To the relief of most Buffalo Bills fans (including this one), the team fired head coach Rex Ryan earlier this week. The move came after the Bills lost in overtime to the Miami Dolphins last Saturday, guaranteeing Buffalo a 17th consecutive season without a postseason berth. Anthony Lynn, the offensive coordinator, was named interim head coach and will now lead the Bills against the New York Jets on Sunday in what may be the worst game of the season. (Or at least the worst game not featuring the Browns or Jaguars.)
Lynn is Buffalo’s fourth head coach in five years — and that’s actually a lot, considering the Bills’ record over that period. The Bills have won a total of 36 games since 2012. While only 10 of the league’s 32 teams have won fewer games over the same stretch, a team that won exactly half its games would have won 39.5 games. In other words, the Bills are a slightly below-average team.
|TEAM||WINS SINCE 2012|
In the past few seasons, the team has gone through stretches where it didn’t look terrible, only to blow it later on. (This year, the Bills started the season 4-2 but have gone 3-6 since.) You’d therefore expect some coaching turnover, but not as much as the Bills have had.
The Bills have now gone through as many coaches as any other team in the NFL since 2012. Only the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles can match them, having also churned through four. The average team has had two.
|TEAM||HEAD COACHES SINCE 2012|
As you might expect, there’s a fairly strong negative relationship between the number of wins a team had over the past five seasons and its number of head coaches (correlation coefficient = -0.69). The Bills, however, are tied with the Eagles as the biggest outlier. A simple linear regression suggests that an average squad like the Bills should have had only about two head coaches. As a point of comparison, the Browns, who have won just 20 games since 2012, are a good example of a team we’d expect to have had four coaches.
Now, it would be unfair to blame only management for the Bills’ coaching carousel. Early in 2015, head coach and punting aficionado Doug Marrone opted out of his contract1 after guiding the Bills to their lone winning season in the past decade. The Bills also gave Chan Gailey more than his fair share of chances when he coached the team from 2010 to 2012.
Still, the constant turnover for the Bills is probably not good for the team. Coaches can’t make the most of their time in charge when they don’t get a chance to work through their programs. And potentially more problematic is that players don’t have time to get used to a coach and his system. That can lead lead to confusion in schemes, as Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus described after Ryan was fired. In other words, it usually takes time to build a winner.
Perhaps recognizing this turnover problem, Buffalo’s management may prevent the Bills from becoming an even bigger outlier in terms of churning through more head coaches. Right now, it looks like Lynn will be retained as head coach after this season. That may not be what some fans want, but it makes sense — particularly given that the Bills haven’t really been so awful as to warrant a fifth head coach in six years.
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