Jim Harbaugh Watch: Youth vs Experience, or, What Quality is Best for a HC?

Over the past couple of weeks there has been significant discussions on possible head coaches for the 49ers. Harbaugh's name has been mentioned, as well as the Usual Suspects. mike v had a great comment that summasrizes up this side of the argument

Luck isn't happening and I'm resigning myself to that, but the last thing I want for this team is another {effing} retread coach who did something good 10 years ago or used to run on the treadmill next to Bill Walsh in 1984.

Of course the argument on the flip side is that young coaches are inexperienced, therefore won't be able to perform well. Since we have lists of head coaches and their records this should be easy enough to prove one way or the other. Since there have been about 3 bazillion head coaches I had to narrow my criteria down or I'd never be able to complete the project. The ultimate goal of a football team is to win the Superbowl. If a coach does that, by definition he's successful. I also think that just making it to the Superbowl requires a successful coach, since 30 other teams were not able to do so. For this project I decided that my definition of successful coaches were those who made it to a Superbowl at least once in their coaching tenure (whether they won or lost). 

I wanted to see if there was a trend. Does previous NFL head coaching make a difference? What about college head coaches? Do offensive minded coaches do better than defensive minded?

If you want to look at the spreadsheet you can dowload it from here and play around with the data. Here's what I found out.

Here are some interesting facts:

  • There have been 44 Super Bowls, but only 26 coaches--meaning multiple wins for multiple coaches
  • Likewise there have been 22 coaches that have lost--meaning multiple losses for multiple coaches
What about experience?
  • Only 8 Super Bowl winners were previously NFL head coaches.
  •  Of the rest 4 were college HCs, and 14 were NFL assistants in some capacity
  • No NFL HC has won a Superbowl and gone on to win it with another team, though "Weeb" Ewbank did win a championship with the AFL as well as a SB. 
Offensive or defensively minded? To determine this I looked at what position the coach held before their first HC job. Obviously philsophies can change as coaches learn, but the point of this exercise is to see what background these coaches had early on. 
  • Of the SB winners 10 coaches came from an offensive background, either as some sort of assistant or the offensive coordinator. Only 4 came from a defensive background.
How about the losers?
  • 17 losing SB coaches were previous NFL HCs.
  • 4 were college HCs
  • 2 had come from the ranks of Canadian football
  • 12 had some sort of offensive coaching background
  • 9 came from defensive backgrounds
So what does this mean for the 49ers? Well not much really, but I'll make these generalizations anyway. Your best chances of making it to the Superbowl are with an offensive minded head coach (but not by much). If you want to win the Superbowl you definitely want to pick an offensive minded Head Coach. Stay away from past Superbowl winners--none of them has ever won with another team. This means no Jon Gruden or Brian Billick. Inexperienced head coaches seem to do better. If you can find an offensive coordinator as your new HC, that will give you your best shot.

To summarize, the ideal HC candidate should look like this:
  • Offensively minded
  • Preferably an offensive coordinator. Failing that a HC
  • Never a previous SB winner
  • Previous HC experience is fine, even if they stunk--previous record has no bearing on the record of the team they take to the Super Bowl. 
  • In other words, Josh McDaniels (I kid, I kid.)
Of course none of this really means anything because there are far too many factors that go into a team making the Superbowl. 

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