Lawrence: Coaching Challenge

We're not even halfway through the NFL season, but several deserving candidates are emerging for Coach of the Year honors

Amy Lawrence
October 23, 2019 - 7:57 am
Sean Payton Saints

USA Today Images


It's WAY too early to hand out hardware. No team wins a championship in October, and no athlete earns an MVP award before the halfway mark. The same goes for Coach of the Year honors. With plenty of real estate left in the NFL regular season, anything can and WILL happen. However, through Week 7, we see unexpected candidates emerging from the ranks.
When Andrew Luck retired days before the Colts kicked off in their opener against the Chargers, he was roundly criticized for leaving his franchise in the lurch. How could Indianapolis possibly hit a nasty curveball like this one? The Colts promptly lost in overtime, though the offense wasn't to blame. New starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett and lead rusher Marlon Mack spurred a late rally. A career game by Austin Ekeler was the Colts' undoing. And it was disappointing. But since then, they've rebounded to win four of five and grab first place in the AFC South.
The leadership of Frank Reich is on display for the entire league to see. His game plan versus the Chiefs in Kansas City was masterful: control the ball and keep it away from Patrick Mahomes. When hosting the Texans last Sunday, they weren't able to establish the run. Brissett needed to step up and lead his offense, and Reich never doubted for a moment that he was capable. His faith was rewarded with a career performance from Brissett (four touchdowns and a 126.7 passer rating). The trust Reich places in his guys is reciprocated in the locker room. The Colts believe in his decisions, his play-calling, his guidance; and that belief is reflected in their confidence on the field. The Colts were a popular summer pick to challenge for the AFC crown this fall. No need to dial back those expectations now. Reich's preparation and ability to manage adversity keep his team moving onward and upward.
In New Orleans, the Saints were supposed to "tread water" while they waited for Drew Brees to recover from torn ligaments in his thumb. But long-time head coach Sean Payton refused to lower the bar for a team that hosted the NFC Championship game last January. Five wins later, the Saints sit atop the NFC South because the entire franchise is pulling in the same direction. Backup QB Teddy Bridgewater offers incredible inspiration, and his gratitude for the chance to play again is remarkable. But Payton doesn't place all the responsibility on Teddy's shoulders. In Seattle, special teams and defense scored before the offense did. Also during their streak, they edged the Cowboys without scoring a touchdown and survived the Jaguars despite finding the end zone just once. The aggressiveness and intensity of the D is crucial to their success as is the versatility of Alvin Kamara. But against the Buccaneers, it was the quarterback's turn to shine. Bridgewater tossed four TD passes and accounted for more than 300 yards.
Without Kamara in Week 7, New Orleans made a loud statement in Chicago. Latavius Murray slid into the role of primary back, and Bridgewater connected with Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn on deep pass plays to keep the Bears honest. The Saints were efficient and effective with their possessions, but they don't win without a stingy defense to stuff the run and hold the home team to a handful of first downs through three quarters. That victory extended a clear pattern for the Saints. All hands on deck. Payton keeps expectations high by paying attention to every last detail. Nothing slips through the cracks, and his meticulous approach sends a direct message to his players. Their goals have not changed; they are well within reach.
Along with Reich and Payton, Kyle Shanahan deserves to be part of the conversation for (early) Coach of the Year. San Francisco is still undefeated, off to its best start in nearly three decades. The defense is NASTY (and defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh, is the most entertaining and animated figure on the sidelines)! Shanahan and GM John Lynch have spent the last few years patiently building a culture and a roster; and with a healthy QB, the pieces are falling into place.
Three-time Coach of the Year Bill Belichick never rests, not even with the Patriots off to their best start since 2015. His wealth of wisdom and experience is unmatched. While the offense maneuvers through various personnel changes and injuries, the defense serves as the tip of the spear. Regardless of their first-half schedule, a perfect record is a perfect record. In the same division, Sean McDermott has the Bills on the cusp of challenging New England. Josh Allen continues to make smarter decisions, and he embodies the toughness his coach wants to see on the field. McDermott is a "no excuses" guy who practices what he preaches. His determination and high standards are the foundation for a new culture in Orchard Park.
What about first-timer Kliff Kingsbury as a dark horse candidate? After some initial growing pains, his Cardinals have won three in a row. With a fierce defense and a rookie quarterback, they are learning on the job. Should Matt LaFleur garner a few votes for the 6-1 start in Green Bay? Excitement is building in Wisconsin as the offense gels and the defense brings renewed energy and intensity. The Packers have already matched their win total from a year ago, and they've got more road victories than all of last season. In Baltimore, John Harbaugh isn't stuffing his young QB into a box where he doesn't fit. He's putting Lamar Jackson in the best position to succeed.
All over the NFL, we see coaches dealing with unexpected circumstances and finding creative ways to compete. Head coaches are under immense pressure with no promise of job security. This group deserves credit for its leadership while navigating adversity and keeping their teams relevant.

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.