Get Your Guy - The Love Affair Between New Head Coaches and First Round Quarterbacks

By Wyatt Taylor

Stories about a possible Kyler Murray - Arizona Cardinals marriage began circulating as soon as the team hired Kliff Kingsbury to be its next head coach. With the selection of Murray on Thursday night, the team created another entry in a long line of teams who decided to pair a first round quarterback with their brand new head coach. 50 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round between 2001 and 2018. Excluding David Carr, drafted to the expansion Houston Texans, 23 (47%) of those first round quarterbacks have been drafted by teams employing a new head coach.

There is no question that quarterback is the most important position to determine a team’s success. A star quarterback can mask his team’s weaknesses elsewhere in either scheme or talent, and a franchise quarterback signed to a team-friendly contract allows for a team to use the additional cap space to shore up other parts of the roster. With the importance quarterback play on team performance, it should be no surprise that a team’s win percentage is a strong predictor of whether or not that team decides to draft a quarterback in the first round.

Our analyses indicate that this decision to draft a first round QB is based on more than purely on-field matters. The positive correlation between a team having a new head coach and drafting a first round quarterback exists even when controlling for winning percentage. New head coaches are more likely to draft a quarterback in the first round, regardless of his team’s prior performance. This may be explainable by the idea of wanting to give the new head coach “his guy,” or starting the new head coach’s tenure with a similarly fresh face of the team.

This means that we can better understand the thought processes behind the Arizona Cardinals when deciding who to draft on Thursday. The team’s poor performance this past season increases their likelihood of drafting a QB. This likelihood is also and independently increased due to new head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

There are almost infinite numbers of factors which influence a team’s decision about who to draft in the first round. Yet through this study we can confidently state that the decision to spend a first round draft pick on a quarterback is affected by more than purely on-field factors.