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Hub Arkush: NFL’s Coach of the Year award comes down to two candidates

November 26, 2018

There have been some masterful coaching jobs in the NFL this season, but only one man can win the Coach of the Year award — even if several may deserve it.

The job Pete Carroll is doing rebuilding the Seattle Seahawks on the fly is really pretty amazing when you itemize the change he’s overseen the past 11 months.

Frank Reich was the last head coach to find work this year, when Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard realized he was holding an empty promise from Josh McDaniels, and the Colts’ current five-game win streak after a 1-5 start has them in the thick of the wild card chase.

I have no idea how Jay Gruden is winning with his bunch in Washington.

And Mike Tomlin won’t get a lot of votes this year, but how about the job he’s done holding the Steelers together, and then turning them around?

Congrats, guys, but this just wasn’t the year to do one of your best coaching jobs.

This year’s Coach of the Year will be either the New Orleans Saints’ Sean Payton, the Los Angeles Rams’ Sean McVay, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Andy Reid, the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick, the Houston Texans’ Bill O’Brien or Matt Nagy here in Chicago with the Bears.

Actually, that’s not totally true — in spite of the Texans’ current seven-game win streak after an awful 0-3 start, O’Brien won’t win.

His challenge snaring votes will be the perception his club should be 7-3 in the middling AFC South with all the talent he has at his disposal.

Right now, McVay may be the best coach in the NFL – after Belichick, of course – and like O’Brien he’s done everything to meet expectations. But he started the year in the totally unfair position of having no way to surpass them since the bar was set so high.

McVay will also lose votes because he won the award last year and nobody wins the award two years in a row in the Super Bowl era, with the exception of Don Shula (1967-68) and Joe Gibbs (1982-83).

Belichick has won the award three times but not since 2010. You could easily give it to him every year because he is clearly the G.O.A.T., but this hasn’t been his best year, and we will take him for granted once again.

You know why Reid won’t get it? Because too many of us with votes will just assume he’s going to lose early in the playoffs again, and too many folks are falling all over themselves to give more credit for the Chiefs’ incredible season to Patrick Mahomes than Reid.

Though any of the six of my headline nominees would be a worthy recipient of the award, in reality it’s a two-horse race right now between Payton and Nagy.

Perhaps ironically for Nagy, Payton’s one prior Coach of the Year award came in his rookie campaign of 2006, when he led the Saints to a 10-6 season following a Hurricane Katrina-fueled 3-13 season the year prior.

Following a first-round bye, the ’06 Saints won their first playoff game before losing the NFC title Game 39-14 to the Super Bowl-bound Bears at Soldier Field.

Payton is probably a slight favorite at the moment because the Saints are the best team in the NFC — possibly the best in the NFL — and they appear to still be getting better.

Nagy’s candidacy is trickier. Chicago is the most-improved team in the NFL, the third-best team in the NFC and might have the league’s best defense. But Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio commands most of the credit for the defense.

Nagy will be a popular candidate because of the innovation, versatility, volume and explosiveness of his offense — which is all his; the higher profile of the Bears than the Saints because of their history and market; and his team’s dramatic overnight transition from league doormat to believable contender.

I wasn’t sure Nagy was even a candidate a few weeks ago, but he keeps getting better and it’s hard to ignore his seemingly complete grasp of the job.

I’m not sure yet who I will vote for, Payton or Nagy, or which one will win, but I would bet it is going to be a very close two-horse race between them that may still be decided by their results over the next five weeks.

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