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Examining head coaching hires over the last 3 seasons

Exploring what are the common threads between the best head coaching hires of the last 3 seasons

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL coaching dominoes have started to fall and the remaining ones left standing will fall in the coming days. There are many qualified candidates still available, but what type of head coach should teams be looking for?

If all else is equal, would a team be better off hiring a defensive coordinator like Vic Fangio, an offensive coordinator like Eric Bieniemy, or a former head coach like Mike McCarthy? Are offensive minded coaches really better? Are teams better off hiring rookies head coaches or experienced retreads?

Here is a look at how first year coaches from different backgrounds have been over the past three seasons.

2018 Hires

This past season seven NFL teams hired new head coaches. The best hire out of the seven seems like a toss up. Matt Nagy, who was one of the hottest candidates last season added seven wins to the Bears’ total from a season ago en route to winning their division. Frank Reich may not have been the Colts’ first choice, but after adding six wins to their regular season total from a year ago and winning a playoff game, they probably don’t even remember that other guy’s name.

Pat Shurmur managed to improve the Giants record by two wins. Mike Vrabel had the same record as his predecessor in Tennessee. The Jon Gruden Raiders lost two more games than they did in 2017. Matt Patricia’s first year with the Lions was disappointing and led to three more losses than the team had the prior year. Steve Wilks had the worst year of the group though, and was fired after the Cardinals lost five more games than they did a year ago.

In 2018, new coaches won on average 0.71 more games than their teams had won the year before. Former offensive coordinators won 3.25 games more than the year before and Nagy and Reich winning seven and six more games, respectively, certainly didn’t hurt this figure. Those with defensive backgrounds on average LOST 2.67 more games than their predecessors.

2017 Hires

Two seasons ago, Sean McVay improved the Rams’ record by seven games from the previous year’s led team led by Jeff Fisher and took them to the playoffs. It is easy to forget that Doug Marrone did the same thing with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Marrone even went all the way to AFC Conference Championship game. Sean McDermott improved the Bills’ record by two games, and led them to the playoffs. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan each led their squads to four more wins than the previous season. Vance Joseph was the only coach who lost more games (four) in his first year than his team had lost the previous season.

A year later, McVay is still riding high, but Marrone seems to be on the hot seat after going 5-11. McDermott dropped a few more for a team that is in transition. Lynn took a leap forward going 12-4 and making the playoffs. Shanahan struggled after losing his signal caller. Joseph lost his job after consecutive losing seasons.

Two years after being hired both McVay and Lynn look like great finds. Both are offensive minded coaches. Offensive coaches in this group won on average four more games in 2018 than their teams did in 2016 while defensive minded coaches LOST two more games on average.

2016 Hires

There were seven new head coaches hired in the NFL in 2016 and they were all offensive minded coaches. In year one, many of them looked like good hires. Mike Mularkey’s Titans improved by six wins from 2015 to 2016. Ben McAdoo’s Giants added five wins and made the playoffs. Adam Gase’s Dolphins improved by four wins while also making the playoffs. Dirk Koetter increased the Buccaneers’ win total by three.

Three years later Mularkey, McAdoo, Gase, and Koetter along the former 49ers head coach Chip Kelly and former Browns head coach Hue Jackson are all gone.

The only surviving member of this class of head coaches is the Eagles’ Doug Pederson. Pederson actually failed to improve the Eagles record in year one; matching the 7-9 record his predecessor had posted in 2015. The following year he won 6 more regular season games and a Super Bowl.

Overall Results

There are 20 coaches in these three groups: 15 offensive minded coaches and 5 defensive minded coaches. On average, new coaches won 1.9 more games in their first year than the teams that hired them did in the previous season. Former offensive coordinators won on average 3.2 more games, while former defensive coordinators on average LOST two more games. Coaches with NFL head coaching experience on average won 1.33 games more than their teams had won in the previous season. It should be noted that all of those coaches were offensive minded coaches.

In short:

  • Offensive coaches have fared much better than defensive coaches.
  • Every coach with previous NFL head coaching experience who was hired in the last three years was an offensive minded coach. They have not done as well as the offensive rookie head coaches, but have done better than defensive minded head coaches.
  • Year one success does not always carry over.
  • While Doug Pederson won no more games in his first year than his team had the season before and won a Super Bowl the following season, no coach has been able to rebound from losing more games in their first season than their team had the year before.