Posted by Chase Stuart on August 20, 2007
Last year, I wrote that Eric Mangini, Sean Payton and the other rookie coaches stood had decent chances of seeing early success. As we now know, both rookie head coaches took their teams to the post-season in 2006. Herm Edwards also guided the Chiefs to the playoffs, in his first year in Kansas City. From 1991-2005, twenty-four of the 180 playoff teams made the playoffs with new coaches. Of those 24, thirteen of those coaches were rookies, and eleven were "retreads". So roughly once a year, a rookie head coach takes his team to the playoffs. So what does history say about the Jets or Saints or Chiefs chances of repeating?
For the sake of simplicity, "first" represents a rookie coach like Mangini, "retread" represents a guy that's coached before but is on a new team like Edwards, and "old" represents a guy that's not in his first year with his current team. Here's the data for the 15 seasons from 1991-2005:
Coach #Teams Repeats Repeat%
first 13 8 0.615
retread 11 4 0.364
old 156 82 0.526
total 180 94 0.522
While at first glance it appears as though the rookie head coaches fare are better at returning to post-season play than regular coaches, let's take a look at those first year coaches:
Coach tm year Yr N Yr N-1 Yr N+1 N+1 playoffs?
Jim Mora atl 2004 11-5-0 5-11-0 8-8-0 no
Bill Callahan rai 2002 11-5-0 10-6-0 4-12-0 no
Herm Edwards nyj 2001 10-6-0 9-7-0 9-7-0 yes
Mike Martz ram 2000 10-6-0 13-3-0 14-2-0 yes
Jim Haslett nor 2000 10-6-0 3-13-0 7-9-0 no
Chan Gailey dal 1998 10-6-0 6-10-0 8-8-0 yes
Jim Fassel nyg 1997 10-5-1 6-10-0 8-8-0 no
Steve Mariucci sfo 1997 13-3-0 12-4-0 12-4-0 yes
Ray Rhodes phi 1995 10-6-0 7-9-0 10-6-0 yes
Barry Switzer dal 1994 12-4-0 12-4-0 12-4-0 yes
Dennis Green min 1992 11-5-0 8-8-0 9-7-0 yes
Bill Cowher pit 1992 11-5-0 7-9-0 9-7-0 yes
Bobby Ross sdg 1992 11-5-0 4-12-0 8-8-0 no
While it's true that eight of the thirteen coaches returned, there were a few irregular situations. Bill Callahan took over a loaded Raiders team left without a coach when Jon Gruden bolted to Tampa Bay, and he still couldn't take Oakland to the playoffs in consecutive years. Herm Edwards inherited a pretty good Jets team when Al Groh left to coach Virginia. Mike Martz and Barry Switzer inherited Super Bowl champions from Dick Vermeil and Jimmy Johnson, while Steve Mariucci took over a similarly skilled roster in San Francisco after George Seifert. So five of the "rookie" head coaches were handed the keys to teams with winning records, and four of them brought their teams to the playoffs the first two years. Mangini and Payton took over teams that won a seven games combined in '05, so those five coaches aren't the best of comparables. Of the other eight, half brought their teams back to the playoffs, which is in line with what the "old" coaches did as well.
So it seems that inexperience at the head coaching position shouldn't be held against or brought forward as evidence as to why the Jets or Saints will make the playoffs again in '07. Maybe they'll be like Cowher or Dennis Green, and have a long run of success with their teams. Or perhaps they'll end up like Jim Mora, Jr. or Jim Haslett, remembered mostly for failing to meet expectations.
Besides the coaching switch, the Jets and Saints were also pretty unique compared to most playoff teams: both teams made the post-season despite winning fewer than 5 games the previous year. Only seven of the 180 playoffs teams from 1991-2005 won fewer than five games in Year N-1. Here's a table of all 180 teams, along with how many of them returned to the playoffs in Year N+1:
N-1Wins #Teams N+1Post Repeat%
3 2 1 0.500
4 5 2 0.400
5 13 3 0.231
6 16 7 0.438
7 20 7 0.350
8 16 11 0.688
9 26 17 0.654
10 26 11 0.423
11 21 14 0.667
12 17 10 0.588
13 12 7 0.583
14 4 3 0.750
15 2 1 0.500
Total 180 94 0.522
As you can tell, not all playoff teams are created equally. Teams that were losing teams the year before they made the playoffs, returned to the playoffs the following year just 36% of the time. Conversely, all other playoff teams made the playoffs again at a 60% clip. To be sure, there's some element of a hidden variable involved -- the bad teams the prior year were probably "weaker" playoff teams in Year N, and weak playoff teams return at lower rates.
There were 56 playoff teams in Year N that had losing records in Year N-1. Of those, nine teams failed to reach double digit wins in Year N, but obviously still made the playoffs. Only one of those -- the '97 Jaguars -- reached the post-season in Year N+1. That leaves 47 teams with double digit wins in Year N, and they would be repeat post-season entrants 40% of the time. While that's better than the 8 or 9 win teams, that 40% rate is a bit below the 60% rate from the other teams.
So what do you think? Is the one-year wonder theory for real?