him a front seat for the award. He will need some breaks though in that tough AFC West division.
Lovie Smith – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Among the five on this list, Lovie Smith is actually the most experienced in terms of coaching success. He won Coach of the Year back in 2005 when he took the Chicago Bears from 5-11 to 11-5. Now he’s in position with a new team again. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent early and often in free agency to overhaul the roster. On defense things are looking awfully good with a young core of Pro Bowl talent centered on Gerald McCoy. On offense they have a stable veteran in Josh McCown at quarterback along with a host of big weapons led by Vincent Jackson. Smith gets his players to play hard. If that trend continues, Tampa Bay may be the surprise of the NFC this season.
Joe Philbin – Miami Dolphins
As NFL tenures go, it can’t get much more tumultuous than what Joe Philbin has endured with the Miami Dolphins in just two seasons. In that time span he has seen his GM replaced, locker room besieged due to a bullying scandal and his quarterback pounded black and blue behind a horrifically bad offensive line. In spite of it all, Philbin is still standing. His team came one or two games away from the playoffs at 8-8. If their blocking problems are fixed and the scandal forgotten, this team has the talent to do the unthinkable: unseat New England for the division title.
Gus Bradley – Jacksonville Jaguars
So many people have expressed admiration for what Gus Bradley is doing down in Florida with the Jacksonville Jaguars. They get a sense that things are headed in the right direction and it’s only a matter of time before the team starts winning. The obstacles ahead aren’t easy, namely figuring out the quarterback situation and building a proper offense. Still, in that AFC South division anything can happen. One or two breaks and Bradley could get a head start on his mission to turn the Jags into “Seahawks South.”