- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Coming off an offseason in which 11 new coaches were hired (including the 49ers' Mike Singletary and Raiders' Tom Cable, who had the interim tag removed from their titles), it's not easy picking the top five coach-general manager combinations. Few have been together long enough.
You can see some great ones brewing. Atlanta's Mike Smith-Tom Dimitroff combo is going to be hard to beat over the next few years, but because they are entering only their second year, they aren't included on this list. Jim Caldwell should do well with Bill Polian in Indianapolis, but this is their first season. Good things should happen for Jim Mora and Tim Ruskell in Seattle, but again, this is their first full season together.
Here are the top five:
1. Andy Reid-Tom Heckert, Philadelphia Eagles: Heckert didn't get the GM title until 2006, but he and Reid have the perfect partnership. Not only are the Eagles annual playoff contenders, but they also always win that first playoff game. As an organization, the Eagles keep trying to make sure the roster doesn't get too old. They aren't afraid to take chances on top, high-priced free agents. At some point, though, Heckert might leave. He has interviewed for several GM positions around the league in the past few years.
2. Mike Tomlin-Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers are the reigning Super Bowl champs and are back in contention this year. I know Tomlin has been a head coach for only two seasons, but that's long enough to prove he is a winner. Colbert is a masterful talent evaluator who works well with coaches. He tries to make sure he drafts and signs players whom coaches want. Bill Cowher and Colbert were a top combination until Cowher retired. Colbert keeps a low profile, fitting the humble way the Steelers do business.
3. John Fox-Marty Hurney, Carolina Panthers: They have been paired since 2002. They've been to a Super Bowl. They've been a playoff contender in the years Jake Delhomme has been healthy. Last season, they bounced back to win 12 games. Many consider them the favorites in the NFC South again. Fox has the right personality as a head coach. Players like playing for him. Hurney is a deal-maker who identifies the best players on his team and tries to lock them up with long-term contracts.
4. Lovie Smith-Jerry Angelo, Chicago Bears: This one might surprise some because Angelo isn't a vocal general manager and the Bears, as a team, usually slip under the radar. They stay in contention most years in the NFC North, and made it to the Super Bowl in 2006. Angelo made one of the biggest moves of the offseason, acquiring quarterback Jay Cutler, who could take the Bears to 11 wins. In the meantime, Smith has taken over the play-calling duties on defense and expects an improved, more aggressive unit this fall.
5. Norv Turner-A.J. Smith, San Diego Chargers: Smith has been criticized for firing Marty Schottenheimer and then hiring Turner, who wasn't known for producing playoff teams in Washington or Oakland. Say what you want, but Turner has three playoff wins in two seasons, and the Chargers are the favorites to win the AFC West this year. Smith makes bold moves. He has assembled a talented, aggressive defense, and he scored a huge coup by acquiring quarterback Philip Rivers in a draft-day trade.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
14hBy Ian O'Connor