Does Firing the Head Coach Make NFL Teams More Successful?

The end of the regular season in the NFL brings a series of firings for coaches. This year, eight of the 32 teams relieved their head coach of duty during or after the season. Coaches aren't entirely responsible for a team's lack of success—players and management also share that burden—but they are often the scapegoat after a losing season. We took a look at every season since 2007 to see how teams and their head coaches have performed, and we found that a firing may not always be wise. In most cases, coaches should keep their jobs for more than one or two years if owners want to see their teams have a successful season.

Teams with Many Coaches Have Lower Win Percentages

Teams with a revolving door of coaches tend to have a low win percentage. While this may seem obvious, our analysis finds that firing coaches too often may actually be contributing to those teams continuing to have poor records. Teams that have had over 3 coaches since 2007 have an average record below 8-8. These teams like the Bills, 49ers, Browns, usually continue to stay poor performers under new coaches. On the other hand, teams that post bad seasons, but decide to hang on to coaches longer seem to rebound faster.

Number of Coaches Since 2007

Average Win Percentage











Should Teams Get Rid of a Coach After a Bad Year?

We found that the average improvement of win percentage for a new coach's tenure over the fired coach is 0.015 or about 2 wins. Essentially new coaches are earning two more wins on average than their predecessor. For many teams, two wins is the difference between a playoff and non-playoff year, however, it may actually be more prudent for teams to keep on a coach, even after their worst year.

Following a coach's worst season, they were able to improve their record by an average of 3 wins in following seasons as opposed to 2. Yes, there are numerous factors that go into a team's success. Perhaps a starting quarterback was injured early on, leading to a poor season as in the case of Tony Romo and the Cowboys in 2015. A coach may also lose control of his team following a poor season, which are grounds for a firing that cannot be quantified. Overall though, the numbers from the last ten seasons support that a bad year for a coach doesn't always mean more bad years are to come.

Most coaches have recovered from a bad year and improve a team's record. The 13-3 season from Jason Garret of the Cowboys in 2016 following a poor record in 2015 was the greatest margin of improvement. Unsurprisingly, the coaches on the top of the graph are more likely to still have their position, while more on the bottom have already been let go by their team. Gus Bradley of the Jaguars and Eric Mangini of the Browns are two examples.

Generally, You Need 2 or 3 Years to Get the Best Out of a Coach

Since 2007 a head coach will spend 3 seasons with a team on average. The best year in terms of win percentage usually came in a coach's 2nd season with a team. Bruce Arians, John Fox, and Rex Ryan all enjoyed their best years in the second season with the Cardinals, Broncos, and Jets respectively. Conversely, a coach will have his worst year in either his 1st or 3rd season with a team.

Year of TenureNumber of Coaches With Worst SeasonNumber of Coaches With Best Season















If a coach still hasn't found success after their 4th season however, it is unlikely they will in their 5th or 6th. If a coach has a poor season in their third year with the team, that is likely a good indicator they won't do much better the following year, and should most likely be let go.

Final Thoughts

Teams may get a better pay off by letting coaches stay on following a bad year rather than firing them. The average improvement of 3 wins is greater than the average improvement of 2 wins for a new coach. As we found however, if a coach has been with a team for more than 4 years, and still has not found success with the team, it is unlikely they ever will. Coaches should most likely be given at least 2 or 3 years to prove they can lead the team to winning seasons. If a franchise finds itself with a revolving door of coaches over a short amount of a time paired with little success, there are likely deeper factors the team will need to change in order to put together winning seasons.

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