There are three head coaches who have won playoff games with five different quarterbacks. Can you name them?
[click to continue…]
There are three head coaches who have won playoff games with five different quarterbacks. Can you name them?
What this post will not be about: answering the question of whether Chip Kelly will win a playoff game with the Eagles. But coming up with a more precise title for this post is tough, and well, let me give you the background to this post.
I was having lunch with the fine folks at Sports-Reference yesterday, and the conversation turned to Kelly. I asked them whether they thought Kelly would wind up being a bust in Philly, and they wisely asked for a more precise question. So I asked: did they think Kelly would win a playoff game with Philadelphia before his tenure ended?
We all thought that was a pretty interesting question — I’m not quite sure how Vegas would set the line on it, although I imagine it would be very close to even money. But it made me wonder: at any given point in time, how likely is coach X of Team Y to win a playoff game before his tenure ends? For example, let’s flip back the clock four years ago, to the start of the 2011 season. Let’s say we asked that question of each of the 32 head coaches: what would the results be?
For two of them, the answer would be TBD: Marvin Lewis, of course, has coached the Bengals for a record 12 seasons without winning a playoff game… or getting fired. And, over the last four years, Mike Tomlin hasn’t won a playoff game or been relieved of his duties, either.
Of the other 30 coaches, 12 of them would go on to win at least one playoff game with the team they were coaching at the start of the 2011 season. The other 18 were fired or otherwise had their tenure end without winning a (or, if they won a playoff game pre-2011, “another”) playoff game. Here’s the full table, showing how many playoff wins each 2011 coach had with that team through the 2014 season:
|Jack Del Rio||jax||0|
Remember that when looking at the above table, for someone like Rex Ryan, the question isn’t whether he won a playoff game with the Jets, but whether he would win a playoff game beginning with the start of the 2011 season. Ditto for Tomlin, which is why he’s in the TBD column.
But a sample size of one year doesn’t tell us much, so I looked at this question for each season since realignment in 2002. Here are the results.
The 2002 season was the most “successful” of the bunch, with an even half of the league’s 32 coaches at that time going on to win at least one playoff game with their team (starting from 2002). As it turns out, the 2011 season was a slight outlier, but in general, we should expect that only about 13 of the 32 head coaches will win a playoff game from here on out before their tenure ends. On average, from 2002 to 2011, 17.9 coaches did not win a future playoff game, 13.1 did, and 1 (Lewis, naturally) is TBD.
This doesn’t necessarily do much to answer the Kelly question, but hey, that’s what the comments are for.
The Jets coaching staff underwent a significant overhaul this offseason, headlined by the hiring of head coach Todd Bowles. For any defensive-minded head coach, the most important hire is his offensive coordinator. Here, Bowles tapped veteran coach Chan Gailey as the man responsible for reviving the Jets offense and, perhaps, the career of Geno Smith.
Gailey has been lauded as a quarterback whisperer based on… well, let’s just take a look and see exactly what that is based on. Because when it comes to new Jets offensive coordinators, it’s best to actually study the numbers and not just listen to hype. [click to continue…]
In 2013, eight teams hired new head coaches. Three teams tapped rising offensive coordinators – Mike McCoy, Bruce Arians,1 Rob Chudzinski – while four other hires were head coaches with offensive backgrounds (Andy Reid, Doug Marrone, Chip Kelly, and Marc Trestman). That means just one head coaching hire came from a defensive background: Gus Bradley in Jacksonville.
Given the current era where the rules are slanted towards the offense, one can understand how teams might be inclined to look towards offensive coaches when selecting a head coach. Consider that scoring is about 60% of the game, which could make owners and general managers break ties in favor of offensive candidates. Then, remember that the pool of teams looking for a new head coach: teams that struggled the prior year. And since offense is so important, that usually means a team that had a bad offense. It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s easy to imagine the average team looking for a head coach as one that just went 5-11 with a bad offense and is looking to turn things around with a new, sexy offensive hire.
There was something else you may recall from 2013: the lack of minority hires. At the end of the 2012 season, there were 15 job openings for general managers and head coaches; none went to a minority candidate. The hiring process for GMs is much more opaque than it is for head coaches, but there was one main explanation given for the fact that all 8 head coaching hires were white: black coaches are disproportionately defensive coaches, and the league was shifting towards offense when it came to coaching hires because of the reasons stated above. [click to continue…]
As Bill Barnwell noted, it’s very rare for a coach as successful as Fox to be fired. While Barnwell took a big picture view, I thought it would be interesting to look at coaches who were fired immediately after a successful season: in this case, winning 12 or more games. As it turns out, it’s happened just two times before in NFL history. Marty Schottenheimer was fired by San Diego after going 14-2 in 2006, but losing in the team’s first playoff game to New England. And Jimmy Johnson was allowed to move on despite going 12-4 and winning a second consecutive Super Bowl in 1993.
The table below shows all coaches who won at least 10 games (or had a winning percentage of at least 0.625) in a season from 1970 to 2013, but who were not patrolling the same sidelines a year later: [click to continue…]
This article should have been written two years ago. At the latest, it should have been written last year. Technically, we’re still a few hours away from the title of this article being accurate and/or breaking news, but there’s no drama left in New York. Ryan is going to be fired as the Jets head coach.
The Jets went “all in” from 2009 to 2011 in the hopes of winning a Super Bowl. New York got very, very close, reaching consecutive AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010. After the 2008 season, the Jets had a talented roster but were in need of a new head coach and a new quarterback. Then general manager Mike Tannenbaum tabbed Rex Ryan as that man. Ryan retained offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and then New York traded up to acquire Mark Sanchez.
At that point, the fates of Tannenbaum, Ryan, Schottenheimer, and Sanchez were aligned. Other than the owner, the general manager, head coach, offensive coordinator1, and the quarterback may be the four most important men in any football organization. Together, the quartet began a new era of Jets football. And it was very successful… for two seasons.
The 2011 season was very disappointing, with a cherry on top being a disaster of a finale in Miami. The Jets then decided to move on from Schottenheimer, which made sense: things roll downhill in all walks of life, and the NFL is no different. Sure, Sanchez had turned into a bust, and maybe Ryan had lost control of the team, and perhaps Tannenbaum’s drafting had taken a turn for the worse, but maybe, just maybe, the team’s troubles were all the fault of the offensive coordinator! As a first step, keeping the nucleus intact but with a new coordinator made sense: it was the path of least change.
Unfortunately, Schottenheimer’s replacement turned out to be Tony Sparano, so you can imagine how that ended. After the 2012 season, the Jets fired Tannenbaum, and Sparano, and the majority of the defensive coaches moved on, too. ((DC Mike Pettine went to Buffalo,while Ass. HC/LB coach Bob Sutton, Ass. DB coach Jim O’Neil, OLB coach Mike Smith, and Ass. DL coach Anthony Weaver all left, too.) Sanchez was only retained because of his enormous cap figure, but he had also played his last regular season game for the Jets. At that point, firing Rex made a lot of sense. [click to continue…]
With just under five minutes left in last Sunday’s game against the Giants and his team trailing 27-20, Mike Smith went for it on 4th and 1 from his own 29 yard line. As was the case on repeated 4th down attempts the last time his team visited MetLife Stadium to face the Giants, the decision to be aggressive did not work out well. Matt Ryan was sacked for a nine-yard loss that effectively ended the game. If his previous behavior is any guide, Smith may learn the wrong lesson from that outcome and choose not to go for it again when the next similar opportunity arises. Smith illustrates better than any other coach the potential for fourth down failure to lead to future fourth down timidity.
Before those two failed Ryan fourth down sneaks against the Giants in that 2011 playoff game, Smith actually was one of the more enlightened coaches on fourth down strategy. From 2008-2011, Smith was the third-most aggressive coach of the last twenty years, at least according to Football Outsiders’ Aggressiveness Index. Dating Smith’s turning point is a little tough. He got burned going for it in Week 10 of the 2011 regular season, when he tried a sneak on 4th and inches from his own 29 in overtime against the Saints. He punted in a couple of situations where he usually went for it late in the 2011 season, but then was aggressive closer in against the Giants. By the 2012 regular season, Smith hadn’t just abandoned his prior tendency for aggressive strategy. He entirely reversed it. In 2012, he was the least aggressive coach in football, only going for it once in 91 qualifying fourth-down tries. He was similarly passive in 2013. His fourth down decision last Sunday was surprising given that trend.
To see Smith’s evolution on fourth down strategy, consider his decisions on 4th and 3 or less when between the opponent’s 10- and 40-yard lines. To consider only situations where there was a real choice while keeping things as simple as possible, I look only at first-half decisions along with third-quarter decisions where the margin was ten points or less. [click to continue…]
With another ugly loss, Dennis Allen’s record as head coach of the Raiders has dropped to 8-28. But does this mean Allen’s tenure as Oakland head coach has been one of the worst 10 coaching regimes since the merger?
Not exactly. For starters, we should remember that Allen was dealt a terrible hand. The year before Allen’s arrival, 2011, Oakland didn’t have a first round pick. He inherited one of the worst rosters in the NFL, and didn’t have a first or a second round pick in his first year. In 2013, the Raiders spent only $67M on the players on their roster, courtesy of $50M of dead money on the team’s salary cap. So an 8-28 record, while perhaps not even good considering the circumstances, is hardly all Allen’s fault.
That said, I thought it would be fun to just compare Allen’s record to that of other regimes since the merger, regardless of circumstances. The most common way to do this would be to use straight winning percentage, but that would put Allen behind say, Cam Cameron, who went 1-15 as the Dolphins head coach.
Another method could be to use games under .500 — Cameron would therefore be 14 games below .500, while Allen would be 20 games below. But Jim Schwartz finished 22 games below .500 with the Lions, courtesy of a 29-51 record. Your mileage may vary, but to me, an 8-28 record is worse than 1-15 and 29-51; the former could be disregarded as just one terrible year, while the latter was much better on a per-game basis. [click to continue…]
It’s become trendy in this space and many others for stats folks to rail against bad 4th down decisions. It’s even trendier to do it when those conservative decisions backfire, leading to losses. But analyzing any decision — and especially decisions about whether to go for it or kick on 4th down — should not be done with the benefit of hindsight. So today, I’m going to rail against John Harbaugh, Bill Belichick, and Mike McCoy, who made some awfully timid 4th down decisions but won on Sunday. And while one could argue that they won because of those decisions, the better argument, I believe, is that they won in spite of them.
Trailing by 4 with 5:03 remaining, the Ravens kick a Field Goal on the 3-yard line
Harbaugh is no stranger to meek 4th down decision making; in fact, he’s no stranger to this particular brand of conservative coaching. Last year, he sent out the kicker when, trailing by 6 points with just over four minutes remaining in the game, the Ravens faced a 4th and 5 from the 6 yard line. Both Jason Lisk and I wrote about the silliness of this decision, which resulted in a Buffalo 23-20 victory.
Facing similar circumstances — a 4-point lead and an extra minute remaining makes it less objectionable to kick the field goal, but being on the 3-yard line makes it even worse — Harbaugh again sent out Justin Tucker to take the points. That decision cost the Ravens 0.22 expected wins; according to Advanced Football Analytics, the decision to kick a field goal instead of going for it dropped Baltimore’s win probability from 54% to 32%.
As Mike Tanier facetiously wrote, this just set up the ultimate Ravens end game: one bomb from Joe Flacco and one kick by Tucker is all the team would need to win. Sure enough, Flacco hit Steve Smith for a 32-yard catch, and Tucker kicked the chip shot for the win. The Ravens wound up having two additional possessions: after Tucker made it a 1-point game, the Browns and Ravens traded 3-and-outs, and the Browns went 3-and-out again before giving Baltimore one final possession with 1:58 remaining.
At the time of the decision to send Tucker out for a field goal, Brian Hoyer was 19 of 22 for 290 yards and a touchdown. He wound up throwing incomplete on his last three passes of the day. But if not for two Cleveland three-and-outs — the only two of the day — Harbaugh’s decision to cost his team 22 points of win probability would be generating much more backlash today. [click to continue…]
In 1995, Football Outsiders graded the Eagles special teams as the worst in the NFL. The next two years, Philadelphia ranked 20th and 26th, respectively. In 1998, after hiring a new special teams coordinator, the team still finished just 25th. But, over the next eight years, the Eagles’ special teams flipped dramatically, ranking as the second-best in football during that period. In fact, from 2000-2004, Philadelphia ranked in the top five in the Football Outsiders’ special teams ratings each season.
When the Ravens hired the coordinator of those special teams, John Harbaugh, as their head coach in 2008, Baltimore turned one of the more surprising coaching hires in recent history into one of the best. Based on where the team was when it hired him, Harbaugh’s first three years were about the best since 1990 of any coach not named Harbaugh, at least according to DVOA. The Ravens made the playoffs in Harbaugh’s first five seasons, winning the Super Bowl in the last of those. Harbaugh’s success even caused Chase to wonder whether it would change the way teams hired head coaches.
Since Harbaugh was so successful as a coordinator, does that mean he was a good bet to be a successful head coach? At first glance, you might think just about every coordinator who gets promoted or poached to become a head coach was very successful in his previous job. As it turns out, that’s not always the case. Once we correct for expectations, a little more than one in four hired head coaches actually underperformed in their previous jobs, at least according to DVOA.
Consider one man who performed particularly poorly as a coordinator: Eric Mangini. The 2005 New England defense had a DVOA that was 15.2 points lower than we would have predicted based on the Patriots’ performance in the preceding seasons. He was not so much of a (Man)genius to have a good defense in 2005, and that may have given some hint that he was not the greatest bet to succeed as a head coach, either.1
This leads to an obvious question: on average, have teams done better when they have hired head coaches who were actually good in their previous jobs (either as coordinators or head coaches)? Let’s take this to the data. [click to continue…]
Yesterday, we looked at the Billick Index, a measure of coaches who managed teams that were good at preventing offensive touchdowns and bad at creating them. Today, the reverse, which is appropriately named after Don Coryell. Coryell’s teams were slanted towards the offense even when he was in St. Louis, but the situation exploded when he went to San Diego. Here’s a look at Coryell’s year-by-year grades in the Coryell Index: for example, in 1981, his Chargers scored 23.1 more offensive touchdowns than the average team, while opposing offenses against San Diego scored 10.1 more touchdowns than average. Add those two numbers together, and there were 33.3 more offensive touchdowns scored in San Diego games than in the average game in 1981 (this is the same information presented as yesterday, but now the “Grade” column reflects the number above average).
The 2004 Ravens were hardly Brian Billick’s most interesting team. But those Ravens serve as a shining example of what you envision when you think of Baltimore in the 2000s: terrible on offense and great on defense. The team went 9-7 despite the Kyle Boller-led offense producing just 24 touchdowns, tied for the second fewest in the league. But Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Chris McAlister, and even Deion Sanders were on a defense that allowed only 23 touchdowns, the second best mark in the NFL. So Baltimore was +1 in net offensive touchdowns, but that doesn’t really demonstrate the type of team the Ravens were.
Here’s a better way: the average team in 2004 produced 35.9 offensive touchdowns. This means the Baltimore offense fell 11.9 touchdowns shy of average, while the defense was 12.9 touchdowns above average. So if you don’t like watching offensive touchdowns, the 2004 Ravens were the team for you: 24.8 fewer offensive scores came in Ravens games than in the average game that season.
That’s the 4th largest negative differential in NFL history, behind…
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. [click to continue…]
In the footnotes (always read the footnotes!) to one of Neil’s posts at 538, he included a fun chart displaying the likelihood that a baseball manager would be retained by his team X seasons from now. That made me wonder: what is the NFL head coach retention rate? And, as is often assumed by the football commentariat, are coaching seats hotter than ever in this “win now” era?
Just nine teams will have the same coach in 2014 as they did entering the 2009 season. Those nine men are Mike Smith, Marvin Lewis, Mike McCarthy, Sean Payton, Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Rex Ryan, Mike Tomlin, and John Harbaugh. A 28% five-year retention rate sounds pretty low, but is it? Does a 28% rate back up the claim that trigger fingers are itchier than ever, and owners are impatient and irrational Donald Trumps?
No. Let’s flash back to the start of the 1993 season. Don Shula was in Miami, of course, while Marv Levy had just taken the Bills to three straight Super Bowls. Levy had been the head coach in Buffalo since the middle of the 1986 season, which is the same year Jim Mora began as head coach in New Orleans. Mora was still with the Saints in ’93, and… well, that was it. Those three coaches were the only ones who had been with their teams for five straight years.
The same fact was true six years later: at the start of the 1999 season, only Dennis Green (Minnesota), Bill Cowher (Pittsburgh), and … Norv Turner (?!?) had been with their teams for five years. The graph below shows the percentage of head coaches who were still with the same team five years later for the period 1970 to 2009:
It stands to reason that when a team has a bottom five scoring offense, they’re going to make some changes. But today we’re going to quantify what we all know. By definition, there were 55 teams to rank in the bottom five in scoring from 2002 to 2012. What changes did those teams make?
There were only 7 of 55 situations where a team had a bottom five offense but brought back the head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterback. Below is the full information for the 55 teams; analysis to come after the jump. For the Year N QB, I’ve listed the quarterback with the most attempts. For the Year N+1 QB, I chose to list the quarterback that started in week one of that season. All team/player/coach cells are linked to the relevant PFR page. [click to continue…]
From 1990 to 2013, 159 new head coaches were hired. Twelve of them were given full-time coaching duties after a successful stint as interim head coach.1
For the other 147 coaches, I grouped them into seven buckets based on the title they held in the season immediately preceding the year they were named head coach:2: Retread (indicating that this was not the first NFL head coaching job for the newly hired head coach), Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, College Head Coach, Quarterbacks coach, Offensive Line coach, and Other.
As you can see, the retread approach was the most popular, offensive and defensive coordinators were the next targets, while college coaches filled only 10% of the vacancies: [click to continue…]
Which gets us to a the question I want to examine today: how often do new general managers stick with the coaches they inherit? A simple idea, but a difficult one to research. For some teams, identifying the man is charge is easy; for others, it’s about as easy as identifying the starting running back. I’ve done my best, but I expect some errors or disagreements with the labels I’ve used.1 Marching onward…..
Since 1995, excluding expansion teams, there have been 95 new general managers hired in the NFL. Slightly more than half of those GMs (50) hired new head coaches, served as joint general manager/head coach, or were brought in with a new coach together as part of a regime change. The table below shows the 50 new general managers, along with the coach prior to and immediately after the hiring of the executive.
|Team||Year||GM||GM Title||Old Coach||New Coach|
|BUF||2013||Doug Whaley||General Manager||Chan Gailey||Doug Marrone|
|CLE||2013||Michael Lombardi||General Manager||Pat Shurmur||Rob Chudzinski|
|ARI||2013||Steve Keim||General Manager||Ken Whisenhunt||Bruce Arians|
|JAX||2013||David Caldwell||General Manager||Mike Mularkey||Gus Bradley|
|KAN||2013||John Dorsey||General Manager||Romeo Crennel||Andy Reid|
|SDG||2013||Tom Telesco||General Manager||Norv Turner||Mike McCoy|
|IND||2012||Ryan Grigson||General Manager||Jim Caldwell||Chuck Pagano|
|OAK||2012||Reggie McKenzie||General Manager||Hue Jackson||Dennis Allen|
|STL||2012||Les Snead||General Manager||Steve Spagnuolo||Jeff Fisher|
|OAK||2011||Hue Jackson||Head Coach/de facto General Manager||Tom Cable||Hue Jackson|
|SEA||2010||John Schneider||General Manager||Jim Mora||Pete Carroll|
|BUF||2010||Buddy Nix||Executive VP/General Manager||Dick Jauron||Chan Gailey|
|WAS||2010||Bruce Allen||Executive VP/General Manager||Jim Zorn||Mike Shanahan|
|CLE||2009||George Kokinis||General Manager||Romeo Crennel||Eric Mangini|
|DEN||2009||Brian Xanders||General Manager||Mike Shanahan||Josh McDaniels|
|KAN||2009||Scott Pioli||General Manager||Herman Edwards||Todd Haley|
|STL||2009||Billy Devaney||General Manager||Scott Linehan||Steve Spagnuolo|
|TAM||2009||Mark Dominik||General Manager||Jon Gruden||Raheem Morris|
|ATL||2008||Thomas Dimitroff||General Manager||Bobby Petrino||Mike Smith|
|MIA||2008||Jeff Ireland||General Manager||Cam Cameron||Tony Sparano|
|BUF||2006||Marv Levy||General Manager/VP of Football Operations||Mike Mularkey||Dick Jauron|
|HOU||2006||Rick Smith||Executive VP/General Manager||Dom Capers||Gary Kubiak|
|MIN||2006||Rick Spielman||VP of Player Personnel/de facto General Manager||Mike Tice||Brad Childress|
|NYJ||2006||Mike Tannenbaum||General Manager||Herman Edwards||Eric Mangini|
|STL||2006||Jay Zygmunt||President of Football Operations/General Manager||Mike Martz||Scott Linehan|
|CLE||2005||Phil Savage||General Manager||Butch Davis||Romeo Crennel|
|MIA||2005||Randy Mueller||General Manager||Dave Wannstedt||Nick Saban|
|SFO||2005||Scot McCloughan||VP of Player Personnel||Dennis Erickson||Mike Nolan|
|ATL||2004||Rich McKay||General Manager||Dan Reeves||Jim Mora|
|JAX||2003||James Harris||VP of Player Personnel||Tom Coughlin||Jack Del Rio|
|CAR||2002||Marty Hurney||General Manager||George Seifert||John Fox|
|MIN||2002||Rob Brzezinski||VP of Football Operations||Dennis Green||Mike Tice|
|WAS||2002||Vinny Cerrato||Director of Player Personnel||Marty Schottenheimer||Steve Spurrier|
|BUF||2001||Tom Donahoe||President/General Manager||Wade Phillips||Gregg Williams|
|DET||2001||Matt Millen||President||Bobby Ross||Marty Mornhinweg|
|NYJ||2001||Terry Bradway||General Manager||Al Groh||Herman Edwards|
|WAS||2001||Marty Schottenheimer||Head Coach/de facto General Manager||Norv Turner||Marty Schottenheimer|
|NOR||2000||Randy Mueller||General Manager||Mike Ditka||Jim Haslett|
|NWE||2000||Bill Belichick||Head Coach/de facto General Manager||Pete Carroll||Bill Belichick|
|STL||2000||Charley Armey||General Manager||Dick Vermeil||Mike Martz|
|CAR||1999||George Seifert||Head Coach/de facto General Manager||Dom Capers||George Seifert|
|SEA||1999||Mike Holmgren||Head Coach/Executive VP/General Manager||Dennis Erickson||Mike Holmgren|
|ATL||1997||Dan Reeves||Head Coach/de facto General Manager||June Jones||Dan Reeves|
|NWE||1997||Bobby Grier||Director of Player Personnel||Bill Parcells||Pete Carroll|
|NYJ||1997||Bill Parcells||Head Coach/General Manager||Rich Kotite||Bill Parcells|
|STL||1997||Dick Vermeil||Head Coach/General Manager||Rich Brooks||Dick Vermeil|
|ARI||1996||Bob Ferguson||VP of Player Personnel||Buddy Ryan||Vince Tobin|
|NYJ||1995||Rich Kotite||Head Coach/de facto General Manager||Pete Carroll||Rich Kotite|
|STL||1995||Steve Ortmayer||General Manager||Chuck Knox||Rich Brooks|
|SEA||1995||Randy Mueller||VP of Football Operations/de facto General Manager||Tom Flores||Dennis Erickson|
Black Monday is just four days away. This week at the New York Times, I look at which coaches are likely to be coaching their last games with their current franchises on Sunday.
Last season, seven N.F.L. coaches were fired on the day after the regular season, also known as Black Monday, with Jacksonville dismissing Mike Mularkey a couple of weeks later. This season, Houston has already fired Gary Kubiak, and as many as 10 more coaches could be fired Monday.
Likely to be Fired
After an 0-8 start, it seemed inevitable that Greg Schiano would not coach the Buccaneers in 2014. Then Tampa Bay won four of its next five games, becoming just the third team since 1978 to start both 0-8 and 4-9. But with two straight losses, Tampa Bay has lost any late-season momentum, and with it, any seeming justification for retaining Schiano.
After trading for Darrelle Revis and signing Dashon Goldson, the Bucs were a popular pick to win 10 games and contend for the Super Bowl. But with the Panthers and the Saints on the rise, and the Falcons just a year removed from an N.F.C. championship game appearance, Tampa Bay has quickly become an afterthought in the division. Even though he has been there for just two years, expect Schiano to be one of the first victims on Black Monday. The Buccaneers have won just 5 of their last 21 games.
When the Lions hired Jim Schwartz, the team had just finished an 0-16 season. Expectations were low and patience was high. Schwartz won 2, then 6, then 10 games in his first three years in Detroit, but the team has fallen apart since a playoff appearance in 2011. Last season, the Lions finished 4-12, and Schwartz drew criticism for fielding one of the least-disciplined teams in the N.F.L.
Detroit has become known for late-game implosions. Over the last two seasons, it is a league-worst seven games below .500 (6-13) in games decided by 7 or fewer points. This year, after a 6-3 start and injuries to the N.F.C. North quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers, the division seemed to be there for the taking for the Lions. Instead, a 1-5 stretch has eliminated them before the final week of the season.
Minnesota Coach Leslie Frazier is low on job security, too. Adrian Peterson’s 2,000-yard campaign helped lead the Vikings to 10 wins in 2012, but the rest of Frazier’s tenure has been underwhelming. In fact, those 10 wins represent half of Frazier’s win total in three and a half seasons in Minnesota. With double-digit losing seasons in two of the last three years, bringing back Frazier would be tough to take for increasingly frustrated Vikings fans.
Perhaps the most puzzling part of the Minnesota decline has been in the secondary. Frazier was a defensive backs coach in Philadelphia and Indianapolis and a defense coordinator in Cincinnati before coming to the Vikings as the defensive backs coach in 2007. But Minnesota ranks last in points allowed, passing yards allowed and passing touchdowns allowed. If Minnesota allows two passing touchdowns to the Lions on Sunday, that will bring the season total to 38 and set a post-merger N.F.L. record.
You can read the full article here.
On Sunday morning, Jay Glazer reported that the Jets head coach told the team that he believes he will be fired after the season. And a few hours ago, I noted that while the Jets have a 7-8 record, that’s not an accurate reflection of the team’s production this year. So one week from today, will new general manager John Idzik decide to go in a different direction on Black Monday?
After making the AFC Championship Game in both 2009 and 2010, Rex Ryan’s Jets have now failed to make the playoffs in each of the last three years. From 1988 to 2012, 62 head coaches went three straight years without making the playoffs while coaching the same team. As it turns out, the head coach returned in 33 of those cases for the following season, but in each of the last five instances, ownership has chose to fire the head coach. That’s the situation Ryan and Mike Munchak are in, and Jason Garrett would join them in that boat with a loss to Philadelphia next Sunday, too.
On average, the teams that fired the head coach won 4.8 games in Year N, and then won 7.4 games in Year N+1. That includes the three new head coaches in 2013 in Buffalo, Arizona, and San Diego.
|SDG||2012||Norv Turner||7-9||Mike McCoy||7-7|
|BUF||2012||Chan Gailey||6-10||Doug Marrone||6-9|
|ARI||2012||Ken Whisenhunt||5-11||Bruce Arians||9-5|
|STL||2011||Steve Spagnuolo||2-14||Jeff Fisher||7-8-1|
|TAM||2011||Raheem Morris||4-12||Greg Schiano||7-9|
|DEN||2008||Mike Shanahan||8-8||Josh McDaniels||8-8|
|DET||2008||Rod Marinelli||0-16||Jim Schwartz||2-14|
|CLE||2008||Romeo Crennel||4-12||Eric Mangini||5-11|
|ARI||2006||Dennis Green||5-11||Ken Whisenhunt||8-8|
|NOR||2005||Jim Haslett||3-13||Sean Payton||10-6|
|HOU||2005||Dom Capers||2-14||Gary Kubiak||6-10|
|BUF||2003||Gregg Williams||6-10||Mike Mularkey||9-7|
|ARI||2003||Dave McGinnis||4-12||Dennis Green||6-10|
|JAX||2002||Tom Coughlin||6-10||Jack Del Rio||5-11|
|DAL||2002||Dave Campo||5-11||Bill Parcells||10-6|
|SDG||2001||Mike Riley||5-11||Marty Schottenheimer||8-8|
|CAR||2001||George Seifert||1-15||John Fox||7-9|
|NOR||1999||Mike Ditka||3-13||Jim Haslett||10-6|
|SEA||1998||Dennis Erickson||8-8||Mike Holmgren||9-7|
|CHI||1998||Dave Wannstedt||4-12||Dick Jauron||6-10|
|BAL||1998||Ted Marchibroda||6-10||Brian Billick||8-8|
|NYG||1996||Dan Reeves||6-10||Jim Fassel||10-5-1|
|TAM||1995||Sam Wyche||7-9||Tony Dungy||6-10|
|RAM||1994||Chuck Knox||4-12||Rich Brooks||7-9|
|SEA||1994||Tom Flores||6-10||Dennis Erickson||8-8|
|PHO||1993||Joe Bugel||7-9||Buddy Ryan||8-8|
|SEA||1991||Chuck Knox||7-9||Tom Flores||2-14|
|GNB||1991||Lindy Infante||4-12||Mike Holmgren||9-7|
|SDG||1991||Dan Henning||4-12||Bobby Ross||11-5|
Of the 32 teams to retain the head coach, the average team won 6.9 games in Year N and then 7.3 in Year N+1. Those are full season results — the table below shows the number of wins by that specific coach in Year N+1.
|JAX||2010||Jack Del Rio||8-8||3-8-0 (0-0)|
|HOU||2010||Gary Kubiak||6-10||10-6-0 (1-1)|
|HOU||2009||Gary Kubiak||9-7||6-10-0 (0-0)|
|CHI||2009||Lovie Smith||7-9||11-5-0 (1-1)|
|HOU||2008||Gary Kubiak||8-8||9-7-0 (0-0)|
|BUF||2008||Dick Jauron||7-9||3-6-0 (0-0)|
|CIN||2008||Marvin Lewis||4-11-1||10-6-0 (0-1)|
|CLE||2007||Romeo Crennel||10-6||4-12-0 (0-0)|
|SFO||2007||Mike Nolan||5-11||2-5-0 (0-0)|
|TEN||2006||Jeff Fisher||8-8||10-6-0 (0-1)|
|NOR||2004||Jim Haslett||8-8||3-13-0 (0-0)|
|HOU||2004||Dom Capers||7-9||2-14-0 (0-0)|
|NOR||2003||Jim Haslett||8-8||8-8-0 (0-0)|
|SEA||2002||Mike Holmgren||7-9||10-6-0 (0-1)|
|ATL||2001||Dan Reeves||7-9||9-6-1 (1-1)|
|PIT||2000||Bill Cowher||9-7||13-3-0 (1-1)|
|CIN||1999||Bruce Coslet||4-12||0-3-0 (0-0)|
|TEN||1998||Jeff Fisher||8-8||13-3-0 (3-1)|
|WAS||1998||Norv Turner||6-10||10-6-0 (1-1)|
|TEN||1997||Jeff Fisher||8-8||8-8-0 (0-0)|
|SEA||1997||Dennis Erickson||8-8||8-8-0 (0-0)|
|WAS||1997||Norv Turner||8-7-1||6-10-0 (0-0)|
|CHI||1997||Dave Wannstedt||4-12||4-12-0 (0-0)|
|WAS||1996||Norv Turner||9-7||8-7-1 (0-0)|
|NOR||1995||Jim Mora||7-9||2-6-0 (0-0)|
|CIN||1995||David Shula||7-9||1-6-0 (0-0)|
|IND||1994||Ted Marchibroda||8-8||9-7-0 (2-1)|
|CIN||1994||David Shula||3-13||7-9-0 (0-0)|
|TAM||1994||Sam Wyche||6-10||7-9-0 (0-0)|
|CLE||1993||Bill Belichick||7-9||11-5-0 (1-1)|
|PHO||1992||Joe Bugel||4-12||7-9-0 (0-0)|
|GNB||1990||Lindy Infante||6-10||4-12-0 (0-0)|
|IND||1990||Ron Meyer||7-9||0-5-0 (0-0)|
I’m a bit surprised that so many head coaches were retained after failing to make the playoffs for three straight years, but I think the recent trend shows that the NFL is more of a “win now” league than ever before.
More to the point for Ryan, 2013 marks the third straight season the Jets have failed to post a winning record. From 2000 to 2012, only 18 head coaches posted three straight years with a non-winning record for the same team. Eleven of them were fired after year three, and two more (Dick Jauron and Mike Nolan) were fired in midseason in year four. Four other coaches were in the AFC South during the Peyton Manning era, and as I’ve noted before, owners appeared to give those coaches long leashes for failing to push ahead of those Colts teams.
Woody Johnson, of course, is not content with mediocrity… or being out of the spotlight. After the Jets failed to make the playoffs in 2007, the team released Chad Pennington and acquired Brett Favre. After the Jets failed to make the playoffs in 2008, head coach Eric Mangini got the axe. After the Jets failed to make the playoffs in 2011, Brian Schottenheimer was the scape goat. After the Jets failed to make the playoffs in 2012, Woody went up the corporate ladder and canned Mike Tannenbaum. With a first-year quarterback, a first-year offensive coordinator and a first-year general manager, there’s only one move left for Johnson to make.
The Jets beat the Browns 24-13 today, bringing New York’s record up to 7-8. With Rex Ryan on the hot seat — more on this in a few hours — some have defended the controversial head coach by lauding his work this season. After all, if the Jets are one of the least talented teams in the NFL, isn’t it the product of great coaching that the Jets got to 7-8?
That would be true if the Jets were playing like a 7-8 team. But that’s not the case. The Jets have been outscored by 110 points this year, which makes them a bottom five team, a level of production more in line with the team’s talent. If Ryan is getting bottom five production out of a team that’s bottom five in talent, well, that’s not nearly as impressive.
But perhaps you want to argue that the Jets have overachieved in record (but not anywhere else) because of Ryan? Let’s investigate that claim. New York has just 4.45 Pythagorean wins, which means that they’ve won 2.55 more games than expected. The table below shows the 24 teams to exceed their Pythagorean record1 by at least two wins while posting a negative points differential. [click to continue…]
Chip Kelly, Bill Belichick and Riverboat Ron (née Rivera) are the three coaches most associated with aggressive fourth down decisions. In week 15, all three faced a key fourth down decision, and each situation provided a good teaching moment.
Philadelphia goes for it on 4th and 1 on their own 24, down by 15, 3rd quarter, 6:26 remaining
This was an unconventional decision, but pretty clearly the right one. Here’s what Kelly said after the game:
“I thought we could’ve made it, and I also thought if we don’t make it we’re in trouble,” Kelly said. “If we can’t get half-a-yard, maybe it tells you what the day’s all about. But you’ve gotta think at 4th-and-half-a-yard we can get half-a-yard. They didn’t blitz. It wasn’t like there was an all-out coming at us. We need to come off the ball and get some movement at the point of attack and dig ourselves out of that hole right there. We hadn’t gotten anything going at that point in time so hoping we could jump-start something there.”
The bold decision did not pay off when LeSean McCoy was stopped on 4th-and-inches, and that failure enabled the leaders of the conservative moment to begin crowing. Going for it on 4th down is no guarantee, but from 2010 to 2013, runs on 4th-and-1 have converted 68.6% of the time (excluding runs in the red zone). And one would think a dominant rushing team like Philadelphia would be in much better shape. Philadelphia leads the league in both rushing yards and yards per carry, while the Vikings have a below-average run defense. According to Advanced NFL Stats, Philadelphia should have gone for it if the team had a 50% chance of conversion, and the Eagles probably had a 75% chance of converting here.
But the frustrating part of the analysis is that the anti-stats movement claimed that it was “too early” for Philadelphia to go for it. As a general rule, it is never too early to go for it on 4th-and-inches, and that applies even more strongly when talking about the Eagles offense.
[click to continue…]
Despite his many accolades, like Dan Marino, Schottenheimer is as often defined by his major shortcoming: never winning a Super Bowl. Did you know that Schottenheimer ranks 6th with 200 career wins? That places him behind only Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry, Curly Lambeau, and Paul Brown. Schottenheimer finished his career 74 games above .500, ranking seventh behind those five coaches and Bill Belichick. But the 5-13 record in the playoffs has become party of his core, and has unfortunately swallowed the rest of his career.
Schottenheimer won fewer games than Shula, but he didn’t have Johnny Unitas, Bob Griese, or Marino. He wasn’t as successful as Landry or Brown or Belichick, but he didn’t have Roger Staubach or Otto Graham or Tom Brady, either.
Schottenheimer and Shula are the only coaches to win 14 games with six different quarterbacks. Marty is the only one to win 13 games with seven different quarterbacks, the only to win 11 games with eight different ones, and the only to win 10 with nine different quarterbacks. He won eight games with ten different quarterbacks and five games with eleven different quarterbacks. In fact, Schottenheimer won games with 18 different starter quarterbacks, easily a record. [click to continue…]
At the end of Sunday’s game against the 49ers, the Seahawks had an opportunity to (attempt to) allow the 49ers to score. Following a Colin Kaepernick gainof 8 yards on 3rd-and-7, the 49ers had the ball, down by 1, at the Seahawks 7-yard line with 2:39 remaining. The Seahawks were out of timeouts, which meant if San Francisco wanted to, it could drain the clock to under 30 seconds. Keith Goldner at Advanced NFL Stats already covered this issue well: “Once the 49ers had the 1st-and-Goal, with the impending snap coming under the 2:40 mark, the Seahawks should have immediately attempted to allow the 49ers to score.”
I agree with Keith’s analysis: the Seahawks would have been in a better situation having the ball following a kickoff with 2:30 left in the game, trailing by 5-7 points, than to have been in the desperate situation they were in. But what does coach Pete Carroll have to say about whether it would have been wise to allow the 49ers to score a touchdown?
“There’s a lot of gut in that decision…We had the talk, and it’s just not in our mentality to let anybody have anything….I’m going to do a little research this week and see if anyone has ever done that and won,” Carroll said.
I don’t think we need to go beyond Keith’s analysis, which correctly frames the issue. We don’t need to look at historical numbers to know that trailing by 5-7 with the ball on your own 22 with 2:30 left is better than trailing by 2 with the ball on your own 22 with 26 seconds remaining. But since coach Carroll used to coach the Jets, I figured I would do him a solid and provide him with a history lesson. [click to continue…]
In week 11, the Bears led the Ravens by three with two minutes remaining. After the two-minute warning, Joe Flacco completed an 11-yard pass that brought Baltimore to the Bears’ 16-yard line. The Ravens next snap took place with 1:21 remaining, and Ray Rice picked up 11 yards to put the Ravens at the Chicago 5-yard line with 75 seconds left.
Baltimore then let the clock run, snapping the 1st-and-goal play with 36 seconds left (Ray Rice ran for three yards). After waiting a few seconds, the Ravens called timeout with 23 seconds remaining. On second down, the Ravens ran Rice again, but he lost a yard, and Baltimore used its final timeout with 11 seconds left. Flacco’s third down pass went incomplete, and Baltimore kicked a field goal to force overtime, giving Chicago the ball back with just three seconds.
This was the rare case where both teams managed to lower their odds of winning with poor clock management. Baltimore had two timeouts and 36 seconds to run three plays. The worst option would be to call timeout after the 1st down and 2nd down plays: the goal should be to keep a timeout for after the third down play. By saving that timeout, the team retains the option of running on 3rd down, and also has a safety net in the event of a sack. There’s no reason why a team needs to call one timeout after 1st-and-goal and another after 2nd-and-goal. For a man who sleeps at the office to get every edge he can, John Harbaugh lowered his team’s odds of winning by not knowing when to use his timeouts. This is not just an academic point, either: Flacco nearly lost the third down snap, which could have ended in an embarrassing loss for the Ravens.1
But Harbaugh’s poor use of timeouts — while inexcusable — didn’t lower his team’s odds of winning significantly. That task was handled by Marc Trestman. After Rice ran down to the 5-yard line, Trestman should have called timeout with 75 seconds remaining — instead, he allowed Baltimore to run the clock all way to 36 seconds left (Baltimore snapped it with 3 seconds left on the play clock). On that play, Rice nearly ran for a touchdown, which shows how foolish this decision was by Trestman. The mere fact that Baltimore bled the clock for 39 seconds is prima facie evidence that the Bears erred by not calling timeout. Football is a zero-sum game, so if it was good for Baltimore to let the clock run down, it must have been bad for Chicago to allow the Ravens to do that. Think of it this way: would Ravens fans have been happy or sad to see Trestman call timeout in that situation?
Eight teams fired their head coaches last year. How are those eight coaches doing in 2013? And will there be more firings next year because of the Reid effect? That’s what I’m writing about this week at the New York Times.
Andy Reid may be the worst thing to happen to struggling coaches. In 2012 under Romeo Crennel, the Chiefs appeared to be a talented team but finished 2-14. Even the biggest Kansas City optimists could not have expected the addition of Reid and quarterback Alex Smith to turn the Chiefs into a Super Bowl contender overnight. But Reid has all but locked up the coach of the year award and engineered one of the great turnarounds in league history. If general managers break close calls in favor of replacing their coaches in the off-season, call it the Reid effect.
Chip Kelly, who replaced Reid in Philadelphia, has done a superb job, too. The 2012 Eagles were a 4-12 team that relied on fourth-quarter comebacks to win each of those games. Philadelphia had an inconsistent offense and a terrible defense, which caused ownership to make the splashy hiring of the off-season by bringing in Kelly from Oregon.
The Eagles’ offense has come close to matching the hype that surrounded Kelly’s arrival. Philadelphia is in the top 10 in yards and points per game, and the Eagles are the only team to rank in the top three in both yards per pass attempt and yards per carry. Quarterback Nick Foles has 16 touchdown passes and no interceptions and leads the league in yards per pass attempt, and LeSean McCoy leads the N.F.L. in yards from scrimmage.
You can read the full article here.
1) Calculate how many standard deviations above/below average each team is in Game Scripts. The average Game Script, of course, is zero. The standard deviation through five weeks is 4.69, so the Broncos (8.43 Game Script) are 1.80 standard deviations above average in Game Script.
2) Calculate how many standard deviations from average each team is in Pass Ratio, defined as pass attempts (including sacks) divided by total plays. The average Pass Ratio through five weeks is 59.8%, while the standard deviation among the thirty-two teams is 6.7%. The Giants (excluding last night’s game) lead the league in Pass Ratio at 71.8%, which is 1.79 standard deviations above the league-average Pass Ratio.
3) Add how many standard deviations above/below average each team is in both Game Scripts and Pass Ratio. To convert these into an Index (and a more intuitive number for folks), multiply that result by 15 and add it to 100. So a team that has a Pass Identity that is 1 standard deviation above average will be at 115, while a team that is 1.6 standard deviations below average will be at 76.
Here are the results:
[click to continue…]
Through four weeks, there have been 28 cases where a team, trailing in the 4th quarter, sent in the kicker or the punter. In general, that’s a pretty low rate — it’s just under once every two games. But while going for it on 4th down isn’t always the right decision when trailing in the 4th quarter, even 28 kicks/punts is too many.
Twelve of those 28 plays were field goal attempts, and all were successful. Four kicks were to tie or take the lead, but only one of them — Rian Lindell’s 37-yarder, trailing by one point with 38 seconds remaining in week one against the Jets was an obviously correct decision (not that Greg Schiano’s conservative play-calling on the prior three plays deserves the same treatment). Two other kicks were noncontroversial: Facing 4th-and-9 from the Vikings 11, trailing by 10 with 3:40 remaining, I don’t blame Mike Tomlin for sending in the kicker. Even more obvious: Jeff Fisher having Greg Zuerlein kick a 38-yard field goal on 4th and 8 from the Arizona 20, trailing by 3, with 9 minutes left in the game. What about the other 9 field goal decisions? Let’s start first with four end-game strategic blunders:
1) John Harbaugh sent out Justin Tucker to kick a 30-yard field goal on 4th and 4 trailing by 18 with 5:33 remaining at the Broncos 12-yard line. Yes, Harbaugh thought Baltimore’s best chance of winning was to kick a field goal, stop Denver, score a touchdown, stop Denver, score another touchdown, convert the two-point attempt, and then win in overtime. Even though a 30-yard field goal is close to automatic, this one is pretty easy to analyze. In both situations, you need to stop Denver twice and score two more touchdowns. So the question becomes, it is easier to:
This one is not terrible, but I agree with Bill Barnwell’s analysis that going for it would have been the preferred move. Note that you don’t need the benefit of hindsight: Jason Lisk correctly predicted in real time that by going conservative on 4th-and-1, Atlanta would have to go for it (and fail) in a more challenging 4th down play later in the game.
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I can’t believe I’m writing this article. Everyone loves Chuck Pagano, but he made a pretty embarrassing blunder at the end of the Colts upset win in San Francisco on Sunday. The Colts led 13-7 when Andrew Luck scrambled for a six yard touchdown on 3rd-and-3 with just over four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Incredibly, Pagano then chose to kick the extra point, which my buddy and Colts fan Nate Dunlevy identified immediately as a terrible decision.
I wasn’t going to write a post about that decision, because, ya know, what could be more obvious than going for two when up by 12 points with just over four minutes left in the game? I mean, Jason Garrett got this right in the season opener. Being up by 14 points means two touchdowns doesn’t beat you, while there is almost no difference between being up 12 or being up 13 points. That doesn’t make for a very interesting post, though.
From 1999 to 2012, 36 teams scored a touchdown when leading by 6 points in the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter. Only 22 times did the team then follow that score by going for two, converting half of the time. Take a look:
[click to continue…]
1) Punting is not the way to beat Manning
Facing 4th and 5 from the Broncos 40-yard line, Harbaugh elected to punt up 14-7 with 8 minutes left in the second quarter. Last year, I highlighted one of the most difficult fourth down decisions coaches have to make: 4th-and-7 from between the 34- and 38-yard lines. In the thin air of Denver and with strong-legged Justin Tucker, we can safely include this scenario in that definition of No Man’s Land. Facing 4th-and-5 is a lot easier than 4th-and-7, so going for it would have been my preferred choice. The Ravens elected to punt, but let’s consider the other two options.
[click to continue…]
In May, I took a stab at discussing tempo in the NFL, and I presented a couple of lists that measured the number of plays run per second of possession in the NFL. Today, I want to revisit the questions of tempo and pace using more precise measurements. Let’s start with some league-wide data. The table below shows the average number of seconds between snaps for NFL teams last season. I’ve excluded a number of plays from this sample, including all plays at the start of a quarter, all overtime plays, plays after a changes of possession, and plays in the final three minutes of the first half or five minutes of the second half (where teams are less likely to operate at their normal pace).