It's the end of the 2007 NFL regular season. Although spring is a few months away, now is the time for the major "spring cleaning" in the NFL. Disappointing head coaches and front offices are wiped away by owners promising a "higher standard of excellence," a "commitment to winning," "turning their program around" and other hollow platitudes that are a facade to mask what this time of year is really all about: peddling hope to a fan base.
Well the ram-grinch is here to deliver some bad news (and rummage through your fridge for some leftovers). If your favorite NFL teams is looking for a new coach, you're in trouble. Sure, maybe it was time to move on, maybe it wasn't the right fit, etc. There's lots of reasons to justify why it is a good move to look for a shiny new head coach. Unfortunately, the truth is that the next man hired for the job has the odds heavily stacked against him. Coaching changes are hit and miss. Big time. And there are a heck of a lot more misses than there are hits.
In fact, here is about what you can expect from your new coach:
6.4 wins per season
20-30 record (.400 win pct)
1 playoff game
0 playoff wins
3 years before he's fired
These are the median numbers of each and every one of the 122 head coaches hired since 1990.
It gets worse, however.
Percentage of new Head coaches that will:
ever make the playoffs--57%
ever win a playoff game--38%
ever make the playoffs more than once--32%
ever win more than one playoff game--24%
If your team is sending a coach out the door who has more than one playoff win (cough*Baltimore*cough), the odds that your new coach will be as good or better than that man is less than 1 in 4.
It gets even worse.
Of the 122 times a head coach has been hired since 1990, there have been 94 different head coaches (some have been hired 2 or 3 times).
Here are 15 of the most successful hires since 1990:
These 15 coaches combine for a .581 win %, 95 playoff appearances, and 101 playoff wins.
All other coaches COMBINED (79 of them): .444 win %, 80 playoff appearances, 52 playoff wins.
That's not a typo. These fifteen coaches have almost twice as many playoff wins as all other coaches combined.
There is a very clear division in the head coaching hiearchy. Either you are an elite coach, or you are a whipping boy. There's a big heaping pile of whipping boys and very few elite. If you have an elite coach, thank your lucky stars and hope they stay. Run them out of town at your own peril. You may just wind up with Rod Rust, Bobby Petrino, Chris Palmer, Joe Bugel, Marty Mornhinweg or some other atrocious coach that will leave your team in just as bad of shape as it is now, if not worse.
Now to some objections. Let me head some nit-pickers off at the pass.
1. One fact that needs disclosure: It's impossible to pin a "Why" on these numbers. Is it a crappy team that kills the coach? Or is it the crappy coach that drags down the team? It's impossible to separate. So, if you as a fan believe that your team has a good situation for a coach, and so will defy the odds, I can't dispute you. However, I can point out something else that's fairly obvious: If your team is changing Head coaches, it's because your team is in some trouble.
2. Another objection would be that this is not a fair compilation because it includes many head coaches who have been hired in the last year or two who haven't had time to have success. Fair enough. I don't need to include Cam Cameron and Mike Nolan and other recent...um...failures to make a brutally strong case. Let's toss out all active head coaches. That leaves 92 head coaching hires of which we know the outcome.
40% of those 92 coaches never top 16 wins at their new job.
The odds of hiring a coach that will last one season or less (10 of 92) is higher than that of hiring a coach that will be around for longer than 6 years (9 of 92)
Of those 92:
53% made the playoffs.
39% won a playoff game.
29% made the playoffs more than once.
22% won multiple playoff games.
That's almost dead on what the nmbers were when the active coaches were included. It makes no difference.
In summary, this is not an effort to show that head coaches are overrated and that a team should just stick to what it has. If anything, this shows the value of a good head coach. Good coaches rule the league. This study is a warning to zealous fans who like to think that if their team underperforms, a change, any change is good. It most certainly is not. If your team fires a head coach, expect to get worse, and to burn through a few head coaches and many seasons, before you ever get better.
If you're still not convinced, just ask a Lions fan to explain it to you.