Reid top coach heading into home stretch

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Eagles coach Andy Reid knew when to recognize that Michael Vick was his starter.
(Al Bello/Getty Images)

When the Philadelphia Eagles face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, there’s going to be a Jason Garrett lovefest, with deserved praise heaped upon the interim coach who has guided a once-devoid-of-pulse Dallas team to a 3-1 record.

Yet from my vantage point, the big man in the black shirt on the opposite sideline could use a metaphorical bear hug too.

If you ask me to list my NFL Coach of the Year candidates with four weeks remaining in the 2010 regular season – or even if you don’t – I’m starting with Andy Reid, who put himself on the line last spring by trading his longtime franchise quarterback and, so far, has delivered in a way nobody envisioned.

Trading Donovan McNabb(notes) to the division-rival Redskins on Easter Sunday and putting his offense in the hands of third-year passer Kevin Kolb(notes) was bold. Adapting to the stunning events of September – which saw Kolb look overwhelmed in his first start before suffering a concussion and Michael Vick(notes) suddenly morph into the transcendent superstar we’d always imagined he could be – required an audacity that few in his profession could have summoned.

In a business that tends to inspire ultraconservative behavior and a cover-your-butt mentality at all costs, Reid not only sensed the sea change but also seized the moment. He named Vick his unquestioned starter at a time when few others understood what was happening and stuck with the decision even after Vick hurt his ribs and Kolb played impressively during a stretch in mid-October.

By mid-November, when Vick crafted a Monday-night masterpiece against the Redskins which people will still be talking about a decade from now, it was obvious to everyone that Reid had played it perfectly all along.

Has any head coach ever handled a tricky quarterback situation so deftly? Not in recent memory – and Reid has done a terrific job with the rest of his young squad as well. From admonishing DeSean Jackson(notes) before the young receiver’s discontent over his contract could become a locker-room liability to sticking with defensive coordinator Sean McDermott through rough times and seeing a marked improvement, Reid has pushed all the right buttons.

Granted, it isn’t over. If the season were a game, we’d be entering the fourth quarter. The Eagles (8-4) could earn a first-round bye, miss the playoffs entirely or finish somewhere in between. Right now, for my money, Reid is the best-positioned candidate for coach of the year. Here are the others who should be in the conversation:

• Todd Haley: After Haley went 4-12 in his first season and the Chiefs brought in former Patriots coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, some people wondered if the young coach would feel threatened. Uh, no – Haley’s strong personality is the guiding force behind K.C.’s renaissance. And though he has had his share of rough edges, he has the Chiefs at 8-4 with a two-game lead in the AFC West … and only one of their defeats (at Denver) was decisive.

• Bill Belichick: He won’t win, because that’s not how this award works, but he has the Pats (10-2) playing at a ridiculously high level with a lot of young players in the lineup. Oh, and by the way, how did that Randy Moss(notes) trade work out?

Mike Smith(notes): He won’t win either, but it’s tough to argue with anything about the Falcons (10-2) right now.

• Lovie Smith: You thought he was a goner. I thought he was probably a goner too. You thought the Bears, after a fast start, would flame out in the end. We’ll see – but right now, Chicago is 9-3, Jay Cutler(notes) is protected and productive, and the defense is playing like it did in the Super Bowl season of ’06.

• Mike Tomlin: Is there anything not to like about the way he runs a team? He’s a terrific coach now, and he’ll be even better in the years to come.

• Jack Del Rio: As I told you a couple of days ago, I’ve gotten religion on the Jags.

• Steve Spagnuolo: In his second year in St. Louis, Spags took a 1-15 laughingstock from ’09, handed the ball to a rookie quarterback and somehow got his players believing they could compete in every game. That feat is even more impressive than the Rams’ 6-6 record, or the fact that the team is tied for first place in the dubious NFC West and fighting for a playoff spot.

• Raheem Morris: The Bucs (7-5) still don’t have a signature victory, but they’ve had a couple of close calls against the Falcons and have already won four more games than they did last year. Given that Morris was the driving force behind the selection of second-year quarterback Josh Freeman(notes), he deserves an immense amount of credit for all the promising developments in Tampa.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

The Patriots will have their inevitable letdown in Chicago and the Bears will continue to surprise us by pressuring Tom Brady(notes) in an upset victory. … Brett Favre(notes) will start, and Leslie Frazier will win (again) as the Vikes take down the Giants in Minneapolis. And speaking of interim coaches. … Drew Bledsoe called it a few weeks back, and I’m riding with it: The post-coaching-change Broncos will romp against the Cards in Arizona.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO â¦

San Diego, where the Chargers will enter Sunday’s game against the Chiefs on the brink of playoff elimination – and, naturally, will come with their A-game and play it off like they had it under control all along.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Most Americans can’t possibly fathom the vocational challenges that Albert Haynesworth(notes) faces at Redskins Park on a daily and unrelenting basis.

2. When I rank one team above another team in 32 Questions, it means that I a) secretly love that team and hate the other; and b) really, really care about the outcome of any game involving those teams.

3. Contrary to reports that the Broncos might be interested in hiring former Florida coach Urban Meyer after his recent resignation, the franchise has focused its search on his lesser-known and more low-key brother, Rural.

FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK

Britt’s Titans have dropped six straight games.
(Jim Brown/US Presswire)

Amid a very hectic Thursday (stay tuned for a lyrical explanation below), I fielded a call from my buddy Malibu and his son, A-Man, who were fretting over their respective lineups as they try to secure playoff berths in the final week of the regular season. The more urgent request was from A-Man, the Sex, Drugs and Fantasy Football defending champion, whose team, Man Up Beanie U … (8-5), is currently in second place. A-Man wanted to know if he should play Kenny Britt(notes) upon the Titans receiver’s return to the lineup for Thursday’s game against the Colts. I said no, citing Tennessee’s streak of 13 quarters without an offensive touchdown, the fact that many of Britt’s big numbers before his injury had come with Vince Young(notes) at quarterback, and the possibility of re-injury. Britt caught four passes for 39 yards and lost a fumble. A-Man wisely listened and went with Santana Moss(notes), Davone Bess(notes) and Malcom Floyd(notes). Don’t worry – he’s also got Aaron Rodgers(notes), Steven Jackson, Jamaal Charles(notes) and Antonio Gates(notes).

As for Malibu’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (7-6), a resounding victory over Gravity Rebels left this enigmatic team in seventh place. Alas, only the top six teams reach the postseason. That means Malibu needs to make it happen against Cleveland Steamers, and if he takes my advice – picking up the Broncos’ defense, which one way or another will face a Cardinals quarterback you’ve never heard of, and playing it ahead of the Giants’ D (at Minnesota) – he’ll have that much better of a shot.

LET’S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Elizabeth Edwards, who lost her battle with cancer Tuesday, but not before inspiring a lot of people going through a lot of personal trials.

THIS WEEK’S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

Having spent a year observing Teri McKeever’s innovative and unrivaled coaching brilliance while researching the book “Golden Girl”, I was especially thrilled by her historic selection Wednesday to coach the U.S. women at the 2012 Olympics. McKeever, who’ll attempt to guide the Golden Bears to a second national title in three seasons this spring, should benefit in London from the services of Cal alums like Dana Vollmer and Natalie Coughlin (11 career Olympic races, 11 medals). And to borrow from Y! Sports colleague Martin Rogers, that’s lovely jubbly.

After a pair of NCAA tournament victories, Cal’s seventh-seeded women’s volleyball team faces 10th-seeded Minnesota in a round-of-16 match in Seattle on Friday evening, with live video available. Also feel free to stop by Save Cal Rugby, where Browns linebacker Scott Fujita(notes) becomes the latest NFL player – after Aaron Rodgers last week – to weigh in on the nation’s most successful collegiate sports program.

Finally, thanks to the brainy UC Berkeley neuroscientists for figuring out exactly why I love the sound of my own voice.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

Chris Henry thankful

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

Having experienced the joys of relocation, I’ve carved out a little nook between massive stacks of boxes and am letting the creative juices flow. Or, in this case, the re-creative juices, as I’m copping the Stones’ 1971 copping of Mississippi Fred McDowell and Rev. Gary Davis’ blues standard, “You Gotta Move.” Now where the hell did I pack my slide?

Don’t wanna move
It sucks to move
In the middle of the season
There goes my groove
But when the wife gets ready
You gotta move

Tommy, Heather
And Mike and Jack
Haulin’ mattresses and armoires
Tweakin’ their backs
And me on my computer
I gotta move

I seen Tom Brady
In Steeltown
I watched MJD
Push Griffin down
But when the wife gets ready
You gotta move …