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AFC South Power Rankings: Is Pederson the Best HC in the Divison Entering 2022?

Who is the best head coach in the AFC South entering the 2022 season?

The AFC South has bounced back -- sort of.

The division had long been the butt of jokes thanks to the frequent losing ways, off-field dramatics and lackluster postseason performances from its four inhabitants.

But entering 2022, the division has a bit more respect thanks to a string of strong seasons from the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts. The Jacksonville Jaguars are now led by a Super Bowl-winning head coach, while the Houston Texans have an experienced head coach in Lovie Smith.

With the AFC South set to be a tightly-contested battle between its four teams this season, we are going to take a unit-by-unit approach to compare each team and how they stack up for the 2022 season.

For the purpose of context, we are ranking units and players based on how we project they will play in the 2022 season.

Related: AFC South Power Rankings ... Where Does Trevor Lawrence Rank Among QBs For 2022?

Next up: the head coaches. Between Doug Pederson, Frank Reich, Mike Vrabel, and Lovie Smith, which team has the best head coach entering 2022 and which team could have some catching up to do?

4) Lovie Smith, Houston Texans

The Houston Texans made one of the most curious hires of the offseason when they decided former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith was the man to lead them in the wake of David Culley's firing. Smith had a solid season as Houston's defensive coordinator considering their weak roster, though, and he is known as a true player's coach who a locker room can rally behind. 

Still, Smith's last two seasons as a head coach saw him go 8-24 (.250) and fired from the Buccaneers. His nine years in Chicago were better, of course, with Smith going 81-63 (.560) and going to the playoffs three times, including a Super Bowl appearance in 2006. Smith was fired from the Bears after a 10-6 season, too, which is simply odd. 

Smith is a better coach than people give him credit for, even with the strange optics of his hiring. It would be hard to imagine Smith would be the fourth-best head coach in most divisions because it seems he is closer to average than he is to being detrimental. The downside for Smith is he is in a division with other quality coaches. 

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3) Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts

Likely no coach in the AFC South has the pressure on him that Frank Reich has. The Colts and owner Jim Irsay are clearly antsy and growing restless after a 2021 season where they finished 9-8 and missed the playoffs after a nightmarish beatdown at the hands of the 3-14 Jaguars in Week 18. Seriously, the Colts haven't stopped talking about it. 

Reich has proven immense value in his four years as a head coach, both as a schematic mind and play-caller and leader of the team. Considering the tough breaks the Colts have gotten at quarterback during Reich's tenure (not Carson Wentz ... that was self-inflicted), Reich has likely gotten even more out of the Colts than he should have at times, with the Colts winning the 11th-most regular-season games over the last four years.

With a 37-28 (0.569) record over the last four years and two playoff seasons, Reich has established himself as a good head coach. The question now is if he can be a great head coach and make the Colts a great team. 

2) Doug Pederson, Jacksonville Jaguars

It would be odd to rank Reich over Doug Pederson considering Reich was one of Pederson's own lieutenants with the Eagles. Yes, Reich deserves some credit considering he was Pederson's offensive coordinator from 2016-17, but that was Pederson's offense and Pederson's team. Each coach has a ring, but Pederson's ring is as a head coach, something no other coach in the AFC South can say.

Pederson went 7-9 in his first season in charge before the Eagles' offense took a major leap in 2017, finishing No. 3 in points and No. 7 in offensive DVOA during a 13-3 season. Pederson then continued to impress as he went on to lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory over the Patriots with a backup quarterback at the helm in Nick Foles.

Pederson went 9-7 in 2018 and 2019, making the playoffs each year and winning a Wild Card game in 2018. The offense took a step back but still never fell below No. 18 in points scored, though the entire unit cratered in 2020 as the Eagles went 4-11-1 and finished No. 26 in points and No. 28 in offensive DVOA, leading to Pederson's firing. 

Pederson has to prove himself to a degree still since his time as a head coach lasted just five seasons and his Super Bowl win was the clear peak. Still, he brings experience, leadership, offensive play-calling experience, a good scheme, and playoff success with teams that went further than they should have.

1) Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans

This will be a bit controversial since Pederson has a Super Bowl ring as a coach, but Vrabel has done enough during his four-year tenure leading the Titans to earn the benefit of the doubt. For now, the AFC South is the Titans' division, and that is largely because of the leadership and stability Vrabel has provided to the franchise from the head coach position. 

In four years with the Titans, Vrabel has a 41-24 record (0.631). Only five teams in the NFL have a higher winning percentage in that time -- the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, and Baltimore Ravens. Considering there are two Super Bowl-winning teams in that group, that is pretty good. 

The Titans have failed to get over the playoff hump and last year's disastrous loss against the Bengals shouldn't be forgotten. But as things stand today, Vrabel's worst season ever as a head coach has been a 9-7 season, while Pederson has had two losing seasons. This is a division with quality coaches on each squad, but for now it is Vrabel's show to run.