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Who did the best coaching jobs of the season?

Times' Sam Farmer says Arizona's Bruce Arians should be NFL coach of the year

Bart Starr and Vince Lombardi. Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll. Joe Montana and Bill Walsh.

Great quarterbacks make great coaches.

Or maybe it's the other way around.

Regardless, stroll through the busts in Canton and, with few exceptions, the NFL's Hall of Fame coaches had quarterbacks who were similarly enshrined.

So with this recognition of top-10 coaching performances of the 2014 regular season is the acknowledgment that an outstanding quarterback can make the guy holding the laminated play card look like a genius.

That said, some of the following coaches found a way to win games despite a revolving door of quarterbacks, or with good quarterbacks who went through rough patches, or with extraordinary distractions that might have caused lesser teams to crack.

A countdown to the league's best coaching job this fall:

10. JOHN FOX, Denver: Fox led the Broncos to four consecutive AFC West titles — one with Tim Tebow, three with Peyton Manning — and Denver probably will regret letting him go. With six games remaining in the regular season, the Broncos went through a fairly dramatic offensive change, running the ball much more and relying less on the 38-year-old Manning's arm. The final straw was a 22-7 loss to St. Louis in Week 10, when Denver threw it 54 times and had nine runs, not counting Manning taking a knee at the end of the first half. The newfound run/pass balance worked, and the team went 5-1 in its final six games. It was a bold coaching move, and reminiscent of the way Fox switched offenses midstream for Tebow a few years ago.

9. CHUCK PAGANO, Indianapolis: Granted, having Andrew Luck cures a lot of ills, but the Colts have overcome their share of challenges. Through 17 games, they have started 11 offensive line combinations, with only one lineman starting every game. Pagano has good buy-in with his players and he connects well with them. The team has stabilized after some wild swings. For instance, in consecutive weeks, the Colts' defense gave up the fewest yards of any NFL game this season (135 against Cincinnati) and the most yards of any game (639 against Pittsburgh). Just weird.

8. BILL O'BRIEN, Houston: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage all lined up quarterback for the Texans this season, and the team got next to no production from No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who was injured most of the fall. That sounds like a mess for a team that finished 2-14 last season and had a rookie coach at the helm. But O'Brien made an impressive debut, leading the Texans to a 9-7 finish. Had this been next season, with an expected expanded playoff field, the Texans would have made it as the No. 7 seed. Of course, it didn't hurt having "J.J. Watt, a dominating defensive lineman, sure-handed occasional receiver, and most-valuable-player candidate.

7. JIM CALDWELL, Detroit: The Lions had pretty much the same talent as they had last season when they finished 7-9 under Jim Schwartz, with the most significant additions being receiver Golden Tate and safety James Ihedigbo. Behind the leadership of Caldwell, they went 11-5 and were in the NFC North race until the finale at Green Bay. The Lions showed heart, with five fourth-quarter comebacks, and might have upset Dallas in the first round had the Cowboys not gotten the benefit of a picked-up flag on pass interference. A couple of forehead-slapping moments for Caldwell — Lions Dominic Raiola and Ndamukong Suh intentionally stepping on opponents.

6. PETE CARROLL, Seattle: It's easy to overlook what Carroll has done because the Seahawks have so much talent. But this team had a lot more injuries during the middle of the season than last year's Super Bowl-winning group. Carroll had to keep his players focused too, after the distractions of cutting Percy Harvin and the ongoing uncertainty of Marshawn Lynch's future with the franchise. The offensive line wasn't terrific from the start, and that's before the injuries started to mount. The Seahawks have had four centers start three or more games this season. Still, they locked up the NFC's top seed, and that's playing in football's toughest division.

5. MIKE McCARTHY, Green Bay: Yes, he has Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, but McCarthy doesn't always get his just due as a coach. He got the Packers back on track this season after their third consecutive 1-2 start, and the team's offense was nearly unstoppable at home, averaging 39.8 points a game. In consecutive weeks, Green Bay beat Chicago, 55-14, and Philadelphia, 53-20, and two weeks later picked up a signature victory over the Patriots. McCarthy finished the season with his 100th career victory, moving him past Vince Lombardi for the No. 2 spot in franchise history. He has a long way to go to reach the top, though: Curly Lambeau had 212.

4. JOHN HARBAUGH, Baltimore: The Ray Rice situation overshadowed football, and for good reason, but the Ravens still had a schedule to play. They wound up making it to the playoffs for the sixth time in Harbaugh's seven seasons, even though their secondary was a disaster. They placed six defensive backs — five of them cornerbacks — on injured reserve, not a recipe for success in a pass-happy league. Harbaugh held the season together. He's 10-4 in playoff games, an identical postseason record as the legendary Bill Walsh.

3. BILL BELICHICK, New England: When the Patriots got off to a 2-2 start, capped by a 41-14 loss to Kansas City, it just proved what people all over the league had been saying — the New England dynasty was kaput, and so was Tom Brady. Next thing you know, the Patriots are the No. 1 seed in the AFC. That doesn't happen by accident. Brady came alive, and so did a defense that had been largely written off. Belichick played a big role in the revival of both. Belichick has total personnel control and the Patriots made some nice midseason moves.

2. JASON GARRETT, Dallas: Great timing by Garrett, who was in the last year of his contract and Tuesday was given a five-year extension. The Cowboys were supposed to win between five and eight games this season. Instead, they won 12, and the NFC East crown. They had a signature victory at Seattle, got a terrific season out of Tony Romo, and used the running of DeMarco Murray to control the clock and keep a suspect (but overachieving) defense off the field. Garrett made his share of bold decisions recently too, among them two in the wild-card game against the Lions — a touchdown on fourth-and-one and a key conversion of fourth-and-six with six minutes left.

1. BRUCE ARIANS, Arizona: Arians has re-branded a franchise that once was the definition of doormat. His team tied a franchise record twith 11 wins, and was the No. 1 seed in the NFC for much of the fall. "Next man up" was the rallying cry for a team that was basically a MASH unit in shoulder pads, losing 21 players for a combined 109 games, and that includes cycling through quarterbacks Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas. The defense, guided by coordinator Todd Bowles, lost a constellation of stars from 2013, among them linebackers Karlos Dansby (free agency), Daryl Washington (suspension) and John Abraham (concussions), and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (knee). Many people thought the Cardinals would be division also-rans to Seattle and San Francisco, but Arians obviously wasn't listening.

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer

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