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Zac Taylor’s case for Coach of the Year

The Bengals’ worst-to-first turnaround has the third-year head coach in the discussion.

Syndication: The Enquirer
Zac Taylor
Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

It didn’t take long for Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor to go from the outhouse to the penthouse.

Taylor came into the season as one of the coaches on the hot seat after his first two Bengals’ teams compiled an abysmal record of 6-25-1. But that seat has gotten considerably more comfortable after Cincinnati improved to 10-6 Sunday, captured the AFC North Division title and earned its first playoff berth since 2015.

“He gets an incredible amount of credit,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said after Sunday’s upset victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. “Anytime something goes wrong or there’s an issue, it seems like people are calling for Zac’s job or whatever.

“He’s done nothing but be a great leader and consistent force in this whole turnaround, and I really love Zac as a coach, and I’m thankful that he’s here.”

Taylor, who is still just 38 years old, came to the Bengals after two seasons working with Sean McVay in Los Angeles as first an assistant wide receiver’s coach and then as the quarterback coach. Not only had he never served as a head coach, his only experience as an offensive coordinator in the NFL came during a five-game stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2015, when the team went 2-3.

“He was young,” Hubbard pointed out. “We’re all young, we all grow and learn, and we all just wanted to be better, and it’s just a consistent effort to be better for this team. It’s what we’ve all done, and done together.”

But has Taylor done enough at this point to deserve consideration for the coveted Associated Press Coach of the Year Award? You be the judge.

Coach of the Year is about coaching well and winning a lot of games. It’s about going from unknown to the name on the tip of everybody’s tongue, the hero that turned a team around.

“This is just the beginning for us, to be quite frank with you,” Taylor said. “. . . But just really proud of the position our guys have put us in with one week left to play. Just couldn’t be prouder of the group of, not only the players, but the coaches who had been with us over the last few years. It’s been hard, it’s been hard, but when you build something the right way, you build something you believe in, and I’m just really proud of the job that they’ve done.”

Chicago head coach Matt Nagy won the award in 2018 in his first season with the Bears. He guided a team that had won only five games the year before to a 12-4 record. In 2017, the award went to McVay, who directed a Los Angeles Rams turnaround from 4-12 to 11-5.

In 2016, Jason Garrett was named Coach of the Year after the Dallas Cowboys improved from 4-12 to 13-3. Ron Rivera won the award twice for Carolina as the Panthers improved from seven to 12 wins in one season and from seven to 15 in another.

Jim Harbaugh, the 2011 winner, engineered a 49ers turnaround from 6-10 to 13-3 in his first year, while Bruce Arians won his first Coach of the Year award in 2012 after taking over the Colts in midseason and helping them improve from 2-14 to 11-5.

Last year’s winner was Kevin Stefanski of the Cleveland Browns, who finished with a record of 11-5 after going 6-10 the previous season.

So, what is the common denominator? Each year, the Associated Press Coach of the Year award goes to a winner who shocked the sports world by exceeding expectations. In the past decade, the winner of the Coach of the Year award won an average of 6.3 games more than in the previous season.

Just as a point of reference, the Bengals finished with a record of 4-11-1 last year. They have already won six more games than last year, with a chance at making that seven come Sunday.

Another common denominator? Nearly all of the Coach of the Year recipients over the past decade won their division. Taylor checks off that box, as well.

The Coach of the Year also usually wins at least 10 games. For the past three decades, the Coach of the Year has won at least 10 games, and every winner since 2009 has won at least 11. And some of you might remember Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis won the award in 2009 with a record of 10-6.

In short, Coach of the Year is about overachieving expectations. And the expectations were pretty much non-existent for Zac Taylor and the Cincinnati Bengals, at least outside of the city of Cincinnati. Yet look where they are now, with the rest of the story still to be written.

“When I had my first meeting with Zac at the combine, I knew exactly what kind of coach we had, and I knew exactly where I wanted to be,” quarterback Joe Burrow said. “He’s a great offensive mind and a great leader of men. He does a great job. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”


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