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Sean McVay, Bill Parcells, and Excellent Coaching Debuts

You know your debut goes well when you can crack jokes with your punter

Over the last ten years, no team has had a worse record than the Rams. And two of the last three years have started in particularly ugly fashion: last season, the Los Angeles Rams lost 28-0 as 2.5-point favorites in San Francisco. And two years earlier, the St. Louis Rams lost by 28 points to the Vikings as 3.5-point favorites on opening Sunday (more on this game in a bit). But on Sunday, in the first game with a new coaching staff headlined by 31-year-old Sean McVay, OC Matt LaFleur, and DC Wade Phillips, the Rams walloped the Scott Tolzien-led Colts, 46-9.

The Rams were expected to win because, well, Tolzien, but Los Angeles was only favored by 3.5 points. That means Los Angeles, by virtue of a 37-point win, covered by a whopping 33.5 points.  For some perspective, the only other team to cover by four touchdowns on Sunday was Jacksonville, in game 3 of the Doug Marrone era.  Covering by 33.5 points is a ton: the Rams never did it during the Greatest Show On Turf days although the team did do it three times during the Jeff Fisher era, including… the last time the Rams played the Colts. That game, you may recall, was the, um, Tavon Austin breakout game.

Anyway, covering by 33.5 points is pretty rare, but it’s really rare when it comes in a head coach’s first game with the team. In fact, it’s the largest cover by a head coach in his first game since 1990.  And among all coaches in their first games with a new team (i.e., including coaches in their first stop at a new gig), it’s the third largest cover since 1990.  Take a look at how each coach from 1990 to 2016 did in week 1 with a new team:

CoachTeamYearFirst Tm?Cover ByBoxscore
Bill Parcellsnyj1997No44.5Boxscore
Dennis Ericksonsfo2003No35.5Boxscore
Mike Zimmermin2014Yes31.5Boxscore
Marty Schottenheimersdg2002No31Boxscore
Chip Kellysfo2016No30.5Boxscore
Nick Sabanmia2005Yes28.5Boxscore
Pete Carrollsea2010No28Boxscore
Mike Rileysdg1999Yes28Boxscore
Pete Carrollnwe1997No27.5Boxscore
Pete Carrollnyj1994Yes27Boxscore
Mike Tomlinpit2007Yes22.5Boxscore
Chan Gaileydal1998Yes22.5Boxscore
David Shulacin1992Yes22Boxscore
Andy Reidkan2013No21.5Boxscore
Rex Ryannyj2009Yes21.5Boxscore
Jim Morasea2009No21Boxscore
Dave Wannstedtmia2000No21Boxscore
Ken Whisenhuntoti2014No19.5Boxscore
Jerry Glanvilleatl1990No19Boxscore
Jim Tomsulasfo2015Yes18.5Boxscore
Dick MacPhersonnwe1991Yes18Boxscore
Todd Bowlesnyj2015Yes17.5Boxscore
Dom Capershtx2002No17.5Boxscore
Bill Cowherpit1992Yes17.5Boxscore
Jim Fasselnyg1997Yes17Boxscore
Richie Petitbonwas1993Yes16.5Boxscore
Mike Smithatl2008Yes16Boxscore
Rex Ryanbuf2015No15.5Boxscore
Jim Caldwelldet2014No15.5Boxscore
Doug Pedersonphi2016Yes15Boxscore
Sam Wychetam1992No15Boxscore
Rich Kotitephi1991Yes15Boxscore
Steve Mariuccidet2003No14.5Boxscore
Scott Linehanram2006Yes11.5Boxscore
Barry Switzerdal1994Yes11.5Boxscore
Jimmy Johnsonmia1996No11Boxscore
Chip Kellyphi2013Yes10.5Boxscore
Jim Harbaughsfo2011Yes10Boxscore
Josh McDanielsden2009Yes10Boxscore
Dirk Koettertam2016Yes9.5Boxscore
Eric Mangininyj2006Yes9.5Boxscore
Dick Vermeilram1997No9.5Boxscore
Rich Brooksram1995Yes9.5Boxscore
Greg Schianotam2012Yes9Boxscore
Mike Shanahanwas2010No9Boxscore
John Harbaughrav2008Yes9Boxscore
Mike Shanahanden1995No9Boxscore
Adam Gasemia2016Yes8.5Boxscore
Doug Marronebuf2013Yes8.5Boxscore
Mike Singletarysfo2009Yes8.5Boxscore
Bill O'Brienhtx2014Yes8Boxscore
Dick Jauronbuf2006No8Boxscore
Sean Paytonnor2006Yes8Boxscore
Mike Nolansfo2005Yes7.5Boxscore
Brad Childressmin2006Yes7Boxscore
Dan Reevesnyg1993No7Boxscore
Bill Callahanrai2002Yes6.5Boxscore
Al Grohnyj2000Yes6.5Boxscore
Hue Jacksonrai2011Yes6Boxscore
Tom Cablerai2009Yes6Boxscore
Dick LeBeaucin2001Yes6Boxscore
Dick Jauronchi1999Yes6Boxscore
Mike Whiterai1995Yes6Boxscore
Wade Phillipsden1993No6Boxscore
Dom Caperscar1995Yes5.5Boxscore
Jeff Fisherram2012No5Boxscore
Norv Turnersdg2007No5Boxscore
Dan Quinnatl2015Yes4.5Boxscore
Mike Pettinecle2014Yes4Boxscore
Dennis Greencrd2004No4Boxscore
Ted Marchibrodarav1996No4Boxscore
Bruce Cosletnyj1990Yes4Boxscore
Mike McCoysdg2013Yes3.5Boxscore
Wade Phillipsdal2007No3.5Boxscore
Bobby Rossdet1997No3.5Boxscore
Jason Garrettdal2011Yes3Boxscore
Rod Marinellidet2006Yes3Boxscore
Jack Del Riojax2003Yes3Boxscore
John Foxcar2002Yes3Boxscore
Jeff Fisheroti1995Yes3Boxscore
Ben McAdoonyg2016Yes2Boxscore
Steve Spurrierwas2002Yes2Boxscore
Andy Reidphi1999Yes2Boxscore
June Jonesatl1994Yes2Boxscore
Mike Holmgrengnb1992Yes2Boxscore
Gary Kubiakden2015No1.5Boxscore
Leslie Fraziermin2011Yes1.5Boxscore
Vince Tobincrd1996Yes1.5Boxscore
Butch Daviscle2001Yes1Boxscore
Bruce Arianscrd2013Yes0.5Boxscore
Mike Mularkeyjax2012No0.5Boxscore
Norv Turnerrai2004No0.5Boxscore
Mike Ticemin2002Yes0.5Boxscore
Ray Handleynyg1991Yes0.5Boxscore
Marc Trestmanchi2013Yes0Boxscore
Ron Riveracar2011Yes0Boxscore
Cam Cameronmia2007Yes0Boxscore
Ken Whisenhuntcrd2007Yes0Boxscore
Dick Vermeilkan2001No0Boxscore
Tony Dungyclt2002No-0.5Boxscore
Wade Phillipsbuf1998No-0.5Boxscore
Richard Williamsontam1991Yes-0.5Boxscore
Todd Haleykan2009Yes-1Boxscore
Jim Moraatl2004Yes-1Boxscore
John Foxchi2015No-1.5Boxscore
Mike Martzram2000Yes-1.5Boxscore
Lindy Infanteclt1996No-1.5Boxscore
Rod Rustnwe1990Yes-1.5Boxscore
Chan Gaileybuf2010No-2Boxscore
Bill Belichicknwe2000No-2Boxscore
Dennis Greenmin1992Yes-2Boxscore
Tony Sparanomia2008Yes-3Boxscore
Tom Coughlinjax1995Yes-3Boxscore
Mike Munchakoti2011Yes-3.5Boxscore
Dan Reevesatl1997No-3.5Boxscore
Jim Caldwellclt2009Yes-4Boxscore
Jim Schwartzdet2009Yes-4Boxscore
Jim Haslettnor2000Yes-4Boxscore
Jim Zornwas2008Yes-4.5Boxscore
Tom Coughlinnyg2004No-4.5Boxscore
Bruce Cosletcin1997No-4.5Boxscore
Ray Rhodesgnb1999No-5Boxscore
Lovie Smithchi2004Yes-5.5Boxscore
George Seifertcar1999No-5.5Boxscore
Jim Moraclt1998No-5.5Boxscore
John Foxden2011No-6Boxscore
Mike Mularkeybuf2004Yes-6Boxscore
Gunther Cunninghamkan1999Yes-6Boxscore
Joe Bugelrai1997No-6Boxscore
Mike Mularkeyoti2016No-6.5Boxscore
Joe Philbinmia2012Yes-6.5Boxscore
Mike Shermangnb2000Yes-6.5Boxscore
Dave Wannstedtchi1993Yes-7Boxscore
Jay Grudenwas2014Yes-8Boxscore
Raheem Morristam2009Yes-8Boxscore
Gary Kubiakhtx2006Yes-8Boxscore
Lovie Smithtam2014No-8.5Boxscore
Buddy Ryancrd1994No-8.5Boxscore
Dennis Allenrai2012Yes-9Boxscore
Eric Manginicle2009No-9.5Boxscore
Mike Ditkanor1997No-9.5Boxscore
Bill Belichickcle1991Yes-9.5Boxscore
Chuck Paganoclt2012Yes-10Boxscore
Bill Parcellsnwe1993No-10Boxscore
Romeo Crennelcle2005Yes-10.5Boxscore
Herm Edwardskan2006No-11.5Boxscore
Bobby Rosssdg1992Yes-11.5Boxscore
Jon Grudentam2002No-12Boxscore
Jon Grudenrai1998Yes-12Boxscore
Dave McGinniscrd2001Yes-12.5Boxscore
Romeo Crennelkan2012No-13.5Boxscore
Steve Mariuccisfo1997Yes-13.5Boxscore
Marvin Lewiscin2003Yes-14Boxscore
Hue Jacksoncle2016No-15Boxscore
Rob Chudzinskicle2013Yes-15.5Boxscore
Bill Parcellsdal2003No-16Boxscore
Marty Mornhinwegdet2001Yes-16.5Boxscore
Gregg Williamsbuf2001Yes-16.5Boxscore
Jack Del Riorai2015No-17Boxscore
Joe Vittnor2012Yes-17Boxscore
Pat Shurmurcle2011Yes-17Boxscore
Brian Billickrav1999Yes-17Boxscore
Lane Kiffinrai2007Yes-17.5Boxscore
Mike Holmgrensea1999No-17.5Boxscore
Bobby Petrinoatl2007Yes-18Boxscore
Joe Bugelcrd1990Yes-19Boxscore
Jack Pardeeoti1990No-19Boxscore
Herm Edwardsnyj2001Yes-19.5Boxscore
Steve Spagnuoloram2009Yes-21Boxscore
Gus Bradleyjax2013Yes-21.5Boxscore
Ray Rhodesphi1995Yes-22Boxscore
Tom Floressea1992No-22Boxscore
Chuck Knoxram1992No-22Boxscore
Mike McCarthygnb2006Yes-22.5Boxscore
Norv Turnerwas1994Yes-22.5Boxscore
Dennis Ericksonsea1995Yes-24Boxscore
Marty Schottenheimerwas2001No-24.5Boxscore
Tony Dungytam1996Yes-25Boxscore
Kevin Gilbridesdg1997Yes-27.5Boxscore
Rich Kotitenyj1995No-29Boxscore
Dave Campodal2000Yes-33Boxscore
Chris Palmercle1999Yes-37Boxscore

In 1997, Bill Parcells had the ultimate debut. After taking over the 1-15 Jets, he took the Jets to Seattle as 6.5 point underdogs and orchestrated a 41-3 blowout of the Seahawks. It may not have been Parcellsian, but then again: Parcells didn’t cover by a number larger than his age.

Update: If you go back to 1978, the only coach to cover by more than 33.5 points in his very first game is Bud Carson, the longtime Steelers, Rams, and Jets DC, in his first game as head coach of the Browns. That came in a 51-0 win over Pittsburgh, with the Browns being 2-point favorites.

  • Mark Growcott

    Interesting that you start with the 1990 season as a year earlier Bud Carson on debut as Browns Head Coach (replacing Marty Schottenheimer) beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 51-0. I believe the Browns were favoured by only 2 points. So it looks like McVay’s win today would therefore be the biggest win on debut as Head Coach in the NFL since Bud Carson in 1989. Great stuff.

    What would be interesting is to go back further to the merger to see how Carson and McVay fare on debut.

    • I’ve got two separate coaching databases: one that goes back to 1990 that’s more complete, and a general one back to 1920. So it’s always safer for me to use the first one. I just ran the numbers back to ’78 (as far as my points spread database goes) and that brings in Carson (1989, cover of +49) and Ray Perkins (who coached the Giants, then Alabama, and then the Bucs, which is when this happened) in 1987 at +40! Those are the only two relevant notes from the ’78 to ’89 period.

      • Mark Growcott

        Thanks Chase, I wonder in terms of Interim Head Coaches how Dan Campbell fares? Campbell replaced Joe Philbin after 4 games in 2015 and subsequently beat the Titans on the road in his first game 38-10 when the Titans were favoured by 2 points.

  • Fun list. A couple of things I noticed. Pete Carroll sure knows how to make a grand entrance. All three of his coaching debuts are in the top 10.

    Also, San Francisco should brush off yesterday’s shellacking. Dennis Erickson, Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula’s debuts all appear in the top 20. Maybe Kyle Shanahan will be fine.