Who's the NFC North's Best Head Coach?

There have been plenty of opinions this offseason about what team in the NFC North has the best quarterback, the best receiving corps, the best offense, the best defense, etc. LionsFans.com columnist Doug Warren, however, wants to find out who the best coach is. Formula and rankings inside.

There have been plenty of opinions this offseason about what team in the NFC North has the best quarterback, the best receiving corps, the best offense, the best defense, etc.

However, I want to find out who is the best head coach in NFC North. Being that there are only four guys to choose from – Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears; Mike Sherman of the Green Bay Packers, Mike Tice of the Minnesota Vikings; and Steve Mariucci of the Detroit Lions – it shouldn't be that hard to do . . . right?

OK. So what should the criteria be?

Career winning percentage? Nope, that would be unfair to Lovie Smith because he has only been on the job one season.

Pro Bowl Players? Nah, guys like Lovie and Steve Mariucci have been saddled with mostly putrid rosters during their time with their current teams. While conversely, Mike Sherman and Mike Tice had pretty solid programs in place when they took over for their predecessors (i.e. Ray Rhodes and Dennis Green, respectively).

How about head to head records? That would be interesting, but again you have the question of talent (or lack thereof), as well as length of tenure on their respective teams.

So with all that in mind, let's just keep things simple and boil the debate down to these four highly subjective traits:

1. Football Intelligence: How smart is this guy, in general football terms, on and off the field?

2. Leadership and Poise: Can they rally their players when the chips are down? Do they keep their cool when the pressure is at its peak?

3. Game Management: How in tune are they with the various situations that face them during a game and how do they respond?

4. Quarterback Management: How do they manage professional sports most important position?

Each coach will get a grade of 1-thru-5 (5 being the worst) for each the four categories. Like golf, the coach with the lowest point total at the end wins the mythical title of NFC's North's Best Head Coach.

As you can see, these measurables are far from scientific, but let's just see how it pans out. For those of you already ready to click your mouse and head to your favorite fantasy football or gambling site, just hang with me, it's the offseason and storylines are slim.

Chicago Bears – Lovie Smith is a great defensive coordinator who earned his stripes by coaching the St. Louis Rams' defense to two Super Bowl appearances. He did a decent job last season with a Bears squad that was beset by numerous injuries and an offense that would have made George Halas mad enough to sock Sid Luckman in the kisser.

It was admirable that he was able to keep the team together last season despite the numerous problems. A healthy Rex Grossman and a good year from rookie Cedric Benson and veteran newcomer Mushin Muhammad will give Lovie a little more reason to smile. With a healthy CB Charles Tillman, SS Mike Brown, MLB Brian Urlacher and DE Adewale Ogunleye, the Bears defense should give the opposition something to worry about too. While Lovie did as well as could be expected last season, this year will really be a litmus test as to whether he is a good head coach or just a good defensive one.

Coach Smith gets major kudos for somehow finding a way to make Craig Krenzel the first Bear QB in 40 years to begin his career 3-0. But he gets a major points taken off for somehow thinking that signing mega-bust QB retread Jeff George was a good idea.

There goes another haymaker from Halas' soul to Luckman's jaw.

Lovie Smith's Grades
1. Football Intelligence: 2
2. Leadership and Poise: 2
3. Game Management: 2
4. Quarterback Management: 5
Total Score: 11

Detroit Lions – Steve Mariucci: Came to Detroit with a reputation as an offensive guru who would be able to get the most out of the Lions young talent. However, if you look at last season, two things come to mind. Either the talent was vastly overrated or the head coach is. Kevin Jones is still wondering if he is gonna be allowed to keep the pay checks he received for the first eight games of last season.

Yes Kevin, whether you are healthy enough to carry the ball or not, it is OK in Detroit to show up and get paid for doing nothing. The Lions have made that a tradition for the better part of the last 50 years.

I also question the way that Mariucci handled the quarterback position and the play calling last season. Mariucci came desperately close to losing the team last year because of those two issues. When Harrington was in the depths of his funk last year, Mariucci should have benched him for a game or two to simply let the guy clear his head. Better yet, Mariucci should have given over playcalling duties to someone else much sooner than before he was essentially forced to by Matt Millen after the debacle in Lambeau Field when Harrington looked like Ronnie Milsap out there gunning the ball around the frozen tundra. While Harrington has gotten a lot of grief from many, including myself, I put more blame on Steve Mariucci for last season's offensive problems than anyone else.

We will see if Ted Tollner, a healthy receiving corps and a resilient Joey Harrington can turn the tide on what has been nearly a decade of mediocore to horrible offenses for the Honolulu Blue and Sliver.

Steve Mariucci's Grades 1. Football Intelligence: 2
2. Leadership and Poise: 2
3. Game Management: 4
4. Quarterback Management: 3
Total Score: 11

Green Bay Packers – Mike Sherman: Sometimes I think this guy is on the ball, and other times he leaves me scratching my head. His decision to take over playcalling duties after the packers 1-4 start last year was a great move. The offense became more unpredictable and aggressive and sparked Green bay to another division title (their third-straight).

On the other hand, it's clear that the Packers haven't been quite the same without the leadership and football savvy of Ron Wolf. Sherman bombed as a personnel guy, and Green Bay is likely going to spend a few years picking up the pieces from the lackluster drafts, bad trades, and poor cap management under Sherman's watch.

In addition, the firing of defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and making him the scapegoat for the playoff loss to the Eagles two years ago proved to be a big mistake,too. However, it did help to cover up another major problem with the Packers in the post-Holmgren era, the unwillingness of the Packers' head coach to challenge the franchise QB and ask him why he has played with his head up his rear end during the Packers last four playoff losses.

I mean in all seriousness, what was Favre thinking when he threw that pass four yards past the line of scrimmage against the Vikings at Lambeau last season? Did Sherman even question good ‘ole #4 on that one? It sure didn't seem like anything was said. Favre just walked off the field smiling like a rat eating onions.

Ya' think Mike Holmgren would have had a few choice words for Favre after that play. What would Saint Vincent have said?

Where are we going next season Mr. Peabody?

Well Sherman, only as far as Brett Favre's next boneheaded play.

Mike Shermans's Grades: 1. Football Intelligence: 4
2. Leadership and Poise: 2
3. Game Management: 2
4. Quarterback Management: 4
Total Score: 12

Minnesota Vikings – Mike Tice reminds me of Wayne Fontes. He really comes across as a guy that his players like to play for, but all too often, he gets out-coached when playoff time rolls around.

A prime example was last year's playoff loss to Philadelphia. That botched FG attempt was a disaster. Why in the hell would you try some crap like that in a game of that magnitude? It just boggles my mind that an NFL coach would go Pop Warner like that. You can't blame Randy Moss for not knowing what was going on because the play should have never even been drawn up in the first place.

Then you have the "Ticketmaster" Tice fiasco. That was just classic. Could you ever see stoic Bud Grant pulling stuff like that? That whole deal derives straight out of the old "Cocaine Wayne" playbook.

I give Tice credit for moving Moss. It took a lot of guts, but I have a feeling in the long run that the Vikings will be better because of it. Their best player for at least the last two years has been Daunte Culpepper, and I think Daunte is good enough to be a Steve McNair/John Elway type of QB who will continue to make the players around him better than they would be otherwise.

It was clear last season that Daunte and Randy weren't seeing eye to eye. Tice made the right call by sticking with his QB.

Mike Tice's Grades
1. Football Intelligence: 3
2. Leadership and Poise: 2
3. Game Management: 4
4. Quarterback Management: 1
Total Score: 10

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Wow. The guy who gets fined 100 G's for scalping Super Bowl tickets is the NFC North's best coach? That's a little scary.

This division is gonna be as wacky as advertised in 2005.

Questions or comments: Go to the LionsFans.com message board or e-mail Doug Warren at schmidt56@tds.net

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