Sunday, October 27, 2013

NFL Coaches Hot Seat Index (or, Who is Going to get Fired)

So the Eagles had another especially depressing loss to the Giants this week. And with such a depressing loss, it got me thinking of another depressing outcome, watching your team stink to the point where they fire their coach.

So, this was something I wanted to wait on until much later in the season, but with Greg Schiano working as hard as he can to get fired as soon as possible, I needed to put it out a bit early.

One of the things I hate hearing about as the NFL season progresses is all the discussion around the coaching ‘hot seat’. It’s not that I mind the speculation, but all of the discussion centers on conjecture and the occasional ‘anonymous source’ (the exception being Schiano where the sources have noticeably opted to forgo anonymity!)

As I was thinking about it, I really wanted to see if we could make this a bit more objective and data driven. So with that as the goal, I gathered some data, did some analysis, and am now ready to introduce the NFL Coaching Hot Seat Index!

The Coaching Hot Seat Index is a model that, at any point in the season, will give you the approximate odds of an NFL coach getting fired after the season!

It’s based on a collection of data on all NFL coaching seasons since 1980. I broke the data down and for each coaching season, identified whether a coach was fired or kept their job (with some adjustments for retirements etc.)

With over 900 observations (and ~200 firings!), I started looking for factors which were significant in predicting whether coaches got fired or not. I tried lots of things, number of wins, playoff appearances, having the last name ‘Kotite”, all to see what was really significant in predicting when a coach will get fired.

I ended up with two primary factors, which were by far the most significant in predicting a coach getting kicked to the curb.

- Total point differential (points scored-points given up)
- Change in team wins from prior season (current year wins-prior year wins)

Those shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. (Note: I’m disappointed because I couldn’t examine another factor I wanted to see, the difference between Expected Wins at the Season Start and Actual Wins at season’s end…I wanted to use gambling lines to get at it but didn’t have nearly enough data to look at it. I still think it would be a more compelling variable)

But anyway, with those two factors, and using (or, abusing) a technique called logistic regression, I arrived at an equation to give us the odds a coach will get fired. Logistic regression is basically something you can use to help predict the likelihood of a binary outcome (a coach either gets fired, or he doesn’t) based on some variables (in this case, his team’s point differential and win change from prior season).

In the end, the result is the percentage chance (out of 100%) a coach will be fired after the season. The higher the odds, the more likely the coach is going to be filing some unemployment papers right around the Pro Bowl.

But I couldn’t just create a model and throw it out there without testing it a little. So I created a first draft of it, using only data from 1980-2011, and used that model to ‘predict’ the 2012 season based on its point differential and change in team wins (which, obviously, I already knew). When that passed the sanity check, I updated the model for 2012 and used it on teams from this year.

Those results are included below, with coaches sorted by their ‘odds to be fired’

Not a bad first result. Romeo Crennel, Mike Mularkey, Andy Reid all got canned, and those were the coaches with the highest likelihood. The model obviously isn’t perfect, as the plenty of coaches can still get fired, but at least there’s a structure and some logic here (we can also rank the coaches from safest to least safe!!!)

So this is interesting, and now we can apply it to the current season, and see what 2013 coaches are most likely to be fired!!!

Now, I had to make a couple assumptions, because this model is based on a full season of performance, which of course we won’t have. But we do have a good sample and some reasonable projections of performance we can use as proxies.

For point differential, we can use a teams’ current point differential and pro rate it out for 16 games. This doesn’t account for changes in either a team’s performance or strength of schedule, but it’s not unreasonable.

For win difference from last year, we can take an estimate of the team’s full season (which I’ve borrowed from Football Outsiders Playoff Odds report, which runs simulations to calculate average team wins) and then just check the difference from 2012 wins.

So, at this point in the season (NOTE: Updated to include Week 8, initial post was with Week 7 data, so some details below have been edited), which coaches have the highest odds of getting fired?

Well – it’s no surprise to see the Jaguars on the list, but we may have to make an exception for first year coaches as they typically get more than one season to right the ship. We’ll give Gus Bradley a pass (although no one can argue their performance is historically bad…it’s no wonder the odds are higher than anything seen in 2012)

Gary Kubiak is ranked as second most likely, which doesn't seem unreasonable given he's been with the Texans for so long and hasn't had any real success in the post-season (even if injuries have played a big role in that). With the situation unsettled at QB this year, maybe the organization makes a change to bring in a new administration and pick up a new QB in the draft.

Tom Coughlin is number 3, although we’ll unfortunately need to update that after the Eagles managed to lose to them this week now that we've updated the model. The Giants' performance has been really bad, and any coach without Super Bowl rings would likely be on their way out. But Coughlin will likely overcome the odds with all the goodwill he’s built over the years. Plus, you already started to hear some talking heads mentioning that the Giants could still make the playoffs. Unfortunately, I think we've got more of him in the years to come.

It's hard to imagine any coaching firing odds without Greg Schiano, and very surprising to see him down at number 6! I think we can all agree the odds calculation actually UNDERRATES his odds of being let go, and it does raise a question of variables we don't account for in our model (for example: being a huge jerk). This guy might want to think about booking some tee times in late November if he continues at his current pace. But for now, he's only at #6 on our list

Some of the other coaches on the hot seat are Leslie Frazier, and Mike Shanahan, who should also probably get their acts together if they want to stay employed. Shanahan in particular, has Dan Snyder to worry about.

From an Eagles perspective, Chip Kelly doesn’t seem to be in too much danger (although as I said, we probably should eliminate all first year coaches as a general rule). Of course, this assumes Kelly behaves competently, unlike the absolute sh*t show we just saw against the Giants (which my brother is probably already dissecting)

Of course, from a FORMER Eagles perspective, it looks like Andy Reid has done quite alright for himself in the move to Kansas City.

I’m just saying.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hard Knocks Odds - Which NFL Team will be on HBO next?

Like any huge football fan, I’m an avid follower of HBO’s Hard Knocks franchise. The documentary series that follows a team through its training camp in preparation for the upcoming season had me locked in ever since it showed Chad Hutchinson and Richmond Flowers’ singalong at Dallas Cowboys camp in 2002.

So it was with great interest I noticed the news a few weeks ago, that the NFL could now compel a franchise to participate and let HBO filmmakers into their camp.

Sure, head coaches will hate it, but as with everything else, this is the same capitalistic monetization machine that pays them massive salaries, so I’m sure they’ll deal with it.

But the league has decided that, assuming no teams volunteer for the spotlight, they’ll be able to assign a team (which of course precludes them from allowing owners to vote one of their own onto the show in a live-TV spectacular extravaganza…it would be great to see the politics of the owners spill out on live TV…but for now that’s a bridge too far).

This news immediately got me thinking about who the league might pick. Naturally, I wanted to evaluate the situation.

Now the league issued a couple ‘exemptions’ which allow teams to decline the opportunity under one of three conditions:

1. If the team has made the playoffs in either of the prior two years
2. If the team has hired a new head coach
3. If the team has appeared on Hard Knocks in any of the last ten years

Condition three makes sense, and I suppose I can understand condition two under the theory that new coaches have enough crazy stuff going on. But condition one seems a little strange to me. Are we assuming NFL teams don’t already have enough incentive to win? And are we thinking that fans are less likely to be interested in watching playoff teams?

I’ll chalk this one up to politics, and NFL franchises pushing back on the concept of being forced to participate. So fine.

We’ll start with our 32 teams to choose from, and work our way down to the most likely suspects.

So, condition one. We’ll eliminate our playoff teams. First up, we’ll take out the teams that were in the playoffs last year:

Atlanta Falcons
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Denver Broncos
Green Bay Packers
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Minnesota Vikings
New England Patriots
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
Washington Redskins

Now unfortunately, that wipes out a whole slew of marquee teams. No RGIII, no Peyton Manning, no Harbaugh brothers…but those are the breaks.

So 20 teams left. Our next filter is for teams that make the playoffs this year. Now, we can’t be sure exactly who is going to make the playoffs this year, but we can play the odds. Using Football Outsiders playoff odds report, we can take any team that seems more than likely to make the playoffs this year (which I took as over 50% probability as of today)

The only teams that met that criteria (and weren’t in the first group of cuts) are:

Kansas City Chiefs (97%)
Chicago Bears (56% odds)
Detroit Lions (53%)
Philadelphia Eagles (59%...unfortunately)
New Orleans Saints (86%)

Now, all four of those teams won’t make the playoffs because they’re all in the NFC, but odds are two of them will. And since we can’t be sure, let’s take them all out of the equation.

Down to 15 teams.

The next filter is to take out teams under a new head coach. Well, unfortunately for our estimate (and fortunately for the coaches), no one has actually been fired yet. But we can put a pretty good bet on who isn’t going to be around next year. Although I won’t bust out my logistic regression model to give us the odds of getting fired (I’m waiting for later in the season for that), there are a couple clear candidates.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (I’d almost say this is an inevitability)
Carolina Panthers (Ron Rivera could be gone if his team doesn’t beat the odds and make the playoffs)

I realize it’s a short list, but most of the terrible teams this season don’t seem likely to make changes. The Giants have already given Tom Coughlin a vote of confidence (although he may retire), the Steelers aren’t likely to get rid of Mike Tomlin, and the Jaguars and Bills just hired new guys.

So we’ve only pared the list down to 13. Ugh. Progress has slowed.

But then we can take our third condition. Having appeared on the show in the last ten years. At least this one doesn’t include any kind of estimate.

Dallas Cowboys (who also are almost 50% to make the playoffs)
Miami Dolphins
New York Jets

We’re down to ten candidates. If this were the Miss America pageant we’d be coming back from commercial to see the swimsuit competition.

The final ten contenders for Hard Knocks 2014 (which is probably already a Bleacher Report slide show)

Arizona Cardinals
Buffalo Bills
Cleveland Browns
Jacksonville Jaguars
New York Giants
Oakland Raiders
Pittsbugh Steelers
San Diego Chargers
St. Louis Rams
Tennessee Titans

So, in all likelihood, it will be one of these franchises…but which one? Let’s count them down…

10. Pittsburgh Steelers
9. New York Giants

Big time franchises with huge fan bases and recent successes. These would obviously be top of the list of Roger Goodell and crew. So why don’t I think there’s a chance in hell? Because you always hear about these owners involved in league matters. The Rooneys and the Maras. I don’t think there’s any way Goodell screws them over and sticks them with this coming off such crappy seasons. I feel like he’d see them too much and could stomach the thought of those awkward conversations

8. Buffalo Bills

These guys are playing some home games in Toronto. Not exactly a dynamic following.

7. San Diego Chargers
6. Oakland Raiders
5. Arizona Cardinals

I think all these teams would have interesting storylines to follow, and would make for pretty good shows. But look at HBO’s track record. There’s never been a team on Hard Knocks located farther West than Kansas City. I know NFL Films is involved in the production, and they’re based in New Jersey. While I’m not sure where HBO Sports is based, seems like Hard Knocks has a bias against the Pacific time zone. Sorry guys.

4. Tennessee Titans

Number four by process of elimination. I can’t say I know all that many Titans players, period. Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt might not even be on the team next year, which would rob the show of some glamour.

3. St. Louis Rams

I like the Rams for the show for a couple reasons. We’d get to see all their crappy running backs battle it out for the number one spot and the ire of fantasy owners everywhere. We’d also get the inevitable ‘Can Sam Bradford finally put it all together?’ storyline (to which the answer would be, ‘No’). Another sign in their favor, they have an extra first round pick this year from the Redskins. Hard Knocks loves following rookies.

2. Cleveland Browns

Don’t sleep on Cleveland. This would be a pretty good show. This a team that’s showing some life this year, a team that will inevitably have QB drama coming into next season, and a team with a couple extra high draft picks. Now, their front office is notoriously secretive in bizarre ways as Chuck Kosterman’s experience shows, so they might sooner take cyanide capsules instead, but I think they’re a very possible target.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

Come on, it’s almost too obvious! The Jaguars new owners are exactly the type of people who could be really interested in Hard Knocks. It’s not like the team has managed to bring in lots of interest on its own. Although they’re the worst team in the league, they just hired Gus Bradley as a new coach this season, so unless they fire him immediately, they can’t do that again. They also seem inclined to do modern things (witness their in-game efforts to cater to fantasy football players at the stadium). Can I name 10 guys on their team? Absolutely not. But would I love to see the Khan Krew for a few weeks? Sure, they look like fun, even if they never ended up signing Tim Tebow.