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What’s the Effect of Changing Coaches in CFB?

2012 November 15
by Phil Miller

Joker Phillips of Kentucky is already on his way out and Derek Dooley of Tennessee has a warm behind and is squarely on the hot seat.  A new paper in the Social Science Quarterly by Scott Adler, Michael Berry, and David Doherty takes a look at data from 1997 to 2010 to gauge what those two programs might expect after the coaching carousel finishes spinning.  Here’s the abstract.

Objectives. We assess the effects of coaching replacements on college football team performance.

Methods. Using data from 1997 to 2010, we use matching techniques to compare the performance of football programs that replaced their head coach to those where the coach was retained. The analysis has two major innovations over existing literature. First, we consider how entry conditions moderate the effects of coaching replacements. Second, we examine team performance for several years following the replacement to assess its effects. Results. We find that for particularly poorly performing teams, coach replacements have little effect on team performance as measured against comparable teams that did not replace their coach. However, for teams with middling records—that is, teams where entry conditions for a new coach appear to be more favorable—replacing the head coach appears to result in worse performance over subsequent years than comparable teams who retained their coach.

Conclusions. The findings have important implications for our understanding of how entry conditions moderate the effects of leadership succession on team performance,and suggest that the relatively common decision to fire head college football coaches for poor team performance may be ill advised.

Here is a point that they make near the end of their paper that I think is important to note here.

As with any statistical analysis, we cannot rule out the possibility that some specific instances of coaching replacements truly benefit a team. This is certainly a possibility and there is little doubt that many commentators, school administrators, and other observers believe that coaching changes are often responsible for turnarounds in team performance. However, it is important to bear in mind that the fact that a team’s performance improves following a coaching replacement does not necessarily mean that the coach should be given credit for the improvement.

I can’t imagine that Tennessee will be down for too long.  They have a large, passionate fan base and palatial facilities, and the appropriate resources tend to follow.  Kentucky faces more of an uphill climb.

Switching gears to college basketball, the last quoted paragraph brought to mind the performance of the Missouri men’s basketball team last season.  Coach Frank Haith was brought in to replace the sourly-departed Mike Anderson, who had left to back to his roots at Arkansas.  He left behind a highly talented point guard in Phil Pressey and a senior laden group of players.  Haith had little success coaching at Miami and it was a surprise for nearly everybody that he was brought on to coach the Tigers.  But his under-sized team played as well as they possibly could, going 30-5, winning the Big XII tournament, and making the NCAA as a number 2 seed before being unceremoniously bounced by Norfolk State.  How much of that success can we credit to Haith and how much can we credit to the players who clearly jelled together after being left behind by the coach that brought them to Mizzou?

2 Responses
  1. Nick W. permalink
    November 26, 2012

    The Haith situation seems rather analogous to Bill Self leaving Illinois and Bruce Weber taking over. Within two years Illinois reached the national championship game, but then began a long decline after the Bill Self recruits leaked out.

    It seemed Illinois had some short term gains, but really lost out in the long run. Whether this was coaching, recruiting, or some other factor (or even a combination) is difficult to say.

    Today Auburn got rid of Chizik, Purdue got rid of Hope, and everyone is firing their football coaches left and right. To hold on to a coach is clearly important, but it has to be the right coach.

  2. Phil Miller permalink
    November 27, 2012

    We’ll see about Haith. This year’s team is obviously a mish-mash at this point, and there is seemingly none of the chemistry between players that last year’s team had. Time will tell.

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