PHILADELPHIA -- Dick MacPherson seems almost embarrassed that so many people are pushing him for NFL Coach of the Year.
MacPherson points to Joe Gibbs with his 14-1 record in Washington and Wayne Fontes with his turnaround season in Detroit and Dan Reeves, who is once again riding mile high in Denver.
"Those [coaches] faced tremendous pressure week after week and won," MacPherson said. "What I did this year, really, was easy."
Taking over the New England Patriots, a team with shaky ownership, a sullied image and virtually no fan support, and winning six games this season was easy?
Finding ways to upset Buffalo and Houston, the league's two best passing teams, with the 27th-ranked pass defense was easy?
Turning mutineers such as wide receiver Irving Fryar into happy, productive players was easy?
Yes, MacPherson says, it was.
What's more, MacPherson says, it was fun.
Gee, when was the last time anyone put those two concepts -- fun and the Patriots -- in the same thought balloon?
"A lot of people think I'm nuts for saying it, including my wife, but this was a fun season," said MacPherson, 61, still breathless following a recent practice at Foxboro Stadium.
"Let's face it, no one expected much. The team hit bottom last year [1-15 under coach Rod Rust] and everyone was ready for a change. I came in with a clean slate and no pressure.
"We were 3-8 and people were actually congratulating me. They were saying it was great to see the team playing so hard.
"But we've won enough games that expectations will be higher next season. The same people who are saying what a great motivator I am will be saying, 'Get rid of the old geezer,' if we lose a few close ones next year.
"That's how this business works," MacPherson said. "I've been around long enough to know."
MacPherson has coached for more than 30 years. He has been a graduate assistant at Illinois, an assistant coach at Maryland, an XTC NFL assistant in Denver (1967 to '70) and Cleveland (1978 to '80), and head coach at the University of Massachusetts and later Syracuse.
Early on, players were skeptical. But the Patriots rocked the defending Super Bowl champion Giants in their final preseason game, 24-3, then knocked off Indianapolis in their season opener, 16-7. That was the breakthrough MacPherson needed. At that point, his message took hold.