Friday, December 19, 2003

Lewis in the running for top award

Playoff berth would boost his chances in crowded AP Coach of Year race

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Marvin Lewis is poised to become the first Bengals coach since Paul Brown in 1970 to win the Associated Press Coach of the Year.

Lewis' odds will improve significantly if he can get the Bengals into the playoffs.

The last 12 coaches to win the honor led their teams into the postseason. The Bengals haven't been there since 1990 - the same year that the last coach not to take his team to the playoffs was voted the winner. Dallas' Jimmy Johnson won after going 7-9.

Only five non-playoff coaches have been voted coach of the year since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

Those five were selected before the dawn of free agency, another tool of parity that can help teams turn around more quickly.

The top five candidates for this season are Lewis, New England's Bill Belichick, Carolina's John Fox, Dallas' Bill Parcells and Philadelphia's Andy Reid.

The Associated Press will announce the winner Jan. 4. Ballots from a nationwide panel of football writers are due by noon Dec. 29, the day after the regular season ends.

A look at the case for each coach:

• Belichick: The Patriots own the NFL's longest win streak at 10 after starting 2-2. Belichick, in his fourth season with the Patriots, has already won the AFC East and is on the verge of gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Patriots have played the toughest schedule in the NFL and are 7-0 against teams with winning records. And they've survived a major hit on the injury front. Belichick has had to start 42 different players.

• Fox: Without a star-studded lineup, the Panthers already have won the NFC South with a 9-5 record. In Fox's second season, the Panthers have tied a league record by winning seven games by three points or less.

Considered a smart game coach, Fox has employed some of the league's best special teams.

• Lewis: In his rookie season as an NFL head coach, the Bengals have won eight games for just the second time in the past 13 years and are one victory away from becoming the first to post a winning record since 1990.

Rebuilding the team more quickly than expected is not Lewis' greatest achievement, though. He has changed an entire organizational culture. With Lewis in charge, the Bengals are 8-6 and can win the AFC North division with two more victories.

• Parcells: He was the early favorite to win his third coach of the year award. In his first season in Dallas, Parcells is turning around a franchise that has gone 5-11 in each of the past three years.

Dallas is the fourth team that Parcells has rebuilt. Dallas is 9-5 and would be a wild-card team if the season ended today.

• Reid: The Eagles are 11-3 and have won the NFC East. Reid is the defending coach of the year after leading Philadelphia into the NFC title game last season.

A devotee of the pass offense, Reid changed gears offensively after an 0-2 start. He ran more to take pressure off struggling quarterback Donovan McNabb. The Eagles have won nine in a row and have 20 rushing touchdowns, second most in the league.

Other coaches receiving attention for the award are Indianapolis' Tony Dungy, St. Louis' Mike Martz, Minnesota's Mike Tice and Kansas City's Dick Vermeil.

Good, but not great

Five times since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year has been awarded to a coach whose team did not make the playoffs.

Year Coach Team Record Coach's season with team Previous year's record
1990 Jimmy Johnson Cowboys 7-9 2nd 1-15
1989 Lindy Infante Packers 10-6 2nd 4-12
1979 Jack Pardee Redskins 10-6 2nd 8-8
1978 Jack Patera Seahawks 9-7 3rd 5-9
1976 Forrest Gregg Browns 9-5 2nd 3-11



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