Pushing 'Reset'

Read the study here.

When a college football team starts racking up losses, it's only a matter of time before fans begin clamoring for the head coach to be fired.

But two University of Colorado political science professors say statistical analysis indicates firing a coach for poor team performance is far from a surefire way to turn things around, and, in some cases, may actually harm a team's future performance.

The study, titled "Pushing 'Reset:' The Conditional Effects of Coaching Replacements on College Football Performance," was co-authored by CU-Boulder professor Scott Adler, CU-Denver professor Michael Berry and Loyola University Chicago professor David Doherty. It was published online last month in the journal Social Science Quarterly.

Using data from Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division 1-A) teams between 1997 and 2010 -- about 10 percent of which fired coaches for poor performance in any given year -- the researchers in 2008 began using a matching technique to compare those teams to similarly positioned teams that didn't fire coaches. Entry conditions were factored into the effects of a coaching change, according to the research team, and win-loss record was the only dependent variable studied.


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Looking at results for four years after a coaching replacement, the study concluded bringing in a new coach, on average, had a negligible effect on a team's win-loss record.

"I had always watched these teams fire coaches, pay for a buyout and then hire more expensive coaches and I wondered, 'Are they actually getting anything out of this?'" said Adler, a University of Michigan alumnus and college football fan. "What we find is, as you go out to the fourth year, the difference between teams that did and didn't replace their coaches were just nonexistent. They were performing just about the same."

For the most part, the study found that when teams were really bad, they often experienced a small, short-lived improvement after a coaching change before returning to their lowly former state.

For the researchers, the most surprising outcome of the study was what happened to the teams that won about half their games the year before their coach was fired, Adler said.

"What was surprising was finding that the mediocre teams often did worse after they had replaced their coaches," Adler said.

The Colorado Buffaloes' most recent football coaching change did not factor into the study, as Dan Hawkins was fired -- and eventually paid a $2 million buyout -- with three games left in the 2010 regular season, right at the end of the study period, Adler said. Still, Hawkins left his mark on the study via a quote that inspired its title.

Hawkins, in an October 2008 news conference, responded to media inquiries about the ease of firing college head coaches by saying, "We're in the era of PlayStation. If you don't like it, just hit reset."

Adler said the timing of the study's publication, a month before the end of the Buffs' horrendous 2012 season in which they have a chance to go 1-11 -- a record some have speculated could lead to the dismissal of head coach Jon Embree -- is purely coincidental. He said the first draft of the study was sent to the journal almost a year ago, and he had hoped it would have been published long before last month.

When asked if he felt the results of the study could serve as an argument that almost no coach should be fired based on a poor win-loss record, Adler chuckled.

"I would hate to be the coach trying to make that sell," he said.