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NFC North Head Coach Rankings

All four head coaches in the NFC North have paid their dues to earn the spots they have attained.  Three of the head coaches are offensive minded, leaving the other as a hard nosed defensive mind.  They all earned their stripes coaching in college and one took his talents to another country.  While ranking the coaches in the NFC North, it seems only right to document their journeys.  While most fans fawn over the star quarterback, the flashy receiver or the hard hitting line-backer – it’s guys like these, who lead these men into gridiron combat, preparing them with endless drills, film study and schemes.  It’s the responsibility of these men to bring out the full potential of every player on their roster and ultimately lead them to the promised land.

1. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers (since 2006)

It is normal business in the NFL to see head coaches lose their jobs after 2 or 3 seaons. Even the good ones. McCarthy must be doing something right to keep a head coaching job in the NFL for 8 years. Lucky for him he is also the head coach for one of the more stable franchises in NFL history. McCarthy started out as a graduate coach for the lesser known Fort Hays State – it was such a “lesser” job that McCarthy was also working on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the time to help make ends meet. It’s that blue-collar work ethic along with his offensive savvy that has kept him in the NFL since 1993. After spending 5 years in Kansas City, as a part of Marty Schottenheimer’s staff, McCarthy served as a quarterbacks coach and offensive assistant. He had a brief stay in 1999 as the Green Bay Packers quarterback coach, not knowing that he’d revisit Wisconsin in years to come. . . As he further indulged himself as an offensive coordinator in the NFL, he proved to get the best out of players, who otherwise would’ve never met their full potential. Namely the Saints’ Aaron Brooks, Deuce McCallister and Joe Horn. Take a look at their career numbers without McCarthy and it’s evident that McCarthy has a way to communicate offense like very few can. It took McCarthy 4 years to win a Super Bowl after taking the Green Bay head coaching job in 2006. Since then McCarthy has kept Green Bay’s offense working like a well oiled machine. Equipping an offensive mind like McCarthy’s with the talents of quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been a match made in heaven for Packers fans. Last season, with Rodgers missing most of the season due to injury, McCarthy exhibited some of his finest coaching moments, helping a team maneuver through multiple quarterback changes and offensive philosophies and stillpositioning the team to win the division. This season McCarthy has his most valuable asset to him at full health and is looking to add more hardware to blue collar work ethic, which is perfectly fit for a blue collar town like Green Bay.

2. Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears (since last year)


Marc Trestman is a very odd character when looking at his coaching history.  He volunteered to work at the University of Miami, and when he was promoted to quarterback coach he elevated the play of a young quarterback named Bernie Kosar.  Trestman didn’t keep himself in the college realm for too long.  After three years in Miami, Trestman embarked on an NFL journey from 1985-2004 in which he served as an offensive coordinator or quarterback’s coach for  9 different NFL teams.  In the late 80′s he was reunited with Bernie Kosar and Kosar took full advantage of the situation throwing for 3533 yards and 18 touchdowns in the 1989 season.  When Trestman was relieved of his duties in Cleveland, it apparently seemed he took Kosar’s talent with him, as Kosar played miserably without him. . . Much like McCarthy, Trestman too had a knack for players playing up to their potential.  He earned the name “the Quarterback Whisperer” because of his ability to communicate with quarterbacks where few have succeeded previously or after.  His track record shows that quarterbacks have just played their best football under him: Scott Mitchell (Detroit), Jake Plummer (Arizona) and of course Rich Gannon (Oakland) who won MVP of the 2002 season.  In 2006 things got weird in the timeline of Trestman.  He went back to college only to be the offensive coordinator at North Carolina State (why?) and after that one year, was relieved of his duties.  Instead of going back to the NFL, he opted to coach the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League from 2008-1012.  He made it to three championship games winning two of them.  Last season he made his return to the NFL by accepting the head coaching position for the Chicago Bears.  It was an unorthodox move for both the Bears and Trestman.  Trestman had seemed to shy away from head coaching opportunities in his life before and he said he wanted to test his abilities in the Canadian Football League.  After seeing the success he had there, he thought it was finally time.  For an old-school franchise like the Bears, hiring a heavily offensive minded head coach is definitely out of character but seeing how their rival Green Bay has flourished under an offensive mind, they must’ve thought this was as good a time as any to change up the program.  In his first season as head coach, Trestman led the Bears to having the number two offense in the league.  He found an emerging star in young wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, and talent-wise feels he has it the best he’s probably ever had with Jay Cutler at quarterback.  For Cutler, this is a season where the weapons are there and so is the coach.  If Cutler fails, nobody will blame Trestman – his record speaks for himself – Cutler on the other hand. . . his record speaks for himself. . .

3. Jim Caldwell, Detroit Lions (first season as head coach)


Not counting Canadian championships, Caldwell has the most Super Bowl appearances and wins out of the coaches in the NFC North.  Albeit he was offensive coordinator for two of those, but it doesn’t matter how you get into the party, as long as you get in. Caldwell spent 23 years as in the college ranks. He was primarily a wide receivers coach but landed a head coaching job with Wake Forest, making him the first African American head coach in ACC football history.  There has been discussion as to why he kept his job at Wake Forest for so long though, considering he only notched one winning season from 1993-2000.  What he did do well in that time was move the ball well, through the air, and that got the attention of then head coach of the Tampa Buccaneers, Tony Dungy, who hired Caldwell as quarterback’s coach.  He stood at Dungy’s side as assistant head coach, when Dungy became the leading man in Indianapolis.  It was there that Caldwell was able to learn under Dungy and also where Caldwell was able to work with / learn from one of the best quarterbacks of all-time in Peyton Manning.  When Dungy retired, Caldwell was passed the reigns and saw immediate success, even made it to a Super Bowl but folks weren’t quite sure what to make of it.  Caldwell kept everything “as is” when Dungy left it, and why would he do other wise?  Peyton Manning was the most consistent, perfectionist at the quarterback position so all Caldwell had to do was keep everything “as is.”  Then it fell apart when Manning missed the 2011 season due to injury, leaving Caldwell and the Colts to plummet from their status as one of the NFL’s best franchises, to a 2-14 season.  Caldwell was immediately fired after the season and his coaching mind was called into question.  Caldwell was granted a re-birth from the Baltimore Ravens where he was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season.  It was then that Caldwell, as offensive coordinator for the second time in his career, helped a team win a Super Bowl.  Enter 2013, Caldwell now inherits a Detroit Lions team that has tons of talent, but that talent is over-run by a lack of discipline.  Caldwell must work with a quarterback in Matthew Stafford who now is feeling the heat from Lions fans in the Detroit area – and also must deal with Ndamukong Suh, who is one of the most feared defensive lineman in the NFL, yet seems to get in his own way.  Caldwell can silence all his critics if he can turn this group into winners but it’ll take more than just discipline and a flash of some hardware on his part.  Caldwell must prove that he can install a philosophy all his own and not give fans a repeat of the Jim Schwartz era.  If Caldwell fails here in Detroit, he’ll never be a head coach again in this league . . .

4. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings (first season as head coach)


Many folks are surprised it took Mike Zimmer this long to earn a head coaching gig in the NFL.  From 1994 to 2006 Zimmer was a defensive backs coach who evolved into the the team’s defensive coordinator.  He coached under four different coaching regimes and many thought his long relationship with the Dallas Cowboys would eventually earn him a head coaching job there.  It didn’t happen for Zimmer and instead he found himself in a huge mess as defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in 2007.  What happened to the Falcons in ’07 goes down in NFL infamy as newly hired head coach Bobby Petrino, quit on the team late in the year to accept the head coaching job at the University of Arkansas.  Mike Zimmer was very candid about his thoughts on Petrino afterwards : “He’s a gutless bastard. Quote that, I don’t give sh**. . . He’s a coward. Put that in quotes.  He ruined a bunch of people’s lives, a bunch of people’s families, kids, because he didn’t have enough nu** to stay there and finish the job.  That’s the truth.”  After the debacle in Atlanta, Zimmer found himself working as defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals.  in 2009, he received assistant coach of the year honors and for three years he kept the Bengals overall defense in the top 10.  Last year, after interviewing with the Browns and Vikings for position of head coach, it was the Vikings that called back and offered him the job.  Zimmer has inherited a roster with a lot of potential but as Aj Mansour (Kfan Vikings Blog) pointed out they need to shake off “some bad habits that may carry over from the previous administration.”  Zimmer has been hands on, especially on the defensive side mainly for two reasons: 1. That’s his specialty and 2. He’s hired Norv Turner as offensive coordinator and is comfortable with Turner handling things on that side of the ball.  Zimmer and Turner has a rookie quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater who has the capabilities of being a very head strong quarterback who will minimize his mistakes in his rookie campaign.  There is a good nucleus of young and veteran talent on both sides of the ball and it would be no surprise if Zimmer exceeds expectations with a team that won only five games last season.


G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio


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