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Is Andy Reid the Coach of the Year?

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With his Kansas City Chiefs off to a league-best 7-0 start, Andy Reid is the early frontrunner for NFL Coach of the Year honors. Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
With his Kansas City Chiefs off to a league-best 7-0 start, Andy Reid is the early frontrunner for NFL Coach of the Year honors. Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs are one of the biggest surprises of the 2013 season, and somehow, that isn’t a total surprise. Sounds weird, I know. That complete contradiction is just because they have outperformed their expectations, which had them outperforming last season. That improved performance has already resulted in five more wins than they had a year ago. The season isn’t even halfway done. Even if many people had Kansas City as a popular sleeper choice to make the playoffs, nobody had them going 7-0 and outlasting the Broncos as the NFL’s last unbeaten team. Due to this early success, head coach Andy Reid is a natural candidate for the Coach of the Year award.

Pro Football Talk chose Reid as the coach of the year two weeks ago. Although, if the second half of the season went terribly wrong for Reid and Co. PFT would pick a new coach and nobody would remember. But the point is, people are looking at Reid as a legitimate candidate. The Chiefs have not only proven many of those sleeper predictions accurate already, they have blown them out of the water. Reid seems the natural person to attribute for the success. But that is a misunderstanding of everything that makes up the Kansas City Chiefs.  

Recently, Grantland’s Robert Mays wrote about the turnaround of the Chiefs defense and how the group was pieced together: http://www.grantland.com/blog/the-triangle/post/_/id/78651/how-the-chiefs-built-the-best-defense-in-football. The process of getting this particular group of players spanned many seasons. Kansas City didn’t piece the worst-to-first defensive unit during the offseason. The Chiefs added Sean Smith, Mike DeVito and Akeem Jordan as starters. They’re all solid players but they aren’t the ones who are the most responsible. The most productive players (Brandon Flowers, Tamba Hali, Dontari Poe, Justin Houston and Eric Berry) were already in place. 

Quality of players isn’t the only reason for on-field success. The best football teams combine good players and good schemes. They work together. Kansas City’s defensive scheme wouldn’t work with different players, and these players may not be as productive with a different defensive scheme. 

Much of this current roster was put into place by people who are no longer within the organization. Carl Peterson drafted Derrick Johnson, Hali and Flowers. Scott Pioli drafted Houston, Poe and Berry. New general manager John Dorsey certainly has had an impact since joining the Chiefs at the beginning of the year. He is deserving of some credit. He is responsible for the Alex Smith trade, which was a complete upgrade at the game’s most important position. 

In February of 2009 the Chiefs hired Todd Haley to be the head coach. Haley had just finished the season as the offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl surprise Arizona Cardinals. During his time in Kansas City, Haley would lead the Chiefs to a 19-26 record and only one playoff appearance in 2010. Haley would be fired after a 37-10 loss to the New York Jets in Week 14 of the 2011 season. 

Numerous important Chief players suffered injuries in 2011. Berry’s season ended in Week 1, Jamaal Charles’ season ended the following week, and Matt Cassel was done just after the halfway point. Remember, this team won the division the year before. Whether or not you think Haley was a good coach overall, he was saddled with injuries and was forced to start Tyler Palko for four games. Most coaches would struggle in that situation. 

However, the worst thing to happen to the Chiefs was to retain interim coach Romeo Crennel the following season. Crennel won two of the three games he coached in 2010 and showed the Chiefs just enough to make them forget what happened in Cleveland. 

What’s the point of this history lesson on poor coaching choices? Reid is a Coach of the Year candidate because of the improved performance of this year’s team compared to last year’s team. Haley is not a very good coach, and Crennel is a terrible one. Crennel took a talented roster and found a way to eke out only two while facing deficits almost constantly. Of coaches who qualify, Crennel has the 12th-lowest win percentage in NFL history. Throughout his six seasons as a coach, Crennel has barely won a third of his games. Merely bringing in an average coach would have made this year’s Chiefs decent. (An argument also could be made that improving the quarterback position to merely average would also be an improvement.)

The Coach of the Year award always seems to take into account the previous year. Over the last 20 years, no coach won with his team having a better record the year before. Usually, that margin of improvement is quite large. No example is better than last year’s winner, Bruce Arians.  

Arians joined the Indianapolis Colts that offseason to be offensive coordinator, a position he held in Pittsburgh for four seasons. Head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, and Arians became the interim coach early on in the season. Arians took a rookie quarterback to 11 wins and a playoff appearance after the Colts won only two games the year before. Arians was certainly in a tough position, if you only looked at the previous year’s record in Indianapolis. The Colts’ 2011 season is somewhat fluky. The 2009 Colts went to the Super Bowl and the 2010 team made the playoffs. But the 2011 team was missing its future Hall of Fame quarterback. A very below average quarterback dropped the team from first to worst. 

Reid is a very good coach. Currently, Reid ranks 22nd in wins as a head coach. He is only six wins away for a tie for 20th place. He has put together a game plan that is best suited for the team he is coaching. Reid inherited a team with a good roster, especially on defense. He hired the right coach to coordinate the defense (Bob Sutton) and has built the team around that strength. The offense is not only built to only ask quarterback Alex Smith to do only things that are in his comfort zone, but the offense also doesn’t put the defense in tough situations. 

There is so much detail in football that to figure out the impact of one particular person is very difficult. It’s tough (if not impossible) to separate a team’s offensive line or wide receivers from its quarterback’s performance. Reid has very much benefited from joining a team that has whose solidly constructed roster has overshadowed organizational issues. And to be fair, the players also benefit from a good coach. Houston and Poe might not be flourishing had Reid and Sutton been on different sidelines. 

Should that disqualify Reid from being a Coach of the Year candidate? Actually, no. Not based on the history of the award. Looking at past winners, Reid is not only a legitimate candidate, he's probably the favorite. 

However, I don’t know if that should be the case. I take issue with the non-literal definition of the award. Reid certainly has given his team the most improvement at head coach compared to the year before. If the award was called “team that most improved at head coach” the Chiefs would win. 

Reid walked into a situation that could not have been better. He joined a team with a talented roster that was obscured by a terrible coach and a terrible season. He has no doubt played a part in why the Chiefs are a very good team this year and he should be commended for that.  

If anything, I have a problem when it comes down to most of the NFL awards. Schemes from team to team are so different it would be difficult to try to imagine what Drew Brees could do in New England, or Adrian Peterson in Indianapolis, or player X on team Y. It’s imprecise and open to much interpretation, which ultimately means, open to much conversation. And I’m fine with that. 

Whether or not Reid gets an award when the season ends, it won’t change the fact that through seven games the Chiefs are one of the league’s best teams. The way the standings currently sit, the Chiefs have literally gone from worst to first.