Neither heart problems nor the losing history of the Atlanta Falcons could stop Dan Reeves from being selected as The Associated Press' NFL Coach of the Year on Saturday.
Reeves, sidelined for the final two regular-season games after undergoing heart surgery, led the Falcons to their best season (14-2) and their first NFC West title since 1980. He is expected to coach the Falcons in next weekend's home playoff game, although he might work from the coaches' box upstairs rather than the sideline.
Reeves, 54, won the top coach award for the second time; he also got the honor in 1993 with the New York Giants. Previously, Reeves also led the Denver Broncos to three AFC championships, although they lost each time in the Super Bowl.
"It's a tremendous honor," said Reeves, the NFL's winningest active coach (170-124-1). "When you look at the people that could have won it - Denny Green, Bill Parcells, Mike Shanahan, guys that have had fantastic years - you feel honored."
"For me, it's a thrill because of coming in here and turning this thing around; it certainly happened a lot bigger than what I thought. There was no way I could tell you I thought we were going to win the NFC West. We wanted to challenge for the playoffs."
"I was extremely proud of our team last year being 1-7, then finishing 6-2 in the second half. That was rewarding. It was probably one of the most fun years I had coaching to see a team do that. Then, to come into this year, expecting to challenge for the playoffs, and to have the year we've had is just unreal."
So uneal that a team generally picked to finish as an also-ran wound up with the second-best record in the league, tied with Denver. Only Minnesota (15-1) was better, and one of Atlanta's losses, to the New York Jets, came when quarterback Chris Chandler was injured.
Reeves received 23 ½ votes from a nationwide panel of 47 sports writers and broadcasters. Minnesota's Green was next with 14 ½ and the Jets' Parcells got nine votes.
"I have a very strong personal feeling for him, not only as a coach but a guy that I think highly of personally," Parcells said of Reeves. "He's one of my peers, right in the same group I was in, there, so there is something a little extra there."
Reeves put the award in an historical perspective, noting the fates of recent winners.
|Dan Reeves is named coach of the year for the second time. (AP) |
"The bad thing is it's scary, because it seems like about a year or two after getting coach of the year, you get fired," he said.
"Ray Rhodes was coach of the year. I was coach of the year and got fired a couple of years later. It's a tough profession. What it says is for one year, anyway, people feel like you've done a good job."
Rhodes won the award in 1995 and was fired by the Philadelphia Eagles last week. Dom Capers, the 1996 winner, also was fired last week by Carolina.
Last year's winner was Jim Fassel, who replaced Reeves with the New York Giants in 1997.
Reeves credited to his staff and players for carrying on after he was hospitalized.
"I got sick. They were special before I got sick," he said. "They play together, do things together, the way a team should. Then to have a coaching staff that you think is good, then when you're out of it for two weeks, you know how good they are."
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