Coaching Changes, Talent Doesn't

June 16, 2017

Hey! Your alma mater team hired a new head coach! Spirits are high! The program's going to turn around (or maybe it's already good and you hope it stays that way)! But is it going to, really?  Depends on how you look at it.


First, a huge thanks as always to for having a near-inclusive list of head coaching changes since 2011 in their Coaching Carousel. Without it, this would have taken me days of skimming Football Scoop, instead of just a couple hours.


The easiest way to view coaching changes is how the team improved from the end of the previous season to the end of the first with the new coach. The outlook isn't exactly great if you look at it this way though...



On average teams with a new first year head coach played about 2.3 net points per game worse with a new coach than they had the previous season. Out of a pool of 119 coaching changes, 73 teams got worse, and only 46 got better. That's not great news if you have a new coach this season, but it gets better. I promise.


I haven't been around college football for very long, I'm only 27, but I've been around long enough to know that coaches aren't likely to be looking to get out of their current position, retire, or "get resigned" (because how often does a DIII coach actually get fired?) if they have a good team coming back the next year. Also, a coach who has an unexpectedly good year is both more likely to get offered a better job, while the team is likely to regress to the mean next season. But, if the writing's on the wall, if the cupboard is bare, if the fox is in the hen house, they're probably ready to head out the door. So instead of comparing season-ending ratings, what does this same analysis look like if I instead use the new HC's preseason expectations?


Using a long-term regression and adjustments for the amount of talent returning on each roster, on average, a first year head coach outperforms expectations by... 0.0 net points per game. Sixty-two out of 119 coaches out-performed expectations, and fifty-nine did worse. So the good news is, things probably aren't actually going to get worse, they're just going to feel like they are.


For a lot of new coaching hires though, especially at DIII, the expectation isn't necessarily to win right away. Programs are looking for a coach that is going to steadily improve a program over the coming years. So instead of considering their immediate performance, what happens when we look forward a little bit?



Great news! It gets better! After a new coach's second season, his team performs at around 2.7 net points per game better than their preseason expectation. How much is 2.7 points per game worth? For an average team, it will likely add 0.5 wins over a 10-game schedule. So it's not much better, but notice the size of the buckets past 10.0 points per game, which would work out to an additional 2.5 wins. Twenty-four coaches improved their team by at least 10.0 points per game, and fifty-two improved overall (this is a smaller sample size, 92 coaches, because it doesn't include coaches who have only coached one season at their new school in 2016). Only eleven coaches got 10.0 points per game worse after two seasons. So you're more than twice as likely to improve by at least two wins than you are to regress by two wins.


So how are we supposed to tell if your school made a good hire? Is it better to hire from within or from a national search? A former head coach or an up-and-comer? An offensive coordinator or a defensive coordinator? Or maybe even to pull somebody who has experience coaching at the scholarship level (excluding NAIA, I'm gonna call that a lateral move for most coaches)? 



Unsurprisingly, schools that hire from within tend to be a bit better than schools who bring in somebody from a different program (about 16 points per game better, actually). So they have less room to improve, but they also presumably should be able to at least maintain the status quo.


On average, a coach promoted from within under-performs relative to their counterparts from outside the program by about 1.9 net points per game in their first season, and by about 6.5 net points per game after two seasons. That may seem like a lot, but remember what I said earlier. Teams promoting from within are already 16 points per game better than other teams. So while you're moderately likely to get ever-so-slightly worse if you hire from within, you're still going to be an above-average team. And if you're hiring somebody from outside the program, you have a pretty decent change of rising to an average level. It's about perspective.


In their first season, coaches with previous HC experience do about 0.7 net points per game better, but after two years, they do about 0.7 net points per game worse. It's a wash. Doesn't really matter if you hired a guys with experience or not.


The most depressing development for me is that former Offensive Coordinators do much better than former Defensive Coordinators: 4.7 net points per game in the first year and 1.9 net points per game in their second. If I were to wager a guess, I would say the drastic immediate improvement for OC's relative to DC's has to do with personality types. In my view, OC's tend to be a bit more energetic and lively, with DC's more stoic. A lot easier to jump start a program with energy than with discipline. I may also be full of it though, so who knows.


And in the least surprising development to me, hiring a coach who has experience in either Division II or Division I has worse results than hiring a DIII lifer. Just because we're "down" at Division III doesn't mean we don't know our ball. 


So, if you have a new coach (or are looking to hire one), I recommend not getting your hopes up too soon, but also:

  - Don't limit yourself to candidates within the program, they tend to not do as well as their predecessor

  - Don't get too caught up in previous head coaching experience. It doesn't matter

  - *gulp* Hire... an... offensive... coordinator (if you don't mind selling your soul to a charlatan)

  - Hire someone from within Division III. 

  - Lastly, don't take hiring advice from a 27 year-old blogger with only two years' graduate assistant coaching experience.

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