January 5, 2024 9:00am

Who were the NFL's best coaches and executives in 2023?

The Cleveland Browns fared well

Photo of Rick Gosselin
NFL Correspondent

The Cleveland Browns are back. And they can thank Kevin Stefanski for that.

In this week’s NFL Power Poll, we asked our panel of former players, coaches, officials, talent evaluators, writers and broadcasters to pick the Coach of the Year and provided five worthy options – Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions, John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens, Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams, DeMeco Ryans of the Houston Texans and Stefanski.

The Cleveland coach was the overwhelming choice, collecting 83 of the 171 votes cast. Ryans was next with 43, followed by Campbell with 25, Harbaugh with 16 and McVay with four.

Stefanski coached the Browns to only their second playoff berth in the last 21 seasons – and only their third winning season in the last 25 years. Stefanski collected both a playoff berth and a winning season in his first year with the Browns in 2020. With a victory at Cincinnati Saturday, the Browns can post their first 12-win season since 1986.

Stefanski managed this 11-5 season despite losing his best offensive player in the second game of the season when Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb went down with torn knee ligaments. Cleveland managed those 11 victories with four different starting quarterbacks. All won games for Stefanski and all won games impressively. DeShaun Watson defeated the 13-3 Baltimore Ravens, P.J. Walker beat the 12-4 San Francisco 49ers, Dorian Thompson-Robinson defeated the 9-7 Pittsburgh Steelers and Joe Flacco took down both the 9-7 Jacksonville Jaguars and 9-7 Houston Texans.

“As quarterback is the key position on any team and without one you cannot win anything substantial in the NFL, it must be Cleveland's coach who has won with multiple QBs that ranks as a rare feat,” said NFL historian Bob Moore.

Ryans inherited a 3-13-1 team in his first season as head coach of the Texans and was playing a rookie quarterback (C.J. Stroud) in 2023. Nonetheless, Ryans coached the Texans to a 9-7 record with a chance to hit double-figures in wins with a victory Saturday at Indianapolis.

“Kudos to Kevin Stefanski for what he's done with four quarterbacks,” said Hall-of-Fame voter Charean Williams of NBCSports.com, “but the Browns should be in the playoffs with that defense. The Texans won 11 games combined the past three years with three different head coaches. No one expected them to go into Week 18 with a chance to win 10 games and the division title. NO ONE. Coach of the year, by my definition, is a team that most exceeded preseason expectations. DeMeco Ryans is the coach of the year, because NO ONE exceeded expectations more than he did.”

And then there’s Campbell, who delivered the Lions their first division title in 30 years. Detroit upset the defending NFL champion Chiefs in Kansas City on opening night and can claim a franchise-record-tying 12th victory Sunday at home against the Minnesota Vikings.

“This could be one of the closest Coach of the Year ballots in years,” said Hall-of-Fame voter and long-time Associated Press NFL writer Barry Wilner. “In fact, it's possible the eventual winner won't get the most first-place votes given the points system The Associated Press instituted last season. Choosing among Ryans, Stefanski, McVay, Harbaugh, Campbell, (Shane) Steichen (Indianapolis) and (Mike) Tomlin (Pittsburgh) is a very difficult task with little margin between them.”

In our second question, we asked our panel of experts to pick the NFL Executive of the Year and again offered up five worthy options: Andrew Berry of the Browns, Eric DeCosta of the Ravens, Brad Holmes of the Lions, John Lynch of the San Francisco 49ers and Les Snead of the Los Angeles Rams.

For the first time in the history of this poll, there was a tie. DeCosta and Holmes both received 46 votes. Berry was next with 30, followed by Lynch at 26 and Snead at 23.

“I went with DeCosta because of how he had the tight-end situation ready after Mark Andrews went down,” said Gene Frenette, the lead columnist for the Florida Tims Union, “but what Les Snead did with the Rams and Andrew Berry with the Browns with their roster turmoil is equally remarkable.”

Snead scored in April.

“Snead kept hitting home runs in the 2023 draft for the Rams, who have won six of their past seven,” said Hall-of-Fame voter Ira Kaufman of JoeBucsFan.com. “(Wide receiver) Puka Nacua has been a fifth-round revelation. Steve Avila has made all 16 starts at guard, LB Byron Young has seven sacks and DT Kobie Turner has nine sacks, despite starting only four games. That's one more sack than Aaron Donald.”

Holmes also shined in April. He drafted running back Jahmyr Gibbs in the first round and tight end Sam LaPorta in the second. They became the first pair of rookies in NFL history to gain 700 yards apiece from scrimmage. Gibbs has rushed for 915 yards and LaPorta has caught 81 passes for 860 yards. Gibbs has scored 10 touchdowns and LaPorta nine. LaPorta was voted to the Pro Bowl.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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