Do teams prefer offensive-minded head coaches?

By Wyatt Taylor and Stephen Juza

Since 2005, the NFL has continued to go through an offensive explosion across the league. In the last 13 seasons, we have seen the eight highest scoring seasons since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970. Beyond the high-scoring games, the passing game has flourished under relaxed rules.

During the 1970s, the average team passed for 156 yards per game. Between 2010 and 2017, this increased to 233 yards per game. This has come at the expense of the running game—the average rushing yards per game has decreased from 138 to 112 since the NFL merger. With the increase in offense, how has this altered the careers of head coaches on that side of the ball?

Overall, head coaching hires come from offensive backgrounds 53% of the time. This trend continued this latest offseason with four of the seven head coaching hires spending time as an offensive coordinator: Frank Reich, Jon Gruden, Matt Nagy, and Pat Shurmur.

Has the percent of offensive coaches increased over time?

Despite the increased offensive output, the percentage of offensive head coaches has stayed consistent between 1990 and 2017.

The percentage of offensive hires was virtually identical in our two time periods (1990-2004 and 2005-2017), showing no increasing preference in offensive coaches as the leader of the team. However, teams are willing to take a risk with less experienced coaches if they are offensive-minded.

Are offensive coaches hired quicker as head coaches?

Yes, offensive coaches have less coaching experience when they are hired. While the least tenured coaching hire was previously a defensive coordinator, offensive coaches typically are less tenured in the league.

Since 1990, offensive coaches average three fewer seasons of experience than other head coaching hires. Offensive head coaches are typically hired after 12 seasons of NFL coaching experience while other head coaches are just shy of 15 seasons.

Is an offensive head coach a quick route to victory?

No, new offensive head coaches see a similar increase in record in their first season at the helm when compared to other head coaches. Teams win a game and a half more in the first year of a head coach’s tenure than the previous year despite their background.

What does that mean for the latest round of new head coaches? The Titans are the only team with a new head coach that made the playoffs in 2017, finishing first in the AFC South with a record of 9-7. If the Titans win one more game in 2018 than the previous season, the Titans will be in a strong position to return to the playoffs.

On the other end of the spectrum, it could be a long season for the New York Giants under the guidance of Shurmur. Finishing 2017 with a 3-13 record, it may be a long climb back up to contention. Their best case scenario is replicating the 2008 Miami Dolphins, improving 10 wins and winning the AFE East after hiring Tony Sparano.

As we continue to investigate emerging trends with head coach hiring in the NFL, there are still many questions yet to answer:

Methods: We used t-tests to confirm that each of the findings we discuss above to be statistically significant (p < .1).