There are a number of candidates who could be considered in the running for the annual Coach of the Year award this season. For instance, an argument could be made for first year Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores getting the nod simply for generating 3 wins so far this season out of that roster!
Add to that the regular candidates such as Bill Belichick and Sean Payton, and it is clear there are a number of fanbases who could claim their team leaders are worthy of the honour. Here though, I’ll be focusing on the three guys who I think have the best chance of taking home the award won by Chicago’s Matt Nagy last year (the less said about that the better…)
Kyle Shanahan: San Francisco 49ers
Everyone expected the Niners to be better this year, especially with the return of Jimmy Garoppolo under centre. No one expected them to be amongst the league’s elite though at this point in the year.
Everywhere Shanahan Jr has gone, the run game has flourished. This year San Francisco have been able to plug almost anyone in the backfield with very little downturn in production. The three headed monster of Tevin Coleman (454 yards; 6 TDs), Matt Breida (542 yds; 1 TD) and Raheem Mostert (539 yds; 3 TDs), have helped propel the team to second in the league in rushing yards per game. That’s all behind an offensive line which has had its fair share of injuries during the course of the year.
The team are no slouches in the passing game either. Tight end George Kittle can absolutely take games over with his run after the catch ability, and second round pick Deebo Samuel has already put up 564 receiving yards so far this season. That bodes well given the Niners are a run first offense and have a plethora of players at Samuel’s position.
Whilst many analysts have been keen to downplay the contribution of Jimmy G to San Francisco’s current record, statistically speaking he is playing the best football of his career in extended game action. This is the first season the ex-Eastern Illinois quarterback has played double digit games and is averaging a none too shabby completion percentage of 69% and a touchdown to interception ratio of 21:10.
It’s clear that Shanahan’s offensive expertise maximises the talents of the players on his roster, finding roles for even players who aren’t major contributors every single week. On offense especially there are few ‘elite’ players, outside of Kittle, that you would make your early round picks in your fantasy team. This isn’t a team built around a number of major star names, but instead a well-oiled offensive machine that will simply run your defense over.
There’s no doubt as well that much of the Niners revival has been powered by the defense, including that much touted (and expensively assembled) defensive line. Shanahan has empowered defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to run his defense, even though some may have had doubts about the production on that side of the ball coming into this year. The head coach has stuck to his plan and it has paid off with dramatic results.
It’s fair to say that perhaps general manager John Lynch and Shanahan weren’t expecting to put together this record at this point in their rebuild of the roster. However, Shanahan must be given credit for correctly utilising the young roster at his disposal to make them current favourites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.