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Belichick has an eye on the point spread.

Belichick has an eye on the point spread.

Last week at Five Thirty Eight, Nate Silver noted that San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has produced an excellent record against the spread. He also checked in football’s version of Pop, Bill Belichick, and came to the same conclusion: Belichick hasn’t just been great, but he’s been great against the spread, too.

My database on point spreads goes back to 1978, so I went ahead and calculated the Against-The-Spread record of each head coach over the last 36 seasons. According to my numbers, Belichick has “covered” or won 40 more games against the spread than he’s lost, the most over this period.1  The table below shows the 122 men who  have coached at least 50 games or who were active in 2013.

Here’s how to read Belichick’s line: He has been coaching since 1991 (coaches who began before 1978 are included, but only their post-1977 seasons are counted (and only if they coached 50+ games since 1978)) and was last coaching in 2013. Over that time, he has coached in 332 games, including the post-season. His record against the spread is 182-142-8, which gives him a 0.562 winning percentage (ignoring ties).2 His real record is 218-114-0, which gives him a 0.657 winning percentage (again, including the playoffs). The table is sorted by the last category, which represents the difference beteween his number of wins against the spread and his number of losses against the spread.

RankCoachFirst YrLast YrGWLPATS Win%RecordRec %Win Over
1Bill Belichick1991201333218214280.562218-114-00.65740
2Bill Walsh19791988166976720.591102-63-10.61730
3Dick Vermeil197820052121149170.556117-95-00.55223
4Tom Coughlin1995201330716113880.538170-137-00.55423
5Marty Schottenheimer19842006345179156100.534205-139-10.59623
6Mike McCarthy20062013139795730.58188-50-10.63722
7Bill Cowher1992200626113811670.543161-99-10.61922
8Joe Gibbs19812007272141119120.542171-101-00.62922
9Andy Reid1999201326013811840.539151-108-10.58320
10Bill Parcells19832006322166146100.532183-138-10.5720
11Jeff Fisher1994201330516014140.532161-143-10.5319
12George Seifert198920011911048610.547124-67-00.64918
13Dan Reeves19812003377192174110.525201-174-20.53618
14Tony Dungy1996200822711910350.536148-79-00.65216
15Jim Harbaugh2011201356342020.6341-14-10.74114
16Pete Carroll19942013138725970.5577-61-00.55813
17John Harbaugh20082013109584650.55871-38-00.65112
18Wayne Fontes19881996138746220.54467-71-00.48612
19Jimmy Johnson19891999157827050.53989-68-00.56712
20John Fox200220132061079540.53115-91-00.55812
21Brian Billick19992007152796850.53785-67-00.55911
22Tom Flores197919941951019040.529105-90-00.53811
23Jim Mora1986200123712211140.524125-112-00.52711
24Chuck Knox1978199427413812790.521136-138-00.49611
25Marv Levy1978199727414012950.52154-120-00.56211
26Bruce Arians201320132817740.70819-9-00.67910
27Mike Smith20082013101554510.5561-40-00.60410
28Dom Capers19952005130685840.5449-81-00.37710
29Dick Jauron19992009143756530.53660-83-00.4210
30Sean Payton20062013122645530.53879-43-00.6489
31Jack Pardee19781994127655750.53368-59-00.5358
32Ron Rivera2011201349272020.57425-24-00.517
33Bobby Ross19922000145746830.52177-68-00.5316
34Mike McCoy201320131811610.64710-8-00.5565
35Buddy Ryan19861995114595410.52255-58-10.4875
36Chuck Noll1978199122811410950.511127-101-00.5575
37Raymond Berry1984198992474320.52251-41-00.5544
38Ray Perkins19791990119615710.51743-76-00.3614
39Forrest Gregg19801987124635920.51659-64-10.484
40Mike Ditka1982199922811310960.509127-101-00.5574
41Joe Philbin2012201332171410.54815-17-00.4693
42Rex Ryan2009201386434030.51846-40-00.5353
43John McKay19781984110555230.51444-65-10.4053
44Chuck Pagano2012201323121010.54514-9-00.6092
45Butch Davis2001200459302810.51724-35-00.4072
46Jack Patera1978198266333120.51628-38-00.4242
47Dave Wannstedt19932004174858360.50684-90-00.4832
48Mike Holmgren19922008296142140140.504174-122-00.5882
49Jim Caldwell2009201152262510.5128-24-00.5381
50Neill Armstrong1978198165323120.50830-35-00.4621
51Walt Michaels1978198277393800.50638-38-10.51
52Dennis Erickson1995200496474630.50540-56-00.4171
53Jon Gruden19982008185898880.503100-85-00.5411
54Doug Marrone20132013168800.56-10-00.3750
55Chip Kelly20132013178810.510-7-00.5880
56Greg Schiano2012201332161600.511-21-00.3440
57David Shula1992199671353510.519-52-00.2680
58Ken Whisenhunt20072012102505020.549-53-00.480
59Mike Tomlin20072013120595920.576-44-00.6330
60Marvin Lewis20032013181868690.590-90-10.50
61Don Shula1978199530014814840.5183-116-10.6120
62Bud Grant19781985109545500.49552-56-10.482-1
63Romeo Crennel2005201283404120.49428-55-00.337-1
64Mike Tice2001200567333400.49333-34-00.493-1
65John Mackovic1983198665323300.49230-35-00.462-1
66June Jones1994199859282920.49122-37-00.373-1
67Leslie Frazier2010201355262720.49121-33-10.391-1
68Mike Sherman20002005102485040.4959-43-00.578-2
69Eric Mangini2006201081394110.48833-48-00.407-2
70Ray Rhodes1995199983394130.48838-44-10.464-2
71Tony Sparano2008201162303200.48429-33-00.468-2
72Darryl Rogers1985198858283000.48318-40-00.31-2
73Jack Del Rio20032011142687130.48969-73-00.486-3
74Jim Haslett20002008110535610.48648-62-00.436-3
75Art Shell19892006113535640.48658-55-00.513-3
76Dan Henning19831991112525550.48638-73-10.344-3
77Monte Clark19781984107505340.48543-63-10.407-3
78Rich Kotite1991199698475010.48541-57-00.418-3
79Joe Bugel1990199780384110.48124-56-00.3-3
80Jason Garrett2010201356262910.47329-27-00.518-3
81Herman Edwards20012008134626660.48456-78-00.418-4
82Gene Stallings1986198958273100.46623-34-10.405-4
83Gus Bradley201320131661000.3754-12-00.25-4
84Rob Chudzinski201320131661000.3754-12-00.25-4
85Dennis Green1992200621910511040.488117-102-00.534-5
86Lovie Smith20042012150707550.48384-66-00.56-5
87Jerry Glanville19851993136646930.48163-73-00.463-5
88Gary Kubiak20062013129606540.4863-66-00.488-5
89Jerry Burns19861991101485300.47555-46-00.545-5
90Bart Starr1978198391414640.47140-48-30.456-5
91Chan Gailey1998201282374230.46834-48-00.415-5
92Tom Landry19781988182869240.483108-74-00.593-6
93John Robinson19831991153727830.4879-74-00.516-6
94Jim Schwartz2009201381364230.46229-52-00.358-6
95Mike Nolan2005200855243010.44418-37-00.327-6
96Mike Munchak2011201348192540.43222-26-00.458-6
97Dennis Allen2012201332131900.4068-24-00.25-6
98Marc Trestman201320131641020.2868-8-00.5-6
99Jim Fassel19972003117536040.46960-56-10.517-7
100Leeman Bennett19781986109485560.46644-65-00.404-7
101Sam Rutigliano1978198499455220.46447-52-00.475-7
102Brad Childress2006201077334040.45240-37-00.519-7
103Vince Tobin1996200073323920.45129-44-00.397-7
104Jim Mora2004200966293610.44632-34-00.485-7
105Mike Shanahan19882013322152160100.487178-144-00.553-8
106Wade Phillips19852013152697760.47383-69-00.546-8
107Don Coryell19781986132606840.46972-60-00.545-8
108Ron Meyer19821991106495700.46254-52-00.509-8
109Marion Campbell1983198990404820.45528-61-10.317-8
110Ray Malavasi1978198278324150.43842-36-00.538-9
111Barry Switzer1994199771303920.43545-26-00.634-9
112Norv Turner1994201224511612630.479118-126-10.484-10
113Sam Wyche198419951969210220.47487-109-00.444-10
114Ted Marchibroda19781998147667650.46558-88-10.398-10
115Dave McGinnis2000200357233310.41117-40-00.298-10
116Jim Hanifan1980198994405310.4339-54-10.42-13
117Steve Mariucci19972005146637760.4575-71-00.514-14
118Bruce Coslet19902000125526670.44147-78-00.376-14
119Lindy Infante1988199797415510.42736-61-00.371-14
120Mike Martz2000200592375230.41656-36-00.609-15
121Joe Walton19831989114486420.42954-59-10.478-16
122Bum Phillips19781985124506770.42763-61-00.508-17

As always, the table is fully sortable and searchable. For example, if you double click the “ATS Win%” column and then double click the “Last Yr” column, the table will sort by ATS winning percentages for men who were active in 2013. Using that methodology, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians jumps to the top of the list, courtesy of a an excellent 17-7-4 record against the spread (which includes his time as the interim head coach of the Colts in 2012). That’s an amazing run for Arians, and I’ve been a fan of his work, boneheaded decisions aside.

So is Belichick the greatest head coach against the spread? It’s always challenging comparing records of teams or coaches with wildly disparate numbers of games.  For example, Belichick’s 0.562 winning percentage is incredible over 332 games, but how does that compare to Jim Harbaugh having a 63% rate over 56 games? Frankly, there’s no perfect answer.

Neil has written that you can add a certain number of wins and losses to a team’s record to get their true winning percentage. What’s nice about this feature is that it is that you can use it at any point in the season; the dummy games just make up a smaller percentage of the formula as more real games are included.

So, for example, to make Belichick and Harbaugh have the same ATS winning percentage, you would need to add 46 wins and 46 losses to each of their records.  That would give Harbaugh 80 covers and 66 losses (0.548) and Belichick 228 covers and 188 losses (0.548).  Of course, I don’t actually know what the “right” number of games of .500-level play one would need to include, but I think the break-even point of 92 games helps to frame the discussion.

For say, Arians compared to Belichick, you need to add 38 wins and 38 losses.  For Bill Walsh, it’s 136 wins and 136 losses.  Reasonable people can disagree, but I’d probably lean towards arguing that Walsh’s ATS record is more impressive than Belichick’s, while it’s hard to get a sense on how to compare Belichick and Harbaugh.

Dearly beloved Bum Phillips winds up in last place on this list using the “wins minus losses” formula, although Mike Martz could give him a run depending on how you adjust for games played. The Ryan father/son combo both check in as above-average against-the-spread, with Buddy Ryan being one of 14 men on the list to have a winning record against-the-spread and a losing record in general. His son, Rex Ryan, has managed to be slightly above average in both ATS record and general record, although he’s been slightly above average in the least boring way imaginable. As for our old friend, Marty Schottenheimer? His career is viewed very favorably under this formula, and he is the only coach in the top 8 not to win a Super Bowl.

For newer readers of the site, be sure to check out:

  1. My numbers differ slightly from Silver’s, although that’s not surprising. There is always some variation in point spread data, which is, of course, not official. []
  2. When calculating regular winning percentage, we treat ties as half-wins and half-losses.  In his article, Silver excluded ties from calculating ATS winning percentages. I don’t know what’s customary, but Silver’s method makes sense: in the event of a “push” all money is simply returns. []
  • James

    Oh look, Jason Garrett and Wade Phillips have identical ATS Win%. How appropriate.

  • Would you say that this means that coaches like Belichick and Walsh were just great at exceeding expectations, that Vegas doesn’t always set realistic spreads, or both/neither?

    Have you done/seen a study based on DVOA, AY/P, SRS, or some other stat that measures team strength? I think about Denver being favored in the Super Bowl when almost every metric pointed to Seattle. That may indicate who really overachieved.

    • Richie

      Would you say that this means that coaches like Belichick and Walsh were just great at exceeding expectations, that Vegas doesn’t always set realistic spreads, or both/neither?

      I would be curious to see home/road splits. I believe the late-80s 49ers were exceptionally good on the road. I wonder if the point spread reflected that or not. The public will generally assume the road team to lose, so maybe the 49ers (and Patriots?) are getting more points on the road than they should.

      Just a wild thought.

    • Richie

      Another wild thought: neither Walsh nor Belichick really had a “decline” phase of their careers. Perhaps related?

      • I do remember the 49ers won something like 18 consecutive road games, which is pretty crazy. Maybe the crazier part is that they lost 3 home games to the Rams in that same span. Not being a gambling man, I have no idea how Vegas really works; I develop metrics that get my degenerate cousin a lot of money, but I try to stay out of the gambling aspect.

        You would think that it would be easier for a coach to avoid a decline, since they don’t have to rely on physical prowess (aside from being able to physically handle the rigors of the job). That might make an interesting study.

        • Richie

          I guess I wasn’t thinking about “decline” the same way I do for a player.

          Just that it seems like most coaches, no matter how successful, have a stretch where their teams struggle for a few years and then they either retire or get fired.

          Some coaches avoid that (most are at the top of the list above). I think it has more to do with natural variance in player talent, than a loss in ability to coach.

          I hope that Belichick continues to coach 3 or 4 years after Brady retires, to see if we can get some sort of separation between their careers. (Another luxury that Walsh had – one HOF QB for most of his career.)

          • Maybe guys like Walsh and Belichick just got their losing out of the way in the beginning of their careers. I dunno. Another interesting thing about those two, in particular, is that they have a lot more to do with drafting than a lot of other coaches do. Part of me wonders if their eye for system fits helps them stay competitive (aside from having two of the greatest QBs ever).

            The great QB argument is obviously a sound one, since it is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle. In all the hoopla for Tony Dungy getting into the HOF, do you think it should count against him that he “only” won one title with the greatest QB of his generation?

            • Testing out my new comment system. Are you notified of this reply?

  • What I find interesting about Belichick doing that well is that I remember someone (Chad Millman, I think) on a podcast years ago saying that the people he talked to who were involved in point spreads (I don’t know what the word is for those people.) said that they only adjusted the spreads for two coaches: Norv Turner (against his team) and Bill Belichick (for his team). Assuming that’s true (Admittedly, I kind of assume that all “information” about how gambling lines work is untrue, so that’s a pretty ridiculous assumption.), Belichick is actually better than those numbers would say, since he’s facing a tougher road because of that adjustment. Turner does come out near the bottom of this list.

    However, I also find it difficult to believe that Belichick would have been the only coach to get such treatment ever, even if he was the only one a few years ago.

    I of course had to look up Marion Campbell. His -8 wins over losses against the spread ties him with five guys who had winning records, including Mike Shanahan and Don Coryell. Clearly, Marion Campbell + John Elway = Mike Shanahan.

  • Neat stuff. It has felt to me like the Patriots have been a good bet for a long time, and this confirms that. It’s pretty amazing at the same time. You’d think this would be exactly the kind of thing that the line would adjust for, and maybe even over-adjust for. Some of this has got to be the Pats covering in the early 2000s before Belichick had his current reputation. But since 2004, I want to say the Patriots have done pretty well against the spread, too (not sure, though). That would be an interesting breakdown to see.

    I also think the Pats over/under win totals have been a bit low and they’ve been covering for a while now. Last year, they went off at 10.5. This year, they opened at 10 (-125) and I so very much wanted to bet that (and my wife was in Vegas(!), but she didn’t have the time to stop at one of the books). My friend told me a few weeks ago that they were up to 10.5 (either -140 or -150). That seems closer to a fair line (it is post-free agency), but I’m still surprised that the Pats line isn’t higher given the schedule.

    I guess the overall point is that I don’t really even want to bet the Pats b/c I know I’m biased as a fan, and I also think the market should value things like Belichick appropriately. But it seems like maybe the Pats are still undervalued a bit after all these years.

    • Andrew — are you notified of this reply?

  • Richie

    Chase, would it be difficult to add a column for: difference between “ATS Win%” and “Actual Win %”?

  • Dave

    It would be interesting to split these records vs the spread into the first 8 games of the season vs the last 8. It could be coaches are out or under performing at the beginning of the season.

  • Monique Ditter

    Hello, I am not sure how to calculate records. Can you please tell me what the percentage would be for the following:
    72 wins – 3 losses – 6 ties
    This is my husbands soccer coaching record over the last 4 years for league play. I am not understanding how to calculate this.