The ESPN.com Power Rankings on head coaches are out and the NFC South has two representatives in this top-10 list.
SmithOur panel ranked New Orleans’ Sean Payton at No. 5 and Atlanta’s Mike Smith at No. 9. Let’s start with Payton, who drew pretty consistent balloting. I had him at No. 5 and he got nothing better than a No. 4 vote from John Clayton and some No. 6 votes from a trio of other voters.
Payton’s landing spot was pretty clear, but Smith’s wasn’t. I ranked him just one spot behind Payton. There was a part of me that wanted to go with Smith ahead of Payton and before New Orleans fans start screaming, hear me out. Smith’s been in the league three years and has produced three winning seasons. Payton’s had some down years to go with his up ones and I think Smith is only going to continue to get better.
But, in the final analysis, there was no way I could truly justify putting Smith ahead of Payton. The biggest difference is Payton won a Super Bowl. Smith has yet to win his first playoff game.
That little factoid hurt Smith much more on other ballots than it did on mine. I rated Smith higher than any other voter. Four voters -- Mike Sando, Clayton, James Walker and Kevin Seifert -- didn’t even put Smith on their ballots.
I’ll let Sando serve as the representative for the anti-Smith quartet.
“Leaving off the Atlanta Falcons’ Mike Smith hurt,’’ Sando wrote on the NFC West blog. “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.’’
I get it. But I think the Falcons are going to be good for a long time and I think Smith will shoot up this list once Atlanta starts winning some playoff games.
What about the other two NFC South coaches? Well, Carolina’s Ron Rivera is new. Just about everyone I talk to who knows Rivera thinks he will do well. But you can’t really justify voting for him until he has some sort of track record.
Then, there is Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris. I thought he did a great job last season as he took the Bucs from 3-13 to 10-6. But the Bucs fell short of the playoffs and Morris only has two seasons on his résumé. Morris didn't get a vote from me or anyone else on the panel, but that could change going forward.
Go out and win again and get to the playoffs and I’ll promise right now Morris will be on my ballot when we do this a year from now.