PHOENIX (AP) _ Ray Rhodes always thought he had what it takes to be a successful NFL head coach.

He finally got his chance this season, and on Thursday was honored as the Coach of the Year.

Rhodes guided the rebuilt Philadelphia Eagles to a surprising 10-6 record and an opening-round playoff win over Detroit.

A no-nonsense type who seldom smiles, Rhodes, 45, managed a grin when his name was announced as the winner at a news conference.

``Believe me, this is probably the biggest honor I've ever gotten in my life,'' said Rhodes, who thanked his staff and players for their dedication and Eagles owner Jeff Lurie for hiring him last Feb. 2. ``The magnitude of this award is something I'll always cherish.

``Sometimes you wonder if you'll ever get a chance to be a head coach. I know I did.''

After a seven-year playing career, Rhodes was a defensive backs coach for 10 years with San Francisco as the 49ers won Super Bowls in 1982, 1985, 1989 and 1990.

In 1992, he left the team to become Mike Holmgren's defensive coordinator at Green Bay for two seasons. Rhodes returned to the 49ers in 1994, helping them win another Super Bowl the following season.

Hired by Philadelphia, Rhodes added 34 new players and promptly got off to a 1-3 start.

``You start wonder what you're doing wrong,'' Rhodes said. ``As a first-year coach, I had great expectations. I'm probably the biggest dreamer in America. But after that 1-3 start, I wavered a little.

``Luckily, we pulled it together, made some changes and got winning again. With so many new players, it's important that they believe in themselves and the system. Our guys were committed to winning and that's what gave us a chance.''

Rhodes, who won the AP's Coach of the Year award last month, beat out Holmgren and Carolina's Dom Capers for the NFL's honor.

Capers led the expansion Panthers to a 7-9 record while Holmgren's Packers went 11-5 for the franchise's first 11-win season since 1966 and its first NFC Central title in 23 years.

Following season-long fan balloting, a nationwide media panel selected the three finalists and winner. The voting results were not announced, but league officials said 73 votes separated first place from third.

The award was sponsored for the first time by Visa, which presented Rhodes with a crystal trophy and $10,000 check for the charity of his choice.