Thursday, November 15, 2012

What's the Effect of Changing Coaches?

Hat tip to The Sports Economist for pointing out a new paper in the Social Science Quarterly that analyzes data to assess if changing head coaches ultimately helps a college football team:
Methods. Using data from 1997 to 2010, we use matching techniques to compare the performance of football programs that replaced their head coach to those where the coach was retained. The analysis has two major innovations over existing literature. First, we consider how entry conditions moderate the effects of coaching replacements. Second, we examine team performance for several years following the replacement to assess its effects.
Results. We find that for particularly poorly performing teams, coach replacements have little effect on team performance as measured against comparable teams that did not replace their coach. However, for teams with middling records—that is, teams where entry conditions for a new coach appear to be more favorable—replacing the head coach appears to result in worse performance over subsequent years than comparable teams who retained their coach.
Conclusions. The findings have important implications for our understanding of how entry conditions moderate the effects of leadership succession on team performance,and suggest that the relatively common decision to fire head college football coaches for poor team performance may be ill advised.
As with any statistical analysis, we cannot rule out the possibility that some specific instances of coaching replacements truly benefit a team. This is certainly a possibility and there is little doubt that many commentators, school administrators, and other observers believe that coaching changes are often responsible for turnarounds in team performance. However, it is important to bear in mind that the fact that a team’s performance improves following a coaching replacement does not necessarily mean that the coach should be given credit for the improvement.

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