How Often Does a New Coach Have a Connection to his New School?
Photo Credit: Bob Donnan - USA TODAY Sports

How Often Does a New Coach Have a Connection to his New School?

November 22, 2017

With one week still left in the 2017-18 college football regular season, the "Coaching Carousel" is already starting to spin.

At the time this story was published, five Power 5 schools – Ole Miss, Oregon State, Florida, Tennessee and UCLA – will have new head coaches next season. More likely than not, that number will continue to grow in the coming weeks when bowl games are completed and schools evaluate their programs. 

Based on a dataset I put together of all the coaching changes by Power 5 schools, plus Notre Dame, from the start of the 2007 season to the start of this season, there has been an average of nearly 11 changes per year.

Prior to the 2016 season, 15 Power 5 schools made a change at head coach. That year’s total ranks as the most dating back to 2007. Prior to the 2017 and 2014 seasons, only seven Power 5 schools made a change, the lowest yearly totals since 2007.

When separated by conference, all Power 5 conferences except for the Big 12 have averaged two changes per team since before the 2007 season. The Big 12 has averaged 1.6 changes per team.

 

School-wise, Minnesota and Tennessee are tied with the most changes at four each during that time period. On the other end, five schools have yet to make a change during that time, meaning they have had the same head coach since before the 2007 season.

Those teams and coaches are: Utah (Kyle Whittingham), Northwestern (Pat Fitzgerald), Iowa (Kirk Ferentz), TCU (Gary Patterson) and Oklahoma State (Mike Gundy).  

As of now, with no official announcement of Mike Riley’s future at Nebraska, the Huskers sit just above the national average with two coaching changes during that span.

Including the most recent firings among Power 5 schools, 20 programs have more changes than Nebraska since 2007. Again, these numbers may be different as news of other coaching changes could be happening as you read this.

When schools make a change at head coach, it generally means the previous coach was not performing at or above standards set for the program. Other times, coaches retire or take a different gig somewhere else.

Regardless of why the change is made, how many of these coaching changes are “successful?” Do they really pay off?

Based on a simple change in winning percentage from the previous coach, 64 of the 120 newly hired coaches went on to post a better record during their time at the school. (Current coaches’ winning percentages were calculated at the conclusion of Week 12.) Still, that’s 53 percent. From this perspective, half of the coaching changes have worked while the other half have not. That makes sense.

But, what if we take a different approach. Let’s claim “successful” as winning a conference championship. We’ll exclude Notre Dame in this instance as it competes independently.

In this case, the percent of coaching changes considered “successful” drops, with just 17 percent (20) of the hired coaches going on to win a conference title at their new position. Four of those coaches claimed their title in the Big East Conference, which is no longer a football conference.

On average, it took these 20 conference champion coaches 2.6 seasons to win a title after being hired. Five of them accomplished it in their first season, and another five took more than three seasons.

Based on schools still in contention prior to the final week of the regular season, six recently hired Power 5 head coaches have a chance to win their first conference title at their respective schools next week.

A perfect coaching change would mean winning a national championship, right? So, how many Power 5 coaches, plus Notre Dame, hired since 2007 have gone on to win a national title?

Answer: five. Nick Saban (Alabama), Gene Chizik (Auburn), Urban Meyer (Ohio State), Jimbo Fisher (Florida State) and Dabo Swinney (Clemson).

This means less than half of the college football national champion teams from 2007 to 2016, were led by a coach hired during that time.

It took these five coaches an average of four seasons to win a national championship at their respective schools. Swinney didn’t win the title until his eighth season at Clemson.

Yes, it only took Chizik two seasons to get his at Auburn, but Heisman-winner Cam Newton played a big role in the Tigers’ championship run. Chizik went a combined 19-19 in his other three seasons as Auburn’s head coach. He was fired following the 2012 season.

All of these numbers show coaches aren’t turning programs around in the blink of an eye.

Another question to ask is, what kind of coaches are these Power 5 schools hiring? Are they young or are they old? Have they previously won a national title or conference title? Are they from other Power 5 or Group of 5 schools? Are they alums of the school, or have they coached there in the past?

Using the same dataset as previously mentioned, we can calculate these averages and totals, as well.

Let’s start with age. The group with the most hires is 46-50, with the average of these hired coaches being 47 years old.

 

As we know, Nebraska’s last two hires, Mike Riley and Bo Pelini, were on opposite ends of that average. Pelini was 41 at the start of his first season for the Huskers. Riley was 62, which is tied for the third oldest hire since 2007.

The average years of head coaching experience for all Power 5 hires over the span is 4.8. Years spent as a head coach in college football, the NFL and CFL (Canadian Football League) are included in this calculation.

Forty-two of the 120 hired coaches since 2007 have had zero years of head coaching experience in either college football, NFL or CFL, meaning they were assistants at their previous position. That’s 35 percent.

Riley’s 21 years of experience at the time of his hiring ranks second most among the hires; only former Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson had more with 24 years combined at his various stops throughout his career.

How many of these hired coaches with at least one year of experience had previously won either a conference title or national title?

Fifty-one of the 120 hired coaches had previously won at least one conference title and only five of the 120 hired coaches had previously won a national title at the college level: Mike London (Richmond [FCS]), Brian Kelly (Grand Valley State [D-II]), Urban Meyer (Florida), Nick Saban (LSU) and Paul Johnson (Georgia Southern [FCS]).

Note, only one of those championships was at the FBS level.

Another interesting aspect to look at is where these newly hired coaches are coming from. Nearly 50 percent of the hires previously coached at a current Power 5 school. Another 30 percent previously coached at a Group of 5 schools.

 

The last thing I looked into was how often schools hired an alum of their university. Surprisingly, only 12 percent (14) of the coaches hired since 2007 were alumni of their new school. A few obvious names that stood out: Jim Harbaugh (Michigan), David Shaw (Stanford), Mark Richt (Miami), Kirby Smart (Georgia) and Tom Herman (Texas).

The percent of coaches who at some point in time coached at the school they were hired at is far greater than that of alumni hires. That rate is nearly 40 percent, more than double that of alumni hires.

It will be interesting to see in the coming weeks how schools and coaches riding the carousel will turn out compared to the recent national trends.

(Editor's Note: After publication we noticed a small miscalculation in the data. The numbers in this story have been updated as of Nov. 28.)

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