How Much Will Chip Improve the Eagles?

Updated: June 27, 2013

With Chip Kelly has come a new sense of confidence in the Eagles fanbase and no doubt (well at least I’m hoping) within the team locker-room also. New head coaches invariably raise the spirits of their fans and rightfully so. Like with Eagles fans we have seen a good amount of success with Reid, but his tenure was begin to drag, his wins were becoming less meaningful as our losses mounted. The franchise needed some new blood, a fresh take on the team to hopefully take us to bigger and better things, so in steps Chip.

Naturally we have no idea what the future holds, he could end up better than 4-12 and laughing, or will he invoke the wrath of the fans and drop more than 12 games in 2013? Since we don’t know how the future season will pan out I thought I’d take a look at every franchise’s newest coach who has guided their team for a full season. So naturally this will not include the likes of Arians, Kelly and Marone, instead we’re talking about the likes of Whisenhunt, Reid, Gailey, Payton and the Harbaughs. Looking at this selection of 32 individuals it won’t tell you how well Chip will do in Philly, but might at least shed some light on how fortuitous new coaches are in their first season leading their relevant teams.

The biggest question of all is naturally on the whole did the coaches do better in their first year than the previous coach did one year earlier? Yes of course they did, with a new coach teams generally tend to hit a bit of form usually at the beginning of the year. Players will undoubtedly see the first few regular season games as a opportunity to prove themselves, they strive to show that they should be 1st stringers and I would argue that they put more effort into their performances because of this. Naturally some will not agree with this but it does help explain how some teams do improve with little change to personnel. Speaking of personnel that is undoubtedly the biggest contributor to an improved record and you only need to look at the Colts to see this. 2-14 with Manning down, they draft the Field Marshal that is Luck and hit the playoffs with an 11-5 record… a nine win improvement, that’s as good as gets in reality.

The record for new HC’s in their first year looks like this 223-288-1 which whilst it’s nothing spectacular is far better when compared to each relevant teams record the previous year which comes out at 162-350. In simpler terms (figures rounded up or down naturally) teams with a new coach generally speaking improve from a 5-11 record to a 7-9 record.

Two wins, doesn’t really seem all that great an improvement so I thought I’d scratch the surface a little bit more and compare how many teams went from winning to losing seasons. New Head coaches in the NFL across the 32 teams had 9 winning records, 18 losing records and 5 8-8 records. Again it doesn’t instil much confidence, but compare that to the records one year earlier and they look like this; 2 winning records, 27 losing records and 3 8-8 records. What’s more those two winning records could be somewhat marked as red, one of those was Marty Schottenheimers Chargers going 14-2 before being unceremoniously fired for Norv Turner to replace him, the other was the Jets who went 9-7, then Ryan took them to… 9-7 in his first year so no worse, no better anyhow.

Despite not looking overly good don’t forget that those 9 winning records indicate an improvement of 350% on the previous year, so it shouldn’t be sniffed at.

Continuing with the theme of comparing the two years I then took a look at comparing each individual teams records and had a look at how many teams improved, got worse or stayed the same. As well as this I also noted the difference in wins and losses between both years. Things at this point do start to look a little rosier.

In total 22 teams improved on the previous year’s record, with just 9 getting worse and the Jets being the odd one out and neither getting better or getting worse. Those nine teams that got worse include a Vikings team who a year after going 3-13 in Frazier’s first year went 10-6 and made the playoffs, Lovie Smith’s Bears who dropped two more games in Smith’s first year and ended 2004 5-11 before hitting the playoffs in 2005. Not forgetting the aforementioned Chargers who actually went to the playoffs two years running when Turner was hired.

Breaking down the individual records and recording the difference in the two records I thought they were best shown in a graph as seen here:


More green is good for new coaches, at the end of the day even a one win improvement is still an improvement though two wins seems to be the general theme. If Chip does end up dropping games then generally teams drop 3 games if they’re going to drop any at all… 1-15… I can’t see it happening.

Then again the big question being would you be happy with a league average two win improvement? 6-10, it’s far nicer on the ears than 4-12 but not ideal. Then again improving by four isn’t that far behind so again would an 8-8 record be ok?

Having a look at some of the teams who improved by more than four games firstly you’ve got the Falcons, Mike Smith taking them from 4-12 to 11-5, he bettered the previous year by seven games and a big part of that was due to his decision in starting rookie Matt Ryan. Whatever you say about Matty Ice, he’s won Smith a ton of games. In Baltimore things were a little different, they went from firing Billick who despite going 5-11 in his final season, went 13-3 the season before, in stepped John Harbaugh who made the rare jump from positions coach to HC and took the Ravens to a 11-5 record then the following year the Superbowl beckoned.

John’s younger brother Jim also found great success in his first season in the NFL coaching a 6-10 49ers team in 2010 to the dizzy heights of 13-3 and a playoff appearance in 2011. Jeff Fisher did well in St Louis taking the 2-14 Rams to 7-8-1 much of this being put down to a different mentality in the locker room with Sam Bradford and Fishers old DB Finnegan showing vast improvements as the Rams looked to brush of criticisms of being the NFC West’s whipping boys. As previously mentioned the Colts improvement of nine wins is relatively unheard of, but with Manning down for the 2-14 year followed by drafting Luck and the teams coming together what with Pagano’s health it’s no real surprise they improved so much. I think with Indy the year Manning went down they lost all confidence I don’t quite understand why as this was a team on a run of nine playoff years in succession, and yet despite that disastrous year they got their confidence back when Luck stepped into the mould.

I’ll start closing up and have a quick look at how many teams made the playoffs in their first year with a new coach. Considering that whilst everyone expects improvement you could forgive new coaches not winning Superbowls as they transition into their new team. Despite this 31% of teams from the above data managed to make the playoffs in their new coaches first season. Close to one in three teams manage to hit the playoffs, that’s not that bad considering in a coaches final season only one from 32 made it to the playoffs (Chargers springing up again). 3% success rate, obviously 0% at this point wouldn’t be a surprise as let’s be honest if a team makes the playoffs it gives a head office little reason to fire a coach.

So the questions I’ll leave you with are this, would you be happy if the Eagles went 6-10? I do think the Eagles will improve, I don’t know how much by but the chart above gives you the indication that Chip is heading for a 6-10 season.

Do you think the Eagles will make the playoffs? Forgetting the question about records, Chip has a one in three chance of making the playoffs according to the success of first year coaches, those odds shouldn’t be sniffed at and Chip does have a good set of players to utilise in his first season.

Would you fire Chip if he went 1-15? This one if the more important question I feel as whilst we all dream of improving, we could do what many teams have done and worsen and drop three additional games leaving us at the 1-15 precipice. Would you follow the likes of the Jags and Raiders giving Coaches generally speaking a single season to prove their worth, or would you take a leaf out of the Vikings with Frazier getting worse only to find his Vikings in the playoffs in his second year. Personally coaches, like a good Whiskey, need time to mature and I would say Chip needs at least three of four years to prove himself. The Chip experiment could fail disastrously with three years being wasted, he could have a horrendous first season, get fired and find himself taking another franchise who gives him the time he needs to the playoffs or the Eagles could enter the Chip-era with a 13-3 record, winning the NFC Championship game before wiping out the Broncos in the Superbowl… well we can all dream.

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