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Importance of NFL Organizational Stability to  Winning

In 2004 the Washington Post wrote a story titled The Formula for Success discussing the New England Patriots’, Pittsburgh Steelers’, and Philadelphia Eagles’ success during the 2004 NFL season.  The article generally considers the importance of organizational stability to winning in the NFL.

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In an effort to revisit organizational stability, I put together data concerning each team, the average number of years of the primary coaching staff with each franchise, and added the total number of years the head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator have combined.  The data I gathered is not perfect, as no data is perfect, and can be influenced by the fact that some of the coaches are new additions that were not with a given franchise in 2009. Also, some coaches, especially the coordinators and head coach have relationships that span across their time with an individual franchise.

Some teams hire head coaches who have no history with the franchise, while other teams like the Colts promote from within and even the coaching additions that are new to the franchise have a history with head coach Jim Caldwell (Caldwell and Coyer worked together for four years at Iowa).  Still, there is a clear correlation between team success and each NFL franchise’s organizational stability.

There is certainly not a direct correlation, as factors outside of organizational stability have very real impacts on a team’s success as well, but teams with a lot of experience in their organizations tend to be far more successful than those who have coaches who are less familiar with their franchises.

Coaching Years With Franchise (avg.) 2009 Record Head Coach, Off. Coordinator, Def. Coordinator Years With Franchise (tot)
Indianapolis Colts 7.4 Years 14-2 20 = HC (9), OC (9), DC (2)
New Orleans Saints 4 Years 13-3 11 = HC (4), OC (5), DC (2)
San Diego Chargers 4.8 Years 13-3 28 = HC (5), OC (20), DC (3)
Minnesota Vikings 4.3 Years 12-4 14 = HC (5), OC (5), DC (4)
Dallas Cowboys 4.4 Years 11-5 12 = HC (4), OC (4), DC (4)
Green Bay Packers 4.8 Years 11-5 15 = HC (5), OC (8), DC (2)
Philadelphia Eagles 9.3 Years 11-5 33 = HC (12), OC (8), DC (13)
Arizona Cardinals 3.3 Years 10-6 12 = HC (4), OC (4), DC (4)
Cincinnati Bengals 9.3 Years 10-6 20 = HC (8), OC (9), DC (3)
New England Patriots 6.9 Years 10-6 14 = HC (10), OC (3), DC (1)
Atlanta Falcons 2.9 Years 9-7 10 = HC (3), OC (3), DC (4)
Baltimore Ravens 2.7 Years 9-7 9 = HC (3), OC (3), DC (3)
Houston Texans 3.9 Years 9-7 10 = HC (5), OC (1), DC (4)
New York Jets 2.9 Years 9-7 9 = HC (2), OC (5), DC (2)
Pittsburgh Steelers 5.1 Years 9-7 23 = HC (4), OC (7), DC (12)
Carolina Panthers 4.7 Years 8-8 15 = HC (9), OC (4), DC (2)
Denver Broncos 3.2 Years 8-8 4 = HC (2), OC (1), DC (1)
New York Giants 6.4 Years 8-8 19 = HC (7), OC (7), DC (5)
San Francisco 49ers 4 Years 8-8 9 = HC (3), OC (2), DC (4)
Tennessee Titans 7.8 Years 8-8 31 = HC (15), OC (7), DC (9)
Chicago Bears 4.6 Years 7-9 10 = HC (7), OC (1), DC (2)
Jacksonville Jaguars 2.75 Years 7-9 14 = HC (8), OC (4), DC (2)
Miami Dolphins 1.9 Years 7-9 7 = HC (2), OC (4), DC (1)
Buffalo Bills 1.6 Years 6-10 3 = HC (1), OC (1), DC (1)
Cleveland Browns 2.6 Years 5-11 6 = HC (2), OC (2), DC (2)
Oakland Raiders 3.4 Years 5-11 5 = HC (2), OC (1), DC (2)
Seattle Seahawks 1.1 Years 5-11 4 = HC (1), OC (1), DC (2)
Kansas City Chiefs 1.7 Years 4-12 4 = HC (2), OC (1), DC (1)
Washington Redskins 4.3 Years 4-12 13 = HC (1), OC (1), DC (11)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5.6 Years 3-13 15 = HC (2), OC (9), DC (4)
Detroit Lions 4.6 years 2-14 6 = HC (2), OC (2), DC (2)
St. Louis Rams 2.1 Years 1-15 6 = H (2), OC (2), D (2)

It is easy to expect that the Buccaneers would struggle with a young first year head coach and without stability at the quarterback position.  Likewise, the Titans suffered without true stability at quarterback and had what anyone would consider a very disappointing year.  Teams like the Saints and Cardinals, though relatively moderate experience amongst their coaches are led by veteran quarterbacks and solid receiver corps in a pass heavy league.  A lot could also be said for the importance of teams general managers and draft personnel for the players that are on the field, and for teams like the Bears who had a quarterback spending his first year in the system.

Still, what the data indicates is that teams who have a relatively low level of organizational stability, or recent turnover at key positions, are far more likely to have disappointing seasons than those who have a core unit that has been with their respective franchises for a longer period of time.  When systems change, regimes change, and key players are brought in or move out of a system there is a large correlation on wins.

Consider the Colts with Jim Caldwell in his rookie season, making it to the Super Bowl, but having eights years of experience in the Colts organization under his belt. The transition was almost seamless.

Now consider a team like the Denver Broncos, who had a first-year head coach taking over a franchise with no experience playing in his system, had no relationship with the players in key positions on his team, and generally installed a brand new group of coaches who would work together for the first time.  The Broncos finished the year 8-8.

The Carolina Panthers arguably have less talent overall than the Broncos but have more stability amongst the coaches and they finished the season 8-8 as well.  The only game the Panthers lost that they squarely should have won was against the Buffalo Bills, and that was with Jake Delhomme under center.  The Broncos lost games to the Washington Redkins, Kansas City Chiefs, and Oakland Raiders, two of which were in the final push for a playoff berth.

In short, the inexperienced coach in Denver with talent on par or better than his experienced coaching opposition in Carolina, allowed his team to fall apart at the end of the 2009 season.  Carolina, and its experienced coaching staff, finished the season strong, even with a new quarterback.  Again, this is only one example and many other factors are certainly worthy of consideration but, generally speaking, successful teams have core leadership groups who have had three-to-five years to install their systems and develop their players.  Teams without that stability tend to display that in their performances.

An interesting thing to consider and a major compliment to the Colts who will have a “new” offensive coordinator in 2010 is that he has nine years of experience with the team and its players.  Expect the transition to Clyde Christensen to be smooth, in the same way the transition to Caldwell was last year.  For teams like Seattle, Washington, or Buffalo things could be drastically different.  Even the Bears, who were disappointed at seven-and-nine last year could have some growing pains with some of the new coaches they have to acclimate to their system (Rod Marinelli, Mike Martz, Mike Tice).

The alternative to considering a direct relationship between winning and organizational stability is to consider the converse, that having key pieces like a solid quarterback and a talented roster through the draft, or in some cases free agency, increases the likelihood that an organization will remain stable.  Which has the greater influence would be hard to prove but there certainly is a relationship, and generally the more stability an NFL franchise has, the greater its likelihood for success.