Wednesday, April 17, 2024
Analytics STEM

All About NFL’s Top Heach Coaches

I dug some information on some of the 32 head coaches in NFL today, and did some analayses. I was intrigued by their performance, compensation, their roots, their network and influence, correlations among various parameters like age, experience, wins, and salary. I also looked at how many teams they’ve coached in the past, and how long they stick around with a team before moving on to another. These are the current (calendar year 2024) head coaches active currently and to keep it concise, I focused on all the analyses on the Top 20 head coaches. The head coach situation is very fluid still in some organizations, so there are most likely going to be some changes to these coaches’ roles and therefore, ranking moving forward but the information is accurate at the time of this writing (Feb 1, 2024).

The Ranking System

So, who ranked these coaches and what are the criteria? Ranking NFL coaches is a subjective and debatable exercise as there is no official or definitive way to rank NFL coaches. Different sources have different opinions and methods. However, some common factors that are often considered are the coach’s regular-season and playoff records, their ability to develop players and schemes, their leadership and adaptability, and their overall impact on the team’s success.
Sources that ranks NFL coaches include Pro Football Network, Sporting News, CBS Sports, Yardbarker. The lists are updated every year based on the previous season’s performance and the current season’s expectations. You may agree or disagree with the ranking, but the focus isn’t on ranks as much as understanding the overall picture and connections using other real data and statistics. In this post, I present some of my analyses in a detailed but visual and digestable format. I hope you’ll enjoy the report.


First, let me introduce you to the Top 20 Head Coaches, their current teams, conferences, and ranks.

Interesting Facts

There is currently only one head coach in the NFL today who did not finish college. He is Todd Bowles, head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He dropped out of Temple University after his junior year to pursue a career in the NFL as a player. His salary as a head coach is estimated to be around $7 million per year. He is not in the top 20 list but worth sharing this tidbit.

Seahawks HC Pete Carroll recently got replaced by the youngest head coach in NFL today, Mike MacDonald (former DC of Ravens). Carroll wasn’t in the top 20 list anyway, but being a Seahawks fan, let me share some information on him.

Pete Carroll’s record (Seahawks Heach Coach 2010-2023 seasons):

  • Regular season wins: 137
  • Postseason wins: 10

Salary: $15 Million
Education: University of the Pacific
Major: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration
Birthplace: California
Carroll is one of the 3 head coaches to win both a college football national championship and a Super Bowl.

Marital status and children:
Of the top 20 current NFL head coaches, only two are not married and have no children. They are:
– Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams)
– Jonathan Gannon (Arizona Cardinals)

Most top 20 current head coaches hail from (birthplace): California and Ohio (followed by Pennsylvania).

Top 20 HC List:

60% of today’s top 20 head coaches are in the AFC conference.

Age Factors

Median Age: 47 years
Average Age:48.9
Oldest:65
Andy Reid, KC Chiefs.
Youngest 38
Sean McVay of LA Rams; Shane Steichen of Indianapolis Colts
(youngest coach in the entire league now is Mike Macdonald at 36 as the new head coach for Seahawks, but he’s not yet in the top 20 list)
Most common age bracket 40 – 50 years
These numbers and the remaining of this report stats are based on the top 20 HCs only (not the entire league).

A Histogram gives us an overview on age distribution. The x-axis is divided into 3 age ranges (aka bins).

In the chart, we see:

  • 60% of Top 20 HCs are between 38 and 49
  • 90% are in 38 to 60 years bracket
  • 25% of the coaches are in 60 OR over bracket, while just 10% are OVER 60.

The following chart offers a overview of Age and Rank relationship, while also showing each coach’s age and rank.

Correlation between age and rank: -0.573

That value indicates a moderate negative correlation between age and rank. So, larger age would somewhat often result in lower rank number (which means higher rank because numerically 1 is the highest as a rank value, and 20 is the lowest in Top 20). Andy Reid‘s is a classic example of a strong negative correlation, but that is not the case for the rest of the pool as we apparent from the chart. Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, and Sean McDermott are good examples of a weaker, negative correlation (as they are ranked quite well despite their relatively young age).

Education

Where did these successful coaches go to school and what did they major in? Let’s find out!

These are the university locations they went to. Compare this with the birthplaces map (I’ll show this below) and you’ll see who traveled away from the state for higher education and who stayed in the same state.  We see Campbell and Canales went to a TX university (but different ones). McVay and John Harbaugh both went to FL and the same school (Miami University). McDermott and Tomlin graduated from the same school in VA (College of William & Mary), and both Jim Harbaugh and LaFleur attended schools in MI but different schools.

What did they major in?

We se from the above visualization that:

Most common Major: Business Administration (20%)
Second most common Major: Physical Education (15%)
Third most common Major: Communications (10%)

Birthplaces

It would be interesting to see where they come from (where they were born)…is there any trend?

What do ya know?? Most top 20 head coaches hail from California and Ohio, followed by Pennsylvania!

Salary Distribution

Let’s first look at the overall salary distribution picture without specific names.

The most common salary range is between 5M and 6M which is around the average of the Top 20 HCs.
We see from the curve that it is a right-tailed distribution meaning there are outliers. This indicates specific HCs are paid exceptionally more than the norm.

If we view the salaries in a Pareto chart and categorize the salary into three different categories (aka bins: $3M to $5.5M, $5.5M to $8M, and $8M to $10.5M ) along x-axis, we get more insight. The left y-axis is the number of coaches, right y-axis represents the cumulative percentage of total salaries covered by each category. The orange line is the Pareto line, and just where the “elbow” is and matching it with the right y-axis (around 80%) we can identify the most common or influential salary ranges.

We see that the highest-paid coach earns more than 3X as much as the lowest-paid coach (8-10.5 bin vs 3-5.5 bin. Look at the x-axis values), and that only 4 coaches earn more than 8 million per year (see the left y-axis). We can also see that the salary range of 3 to 5.5 million covers over half of the total salaries, among 11 coaches.

So, who is making what? Let’s take a peek at the table below that is sorted by ranking.

A bunch of numbers, but we can visualize and get better insights using some visualizations based on that data. Let’s look at a couple of charts from this data in the next section. Grab some more coffee ☕!

Rank & Salary

The first chart, Radar chart, shows the rank#, name of the coach, followed by the salary in millions of dollars and how they compare to others in a webbed schematic. For example, “6 Sean Payton, 9.8” datapoint means HC Sean McVacy is ranked #6, and makes $9.8M. The farther the datapoint (blue line) is from the center, the higher the salary; the closer to the center the lesser the salary. It’s easy to identify the highest paid HCs by simply looking at the blue datapoints that stretch out the farthest from the center.

The next chart is a simple line chart with coaches along the x-axis and their respective salaries along the y-axis. The higher the datapoint (shown along the blue line), the higher the salary. The numbers along the x-axis belong their names show their ranking.

What do we glean from these two charts?

Sean Payton has the highest salary depsite being ranked #6!

Similarly, Mike Tomlin’s salary is in the top 4 earner despite him being ranked at #13!

For a #1 ranked HC, Andy Reich seems to be underpaid in this pool of coaches.

Experience & Salary

To deserve that kind of salary, it’s got to come with some serious experience. Let’s take a closer look.

In the chart above, years of experience is the blue line and the year values are shown below each name; the bars show the salary in millions $.

Ok, is there a correlation between pay and experience? Are there outliers or anomalies?

Here’s the takeaway: Most of the HCs fall within the 3-5 years of experience as a Head Coach as evidenced visually in the left cluster population. The next (smaller) cluster is in the 10 and 15 years range, while Andy Reid is by far an outlier in terms of experience with 23 years as a Head Coach.
When it comes to salary however, clearly highest paid coaches are in the 10-15 years of experience cluster. Sean Payton, Jim and John Harbaugh dominating that group in pay.
Interestingly, Mike Tomlin, despite having much less experience, and ranking much lower than Andy Reid makes just as much as Reid. Somebody important must LOVE Tomlin at Pittsburgh.

Let’s look at statistical correlation between salary and experience. If we do a regression statistics of Multiple R or use correlation formula, we get a value of 0.778…which indicates a pretty strong positive correlation between salary and experience. Clearly, experience is rewarded in the HC roles, although there are some anomalies (some are paid surprisingly more than the norm, while some are paid less than the norm despite equivalent number of years of experience). So, perhaps performance also matters. Next, we’ll look at the performance part and its relationship to pay. Specifically, we’ll consider the number of wins these head coaches garnered.

Wins, Pay, Rank Correlations

First, let’s take a look at the number of regular season wins and postseason wins.

Dave Canales haven’t had a chance to win any game as he’s been just hired in January 2024 after Panthers’ season was over. Several coaches have yet to taste their first playoff win as HC. Andy Reid stands out by far in both categories.

If we do statistical analyses, we find correlations between different parameters. For example, the Correlation between postseason wins & Pay = 0.71…Moderately strong positive correlation. More wins usually means more pay.

Correlation between postseason wins & Rank = -0.742…Strong negative correlation. So, lower rank value (such as 1, 2) which means HIGHER RANKED, usually means higher number of postseason Wins and vice versa.

Correlation between Rank & Pay = -0.804…Stronger negative correlation. When the rank number is lower (=HIGHER RANKED), Salary is usually higher and vice versa.

Teams Coached & Tenure

How many teams (including college and NFL teams) did these coaches coach in total?

How long had they spent with each team?

In the chart above, larger the bubble or circle, the longer a coach stuck with one team. The y-axis is the number of teams a coach has coached. All that are also shown in the data labels as: name, number of teams coached, average years spent with a team.

Andy Reid has stayed with each team the longest. He only coached 3 NFL teams but stayed with each for an average of 8 years.

Other long-tenured coaches include Mike McCarthy, John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin, Sean Payton…all with an average of 5 years with each team.

Matt LaFleur (HC of Green Bay Packers) had coached the most number of teams (11 teams total including 5 college teams and 6 NFL teams) staying with each BUT each for just 1 year on average.

We drilled quite a bit into the coachs’ details. Let’s step back for a moment to look at the conferences.

Conference Distribution

The above charts show that out of the Top 20 Head Coaches, 60% of them are coaching AFC teams (12 v 8 for NFC). The right chart shows exactly which conference each coach belongs to (red means AFC, blue means NFC).

Coaching Tree – Pro Lineage & Influence

Head Coaches are the most important people on the sidelines every game. To understand their current and potential impact, we should also look at the lineage, or the coaching tree. What philosophy do they subscribe to? Who were they influenced by? Mentored by? Are their family connections? To answer that, I present you the Coaching Tree.

(TIP: use the ctrl-wheel on your mouse to zoom in/out)

Follow the purple dotted lines from Bill Walsh, then follow the solid lines that join other head coach nodes to trace the tree branches.

As you can see the branches and tree of Bill Walsh are many and large. Bill Walsh as a coach led the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl championships. His philosophy was rooted in the process, not the outcome. He believed that by establishing a high standard of performance and executing it consistently, the results would take care of themselves. He is the father of the West Coast offense (short passes, precise timing).
His influence is far-reaching because he was a great mentor and leader who developed many future head coaches. Some of his most notable protégés include Mike Holmgren, George Seifert, Pete Carroll, and Andy Reid. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The tree alone is worth several sports documentaries starting with the legacy of Bill Walsh. Hope you enjoyed this analysis and report.


CAVEAT:The head coach situation is very fluid still in some organizations, so there are most likely going to be some changes to these coaches’ roles and therefore, ranking moving forward but the information is accurate at the time of this writing (Feb 1, 2024).


Data sources:
Wikipedia
CBSSports.com
www.footballdb.com

Photo of coaches’ sources & credits:
All-Pro Reels – https://www.flickr.com/photos/joeglo/51616346955/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=111458582
Maize & Blue Nation – IX8A4236, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=105219970
The 621st Contingency Response Wing – https://www.flickr.com/photos/621crw/48506883161/in/album-72157710226589906/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=110949578
All-Pro Reels – https://www.flickr.com/photos/joeglo/51786758728/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=113870535
Maryland GovPics – 147th Preakness Stakes, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=119090343
All-Pro Reels – https://www.flickr.com/photos/joeglo/52391339069/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=123513956
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