Go ahead. Feel free to adore Bruce Bochy or Bob Melvin. And you can certainly salute Jim Harbaugh.
But for my money, the best coach of a pro franchise in the Bay Area this year has been Frank Yallop.
He is with the soccer Earthquakes, in case you don't recognize his name.
And the Earthquakes are doing amazing stuff, in case you are coming late to the party.
No need to apologize for that. You've probably spent much of your 2012 sports-viewing capital on the Olympics, the baseball playoffs and the NFL schedule. But down at Buck Shaw Stadium on the Santa Clara University campus, the Quakes and Yallop have executed one of the biggest turnarounds I can recall in Bay Area sports.
Last year, the Earthquakes went 8-12-14 and missed the playoffs. This year, they went 19-6-9 in the regular season and finished with the league's best record. Now they are on the verge of advancing to the Major League Soccer conference finals. How does that happen?
Yallop is not going to tell you, exactly. But the players do. Mostly by the way they are playing.
Sunday night in Los Angeles, they were locked in a slogfest of a scoreless game against the defending MLS champion Galaxy. Los Angeles, with big names Landon Donovan and David Beckham, was getting almost all of the good chances. But the Earthquakes held their own, took it into stoppage time and then won on a free kick by defender Victor Bernardez -- who somehow managed to
"They have a lot of stars," Bernardez said Tuesday of the Galaxy. "And we have a lot of workers. There are no stars on our team; we work hard for all the results we gain. It's very motivating for me to play a team full of stars."
Bernardez is overstating things a bit. The Earthquakes, after all, do have Chris Wondolowski, the MLS's leading scorer. But the concept is basically correct. And who usually deserves credit when a team of workers beats a team of stars?
Well, the workers, of course. But also the man who organizes the workers. Which would be Yallop.
This is hardly his first rodeo. Yallop coached the Quakes back in 2001 and 2003 when they twice won the MLS Cup. That was before the profoundly stupid franchise move to Houston by the Anschutz Entertainment Group ownership after the 2005 season. Now here he is again, on the cusp of another long playoff run for the reconstituted expansion Earthquakes.
But it wasn't easy getting here. After last year's frustrating finish, Yallop doesn't remember what he was doing in November as the other MLS teams battled through the postseason.
"Not much," he said. "Probably watched the games at home."
At the same time, Yallop and general manager John Doyle were assembling a make-better plan for the Quakes. They ditched sourpuss winger Bobby Convey, who always seemed to be unhappy and whining about something. They acquired two midfielders, Marvin Chavez and Shea Salinas, to gain more speed on the flanks. Then Yallop went to his whiteboard and drew up a basic framework for the way he wanted to play with his new men and the talent he still had.
The turnaround wasn't quite as simple as that. But the new players did help improve the team culture. Wondolowski, when asked to explain -- in a sentence or two -- the difference between last season's failure and this season's success needed only seven words.
"The locker room," Wondolowski said. "It's a fun time."
Plus, when things clicked early, it built confidence.
"Three weeks into the preseason, we looked around and said, 'We're not bad,' " Yallop said.
They're still not bad, even if they don't always play pretty soccer. Yallop's best asset may be his patience through a long season as he tries to work with players from around the globe to pull in one direction. In a pinch, he always returns to a few principles -- shape, organization and commitment. Especially defense-first commitment. It holds true in any sport. But especially in soccer.
"Teams are going to score goals," he said. "But you don't want to give them any extra goals."
That's the mission once more Wednesday night, when the Quakes again play the Galaxy at Buck Shaw in the back end of their best-of-two playoff series. That's right, best-of-two. It is one of those typical weird soccer deals. Rather than use a format that's far easier to grasp -- best of three, or single elimination -- the MLS in early playoff rounds uses the two-game format with the team that scores the most combined goals over the two games advancing.
After their 1-0 victory Sunday, in other words, the Earthquakes just need to hold service Wednesday to move on in the postseason and meet either Seattle or Real Salt Lake for the conference title. It would be another step for the franchise in its ongoing quest to cut through the clutter of Bay Area sports.
Given all of that, then, what would constitute this season being a failure for the Earthquakes?
Simple, said Wondolowski. It will be a failure if 2012 ends "without an MLS championship."
Bernardez, on the other hand, said: "This season will never be a failure because at the beginning of the year, no one was giving us a chance to do what we're doing."
Know what? Both players are probably right. Yallop deserves a ton of credit, no matter how it turns out.