In-season changes do little good

While some coaches are already on the hot seat, there's very little chance of owners making in-season changes.

Updated: October 1, 2003, 12:05 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

For some coaches whose teams have struggled early in the 2003 season, the hot seat may be growing increasingly uncomfortable, but the strong likelihood is they still won't need to update their resumes before the end of the year.

At least if recent history is any indication.

Bruce Coslet
Coslet
Not since Bruce Coslet resigned from the Cincinnati Bengals in 2000, only three games into the campaign, has a head coach lost his job in the first half of a season. In fact, over the last five years, only seven head coaches have departed in-season. In the past decade, the number of in-season departures is just nine, less than one per year.

"It's become impractical, really, and pretty inconsequential," said one NFC owner. "If you look at the numbers, it's not as if there have been many coaches who came in during a season and made a difference, got things turned around. It just doesn't happen. So you ride it out, get to the end (of a season), and then make the change."

Certainly the statistics support such a philosophy.

There have been 53 in-season coaching changes since 1970, the year of the merger, and few have resulted in a reversal of fortunes. Just nine of the "replacement" coaches posted winning records, and that includes three sideline bosses who coached three games or less, like Fred Bruney, 1-0 with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1985. Of 26 replacement coaches who took over with at least a half-season remaining, just five had winning marks. Four of the 53 replacements managed .500 records.

Another key point: Just 23 of the replacement coaches since 1970 were around for the start of the following season. Most were interim coaches, men who took the jobs out of loyalty or the hope of retaining the position full-time, but were jettisoned anway.

In 1989, in fact, Jim Hanifan initially refused to succeed Marion Campbell, who had resigned in Atlanta with four games left on the schedule, because he didn't want the interim mark to reflect on his coaching record. Team management convinced Hanifan it would work out a deal with the league. Of course, the Falcons lied, as Hanifan's 0-4 mark in the ledger books will attest.

"It can really be a thankless job, that's for sure," said current New Orleans defensive coordinator Rick Venturi, who registered an aggregate record of 2-17 in separate stints as interim head coach of the Colts (1991) and Saints (1996). "You're trying to hold things together and see if you can ignite a spark. But the reality is, by the time you come aboard, the ship has pretty much sailed already."

Longtime league assistant Hank Bullough, who went 2-10 after inheriting the Buffalo Bills four games into the 1985 season, once noted: "You're in the middle of the hill, the snowball is coming at you, and they want you to figure out a way to push that thing back up the mountain. Good luck."

Not surprisingly, bad luck is what usually accompanies any head coach who is charged with trying to right a sinking ship, once it is taking on water.

Since 1970, coaches who took over a team in-season have a cumulative 108-241-1 mark, a winning percentage of just .310. Owners with teams struggling at present might not be aware of those precise numbers but, increasingly in recent seasons, they seem to realize a coaching change in-season is anything but a cure-all.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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