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

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 second coaching change of the 2021 NFL season, as the Jaguars have sent Urban Meyer packing.

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, 31 teams have fired their coach in-season. Those teams have gone 15-16 straight up and 17-14 against the spread.

A 48.3% straight-up win rate might not look great, but those teams had an 82-218-2 record (26.8%) prior to the head coaching change. They also compiled a 112-184-5 ATS (37.8%) record prior to the coaching change.

Generally speaking, teams that fire their coach midseason are not very good teams (the Raiders were an exception due to the circumstances around Jon Gruden’s dismissal; they were 3-2 at the time).

On average, those teams closed as 4.2-point underdogs, implying a win probability of approximately 33%, meaning they have almost five more wins (15) than expected (10.3) 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 the 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 have been 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 beat the Broncos 34-24 in Rich Bisaccia’s first game as head coach on Oct. 17. Las Vegas closed as a 5-point underdog.

Jaguars fans hope Meyer’s firing will lead to something better, and it’s hard to get much worse than 2-11 and 4-9 against the spread in your first season.

Over the past 30 years (not including this season), 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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