Kevin Stefanski – NFL Coach Of The Year

Michael Salfino
December 31, 2023 9:32 AM

There are so many unwritten rules for Coach of the Year.

More so than in any other award.

1. The default for the award is coaching the Most Improved Team.

2. Wins are the quick barometer for most improved teams but the team also generally needs to make the postseason and not have been .500 or better the year before.

3. The actual best coach of the best team could win if there is no Most Improved Team.

4. Voters prefer first-year coaches, and coaches with new teams.

5. Voters dislike repeat winners.

6. Voters like narratives more with repeat winners frequently emerging due to overcoming trying circumstances, most often QB carousels.

Pros & Cons Of Campbell

If he hadn’t won before (2020), Kevin Stefanski would be a slam-dunk favorite for the award.

He’s currently sitting on five more wins than he had last year on his way to six and he’s achieved that with four starting QBs.

But he’s just a co-favorite after his Thursday night win against the Jets, tied at +175 with Dan Campbell (Lions).

On paper, Campbell has a claim to COTY based on coaching the most improved team.

But the Lions were over .500 last year and will not beat the Browns in additional wins.

So forget that rationale. Campbell has a great narrative – first division title for the Lions in 30 years.

Let’s see what happened with other repeat winners since 1990 – a period that has seen only four coaches win multiple times (Bill Belichick is the only three-time winner).

Here’s a chart:

CoachYearTmTimes Won
Ron Rivera2015Carolina Panthers2
Ron Rivera2013Carolina Panthers1
Bruce Arians2014Arizona Cardinals2
Bruce Arians2012Indianapolis Colts1
Bill Belichick2010New England Patriots3
Bill Belichick2007New England Patriots2
Bill Belichick2003New England Patriots1
Dan Reeves1998Atlanta Falcons2
Dan Reeves1993New York Giants1
Bill Parcells1994New England Patriots2
Bill Parcells1986New York Giants1

Stefanski will try to win for the second time in three years.

The average repeater did it in four years. But three (including Belichick the first time) did it in three years or less. So that’s a non-issue.

The Exceptions To The Rule

The last repeat winner, Ron Rivera, was on the same Carolina team and just two years apart, winning it based on the most improved team.

So that also is good news for Stefanski backers.

However, there was no competing narrative as runner-up Andy Reid was just two wins better in 2015 than a .500 Chiefs team.

Bruce Arians repeated previously with a new team but in his second-year team. He won based on narrative, specifically three starting QBs.

This is also good news for Stefanski.

His main competition in 2014 (Jason Garrett, DAL) had a similar narrative to Campbell as he was arguably the coach of the most improved team, but from a .500 record the year before.

So bad news for Campbell, good for Stefanski. But Garrett got the Cowboys into the postseason off just a four-year absence.

Bill Belichick’s two repeat wins came first via the narrative of an unbeaten season and then due to the absence of a qualifying most improved team (the Bucs that year with runner-up Raheem Morris did not make the playoffs despite a seven-win improvement from 2009).

Before that, in 1998, Dan Reeves was the most-improved team and although he was with a different team than his prior win, he was the coach the prior year for the Falcons (who went from seven to 14 wins).

The 1994 repeater, Bill Parcells (NE) was also with a different team but was not in his first year with the team.

He also won based on having the most improved team.

So Stefanski is very live despite having won in 2020.

He’s in the playoffs and could be plus-five in wins but also has the narrative of not just multiple starting QBs but four of them.

His main competition would be first-time winner but had a record over .500 last year, which typically knocks a coach out of most improved team consideration.

But the narrative of the first division crown in 30 years is compelling, no doubt.

A more conventional choice would need to emerge in the final two weeks to upend both favorites.

The best candidate seems to be DeMarco Ryans of the Texans.

While Houston’s playoff odds right now are only 41%, those odds rise to a 78% chance if the Texans win their remaining two games (Titans, at Colts).

Ryan’s odds right now are +900.

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