This year's Coach of the Year award will likely come down to a first-year duo sharing triumph, and several coaches whose teams were an extension of their goal -- going further than they had previously. Unlike most seasons there's no clear cut 'best coach', and circumstances off the field could play a role in how the award is handed out.
The Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year award is the most renowned recognition of coaching skill in the league. Numerous outlets award their offer their own hat tip to head coaches, but it's the AP award that most people are watching. George Wilson of the Detroit Lions first won Coach of the Year in 1957, and the list of winners is a 'who's who' of coaching prowess; Belichick, Shula, Ditka, and Halas -- their last names are indelible enough to need no further reminder.
How does one begin to characterize the season of Chuck Pagano, Bruce Arians and the 2012 Indianapolis Colts? Taking over a 2-14 team is a challenge of its own, but when Chuck Pagano was forced to leave the team due to leukemia, it appeared a once promising season would again become a lost campaign. Instead of folding, the Colts rallied around their absent head coach, putting their faith in interim Bruce Arians, Indianapolis turned their season around in dramatic fashion. Finishing with a record of 11-5, it was a testament to the mettle of a young team full of inexperienced players. Quarterback Andrew Luck threw for the NFL record by a rookie in yards, while fellow rookie, receiver T.Y. Hilton almost finished with 1,000 yards on the year.
On its surface this looks like an almost impossible situation. Who do the Associated Press award: The head coach who installed a plan, but was absent -- or the interim coach who managed in-game situations? In reality, awarding both coaches isn't outside the realm of possibility. In 1967 the AP awarded a tie for the Coach of the Year award, giving it to both Don Shula and George Allen. It may have been more than 40 years since an exception was made, but if there's ever an occasion to stretch the rules, it's this.
Jim Harbaugh didn't turn his team around in 2012 -- but then again, he achieved that last year. A continuation of his NFL vision, Harbaugh got his San Francisco 49ers to the Superbowl in just the second year under his command. The bold move to make a quarterback switch mid-season characterized Harbaugh as always seeking improvement, even when his team is playing well. The 49ers took a step back purely in wins and losses, but the manner he cut through the post-season and won the NFC is proof positive of his ability as a head coach. It would be unconventional to give him two awards in a row (only Joe Gibbs has done it before), but his record this season speaks for itself.
Seattle Seahawks' head coach Pete Carroll could be the outsider, but like Harbaugh his continuation of a vision for the Seahawks is deserving of recognition. Electing to play the guy he felt best about, he turned the keys to his offense over to third-round rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who put forth a mammoth rookie year. A sub-500 team in 2011, Seattle improved to 11-5 and won a playoff game against the Washington Redskins. It might be too much to overcome Harbaugh or the duo in Indy -- but Carroll did a great job this year.
Ultimately it appears to be Indianapolis's award to lose. Taking a 2-14 team and turning them into a playoff unit is impressive enough, let alone contending with the off-field issues they experienced, and trying to keep a young team focused. 2012 was a year full of excellent coaching, and whoever the AP decides is the Coach of the Year will be well deserving.