Do New Coaches Lead Undisciplined Teams?

Change is as inevitable as it is difficult. Nobody likes it, but change affects every aspect of our lives. There’s something rooted in uncertainty that scares us, mitigating optimism for anxiety. But what happens when change is for the best?

On Black Monday every year, the National Football League kicks off its coaching carousel. Families are uprooted as coaches and staffs are relieved of their duties. For some, it’s the end of the line. Others will get another shot to make their mark in the league. The rest take their dismissal as a damn good excuse to spend time with family. It’s turbulent and messy, but the NFL is a business, and organizations attempt the ruthlessly necessary in their pursuit of victory.

With these firings, though, comes hirings. Promises of a brighter future and a new face to lead their franchise. They are pretty captivating in their own right. Just look at how we all overstate the impact of new coaches when we project their records each August.

It’s not that coaching isn’t important–in fact it’s essential. But the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. The league gets hires wrong sometimes.

Furthermore, we know change can be tricky. We shouldn’t expect that to change at the game’s highest level. With an extra dose of media attention amplifying each move, players and coaches are forced to learn new schematic languages, leadership styles, and locker rooms on the fly. It’s a lot harder than it looks, and it shows up where you may not be looking. 👀

Do first-year coaches lead more undisciplined teams?

There are so many moving parts to the gridiron game of chess, and only so many hours in a day. When players are tasked with learning new playbooks and play callers, perhaps we should expect the little things to slip through the cracks.

The 2022 season has been an excellent indicator of this problem. A total of 10 teams entered the year with new head coaches. Half ranked within the top 10 teams in penalties through Week 15. Only three of those teams–the Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, and Minnesota Vikings–found themselves in the bottom 10. 

The Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders, under new management, are the top two teams in penalties and penalty yardage. The New Orleans Saints, now led by Dennis Allen, have allowed the third-most penalty yards in football.

In 2021, the third and fifth-most penalized teams were led by new head coaches. None of the seven newcomers ranked in the bottom seven. A year prior saw the trend bucked, possibly due to two former NFL head coaches making up 40% of that group. Still, 2019 saw three of the top six and five of the top 15 most penalized teams fall under inaugural reigns, including the league-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The teams that ranked third, fourth, fifth, and ninth in penalty yards allowed…all new head coaches.

It may not be as iron-clad correlated as good quarterbacking and winning football games, but teams looking to change things up should be wary. Penalties could very well be coming in large numbers.

However, neither teams nor fans are going to care much if the penalties don’t get in the way of winning. Could it affect us bettors? 💰

Do undisciplined teams cover less often?

Chicago, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay are currently covering the spread at the 28th, 29th, and 32nd highest rates in football, respectively. In 2021, the Falcons, Jets, and Jaguars made up half of the worst six teams against the spread.

Now, this isn’t some trend to blindly bet on each week. It’s merely a cautionary tale. A red flag 🚩. An ick. If by mid-season a team has solidified themselves as undisciplined, believe them. Their new head coach probably won’t right the ship in a matter of days.

Where one door closes, another opens. There may be a futures opportunity if the coach can survive Year 1. Of the six coaches in the 2021 class that did survive, four are on track to clear (or have already cleared) their team’s projected win total. With a season under their belts, coaches were able to learn from their mistakes, implement necessary changes, and most importantly, develop/acquire the talent to fit their schemes. 

Which second-year head coach will lead their team past the projections next season? 📈