Wednesday, April 15, 2015

So You Want to Get Fired?

In the last post, I looked at how coaches performed as underdogs and favorites, not Against the Spread (ATS), but in terms of actually winning or losing on the field. Feel free to read that post as a primer to this one. At the end of that post, I promised an additional post on the ‘portability’ of this ‘skill’. Instead I want to focus on a few other coaches in great detail. We’ll save the portability aspect for the next post.

How to Get Fired

In the previous post, I shared with you the bottom ten coaches in terms of wins below expectation according to the spread. Five of the coaches on the list were fired, forced to resign, or gently nudged out the door. Four others enter the 2015 season either under intense or moderate scrutiny based on their recent job performance. Thus, I theorize that coaches who vastly underperform according to the number of games they would have been expected to win based on the spread who are also lacking in the conference or national title department will be good candidates to be fired. To test this, I again calculated the most underperforming coaches in the ten-year period from 2005 through 2014 who also lacked either a conference or national title. If a coach tied for a conference title, I only gave him the benefit of the doubt if his team garnered the conference's automatic BCS bid. Those gentlemen are listed below.
Not to pat myself too hard on the back, this method is pretty accurate in determining who will be fired. Of the 13 coaches on this list, all save Kirk Ferentz (and his voodoo magic) and Kevin Sumlin have been fired (Ferentz did tie for the Big 10 title in 2002 and 2004 but did not lead Iowa to a championship from 2005-2014). I already gave brief overviews of Tedford, Zook, Ferentz, and Shannon in the last post, so I’ll move on to the other nine coaches.

Initially I was not a fan of Pelini’s firing by the Cornhuskers, but viewed in this light it is hard to argue with. In seven seasons, Pelini only sprung four outright upsets, and lost twelve times as a favorite. Despite winning at least eight games in the regular season during each year of his tenure, his firing was probably justified. Watson Brown (Mack’s brother, it runs in the family) coached UAB for just two seasons in this study, and lost nine times as a betting favorite. His 2005 team, led by quarterback Darrel Hackney was an underdog in an early season game to Tennessee and in two conference games, but was favored in each of their other contests…and finished only 5-6. Houston Nutt got Arkansas to the SEC Championship game in 2006 and engineered a huge turnaround in his first season at Ole Miss, but lost nine times in four seasons as a favorite in Oxford. Kevin Sumlin lead Houston to a pair of Conference USA Championship Game appearances in his four seasons at the school, but lost both times as a large favorite. Gregg Brandon took over for Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, and while he did lead the Falcons to a division title in his first season, he could not replicate that initial success. He was fired after six seasons despite a 44-30 record because according to the oddsmakers he should have won about 50 games. In just three and a half seasons, at a school not known for elite football teams (since the 1960s), Tim Brewster managed to lose nine times as a favorite. Lane Kiffin was famously fired on the tarmac after an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Arizona State. At least the Trojans were not favored in that game. Noted maniac John L. Smith lost nine times as a favorite in just three seasons. If we examine more of his career, I can only assume his resume would be even more egregious. Dave Wannstedt did return the Pitt program to respectability, but he was never able to win a conference title in the watered down Big East. Judging by the small margin by which Pitt lost the 2008, 2009, and 2010 races, his inability to close out games in which he was favored exacerbated his demise.

Before we go, I’ll discuss a few other coaches who did not make the list.

Bill Blankenship won Conference USA at Tulsa in just his second season, but lost six times over the next two years as a betting favorite and was let go.

Urban Meyer won just a single regular season game as a betting underdog at Florida (and lost ten times as a favorite). At Ohio State, he already has three times as many underdog wins, not counting the College Football Playoff.

Nick Saban has lost ten times as a betting favorite at Alabama. He has just four underdog wins, primarily because has only been an underdog once since the beginning of the 2009 season.

Rich Brooks pulled off ten underdog wins as Kentucky’s coach from 2005-2009 against just four defeats as a favorite.

That’s all for now. In the next post, I promise, we’ll cover portability.

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