The criteria and voting for coach of the year is weird, no matter the sport. More on that in a few.
There are three viable candidates left for NFL coach of the year award, according to BetMGM's odds: Zac Taylor of the Cincinnati Bengals and Matt LaFleur of the Green Bay Packers are co-favorites at +160 odds. Mike Vrabel of the Tennessee Titans is third at +350. Everyone else is at least 30-to-1 odds.
All three have good arguments. But it's a bit odd why Vrabel trails the other two by so much.
A three-man race
Here's the breakdown for all three coaches still in the race:
LaFleur: Dismissing LaFleur because he coaches Aaron Rodgers sums up how bad coach of the year arguments can be. LaFleur is 39-9 and his .813 winning percentage would be best in NFL history for any coach with more than 50 games. The Packers were 13-18-1 in Mike McCarthy's last two seasons, before LaFleur. One of those seasons Rodgers was hurt most of the season, but the last season Rodgers started all 16 games and Green Bay was 6-9-1. Let's not ignore that the Packers didn't have an easy 2021. The Rodgers trade drama dominated headlines. Davante Adams is unhappy too. LaFleur kept the focus on winning. He also dealt with injuries to left tackle David Bakhtiari, cornerback Jaire Alexander and edge rusher Za'Darius Smith, three elite players. And the Packers still have the NFL's best record. You'd think that would matter. LaFleur has done a fantastic job.
Taylor: Taylor's candidacy is another great example of how weird coach of the year voting can be. The reason Taylor is up there isn't because he has the best team like LaFleur, or even the best team in his conference. It's because the Bengals had low preseason expectations. Instead of admitting everyone might have had a bad process in projecting the Bengals to be under .500, it had to be that Taylor did an unbelievable job as coach. It can't be that anyone was wrong before the season, of course. Taylor has done a good job. Joe Burrow has developed nicely. The Bengals are division champs. But it's unclear why he'd be ahead of ...
Vrabel: Vrabel's argument rests on the Titans getting the No. 1 seed, which they clinch with a win Sunday. If that happens, they'd have a better record than Taylor's Bengals. Shouldn't that be the biggest factor? The Titans would have done it despite losing Derrick Henry back on Oct. 31 and often having a skeleton crew of skill-position players when A.J. Brown and Julio Jones also missed time. If we're downgrading LaFleur for having Rodgers, wouldn't we also have to look at Joe Burrow vs. Ryan Tannehill? Nobody is picking Tannehill among those two. The Titans have gone 5-3 without Henry. They have quality wins against the Colts, Bills, Rams, Saints and 49ers. There's only one reason Taylor would get a vote over Vrabel, and that's because the Bengals had lower preseason expectations (which just might have been wrong, obviously) than the Titans. Sure.
Who will be coach of the year?
Coach of the year is hard to analyze because the voting often doesn't make logical sense. Herb Sendek, Dave Leitao, Seth Greenberg, Josh Pastner and Mike Young are among the coaches who have won ACC basketball coach of the year more recently than Mike Krzyzewski. Among the last five NFL coach of they year winners: Matt Nagy and Jason Garrett.
It's because the award rarely goes to the best coach. It's almost always decided by who surpasses preseason expectations the most, and again, that's because the voters don't want to admit that their preseason projections might have been wrong. It must have been a superhero coaching job, not bad analysis. It's also because Vrabel had a better 2020 season than Taylor, so the Titans' bar was higher coming into this season. That's how Taylor is getting shorter odds than Vrabel, and probably has a better shot to win the award despite few tangible reasons for it.
LaFleur is a great choice for the award. He has the best team and that should matter, and the Packers had plenty of adversity to work through. He probably should be the pick. No matter what, we might look back on the choice as a weird one. That's pretty common for coach of the year.