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Sparano among the coaches of the year

I think we can all agree it was improbable and surprising that the Miami Dolphins would follow a 1-15 season with the current 8-5 record that includes a chance to earn a playoff spot and win the AFC East.

That climb from worst to possibly first is almost always accompanied with a Coach of the Year award for the team's leader. And so Tony Sparano deserves to be in the conversation for COY in 2008.

But he's obviously not alone and obviously has not sealed the deal.

The Baltimore Ravens have a coach in John Harbaugh who, like Sparano, is in his rookie season. The Ravens have a better record than the Dolphins and beat the Dolphins this year. If you believe the Ravens had a better team than Miami to begin with, and so that should help Sparano's cause, you should remember the Dolphins beat Baltimore last year.

Worst to first is a goal the Atlanta Falcons have been making a reach for this season as well. After a season that was arguably more disastrous than Miami's -- remember the QB went to jail, the coach went AWOL during the season, and Bill Parcells turned them down before coming to Miami -- the Falcons have recovered very well, thank you.

Mike Smith has his team vying for a playoff spot and still in the hunt for the NFC South title with an 8-5 record.

The folks out in Arizona would argue Ken Whisenhunt deserves consideration after the Cardinals won their first division title since the move from St. Louis. The folks in Tennessee would argue Jeff Fisher has done a pretty good job putting his team in elite status with a 12-1 record with what is essentially their backup quarterback.

Tom Coughlin is likely to get some votes because the Giants have dominated most of this season despite not having Michael Strahan or Osi Umenyiora and juggling the Plaxico Burress controversy.

"I think there are a lot of good coaches out there,"Sparano said. "And I'm not trying to take the easy way out, but how can you argue with what coach Fisher has done down there. How can you argue with what Tom Coughlin has done? What coach Smith has done right now in Atlanta as the new coach ... any of these people. These teams are playing really well right now. There have been doing a lot of good coaching jobs out there."

None of that resonates among Miami players, of course. The Dolphins love their coach and think he deserves the award because he is special. And what makes him so?

"Number one, his passion," quarterback Chad Pennington said. "His passions has been the same from when I met him the night of the Tampa Bay preseason game until now. It hasn't changed, it hasn't wavered. The season is so grueling sometimes you can see it in a coach, the season wearing on him a little. This guy hasn't moved. He hasn't changed one bit."

So who should win the award? And please be fair, Dolphins fans.