Author’s note: This post can also be seen at the Bleacher Report.
It’s not often a head coach gets a second chance in the NFL; just don’t tell the teams in the AFC West that.
Norv Turner, John Fox and Romeo Crennel – of the Chargers, Broncos and Chiefs respectively – sputtered in their final seasons as head coaches prior to their current gigs, but that didn’t prevent any of them from landing back on their feet.
In fact, one of them is likely to advance to the playoffs again next season, and John Fox now patrols the sideline Peyton Manning will walk to between offensive series.
Crennel, meanwhile, has the most complete roster in the division, with a defense ready to win now and an offense coming together through the offseason.
And Turner. What to say about his tenure in San Diego? He’s underachieved many years, perhaps overachieved once (early in his tenure), and all the while done so with a unique, at-times borderline out-to-lunch sideline demeanor.
But who stacks up as the top coach in the AFC West? Let’s take a look.
1. John Fox, Denver Broncos
Fox gets the nod here because of what he’s accomplished in the past and what looms in the future. He built the Carolina Panthers into a winner and nearly guided them to a Super Bowl XXXVIII victory, coming up short against the Bill Belichick-led Patriots. He was personally pegged by John Elway to succeed Josh McDaniels in Denver, and with a little help from Tim Tebow, made the playoffs in year one on the job.
Now the offensive cabinet is slightly more well stocked, with Peyton Manning under center and a set of skill players improving by the day. Fox is a defensive guru, however, and we’ll need to keep a critical eye on his work this season. Manning will make the Broncos undeniably better, but can this defense – under the partial direction of Fox – improve enough to make Denver relevant amongst the AFC’s elite?
2. Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs
Things I know: Crennel struggled during his first go-around as a head coach and that Norv Turner has substantially more wins as a head coach. I also know that Crennel is a great football mind and his situation in Kansas City is tailor made for him to succeed. The players respect him to the nth degree, will work hard, practice hard, and play hard for him, and he has a strong track record against Peyton Manning.
What does it all mean? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Crennel and the Chiefs unseat the Broncos this season as AFC West champions, and for him to earn a new level of respect from many about his ability to lead a team.
3. Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers
Some were amazed that Turner was retained after another underwhelming season in 2011, but Chargers ownership opted for one more shot with he and GM AJ Smith at the helm. Turner is a brilliant offensive mind, he just hasn’t flexed the ability to get his to team to consistently compete like it should. While it’s up to the players to execute on the field, ultimately the head coach bears a portion of that responsibility as well.
Now, the Chargers may finally be in a position heading into the season that they are more comfortable in. The Broncos are the early favorites (by betting standards, at least) to take home the division, and San Diego may have slid behind Kansas City after a strong offseason for the Chiefs. Perhaps Turner and his squad will take to the underdog role and finally hone the abundance of talent they have on the roster.
4. Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders
Despite the fact that he’s been in office for just a handful of months, I’ve already taken to new Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie. He targeted and ultimately hired Dennis Allen, which leads me to believe the guy has what it takes to succeed as an NFL head coach.
It’s unfair to look simply at a coach’s previous results to gauge what he’s capable of as a head coach, because the duties of a head coach entail so much more than just what is delivered on the field – media responsibilities, offseason program planning, daily maintenance, and the ability to manage personalities.
That being said, the memory of Tom Brady carving Allen’s supposed stout defense in the AFC Divisional Round during the 2011 playoffs has me a little weary. I also know it will be a tough road to hoe in year one for Allen, with a roster slim on talent, starved for youth and with just one draft pick in the first four rounds. Ouch.
All that being said, we should be patient in coming to judgment on Allen, and take some time to look past what the wins and losses column says at the conclusion of the 2012 season for Oakland. Simply getting the team to play with discipline and consistency would be a major step for the new head coach.