Mike Sando of ESPN is tackling a list of the best coaches in the NFL as the regular season winds down. Sure, it is easy to point at the top teams and automatically claim those coaches are the best, but then you would be doing a disservice to some of the really great coaches in today's NFL.
Two Bengals coaches made Sando's list, which is broken down by the top five coaches as each position on the coaching staff. Hue Jackson deserves the nod he's given as the #3 offensive coordinator in the league, as he has transformed this Bengals' offense over the past two season into a feared unit. Cincinnati has the talent to implement Jackson's design and score at will at times. We have seen Cincinnati build big leads early as well as make almost impossible comebacks. This is because this offense is so strong. Sando has the following to say about Jackson:
The Bengals' offensive production was outstanding before Andy Dalton's injury. The way backup AJ McCarron performed against Denver's highly ranked defense Monday night showed Jackson could put together an effective game plan without Dalton and injured tight end Tyler Eifert. The Bengals used split backs for enhanced protection against single-high blitzes, and a smart run-pass mix made things manageable for McCarron. The book on Jackson is that he's strong with X's and O's, motivates well and has a diverse coaching background (multiple positions).
At times, we may think that Jackson is doing too much with the offense, or trying to be too cute, but we can't argue the production and scheme he has produced.
The other Bengals coach on this list is quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, who's also ranked third. How he is not listed as number one on Sando's list is beyond me. The simple fact that he has taken Andy Dalton from a decent quarterback to a guy commonly mentioned early in the season as in the MVP discussion should seal the deal. Andy Dalton performed this season at a level higher than anyone thought he could. He redefined his ceiling and a lot of this credit should be given to Zampese.
Of Zampese, Sando writes:
Andy Dalton's emergence as a credible leader was the next step in the quarterback's development under Zampese, who interviewed for the Lions' offensive coordinator job before last season.
For Sando's head coaching rankings, Bill Belichick is not listed. It's not because Sando doesn't think he is not deserving, but because like many in the media, he puts him in a class all his own. I for one disagree with that assessment but that is another post for another day.
For his list of head coaches, Marvin Lewis is not listed. Instead he has Ron Rivera, Bruce Arians, Andy Reid, Jay Gruden and Todd Bowles. Bengals fans familiar with Gruden may be scratching their heads at this one. Sure, the Redskins made the postseason, but only because their division is so terrible. Gruden perhaps deserves this nod based on the fact that he went against what ownership wanted (playing RGIII) and still made the postseason, in his second season as an NFL head coach.
However, I would argue of those five coaches, none have been as consistent as Marvin Lewis in getting to the postseason and leading good teams year after year. Lewis also contends in one of the toughest (if not the toughest, historically) divisions in the NFL.
The Bengals may again face an offseason where their coaching staff is picked apart by teams needing to make a change. We already mentioned a former Bengals offensive coordinator, Gruden being in the postseason. Former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has his team in the playoffs also. Marvin Lewis has an impressive coaching tree and this factors into the decision when teams look to bring coaches in. Hue Jackson will be in the conversation for head coach openings this coming offseason, as he should be. Zampese interviewed last season for an offensive coordinator position as well and it's possible he could be due for a promotion either inside the organization, or elsewhere.