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Focus on first time head coaches: Are your expectations of Vic Fangio realistic?

Did the Denver Broncos just hire the next Sean McVay or the next Steve Wilks?

NFL: NFC Championship Game-Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With the recent success of Sean McVay in LA, leading the Rams to the Super Bowl in his second season as a head coach, every team seemed to be wanting the “next Sean McVay” when the NFL head coaching carousel was still spinning. So much to the point that I heard the color guy making a joke about McVay’s barista getting an interview with the Cardinals.

This got me interested in how well head coaches have done in their first head coaching job in the NFL. This will be a follow, up to my article from a few weeks ago regarding the success (or lack thereof) of “recycled” head coaches.

So there have been more than 400 different men who have been the head coach of an NFL team. Not wanting to pour through that much data, I restricted this to coaches who got there first NFL head coaching job this century (or really close to this century - I included 1999). I also excluded guys who were interim head coaches so they have less than 16 games of total head coach experience in the NFL this century. That left 94 head coaches.

Overall first time head coaches this century have a combined record of 2972 and 3103 which is a 0.478 winning percentage. Of course there are plenty of outliers to this average, so let’s look more deeply at the data and focus on the biggest outliers (for good and bad). The standard deviation of this data set is 0.138, so a coach who has a winning percentage greater than one standard deviation above the average is doing something right, and a coach with a winning percentage one standard below the average (or worse) will soon be fired (unless they are in Cleveland).

Who are the coaches who stunk it up in there first head coaching jobs in this century? Note that Bill Belichick’s first head coaching job, in Cleveland, was not begun this century. One standard deviation below average is 0.351.

"Bad" Head Coaches W/L%
Greg Schiano 0.344
Vance Joseph 0.344
Mike Nolan 0.327
Dave Campo 0.313
Mike Pettine 0.313
Kyle Shanahan 0.313
Scott Linehan 0.306
Dave McGinnis 0.298
Mike Riley 0.292
Pat Shurmur 0.281
Dick LeBeau+ 0.267
Rob Chudzinski 0.250
Lane Kiffin 0.250
Bobby Petrino 0.231
Gus Bradley 0.226
Dennis Allen 0.222
Steve Spagnuolo 0.212
Rod Marinelli 0.208
Steve Wilks 0.188
Chris Palmer 0.156
Marty Mornhinweg 0.156
Cam Cameron 0.063

There are some familiar names on that list. Vance Joseph, obviously, but also former Bronco defensive coordinators Mike Nolan and Dennis Allen along with Mike Shanahan’s son, Kyle, who many (me included) wanted us to hire when we hired Joseph. We also see for Faider head coach, Lane Kiffin, on that list. Also note that Josh McDaniels was not bad enough to be on this list.

The “good” head coaches are they men who have gotten their team to perform at one standard deviation (or greater) above average. Those men have a winning percentage of 0.627 or better. The table of them from this century is below. I also included others who are above 0.600

"Good" Head Coaches W/L%
Matt Nagy 0.750
Sean McVay 0.750
Jim Harbaugh 0.695
Mike Tomlin 0.654
Anthony Lynn 0.636
Frank Reich 0.625
Mike Martz 0.624
Bruce Arians 0.619
Mike McCarthy 0.618
Sean Payton 0.615
Doug Pederson 0.604

It is interesting to note that both Bruce Arians and Mike McCarthy were recently fired from their first NFL head coaching gigs and that there was talk of the Steelers not renewing Mike Tomlin’s contract. It is also interesting to note that of the 12 teams that made the playoffs this season, six of them have their head coach on that list and if I had extended it just a bit further it would have been 7 (John Harbaugh has a winning percentage of 0.591).

  1. Sean McVay
  2. Sean Payton
  3. Anthony Lynn
  4. Frank Reich
  5. Matt Nagy
  6. Doug Pederson
  7. John Harbaugh* (0.591)

For those who prefer to see this data plotted graphically, I prepared this, since it is informative to see where the winning percentages line up for all 97

First time NFL head coaches who started this century as head coaches

Please don’t try to read the names on the X-axis without magnification.

You need to look no further than those big orange dots to see why many in Bronco Country are leery of hiring another first time head coach. The last two that we hired were not very successful and only lasted two (or so) seasons. Also for those who like to see how the data is spread, I ordered the data on the plot from high to low winning percentage. That is shown below.


After having seen the historical data, what will the Broncos (and Vic Fangio’s) record be next season?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    5-11 or worse
    (42 votes)
  • 3%
    (70 votes)
  • 7%
    (163 votes)
  • 19%
    (415 votes)
  • 32%
    (681 votes)
  • 24%
    (517 votes)
  • 9%
    11-5 or better
    (197 votes)
2085 votes total Vote Now