NFL Handicapping: First-Year NFL Coaches
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 8/19/2011
There are eight first-year head coaches in the NFL this season. Rarely has there been an incoming class of head coaches this big and this obscure.
There is the former head coach people are well aware of like John Fox, who is taking over at Denver, and the interim coaches from last season now taking the reins like Jason Garrett in Dallas and Leslie Frazier in Minnesota. There is the former collegiate head coach, Jim Harbaugh at San Francisco and the elite coordinator like Ron Rivera, now in Carolina. And then there are the unknown entities like Pat Shurmur in Cleveland, Hue Jackson in Oakland and Mike Munchak in Tennessee.
It’s no secret what you’re getting in first-year head coaches. With the exception of Jim Caldwell and Rex Ryan in 2009, the first year is generally full of struggles. But just because first-year coaches struggle to win games doesn’t necessarily mean they cannot cover the NFL point spread.
Oddsmakers generally don’t give new head coaches the benefit of the doubt. They make them underdogs early and often. Of the 12 head coaches hired in 2009 and 2010, only Caldwell and Ryan had teams that were favored more than three times in a season. The other 10 coaches were underdogs in at least 13 of the 16 weeks.
In Caldwell’s first year with the Colts they were favored 14 out of 16 weeks, while Ryan’s Jets were favored 11 of the 16 weeks. Even with those figures included, on average the 12 new head coaches from the last two seasons were favored only 3.5 times per season.
So while it may be a risk to wager on a first-year head coach, you know you are always getting an extra couple of points.
Overall, first-year head coaches from the last two seasons were about even against the spread, going 92-91-9 in their first seasons. However, they started off relatively slow, going 5-7 ATS in Week 1 , 15-21 ATS through Week 3 and 37-46-1 ATS through the first seven weeks of their first season. Take away the coaches with previous experience as interim coaches the year before and the struggles are even more apparent.
Since 2009 new coaches are only 3-7 ATS in Week 1, 11-19 ATS through Week 3 and 29-40-1 ATS through the first seven weeks.
Even with the added points from the oddsmakers, you can expect struggles from first-year coaches in the NFL without experience as interim guys.
For the 2011 NFL season, be wary of the 49ers, Broncos, Browns, Panthers, Raiders and Titans early in the NFL season, while the Cowboys and Vikings could surprise.
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