Dan Campbell’s Case for Coach of the Year

The Dan Campbell Detroit Lions have always been “close.” They’ve taken good teams and bad teams down to the wire. They’ve played spoiler, but haven’t yet made the playoffs themselves. This is, arguably, a good thing. In the Quinntricia era, the Lions didn’t seem to be close to anything. For once, national media has placed some serious expectations on the Lions. Everyone seems to agree that for the first time in a long time, the Lions are close. They have been, and are now.

Except for Thursday night. However close some Lions (Aidan Hutchinson, Ben Johnson) were to winning their respective awards, Dan Campbell was not close. He was seventh.

Now, I don’t have a problem with how some of the awards voting shook out. The eventual winner, Brian Daboll, oversaw a dramatic turnaround in New York, and arguably deserved to win. However, I do have some issues with Campbell finishing seventh. For one, the COTY award is about exceeding expectations. Most of the coaches fit into this category. However, I have a hard time justifying Kyle Shanahan and Sean McDermott for this award. These teams didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. In fact, McDermott’s squad was favored in all but two games. It’s hard to justify giving somebody an award of this level of prestige for doing what they’re expected to do. Award winners are supposed to be extraordinary.

Secondly, one of the bigger knocks on Campbell is that he started 1-6. However, turning around a sinking ship is one of the things this award is supposed to recognize. Campbell made the necessary adjustments and carried the team to an 8-2 finish. Why is he being penalized for doing something that separates him from the pack?

Third – and this is a problem with COTY overall – the committee struggles to separate overall team talent from coaching ability. More emphasis should be placed on doing more with less. In my mind, that’s what makes a truly great coach. It’s easy to say that Shanahan is a good coach, and he is. But part of his skill comes from his complex system, and if you put him on a rebuilding team like the Texans, it’s harder to execute. Having high caliber players around you boosts your resume. Shanahan, McDermott, and even Nick Sirianni have more talented squads. Where do you draw the line between their team and their individual ability?

In a perfect world, the NFL would look at Campbell’s ability to make tough decisions regarding players and staff, and his ability to get more out of players than other coaches. He also led his squad to wins over two of the top five finalists, including the eventual winner. Daboll definitely deserved to win, but Campbell shouldn’t be seventh. He should’ve been a finalist. It should’ve been close.
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