Maybe now is a good time to write this, considering the Bucs have a brutal stretch of road games coming up, at Baltimore and Washington, sandwiching a home game against the NFC-leading Falcons. Still, with the Bucs at 7-3, coach Raheem Morris might deserve NFL coach of the year honors this season. Even if the Bucs go 2-4 down the stretch, that's a 9-7 record. That probably wouldn't be good enough to get them into the playoffs, but it would exceed most expectations for a team many picked to win only a handful of games. Here's a look at which coaches have done the best job this season and why Morris is our pick so far for coach of the year.
Raheem Morris, Bucs
Look at what Morris is working with. He has a second-year quarterback — a draft pick, by the way, that wasn't unanimously supported in these parts — who has started 19 games in the NFL. His top receiver (Mike Williams) and top rusher (LeGarrette Blount) are rookies. Three-fourths of the defensive line has been in the league three years or less. Two-thirds of his linebackers have been in the league four years or less. He has rookies on the offensive line and in the defensive backfield. Of the current 53-man roster, 37 players have three years or less experience. Plus, coming into this season, the Bucs had lost 14 of their previous 17 games. Yet here the Bucs sit at 7-3. Forget who they've beaten and who has beaten them. Bottom line: They've played 10 games and won seven of them. You haven't seen that dramatic a turnaround anywhere else in the NFL. Admit it, you thought Morris was crazy when he said the Bucs could win 10 games this season. Sure, give the players lots of credit, but Morris has set the attitude for this team, and so far it's a winning one.
Todd Haley, Chiefs
In 2009, the former Cardinals assistant took over a Kansas City team that had gone 4-12 and 2-14 in the previous two seasons. After a 4-12 record in his first year, Haley has the Chiefs at 6-4 this year and in first place in the mediocre AFC West. The Chiefs have won one fewer game than Tampa Bay, and their schedule is even softer than the Bucs'. They have played only two teams with winning records, beating Jacksonville and losing to Indianapolis. Both those teams are 6-4. In addition, the Chiefs have lost to inferior teams (Broncos, Raiders) despite having a somewhat experienced quarterback in Matt Cassel, who has 40 NFL starts. All this isn't meant to diminish what the Chiefs have done, because they appear to be on the right track again. But it is meant to point out that what Haley has done hasn't been as impressive as what Morris has done in Tampa Bay.
Bill Belichick, Patriots
We think Belichick is the best X's and O's coach in football, and his body of work in New England makes him a Hall of Famer, and perhaps the best coach of his generation. Still, is a guy worth coach of the year consideration when he has arguably the best quarterback of the past 20 years running his offense?
Mike Smith, Falcons
We're big fans of Smith, who took over a franchise that was a mess after Michael Vick got busted and Bobby Petrino bolted town. But they went 11-5 two seasons ago and 9-7 last season. With Matt Ryan at quarterback, they were in pretty good shape coming into this season, certainly in much better shape than the Bucs. So 8-2 at this point sounds about right for the Falcons.
Rex Ryan, Jets
We think coach of the year honors should go to a coach who is getting more out of his team than most thought possible. Ryan is doing a heck of a job turning the Jets into a powerhouse, but what the Jets are doing this season is expected. Last season's 9-7 record was disappointing considering Ryan had the best running game and defense in the NFL. The Jets still have a sound running attack and defense. Their quarterback, Mark Sanchez, has more experience. Add this up and a 9-2 record is right where the Jets should be. And when you look at their season, the Jets could easily be 6-5 if not for some last-minute highlight-reel finishes.
Andy Reid, Eagles
Because he has never won a Super Bowl, Reid is often overlooked as an elite coach. But he is in his 12th season and seems headed to the playoffs for the ninth time despite being in traditionally one of the NFL's strongest divisions, the NFC East. He has had a losing record in a season only twice, and one was his first season, when he took over a team that had been 3-13 the previous season. This year his Eagles look as strong as any team. But here's our nit with Reid: He didn't think Michael Vick was good enough to be his starting quarterback coming into the season. It's mainly because of Vick the Eagles are 7-3 and in first place in their division, but where would they be if Reid's first choice, Kevin Kolb, had not been injured and kept playing?
Mike Tomlin, Steelers
Give Tomlin credit for keeping his team in contention without star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was suspended for the first four games. And despite injuries, the Steelers remain a Super Bowl contender. But they are always good no matter who the coach is.
Lovie Smith, Bears
We can't tell what kind of coach Smith is. The Bears seemingly bounce around from year to year. In Smith's seven seasons, the Bears have gone 5-11, 11-5, 13-3, 7-9, 9-7 and 7-9, and now they are 7-3. Either he gets more out of them than he should every other year or doesn't get enough out of them every other year.
Mike McCarthy, Packers
McCarthy is a good coach, and he deserves high marks for forcing out Brett Favre so Aaron Rodgers could get on the field. But is anyone really surprised the Packers are 7-3 right now? Same with John Harbaugh's Ravens.
Pete Carroll, Seahawks
The way we see it, Carroll's job is among the best in the NFL, and we think he should get serious coach of the year consideration if the Seahawks don't fall apart down the stretch. They are 5-5, but they were a mess the past two seasons, going 9-23 and seeming like they hadn't bottomed out yet. Winning five games all this season would not have been surprising. Carroll, however, might sneak Seattle into the playoffs.
Why Morris is our choice for coach of the year right now: This isn't a homer pick. No one in the country except Morris thought the Bucs would be 7-3 after 10 games. He gets our nod over Haley and Carroll.