Adam Schefter posted some thoughts on the NFL on Friday. He led off by arguing that today’s NFL teams tend to fire coaches too soon:
In a society that craves results now, in a world that demands excellence every day, head coaches rarely are allowed the time they need to grow into the job and master it. Reminders of it come every year at this time. Head coaches are fired, head coaches are hired and the coaching carousel spins without producing in the ways NFL owners had hoped.
. . .
In today’s world, everyone loves eating the turkey, but no one wants to wait around for it to cook. They’d rather microwave it. Unfortunately, it’s not as tasty or savory, much like the seasons some of these unstable NFL franchises continually experience.
This is a typical “back in the good old days” point of view. The usual logic is that increased media attention pressures teams into firing coaches that just need some more time.
Schefter lists the following teams as proof that keeping the same coach leads to more wins: the Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, Packers, Saints, Eagles, and Giants. Here are the coaches and their wins each season in chronological order:
These guys didn’t win because they stuck around; they stuck around because they won (in large part thanks to strong quarterbacks). Belichick, Billick, and Tomlin won Super Bowls in their second season, and only Sean Payton missed the playoffs in both of his first two years. Stability was just a by product of winning for these coaches. In fact, the coaching changes from Billick to Harbaugh, Cowher to Tomlin, and Sherman to McCarthy were only one year removed from making the playoffs but led to immediate improvement for each team. If anything, these teams’ experiences suggest that changing coaches is a good plan.
Here are the win sequences for the coaches that were fired this year:
I listed each coach’s record at the time of firing if he didn’t survive the 2011 season. All of these coaches showed promise at first, but declined dramatically in their final season. In the list above (the supposedly “stable” teams), Billick, Cowher (twice), McCarthy, and Reid all survived 6 win seasons, but Billick had already won a Super Bowl, Cowher and Reid had achieved 6 year playoff streaks, and McCarthy had Aaron Rodgers in his first year. No coach above survived a season with fewer than 6 wins. There’s not much evidence that Schefter’s “stable” teams are any more stable than other teams.
Schefter also mentions some Hall of Fame coaches from the good old days that stayed with the same team, even though they didn’t win right away. However, he only mentions three guys. What about all the coaches that didn’t pan out in that era? The fact of the matter is, each additional poor season informs management about a coach’s true ability. Teams would be silly to ignore that information. There are 10 highly successful coaches in the list above that did not need a grace period to succeed. Why wait around on a guy who’s lost the team and who’s track record suggests he’s a goofball?