With all the recent discussion of teams historically regressing after enjoying breakout seasons, I noticed quite a few people wondering if head coaching changes were a factor. That is, did teams that experienced a breakout season with a new coach do better the next year than teams that had head coaching continuity throughout?
I took the list of teams and records from Bill Barnwell's article on breakout teams regressing and did some cursory digging. I've included the table below, with additional comments on QB changes and injuries, along with some thoughts on why the regression occurred for a particular team. My conclusions are by no means ironclad, and I didn't provide them for every team. I didn't hunt down OC/DC changes, because that's trickier to track down.There are 28 teams on Barnwell's list, which includes teams from 2002-present that experienced a losing season (Year 1) followed by a breakout season with a winning record (Year 2). A vast majority of the teams regressed in Year 3. 7 of the 28 teams on Barnwell's list experienced breakout seasons coinciding with the arrival of a new head coach, good for 25%. The average regression from Year 2 (the breakout season) to Year 3 (the following season) for teams with new head coaches was -3.4 wins.
Of the 21 teams that didn't have a new head coach during their breakout season, 1 hired a new coach the season before the breakout season (Carolina hiring John Fox in 2002), and 1 hired a new coach the season after the breakout season (KC hiring Herm Edwards in 2006). Including those 2 teams, the average regression for the 21 teams in Year 3 was -3.8. Not counting those 2 teams, the average regression for the 19 teams that enjoyed complete continuity was still -3.8.
The difference isn't statistically significant.
It gets more interesting if instead we look at improvement from Year 1 to Year 3. Here, we get 3.3 more games won in Year 3 than Year 1 for teams with new head coaches during their breakout year. For the 21 teams that didn't have new coaches in their breakout season? They only won 1.5 more games in Year 3 compared to Year 1. And that number is skewed by Chicago's huge 8 game improvement from 2004 to 2006. If you disregarded that data point, the improvement for the 20 remaining teams would only be 1.25.
Either way, teams with new head coaches during their breakout seasons improved by more than twice as many games as teams with coaching continuity going from Year 1 to Year 3.
What does that mean for the Niners? Well, if you go by the regression average, they're due about 10 wins. If you go by the "improvement" average, they're due for 9 wins. Which is all well and good, but records are played out by football players on the field.
What might be more interesting for us as fans is to look at what went wrong for the new head coaches in Year 3, to see if any of these scenarios might play out for the 49ers. Let's look at the new coaches case by case.
ATL 2002-2004 (Jim Mora): Nothing here stood out to me. Vick was the quarterback all three years. In 2004, he was injured for 1 game...a loss. If you count the missed game as a win, the Falcons would have had only a 2 game regression from 2003. As it was, they went from 11 wins in 2003 to 9 in 2004.
ATL 2007-2009 (Mike Smith): Drafting Matt Ryan in 2008 was the likely catalyst for the team's improvement in 2008 from 4 wins to 11 wins. In 2009, Ryan was injured for 2 games: both losses. If you assume they would have won just one of those, the Falcons would have finished the season with 10 wins, down 1 from the previous year, breaking Barnwell's "10 Win Curse."
BAL 2007-2009 (John Harbaugh): As with Mike Smith's Falcons, the Ravens drafted Flacco in 2008 and enjoyed 11 wins in 2008. They regressed to 9 wins in 2009. Injury doesn't seem to have been a factor, though someone can correct me if I'm mistaken. Flacco did not miss any time to injury in 2009. This seems like a case of poorer overall play and/or a tougher schedule.
DAL 2002-2004 (Bill Parcells): This seems to be a case of the QB carousel striking. After enjoying a pretty good 10-win year with Quincy Carter in 2003, the Cowboys inexplicably released him in 2004 just before training camp. Rumors at the time were that he'd failed several NFL and team-administered drug tests. Whatever the reason, the Cowboys waffled between Vinny Testeverde and Drew Hensen during the 2004 season and managed only 6 wins: a regression of 4 wins. I write this one off as a case of QB inconsistency and poor QB play.
MIA 2007-2009 (Tony Sparano): After acquiring Chad Pennington from the Jets in 2008, Sparano's Dolphins enjoyed a remarkable turnaround from a 1 win season in 2007 to an 11 win season in 2008. That's a whopping 10 win differential. Pennington had an excellent year, and was probably the main factor in their massive improvement. Unfortunately, Pennington suffered a season ending injury in game 3 of the 2009 season, and it was the Chad Henne show thereafter. This is another case of QB injury hurting a team in the third year. Even so, the Dolphins managed 7 wins in 2009, still good for a 6 win improvement over 2007. It should be noted that the three games Pennington did play were all losses.
NO 2005-2007 (Sean Payton): This is probably the most baffling of the bunch. Adding Drew Brees to the mix took the reeling 2005 Saints from 3 wins to 10 in 2006. The following year, the team only put up 7 wins. What went wrong? I don't know. Brees wasn't injured, though he had a "down" year with a sub 90 QB Rating, throwing for 18 picks that season versus 11 the previous, with his TD numbers staying about the same.NYJ 2005-2007 (Eric Mangini): After turning a 4 win team from 2005 to a 10 win team in 2006 under Chad Pennington, Mangini switched from Pennington to Kellen Clemens in 2007, due to poor QB play from Pennington. The result was another 4 win season and a huge regression of 6 wins (an improvement of 0 wins, Year 1 to Year 3). This also seems to be related to a lack of QB continuity and poor QB play, though statistically, Pennington played better in 2007 versus 2006.
The full table of teams, wins, changes, and notes is below, from which you can draw some conclusions of your own. If anyone has any corrections, clarifications, or suggested changes to the data, let me know and I'll revise the table. If there's enough interest, I might go and hunt down strength of schedule info for the three years.
|Team||Years||Y1 Wins||Y2 Wins||Y3 Wins||Regression||HC Change?||QB Change?||Injury?||Significant Factors|
|ATL||2003-2005||5||11||8||-3||Hired Jim Mora 2004||No||One game, a loss.|
|ATL||2007-2009||4||11||9||-2||Hired Mike Smith 2008||Matt Ryan drafted 2008||Lost two games while Ryan was injured||QB injury|
|BAL||2002-2004||7||10||9||-1||No||Kyle Boller drafted 2003||No|
|BAL||2005-2007||6||13||5||-8||No||McNair 2006, McNair to Boller to Smith 2007||Both QB McNair and QB Boller||QB injury|
|BAL||2007-2009||5||11||9||-2||Hired John Harbaugh 2008||Joe Flacco drafted 2008|
|CAR||2002-2004||7||11||7||-4||Hired John Fox 2002||No||Major injuries in 2004 (non-QB)||Non-QB injuries|
|CAR||2004-2006||7||11||8||-3||No||Delhomme to Weinke||QB Delhomme injured 3 games (2 losses)||QB injury|
|CAR||2007-2009||7||12||8||-4||No||Delhomme to Matt Moore||QB Delhomme injured, but not a factor||Poor QB play|
|CHI||2009-2011||7||11||8||-3||No||Cutler to Hanie/McCown||Winning until Cutler injury||QB injury|
|CLE||2006-2008||4||10||4||-6||No||Anderson to Quinn to Dorsey to Gradkowski||Massive QB injuries||QB injury|
|DAL||2002-2004||5||10||6||-4||Hired Parcells 2003||Released Carter, started Testeverde and Henson||No.||Poor QB play|
|KC||2004-2006||7||10||9||-1||Hired Edwards 2006||Green to Huard. Some QB carousel.||QB Trent Green. Other injuries.||Injuries, a few close OT losses.|
|KC||2009-2011||4||10||7||-3||No||Cassel to Palko/Orton||Cassel injured||QB injury|
|MIA||2007-2009||1||11||7||-4||Hired Sparano 2008||Pennington to Henne||QB Pennington, other injuries.||QB injury|
|NO||2005-2007||3||10||7||-3||Hired Payton 2006||No||No major injuries.|
|NYJ||2003-2005||6||10||4||-6||No||Pennington to Testeverde to Bollinger 2005||QB Pennington, QB Testeverde||QB injury|
|NYJ||2005-2007||4||10||4||-6||Hired Mangini 2006||Pennington to Clemens (coach) 2007|
|PHI||2005-2007||6||10||8||-2||No||McNabb to Feely 2007||QB McNabb (2 losses)||QB injury|
|STL||2002-2004||7||12||8||-4||No||Warner to Bulger 2003|
|TB||2004-2006||5||11||4||-7||No||Griese to Gradkowski 2006||QB Griese, others||Injuries and overall play|
|TB||2009-2011||3||10||4||-6||No||No||No||Poor QB and overall play|
|WAS||2004-2006||6||10||5||-5||No||Brunell to Campbell 2006 (coach)||No|
|CHI||2004-2006||5||11||13||2||No||Orton to Grossman||No|
|PIT||2003-2005||6||15||11||-4||No||Roethlisberger drafted 2004||No|