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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

Leon Halip/Getty Images. Pictured: Matt Patricia

We have our third in-season NFL head coach firing of the 2020 season, as the Detroit Lions moved on from Matt Patricia after a loss to the Texans on Thanksgiving. There are a few others on the hot seat that could follow before the end of the season, namely Adam Gase (New York Jets).

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, including two this year (Atlanta and Houston). 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 Lions 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.

After everything I’ve seen from Patricia in the past, I personally think the coaching change can only work in the Lions’ favor this upcoming Sunday as three-point road underdogs against a reeling Bears team that has five wins which all came by one possession, including a miracle comeback win in the fourth quarter against the Lions earlier this season. You could make the argument the Bears could easily be 2-9.

Now, Detroit does have a laundry list of injuries worth monitoring, but I think it’s Lions or nothing here in a game I project closer to a coin flip. Keep in mind the Lions will also benefit from a few extra days of preparation and rest after playing last Thursday, while the Bears played on the road on Sunday night.

Detroit fans hope the coaching change translates to better production on Sundays as it did in Atlanta and Houston this season. 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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