As they've done with various position groups throughout the off-season, the folks from ESPN asked a group of NFL insiders to rate the 32 head coaches. The person in charge of this, Mike Sando, explains his rating system as follows:
I asked what I consider a balanced range of informed voters -- eight current general managers, four former GMs, four personnel directors, four executives, six coordinators and four position coaches -- to provide a 1-5 rating for every head coach. Bill Belichick led the way with 28 votes in the first tier, followed by Pete Carroll (23) and Sean Payton (22). No one else commanded more than a dozen top-tier votes, drawing a clear line after these three coaches in the eyes of the 30 insiders. But another half-dozen coaches were not too far behind, and there were surprises along the way.
Once votes were collected, I averaged the ratings for each coach to produce a 1-32 order. I separated them into tiers at logical cut-off points, based on the voting results (including the tier in which each coach got the majority of his votes, and his average overall score). The general feeling was that NFL coaches tend to be very smart and very good at what they do. We saw that in the ratings. Twenty-three coaches averaged better than a 3.0 on the 1-5 scale (1 was best, 5 worst), and no coaches landed in Tier 5.
The new head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Mike Zimmer, ranked fairly low on the list, coming in at #24.
Zimmer has never served as a head coach before, but he has been around long enough for people to have a general feel for him. Reviews were generally positive. "I like him and think he'll be OK," a former GM said. "I am not sure he will be dynamic enough to overcome the people around him [including ownership]. You can be a great coach, but if do not have players and the people in the building don't know what they are doing, you will struggle. That is not a great organizational setup from ownership on down, in my opinion."
This quote from a source was representative of a lot of voters' thoughts: "Zimmer is well-liked, respected, has great passion and people respond very well to him. It is hard to give a 2 to a guy who has not coached a game."
One thing to watch is whether Zimmer pays close enough attention to areas beyond the defense. Having an offensive coordinator as accomplished as Norv Turner should provide some insurance in that area.
As much as I'd love to jump up and down and get all indignant and angry about Zimmer being ranked so low, I really can't. With Zimmer never having been the head coach in an honest-to-goodness NFL game before, it's tough to put him in front of more established guys (though some of the raters apparently did. . .more on that in a bit). That said, of all the coaches that are new this year and don't have any previous head coaching experience. . .all of whom wound up in "Tier 4" with Zimmer. . .he ranked the highest. That's a group that includes Washington's Jay Gruden (25), Houston's Bill O' Brien (26), and Cleveland's Mike Pettine (31).
A couple of new coaches with previous head coaching experience, Tampa Bay's Lovie Smith and Tennessee's Ken Whisenhunt, rated ahead of Zimmer at #14 and #20, respectively.
In addition, Zimmer did rate higher than a few more established coaches, such as Detroit's Jim Caldwell (27, though he's technically a "new coach," he did this before with the Indianapolis Colts), Buffalo's Doug Marrone (28), Miami's Joe Philbin (29), Dallas' Jason Garrett (30), and Oakland's Dennis Allen (32). Overall, Zimmer received three "2" rankings, 16 "3" rankings, and 11 "4" rankings. No one put him in Tier 1 or Tier 5.
Mike Zimmer had to wait quite a while before getting a shot to be a head coach at the National Football League level. From what we've seen from him so far, it isn't far-fetched to think that he's going to be much higher on this list when the 2015 season rolls around.