NFL Coach of the Year:
Closest race ever

Updated: January 9, 2003, 2:08 PM ET
By By Ryan Early
As the New England Patriot players took turns hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the cameras last year, the realization around the league that this really is a coach's game sunk in. Bill Belichick had taken a group of average veterans and a second-year quarterback not highly touted coming out of college and won a Super Bowl. Some people complained that he accomplished the feat with tricks and mirrors. Yeah, that's called coaching.

Teams have begun placing more emphasis on the importance of coaching while becoming more adept at recognizing coaching talent. The Bucs thought the position was so important that they traded away multiple high draft picks and millions of dollars to the Raiders to get Jon Gruden out of his contract one year early, and Gruden didn't even want personnel control. 2002 saw arguably the greatest collective coaching effort in NFL history. Twenty-three teams had a record of 7-9 or better. Only two coaches were fired at the end of the season (though we can think of two others who deserved to get canned).

Below are the best coaches of 2002, ranked by obstacles overcome, improvement over 2001's performance, and of course, on-field success.