By Tom E. Curran
DALLAS -- Bill Belichick's been named NFL Coach of the Year for the third time.
He joins Chuck Knox and four-time winner Don Shula as the only coaches to be honored more than twice.
Voting was done at the end of the regular season before the Patriots' faceplant against the Jets in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Would voters minds' have changed if the voting was done now? Probably.
Hours before the award was announced, I spoke with a handful of folks who cover a lot of NFL.
None of them would have picked Belichick thanks to the Patriots one-and-done season.
"Based on the regular season, I would say [Tampa Bay's] Raheem Morris," said Mike Florio, owner-operator of Pro Football Talk.com. "Seeing as we're in the postseason, I'll say [Pittsburgh's] Mike Tomlin. Belichick's near the top if you just factor the regular season, but if you don't and you look at the playoffs, it's another playoff loss for the Patriots and that's three straight.
"Raheem Morris is a guy I like because he did a lot with a little," added Florio. "Even though they didn't make it to the postseason they had 10 wins in a tough division with a lot of young guys. They got the most out of what they had and Raheem Morris gets the credit for it. With Bill Belichick, 14-2 is nothing to sneeze at, but losing three straight postseason games is something that's alarming and that's got to stick to the coach at a certain level."
Andrew Siciliano, host of DirecTV's Red Zone Channel, was a Morris guy as well.
"With Raheem Morris and the number of rookies [Tampa Bay] had, how little money they spent -- how far under the cap they would have been if there was a cap? -- that was a great job," said Siciliano. "You had an undrafted rookie at running back [LeGarrette Blount]. You had a kid who got kicked out of Syracuse catching all your passes [Mike Williams]. You had a second-year quarterback [Josh Freeman] and no one came to their games. They were blacked out almost every single week. Nobody came to their games and they did this in one of the toughest divisions in football. I think he absolutely deserves consideration."
All year-end award decisions are subjective, whether it's MVP, Comeback Player of the Year or Coach of the Year.
But for some reason, extra love is normally given to the coach who takes over a crap team and gets them halfway decent.
Since 1991, only two coaches have won the Super Bowl the year they were named COY (Dick Vermeil, Rams, in 1999 and Belichick in 2003). Two coaches got to the Super Bowl and lost the year they were named COY (Belichick in 2007 and Dan Reeves, Falcons, 1998).
That would lead one to conclude that sustained coaching excellence is less valued than renovation jobs. Or that the presumption exists that coaches of winning teams have better players and hence should win.
Pat Kirwan of NFL.com and SIRIUS NFL Radio said, "I think there's a tendency to want to pick the hot guy that came out of nowhere. All the young kids did do great jobs this year. Belichick was in the middle of a youth movement and we really didn't recognize it because he was winning.
"[Philadelphia's] Andy Reid has to be considered," Kirwan added. "The bold move of moving on from [Donovan] McNabb and putting his faith in [Michael] Vick? We also start to ignore the guys who get to these games. [Green Bay's] Mike McCarthy and Mike Tomlin. Tomlin to be without his quarterback at the start of the season, now back to his second Super Bowl in three seasons. The fact he really replaced a legend in Bill Cowher. But at the end of the day, I think Mike McCarthy's been building something for a while. He's got 15 guys on IR. Mike McCarthy's my guy."
The Patriots weren't a classic renovation job in 2010. They were a 10-win playoff team in 2009.
But the team went through a massive transformation in concrete and abstract ways, to the point where they were far and away the best team in football during the regular season.
The fact they started four rookies on defense, two at the tight-end spots and had castoffs at running back was only part of the story. The jettisoning of Randy Moss -- the last and biggest move made by Belichick to recapture a team that had gone soft -- was a watershed moment. It took a lot of guts. And it worked.
Voters recognized that. But one of them wanted a mulligan. Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News said, "I picked Bill Belichick. It should have been Mike McCarthy. McCarthy lost 91 games by starters and he's still playing in the Super Bowl. That's 19 more games lost by starters than any other team. And there's only three teams since 2000 that lost more games by starters in a season and none of them finished above .500. To lose 91 games to starters and still be in the Super Bowl? They lost a Pro Bowl running back [Ryan Grant], they lost a guy they thought would be a Pro Bowl tight end [Jermichael Finley], they lost the leading tackler on a top-10 defense last year [Nick Barnett]. They lost a lot and they found a way to get through it, and that's coaching."
So what was his rationale on Belichick?
"Everybody thought the thing was gonna fall apart when they traded Randy Moss. It didn't. It got better . . . I think a lot of times Belichick gets overlooked because he's expected to win. But he remade his team on the fly. He changed the whole character of the team trading Moss and going to those two rookie tight ends," said Gosselin.
"I think there are a lot of good candidates. I would have considered [the Rams'] Steve Spagnuolo. You got a rookie quarterback [Sam Bradford] and you lose your top receiver [Donnie Avery] in training camp and you go into the final game of the season with a shot at a playoff spot?"
The "games lost by starters" point by Gosselin -- who took the time to compile the full list -- is a great one. The Colts were the team hit second-hardest by injury (72 games lost). The Panthers were at 69 and the Patriots were at 62. The Falcons led the NFL with only nine games missed by starters.
The Jets, it's interesting to note, had just three games missed by offensive starters, according to Gosselin.
Belichick also won in 2003 and 2007. Arguably his best coaching job ever came in 2001, when he led the upstart Patriots to their first Super Bowl win.
Belichick had 30 of the 50 votes (including mine). Morris had 11.5. Chiefs coach Todd Haley had 4.5. The Bears' Lovie Smith, the Falcons' Mike Smith, Spagnuolo and Reid received a vote apiece.Tom E. Curran can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tomecurran