Wild card weekend 2014 has come and gone with no shortage of excitement or nationwide wind-chill maps. In looking back, there were new lessons learned (Philip Rivers loves Bolo Ties and Andrew Luck has the power of 20men in his beard) and old lessons confirmed (The Bengals REALLY wish they could swap 2011 2nd round draft picks with the 49ers). In the midst of all the excitement and intrigue of the weekend, one of my largest takeaways was the growing success of first year head coaches and the teams they were brought in to turn around.
Three of the eight teams playing this WC Weekend were in the middle of a coaching search at the end of last season, and each of those three teams were in the top 11 of the 2013 Draft. Yes, for the Philadelphia Eagles, the San Diego Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs, 2012 was a season of disappointment and most notably – Underachievement.
I highlight underachievement because that was the battle cry of the 2013 Detroit Lions and all too often, expectations become lessened in situations with coaching turnover. New systems are brought in, schemes are changed, “is he a players’ coach or a disciplinarian?” questions abound. The bottom line is that whoever ends up winning the job of Head Coach of the Detroit Lions, they should be expected to make the playoffs in their first year.
Of the eight teams to change coaches following the 2012 season, all but two of them increased their winning percentage in 2013 and collectively they averaged 2.63 more wins on the year. In all, since the 2011 season ended, there have been 15 coaching changes. In years following coaching changes, teams won an average of 1.8 more games than they did the year prior. Beyond that, of the 15 teams, only 5 actually lost more games after bringing in a new coach.
Changing coaches on its own doesn’t necessarily imply more wins, just as “parity” is not some naturally assumed NFL rite of passage. What we do see however, with a new coach, is a new perspective, a new philosophy for winning and a chance for everyone within the organization to prove that they were not the reason things didn’t go well under the last coach.
Yes, whoever is brought in to coach the 2014 Lions will be supplied with a bevy of talent and the opportunity to win now. Ultimately, their greatest test might come over the 2015 wild card weekend when, just like the Chargers did and the Eagles and Chiefs failed to do, they will have to teach their team how to win in the postseason, more than likely against a more seasoned playoff team.
I know this might seem like a bold claim to be made on January 6th, 2014. The postseason has just begun and the Lions’ offseason dominoes haven’t even been set up yet, let alone begun to fall. There are contracts to be restructured and extended (Burleson and Suh), players to be wished well on their way (Delmas?) and of course, Free Agents (both their own and otherwise) to be wooed and paid their due. But the fact remains: so long as Mayhew and Lewand treat the hiring process with appropriate diligence, the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor to increase their winning percentage and, with that, find themselves beginning 2015 with a playoff game over a coaching search.