Stuckey: How Have NFL Teams Performed After Firing Their Head Coach In-Season?

Stuckey: How Have NFL Teams Performed After Firing Their Head Coach In-Season? article feature image

Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star. Pictured: Jon Gruden

We have our first in-season NFL head coaching change of the 2021 NFL season, as Jon Gruden resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday following the release of a New York Times story that showcased emails from Gruden using homophobic, misogynistic and racist statements.

With Gruden’s resignation, Las Vegas will be promoting special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia to interim head coach. There are a few other head coaches on the hot seat that could also be out before the end of the season, namely Urban Mayer (Jacksonville Jaguars).

So, how have NFL teams historically performed in the first game with a new coach in the middle of a season? Let’s take a look.

Per our Bet Labs database, since 2003, 30 teams have fired their coach in-season. Those teams have gone 14-16 straight up and 16-14 against the spread.

A 46.6% straight-up win rate might not look great, but those teams had a 79-216-2 record (26.7%) prior to the head coaching change. They also compiled a 108-183-5 ATS (37.1%) record prior to the coaching change.

Generally speaking, teams that fire their coach midseason are not very good teams.

On average, those teams closed as 4.2-point underdogs, implying a win probability of approximately 33%, meaning they have four more wins (14) than expected (10) the game after the coach gets canned.

However, that lens could be misleading due to a few outlier spreads. Therefore, I calculated the expected win probability for each game based on all 30 closing lines. The teams still won about 3.2 games more than expected.

It’s not an enormously significant amount and we are dealing with a small sample size, but this does at least hint at a small, positive bump after a coaching change, which logically makes sense to me.

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It may be partially related to a boost in locker room morale (which may be the case with the Raiders judging from some of the reports out there) but likely has more to do with positive changes a new coach will implement.

And most importantly, these teams can give fresh looks that the opponent doesn’t have tape on. The element of surprise, if you will.

The Raiders take on the Denver Broncos at Mile High in Rich Bisaccia’s first game as head coach on October 17. At the time of this writing, Las Vegas sits as a consensus +3.5 underdog against the Broncos.

Las Vegas fans hope the coaching change translates to better production on Sundays as has for other franchises in the past. However, don’t assume teams magically become cash cows after firing their coach.

Over the past 30 years, teams that fired their coach mid-season went 48% ATS in their remaining games. While an improvement over their ATS record prior to the coaching change, 48% won’t fill your stockings on Christmas.

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