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Guest Post: The Patriots’ League-Best Kickoffs

Today’s guest post comes from Miles Wray, a long-time reader of the site. He’s written an interesting post on special teams today, but you may know him as the host of the daily NBA podcast The 82 Review. You can also find him on Twitter @mileswray. What follows are Miles’ words: as always, we thank our guest writers for their contributions.


Bill Belichick Found Another Way to Bleed Yards From Opponents

Gostkowski, probably not kicking a touchback

Anytime the New England Patriots are at the top — or the bottom — of a league-wide leaderboard, no matter how insignificant that leaderboard is, it’s worth taking notice. The odds are that Bill Belichick and Ernie Adams are thinking a few steps ahead of every other team in the league, and are leveraging yet another corner of the game to their advantage.

Since the Patriots offense remains incredibly explosive, it’s pretty reasonable that they would be near the top of the league in the total number of kickoffs returned (i.e., opponent kickoff returns). New England has 47 kickoffs this year, or nearly double the number of a struggling offense like the Cleveland Browns (26). But how about this: the Patriots are dramatically ahead of everybody else in the league in the percentage of their kickoffs that are returned.

Since kickoffs were moved from the 30- to the 35-yard-line in 2011, it’s more common than ever to see a kickoff boomed out the back of the endzone. These plays have become so routine it’s basically part of the commercial break now. But not for the Patriots. The Patriots seem to be inviting their opponent to return their kicks.

I went through the kickoff statistics for each team in the league, and discarded any onside kicks, any short kicks in the last 10 seconds of the first half (which are often intentionally squibbed), and any kicks where the just-scored/kicking-off team had been penalized, moving the kickoff to the 30-, 25-, or 20-yard line. The remaining “clean” kickoffs give the best indication of a team’s intentional special teams strategy over time.

This season, most teams have about a third of their kickoffs returned. Only three teams have had over half of their kickoffs returned; the Patriots are alone at over 60%: [click to continue…]

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Last night, the Texans and Bengals played in a yet another boring and low-scoring game. In the final seconds of the first half, the Bengals trailed 10-3, but got a big break when Cincinnati completed a 37-yard pass down to the Houston 11 yard line.  The Bengals had 1st-and-10 with 16 seconds left, which should have been enough time for… 2 plays? The first play took four seconds, and the second six, which caused the Bengals to send out the field goal team.  Cincinnati ultimately lost by four points.

Time Down ToGo Location
0:24 1 10 HTX 48 Andy Dalton pass complete deep right to Alex Erickson for 37 yards (tackle by Kareem Jackson) 10 3 2.390 4.840 51.6
0:16 Timeout #2 by Cincinnati Bengals 10 3
0:16 1 10 HTX 11 Andy Dalton pass incomplete 10 3 4.840 4.140 48.6
0:12 2 10 HTX 11 Andy Dalton pass incomplete 10 3 4.140 3.130 44.4
0:06 3 10 HTX 11 Randy Bullock 29 yard field goal good 10 6 3.130 3.000 43.8

That feels like an overly conservative move, particularly given that the Bengals had run a pass play that took four seconds just one play earlier. So I looked at all plays with 5, 6, or 7 seconds left in the first half since 2007 where the team had the ball anywhere from the 8 to the 15 yard line and before fourth down. How often do teams kick a field goal? [click to continue…]

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Even Bruce Arians Can’t Keep Beating the Spread

As interim coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, Bruce Arians was remarkable. He was named AP Coach of the Year, as the Colts went 9-3, and 8-3-1 against the spread, under his watch. In his first year with the Cardinals in 2013, Arians went 10-5-1 against the spread, making him one of the best coaches ever by that metric. Then in 2014, Arians again was again named Coach of the Year, as he rode some Pythagenpat Magic to go 11-5 against the spread, bringing his career mark up to 29-13-2 against the wise guys in the desert. And in 2015, Arians started off red hot yet again! A 39-32 victory in Seattle against the defending NFC Champions on Sunday Night Football put the Cardinals at 7-2, and 6-2-1 against the spread. At that point, Arians was 35-15-3 against the spread for his coaching career. That’s a 0.660 winning percentage ATS if you count pushes as half wins and half losses, and an even better .700 winning percentage if you discard all pushes (arguably the better approach, since for wagering purposes, a push just means you get your money back). Nobody can beat the spread 70% of the time, right?

Well, yes. Right. Since then, Arians is 9-15-0 against the spread, dropping from a 70% success rate to a 37.5% rate. And he’s just 6-12 ATS in his last 18 games. That includes a stretch in 2016 where Arians’ Cardinals failed to cover in five straight games and seven of eight contests. And it includes a 12-point loss in week 1 of the 2017 season on Sunday, when the Cardinals were 2.5-point favorites. The graph below shows every game of his head coaching career and how many points his team beat (blue) or were beaten by (in red) the spread: [click to continue…]

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According to the Pro-Football-Reference.com coaching database, there’s only one man in NFL history that has been, at various points in his NFL career, both an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator. Can you name him?

There are some coaches, off the top of my head, who have spent time coaching on both sides of the ball.   Bill Belichick has been heavily involved with the Patriots offense for about a decade (New England didn’t even have an offensive coordinator in 2009 or 2010), and while he never held any official title, he also was the Detroit Lions receivers coach in 1977. Eric Mangini was an offensive assistant for the Browns and Ravens, and also a tight ends coach for the 49ers, while spending time as a defensive assistant (and later head coach) for the Jets, and defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator for the Patriots (he also was the 49ers DC in 2015, his last coaching gig). Juan Castillo has mostly been an NFL assistant on the offensive side of the ball (never serving as an offensive coordinator, however), but he did get surprisingly tapped as the Eagles defensive coordinator in 2011, and worked in that role for a couple of years (well, he was fired in October 2012).

But being both an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator in the NFL? That just doesn’t happen. Our mystery coach was a position coach on both sides of the ball in college, including as offensive line coach at SMU in 1976 and 1977. He left the college game to joint the NFL as a scout with the Bucs in ’78.

Then, in 1982, the Patriots hired SMU head coach Ron Meyer, and Meyer picked our mystery man to became the Patriots offensive line coach.  He served under Meyer for his entire tenure in New England, which ended in 1984.  In 1985, he joined Darryl Rogers in Detroit as the Lions offensive line coach, and stayed with the team for four seasons.

While our man was in Detroit, Meyer had been hired as the Colts coach, and Meyer inherited defensive coordinator George Hill. But after the ’88 season, Meyer hired our mystery man to join him in Indianapolis as the team’s defensive coordinator.  At that point, he had no really experience coaching defense other than at Delaware Valley, Rhode Island, and Idaho State, but Meyer nonetheless chose him for the job.  The Colts defense wasn’t great (although it wasn’t terrible, either) in ’89 and ’90, but in ’91, Meyer moved from Indianapolis defensive coordinator to Indianapolis offensive line coach. [click to continue…]

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There are currently five head coaches in the NFL that used to be coordinators for the Atlanta Falcons. If you’re a betting man, Steve Sarkisian may be the next to join the list.  Sark was a Pac-12 head coach for six years (four in Washington and two at USC) before spending last season as the Alabama offensive coordinator.  He’s now the 2017 Falcons offensive coordinator, and that’s a pretty good place to be. The last four offensive coordinators for the Falcons — Kyle ShanahanDirk KoetterMike Mularkey, and Hue Jackson — are the current head coaches in San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, and Cleveland. Mike Zimmer, the Falcons defensive coordinator opposite Jackson in the Bobby Petrino-doomed 2007 season, is the Vikings head coach, giving Atlanta a league-high five former coordinators who are current head coaches.

In the last few years, the Broncos have had four coordinators go on to become head coaches elsewhere: Jack Del Rio and Adam Gase are the head coaches in Oakland and Miami, while Mike McCoy (San Diego) and Dennis Allen (Oakland) have since been fired. The Ravens have also had four coordinators in the last decade get promoted: Gary Kubiak (Denver) and Rex Ryan (Jets, Bills) are no longer current head coaches, while Chuck Pagano (Colts) and Jim Caldwell (Detroit) are still active head coaches.

In addition to Atlanta, the Bengals are responsible for three current head coaches: the Cincinnati platform lifted Hue Jackson to Cleveland, Mike Zimmer to Minnesota, and Jay Gruden to Washington.

Since 1990

Since 1990, two teams have sent an incredible 9 coordinators to become head coaches of different franchises. For Denver, in addition to the four above, Gary Kubiak, Jim Fassel, Wade Phillips, Mike Shanahan (due to his time as head coach in Washington), and Chan Gailey were all coordinators in Denver since 1990 and then become head coaches elsewhere.

The other team is the 49ers, although all 9 coordinators were in San Francisco from 1991 to 2006. The full list, from most recent to least:
Norv Turner, Mike McCarthy, Jim Mora, Marty Mornhinweg, Pete Carroll, Marc Trestman, Ray Rhodes, Mike Shanahan, and Mike Holmgren.

Fewest

As discussed yesterday, the last Tampa Bay coordinator to become a head coach at another franchise was back in 1984. Each other team has sent at least one coordinator since ’05 on to become the head coach somewhere else.

Since 1990, three teams have vaulted just one coordinator to a head coaching job for another team. The Colts had Bruce Arians as the team’s offensive coordinator (and interim head coach) in 2012, and has been the Cardinals head coach since. For Houston,
the coordinator history has not been great, and Kyle Shanahan (the team’s OC in ’08 and ’09 before moving on to Washington) just became the first one to get a head coaching gig. The final team is Detroit: Dick Jauron was the Lions defensive coordinator in ’04 and ’05 (also serving as interim head coach), before becoming the Bills head coach in ’06.  Detroit and Tampa Bay are the only teams that don’t have a coordinator since ’06 go on to be a coach elsewhere, but with Jim Bob Cooter and Teryl Austin being highly regarded, that could change soon.

The table below shows all offensive and defensive coordinators since 1990 to become head coaches at other teams (ignoring interim head coaches): [click to continue…]

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In the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise history, they have only had two coordinators become head coaches after leaving central Florida (Dirk Koetter, of course, went from Bucs OC in 2015 to Bucs HC in 2016): Wayne Fontes was the Bucs first ever secondary coach, during the team’s inaugural season of 1976, and he stayed in that role throughout his time in Tampa Bay under John McKay. Fontes was promoted to defensive coordinator in ’82, and led the defense for the final three years of McKay’s tenure.  When McKay retired from coaching after 1984, Fontes nearly got the Tampa Bay head coaching job: when it went to Leeman Bennett instead, Fontes went to Detroit to become the Lions defensive coordinator.  From there, he got promoted to interim head coach in 1988, and became the team’s head coach on a full-time basis beginning in 1989.

McKay also had another young assistant turn into a head coach: Joe Gibbs.  The Hall of Fame head coach famously coached under the great Don Coryell in both St. Louis (as running backs coach from ’73 to ’77) and San Diego (as offensive coordinator in ’79 and ’80), along with the San Diego State Aztecs in the ’60s.  So how did Gibbs wind up in Tampa Bay?

Well, the Cardinals lost their final four games in 1977, Coryell was hired and planned to the the year off from coaching (that didn’t entirely work out). That left Gibbs without a job in ’78, but the timing was right: Gibbs coached under McKay at Southern Cal in 1969 and 1970, and since the Bucs were looking for an offensive coordinator, the timing worked out nicely.  Gibbs was instrumental in Tampa Bay drafting Doug Williams that year, and the rookie was an above-average passer in 10 starts.  After the year, Gibbs reunited with Coryell in San Diego for two seasons before building his legacy in Washington.

Incredibly, though, Fontes and Gibbs are the only two coordinators in Tampa Bay history to go to become head coaches. Take a look: [click to continue…]

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Coaching and GM Tenures in 2017

Ambassadors to the United Kingdom and Christian Hackenberg

There are 10 teams that have a coach and a GM that both arrived in the same season, which is the most common setup in the league. This includes successful organizations like New England (Bill Belichick and Bill Belichick, 17 years), Seattle (John Schneider and Pete Carroll, 7 years), Arizona (Steve Keim and Bruce Arians, 4 years) and Kansas City (John Dorsey and Andy Reid, 4 years), along with some teams that are hoping to duplicate such success. Four that are still working their way through the early years of marriage, while two are just getting started in 2017.

Ryan Pace and John Fox have been together in Chicago for two years, as have Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles in New York, while Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson in Cleveland and Chris Grier and Adam Gase in Miami just finished their first seasons. Finally, GM John Lynch and HC Kyle Shanahan just arrived in San Francisco, while Buffalo added HC Sean McDermott in January before switching GMs and bringing in Brandon Beane after the 2017 Draft.

Washington currently has a vacancy at General Manager, after firing Scot McCloughan in March after two winning years. Four other teams (in addition to Washington and Buffalo) are in the unique situation of having a head coach with a longer tenure than its GM:

  • In 2014, Mike Mularkey was hired to be Tennessee’s tight ends coach. Midway through the 2015 season, the Titans fired Ken Whisenhunt and promoted Mularkey to interim head coach. Two months later, Tennessee fired GM Ruston Webster and hired Jon Robinson from Tampa Bay; Robinson, despite significant backlash, chose to retain Mularkey as the team’s head coach. That has worked out pretty well so far: after going 3-13 (2-7 under Mularkey) in 2015, the Titans went 9-7 in the first year under Mularkey and Robinson.
  • Ron Rivera has been in Carolina since 2011. After a 6-10 first season, Carolina began the year 3-9 in 2012, prompting me to write how attractive this potentially vacant job would be. Well, the Panthers finished 7-9 and retained Rivera, but fired Marty Hurney, who had been the team’s general manager since 2002. The Panthers then hired Dave Gettleman, who retained Rivera, and the rest has been history. Rivera has been named the AP Head Coach of the Year twice since Gettleman arrived.
  • The Lions hired Jim Caldwell in 2014, just a year removed from his impressive playoff run that resulted in a Super Bowl as the Ravens offensive coordinator. At the time, Detroit’s GM was Martin Mayhew, but he was fired midway through 2015 with Detroit just 1-7. The Lions hired ex-Patriot Bob Quinn in 2016, who chose to retain Caldwell, after the Lions went 6-2 down the stretch in 2015. Like Mularkey and Robinson, Caldwell and Quinn went
  • Finally, the Colts brought in Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson in 2012. Indianapolis followed three straight 11-5 seasons with a pair of 8-8 campaigns; after nearly firing one or both men after 2015, Colts owner Jim Irsay finally ended the failed marriage by canning Grigson after the 2016 season. He’s been replaced by Chris Ballard, who is retaining Pagano… so far.

The table below shows this information for all 32 teams. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but for clarity’s sake, note that the years column excludes the yet-to-be-played (spoiler!) 2017 season. [click to continue…]

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Bill Belichick and the Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl on Sunday. For a number of reasons, that brings up some good trivia tidbits.

Most Championships

Belichick, of course, is now the only coach with five Super Bowl rings. However, three other coaches have won more titles. Paul Brown won 7 championships, although only three NFL titles (the remaining four were in the AAFC). George Halas and Curly Lambeau each won 6 NFL titles, while Belichick is now tied with Vince Lombardi at five.

Oldest Coach

Belichick is 64 years old, making him the third oldest head coach to win it all. In 2011, Tom Coughlin and the Giants beat Belichick’s Patriots in the Super Bowl, and Coughlin was 65 years old that season. George Halas won his final title in 1963, at the age of 68. Meanwhile, Dick Vermeil was 63 years old when he won the Super Bowl with the Rams to conclude the 1999 season.

Longest Run Between Titles

Belichick’s first title came in 2001, which means he’s now won championships 15 years apart. That’s tied with Curly Lambeau for the third longest stretch: Lambeau won his first championship in 1929, and his last in 1944, with both coming with the Packers. Jimmy Conzelman won as head coach of the Providence Steam Roller in 1928 and then 19 years later with the Chicago Cardinals in 1947. The longest reign, of course, goes to George Halas at 42 years; he won championships with the Bears in both 1921 and 1963. The only other coach to win titles at least 10 years apart? Weeb Ewbank, who won with the Colts in ’58 and ’59, and then as head coach of the Jets (and against the Colts) in 1968.

Most Common Record

There have been 8 Super Bowl champions with 14-2 records, and three of them (’03, ’04, ’16) were coached by Belichick. That’s tied for the second most common record for a Super Bowl champion behind 12-4. There were 11 teams that won with that record, including Belichick’s 2014 squad. The other record to win it all 8 times was 13-3. [click to continue…]

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Regular readers know I am fascinating by the Coach of the Year award.  Here is what I wrote in the preseason:

But even if I wasn’t getting odds, I think I’m still going with Bill O’Brien this year.   Houston was good last year, but if Brock Osweiler hits, and Jadeveon Clowney turns into a star, O’Brien’s Texans will look very good. I think we’ll see O’Brien getting the bulk of the credit for any success in Houston this year, and he’s as good a choice as any.

Here were the Vegas odds entering week 17: not sure much has changed since then, although the Chiefs jumped the Raiders for the 2 seed, which I suppose has increased Reid’s odds and decreased Del Rio’s chances.

Jason Garrett – Dallas 1/2
Dan Quinn – Atlanta 4/1
Bill Belichick – New England 15/2
Jack Del Rio – Oakland 15/2
Andy Reid – Kansas City 15/2
Adam Gase – Miami 12/1

It feels like Garrett and Belichick are the frontrunners — you know, they happen to coach the #1 seeds in each conference — and I can certainly understand the support for Quinn and Reid, who coach the teams that grabbed the #2 seeds.  I still like O’Brien, and think you can spin an easy argument for him: the Texans finished 9-7 despite ranking 29th in DVOA!  Now maybe that’s because they were lucky, but they probably received some good coaching, too.  I think the harder part is that Houston’s offense was awful, and O’Brien is an offensive guy, so doesn’t he deserve some of the blame for that?

Not on the list, but Ben McAdoo seems like another guy who — despite the shortcomings on offense, which is his side of the ball — has done a nice job of getting his team to overachieve.  The Giants finished 11-5 and McAdoo was able to integrate a lot of new faces on defense very quickly. Mike Mularkey also did a good job of building a team in his image, although Tennessee’s pitiful 2-4 record in the division makes it tough.

Who would you vote for? Who do you think will win the award?

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Jeff Fisher and the Losingest Coach Kings

Bryan Frye once chronicled the NFL’s passing kings: that is, the career leaders in passing touchdowns throughout every year in NFL history. There are ten men who have been the career leader in touchdown passes, but only eight (soon to be nine) men who can say that they, at one point, had the most losses of any head coach in pro football history. Let’s begin in the natural place: the beginning.

Ted Nesser (1920-1921): 14 career losses

Nesser was the head coach of the Columbus Panhandles in the inaugural 1920 season of the APFA, the predecessor to the NFL. The Panhandles lost their first five games, and finished the season with the most losses in the league. The next year, Nesser’s Panhandles again led the league in losses (8), before the team moved on without him for the 1922 season.  Nesser was a great player — he made the PFRA’s Hall of Very Good — but was 37 by the time he came to the Panhandles as player/coach.

Jim Thorpe (1922-1925): 25 career losses

Yes, that Jim Thorpe took over from Nesser as the career leader in losses. Thorpe also coached in 1920, and by the end of the ’22 season, he was at 15 career losses. He held the title of losing coach in pro football history for four more years — even though he was done coaching after ’23 — finishing his career with 25 losses.

Carl Storck (1926-1928): 26 career losses

Probably the last name on the list you won’t recognize, Storck coached the Dayton Triangles from 1922 to 1926.  He had a winning record his first year, but went just 4-23-4 the rest of his career.  In his last game as a head coach, in 1926, he finally passed Thorpe for most career losses. [click to continue…]

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Bill Belichick and the Patriots are now 3-0. That has increased Belichick’s career record to 226-113-0, for a 0.667 winning percentage. He moved into a tie with Curly Lambeau for fourth-place in career wins, and already ranks third in career wins over .500.

The table below shows the career leaders in wins; Belichick trails only Shula, Halas, and Landry in wins,  Shula and Halas in wins over 0.500, and Halas, Shula, and Brown (among coaches in the top ten in wins) in winning percentage.

 

Rk Coach Yrs Yr-Yr G W
L T W-L% G > .500 Yr plyf G plyf W plyf L plyf W-L% Chmp
1 Don Shula+ 33 1963-1995 490 328 156 6 .677 172 19 36 19 17 .528 2
2 George Halas 40 1920-1967 497 318 148 31 .682 170 8 9 6 3 .667 6
3 Tom Landry+ 29 1960-1988 418 250 162 6 .607 88 18 36 20 16 .556 2
4 Bill Belichick 22 1991-2016 339 226 113 0 .667 113 14 33 23 10 .697 4
5 Curly Lambeau 33 1921-1953 380 226 132 22 .631 94 5 5 3 2 .600 6
6 Paul Brown 25 1946-1975 326 213 104 9 .672 109 15 17 9 8 .529 7
7 Marty Schottenheimer 21 1984-2006 327 200 126 1 .613 74 13 18 5 13 .278 0
8 Chuck Noll+ 23 1969-1991 342 193 148 1 .566 45 12 24 16 8 .667 4
9 Dan Reeves 23 1981-2003 357 190 165 2 .535 25 9 20 11 9 .550 0
10 Chuck Knox 22 1973-1994 334 186 147 1 .558 39 11 18 7 11 .389 0

Halas started coaching (and owning, and well, lots of other things) back in 1920, so he’s really from a different era.  But it’s interesting that Shula has more wins, a better winning percentage, and has more wins above 0.500 than Belichick, but I don’t think many people would say he was a better coach.  I want to investigate why.

Shula has a 2-0 career record against Belichick, with those wins coming on the road in 1992 and 1993. But, of course, Belichick’s first run in Cleveland came when he was a much less successful coach. Let’s take a look at Belichick’s year-by-year winning percentage, through 2015. A fun note: Belichick has never gone 8-8 in his career: he was above .500 just once in five years in Cleveland, and below .500 just once in 16 (and counting) years in New England: [click to continue…]

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Instant Analysis: Bowles Blunders Boosts Bengals

There were no shortage of characters worthy of finger-point when it comes to the Jets 23-22 loss to the Bengals yesterday.

  • Nick Folk missed an extra point and had a 22-yard field goal attempt blocked.  The latter error was just the second missed field goal from inside the 5-yard line since 2013. Obviously those missed points came back to haunt the Jets.
  • Brandon Marshall had just 3 receptions for 37 yards, and failed to haul in/dropped what could have been a game-saving catch on the final drive.

[click to continue…]

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Coaching Hires In The NFL Since 2000

In 2000, the Raiders head coach was Jon Gruden. He was traded to Tampa Bay and replaced by Bill Callahan, who was fired after two years. Norv Turner then took over for two years before he was fired. Oakland then brought back Art Shell for one season, before finding the team’s coach of the future with Lane Kiffin. That lasted just over a season; Tom Cable took over as interim head coach and was retained for the full-time gig for a couple of years. Then it was Hue Jackson, and then Dennis Allen, and now Jack Del Rio.

That’s 9 head coaching hires since 2000, the most in the NFL. The table below shows the number of head coaches (excluding interim coaches) for each team since 2000, the year Bill Belichick came to New England. There were 142 of them: [click to continue…]

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Other AFC East Head Coaches During The Belichick Era

A photo from the last era when the Bills were AFC East champs

A photo from the last era when the Bills were AFC East champs

Bill Belichick has made life difficult on the rest of the AFC East for the last 15 years. In 2001, he won his first Super Bowl with the Patriots, and then won another two years later. Since then, the AFC East has had almost constant turnover, with each other franchise trying to find its own Belichick.

  • In 2004, the Bills hired Mike Mularkey. He went 14-18 in two years.
  • In 2005, the Dolphins hired Belichick affiliate Nick Saban. He went 15-17 in two years.
  • In 2006, the Jets got in on the act, and hired a Belichick disciple, Eric Mangini. He went 23-25 in three years. That same year, Buffalo moved on from Mularkey and hired Dick Jauron, who went 24-33.
  • In 2007, the Dolphins hired Cam Cameron as the answer to the team’s offensive woes, who went… 1-15.
  • In 2009, the Jets hired Rex Ryan, who went 46-50 in six years in New York, the longest tenure of any non-Belichick coach in the AFC East since 2000.
  • In 2010, the Bills were back in the market, and hired Chan Gailey. In three years with Buffalo, Gailey went 16-32.
  • In 2011…. no AFC East team made a coaching change! The Jets were in the middle of the peak of the Ryan era, Buffalo just had Gailey, and the Dolphins had not yet given up on Sparano. Of course, before the end of the season, Miami had moved on, and Todd Bowles finished the season as interim head coach.
  • In 2012, the Dolphins hired Joe Philbin as the answer to the team’s offensive woes. He went 24-28 in Miami.
  • In 2013, the Bills hired Doug Marrone. He went 15-17 in two seasons in Buffalo.
  • In 2014, the Jets still had somehow not given up on Ryan, the Bills were only a year into the Marrone era, and Miami was still optimistic about Philbin. Along with 2011, this was the only other season with no offseason coaching changes.
  • In 2015, the Jets moved on from Ryan and hired Todd Bowles, who went 10-6. The Bills then hired Rex Ryan, who went 8-8 last year.
  • In 2016, Miami hired Adam Gase as the team’s answer to its offensive woes.

Putting aside the three current coaches, that’s 10 coaches from ’04 to ’13 that were hired by the other three AFC East teams, and all ten exited the division with losing records. In the last 13 years, Belichick’s Patriots have won the AFC East 12 times, with Sparano being the only other man to win an AFC East title. Before Sparano, the last four head coaches to win the AFC East other than Belichick are ….

Yikes. And now for your trivia of the day: the last head coach to leave the AFC East with a winning record was Wannstedt (42-31).

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2016 Coach of the Year Odds

I love the Coach of the Year award, particularly in the pre-season. That’s mostly because it’s such an impossible award to predict.

  • In 2012, I selected Mike Mularkey as my pick. That turned out be very, very wrong, but in COTY predicting, it’s win or go home, so swinging for the fences makes sense.
  • In 2013, I selected Sean Payton; unfortunately for him, a playoff berth was not enough to get him Coach of the Year. That honor instead went to Ron Rivera.
  • In 2014, I chose … Jay Gruden. Washington went 4-12.
  • In 2015, I chose Dan Quinn. That looked good after a 6-1 start, but Atlanta finished just 8-8.

The reason this award is so hard to pick is because in some ways, every coach is on an even playing field in week 1. The winner of this award is the one who usually exceeds expectations the most, so there is a natural equalizer in place. Last year’s winner was Ron Rivera, again, as his Panthers went a surprising 15-1 and wildly exceeded expectations.

Below are the current odds for 2016 Coach of the Year, along with each coach’s percent chance of winning the award once you remove the vig:  [click to continue…]

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Dennis Green And The Revolving Quarterback Door

I think I know why Green looks so happy

I think I know why Green looks so happy

Dennis Green passed away on Friday at the age of 67. Green’s most memorable team, of course, was the 1998 Vikings that went 15-1. And we all know what his most memorable moment was. But Green’s entire career was memorable, particularly for the way his career intertwined with some of the most interesting quarterbacks of his era.

Green coached in 219 games in the NFL, including playoffs. Warren Moon, who forever changed the path of black quarterbacks in the NFL, was his starting quarterback in 40 of those games. Daunte Culpepper, who was part of the 1999 class that represented the inflection point for black quarterbacks in the first round of the draft, was Green’s quarterback in 29 games. Randall Cunningham and Jeff George, two of the most talented quarterbacks in recent history, started 27 and 12 games for Green.

Late-bloomers like Brad Johnson (24), Kurt Warner (15), and Rich Gannon (12) started games under Green. So too, did Jim McMahon (12). Green coached Josh McCown and Matt Leinart, and somehow McCown — who is four years older than Leinart — is the one still in the league.

There have been 35 coaches since 1960 to coach in at least 175 games (Green coached for 207 regular season games). Of those coaches, 32 had one quarterback for at least 20% of those games, but Green joins Mike Shanahan and Marty Schottenheimer (no surprise to regular readers) as the only coaches to fall below that mark: [click to continue…]

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The Ryan Index, Part 2

Yesterday, we introduced the Ryan Index, a measure of defensive ability and aggressiveness. I looked at every coach who has spent time as a head coach or defensive coordinator, and calculated their Ryan Index for each season. For each team, I gave the same score to the head coach and the defensive coordinator.1 By this measure, Buddy Ryan  ranks 4th on the Ryan Index. Over the span of his 18 seasons, his teams were a total of 14.2 standard deviations above average, or 0.79 per season. That trails only three HOF coaches: [click to continue…]

  1. In the interest of time, I also gave the same score to each head coach in the case of multiple head coaches. Not ideal, but good enough! []
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Who Is The Most Jeff Fisher Coach of All-Time?

It’s easy to make fun of Jeff Fisher, who has a reputation for being the very definition of mediocre. A search for “Jeff Fisher 7-9” on Twitter will send you down the rabbit hole. But do the numbers back it up? Is Fisher as average as it gets?

He has won 6 or 7 games in his last five seasons, and went 8-8 in the season before that. In 10 of his 20 full seasons as a head coach, he’s won 7 or 8 games. But Fisher did go 13-3 three times, and won double digit games three other times. So how do we measure how “Jeff Fisher” a coach is?

The key, I think, is being average. Mike Mularkey has a 4-21 record over the last 10 years. He went 2-14 with the Blaine Gabbert/Maurice Jones-Drew/Justin Blackmon Jaguars in 2012, and then 2-7 as the interim head coach for the Titans last year. We don’t want to count that as being “Jeff Fisher-like.” [click to continue…]

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For years, Peyton Manning kept ruining Gary Kubiak’s life. From 2006 to 2010, both men were in the AFC South, and Kubiak never managed more than 9 wins or a division title. He finished his time in Houston with a 61-64 record, before joining the Broncos in 2015. That makes Kubiak just the 7th head coach who had a losing career record prior to the season in which his team won the Super Bowl.

The coach with the worst career record before winning it all? That would be Bill Walsh, who held an 8-24 record entering the 1981 season. [click to continue…]

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Thoughts on Tony Dungy and the Hall of Fame

In the Hall of Very Good Mustaches

In the Hall of Very Good Mustaches

Tony Dungy was selected for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. Dungy is the 23rd head coach selected to the Hall of Fame: among that group, he ranks 12th in wins with 139, 9th in winning percentage at .668, and 7th in wins over .500. Those are all impressive numbers, given the sample; the “worst” mark on his resume would be the lone championship, which places him in the bottom six among Hall of Fame coaches (John Madden and Sid Gillman each won one; George Allen, Marv Levy, and Bud Grant won zero titles).

Dungy entered the league in 1996. Excluding Bill Belichick, who is clearly the best coach of this era, where does Dungy rank among the other Super Bowl-winning head coaches? Is he the best choice for the Hall of Fame among this group?

Statistically speaking…. yes. Dungy ranks 5th in wins among this group, but first in winning percentage (in fact, his winning percentage is even higher than Belichick’s!). Perhaps most importantly, he ranks first in wins over .500, which blends raw wins and winning percentage. Coughlin and Shanahan have two rings, but both have combined to win just 52 games more than they have lost; Dungy himself is at +70. [click to continue…]

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Matt, a Patriots fan and friend of mine, sent me an email after the AFC Championship Game, asking me to analyze New England’s decision to go for it in the following situation:

At the Denver 16-yard line, 4th-and-1, 6:03 remaining in game, trailing by 8 points

Play: Tom Brady pass complete short left to Julian Edelman for -1 yards (tackle by Chris Harris and Aqib Talib)

In real time, I thought this was a no-brainer. You have to go for it. That’s because, in general, 4th-and-1 is a “go for it” down. But after some deep review, I’m not so sure. [click to continue…]

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You may recall that two years ago — after the 2013 season — there were eight head coaching vacancies, and all eight were filled by white coaches.  One explanation given was that all but Gus Bradley (Jacksonville) were offensive coaches, and black head coaches were more prominent on the defensive side of the ball.

Last year, the pendulum swung: all but one of the seven vacancies were filled by defensive coaches. The lone offensive-minded hire was Gary Kubiak in Denver, which has worked out precisely because Denver has the best defense in the NFL (though Kubiak deserves full credit for hiring Wade Phillips). [click to continue…]

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Chip Kelly, Fired After 3 Years and a 26-21 Record

Not NFL coaches

Good college coaches

The Eagles dropped a news bomb on Tuesday night, firing Chip Kelly after just three seasons.  Kelly went 10-6 in each of his first two seasons in Philadelphia, and he used that success to gain even more power in the front office.  Many of Kelly’s roster decisions this offseason backfired — adding DeMarco Murray, Ryan Matthews, and Sam Bradford, while letting Jeremy Maclin go unreplaced — and they look even worse now than they did at the time.  In a rare moment of prescient thought, here is how I ended a May article on how unusual the Eagles offensive turnover was:

But with all these aggressive and unusual changes to a very productive offense, Kelly has opened himself up to a lot of criticism if things don’t run smoothly in Philadelphia in 2015.

After a 6-9 season, it’s fair to say things didn’t run smoothly.  But how unusual is it to fire a head coach who has posted a winning record after just three years? Pretty unusual.

Kelly will be the 10th head coach since 1950 to be with a team for 3 seasons, produce a winning record, and not come back for year four.  Let’s look at the first 9, from best winning percentage to worst: [click to continue…]

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The math has been clear for so long, and been presented by so many writers, that this topic is essentially beating a dead horse. Late in games, it has always made sense for a team, after scoring a touchdown to cut a lead from 14 to 8 points, should go for two. The trailing team gets two bites at the apple: if it converts, a touchdown now wins the game. If the team fails, they get a second chance to erase that mistake. Only if the odds of missing *both* attempts were higher than the odds of making the first attempt would this strategy fail to make sense.

Yet it never happens. In fact, Brian Billick with the 2001 Ravens was the last coach to go for 2 late in a game after scoring a touchdown to cut the lead to 8 points.

More astonishingly, just once since the 2-point conversion rule was introduced in 1994, has a team ever been trailing by 14 points, scored a touchdown, and then converted a 2-point attempt. Once! And it came by none other than Bill Belichick as coach of the 1994 Cleveland Browns.

Trailing 20-6 in the 4th quarter against the Denver Broncos, the Browns were in a tough spot. Starting quarterback Vinny Testaverde was out with a concussion, leaving Mark Rypien as the team’s hope for a comeback. After a Cleveland touchdown early in the fourth, Rypien hit Derrick Alexander to cut the lead to 20-14. [click to continue…]

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New York Times, Post Week-10 (2015): Rob Ryan

 

Also at the New York Times today: newly-fired Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is not very good.

This is Ryan’s 12th season in the N.F.L., and he has consistently fielded below-average defenses. Among the 18 coaches who have been defensive coordinators for at least ten seasons since 1990, Ryan’s defenses have allowed more points per game and more yards per game to opponents than any other:

You can view the full table here.

 

 

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Week Four (2015) Fourth Down Decisions In Review

Boldest Coach of the Week:

Mike Zimmer coached the Vikings in week 4 the way every underdog should: he gave his team the best chance to pull the upset.  Playing in Denver, Zimmer chose to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Vikings own 44-yard line on 4th and 1 in the first quarter.  Then, in the 4th quarter, Zimmer went for it on 4th down at the Denver 48-yard line.  Trailing by 10 with 10 minutes to go is a pretty obvious situation to go for it on 4th-and-1, but it’s one not all coaches recognize.  His aggressiveness was rewarded, as Adrian Peterson burst through the line for a 48-yard touchdown. [click to continue…]

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Data Dump: Quarterback/Coach Pairs

Reading 538’s NFC East preview got me thinking about head coach and quarterback pairs. The Giants are currently enjoying a very long stretch of quarterback/coach consistency, but New York’s franchise history is filled with that sort of commitment. Washington, meanwhile, has not had one quarterback/coach combination reach five years together in 30 seasons!

So today, a quick data dump. Below are all instances where one coach and one quarterback were together for at least five seasons for each franchise. A quarterback gets credit for a season if he led his team in passing yards that year. For each team, I’ve listed the number of years the coach/quarterback were together in parentheses. [click to continue…]

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Bill Cowher And Coaches Retiring Early

It’s been nearly a decade since Bill Cowher stopped coaching, but that hasn’t done much to keep his name out of the rumor mill every December and January. After all, Cowher was both very successful and very young when he retired, and NFL folks believe those dots can be connected to mean he won’t stay retired forever.

That made me wonder: how much of an outlier is Cowher with respect to his age and how successful he was? In particular, Cowher was successful at the end of his stint, which differentiates him from someone like Jon Gruden. Defining “success” is challenging when it comes to coaches, but I want to just generate a set of comparable modern coaches and see how they fared at the ends of their careers and when they retired. I don’t need a particularly precise coaching formula, just something that gets the job done.

As it turns out, six years ago, I created a rudimentary formula to rank head coaching records. Let’s use Cowher’s last three years as an example. This formula gives credit for wins above losses, so Cowher gets a 0 for his work in 2006, his final year, when Pittsburgh went 8-8. The prior year, the Steelers went 11-5, so that’s +6, but I also gave a 12-point bonus for winning the Super Bowl, so he gets a +18 for that season. And in ’04, Pittsburgh went 15-1, so that’s +14. Add it up, and Cowher has a +32 score over his last 3 years. And he was just 49 years old during his final season. [click to continue…]

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There are three head coaches who have won playoff games with five different quarterbacks. Can you name them?

Trivia hint 1 Show


Trivia hint 2 Show


Trivia hint 3 Show
[click to continue…]

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Will Chip Kelly Win A Playoff Game With the Eagles?

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:

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.

coach playoffs

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.

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