Bill Belichick deserving of top coach honor

Next up in the weeklong distribution of Associated Press hardware will be the 2010 coach of the year award on Wednesday night.

To guess who will win, we safely can eliminate three-quarters of the AFC East.

Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano won a single home game and nearly lost his job while owner Stephen Ross flirted with then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh right after the season.

New York Jets coach Rex Ryan made another deep playoff run, knocking off Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the road before expiring in the AFC Championship Game. But the AP award is limited to the regular season. Ryan spent much of the campaign careening from scandal to scandal and dropped out of first place in December.

AP's voting panel couldn't have been too impressed by a coach who spoke presumptively about the Super Bowl for months then entered the postseason as a sixth seed.

Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey was downright fantastic in keeping his team from total implosion. The Bills began the year 0-8, but Gailey somehow kept them stoked enough to win four games and scare some playoff teams, taking the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers into overtime.

So that leaves us with one legitimate AFC East contender for coach of the year.

Bill Belichick coached the New England Patriots to 14 wins, most in the NFL. Sure, they were one and done in the playoffs, but all the votes were cast by then.

Belichick's season was incredible when you consider what he had to navigate as a coach and personnel overlord.

He overhauled the Patriots' offense, relying less on the spread and more on multiple tight ends. He handled the Logan Mankins holdout. Belichick made the decision to trade Randy Moss after two games and swing a deal to bring aboard Deion Branch. All the while, Brady was masterful.

Belichick also dealt with losing his best cornerback, Leigh Bodden, before the season began. At times, the Patriots started four rookies on defense, putting Devin McCourty on the opposition's top receivers. McCourty went to the Pro Bowl.

As much as Belichick deserves the award (I would have voted for him if I had a ballot), I doubt he'll win it because the Patriots were expected to be good, and the honor usually goes to a coach who guides his club to a dramatic improvement.

Chiefs coach Todd Haley, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith would fall into that category. Each went from out of the playoffs in 2009 to a division title. So did Pete Carroll with the Seattle Seahawks, but he's not winning it.

Belichick has claimed the AP award twice: 2003 (Patriots went from 9-7 and out of the playoffs to 14-2) and 2007 (Patriots went 16-0).