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The start of the NFL season is still over four months away, but the betting markets are already looking forward to next season. Over this past weekend, BetMGM released its odds for the Coach of the Year award for the 2022 season. There's not much separation from top to bottom, and there's no overwhelming favorite. While it might be hard to pick a winner, the potential payouts for nailing one are lucrative.
Six coaches open as co-favorites
It's not often you will see betting odds for an award where six people share the role of favorite. However, that's exactly the case with the Coach of the Year race this year. Four first-year coaches are among the favorites. These six coaches are all 14-to-1 to be named Coach of the Year, giving them the best odds on the board:
Brian Daboll (Giants): Daboll enters his first year as the head coach of the Giants. He comes from the Buffalo Bills organization, where he received a lot of credit for the development of Josh Allen. Daboll has his work cut out for him with the Giants, but if he gets results out of this group, he will get a lot of well-earned credit. People are about ready to give up on Daniel Jones, but if Daboll can make him look like a good NFL quarterback, he'll get a lot of love.
Mike McDaniel (Dolphins): McDaniel was in charge of San Francisco's offense last season, but this year he enters his first year as the coach of the Dolphins. He has some new weapons to play with in Tyreek Hill, Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds. However, it will all come down to McDaniel's relationship with Tua Tagovailoa. Can Tua establish himself as a good NFL quarterback after two middling and inconsistent seasons? If he can, McDaniel will get a lot of the credit.
Kevin O'Connell (Vikings): Coming off two seasons where he served as offensive coordinator on Sean McVay's staff, O'Connell landed the Vikings head coaching job this past offseason. The Vikings have Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen, giving them a great group of weapons. The NFC is wide-open, which gives O'Connell a chance of returning the Vikings to the playoffs if he can maximize the talent on this offense.
Doug Pederson (Jaguars): Doug Pederson won the Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles, but he was fired after missing the playoffs in 2020. He took 2021 off, but he's now back as the head man in Jacksonville. Pederson has the resume, and now he's tasked with developing arguably the best quarterback prospect of the last decade in Trevor Lawrence. Can he scrub the stink of Urban Meyer off this team and make it competitive?
Brandon Staley (Chargers): Brandon Staley might have been the most polarizing coach in the league in his first year with the Chargers due to his aggressiveness. This year, he has that same great quarterback and a much improved defense. The Chargers look primed to take that leap into the playoffs, which is a good narrative for a coach to have.
Kyle Shanahan (49ers): Not often do you see a coach with an established reputation like Shanahan as a favorite for this kind of award. However, Shanahan will likely be tasked with ushering in a rookie quarterback in Trey Lance. He might also need to figure out a way to scheme an offense without Deebo Samuel. There's enough here to build a good narrative for Shanahan.
The characteristics of a coach of the year winner
In 2021, Mike Vrabel won Coach of the Year. However, he certainly classifies as an outlier in terms of recent winners. Vrabel's Titans earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but they made the playoffs the year prior, and they only improved their record by one win (which could be explained by the extra game).
Since 2006, the winner of the award has seen his team's record improve year-over-year by an average of 5.7 wins. All but two winners have seen their team's record improve by at least four wins. Those two winners were Vrabel last year and Bruce Arians in 2014. Arians' team went from missing the playoffs the year prior to making them. The one thing these two coaches had in common was the ability to overcome a major injury. Arians lost Carson Palmer, while Vrabel lost Derrick Henry.
In order to win this award, the coaches' teams almost always must make the playoffs. That would make me hesitant to back someone like Daboll or Pederson. The Giants are -275 to miss the playoffs, while the Jaguars are -550 to miss. Even McDaniel's Dolphins will have a tough road in the AFC, as they are -165 to miss the playoffs.
Three of the last five and seven of the last 16 winners were in their first years as the head coach of that team. Kevin Stefanski, Matt Nagy and Sean McVay are recent winners who won the award in their first season. This makes sense, as the coach will get a lot of the credit if the team turns around in his first season.
Other first-year coaches include Nathaniel Hackett (16-to-1), Josh McDaniels (18-to-1), Todd Bowles (30-to-1), Dennis Allen (30-to-1), Matt Eberflus (30-to-1), and Lovie Smith (40-to-1).
On that list, Dennis Allen is interesting. The Saints almost made the playoffs last year while starting four different quarterbacks. Jameis Winston should be back healthy, Michael Thomas should be back as well and the Saints will likely add a receiver in the draft. If the offense is improved, the defense has shown its capabilities. The NFC is wide open behind the top four or five teams, and the Saints could be back in the playoffs in Allen's first year. At 30-to-1, Allen might be worth a dart throw.