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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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Chan Gailey, Quarterback Whisperer?

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…]

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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…]

  1. Who, of course, was also coming off an award-winning season as interim head coach of the Colts. []
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John Fox went 13-3 in 2012, 13-3 in 2013, and then 12-4 in 2014 as head coach of the Denver Broncos. But with a 2-3 playoff record during that time, John Elway shockingly fired the head coach.

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…]

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Rex Ryan Fired

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…]

  1. Particularly when the head coach has a defensive background. []
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Mike Smith, thinking about kicking or punting.

Mike Smith, thinking about kicking or punting.

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…]

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Worst Coaching Regimes

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…]

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Fourth Down Conservatism Rules Week 3

The top-scorer on Harbaugh's fantasy team

The top-scorer on Harbaugh's fantasy team.

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…]

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Projecting Success for New Head Coaches

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…]

  1. Always a bonus when painful Jets memories come up organically. There are always other coaching greats like Joe Walton for Jets fans to remember fondly, at least for epic nasal invasions. []
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The Coryell Index

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).

YearRecordOFFDEFGRADE
19734-9-11.8-11.813.5
197410-43.52.51
197511-36.50.55.9
197610-44.8-1.86.6
19777-76.6-6.613.1
19788-46.8-1.68.4
197912-412.46.65.8
198011-51119.9
198110-623.1-10.133.3
19826-314.3-0.314.6
19836-105.1-16.121.1
19847-96.4-13.419.8
19858-819.8-15.835.6
19861-72.4-2.95.3
Total111-83-1124.4-69.6194

[click to continue…]

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The Billick Index

Touchdowns were at a premium in Billick's games

Touchdowns were at a premium in Billick's games.

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…

  • The 2002 Bucs (-25.1), who allowed 18.1 fewer touchdowns than average while scoring 7.1 fewer offensive touchdowns;
  • The 2005 Bears (-26.2), who allowed 14.6 fewer offensive touchdowns to opponents, and produced 11.6 fewer offensive touchdowns than average; and
  • The 1967 Oilers (-28.7), who allowed 17.3 fewer offensive touchdowns than average and scored 11.3 fewer offensive touchdowns than the rest of the AFL.

[click to continue…]

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