How important are coaches in the NFL?

Football Outsiders regularly does the BEST statistical analysis of the NFL before the NFL season. I have a BS in Applied Mathematics, and I am regularly impressed with the works these guys are capable of. Bill Simmons often features the creator, Aaron Schatz, on his podcasts and ESPN the Magazine used their work in their recent NFL Preview Issue.

This year, every metric Football Outsiders uses indicates the Chargers will have the best team in the NFL, having one of the best offenses and one of the best defenses and should have the best record in the NFL. Usually, the team with the best record (through a combination of being really good and having home field advantage) are the favorites to win the Super Bowl. However, Football Outsiders does not like to follow their own work when trying to predict the playoffs and instead become significantly more subjective. This year, Aaron Schatz cites Norv Turner's failings as head coach as why they are picking the Patriots to win the Super Bowl instead of San Diego. Does a difference in head coach make that much of a difference in the outcome of a football game?


  1. Bill Belichick is Bill Belichick. Norv Turner has won multiple Super Bowls as the offensive coordinator of the Cowboys.

  2. I am not trying to say that Norv Turner is a better coach than Bill Belichik. I am saying that even in the playoffs, I think the Chargers are better than the Patriots. I have the Football Outsiders to tell me the Chargers are currently better than the Patriots and I think Norv Turner's playcalling and Philip Rivers' on field leadership and the fact they will likely be playing in San Diego will mean the Chargers are going to the Super Bowl.

  3. I read the ESPN Insider article on Belichick and I have to say the guy is pretty amazing. His focus on detail and constantly learning is really impressive.

    The big question is how do you quantify what a coach does? Does it manifest itself in sloppy "discipline" plays like more penalties or gambles on defense?

    Also does Schatz explain why he goes against Football Outsiders for the coaching thing? Other than the whole "Belichick is smarter than Norv" thing?

  4. Well I didn't buy the Football Outsiders guide, but his reasoning is along the lines that the playoffs are significantly harder to predict statistically and in the absence of a clear statistically outcome, to determine a winner, they must incorporate subjective judgement.

    Normally they try to follow the teams with the most wins, because home field advantage and having beaten the most teams tend to be indicators that a team is better outright. So they go ahead and predict that the Chargers are hosting the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, and determine that Norv Turner's propensity to give up leads and Bill Belichick and Tom Brady's experience winning big games determine that the Patriots are more likely to win.

  5. That's interesting because last time the Patriots were in a big game they got beat by the scrappy underdog Giants; meanwhile Norv Turner is actually an upgrade in playoff wins over our last coach. Short of getting Bill Cowher I don't know what else we can do.

    I'm concerned about the Patriots because last time this team was whole they were a juggernaut that went 18-1. Do you think they have got better or worse since that season? Is it conceivable that at least their D is better?

  6. I don't think there is any single or group of metrics that would quantify a coach, but there are statistics for a team as a whole. Let's say (I'm making up numbers) that that Chargers have a 20% chance to lose a game when leading by one touchdown in the 4th quarter. And the Patriots have only lost 5% of such games. Conversely, since Brady and Belichick have combined forces, the Patriots win 30% of games they trail in the 4th quarter. We can then combine these statistics with other metrics, such as the Chargers playoff home record and the Patriots away playoff record, for their justification in choosing the Patriots to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.