Try, Try, Try Again : The NFL’s Newest Head Coaches

Here we go again, the annual ritual of head coach bloodletting for 2020 seems to be over at this point in January. Every year about 20% of NFL head coaches are shown the door, which usually means the Browns and six other teams bring in a new head coach. This year has been a bit lighter with only five replacements announced. Included, of course, are the Browns, who hired Mark Stefnaski. The Cowboys, who finally parted ways with Jason, Jones, err Garrett for Mike McCarthy. The Panthers tapped Baylor’s Matt Ruhle and ousted Ron Rivera. The Redskins decided the Panthers must have made a mistake and grabbed Ron Rivera. Finally, the Giants, who continue to confound by bringing on Joe Judge from the Patriots staff. The Wonderkid Search continues. These five new coaches represent a diverse assortment of credentials, backgrounds, and philosophies. So, how will they do? No one knows but optimism reigns supreme. I think I have an idea who may be successful and who will not.

I have been studying NFL head coaches for many years. In 2012 I published a book, “The Perfect Pro Football Coach,” in which I ranked every one of the 300 some head coaches since the AFL-NFL merger from best to worst. In doing so, I developed an unpretentious system for rating coaches, strictly based on their performance on the field. I know who was good, and I know who was not. I have now taken my studies one step further and come up with a rating system that forecasts success based on the parallels a new candidate has with the successful coaches in recent history. It is called the Chance of Success Total (“COST”) system. This approached is detailed in my latest book, “Tackling the Perfect Pro Football Coach.”

Here’s how these new guys shake out in order of predicted success

My scores are strictly based upon on-the-field performance of their teams once they take over. I do not consider personalities, ownership peculiarities, the existing team roster, etc. The “perfect pro football coach” would score an even 100 points under the COST system. A score in the 80’s and above is very good. High 60’s and 70’s are possible successes. Below that, success is unlikely.

In this group Ron Rivera scored high because of his extensive experience as a successful NFL head coach and coordinator. He has also been a winner almost everywhere he has ever been. In general, I downgrade coaches who have been head coaches before since almost two-thirds of them fare worst in their subsequent gigs. In Rivera’s and Mike McCarthy’s case, I actually up graded them because they performed very well in the former jobs. Ken Stefanski has good credentials, although he lacks experience has not been a coordinator very long. Joe Judge has never been a coordinator, which is the kiss of death for me. Matt Ruhl has some impressive accomplishments, but I have discovered that it very rare for a big-time college head coach to jump right into the NFL and be successful, although Matt did have a cameo with the Giants a few years ago. Interestingly, my research indicates that having been an NFL head coach anywhere before is not a requirement. There have been many successes who had never been a head coach anywhere before.

I have been predicting success of future NFL head coaches for the past eleven years. I am certain of one thing: NFL ownership has done an abysmal job in finding new coaches. In fact, their success rate is under 20%. Had they followed my COST predictions their batting average would have gone up by about three times that figure. I am not perfect but I am batting over .600. Best of luck to the new guys. They are going to need it.

There is much more detail information about COST forecasts in my latest book, “Tackling the Perfect Pro Football Coach”, which is available through Kindle and Amazon.

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Okay, Boys. It is Report Card Time

Every year since 2009 we have been assessing the probable success of each new NFL head coach hire before his first game using our “Success Predictably Gradient (SPG)” analysis. Including the new slate for the 2017 season, we have evaluated the outlook for some fifty-six coaches. We excluded the interim men who were brought on during the season. While it truly takes in our judgment at least three to four years to determine if a new coach has the “right stuff”, nonetheless, we still evaluate actual performance each year as compared to our original forecasts. So let’s take a peek at the Class of 2016 and see how they did.

Here is how the class performed.


(* These guys actually made the playoffs)

Our SPG forecasts didn’t assume exceptionally good things from this group, and a winning percentage under 44.0% tends to substantiate that forecast. There were, however, some bright spots as well as some disasters. Our SPG grades anticipated that McAdoo and Gase would perform the best, and they fulfilled that expectation. In fact, both exceeded our expectations with playoff performances. On the other hand, we felt that Hue Jackson would at least hold his own, which even in Cleveland, he failed to do. We didn’t expect much from Chip Kelly, and he didn’t let us down. Mike Mullarkey’s winning record in Tennessee must also be considered a pleasant surprise.

As we mentioned above, you really can’t tell too much from a single season, although lately a number of owners have not waited much longer than that to pull the trigger.

For more on how we rate head coaches visit our website- .


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The Perfect Pro Football Coach by Robert DeLuca is now available at most other national booksellers.


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As usual the end of the 2016 regular NFL season saw the termination of about one fifth of the head coaches in the league. In fact, from 2012 through 2015 exactly seven coaches were fired each year. So far this year the number is six, but we may not be done yet. Like many things in life it is not hard to determine when you are unhappy with something, but fixing it is quite another matter. Maybe there is a way to guard against the frequent poor hires that occur so often?

Since 2009, we have been tracking new head coach hires and applying their credentials against a set of standards, which we have developed after closely studying the attributes and detracting characteristics of the almost 300 coaches who have run NFL teams over the past fifty years. We then use our “Success Predictably Gradient (SPG)” to forecast the likelihood of success for each new hire. We are not perfect, but our batting average has been much better than the NFL Owners have achieved.

We look only at a hard data comparison of how a new coach compares with the best and worst that have gone before him. We do not measure personalities or what is in his heart. These factors are ,of course, critical to any hiring decision. We also do not attempt to provide an explanation for why certain factors apply, only that the better coaches seem to have them. Our reasoning is very straightforward, the more your new man compares favorably with the best in the past, the more likely he will work out for you.

As of this writing five of the six vacancies have been filled with only the 49’ers coach-less at this point. Perhaps they are waiting for the playoffs to be complete before they hire someone like Josh McDaniel’s of the Pats or Kyle Shanahan of the Falcons. That said, based on our SPG scores we feel that the first five selections have been unusually good by historical standards, with one glaring exception.  A perfect SPG score is 100 points based on about fifteen key factors.  As in the classroom, 90+ is excellent, 80’s are very good, 70’s are okay, and then the trouble begins.

Here are the SPG scores of the five hires and two contenders so far:

img_20170123_0005 Both Marrone and McVay are graded down because they have not been around winners for most of their football careers. We also tend to score down new coaches who have done it before, since about two-thirds of them do worse the second time around. McVay suffers from his tender age and lack of time (only two years) as a coordinator. He simply has not paid his dues as yet. All the others have considerable time on NFL staffs, particularly as coordinators.

Remember Josh McDaniels in Denver?

For more on how we rate head coaches visit our website- .

The Perfect Pro Football Coach by Robert DeLuca is now available at most other national booksellers.


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Brotherly Love

Yes, I am a product of the sixties when the world was turned upside down. There is a famous Kingston Trio ballad from that era “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” which includes the memorable line “Oh, when will they ever learn?” Blessed with a brother, I have some understanding of the innate affection, concern, and desire to ensure that my sibling is doing well, especially should the circumstances of his life turn downward. Correspondingly, the feelings shared by fraternal twins must be even stronger. That said, there’s just got be a limit between outright nepotism and the bounds of appropriate business behavior. When will pro football coaches ever learn that hiring family is not necessarily a good idea?

            The hiring by Rex Ryan, whose “not-as-big-as-it was” posterior is beginning to sizzle in Buffalo, of his fraternal twin, Rob, as assistant head/defense coach, defies all good football, business sense. Sure Rex felt bad for Rob, who was down on his luck. The barbershop refugee must have been treated unfairly and not given a chance as defensive coordinator at the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, St. Louis Rams (almost), and New Orleans Saints. Just by looking at Rob, it is instantly clear that he obviously marches to the beat of his own drum, which is not necessarily a bad thing in itself. On the other hand, I believe it is reasonable to ask how someone who cares so little about his own personal appearance can at the same time still be precocious in scheming against opposing NFL offenses. In today’s NFL emotion only goes so far.

            In situations like this I am always reminded about the guy that has several traffic accidents every year, but none are ever his fault. Hmm? Rex has a long and thoroughly proven record of under achievement. It is one thing for a Mike Shanahan to arrange for his son, Kyle, to catch on as an assistant with an NFL staff and then earn his way up through the ranks. Rex’s swaddling of Rob, however, who has bombed out in dramatic fashion all over the league, makes little football sense. Perhaps, Rex sees his stay on Lake Erie as almost over. At least this way Robby can cash a few more checks.

            So what do I know? After the Bills shut out the Patriots at their home last week I picked them up on my fantasy football league team. As I said there is just something about the way two close brothers can work together…….

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Credit If Credit Is Due

Our CASH system of ranking NFL head coaches is simple, accurate, and downright cute, but wouldn’t it be nice to know how a coach is likely to do before he toots his whistle in your practice facility? Sure, and that is why we developed our Success Predictability Gradient (“SPG”) analysis for new hires, which we have used since 2009. It has turned out to be pretty accurate in weeding out the achievers from the busts.

One of the more surprising facts we extracted from our analysis some years ago was that most re-hired NFL head coaches do worse the second time around. In fact, about two-thirds of them suffer poorer winning percentages than during the first gigs. The statistics bear this strange fact out.

We got to thinking about our SPG criteria and realized that we probably should include a measurement factor for prior head NFL coaching experience in our equation. To account for a previous head coach’s experience, we first compared his personal CASH score with the median CASH Score for all coaches. Eric Mangini, for example, in 2009 had a CASH score of 1,448, when the median CASH score was only 882. Eric had performed better than many. In fact, he ranked 102nd of 245 total coaches. With 143 coaches below him, Eric ranked at 58.8% of all coaches. Perhaps he merited a point or two in SPG because he had been better than average.

We have now added the following chart, which adds or detracts SPG points based on how a previous coach has done. It has no bearing on a coach who has never been a head coach before.

Previous Coaching Record

Points Adjusted           Coaches Peer Rank

                                                              + 8                                    + 90%

                                                               +6                                      80-89%

                                                               +4                                      70-79%

                                                               +2                                      60-69%

                                                                  0                                      50-59%

                                                                -5                                      Below 50%

In general, we don’t like it if a new guys has been a head coach before, but if he has done well we will recognize it. Alas, Eric didn’t snare any more points.

For more on how we rate head coaches visit our website-   http://perfectprocoach.comI

The Perfect Pro Football Coach by Robert DeLuca is now available at the I Bookstore and most other national booksellers.



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Dennis Green: One of the best Ever

With the early passing of Dennis Green this week at age 67, the NFL coaching fraternity lost a giant in more ways than one. He will be remembered as a pioneer having been one of the first African-American head coaches, who proved without a doubt that race was simply a non-starter in the coaching business. There are numerous testimonials about his brilliant interpersonal skills among his players and coaching staffs. He wanted everyone to succeed. Beyond these warm and fuzzy well-deserved platitudes, however, the fact is that Dennis Green earned a spot among the most successful NFL head coaches of all time.

Our analysis of NFL coaching success incorporates a total of four key on-the-field statistical data points into a Coaching Assessment Scoring Hierarchy (CASH) index for the body of a coach’s work. Every coach’s CASH score is then ranked from first to about three hundred, which is total of NFL heads coaches since 1960. Once those coaches who have not met a minimum number of games threshold are eliminated, ninety-four have been around long enough for All-Time consideration. Dennis Green ranks thirty-third on our All Time list. He is just behind Chuck Knox but ahead among others of Hank Stram, Dan Reeves, and Mike Shanahan. With the Vikings he won almost 100 games, actually 97, and lost only 67 for an excellent 61.0% regular season winning percentage. He took the Vikings to the playoffs an incredible 8 out of 10 years. Had he stopped there his ranking would have approached the top ten. Unfortunately as happens with so many coaches, the second time around never equals the success of the first. At Arizona he only won a third of his games and never went to the playoffs.

Our rankings are strictly numbers driven, but it is always refreshing to hear about a successful on-the-field coach who is also a wonderful human being.

For more on how we rate head coaches visit our website- .

The Perfect Pro Football Coach by Robert DeLuca is now available at the I Bookstore and most other national booksellers.


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Put Me in, Coach

Our analysis of the head coaching potion in the National Football League is designed to be firmly based upon what has transpired on the filed in terms of wins and losses and then a correlation of that level of success to the qualifications and background of each individual coach. We then attempt to see what the best ones have in common. What we don’t dwell upon is why coaches with certain common qualifications are successful. For instance, there is a definite positive correlation between coaches from Western Pennsylvania and Ohio and success as an NFL head coach. We really can’t tell you why, but the fact is, they have consistently done well. Is it the water? Hardscrabble environment? Dunno.

On the other hand, I got thinking how interesting it is that a number of the very best NFL head coaches, who also played in the league were fringe or marginal at best. We clearly recognize that there has never been a hall of famer who was worth much as an NFL head coach, but sitting on the bench for a while may be a good thing. Consider some of the very best of all time such as Tony Dungy, Don Shula, Tom Landry, Bud Grant, and Bill Cowher. All of them played for at least a few years in the league and with the exception of perhaps Tom Landry, none of them particularly distinguished himself wearing a helmet.

I wonder if these coaches and others were able to have a unique perspective to learn the in’s and out’s of professional football that they put to great advantage when they exchanged their playbooks for clipboards. They may have been able to observe and learn without the pressure and wear and tear mentally and physically that the great players had to endure. It might also be true that their pay envelopes were not as full as the best players, and that itself may have been a motivating factor to pay a little extra attention. There is no question that being in and around the game for a while is critical for a prospective head coach, and what better classroom could there be than at the center of the bench?

            There is a lot more at our website- .

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The Perfect Pro Football Coach by Robert DeLuca is now available in paperback and an E book d most national booksellers.


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Not So Fast With the Hook

Super Bowl 50 was played last night and there were more than a few surprised faces over the outcome. The upstart Denver Broncos using a lights-out defense crushed the seemingly invincible Carolina Panthers’ juggernaut. What may be even more surprising than the score were the two opposing head coaches. One is just two years removed from a dreadful eleven game losing streak in Houston and the other just three years from a make-it-or-break-it campaign that might have sent him back to assistant coaching.

Gary Kubiak had been at the Texans helm for almost eight years. During that time he had won 61 and lost 64 for a winning percentage of under 50%. He had been to the playoffs twice. As a laid back local Houstonian, it seemed that owner Bob McNair would never run out of patience with Gary. In fact, it took eleven straight losses in 2013 after a 12-4 season the previous year to send him on his way. Ironically, deserving 2015 Assistant Coach of the Year, Wade Phillips, took over for Gary at the tail end of the season and managed to extend the losing streak to 14. Gary immediately caught on with the Ravens as Offensive Coordinator in 2014 until old buddy John Elway brought him to Denver this year.  He performed masterfully winning it all, and even though he inherited perhaps the best quarterback of all time in Peyton Manning, who truthfully as a tired old veteran was hardly himself.

Ron Rivera stumbled out of the blocks in Carolina winning only 43% of this games in his first two years. Then he raised expectations to new heights with a superb 12-4 record in 2013, but stubbed his toe in 2014 at a miserable 7-8-1. Gary Kubiak had done the same thing when he went 12-4 before 2-11-out in Houston. Rivera’s job may have only been saved by the fact that somehow he still made the playoffs and even won a game. Of course, this year his team went nuts at 15-1 and on to the big dance.

When we analyze coaching performance, we calculate a Coaching Achievement Scoring Hierarchy (“CASH”) score which enables us to compare coaching proficiency among all NFL head coaches. When he last coached in 2013, Gary Kubiak’s 1,300 CASH score ranked him below average at 23rd out of the 32 active coaches. In one year his rating for 2015 jumped to 1,530 and 19th among active coaches. He is now among the top 35% of coaches who qualify for all time ranking.  After 2014 Ron Rivera also ranked below average at 22nd of the 32 active coaches with a score of 1,492. His CASH score now after 2015 has leaped to 2,077 and 10th place among active coaches. CASH measures the career body of work by a coach and is much more sensitive between years early in a career. 1,000 to 1,100 generally is the deciding line between proficient and clueless.

Gary Kubiak seems to have been a slower learner who is maturing very gracefully. Rivera is on a faster track earlier. Oh, by the way, having the horses tends to make a big difference.

For more on how we rate head coaches visit our website- .

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Progress Report for the Class of 2015

About one year ago we applied our “Success Probability Gradient” analysis to the seven new NFL head coaches who were jumping into the fray for the first time during the 2015 season. Our forecasts of likely success in the NFL are based upon a reasonable period of performance of at least two or three seasons under fire, even though some owners chop their coaches sooner. We feel it is premature to condemn or praise a man after only one campaign. On the other hand, the ultimate, yet unfinished, body of work is in motion during year one, and it is worth taking a look to see how this crowd is doing so far. In fact, only one, Gary Kubiak made the playoffs, and another, Jim Tomsula, managed to get himself canned after only one year with the dysfunctional 49ers.

Here is how they fared in 2016. “Imp” is the number of games they improved over the previous year.

Coach Team SPG Call Wins Imp*
1 John Fox Bears Probable Success   6  +1
2 Dan Quinn Falcons Probable Success   8  +2
3 Rex Ryan Bills Probable Success   8  -1
4 Gary Kubiak Broncos Possible Success   12   0
5 Todd Bowles Jets Possible Success  10  +6
6 Jack, Del Rio Raiders Probable Failure   7   0
7 Jim Tomsula 49ers Likely Failure   5  -3

             Amusingly, our group finished exactly 56 and 56 as a group. Considering that all of them took over jobs for incumbents that were not acceptable for one reason or another, maybe a .500 record is not so bad. Each situation needs to be considered on individual merits. Gary Kubiak’s 12 wins and playoff bye berth are certainly impressive, but he took over a thoroughbred and did exactly what the departed John Fox did last season. Dan Quin started out 5-0 and then limped home as Offensive Coordinators caught up to Julio Jones. As usual Rex could not live up to his big mouth. Perhaps the very best job was turned in by Todd Bowles with the Jets, who added six wins to Rex’s total and only Ryan Fitzpatrick’s fourth quarter pick fest in the last game kept his team out of the postseason.

 For more on how we rate head coaches visit our website- .

The Perfect Pro Football Coach by Robert DeLuca is now available at the I Bookstore and most other national booksellers.


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The Class of 2015

The dread of “no more football” is suddenly upon us. The Super Bowl is a fading memory and August seems like it is years away. The draft will begin to pick up steam in a month or so, but right now what can we talk about? Well, the prescient NFL owners have provided us with a little something – their annual bloodletting of head coaches. Next year, as of this writing, there will be seven new men prowling the sidelines for NFL teams in the fall. Does this mean those teams with new coaches will improve? If history is any teacher, the answer is in most cases a resounding “no”. The owners are always much more concerned with cleaning house than re-decorating.

Using our “Success Probability Gradient”, which compares the qualities of the new guys with what we have determined are some of the credentials of the very best head coaches of all time. A perfect score would be “100”, and that guy would be a “can’t miss” hire. Above 85 is excellent, 75-85 is very good, 65 to 75 is marginal, and anything else is almost surely doomed to fail. Here is the way we rate the Class of 2015.

Coach Team SPG Score Outlook
1 John Fox Chicago 73 Probable Success
2 Pat Quinn Atlanta 72 Probable Success
3 Rex Ryan Buffalo 71 Probable Success
4 Gary Kubiak Denver 70 Possible Success
5 Todd Bowles New York Jets 68 Possible Success
6 Jack, Del Rio Oakland 64 Probable Failure
7 Jim Tomsula San Francisco 59 Likely Failure

While there are some very familiar names in this group four of them have either been fired or abruptly left another head coaching position within the last few years. Our analysis does not subscribe to the theory that the second or third time is the charm. History indicates that most (but certainly not all) head coaches fare worse the second time on the job. Also, having been a head coach anywhere before is surprisingly not especially important but having been a coordinator in the NFL is very important.

It doesn’t take a genius to wonder how the 49ers and Broncos think they have upgraded based upon the performances of whom they let get away. Even the Falcons dismissed a guy who had won almost 60% of his games. Let’s check back on this group in a couple of years.

For more on how we rate head coaches visit our website- .

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The Perfect Pro Football Coach by Robert DeLuca is now available at the I Bookstore and most other national EBook booksellers.





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