General thoughts: These rankings were easier than the positional ones we've done. There are only 32 head coaches, for starters. Five have never coached an NFL game. Eight others have losing career records. Four with winning records have coached two or fewer seasons and only two of those, Rex Ryan and Jim Caldwell, have enjoyed postseason success. It became clear early that we were working from a relatively short list. Only 13 coaches received votes.
My top 10: Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Tom Coughlin, Mike McCarthy, Sean Payton, Mike Tomlin, Rex Ryan, Ken Whisenhunt, Lovie Smith and Mike Shanahan.
What mattered to me: I favored coaches that had taken over losing teams, turned them around quickly and then enjoyed success over multiple seasons, including in the playoffs.
The fact that Mike Tomlin works for a strong organization worked against him in this ranking.
Why Tomlin was only sixth: No one else ranked him lower. As I told Graham, Tomlin took over a healthy operation and kept it going. He deserves credit for that, but not as much credit as if he had produced similar results after taking over a struggling franchise. We should view the success Bill Cowher enjoyed in a similar context. Both worked for an outstanding organization.
Why Mike Shanahan was on the list: Shanahan hasn't produced a winning record since 2006. His teams own one postseason victory since his 1998 Broncos defended their Super Bowl title. The way he misread Donovan McNabb worked against him, too. In the end, Shanahan's 152-108 regular-season record, 8-5 postseason record, nine winning seasons and two Super Bowl titles commanded recognition, albeit in the 10th spot.
Toughest call: Leaving off the Atlanta Falcons' Mike Smith hurt. He walked into a brutal situation and helped revive a flagging franchise. The Falcons have won 68.8 percent of their games under him without posting a losing record in any of his three seasons. Had Smith made my top 10, however, he would have been the only one without a postseason victory. The Falcons are 0-2 in the playoffs under Smith, with both defeats coming against teams that had inferior records during the regular season. That opened the door for others.
A vote for Whisenhunt: Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt ranked eighth on my ballot, 10th on three others and 12th among the 13 coaches receiving votes. His regular-season record dipped to 32-32 after a rough 2010 season. Overall, though, Whisenhunt gets credit for producing an immediate turnaround for a historically inept franchise. Kurt Warner had a 3-12 starting record for the Cardinals before Whisenhunt arrived. His record was 24-18 in the regular season and 4-2 in the postseason with Whisenhunt. Taking the Cardinals to a Super Bowl gave Whisenhunt the edge over some other candidates, including the Falcons' Smith.
The rest of the NFC West: Seattle's Pete Carroll produced a division title and playoff victory during a rebuilding season. He's on the rise if Seattle continues to improve. ... St. Louis' Steve Spagnuolo has a .250 overall winning percentage thanks to a 1-15 inaugural season with the Rams. He'll move into consideration if the Rams start winning division titles with Sam Bradford at quarterback. ... San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh inherits enough talent to compete in his first season as an NFL head coach, provided he finds even a serviceable quarterback.