It’s been several days now since loyal reader Stephen posed the question about who is the best coach in NFC South history. I tossed the question out to you and the response in the mailbag was tremendous.
I didn’t break it down to a scientific count because some ballots were split or undecided, but I can pretty much say readers called it a tie between former Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy and current New Orleans coach Sean Payton.
John Fox, Jon Gruden, Jim Mora, Dan Reeves and even Mike Smith each got plenty of consideration. I’ve come to my own conclusion and will share that with you Tuesday.
But, first, I’d like to share some samples of what the readers had to say.
The case for Sean Payton.
Geoff in Navarre, Fla. writes: Hands down, I fully believe Sean Payton deserves that title. Look at the story line. Hurricane Katrina destroys the home of the Saints. Sean takes over the team as head coach. Four years in the books, two NFC Championship appearances and a Super Bowl victory for the first time in franchise history. The man took a team and believed in them as they did him to get the job done and it was in outstanding fashion to my recollection. Underdog pulls the surprise onside kick to start the second half and electrify the crowd and team into victory. Saints Nation came alive again with his coaching.
The case for Tony Dungy.
J.P. in Inverness, Fla. writes: Color me partial, but I think we have to go Dungy as the greatest. I would have said that Dan Reeves had put together the best career overall, except when you take in what Dungy did in Indianapolis and the string of his students and what they are doing now, I just do not see how you deny him. He has become a legacy coach, I think he is only a step down from a Parcells or a Belichick. Yes Gruden coached the Bucs through that Super Bowl season but he did with a team that Dungy built. I think that Payton is a good coach, but you have to take into effect what mark on the sport is this guy leaving, and Dungy's mark is undeniable.
Rich in North Port, Fla. writes: Tony Dungy. Gruden should pay him royalties.
The case for John Fox.
Donnie in Kenner, La. writes: Best coach in NFC South history: Saints season ticket holder for life, Saints' life that is. But, what coach Fox has done with the talent he has had over the years at Carolina is very impressive. Payton may in time prove me wrong but if I had a game to win with equal talent on both sides of the ball my money would be on coach Fox.
The case for Jim Mora.
Aaron in Louisville, Ky. writes: With the best coach in the NFC I am biased as I am a die-hard Saints fanatic, However I think you should strongly consider Jim Mora Sr. for the top guy. He led the Saints to their first playoff berth and gave us Saints fans years of fun and winning ways to be proud of and if not for the brutal NFC and the lack of a explosive offense they could have very well won a Super Bowl. You also have to look at the fact he went 7 years without a losing season (87-93) with a franchise that had only 1 winning season in the previous 19 years! Although he never won a playoff game or a Super Bowl he was very successful and an icon for Saints fans that never had any winning ways up to that point. From the Dome Patrol to Bobby Hebert and Eric Martin I will always remember the great coaching of Mora and the Dome Patrol Days he brought to New Orleans!
The case for going way outside the box.
Charles in Kansas City writes: By far the best coach of the NFC south was Monte Kiffin. Even though he was just an assistant coach, he changed football forever. He invented and installed his own version of a defense that will be used and remembered for years. He had countless seasons of top 5 defenses. Jon Gruden's name wouldn't even be mentioned in this article without Monte. Monte put Tampa Bay football on the map. I would put Monte's resume against any other coach(head or assistant) in the NFC South. I like Gruden a lot and I think he got a bad rap in Tampa but don’t give him all the credit. It was Monte's defense that won the Super Bowl that year.
The case for a shrug of the shoulders.
Adam in Columbia, SC writes: I think it’s hard to say who the best coach in South history is. Dungy really built the team that Gruden won his Super Bowl with, but I still give credit for getting the Bucs over the hump when Dungy couldn't (can't give it to Dungy b/c he didn't win with a South team). Payton is the hot pick because he just won a SB, but if you think about it Payton (in his early career) is very similar to Fox. Both took over abysmal teams and built SB teams within four years. Only difference was a late second field goal by the Pats to take the win from Fox. That being said I think that Payton has to put into a couple of more winning season to be considered the greatest coach in South history (so far). I'm not really sure who to give the award to but these are my thoughts.
The case for waiting another year or two to answer this question.
Jamie in parts unknown writes: Best coach in NFC South history? Mike Smith took the worst team in the league and turned them into a playoff team in one year, and got consecutive winning seasons the next year. Without injuries the Falcons would have made the playoffs.