Teams change coaches for any number of reasons. Almost always, though, the bottom line is that they simply want to do better.
That certainly is the case with the Tennessee Titans, who last month fired Mike Munchak and replaced him with Ken Whisenhunt following a fifth straight season without a playoff appearance.
It hardly is a novel approach to the situation.
Over the last five years, 24 of the NFL’s 32 teams have started a season 37 times with a different coach than it had the previous one. That makes the turnover rate during that period 23.1 percent.
Not included are the New Orleans Saints, who did not have Sean Payton in 2012 but got him back in 2013. That situation was the result of a league suspension and not the typical reasons for change (i.e. the coach gets fired or retires). The Saints, therefore, effectively are one of the eight teams that had the same coach from 2009 through 2013 that they had in 2008.
It’s also important to realize that there is little, if anything scientific about a coaching change. Typically, it’s an emotional decision based on the feeling that things should be better or somehow different and there is no way to know for sure whether a change will have the desired effect.
Still, an examination of those 37 changes and the impact on teams’ win-loss records in the first season following a switch reveal some interesting trends, some of which ought to give the Titans and their fans reason for optimism about what the move to Whisenhunt will do this fall.
• Twenty-two of the 37 changes resulted in more wins the first season under the new coach than in the previous one. This, obviously, is good news for the Titans, who are one of the 22 that got better with a change. They were 6-10 under Jeff Fisher in 2010 and 9-7 the next season under Mike Munchak.
• The most common improvement was two games – it happened in eight of the 22 cases, which was twice as much as the next most common improvement (one victory). If Tennessee wins at least two games more than last season it will finish with a winning record, which would be considered a definite positive and put the franchise – at least – in the hunt for a playoff appearance.
• Five teams had the same record as the previous season. Three of those five had matching records that were .500 or within a game of breaking even (9-7 or 7-9). The Titans, of course, were 7-9 last season, which makes them a prime candidate for a repeat.
• Ten teams did worse than the previous season. Six of those teams changed coaches after having gone 6-10 or worse. That suggests that the worst teams have the hardest time making a quick turnaround, which makes sense and eases somewhat concerns for Tennessee.
• Just three teams made a change following a 7-9 season, as the Titans did this year. The good news is that two of those three (San Diego in 2013 and San Francisco in 2009) improved by at least one game with the change. The bad news is that the third team tanked – Kansas City dropped from 7-9 under Todd Haley in 2011 to 2-14 under Romeo Crennel in 2012.
• Nine teams (just shy of 25 percent) made the playoffs in the first season under a new coach. This has become increasingly common. Three teams did it last season – Philadelphia with Chip Kelly, Kansas City with Andy Reid and San Diego with Mike McCoy. Of course, only one of those three (San Diego) won a playoff game.
• Of those nine teams that made the playoffs, six did so under someone who never had been an NFL head coach. That includes Chuck Pagano, who took the Colts from 2-14 to 11-5 in 2012 (with an assist from Bruce Arians) and Jim Harbaugh, who led a seven-game improvement to 13-3 in 2011 at San Francisco. This is bad news for the Titans who turned to Whisenhunt, whose six-year run as coach of the Arizona Cardinals ended following the 2012 season.
• Only one team made it to the Super Bowl in the first season. The Indianapolis Colts went 14-2 in 2009 under Jim Caldwell, which was merely two games better than they had done the previous season under Tony Dungy. Given the rarity of that result (not to mention those Colts had quarterback Peyton Manning in his prime) it is tough to imagine the Titans can join that group.
Again, there are no guarantees but recent history suggests that chances are good Titans’ decision to change coaches will – at least for one year – have the desired effect.
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