Contrary to popular belief, NFL head coaches are not concerned with winning football games. They are only concerned with not losing them. Whether it is the current environment that scrutinizes every coaching decision or just human nature, NFL head coaches will do just about anything they can to avoid any instance where they may appear to have made a mistake – even if it means losing football games.
I used to have a theory that the game would be revolutionized for the better once the "PlayStation generation" – those of us who grew up learning the game of football through video games – took the coaching reins.
Probably due to that same growth in technology that has given everyone a voice, coaches have actually become more conservative over my lifetime. The only time that coaches throw a bone to the fans in hopes of looking creative, it's ridiculously predictable and not necessarily productive. For instance, of the eight teams playing in the 2008 NFL Wild Card weekend, five of them started their first drives with a play-action pass attempt deep down the sideline. How creative.
As long as the mentality of current head coaches remains the same and those who are chosen to succeed the current guard are hand-picked by owners and GMs from a limited pool of assistant coaches and previous head coaches who have been groomed by the present system, it may be a long time before the right changes can be made.
The ten items below are keys to maximizing the likelihood of winning football games, yet are not consistently followed by current NFL head coaches. They are all founded in probability and involve exploiting odds in a team's favor. Those who resist a mathematical approach to football in favor of "gut instinct" or "common sense" should think about what is going through a coach's head as he makes a decision. Assuming he is not worried about his job if he screws up, he should always be trying to do what is best for his team's chances at winning. That involves weighing the odds and considering all of the positives and negatives. Statistical analysis does the same thing, but much quicker and without error. There is a way to find a number that can explain anything in the game of football. If a coach goes by feel and makes a decision that only has a 25% chance of being beneficial to his team, he may hit that 25%, but that does not mean he is right. It means he is fortunate. It also means he is going to lose more often than not in the long run.
Here are ten items all head coaches should follow – if they want to win. This is not a comprehensive list. There may be more in a future article. Click on each link to read the explanation.
10. Pitch the ball
4. Go for it
Paul Bessire is the Senior Quantitative Analyst and Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!