Never before has such an obvious choice come with so much controversy.
Mike McCarthy of the Packers, Romeo Crennel of the Browns, and Jack Del Rio of the Jaguars would have each been tidy candidates for NFL Coach of the Year. But those choices would have been the leagueís version of baseballís 1999 MVP, awarded to Pudge Rodriguez, a default winner after a pair of writers ignored the historic season of Pedro Martinez.
Like it or not, Bill Belichick led the Patriots to a 16-0 record, an achievement that canít be ignored no matter what your viewpoint on his demeanor, attire, or sideline documentation of the opposition.
According to the Herald, which polled voters who cast their ballots this week, the Patriotsí head coach will receive his second Coach of the Year award when it is announced next week. Belichick also won the award following the 2003 season, which ultimately ended with New Englandís second Super Bowl title.
To hand the award to anyone else would be a joke.
To hand the award to Belichick is an outrage.
Both statements might be true on some level, and reaction is certain to polarize toward one or the other.
Take the differing views of voters Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News and Clark Judge of CBS Sports.com, who both recently shed their views on the situation to SI.comís Don Banks:
"If he goes 16-0, I don't see how you don't give it to Belichick,'' Gosselin said. "I think it's a slam dunk. If they go 16-0, the bottom line is he's done something that no one in the history of football has ever done. How do you deny him, and how do you deny that?
"This is not like he's going 12-4. I don't think there's anything to grapple with. I don't understand the issue. Now, if he was caught doing something illegal in Week 16, you'd have a debate. But that is a great football team, regardless of whether they were taping in the first half of the opener at the Jets. And that is a great coach.''
Judge differed in his opinion.
"I wouldn't vote for him,'' Judge said. "It is the Shawne Merriman rule. If you break the rules, you're not eligible. People said everyone's doing it, yeah, well one guy got caught. And the league thought enough of it to fine him $500,000 and take away a first-round draft pick. That's pretty serious. That's a severe, severe penalty.
"To me, you can't have it both ways. If Merriman can't win it, why should a coach be able to win it? Should we hold Belichick to a different standard? I don't think so. If you break the rules, there are repercussions, and this is one of the repercussions.''
After the Patriots were caught cheating, breaking the rules, or just misinterpreting them in Week 1 (whatever your viewpoint), the team was penalized with a first-round draft pick and Belichick was fined $500,000. Instead of the 32d pick in next springís NFL draft, the Patriots will enjoy San Franciscoís first rounder at No. 7 overall. And now, the man seen as a loathsome cheater by some will reportedly cop the top coaching honor in the NFL. Whatís this now about repercussions?
And we wonder why the rest of football America hates New England.
Writes the Denver Postís Mark Kiszla:
If Bill Belichick is the smartest coach on the planet with the greatest team of all time, then why did he have to cheat?
While putting together an MVP-worthy season, receiver Randy Moss wears a sneer.
Quarterback Tom Brady is certainly a father for our times, when marriage is optional.
Those guys might be your NFL heroes.
While it would probably be foolish to wager against the Patriots winning the Super Bowl and finishing 19-0, here's betting there are millions of football lovers who would love to see New England fall down and go boom.
The Pats are the new Yankees. They are unbeatable and unbearable.
Of course, before you put on your defensive face and whine about nobody liking or appreciating whatís taking place here, go dig for all your paraphernalia from the Yankees dynasty of the late Ď90s, or the Cowboys a few years earlier. Iíll bet you were riveted to the 49ers in the Ď80s, or just loved to watch Gretzkyís Edmonton Oilers steamroll everything in their path.
Dynasties breed contempt, and the 2007 Patriots are no different, only with a little added bonus of hate for everyone out there.
But even with all the baggage attached to such a choice, give the voters credit, most polled by the Herald refused to allow Spygate to stand in the way of what would have otherwise been a slam dunk for Belichick. Unlike their self-righteous cousins in the Baseball Writers Association, those who voted for Coach of the Year did so with the expressed knowledge of history, not allowing the scandal or the merits of the 1972 Dolphins to stand in the way.
Usually we see the Coach of the Year honors go to one who unexpectedly led his team to a renaissance season. Crennel, McCarthy, and Jon Gruden might fit that bill. But when one coach does what no other has done before in the history of the NFL, the decision is obvious. And controversial at the same time.
Writes ESPNís Len Pasquarelli:
And attempting to parse the merits of the performances turned in -- to determine whether the surprising 7-7 record fashioned by Dick Jauron with a Buffalo Bills franchise that has 15 players, including five defensive starters, on injured reserve, is superior to the Patriots' relentless pursuit of history -- is a daunting challenge.
How does one, for instance, overlook the work of Green Bay's Mike McCarthy, Cleveland's Romeo Crennel, Dallas's Wade Phillips, Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio, Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden, Seattle's Mike Holmgren, Indianapolis's Tony Dungy, or Tennessee's Jeff Fisher? Assessing the work of all those coaches, and a few more as well, is a lesson in subjective standards, in a season when the standards of excellence have been elevated.
A perfect season made that decision a lot easier for those voting. And it made defending that vote a whole lot more difficult.