The NFL Coach of the Year award is one of prestige and significance. It’s not as flashy or eye-catching as other NFL awards, but what it represents is just as powerful. NFL coach of the year winners make a true difference and impact for their teams. They can change the course of a franchise and implement the structure for sustainable success. This year’s NFL coach of the year frontrunners are the embodiment of that idea. Several NFL head coaches have been instrumental in their teams’ success in 2019 and are in consideration for coach of the year.
Frontrunners for the 2019 NFL Coach Of The Year
Winning NFL coach of the year isn’t always about being the head coach of the team with the best record. Instead, it’s about who has had the most impressive and successful impact on their team’s success. Deciding on an NFL coach of the year is a delicate balance. And it’s often reflective of how a team has performed relative to expectations and season trends. For this year’s coach of the year candidates, there are multiple coaches worthy of the award.
John Harbaugh: Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens are 13-2 and are the number one seed in the AFC. They also hold quality victories over the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers. But it’s the manner in which they’re winning that has earned head coach John Harbaugh this nomination.
Harbaugh has helped to craft an offensive scheme perfectly suited for quarterback Lamar Jackson. An offense predicated on the run and an almost college-like option attack mixed with RPO. The Ravens lead the league in rushing. They’re also on pace to set an NFL rushing record. In an era where the passing game reigns supreme, Harbaugh has weaponized a running attack and built it to fit his personnel. His 2018 mid-season switch to Lamar Jackson from Joe Flacco set the stage. And his end of year appointment of Greg Roman to offensive coordinator furthered his plans.
Coming into this season, the Ravens were not a Super Bowl favorite. Some pundits even had them finishing with a losing record. Where they stand now is a testament to the direction and coaching of John Harbaugh. Furthermore, it’s a testament to his ability to reinvent his football team.
Kyle Shanahan: San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers currently stand as the number one seed in the NFC. A far cry from the 4-12 record they finished 2018 with. They’ve only lost three games this year and only by a combined 13 points. They hold victories over the New Orleans Saints (in New Orleans) and Green Bay Packers. And much like the Ravens, the 49ers have won with their own style.
This year’s 49ers team is a pillar of defense and a strong running game crafted by Shanahan himself. The 49ers average 145.1 yards rushing per game and have three running backs with over 500 yards on the season. Due to various injuries, the 49ers rushing attack has leaned on different backs at different points in the season and all have yielded the same outcome thanks to Shanahan’s play-calling and zone-blocking scheme. And they’ve done all this while both of their starting offensive tackles have missed time with injury.
Kyle Shanahan took his father’s zone-blocking run design and designed it for seemingly anyone to succeed in. That’s a hard thing to do. A win in Week 17 would clinch home-field advantage for San Francisco in the NFC and would add another high-quality win for Shanahan this season. It could also clinch Shanahan NFL coach of the year.
Sean McDermott: Buffalo Bills
If you thought the Buffalo Bills would make the playoffs this season you’re either really smart or a liar. Most people didn’t think much of the Bills coming into 2019. And while that’s somewhat understandable, it also adds even more to head coach Sean McDermott and his case for 2019 NFL head coach of the year.
McDermott has coached the Bills to a 10-5 record at this point in the year and a lock into the fifth seed in the AFC. The Bills roster isn’t filled with stars or necessarily loaded with talent (although they do have an elite cornerback). Instead, it’s filled with players that have subscribed to McDermott’s idea of a winning culture and have been coached up to succeed. Their defense is second in points per game allowed and third in yards per game allowed. The team as a whole doesn’t beat themselves and they’ve gone toe-to-toe with some of this year’s best teams.
The lack of “quality” wins will hurt McDermott’s chance at NFL coach of the year, but he deserves to be in this conversation. The 2019 Bills have far surpassed expectations and much of their success is due to McDermott and the culture he’s helped to instill in his team. Furthermore, the McDermott led turnaround came on the heels of failure. When Rex Ryan was fired as head coach of the Bills at the end of the 2016 season, the Bills were in a dark and undisciplined place. And in a massive playoff drought. In 2019, under head coach Sean McDermott, they’ll be in the playoffs for the second time in three years.
What It All Means for the 2019 NFL Coach of the Year
You can make a case for any of these three coaches for NFL coach of the year. Each one has had a large scale quality impact on their team. What’s most impressive about each of these coaches, is the foundations they’ve laid in previous seasons and the jumps they’ve taken this year. Each coach used foresight and planning and optioned for a methodical build in hopes of long term sustained success. Now, as each of these three coaches lead their teams into the playoffs, they’ll look to continue to build upon their success.