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How Often Do New General Managers Retain Inherited Coaches?

Woody Johnson, John Idzik, and Rex Ryan. Source: NY Daily News.

Moments after the Jets defeated the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, it was announced that Rex Ryan would return as New York’s head coach in 2014. That was a surprising development: just one week ago, it was reported that Ryan told the team he believed he would be fired at the end of the season. Most observers assumed that John Idzik, hired as the team’s general manager in January, would choose to bring in his own head coach in 2014. (You may recall that Woody Johnson mandated that Ryan be retained for the 2013 season, which already made it a slightly unusual situation.)

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
BUF2013Doug WhaleyGeneral ManagerChan GaileyDoug Marrone
CLE2013Michael LombardiGeneral ManagerPat ShurmurRob Chudzinski
ARI2013Steve KeimGeneral ManagerKen WhisenhuntBruce Arians
JAX2013David CaldwellGeneral ManagerMike MularkeyGus Bradley
KAN2013John DorseyGeneral ManagerRomeo CrennelAndy Reid
SDG2013Tom TelescoGeneral ManagerNorv TurnerMike McCoy
IND2012Ryan GrigsonGeneral ManagerJim CaldwellChuck Pagano
OAK2012Reggie McKenzieGeneral ManagerHue JacksonDennis Allen
STL2012Les SneadGeneral ManagerSteve SpagnuoloJeff Fisher
OAK2011Hue JacksonHead Coach/de facto General ManagerTom CableHue Jackson
SEA2010John SchneiderGeneral ManagerJim MoraPete Carroll
BUF2010Buddy NixExecutive VP/General ManagerDick JauronChan Gailey
WAS2010Bruce AllenExecutive VP/General ManagerJim ZornMike Shanahan
CLE2009George KokinisGeneral ManagerRomeo CrennelEric Mangini
DEN2009Brian XandersGeneral ManagerMike ShanahanJosh McDaniels
KAN2009Scott PioliGeneral ManagerHerman EdwardsTodd Haley
STL2009Billy DevaneyGeneral ManagerScott LinehanSteve Spagnuolo
TAM2009Mark DominikGeneral ManagerJon GrudenRaheem Morris
ATL2008Thomas DimitroffGeneral ManagerBobby PetrinoMike Smith
MIA2008Jeff IrelandGeneral ManagerCam CameronTony Sparano
BUF2006Marv LevyGeneral Manager/VP of Football OperationsMike MularkeyDick Jauron
HOU2006Rick SmithExecutive VP/General ManagerDom CapersGary Kubiak
MIN2006Rick SpielmanVP of Player Personnel/de facto General ManagerMike TiceBrad Childress
NYJ2006Mike TannenbaumGeneral ManagerHerman EdwardsEric Mangini
STL2006Jay ZygmuntPresident of Football Operations/General ManagerMike MartzScott Linehan
CLE2005Phil SavageGeneral ManagerButch DavisRomeo Crennel
MIA2005Randy MuellerGeneral ManagerDave WannstedtNick Saban
SFO2005Scot McCloughanVP of Player PersonnelDennis EricksonMike Nolan
ATL2004Rich McKayGeneral ManagerDan ReevesJim Mora
JAX2003James HarrisVP of Player PersonnelTom CoughlinJack Del Rio
CAR2002Marty HurneyGeneral ManagerGeorge SeifertJohn Fox
MIN2002Rob BrzezinskiVP of Football OperationsDennis GreenMike Tice
WAS2002Vinny CerratoDirector of Player PersonnelMarty SchottenheimerSteve Spurrier
BUF2001Tom DonahoePresident/General ManagerWade PhillipsGregg Williams
DET2001Matt MillenPresidentBobby RossMarty Mornhinweg
NYJ2001Terry BradwayGeneral ManagerAl GrohHerman Edwards
WAS2001Marty SchottenheimerHead Coach/de facto General ManagerNorv TurnerMarty Schottenheimer
NOR2000Randy MuellerGeneral ManagerMike DitkaJim Haslett
NWE2000Bill BelichickHead Coach/de facto General ManagerPete CarrollBill Belichick
STL2000Charley ArmeyGeneral ManagerDick VermeilMike Martz
CAR1999George SeifertHead Coach/de facto General ManagerDom CapersGeorge Seifert
SEA1999Mike HolmgrenHead Coach/Executive VP/General ManagerDennis EricksonMike Holmgren
ATL1997Dan ReevesHead Coach/de facto General ManagerJune JonesDan Reeves
NWE1997Bobby GrierDirector of Player PersonnelBill ParcellsPete Carroll
NYJ1997Bill ParcellsHead Coach/General ManagerRich KotiteBill Parcells
STL1997Dick VermeilHead Coach/General ManagerRich BrooksDick Vermeil
ARI1996Bob FergusonVP of Player PersonnelBuddy RyanVince Tobin
NYJ1995Rich KotiteHead Coach/de facto General ManagerPete CarrollRich Kotite
STL1995Steve OrtmayerGeneral ManagerChuck KnoxRich Brooks
SEA1995Randy MuellerVP of Football Operations/de facto General ManagerTom FloresDennis Erickson

That leaves 45 general managers who inherited head coaches and let them stick around for a season. Two of those situations were Dave Gettleman keeping Ron Rivera in Carolina and Idzik giving Ryan another shot in New York.

Of the remaining 43, only 11 of them hired a new head coach in year two. The most recent example is in Chicago, where Phil Emery brought in Marc Trestman after a one-year Lovie Smith experiment.2 In other words, when new GMs gave their inherited coach a trial period, it usually lasted longer than one year. The table below identifies those eleven instances.

Team
Year
GM
GM Title
Inherited
New Coach
CHI2012Phil EmeryGeneral ManagerLovie SmithMarc Trestman
CLE2010Tom HeckertGeneral ManagerEric ManginiPat Shurmur
SFO2010Trent BaalkeVP of Player PersonnelMike SingletaryJim Harbaugh
DEN2008Jim GoodmanVP of Football Operations/Player PersonnelMike ShanahanJosh McDaniels
DET2008Martin MayhewSenior VP/General ManagerRod MarinelliJim Schwartz
GNB2005Ted ThompsonExecutive VP/General Manager/Director of Football OperationsMike ShermanMike McCarthy
SDG2001John ButlerGeneral ManagerMike RileyMarty Schottenheimer
WAS2000Vinny CerratoDirector of Player PersonnelNorv TurnerMarty Schottenheimer
CAR1998Dom CapersHead Coach/de facto General ManagerDom CapersGeorge Seifert
PHI1998Tom ModrakGeneral ManagerRay RhodesAndy Reid
IND1997Bill PolianPresident/General ManagerLindy InfanteJim Mora

You might think that means retaining Ryan is par for the course and that “making the initial cut” is the harder battle to win. But in most of the cases where the head coach was retained, there’s a pretty obvious explanation. For example, Jerry Reese wasn’t going to hire a new head coach after Tom Coughlin won the Super Bowl in Reese’s first season as general manager. In fact, 22 of the 32 head coaches retained for year two of the new regime posted winning records in their “tryout” season.

Team
Year
GM
GM Title
Coach
Wins
ATL1998Harold RichardsonGeneral ManagerDan Reeves14
DEN2012John ElwayExecutive VP of Football Operations/de facto General ManagerJohn Fox13
SEA2005Tim RuskellPresident/General ManagerMike Holmgren13
CHI2001Jerry AngeloGeneral ManagerDick Jauron13
GNB2001Mike ShermanHead Coach/General ManagerMike Sherman12
SFO2001Terry DonahueGeneral ManagerSteve Mariucci12
SFO1998Dwight ClarkGeneral Manager/Director of Football OperationsSteve Mariucci12
PHI2001Andy ReidHead Coach/General ManagerAndy Reid11
MIN2000Dennis GreenHead Coach/de facto General ManagerDennis Green11
IND2010Chris PolianVP of Football Operations/General ManagerJim Caldwell10
PHI2010Howie RosemanGeneral ManagerAndy Reid10
NYG2007Jerry ReeseSenior VP/General ManagerTom Coughlin10
TEN2007Mike ReinfeldtGeneral ManagerJeff Fisher10
PHI2006Tom HeckertGeneral ManagerAndy Reid10
SEA2003Bob FergusonGeneral ManagerMike Holmgren10
MIN1999Tim ConnollyVP/de facto General ManagerDennis Green10
PHI1996Ray RhodesHead Coach/de facto General ManagerRay Rhodes10
ATL2002Dan ReevesHead Coach/de facto General ManagerDan Reeves9.5
CLE2002Butch DavisHead Coach/General ManagerButch Davis9
DEN2002Ted SundquistGeneral ManagerMike Shanahan9
NOR2002Mickey LoomisGeneral ManagerJim Haslett9
PIT2000Kevin ColbertGeneral ManagerBill Cowher9

That leaves 10 situations where a general manager inherited a head coach, the coach failed to post a winning record in their first season together, and the coach was retained for year two of the GM’s tenure. As it turns out, nearly all of those instances were essentially false positives. In six of the examples, the “new” GM was an executive with the team who was promoted to general manager, not an outside hire. Here were the ten situations in reverse chronological order:

  • Ruston Webster served as the Titans Vice President of Player Personnel in 2010 and 2011, and he promoted Mike Munchak to head coach in 2010.  After that season, Mike Reinfeldt was promoted from general manager to senior executive vice president and chief operating officer, and Webster was promoted to general manager. Webster “retained” Munchak after a 6-10 season, but in effect, Munchak was his guy.
  • Jack Del Rio began coaching in Jacksonville in 2003, and took the team to the playoffs in 2005 and 2007. The team struggled in 2008, causing de facto GM James Harris to resign. Gene Smith, who began in the Jaguars organization as a scout in 1994, became the Director of College Scouting in 2000, and was promoted to GM after Harris resigned.  Smith didn’t “inherit” Del Rio the way you would label the situation when an external general manager is hired.
  • The third example is another in-house promotion. Russ Brandon began in the Bills organization in 1997, and became heavily involved in the football decisions beginning in 2006. Buffalo, then with Marv Levy as general manager, hired Dick Jauron as head coach. Levy stepped down after two years, and Brandon was promoted to general manager. He “retained” Jauron for a season, and kept him around for year two despite a 7-9 performance in 2008.
  • Bruce Allen was hired as the Tampa Bay general manager in 2004, and while this was an external hire, it’s a poor fit to compare to any other situation. He “inherited” Jon Gruden, who was the most powerful many in Tampa Bay after winning a Super Bowl in 2002. In fact, disagreements between Gruden and Allen’s predecessor, Rich McKay, were the readers that led to Allen’s hire. Gruden knew Allen from their time together in Oakland, and Allen was never in a position to fire Gruden. The duo stuck together until both were fired after the 2008 season.
  • The fifth example is another in-house tale. In San Diego, Marty Schottenheimerwas hired in 2002 by GM John Butler. After Butler died of cancer in April 2003, A.J. Smith was promoted to general manager, and “retained” Schottenheimer despite a 4-12 season that year.
  • Rod Graves and Dave McGinnis in Arizona present another example of an in-hire promotion leading to a coach being retained. Graves joined the Cardinals in ’97, McGinnis served as the team’s interim coach in 2000, and stuck around until 2003. Graves officially received the GM title in 2002, but didn’t fire McGinnis until two seasons later.
  • Example number seven is another one falling into the sui generis category. After winning Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998, Denver’s John Beake was promoted from general manager to Vice President of Administration. To fill the slot in the executive chain, Neal Dahlen, who had been the team’s Director of Player Personnel, was promoted to general manager. He “decided” to keep Mike Shanahan in Denver after the Broncos went 6-10 in 1999.
  • You have to go back to 1999 for the most recent example where an external general manager was hired, that GM did not bring his own head coach, and the new GM retained his inherited head coach even after the team did not have a winning season. But as you might expect, there’s an asterisk there, too. After all the turmoil in the 49ers organization in the late ’90s, Bill Walsh stepped out of retirement and became the team’s general manager in 1999. Prior to Walsh’s arrival, Steve Mariucci won 25 games as the San Francisco head coach in 1997 and 1998, but the team collapsed in 1999 after Steve Young was lost for the season. Mariucci was retained because of the Young injury, and because, as my buddy and San Francisco fan Danny Tuccitto put it, “Walsh wasn’t some reactionary dumbass.”
  • The ninth example involves another in-house promotion. When legendary Giants executive George Young retired after the 1997 season, Ernie Accorsi was promoted from assistant general manager to general manager. He retained Jim Fassel who went 8-8 in Accorsi’s first season as the top man.
  • The final example is an interesting one. In 1993, Dave Wannstedt was hired as the Chicago Bears new coach and de facto general manager. In 1994, Rod Graves was promoted to director of player personnel, and he left for Arizona in 1997. Mark Hatley was then hired as the vice president of player personnel in May of 1997, although he was said to be on the same level as Wannstedt. After a 4-12 season that year, Wannstedt was retained, although part of that may have been because he still had three years left on his contract. After another 4-12 season in 1998, he was fired by team president Michael McCaskey. Hatley was never named GM, and he didn’t even realize he was tasked with finding Wannstedt’s successor until hours before McCaskey fired the coach.

Conclusion

There were 93 new general managers hired between 1995 and 2012. 50 of them came with a coaching change. Of the remaining 43 examples, the head coach had a winning record in 23 of those seasons, and was retained in 22 of them (with Smith being the sole outlier). That leaves 20 examples where a new GM was hired, retained the head coach for a year, and that coach did not have a winning record. This, of course, is the situation Idzik was in with Ryan.3 In 10 of those cases, the head coach was fired after the season. In eight or nine (depending on how you view the Bears example) of the other ten, the new GM was the result of an in-house promotion or did not have authority to fire the head coach (Gruden/Shanahan). The lone example (or examples, if you want to include Hatley/Wannstedt) would be Walsh/Mariucci, which has nothing in common with Idzik/Ryan unless you want to compare the loss of Mark Sanchez to the loss of Steve Young.

Speculating what this means about the Jets

Based on this analysis, I think it’s clear that retaining Ryan was a very unusual move. Idzik was an outside hire acquired to bring change to the organization, and the Walsh/Hatley situations were sufficiently different that we can state that no head coach in a similar situation has been retained since at least 1995. So what does that mean? Is Ryan a singularly great coach who is above the firing squad? Or is there something more to the story?

The scary thought for Jets fans is that the Hatley situation isn’t that different. The threshold question: did Idzik have the authority to fire Ryan, or did Woody Johnson make the call that Ryan must be retained? In what I would consider to be a very unusual method of announcement, it was the owner, and not the general manager, who informed the media that Ryan would be back. Johnson isn’t grouped with the Snyders and Joneses of the ownership world, but it’s fair to wonder if the owner decided that this was his call to make. There’s nothing wrong with that — he bought the team, he can do what he wants — but if that’s the case, that’s a bad indicator for how Idzik’s tenure will unfold.

Recall how the Jets GM search went down one year ago. The Jets interviewed at least ten different candidates, and it was reported that several of the Jets ideal choices did not want the job. David Caldwell was rumored to have turned down an offer, instead selecting to work in Jacksonville despite the reported offering of a special $1M housing allowance. Was it the mandate to keep Ryan that turned off GMs, or was it the unspoken message that the owner was not willing to give up full control? Idzik, presumably, would never admit that he was much less powerful than the typical general manager, so we are left having to make inferences. It’s up to each person to decide which is more likely: Idzik was left without a choice, or he was so impressed with Ryan that he voluntarily decided to keep him around for another season.

  1. Here’s an examples of the difficulty of classification: In March 2008, the Broncos fired general manager Ted Sundquist. He was quasi-replaced by Jim Goodman, although in reality Mike Shanahan had most of the power before and after Goodman’s promotion. It was owner Pat Bowlen who made the call to fire Shanahan after 2008, and Goodman a couple of months after that. In between the Shanahan and Goodman firings, Josh McDaniels was hired as head coach. After the Goodman firing, Brian Xanders was promoted to GM. There’s no clean way to do it, but I labeled Goodman as “retaining” Shanahan but Xanders as hiring a hew head coach, since he worked with Goodman on the McDaniels hire. []
  2. Smith won 10 games in 2012, making him an extreme outlier; the other 10 coaches fired after their “tryout” season won an average of 4.6 games, with none of them winning more than 8 games. []
  3. While you might quibble with choosing “non-winning record” over losing record, considering the Jets were eliminated from playoff contention at 6-8, I don’t think winning two meaningless games at the end of the year merits being included in the list of successful coaches. []

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Richie December 30, 2013, 1:12 pm

    just one week ago, it was reported that Ryan told the team he believed he would be fired at the end of the season.

    This is nothing new. In 2010(?) didn’t he proclaim the team wasn’t going to make the playoffs, and then they went to the title game?

  • Richie December 30, 2013, 1:21 pm

    How many new GM’s brought in a new coach and then fired him after one season, cough, Lombardi, cough?

  • james December 30, 2013, 2:05 pm

    I think that Lombardi came after Chudzinski was hired so Lombardi would fit with the theme of this post.

  • Biebs January 16, 2014, 12:21 pm

    I just saw this now. I’d have a point of contention with the concept of “Non-Winning record”, the idea that a non-playoff 9-7 season would be successful, and a non playoff 8-8 season would be a failure seems somewhat

    Of the 11 coaches that were fired after one season, only 3 won more than 6 games, the 2012 Bears (Retained same starting QB, and upon firing their coach won less games in 2013), 2008 Broncos (Retained same starting QB, and upong firing their coach didn’t improve until 2011 (and even that is arguable, since they were 8-8 in 2011 but did win division) and the 2000 Redskins (Owned by Dan Snyder).

    Of the 22 coaches that were retained, 6 were Coach/GMs, followed by cases where the entrenched coach had more “pull” than the GM, like Cowher, Reid (2x), and Fisher then you cases like the 2010 Colts who are a “success”, but actually had 4 fewer wins than the previous season. I’m not sure if I see that as being more successful than the Jets going 8-8 in 2013.

    • Chase Stuart January 16, 2014, 12:25 pm

      In the Jets case, the difference between 9-7 and 8-8 would be the difference between making the playoffs and not, so the distinction seems relevant there.

      It is true that there are very few examples of coaches in the 6-9 win range. And in most of those, the coach probably was above the GM.

      • Biebs January 16, 2014, 1:20 pm

        I guess what I meant was that the 3 teams that were 9-7 with a a coach who wasn’t the GM all missed the playoffs, and the teams improved by 1, 2, or 3 games respectively. That strikes me as being pretty equal to Rex Ryan this season.

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