Commentary

Tip Sheet: Historically bad -- and great

Caldwell, McDaniels stand out, but first-year head coaches' collective record is 28-53

Originally Published: November 5, 2009
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Raheem Morris & Todd HaleyUS PresswireFirst-year head coaches Raheem Morris (Bucs) and Todd Haley (Chiefs) have combined for one victory.
Depending on what transpires over the second half of the season, the 2009 collection of first-year head coaches in the NFL could be viewed as one of the worst in a generation.

Through eight weeks, the 11 first-year head coaches (counting the San Francisco 49ers' Mike Singletary and the Oakland Raiders' Tom Cable, both of whom inherited their teams as interim coaches in 2008) have registered a 28-53 aggregate record. That .346 combined winning percentage, if it is not improved, would be the worst for NFL first-year mentors since 1988, when the Raiders' Mike Shanahan and the Green Bay Packers' Lindy Infante assembled a combined 11-21 record (.344).

INSIDE TIP SHEET
Here's some of what you'll find in this week's Tip Sheet notes. Insider

  • Loomis builds a winner
  • Bushrod makes his mark
  • Safety first for Steelers
  • Achin' Abraham
  • Bradford's place
  • Giants killers
  • Colts' next man up
  • Ugoh a no-go
  • Williams not precise
  • In terms of seasons when there were at least five first-year coaches, this campaign would be the worst since 1976, when seven men combined for a .320 winning mark (31-66). One caveat: That '76 group -- which featured coaching luminaries such as Lou Holtz (New York Jets), Dick Vermeil (Philadelphia Eagles) and Hall of Fame member Hank Stram (New Orleans Saints) -- included expansion-team sideline bosses: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' John McKay and the Seattle Seahawks' Jack Patera, who won just two games between them.

    "It was a tough first season," said Vermeil, who only four years later piloted the Eagles to a berth in Super Bowl XV.

    The worst statistical season for head coaches since the 1970 merger was in 1972, when six men registered an aggregate record of 20-60-4 (.262), and none of the coaches had more than five victories in the 14-game schedule.

    Barring a catastrophic collapse, this season won't rival that '72 campaign.

    But it's still pretty bad.

    Excluding Singletary and Cable, the Bay Area tandem that coached a combined 21 games in 2008, the aggregate record of the nine first-year head coaches is 23-43. What makes matters worse is that two men, the Indianapolis Colts' Jim Caldwell (7-0) and the Denver Broncos' Josh McDaniels(6-1), are accountable for 13 of the 23 victories. Caldwell, who when Tony Dungy retired took over a team that had been to the playoffs seven straight seasons, is the first rookie coach in modern league history to open a season with seven consecutive wins.

    There have been only eight seasons since 1978 when two or more first-year coaches rang up double-digit victories in the same year, so McDaniels and Caldwell could be members of an elite subset.

    The 13 total victories between Caldwell and McDaniels means the seven other coaches have a paltry 10 victories among them. Of that group, only the Jets' Rex Ryan (4-4) does not have a losing record, and after coming out of the chute strong, New York has lost three of four. Six of the nine have two wins or fewer, and five first-year coaches own either one win or none.

    "It's painful, [but] the numbers don't lie," said Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris, whose team has lost its first seven contests.

    There are, of course, myriad reasons for the first-year coaches' poor starts.

    By nature, most new coaches inherit losing franchises, and that was the case this year. Seven of the 11 new coaches took over clubs that posted losing records in 2008, and all but Caldwell inherited programs that were not playoff participants last season.

    Additionally, nine of the 11 are in their first full seasons as NFL head coaches. Only Seattle's Jim Mora and the Cleveland Browns' Eric Mangini have previous head coaching experience in the league (not including the 2008 interim terms of Cable and Singletary).

    Four years ago, such reasoning, a dearth of talent on the roster and a lack of previous head coach seniority, might have held more substance. But over the past three seasons, and particularly in 2008, those rationalizations were diminished.

    Last season, there were only four new coaches, and none had a losing record. Three of the coaches -- Mike Smith of Atlanta, John Harbaugh of Baltimore, and Miami's Tony Sparano -- were each 11-5 without the benefit of prior NFL head coach experience.

    Smith was named coach of the year, and Harbaugh led his team to the AFC title game. Sparano led his team to the AFC East title -- a miraculous turnaround for a squad that finished 1-15 in 2007 -- and a playoff game.

    The four first-year coaches were a combined 41-27 in 2008, after taking over franchises that compiled an aggregate 19-45 record the season before.

    In the three-year period from 2006 to 2008, there were 21 new coaches. Eight led their clubs to double-digit victories and only two, Wade Phillips and Norv Turner, had prior experience as an NFL head coach. Since 1978, there have been only 19 first-year coaches with more than 10 victories in their initial season, five in the past three years.

    Fantastic first years

    Since 1978, when the NFL implemented a 16-game schedule, only 19 coaches have won more than 10 games in their first full season with a franchise. The list of first-year coaches with 11 or more victories:

    Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.