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Owen Daniels and Gary Kubiak, Together Again

A couple of years ago, I wrote this post about Josh McDaniels and Brandon Lloyd. Well, with Owen Daniels reuniting with Gary Kubiak in Baltimore — lest you forget, Kubiak is the Ravens new offensive coordinator with Jim Caldwell now head coach in Detroit — I thought it might be fun to look at previous examples of a tight end playing with a head coach or offensive coordinator in two different cities. I’ve found nine examples since 2000 (minimum 400 yards by that tight end in at least one season of his career), including another Kubiak favorite.

Dallas Clark and Jim Caldwell in Baltimore in 2013 (after Indianapolis)

Clark was a productive tight end/slot receiver in Indianapolis for nine years, but he was released in the post-Peyton Manning makeover after the 2011 season.  Caldwell was with the Colts from ’02 to ’11, including as the team’s head coach in his final three years. After Dennis Pitta dislocated his hip in the summer of 2013, Caldwell — by then the Ravens offensive coordinator — decided to bring in Clark.  With Ed Dickson dealing with a hamstring injury, Clark made an immediate impact in week 1 with 7 receptions for 87 yards against the Broncos. Clark wound up finishing with the most receiving yards of any Ravens tight end last year, but still totaled just 343 yards in 12 games. [click to continue…]

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Who should win Coach of the Year in the NFL?

Let’s get this out of the way. Bruce Arians, or an Arians/Pagano ballot, is going to win Coach of the Year. Period. But who should win it?

Coach of the Year is one of the most difficult awards to predict each year. The award often goes to the coach who most outperforms expectations rather than the coach who does the best coaching job, which is how you end up in situations where Dick Jauron and Jim Haslett were named the best coaches in 2001 and 2000, respectively.

There are no standards or guidelines to help voters determine the Coach of the Year, so every voter is left to his own devices. Today, I’m going to run down my rankings of the top 8 coaches of 2012.

8. John Fox, Denver Broncos

Having Peyton Manning makes coaching easy, but Fox still deserves credit for guiding the Broncos to an excellent season. Denver is going to finish the year on an 11-game winning streak and the Broncos are in the top five in points allowed, yards allowed, net yards per attempt allowed, rushing yards allowed, rushing touchdowns allowed, and rushing yards per carry allowed. Fox has helped turn Von Miller into one of the best two defensive players in the NFL and his hiring of Jack Del Rio to coach the defense has worked beautifully. And while Manning is having a phenomenal year, let’s not forget that it was only three months ago that people were questioning his arm strength and the Broncos were 2-3. Many coaches are doing wonderfully with less, but Fox deserves credit for helping lead Denver to the 2 seed in the AFC.

7. Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans

Gary Kubiak

Gary Kubiak wishes COTY voting took place after the end of November.

It was only three weeks ago that the Texans were 11-1 and the class of the NFL. I wrote earlier this season that Kubiak’s done an excellent job resurrecting his coaching career, and much of that remains true. He’s built this team for half a decade, and he oversaw the additions of J.J. Watt and Wade Phillips to the defense to complement Kubiak’s formidable offense. The Texans are likely going to earn the top seed in the A.F.C., an impressive accomplishment considering Matt Schaub isn’t on the same tier of a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Even with a little luster off the team right now, Texans fans could hardly ask for more than home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

So why isn’t Kubiak ranked higher? I’m not sure the Texans are as good as their record and they’ve had a relatively easy schedule. Kubiak’s done an excellent job, but he also hasn’t had to face as much adversity as some other coaches this year. Houston is now one of the most talent-laden rosters in the league, and that makes Kubiak’s success just slightly less impressive.

6. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers

The Packers are 11-4 — they’d have the same record as the Texans if not for the Golden Taint play — despite facing a more difficult schedule than Houston. As is seemingly an annual tradition, the Packers have placed a large number of starters on injured reserve, including right tackle Bryan Bulaga, linebackers Nick Perry, D.J. Smith, and Desmond Bishop, and Cedric Benson (along with two other running backs). Charles Woodson has only played in 7 games, James Starks and Alex Green have been banged up most of the year, and injuries have limited Greg Jennings to just 246 receiving yards this year.

Alex Green is the leading rusher with 464 yards, and he’s plodded to the tune of 3.4 yards per carry, narrowly trailing what Benson (3.5) and Starks (3.6) have produced. An anemic running game, a banged up offensive line, and injuries at receiver and tight end have resulted in Aaron Rodgers having a down season and having taken 46 sacks. Clay Matthews has missed four games and he still has 8.5 more sacks than anyone else on defense.

Yet after all that, the Packers are in line for the #2 seed in the NFC. McCarthy’s team is ranked 7th in both points and points allowed, and Green Bay has responded well in the face of adversity this season. After the painful loss to the Seahawks, would other coaches have been able to keep this team focused? After an emotional loss to the Chuckstrong Colts, you didn’t hear about grumbling in the locker room: instead, Green Bay won five straight games. Since a 38-10 shellacking against the Giants, where they looked lost, the Packers have won four in a row. If McCarthy isn’t a household name, that’s just because he’s the most underrated coach in the NFL. Despite facing numerous setbacks this season, he’s got the Packers right where everyone expected they would be.

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Gary Kubiak.

Gary Kubiak doesn’t have a personality like a Ryan or a Harbaugh. He hasn’t been profiled to death like Andy Reid or Norv Turner. He doesn’t have the rings of Mike Tomlin or Bill Belichick. If not for the simple fact that he’s been in Houston forever, I’m not sure if most NFL fans could even name the head coach of the Texans. But his coaching career has been a fascinating one that leaves me with more questions than answers.

In January 2011, I wrote that Kubiak and Jack Del Rio were given incredibly long leashes in the AFC South. From 1970 to 2010, only four head coaches had (a) finished with a .500 or worse record in four out of five seasons with the same team, (b) finished with a .500 or worse record in the fifth season, and (c) were retained to coach for a sixth season. The four head coaches — Marvin Lewis, Dan Reeves, Bart Starr, and John McKay — all had extenuating circumstances for their failures, which differentiated them from Del Rio and Kubiak, who were about to become the fifth and sixth such coaches.

Things have changed dramatically in 22 months. The Jaguars have changed owners, head coaches, and quarterbacks, and likely will have a new general manager soon, too. Meanwhile, the Texans still have the same four men — Bob McNair, Rick Smith, Kubiak and Matt Schaub — in the four most prominent roles in the organization. Houston’s one big move, hiring Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, has worked perfectly. Phillips has turned a dreadful Houston defense into one of the best units in the league.

The outlook is so promising in Houston that it’s easy to forget where things stood less than two years ago. Following a loss to the Tim Tebow-led Broncos — this was the year before Tebow-mania took the NFL by storm — most of the football world assumed the firing of Kubiak was a fait accompli. John McClain, a veteran writer in Houston for over 30 years, tweeted: “After the way the Texans blew Denver game leading 17-0 at halftime and 23-10 in the 4th quarter, I’ll be stunned if the staff isn’t fired.” McLain was so disgusted that he added, “I’ll say it again: The Texans have the worst pass defense in the history of football at any level since the beginning of time.”
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