Early Front Runners for Coach of the Year

By Stephen Juza

March 12th, 2024

As the league opens the new season with free agency this week, all eyes turn toward the 2024 season. Key players are already on the move in free agency as teams aim to address gaps in their rosters before the upcoming draft next month. As coaches around the league start to strategize for the 2024 season, we look today at the most likely candidates for the Coach of the Year award.

Each new signing or departure has the potential to impact the online betting odds for each coach vying for the award. While losing Kirk Cousins in free agency may hurt the Vikings next year, if they can replace him and show improvement next year, Kevin O'Connell will be in advantageous position to win the award. However, if they falter from last year’s 7-10 record, O’Connell may be looking for work next offseason.

When considering the Coach of the Year, it is rarely given to the best coach in the game. For example, Andy Reid, one of the greatest coaches of the last 30 years, has only won the award once in his career.

While new coaches make up about 20-25% of the league each season, they have won four of the last ten COTY awards. Voters love to focus on a ‘narrative’, and a new coach coming in to lead a team to the playoffs is always a compelling story.

Even if it is not a new coach, coaches need to have a major improvement from the prior season. Since 2014, in the year preceding the COTY win, the teams averaged a 7-9 record - right on the cusp of the playoffs but needing just a little more push. The following year, to secure the award, the average COTY winner led his team to five more wins from the prior season, with the largest turnaround at nine wins for Ron Rivera’s COTY win in 2015 when he led the Panthers to a Super Bowl berth.

So, who are the three coaches to look out for next year?

#1 - Jim Harbaugh, Los Angeles Chargers

Jim Harbaugh will make a lot of noise next season. Returning to the NFL after winning the NCAA championship at his alma mater, Michigan, Harbaugh took one of the prime positions in the league. While the Chargers have some key positions filled with potential stars, his coaching will help them with the push needed to improve on last year’s 5-12 finish. It is not rare that one team will go worst-to-first in their division, and with a little luck, the Chargers can achieve that this year.

With a new coach coming in, if he manages to topple the Kansas City Chiefs’ reign in the AFC West, expect Harbaugh to win his first coach of the year award.

#2 - Sean Payton, Denver Broncos

Staying within the AFC West, another strong candidate for the Coach of the Year award is Sean Payton. After returning to coaching after a brief retirement, the Broncos had extremely high expectations with Payton last year. They all fell flat. An 8-9 finish, with a quarterback debacle that led to Russell Wilson’s release last week was not what the team had in mind when they hired the former Super Bowl winner. Poor results in 2023 only lead to increased pressure in 2024, and the job is not any easier this season.

Entering free agency, the team’s top priority is to replace Wilson, and Payton has had major success at working with quarterbacks throughout his tenure in the league. Spinning yarn into gold this season and replacing the Chiefs at the top of the AFC West will put Payton’s name on his second COTY award.

#3 - Shane Steichen, Indianapolis Colts

The last coach to keep an eye on in 2024 is Shane Steichen. The Colts were able to surprise people last year with a strong 9-8 finish to the season, good for a second-place finish behind 10-7 Houston. However, the season encountered early struggles when rookie starting quarterback Anthony Richardson went down with a season ending injury in the fifth game of the season. While his rookie season was brief, they were signs of the explosive potential he possesses - Richardson ranked first in the league in explosive plays before he went down injured.

While backup quarterback Garner Minshew II left the team in free agency, Richardson’s injury rehab is progressing as expected and began throwing the ball last month. With a healthy Richardson, and enough improvement from the rest of the team to take the division title, Steichen could win his first COTY award of his career next February.

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