The team over at Pro Football Focus recently released their ranking of the top ten head coaches entering 2023. As always, there will be some disputes on the rankings of players or coaches with similar resumes. This year is no different.
Let’s dig into it:
PFF Top 10 Coaches:
- Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
- Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
- Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
- John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
- Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams
- Doug Pederson, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia Eagles
- Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
- Brian Daboll, New York Giants
PFF provided the following breakdown as their rationale for ranking Pederson as their seventh-best coach:
Pederson is a top-10 lock for this coaching list. First, he was the head coach of the legendary Eagles team that won it all in 2017 — with Nick Foles, mind you, who earned an elite 91.9 passing grade for that playoff run and a 62.2 passing grade for his career since then.
Pederson’s quarterback guru abilities extend to his current spot, as he helped Trevor Lawrence revive his career from what was thought to be a death sentence under former Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer. Lawrence’s PFF passing grade jumped from 61.4 to 76.1 from year one of Meyer to year one of Pederson, which included a run where Lawrence’s 88.5 passing grade from Week 9 on ranked second only to Joe Burrow.
I fully understand why PFF ranked Sean McVay in the top ten, but looking at the rosters that were put together (and how they were constructed) I simply feel there’s no way Pederson should have been ranked lower than McVay. Overall, this is the most obvious issue with the ranking. McVay did an incredible job in coaching the Rams to multiple Super Bowl appearances, led by Jared Goff and Matt Stafford. His work in Goff’s sophomore season was on par with what Doug did in Philadelphia with second-year Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. That alone earned McVay a deserved place on this list. Both coaches have shown the ability to get subpar quarterbacks to play extremely well.
Since McVay's first season, though, the rosters that were constructed around each coach’s postseason runs leaves some credit in L.A. to be placed on their general manager. In other words, the Rams bought incredible short-term rosters in free agency, led by their defense while throwing caution to the future. They traded multiple high draft picks, over multiple years, for higher-priced veteran players in the hopes of immediate, early success. I will generally give preference to the coach who has shown the ability to coach a less talented or truly bad team to a .500 record. I prefer someone I have seen coach through a built-up team looking for long-term success as opposed to a team purchased for a short-term run (i.e., Tom Brady’s Buccaneers, Peyton Manning’s Broncos, McVay's Rams).
Both coaches are good playcallers and great at scheming their players into good matchups. However, Pederson is someone who's specifically been known as an aggressive fourth-down decision-maker who pushes the envelope, which consistently adds to his team's point differential. In other words, his aggressive playcalling is an added value for what may be, objectively a worse team on paper.
Now that the Rams' bill on that quick roster construction process has finally come due, we still have to address that we have yet to see McVay coach an objectively less talented or truly bad team above their skill. In the first offseason he was challenged with that task, he contemplated a potential early retirement.
The Rams lost to Tom Brady in his worst super bowl performance— jess (towne) taylor (@Jessi_Taylor21) February 4, 2019
The Eagles beat tom Brady with a backup QB in his BEST super bowl performance.
Doug Pederson > Sean McVay
Meanwhile, Doug took over the Philadelphia Eagles after the Chip Kelly experiment failed in glorious fashion. After Kelly had been given full control of free agency and draft decisions many core players had been traded away in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, in his first season, while rebuilding the roster depth the team finished at 7-9 with a rookie Carson Wentz. In 2018, Pederson had Wentz playing like an NFL MVP candidate prior to his week 14 ACL injury. Through the loss of Wentz, Pederson was able to rally the team around backup Nick Foles to complete the glorious 13-3, NFC East Division Champion, Philly Special, Super Bowl-winning second season.
In spite of the team dealing with many injuries the Eagles then went 10-7 the following season, losing in the divisional round of the playoffs, and followed that up by going 9-7 and losing in the Wild Card round. In the 2020 Covid-impacted season, Pederson's Eagles had a team-record 14 different offensive line combinations due to injuries and ended the season 4-11-1. The team then mutually agreed to go their separate ways that offseason.
Pederson finished his time in Philadelphia with a .531 regular season record, a .625 (5-3) postseason record, with one Super Bowl championship while taking over two ground-level team rebuilds. In McVay's six seasons, he has a .612 regular season record, a .700 (7-3) postseason record, and one Super Bowl title (in two appearances).
They're understandably close on the surface, but I have to give the edge to the guy who immediately flipped a historically bad team in Jacksonville and did the same previously in Philadelphia. Additionally, Doug owns the head-to-head advantage, with both wins from backup quarterbacks.
The #Eagles have not lost to the #Rams since 12/27/04, when the Eagles had already clinched and were resting their starters. Doug Pederson is also 2-0 against Sean McVay’s Rams, both being critical games, and both on the road in LA. pic.twitter.com/c8vw9wgUXC— Eagles Nation (@PHLEaglesNation) September 17, 2020
Other than the McVay/Pederson swap, this PFF ranking seems pretty reasonable, placing Pederson behind Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, Kyle Shanahan, and John Harbaugh. I know if we’re grading on a hometown curve and recency bias, some Jaguar fans might even place Doug as high as third behind Reid and Belichick. In my opinion, giving Doug preference over Mike Tomlin, Kyle Shanahan, or John Harbaugh does a disservice to how long they have been successful at a high level, with a better or arguable level of success. Prior to this past season, I think most would agree it would have been over the top to make an argument publicly placing Pederson above those three.
What say you, Big Cat County? In your opinion, should Pederson be listed in the top five?