Top 5 Candidates for Coach of the Year

Pranav Ramasubramanian  | November 24th, 2019 

The NFL season is in Week 12 and at this point, we can see the teams that are contending for a SuperBowl and those just trying to get into the playoffs. The New England Patriots with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still atop the mountain, but this year they have some worthy challengers to their throne.

Some of them are newcomers like the San Francisco 49ers and some of them have been here before like the Kansas City Chiefs or the Seattle Seahawks. The competition has heated up and that means tempers can flare. They flared last week when the fight between Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph took a nasty turn as Garrett struck Rudolph with his helmet, but it isn’t the only crazy thing that’s happened this season. Some of the craziest things of the year have actually come via good coaching and here are the top 5 candidates for Coach of the Year so far.

1.) Kyle Shanahan

Team: San Francisco 49ers

Record: 9-1

The 49ers are the best team in the league at 9-1 suffering a loss on Monday Night Football last week, but that shouldn’t take away from their incredible turnaround this season. Their schedule may be easy, but week after week they have proven that they can not just hang, but beat good teams. Their offense despite Shanahan’s genius playcalling has question marks because of Jimmy Garoppolo‘s hesitation to step up and throw in the pocket panicking when he sees certain blitz packages so the running game with the trio of Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert has to keep up their solid production for the offense to stay balanced all year. Garoppolo can’t execute Shanahan’s playcalling with precision because his receivers Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne drop passes he throws to them so he needs his top targets Greg Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders healthy for the rest of the year so he can look to them during the game.

Although the offense has some firepower the defense is really where the 49ers are the best in the league with defensive ends Nick Bosa, who can shed blocks with ease using his hands well with the combination of quickness and agility to pressure or sack opposing quarterbacks, DeForest Buckner, who uses his bullrush and quick first step to stop big gains or quarterbacks, Dee Ford, who uses his explosive speed off the edge and ability to dodge blockers to disrupt plays and Arik Armstead, who uses his strength and fast closing speed to wreak havoc helping the 49ers shut down the other team’s offense.

The 49ers also have talent in other areas of the defense. The linebackers are solid and it all starts with Fred Warner, who does a good job of limiting the run while getting to quarterbacks and Dre Greenlaw played well in his first start so he must replicate it because Kwon Alexander is out for the rest of the year with a torn pectoral muscle.

Nice run design by Cardinals. 49er Fred Warner also demonstrates why players make the scheme work.

The secondary isn’t great, but Richard Sherman can still play one on one and be solid at times even though he isn’t the shutdown corner he once was. Shanahan deserves credit because after some bad years from Robert Saleh he decided to stick with him as their defensive coordinator and it has paid off. Shanahan’s usage of play-action on offense is what he has to do to get the offense rolling by running the ball just enough to get the defense to commit and then when Garoppolo fakes it and rolls out Garoppolo will see one on one or an open receiver to make the confident throw.

Shanahan’s biggest challenge awaits him as he faces several injuries to key players like offensive linemen Joe Staley, tight end Greg Kittle, running back Matt Breida and defensive end Dee Ford and needs them to recover before the end of the season.

Shanahan and the 49ers have a tough three-week stretch coming up after nearly losing to Arizona where they will face the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, and New Orleans Saints that will test them and how Shanahan gets his team to play will determine whether or not he is Coach of the Year.

2. Sean McDermott

Team: Buffalo Bills

Record: 7-3

Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier have the defense playing the 4-3 as their base defense while using the nickel for crucial pass coverage situations with aggression helping them become one of the top five defenses in the league. The younger players are also buying into the system because of middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who is leading by example on the field with his communication as the signal-caller on defense, ability to stop big runs getting tackles with good closing speed and uses his technique to blast through offensive linemen to pressure the quarterback.

Any good defense needs the right personnel so McDermott and Frazier made the necessary moves to get the players that fit their scheme mixing younger players with veterans.


The secondary boasts of two of the best safeties in the game in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, who are masters of disguise confusing opposing quarterbacks about what they are gonna do so that they can effectively stop the run and limit deep passes with their activity, which they have been doing with high success this year.

Levi Wallace has shown flashes of potential but needs to get more physical as he can get pushed around, but Taron Johnson can get physical so the Bills should use him in more of the one on one situations because Johnson quickly recovers even if he’s a little beaten by the receiver’s initial burst on the route. Tre’Davious White keeps the middle of the field in check helping out Poyer and Hyde while staying competitive on plays to get big tackles to get the defense off the field.

Poyer and Hyde also have help stopping running plays from becoming big plays as Shaq Lawson does it with his speed and gap integrity while Matt Milano uses his gap discipline to prevent holes from opening up on the defense even though he’s known as more of a coverage linebacker. The pass rush is very effective with Jerry Hughes‘ nonstop motor helping him get to the pocket for sacks or setting up teammates for sacks throwing the opposing quarterback off his game, Ed Oliver, who can split double teams to get to the quarterback, and Jordan Philips, who can use his quick lateral speed along with a fast first step to put opposing quarterbacks on the ground while Star Lotulelei and Lorenzo Alexander must get better with situational football or won’t see much time on the field on crucial downs.

The offense lives off of the power running game provided by Frank Gore and Devin Singletary. If McDermott can figure out a way to help Josh Allen out on offense and make him be smarter with the football then the Bills could be a really hard team to beat come January and McDermott would get some overdue acclamation.

3. Matt LaFleur

Team: Green Bay Packers

Record: 8-2

Mike McCarthy was run of town by Aaron Rodgers after the Packers failed to even make the playoffs last year and replaced by a great offensive mind in Matt LaFleur. LaFleur has taken the pressure off of Aaron Rodgers by running the ball with Aaron Jones more and letting Jones control more of the offense. The offensive line is the biggest key for the Packers’ success as they allow Aaron Jones to navigate through the blocks and give Rodgers more time to throw the ball even though Rodgers has been throwing the ball less this year meaning his receivers are having a down year except for his favorite target Davante Adams.

The great play by the offense has fired up the defense as other than their two games where they lost they have found ways to get the opposing offense off the field with a stout secondary led by Jaire Alexander along with the pickup of Adrian Amos and getting Darnell Savage in the draft to solidify the backend of the defense. Just the energy Matt LaFleur has brought with him has given the Packers confidence in free agency to address some key defensive needs to try and give Aaron Rodgers one last shot at the SuperBowl. The Vikings are only one game behind the Packers for the NFC North so the Packers must stick to what works and put the ball in Rodgers’ hands if they need to. Rodgers must take accountability for his mistakes as well rather than throwing the whole team under the bus like he did when they lost to the Chargers.


The chemistry between LaFleur and Rodgers is great and if they can finish the season off by winning the rest of their games or going 13-3, LaFleur could be eyeing more than just an individual award.

4. Jon Gruden

Team: Oakland Raiders

Record: 6-4

The NFL draft is a good thing for teams, who have a certain blueprint as to how their team should look going into a new season so that they can run their system especially for Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock, who got bonafide starters in defensive end Clelin Ferrell, running back Josh Jacobs, defensive end Maxx Crosby, tight end Forest Moreau, and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow while trading for Antonio Brown to try and get the Raiders back into the mix for the playoffs. The Antonio Brown debacle could’ve killed their season, but they calmly released him and Gruden decided it was time to take a different approach to how he would be running the offense.


It has been run this season through running back Josh Jacobs, who can cut through holes fast with excellent body control keeping his feet moving through contact while successfully getting downhill for big gains and when Jacobs plays badly the team is usually struggling. Gruden has helped Derek Carr be more efficient by calling more dump-off passes getting Carr to be more patient in the pocket and find the right receiver while Carr has been hitting passes downfield when necessary making aggressive decisions when games are on the line.

Although Gruden receives flack for being conservative on offense the real issue is the defense being undisciplined and not making the right plays to help close out close wins. If Gruden can get the defense to be more disciplined and play like they did against the Chargers and Bengals then the Raiders will be a complete team having a chance to win the AFC Wild Card race or potentially the division to cap off a big turnaround after a 4 win season.

5. Mike Tomlin

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 5-5

The three B’s are gone and it looked like the season was over after Ben Roethlisberger injured his right elbow in the 1st half of their Week 2 game against the Seahawks knocking him out for the rest of the season. Tomlin helped the Steelers compete and lose some narrow games, but they were just unable to finish the job as the offense just needed that extra push that it seemed they had lost with the Big Ben injury falling to 1-4 on the season.


Tomlin switched the gameplan as after years of relying on the stellar offensive playmakers to win games he started relying on the defensive playmakers initiating a trade with the Dolphins to acquire free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on September 16th with Fitzpatrick’s ability to anticipate the location of the ball while breaking on the ball when it’s in the air to track it down for interceptions using technique adjustments when necessary is helping him tie Devin McCourty for league-leading interceptions with five transforming the defense into a force.

Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson must try to provide some help for Fitzpatrick in the secondary or they may face more games like the Browns game where they have more coverage breakdowns leading to easy touchdowns making them lose winnable games knocking them out of the playoff picture.

Luckily the linebackers and defensive ends are doing a good job at controlling the line of scrimmage with T.J. Watt using his good hand technique to fight off blockers while playing low to get to the pocket for a potential sack, Devin Bush can pursue the quarterback in the pocket with great closing speed while covering good ground in zone coverage, and Bud Dupree can beat opposing linemen with his initial burst off the snap. Stephon Tuitt is out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle so to keep the good year going for the defensive end unit it will mean Tyson Alualu, Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave must elevate their play to fill the void.


Tomlin had the luxury of calling plays for a perennial Hall of Fame quarterback for over a decade, but now the situation has changed so Tomlin must adjust or face a potential firing because at this point it’s Go Big or Go Home for the Steelers. This is why James Connor needs to be healthy as he is the only reliable running back that Tomlin can call plays for helping take the ball out of Mason Rudolph’s hands limiting Rudolph’s mistakes so he needs to be available as soon as possible.

Current Playoff Picture


  1. Houston Texans (7-4)
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)
  3. Buffalo Bills (7-3)
  4. Oakland Raiders (6-4)

Byes: New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens


  1. New Orleans Saints (8-2)
  2. Dallas Cowboys (6-4)
  3. Seattle Seahawks (8-2)
  4. Minnesota Vikings (8-3)

Byes: San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers


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