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Absence Of Clear NFL Coach Of The Year Frontrunner Means Plenty Of Opportunity For Bettors

James Murphy
by in NFL on
Sean McDermott
Sean McDermott has a fancy hat
  • Every betting interest on the NFL Coach of the Year futures board is priced at double digit odds.
  • Kevin Stefanski was the 2020 winner in his first year as coach of the Cleveland Browns.
  • The last repeat Coach of the Year winner was Joe Gibbs in 1982 and 1983.

As with the Most Valuable Player Award, the National Football League (NFL) has no official honor for ‘Coach of the Year’. Instead, the NFL recognizes the Associated Press (AP) designee for the award which is announced at the annual league honors ceremony held the day before the Super Bowl. This practice began in 2011 but before that there were several other organizations that also made recognition of the top coach of the recently completed NFL campaign.

The AP has named a Coach of the Year honoree since 1957 and while their designation has always received a great deal of respect from fans and media it only recently has been given the NFL’s imprimatur. The long running publication Sporting News has named their own pro football Coach of the Year annually since 1947 with no award given in 1954, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1962. The frequent disparity between the AP and Sporting News demonstrates the wide open nature of the Coach of the Year honorific–only once in the past three years has the same coach won both awards. Interestingly, the Sporting News once awarded their COY award to a non-NFL coach–that was Paul Brown of the All America Football Conference in 1949. The Sporting News award is voted on by other coaches while the AP award is based on the vote of the media that covers the NFL.

Between 1968 and 2008 Pro Football Weekly also designated a NFL Coach of the Year. In 1968 and 1969 there were separate awards for the NFL and AFL. In 1985, no award was given. The Maxwell Football Club has named a NFL Coach of the Year every year since 1989. Although the award is technically considered still active the organization has not awarded it since 2018. Between 1971 and 2003 the Touchdown Club of Columbus awarded the Coach of the Year with the ‘Paul Brown Trophy’. A civic group called the Kansas City 101 began giving out NFL postseason awards in 1969 including Coach of the Year. It is still active and Kevin Stefanski also won their 2020 ‘COY’ award. Finally, the United Press International (UPI)–an organization similar to the AP–recognized a NFL Coach of the Year between 1955 and 1996.


There is no clear frontrunner for the NFL Coach of the Year in sportsbook futures betting markets. Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley is the nominal favorite at +1000 ahead of Kevin Stefanski (+1200), Miami’s Brian Flores (+1400) and the LA Rams’ Sean McVay (+1400). 21 of the coaches in the league are priced at +2500 or lower. Don Shula was the only four time winner of the AP COY award with Bill Belichick and Chuck Knox winning three times and George Allen, George Halas, Mike Ditka, Joe Gibbs, Ron Rivera, Allie Sherman, Bruce Ariens, Dan Reeves and Bill Parcells each winning twice.

There have been very few repeat winners. No coach has won back to back since Joe Gibbs in 1982 and 1983. There have been only three back-to-back winners in history (Allie Sherman in 1961 and 1962, Don Shula in 1967 and 1968). This is informative and gives us some technical handicapping concepts to work with. Since the bar for multiple winners has been set very high, and the bar for three and four time winners exceptionally so a decision to give Bill Belichick his fourth award–putting him on the same level with the beatified Don Shula–wouldn’t be one taken lightly. Elevating Ron Rivera or Bruce Ariens to three time winners might also cause some voters to pause.

According to a NFL.com report on the balloting, Stefanski was a runaway winner taking 25 of 50 votes. Buffalo Bills’ head coach Sean McDermott got seven votes with Miami’s Brian Flores getting six votes. I’m going to try to dig deeper into the voting history but my kneejerk reaction is that the voters tend to award ‘reclamation projects’ where coaches take a struggling team to respectability. That’s likely why Tampa Bay’s Bruce Ariens didn’t get any significant support for COY. Overcoming adversity looks to be a key theme–Stefanski had to deal with player injuries and even his own bout of COVID-19. Here’s some of the NFL.com story and you can get a sense of the ‘perversity’ storyline favored by COY voters:

The Browns did all this while weathering a storm of several key injuries, including star wideout Odell Beckham‘s season-ending ACL tear, Chubb’s four-game absence and a multitude of hits to the offensive line and secondary which constantly forced the team to recalibrate and adjust. The Browns never wavered under Stefanski, producing two four-game win streaks and winning every game that came after each of their five defeats, including a must-win game in Week 17 to clinch a playoff berth.

Earning a No. 6 seed into the playoffs, the Browns went on the road to face their AFC North rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and dealt with perhaps the most adverse situation for a team — the absence of Stefanski. The Browns coach was forced to stay at home for the Browns’ first playoff game in 18 years after testing positive for COVID-19, but a groomed Cleveland team went on to shock the No. 3-seeded Steelers with a 48-37 win on Super Wild Card Weekend.

Stefanski returned to the sidelines in the Divisional Round, where the Browns fell short against the soon-to-be AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Browns didn’t go out without a fight, however, and left the city of Cleveland with a positive outlook on its future, which may prompt the extinguishing of its tormented past.

Stefanski’s quick turnaround in Cleveland came after a tumultuous year where the Browns experienced their second coaching change in as many seasons.

The wide open nature of this award and lack of a clear cut favorite gives us nice prices throughout the betting board which gives us an opportunity to take multiple positions and still get a nice payback should we cash. We’ll do this in two parts–I’ve spent this article giving background and will conclude with a couple of obvious positions. In my next article, we’ll look in greater depth through the field and try and isolate coaches that fit the ‘template’ outlined above, preferably at high prices.

For now, we’ve got a good hint about what voters are looking for in the two ‘runners up’. If either McDermott or Flores is able to get even more improvement out of the Bills and Dolphins respectively they could be right back in the running. The fact that there was considerable support for each man in 2020 suggests that they might have a ‘leg up’ for the 2021 award. We’ll see what we can find at higher price points for any additional plays and post them in a subsequent article.


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