NFC North coach hierarchy headed into 2021
By: Ladarius Brown
This division has a brand-new coach in the Motor City and one who could be under immense pressure this season. Also, two coaches will have the chance to prove they can develop a quarterback. That being said, here are head coaching rankings for the NFC North.
4. Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions
This is Campbell’s first full-time head coaching gig after being an interim head coach for the Dolphins in 2015 after the firing of Joe Philbin. He went 5-7 in this time there. The biggest goal that he has to accomplish is not so many winning games. Campbell has to change the culture there. Since 2000, they have the 2nd fewest wins in the NFL with 119 wins. The last time they won a division was 1993, six years before Campbell’s rookie season in the NFL.
They traded arguably the best quarterback in their franchise’s history in Matthew Stafford and replacing him with Jared Goff. I am not saying Goff is the answer for the future of the Lions but given his age (26), he could be. There is talent on this roster, including RB D’Andre Swift, TE T.J. Hockenstein, and CB Jeff Okudah. Throw in the fact their offensive line has three 1st rounders (LT Taylor Decker, C Frank Ragnow, and their 2021 1st round pick: RT Penei Sewell).
Campbell has former Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn as his offensive coordinator, a move that I love. Lynn is a great offensive mind and what happened last season in Los Angeles was not 100% on him. Seeing how he works with Goff and what he can do with the run game. If the Lions want to turn it around, it has to be on the defensive side of the ball. Veterans such as LB Jaime Collins, DE Trey Flowers, and DT Michael Brockers, who was acquired via a trade with the Rams, will be leaned upon to turn it around. They might have to bite some kneecaps and wear racing helmets but it can be done.
3. Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
Before diving in, Nagy won a division with Mitchell Trubisky under center and that, on its own, was great. When it comes to Nagy, I think he has won games despite having a general manager in Ryan Pace who is still somehow gainfully employed. Outside of trading the farm for All-Pro LB Khalil Mack and hiring Matt Nagy as head coach, the Ryan Pace era is nothing to write home about. Nagy has bailed out Pace since being hired. Why do I say that? Before hiring Nagy from the Chiefs in 2018, Pace was 14-34 from 2015 to 2018 as a general manager.
Nagy inherited Trubisky and turned lemons into a palatable tasting pitcher of lemonade. Then, Pace trades for Foles because he was supposed to be an upgrade over Trubisky. Yet, it was the equivalent of trading in a unicycle for a bicycle: you can travel slightly further. Foles was not bad but it felt as though the Bears did not have direction at the quarterback position, a feeling that has been lingering for some time. However, in this year’s draft, something happened.
The Bears traded up after quarterback Justin Fields was still left on the board and they drafted him. This was a move made more so by Pace at the behest of Nagy. Nagy wanted to bring in his guy, a luxury he was not afforded when he was hired. Nagy could be higher on this list but I cannot because of his play calling. The Bears’ offense was and is not a juggernaut but, in some games last year, it was bad and with Andy Dalton starting the season at quarterback and Fields somewhere along the way, he has to get it right in this department.
2. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
Zimmer is one of these coaches who I feel gets overlooked for some reason. Entering year eight as the head coach of the Vikings, he is the longest-tenured coach in the NFC North. In his tenure, his teams have never finished last in the division (two 1st place finishes, two 2nd place finishes, and three 3rd place finishes). One thing that I like about Zimmer is that for a coach with a defensive background, he is well-rounded and is evidenced by how he has drafted because, since 2014, the Vikings have had nine 1st round picks and, of those nine, five were on the offensive side of the ball and four on the defensive side.
He has the 3rd most wins amongst Vikings head coaches all-time (64) behind Bud Grant (158) and Dennis Green (97). This year, he could win the division for the 3rd time in eight years because this team looks stronger on defense and, I almost forgot, they have RB Dalvin Cook. Cook has been a reliable back for Zimmer and this Vikings offense, especially the last two years. In 2019 & 2020, Cook had a combined 2,692 rush yards, 29 rushing touchdowns, and averaged 96.1 yards/game. He was 2nd to Titans running back Derrick Henry in all of the above stats in that timeframe.
I can make a case that this could be Zimmer’s best team since 2017 because of the emergence of WR Justin Jefferson. Entering his 2nd year, Jefferson is coming off 1,400 yards receiving in his rookie campaign. Despite the youth of his defense, he has a strong veteran presence, led by safety Harrison Smith. It is no conjecture to say Zimmer could be a Coach of the Year candidate by season’s end.
- Matt LeFleur, Green Bay Packers
When you have back-to-back 13-win seasons in your 1st two seasons as a head coach, that is pretty impressive. Also, having a future 1st ballot HOF quarterback in Aaron Rodgers helps too. This is not to say that LaFleur is not a great head coach because you can see how the Packers have improved entering year three. Under LaFleur, they are running the ball more as is evident by finishing in the top 10 in the league in average time per drive. They finished 1st in 2019.
For further proof, RB Aaron Jones has two 1,000 rushing yard seasons (2019 & 2020). In his 1st two years in the league, he had 1,176 rushing yards combined. The defense improved from 18th in 2019 to 9th in 2020. Also, throw in that they have WR Davante Adams, an All-Pro last year with 1,374 receiving yards and 18 receiving touchdowns. There is a reason, an obvious one, as to why I mentioned these elements.
If you were binging on Netflix or HBO Max, Aaron Rodgers stated he wants out of Green Bay or hinted at the possibility of retirement. Now, they have Jordan Love, their 1st round pick in 2020, taking the majority of snaps in OTAs. The longer Rodgers is a no-show, the greater the likelihood that Love will be the Week 1 starter at New Orleans. LaFleur will lean on his run game, his top 10 defense, and his All-Pro WR should Love be the guy. The biggest question surrounding this franchise is Can LaFleur mold Jordan Love enough to be loved by Packers fans.