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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.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Kelly did have success that first season, but it remains to be seen if he can adjust, and win a playoff game. He’s made a number of personnel moves which seem questionable at best, time will tell. Sam Bradford is brittle, and Murray is coming off a high usage season with Dallas. Losing DeSean Jackson weakened the offense as well

    In terms of Mike Tomlin, I don’t think we can erase history before 2011, he’s still one of the top coaches in the NFL. The Steelers were in transition 2011-2013, with younger talent replacing aging players. I would also say it might be more difficult to maintain a high level of success with a franchise with a winning tradition as compared with others. Some of the heat on Marvin Lewis has been deflected onto Andy Dalton, who has struggled in the postseason.

    • I think Kelly the GM might tank Kelly the HC; remains to be seen.

      I’m not trying to erase Tomlin’s history, nor do I think that was implied in this post. However, I also am skeptical that he’s one of the top coaches in the NFL. I think he makes a lot of questionable decisions in games, although I concede that those could be outweighed by the other positive impacts he brings to the table.

      • sacramento gold miners

        Tomlin definitely coaches in the moment at times, taking chances which don’t always work. Like Pete Carroll, he has a way of relating to players. If we go with Belichick as number one, I would put Tomlin in that next grouping with Carroll, Harbaugh, McCarthy, Reid, Payton, and Coughlin.

      • Ben

        He also MIGHT win a Superbowl and be revered as one of the best HC in the NFL.
        In his first tenure of being a GM, he has made sweeping changes from the players to the front office, and he did it in one off season. I am pretty sure what Chip is doing is unprecedented.
        It’s easy to predict failure when you consider how many have failed in the past.
        Sometimes a coach comes along who is more than capable of making GM and head coaching decisions and my money is on Chip to prove you wrong.
        I just think he’s much smarter than he is given credit for, but the good news is that we won’t have to wait too much longer to find out who is right and wrong.

  • Richie

    Why do you say that 2011 is a bit of an outlier? It looks pretty similar to every other year between 2002 and 2010.

    On a related vein, I would be curious to see some more info about first playoff wins for coaches. Stuff like, what coaches have had the longest tenures without winning a playoff game, longest runs without a playoff win, average tenure length for coaches who never win a playoff game, longest tenures before winning first playoff game.

    • Yeah, that was probably a poor choice of words. Just noting that there were only 12 coaches who would win future playoff games, not 13.

    • I could probably run some of those. I already did longest runs without a playoff win in the Lewis post (linked here).

  • A minimum of 4 and maximum of 8 teams/coaches win a playoff game every year. You’d get 4 if every team playing in wild-card games won its divisional-round games, and 8 if they all lost.

    But then I got to thinking… if you ask, today, “How many current head coaches will win a playoff game this year?” the answer could technically be less than 4, if a current head coach loses his job and is replaced by someone who goes on to win a playoff game this year. But has that ever happened? Has a team ever switched coaches during a season and then won a playoff game?

    • Richie

      Off the top of my head, the 2012 Colts almost did it with Bruce Arians (they lost their playoff game). But Pagano didn’t really lose his job, of course.

    • Chase Stuart

      Off the top of my head, Wally Lemm with the Oilers in ’61, I believe

    • Wally Lemm took over for the 1-3-1 Oilers in ’61 and led them to the title.

    • Doing a quick search, it looks like Lemm is the only one to fit that bill, at least since 1950.

  • Monte McNair

    A slightly better question is probably will the coach ever lead his team to the Divisional round. Getting a bye should be just as good as winning a wild card game.

    • Fair point, but a tougher one to run a query on!

  • wiesengrund

    I do wonder a bit if the proportions you get out of here are not greatly influenced simply by the rules? For each year you get a minimum of 4 coaches getting playoff wins simply by default, with the actual number hovering between 6 and 7 for each of the last 10 playoffs, expect ’08 which had 5. Maybe that should somehow be reflect in that 13/18 split?