What to Expect from New NFL Head Coaches, Coordinators Based on Recent History

Jul 08, 2019 12:00 PM EDT
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USA Today Sports. Pictured: Freddie Kitchens, Kliff Kingsbury, Vic Fangio

  • How often do NFL head coaches and coordinators make an impact in Year 1 with their new teams?
  • Ian Hartitz explains what to expect from coaches and coordinators with new teams based on recent history.

Coaching changes are common in the NFL. This is particularly true at the coordinator level, where coaches who do their job well typically get head coaching offers sooner than later.

Shockingly, only three offensive coordinators have been with their current team for more than one year (per Warren Sharp). Not many teams appear to still adhere to the idea that coaches need multiple years to make a radical difference: There are eight head coaches, 17 offensive coordinators and nine defensive coordinators that have joined new teams for the 2019 season.

We have recent examples of new head coaches immediately igniting their offenses in Sean McVay, Frank Reich and Matt Nagy. It also hasn’t been uncommon for new offensive and defensive coordinators to find Year 1 success.

Let’s run through which teams have welcomed new head coaches and coordinators into the fold this season, and determine how often new hires find success with their new teams in Year 1.

Be sure to also check out the rest of our three-part coaching series:


NFL Teams with New Head Coaches

  • Arizona Cardinals: Former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury
  • Cincinnati Bengals: Former Rams quarterback coach Zac Taylor
  • Cleveland Browns: Former interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens
  • Denver Broncos: Former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio
  • Green Bay Packers: Former Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur
  • Miami Dolphins: Former Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores
  • New York Jets: Former Dolphins head coach Adam Gase
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Former Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians

Recent Success of New Head Coaches

Thirty-four head coaches have been replaced over the past five offseasons, and in general, their replacements have done a solid job at quickly righting their respective sinking ships.

  • Average record before adding a new head coach: 5.6 wins, 10.4 losses
  • Average record after adding a new head coach: 7.2 wins, 8.8 losses

That average increase of 1.7 wins per season is hardly insignificant, and it isn’t a one-year blip on the radar.

Average Increase in Wins by Season

  • 2014: 1.43
  • 2015: 1.29
  • 2016: 1.86
  • 2017: 3.33
  • 2018: 0.71

Only four replacements managed to top the previous season’s win total by at least seven games their first season on the job: Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone, Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay and Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy.

This success has carried over to first-year head coach’s performance against the spread. New head coaches have improved their team’s record ATS by an average of 0.91 wins during their first season, and 27 of the 34 have either met or exceeded their new team’s record ATS from the previous season.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports Pictured: Sean McVay

McVay and O’Brien deserve a round of applause from gamblers across the country by improving their teams record ATS d by five (!) wins their first seasons in Los Angeles and Houston.

Meanwhile Ken Whisenhunt, Hue Jackson and Vance Joseph are the only head coaches who lost three or more games ATS compared to their team’s record the previous season.


NFL Teams with New Offensive Coordinators

  • Arizona Cardinals: Former Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements (head coach Kliff Kingsbury expected to call plays)
  • Atlanta Falcons: Former Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter
  • Baltimore Ravens: Former tight ends coach Greg Roman
  • Cincinnati Bengals: Former Raiders quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan (Taylor expected to call plays)
  • Cleveland Browns: Former Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken (Kitchens expected to call plays)
  • Dallas Cowboys: Former quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore (head coach Jason Garrett expected to call plays)
  • Denver Broncos: Former 49ers quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello
  • Detroit Lions: Former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell
  • Green Bay Packers: Former Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett (LaFleur expected to call plays)
  • Houston Texans: Former tight ends coach Tim Kelly (head coach Bill O’Brien expected to call plays)
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: Former Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo
  • Miami Dolphins: Former Patriots wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea
  • Minnesota Vikings: Former quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski
  • New York Jets: Former Dolphins offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains (Gase expected to call plays)
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Former Cardinals interim offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich
  • Tennessee Titans: Former tight ends coach Arthur Smith
  • Washington Redskins: Former quarterbacks coach Kevin O’Connell

Recent Success of New Offensive Coordinators

Fifty-nine offensive coordinators and/or offensive-minded head coaches have either left their teams or been fired over the past five seasons.

The aforementioned trio of impressive new head coaches have been responsible for the biggest immediate turnarounds, as McVay (+15.9 points per game differential), Reich (+10.6) and Nagy (+9.8) each managed to reinvent their new respective offenses in no time at all.

McVay’s impact truly can’t be understated. The Washington Redskins are the only offense among the 59 teams that averaged fewer than a yard per play (-1.1) below their previous season’s mark the season after losing their play-caller.

Poor Kirk Cousins. (Just kidding; he’s still super rich.)

Still, the usual increase from a new offensive coordinator has been fairly minor across a variety of statistical measures.

Average Increase in Key Stats with New OCs from Previous Season

  • Points per game: +0.6
  • Yards per play: +0.15
  • Football Outsiders’ overall offensive DVOA ranking: +0.97
  • Pass DVOA ranking: +1.02
  • Run DVOA ranking: +0.19

The most consistent increase was in yards per play. Overall, 37-of-50 (74%) new offensive coordinators gained the same or more yards per play in their first year as offensive coordinator than the team had in the previous season.

The only play-caller change that led to a double-digit decline in points per game was Steve Sarkisian with the Atlanta Falcons (-11.7 PPG). Atlanta scored an ungodly 33.8 PPG with Kyle Shanahan controlling the offense in 2016 before wilting to just 22.1 PPG under Sark in 2017.

I mean, how hard can it possibly be to just tell Matt Ryan to throw the ball to Julio Jones whenever possible?

Common themes among the most successful offensive coordinator transitions has been when a team has gone from a defensive-minded, old-school head coach (see: Jeff Fisher and John Fox) to an innovative offensive mind, or when a team has received a fairly massive increase in the quality of their quarterback (see: the 2018 Colts, 2018 Chiefs and 2018 Browns).

There’s only so much any play-caller can accomplish if they don’t have a talented roster. Still, the NFL’s general increase in competent quarterbacks might’ve made it easier for new coaches to make an immediate impact with their new employers.

At least it certainly looked that way in 2018.

We shouldn’t assume every team with a new offensive coordinator will improve from the following season based on this surge from 2018.

It’s important to distinguish whether the change at coordinator was made because an offense wasn’t reaching its potential, or because the previous play-caller received a promotion. Targeting the former scenario is our best chance at getting an early edge on new offenses in 2019.


NFL Teams with New Defensive Coordinators

  • Arizona Cardinals: Former Broncos head coach Vance Joseph
  • Chicago Bears: Former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano
  • Cincinnati Bengals: Former Giants defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo
  • Cleveland Browns: Former Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks
  • Denver Broncos: Former Bears defensive backs coach Ed Donatell
  • Kansas City Chiefs: Former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo
  • Miami Dolphins: Former Packers linebackers coach Patrick Graham
  • New York Jets: Former Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Former Jets head coach Todd Bowles

Recent Success of New Defensive Coordinators

There’s reason to believe that a team that lost its defensive coordinator probably doesn’t need to panic.

Average Difference in Key Stats with New DCs from Previous Season

  • Points per game allowed: -1.1
  • Yards per play allowed: +0.036
  • Overall defensive DVOA ranking: +1.1
  • Pass DVOA ranking: +2
  • Run DVOA ranking: -1.04

Still, there’s been a fairly even split between teams that have moved in the right or wrong direction with new defensive coordinators: 29 of the 50 allowed fewer points per game in their first season as defensive coordinator, while 28-of-50 allowed the same or fewer yards per play.

Recent history hasn’t been as kind to new defensive coordinators when it comes to massive turnarounds, as the 2018 Bengals (+6.6 PPG) and Raiders (+5.9) boasted the worst drop-offs of the past five seasons behind the new leadership of Teryl Austin and Paul Guenther, respectively.

Defenses that have executed a magnificent Year 1 turnaround include the 2017 Chargers, 2014 Vikings and 2014 Texans. The common theme with each is the acclimation or addition of an elite pass rusher, highlighted by former No. 3 overall pick Joey Bosa’s Year 2 domination after being limited by injuries as a rookie.

It’s otherwise been tough to predict a better statistical performance from a defense just because it welcomed a new coordinator. This is reflected by the fact new defensive coordinators actually allowed more yards per play (+0.036) than their predecessors over the past five years, while offensive coordinators have experienced an average bump of +0.15.

However, this could also just be influenced by a fairly severe one-year blip in terms of how well first-year defensive coordinators have performed.

It would make sense if the league-wide transition to higher-scoring football makes it harder and harder for new defensive coordinators to make an immediate impact with their new team. This certainly was the case last season, although we shouldn’t invest much into this trend until we have a few more years of evidence that supports it.

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