West head coach rankings: Division stacked

The St. Louis Rams posted a 4-26 record against NFC West opponents over the five seasons preceding Jeff Fisher's arrival as head coach.

They were 4-1-1 against the NFC West under Fisher in 2012.

Matt Williamson Ranks West by Position

The Rams from 2007 through 2011 lost by 11.1 points per game in division play. The final scores for those games were 25-14 on average. Those figures flipped to plus-five points per game with a 20-15 average final score under Fisher.

"Fisher is a heckuva coach," ESPN's Matt Williamson said, "but he is behind two of the top five in the league when it comes to ranking head coaches in the NFC West."

Williamson, who scouts the NFL for ESPN.com, ranked the San Francisco 49ers' Jim Harbaugh first and the Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll second as part of his predraft positional rankings for NFC West teams.

We pick up the conversation there.

Williamson: You have to put Bruce Arians fourth even though Arizona made a good hire. Fisher vs. Carroll is really the only conversation and I think Fisher has done a good job with the Rams, including the team building aspect. You look at the RGIII trade, building this defensive line. And yet I thought Carroll should have been coach of the year last season.

Sando: We could have made that call on the Russell Wilson move alone. General manager John Schneider was the driving force behind drafting Wilson, but Carroll was the one who decided Wilson should be the starter in Week 1 -- a move I'm not even sure Schneider would have made so quickly. Coaches are under so much scrutiny that it's sometimes easy to make the decisions perceived to be "safest" in the short term. Starting Matt Flynn would have been the "safe" decision last year. It also would have been the wrong one. Carroll trusted what he saw from Wilson and made the call.

Williamson: He also gets the most from his guys. His team building has been phenomenal, starting with all the changes they made as soon as he got there. And then he brought along Wilson extremely well -- just did a phenomenal job there.

Sando: Carroll has admitted some shortcomings in the game-management department. He's called it going "hormonal" with some of his decision making. That is one area where I think he can continue to improve. As far as ranking the best coach in the division, it's tough to argue with the results in San Francisco. Harbaugh and staff have gotten more than anyone could have expected they would get from two completely different quarterbacks. The team has won consecutive division titles, reached two NFC Championship Games and gone to a Super Bowl.

Williamson: I think Harbaugh is the second-best coach in the league behind Bill Belichick. He took over a bad team and was competitive immediately. His offensive mind is off the charts. He got so much from Alex Smith, who I don't think is a very good player. He brought along Colin Kaepernick. They have the most physical and diverse offense. His offensive mind rivals anyone's and meanwhile, they've had the best defense in the league. They've been fortunate with so few defensive injuries, but you can't knock him for that. He was in the Super Bowl last year. He saw that day coming with Kaepernick and he planned for that last season. Randy Moss and A.J. Jenkins and Mario Manningham were not for Alex Smith. Those were all for that day when Kaepernick would start. And meanwhile, he did not hurt himself in the short term until Kaepernick was ready.

Sando: Putting Harbaugh up there with Belichick is high praise. It's interesting, I think, that Belichick enjoyed tremendous success after moving away from Drew Bledsoe, who was the safe choice at quarterback, and moving forward with a less-proven Tom Brady.

Williamson: The biggest problem for Seattle and San Francisco is what happens when they have expensive quarterbacks. They have such an advantage right now with great quarterback play costing them nothing. The Patriots won the Super Bowl before Brady was making huge money. There are some parallels that way.

Sando: The Patriots have been awfully close to winning it all more recently, but there's no question it's tougher building a dominant team when the quarterback's contract is eating up considerable cap space. Kaepernick is under contract through 2014, with a chance to renegotiate his current deal following the 2013 season. Wilson is signed through 2015 and cannot renegotiate until after the 2014 season.

Williamson: You're really tested two years from now if you win the Super Bowl and get raided like the Baltimore Ravens did and then have to pay your quarterbacks.

Sando: Fisher inherited a quarterback earning $50 million guaranteed under the old labor deal. Arians inherited Kevin Kolb, whose old contract is eating up $6 million in cap space for 2013 even though Kolb is playing for the Buffalo Bills now. Those situations put Fisher and Arians at a disadvantage.

Williamson: No argument there.

Sando: Overall, I'd say the NFC West is in good hands with two head coaches arguably ranked among the top five in the league, plus Fisher and now Arians, who happens to be the reigning NFL Coach of the Year for his work on an interim basis with Indianapolis last season. We'll revisit this one again following the 2013 season.