There are certain NFL Playoff rules every bettor has in the back of his or her mind. They pertain to road teams or rookie quarterbacks or warm climate teams playing in the cold or dome teams playing on real grass. But there seems to be one constant year in and year out with NFL playoff football and those are the guys with the headsets on. Yes, looking at quarterbacks and run defenses and least penalized teams is important, but let’s see how these coaches stack up against one another when playoff football rolls around.
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Rex Ryan, New York Jets
Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis Colts
Two rookie coaches are bringing their teams to the playoffs. One, Jim Caldwell guided the Colts to a 14-0 start to earn a first-round bye and home-field advantage. The other, Rex Ryan, did not inherit nearly as strong of a team, but nevertheless he has his team in the playoffs and already with a road win under its belt.
Both have strong pedigrees: Caldwell served under Tony Dungy in Indy and Ryan was a part of the Ravens’ staff during their Super Bowl run. But rookie coaches in the NFL Playoffs is not a new phenomenon by any means and what we have seen so far does not bode well for the first-year guys.
Last year three rookie coaches made it to the post-season. John Harbaugh in Baltimore won two road playoff games to reach the AFC title game where the Ravens lost to the Steelers. The other rookie coaches, Tony Sparano and Mike Smith, both watched their teams fizzle out in the first round as point-spread favorites.
The year before that Mike Tomlin started his Pittsburgh coaching career with a first round home loss to the Jaguars.
Having a good coaching pedigree is nice, but when it gets to this point in the playoffs, HEAD coaching experience is what counts.
Wiley Old Veterans
Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers
Wade Phillips, Dallas Cowboys
Two coaches who have been around the league as head coaches for over a decade, both Norv Turner and Wade Phillips have finally started to enjoy some playoff success. Back in the early 90s in Denver Phillips failed to get out of the Wild Card round in his one trip to the postseason and in Buffalo in the late 90s Phillips was 0-2 in the playoffs. Under Phillips the Cowboys had a colossal letdown two years ago at home after a first-round bye. The win over Philadelphia on Saturday was the first win of his 10-year head coaching career.
Norv Turner has always gotten a bad rap in failing to win the big game, and rightfully so. He only took the Redskins to the postseason once in seven years, and then never got past the regular season in his two years at Oakland. That is seven years with one trip to the playoffs. But now at San Diego he is three-for-three in reaching the playoffs. Every season that one of Norv Turner’s teams has made the playoffs, it has won at least one game. He got out of the Wild Card round in Washington, two years ago they won two games to reach the AFC title game and last year they won in the Wild Card round before falling to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Phillips finally got a win on Saturday but it is Turner who has proven himself throughout his career.
Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
Brad Childress, Minnesota Vikings
All three coaches are making their second trip to the playoffs as head coaches. Sean Payton took the Saints to the 2006 NFC title game but since has not been to the postseason. Brad Childress missed out in Minnesota his first two years but last year got to the big dance only to lose in the first round at home to the Eagles. It took Harbaugh only one year to get to the playoffs and he made the most of it, picking up road wins at Miami and at No. 1 seed Tennessee to reach the AFC title game.
The Saints are back to the playoffs mostly because of the season Drew Brees has had. When people think of why the Vikings are back in the playoffs, they think of Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre. The Ravens’ repeat success has a lot more to do with the job Harbaugh has done. Payton and Childress have yet to prove they can get it done. Harbaugh looks to be the one least likely to have a sophomore slump.
Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals
One of the more inexperienced coaches in the entire NFL, Ken Whisenhunt has the top playoff pedigree of any remaining coaches. Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL. There are many people in Pittsburgh who feel like Whisenhunt should have been the next coach after Bill Cowher and that he has done more with less than Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh.
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Whisenhunt left for Arizona after the Super Bowl win and went 8-8 in the first year and then 9-7 the second year to bring Arizona to Super Bowl XLIII for the first time in team history. They came one improbable Steelers’ fourth-quarter drive from winning that game. Now Whisenhunt has the Cardinals at 10-6 and back in the divisional playoffs.
If there is any coach worth investing in this NFL postseason, it is Ken Whisenhunt.