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The Value of NFL Coaches

   by Al McMordie - 10/14/2005

Stats, revenge situations, matchups, bounce-back opportunities and situational handicapping all are areas to examine when trying to find winners against the spread. But don't overlook how important coaching can be when it comes to winning and covering. Football requires teams to be prepared in so many ways, far more so than basketball and baseball. Baseball managers have to live and die, for the most part, with their starting pitchers, while basketball coaches of the Hawks and Hornets, for example, can't do much without talented players in the front or backcourt.

Football is very different. Playbooks are so thick they require patient coaches with the talent to teach, as well as the imagination to try new plays and try and exploit weaknesses of the opposition. Game films need to be broken down, backups need to be prepared in the event of an injury, and even game plans need to be tweaked. Look at the Atlanta Falcons last week. They weren't sure if running quarterback Michael Vick would be available to play, and when he wasn't, they went to a more pass-oriented game plan under QB Matt Schaub. The team they were playing, the Patriots, had put their defensive game plan together anticipating Vick playing, which was geared toward stopping the run, then had to make adjustments when Schaub came in to quarterback Atlanta.

Three of the most successful coaches in the NFL that have all taken their teams to a Super Bowl are Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher and Bill Belichick. These guys are excellent at getting their teams prepared and motivated. Notice that their teams are 9-5 against the spread thus far. In fact, they are 5-2 ATS as an underdog. Fisher's Titans have been a dog in every game, while Cowher and Belichick are each 1-0 SU/ATS as a dog this season. Cowher's team just won on the road at San Diego as a dog, while Belichick's team also won as a dog -- against Cowher's Steelers!

Other coaches who have a long and successful track record are Bill Parcells, Dick Vermeil, and Andy Reid, while the rest are not as easy to categorize. You can make the argument that coaches like Tony Dungy, Tom Coughlin, Mike Holmgren, and Marty Schottenheimer are above-average, in the middle, or even overrated. This is going to be a very interesting year for Dungy and the Colts. Some think he's a very good organizer and successful coach, while others think he is vastly overrated.

On the one hand, he's helped build winning teams in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. On the other hand, he's been consistently out-coached and his teams have been out-motivated in playoff games. Three years ago -- his first with the Colts -- was a disaster, as they lost 41-0 in the playoffs to the Jets, and Indy appeared to pack it in. The last two years the Colts have been completely outplayed by the Patriots. It wasn't a comfort to Dungy supporters after their 20-3 loss to the Pats in January when players and even Dungy said afterwards, "I really don't know what happened out there." The Colts are off to a perfect 5-0 start with a magnificent defense to balance an unstoppable offense. Is this their year? Or have they played mostly lousy teams? Barring major injuries, there really are no excuses for Dungy and the Colts this season, especially since they are a good shot to get home field for the postseason.
Finally, two coaches who almost everyone would agree are not very good are Jim Haslett and Mike Tice. The Vikings and Saints are a combined 3-6 SU/ATS this season. Yes, coaching does make a difference -- on the field and at the betting window. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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