Over the past decade, about 1 in 10 universities at the major college level replaced their head football coaches annually for performance-related reasons. But a recent study suggests that replacements do not tend to make underperforming teams much better in subsequent seasons and frequently make them worse.
Anecdotal evidence and scientific analysis indicate that replacing a coach is no guarantee of success. Houston finished 5-7 this season after changing its coordinator. Wisconsin is a middling 7-5 after firing its line coach. The Badgers reached the Big Ten Conference title game only because N.C.A.A. penalties left Ohio State and Penn State ineligible.
A study published last month in Social Science Quarterly may provide sobering news to Auburn, Tennessee and other universities that have fired their coaches. Using data from 1997 to 2010, the study compared the performance of major college teams that replaced their coach with teams with similar records that kept their coach.
The results, tracked over a five-year period following the coaching changes, might surprise many. The lowliest teams subsequently performed about the same as other struggling teams that did not replace their coach. Mediocre teams — those that won about half their games in the year before a coaching change — performed worse than similar teams that did not replace their coach.
The reasons for this are not clearly understood, but may stem from an adjustment period required by a coach at a new university, the time players need to learn a new system and disruptions made to recruiting networks, said E. Scott Adler, an associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado and the lead author of the study.
Color me shocked that in the real world it’s far less easy to replace a head coach successfully than anybody with an attitude, a pseudonym and a keyboard insists it is.
Statistically speaking, Adler said: “There’s not much to be said for every few years dumping a coach who’s had a couple bad seasons. In the long run, you are about in the same situation down the road if you had done nothing and ridden out the storm.”
Yes, but Nick Saban! (Who, it should be remembered, was Alabama’s second choice, after RichRod. I’m sure things would have worked out exactly the same way if he’d have taken the ‘Bama job.)