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To recycle (a head coach) or not?

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It’s all about that retread. But just how good have retread head coaches been in the past?

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Since 2000 their have been 116 hirings and firings of NFL head coaches - 38 of those have been “retread” head coaches (32.8%), meaning that they have been a head coach (not just interim) before in the NFL. That number is lower than I would have expected since it seems that the NFL keeps bringing around the same few tired head coaches and giving them one more shot. What this also means is that 78 of the head coaches hired this century in the NFL had zero NFL head coaching experience when they were hired (67.8%).

Why is the relevant? There are five candidates that the Broncos are rumored to be interested in for the vacant head coaching spot of our franchise: Chuck Pagano, Vic Fangio, Mike Munchak, Zac Taylor and Brian Flores. Pagano and Munchak have been NFL head coaches before. The other three guys have not. That’s great, Joe. Why should we care?

NFL: New England Patriots at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

They ^^^^^ are why: in recent Bronco history we have hired two retreads, John Fox and Gary Kubiak, and two newbie head coaches in Josh McDaniel and Vance Joseph. By and large the retreads were successful while the newbies were not - both being fired during or immediately after their second season. So what does NFL history tell us about the success or failure of newbie head coaches vs retreads? Let’s delve into this.

I looked at 74 (of the 400+) men who have been NFL head coaches - focusing mostly on coaches from the past 30 years. I used winning percentage as my main measure of success (although I was told I should use Super Bowl victories as a factor). I asked these questions:

  1. How many only coached for one franchise? - 23 of the 74. I was surprised there were that many, but quite a few of these guys coached 40-50 years ago. I also excluded guys who only were a head coach for one or two seasons. Every coach of the 74 has at least 40 wins.
Coach Win %
John Madden 75.9%
Blanton Collier 69.1%
George Halas 68.2%
Mike Tomlin 65.4%
Mike Martz 62.4%
Bill Cowher 62.3%
Bruce Arians 61.9%
Mike McCarthy 61.8%
Sean Payton 61.5%
Bill Walsh 60.9%
Tom Landry 60.7%
Mike Zimmer 59.4%
John Harbaugh 59.1%
Mike Smith 58.9%
Chuck Knoll 56.6%
Jason Garrett 56.6%
Ron Rivera 55.9%
Brian Billick 55.6%
Chuck Pagano 55.2%
John Robinson 52.4%
Jim Fassel 52.2%
Marvin Lewis 51.8%
Wayne Fontes 49.6%

Note that Chuck Pagano has only coached for the Colts - and he has one of the lowest winning percentages on the list (one reason why he got fired). In his one season without a #1 overall pick playing QB for him (both Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck were #1 overall picks) his team went 4-12.

I should also note that first time head coaches that failed miserably and were not given a second chance are not on this list, so it is skewed towards those who were successful enough to last at least four or five years with the team that gave them their first shot.

2. How many of these coaches improved in their second stint as a head coach? answer: 13 That is more than I would have expected. When coaches did improve in their second stint, the average was an improvement of 18% with Lou Saban having the biggest improvement (31%) while Andy Reid’s 9% improvement with the Chiefs is the lowest. Note that I did not count a change of 5% or less as an improvement (or degradation) of a coach’s winning percentage. The poster child for improvement in their second HC job (at least in the modern NFL) is Bill Belicheat. Mike Shanahan was also quite good in his second stint as a head coach as was John Fox - both in Denver.

Head Coach 1st HC job 2nd HC job 3rd HC job 4th HC job
Lou Saban 37% 68% 32% 53%
Bill Belicheck 45% 74%
Mike Shanahan 40% 62% 38%
John Fox 51% 72% 29%
Tony Dungy 56% 76%
Marv Levy 43% 62%
Pete Carroll 38% 56% 62%
Gary Kubiak 49% 66%
Dave Wannstedt 42% 58%
Sid Gillman 48% 62% 35%
Forrest Gregg 44% 56% 41%
Wade Phillips 50% 60% 61%
Andy Reid 58% 68%

3. How many had no change in their second HC job relative to their first? answer: 11

Remember that if the change is 5% or less, I am not counting it as change.

Head Coach 1st HC job 2nd HC job 3rd HC job 4th HC job
Jack Del Rio 49% 52%
Jack Pardee 48% 50% 58%
Jim Caldwell 54% 56%
Marty Schottenheimer 62% 63% 50% 59%
Jimmy Johnson 55% 56%
Rex Ryan 48% 48%
Tom Coughlin 53% 53%
Dick Jauron 44% 42%
George Allen 74% 69%
Weeb Ewbank 53% 48%
Don Coryell 61% 55%

We can see that this list has two Hall of Fame coaches on it (Ewbanks and Allen) and one who will probably be in the Hall based on his two Super Bowl Victories (Tom Coughlin). I should note that while George Allen’s winning percentage did not change much, it was really good in both is head coaching stints. Oddly enough, Tom Coughlin’s was exactly the same in New York and in Jacksonville - 53.1%.

4. How many got worse in their second HC gig? answer: 27

Wait, so more often than not, these guys do worse in their second gig? Why does the NFL keep recycling them then? answer: They are a “known” quantity and there is a hope that they can be the next Belicheat. That is one reason why Adam Gase and Josh McDaniels are both getting interest to fill one of the eight current head coaching vacancies in the NFL.

Head Coach 1st HC job 2nd HC job 3rd HC job 4th HC job
Dick Vermeil 54% 46% 55%
Jon Gruden 59% 51% 25%
Ted Marchibroda 55% 47% 34%
Jerry Glanville 51% 42%
Don Shula 76% 66%
Bill Parcells 61% 50% 60% 53%
Bobby Ross 59% 47%
Sam Wyche 48% 36%
Mike Holmgren 67% 54%
Jeff Fisher 54% 41%
Vince Lombardi 75% 58%
Norv Turner 45% 28% 58%
Herm Edwards 49% 31%
Joe Gibbs 67% 48%
Dom Capers 47% 28%
Dan Reeves 60% 40% 45%
Bum Phillips 61% 39%
Steve Mariucci 59% 35%
Paul Brown 77% 50%
Chuck Knox 78% 51% 56% 31%
Dennis Green 61% 33%
Lovie Smith 56% 25%
Mike Ditka 63% 31%
Tom Flores 61% 29%
Curly Lambeau 67% 32% 44%
George Seifert 77% 33%

Some of these coaches failed spectacularly in their second head coaching jobs - for various reasons. George Seifert went from a franchise loaded with talent (49ers) to a franchise bereft of it (Panthers) as did Steve Mariucci (49ers to Lions). Dom Capers went from a team that he built from the ground up (Panthers) to a team that he was unable to repeat that same building process (Texans). Tom Flores went from a team with a fanatical/activist owner (Faiders - where he won two Super Bowls) to a team with no real guidance from the owner or the GM (Seahawks).

I should note that some of those who got worse in their second stint, improved in their 3rd stint - Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll, Jack Pardee and Norv Turner were all better in their 3rd head coaching positions in the NFL than in their second.

So you have seen the data. Do you want to hire a retread in Pagano or Munchak? Do you want to give a long-time coordinator, Vic Fangio, his first shot as a head coach? Or do you want to give a young relatively unproven guy a shot as our head coach? Does hiring a coordinator from the Patriots, Brian Flores, still hold some distaste for you like it does for me? What about hiring a positional coach, Zac Taylor, who is not much older than our starting QB?

Poll

Who is your favorite candidate for head coach?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Zac Taylor
    (563 votes)
  • 1%
    Brian Flores
    (45 votes)
  • 18%
    Mike Munchak
    (750 votes)
  • 9%
    Chuck Pagano
    (390 votes)
  • 56%
    Vic Fangio
    (2271 votes)
4019 votes total Vote Now