Colts' Shane Steichen should be frontrunner for NFL Coach of the Year

The 2023 NFL season has officially reached the point where it's time to start lobbying for postseason awards considering everything that’s been put on tape. The MVP picture is still muddy with roughly a month left to go in the season, but the NFL Coach of the Year award is taking clearer shape.

Let’s take note of what the criteria for Coach of the Year really is — it’s treated as an award for a coach whose team exceeded expectations, not necessarily the flat-out best coach in the NFL. Recent winners Brian Daboll and Mike Vrabel are great examples of that, finding a way to squeeze playoff seasons from teams that might not have had the most overwhelming rosters. Based on that criteria, Indianapolis Colts head coach Shane Steichen should easily be considered a frontrunner for the award.

Think about some of the things that the Colts have had to fight through this season. Star rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson went down early with a season-ending injury; Jonathan Taylor has been in and out of the lineup; they moved on from longtime linebacker Shaquille Leonard; and play in a division with the Jaguars and Texans. Through all of that, the Colts sit at 7-5 and own the seventh seed in the AFC with a tiebreaker over the Texans, giving them a little bit of control of their playoff path as long as they don’t drop too many games.

Head coach Shane Steichen has the Colts winning even with backup quarterback Gardner Minshew assuming starting duties for weeks now. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Head coach Shane Steichen has the Colts winning even with backup quarterback Gardner Minshew assuming starting duties for weeks now. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) (Justin Casterline via Getty Images)

There are other strong contenders. DeMeco Ryans has a Texans team people thought might be the worst in the NFL in the thick of the playoff picture. Mike McDaniel's Dolphins have taken another step forward. Kevin O'Connell's Vikings have risen above the regression plenty of people expected to hit them after last season's 13-4 record. Sean Payton's Broncos are back in the playoff hunt after a 1-5 start his first season in charge.

But Steichen merits just as much mention as them all. Indianapolis had a strong safeguard at quarterback in place after signing Gardner Minshew to back up Richardson, and he’s been competent enough to keep them winning games in a house money season. Minshew is the perfect quarterback to guide a team for a few games when the starter is out, but the Colts moved to 5-3 with him as their starter following the win over the Titans on Sunday. That speaks to the level of organization and culture that Steichen has been able to install in a short matter of time. “We’re very gritty,” Minshew said after the game. “We’re going to find a way. It’s not always going to be sexy, but dang, it’s good.”

Culture can be an important intangible that leads the way for success, but this sport is still mostly about the product on the field. Steichen has fared well putting together his own offense in Indianapolis for two wildly different quarterbacks in Richardson and Minshew, and the offensive structure in general has been able to support a roster that was viewed as a rebuilding unit coming into the season. Being able to run an offense like this is impressive, even if the results aren’t totally otherworldly.

According to, Minshew ranks 19th in expected points added per play (0.015) and 23rd in success rate (43.7%). Not great, but also not bad for a backup quarterback to be producing at the level of a slightly below average quarterback. Steichen has done this by essentially limiting how much damage Minshew can do on the offense. Minshew ranks 23rd in average depth of target (7.1), which means he’s not exactly ripping and roaring with big throws down the field.

Minshew’s steady hand has allowed wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. to have a career season right before a new contract extension. Rookie wide receiver Josh Downs is also having an impressive season and looks to solidify himself as the No. 2 receiver. All in all, an impressive year for an offense that has had to power through major injuries in order to stay relevant throughout the season.

Retaining Gus Bradley as the defensive coordinator for continuity on that side of the ball has helped as well — the Colts currently rank 13th in expected points allowed on defense (-0.026).

The vibes are good in Indianapolis and the Colts still have the potential of Richardson scratching his unlimited upside when he returns in 2024. It’s not like they’re playing their way out of a franchise quarterback; that guy is already on the roster. Collecting wins now just builds the floor of what’s possible for the Colts in this new era — and should get Steichen some hardware if he can make the playoffs with this squad.