Author’s Note: This post is part of an eight-part series that can be seen over at the Bleacher Report.
On Friday I began my list of head coach rankings, broken down by division.
Up first was the AFC East, headlined by a guy that few other coaches in NFL history – much less in today’s game – stack up to in Bill Belichick.
In the AFC North, our next stop on the tour, the gap between the top competitor and the rest of the field isn’t so wide, as you could justifiably make a case for a pair of coaches as being the best.
But in the end, only one coach has laid his hands on the most prized trophy in all of football, and for that Mike Tomlin takes the cake as the AFC North’s finest.
Check out the full list.
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
Tomlin isn’t just amongst the most enjoyable press conferences you’ll witness amongst coaches, he’s also a – still young – coaching superstar. He already has a Super Bowl trophy on his resume, and nearly secured another one during 2010 season.
Some will point to the loaded roster Tomlin inherited, but history in sports has shown that taking over for a legend – which he did in following Bill Cowher – is no easy task. Tomlin has earned the respect of his veterans and helped catalyze a youth movement that includes the development of young skill players such as Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, as well as offensive line anchor Maurkice Pouncey.
John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
Trust me, the gap between Harbaugh and Tomlin was supremely slim. Harbaugh mans a Baltimore team that exemplifies toughness in football, and his teams are amongst the best prepared on a week-in, week-out basis.
Like Tomlin, Harbaugh took over a roster with more than enough ready-made pieces, and he’s been able to establish consistency in winning, especially at home.
Before the 2011 season, Ray Lewis infamously said – amongst other things – that the Ravens were inches away from competing for a Super Bowl trophy. How right he was, as a Lee Evans drop in the AFC Championship kept them from playing the Giants in Indianapolis.
With Harbaugh leading the way, the Ravens wont ever be far from contention.
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
2011 was resurgent for the Bengals franchise, Lewis included. More than a few people asked the question of whether or not Lewis was the right man to lead a rebuilding effort in Cincinnati, but he proved fit for the task in paving the way to nine wins and a playoff birth last year.
Lewis has a unique way about him and how he handles his players publicly, but winning games will continue to buy him time in Cincinnati. If he can continue his young nucleus on the development path, the Bengals are primed to challenge Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the division for years to come.
Pat Shurmur, Cleveland Browns
Despite the fact that he’s coached a full season, we really don’t know much about Shurmur other than the offensive system he wants to run.
The Browns were a trendy pick to overachieve in the beginning of 2011 with what looked like a cakewalk schedule in the first 11 games, but that proved not to be the case, and Shurmur’s head coaching career started out rockier than he likely bargained for.
What will it take for us to know what he’s made of? Well, finding a quarterback for the team to commit to long-term will help, and it appears Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M may be their target in the draft. Until then, the story remains incomplete on Shurmur.