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October 18, 2018

Where do Philly's pro coaches rank on ESPN's list of the Top 50 in North America?

Right from the start, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler caught a lot of grief for his managerial style during his first season at the helm. Anyone in Philly can tell you that.

Apparently, however, that never made its way to the fine folks at ESPN — or it did, and perhaps not every angry fan on local sports Twitter is an accurate indication of how a coach or player is received nationally. 

Either way, Kapler is one of three Philly coaches to crack ESPN's list of the Top 50 pro coaches in North American sports, along with Eagles coach Doug Pederson and Sixers coach Brett Brown. (Sorry, Dave Hakstol.) 

And it's not just the fact that Kapler, in his first season at the helm, made the list, but it's where he's ranked as well — the Phillies manager ranks 39th, one spot ahead of Brown. Pederson, who was unsurprisingly the highest-ranking Philly coach, checked in at 15th overall.

However, if you're currently scratching your head over the Kapler/Brown ranking, don't worry. So are we.

Let's take a look at how ESPN came up with their rankings before breaking down the list a little bit more:

A select group of ESPN writers and talent was asked to place every active coach/manager in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL in order of preference to run their mythical pro franchise. Individual balloting was conducted anonymously.

Prior to voting, respondents were equipped with a "draft board"-style reference document, on which coaches/managers were ranked within their individual league by a team of experts from's sport groups (e.g. NFL experts ranked current coaches from 1-32 based on the draft criteria). Respondents could consider the sport-by-sport rankings at their own discretion.

Baseball managers who were not retained at the conclusion of the 2018 season were removed from the list after the balloting process.  []

Seems simple enough. And their Top 5 more or less makes sense, especially when you consider the age factor that helped some of these guys get the edge over their cross-sport counterparts.

1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

2. Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics

3. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams

4. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

5. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

That might be a little high for McVay and Stevens, especially when you consider the number of titles shared by the two guys right behind them, but both are extremely talented and young, so we won't waste any time here dissecting those names (although you can feel free to do so in the comments below.

From there, even before the first current Philly coach gets mentioned, there's a trio of former Philly coaches who were run out of town, only to find success elsewhere.

8. Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

11. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs

14. Peter Laviolette, Nashville Predators

Then comes Doug Pederson, who deserves to be this high after winning a Super Bowl with Nick Foles in just his second year as a head coach. Sure, McVay is younger, but they both have the same amount of experience as a head coach, and Doug has already won a title. I'm not saying you can't argue that McVay is the better coach, but I'm not sure he's a dozen spots better.

15. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles

Record with team/overall career record: 23-15 (.605)
Super Bowl titles: 1 (2017 Eagles)
Playoff appearances: 1 in 2 seasons
ESPN Analytics résumé grade: 2.60 (45th among active coaches)

Like Francona and Maddon, Pederson's approval rating was high among our respondents thanks to his ability to reach a seemingly unconquerable plateau for a long-starving fan base. Pederson's place on future versions of this list has a high degree of volatility -- if he stacks titles or at least playoff appearances in Philly, his star will continue to rise.  []

Next up we have a pair of former Philly assistants, one of whom was on the Sixers bench as recently as last season.

19. Mike D'Antoni, Houston Rockets

26. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens

And now we get to the real interesting stuff. First, here's what ESPN had to say about both Kapler and Brown...

39. Gabe Kapler, Philadelphia Phillies

Record with team/overall career record: 80-82 (.494)
World Series titles: 0
Playoff appearances: 0 in 1 season
ESPN Analytics résumé grade: 1.39 (55th among active coaches)

The Phillies underwent a 14-game improvement in 2018 and played meaningful baseball in September for the first time in years, but notoriously hard-to-please Philadelphia fans probably won't quite view Kapler's first year through that lens. The Phils were 64-49 and in first place on Aug. 7, then went 16-33 the rest of the way, which elicited some Kapler-focused grumbling.  []

40. Brett Brown, Philadelphia 76ers

Record with team/overall career record: 127-283 (.310)
NBA titles: 0
Playoff appearances: 1 in 5 seasons
ESPN Analytics résumé grade: -7.70 (119th among active coaches)

Brown comfortably made our top 50 despite a distinctively dismal on-paper résumé -- Brown's .310 winning percentage is worst all-time among NBA coaches with 400 career games. It's because of his respected stewardship during the "Trust the Process" era that he's here. The Sixers (52-30) improved by 24 games last season and are widely viewed as a franchise on the rise.  []

"Some Kapler-focused grumbling?" That's one way to word it. 

If you're going to give credit to Kapler for the 14-game turnaround made by the Phillies, then what's that say about Brown, whose Sixers made a 24 (TWENTY FOUR!) game improvement last season while playing half as many games. 

Sure, Brown's record is garbage because he stuck through The Process, but the fact that he was able to "steward" the Sixers through that losing, and then prove he was able to win once he had the pieces in place should be more to his credit than anything else. There aren't many coaches out there that have the type of personality to make it through all that AND the coaching acumen to win when the time comes. 

Kapler didn't have to withstand losing of that magnitude — the Phillies brass let Patsy Pete Mackanin take the brunt of that before bringing in a shiny new toy once they knew they were ready to start winning. 

I'm not saying Kapler won't wind up being a better coach than Brown, but he certainly isn't there yet. 

And finally... a trio of former Eagles assistants and coordinators to round out the Top 100.

50. Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers

86. Jon Gruden, Oakland Raiders

99. Pat Shurmur, New York Giants

Now, here's the part where we let you vote, specifically about whether Brown or Kapler is better. 

Of course, you can also tell us what you think in the comments section.

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