Let’s start with some classic sports trivia: who are the longest tenured coaches in the NBA, NFL, and MLB respectively?
With yet another MLB manager firing this weekend and the usual coaches carousel following the NBA/NFL season , I decided to look at just how much winning it took to avoid the sack. This graph looks at the regular season win percentage for each head coach and how long they’ve continuously coached their team. Coaches who have left their team within the last season are circled in red.
The data collection was fairly straightforward. I gathered the win/loss/tie records for all coaches as of 5/15/2015 and normalized the tenures based on the standard season for each league. For all coaches yet to complete a season, I included their predecessor instead. In most of these cases, the coaches were fired at the end of the 2014 season, but a few exceptions parted ways by choice (ex: John Fox, Joe Maddon).
Starting with the far right of the graph, we have the answers to our trivia question: 48 total seasons and 10 champions for the current runs of baseball’s Mike Scioscia, basketball’s Gregg Popovich, and football’s Bill Belichick.
The next group over consists solely of MLB managers and NFL head coaches. The high rate of NBA coaching changes have been attributed to a lack of long term patience or just the perfect storm of shorter contracts/retirements. Perhaps merely making the playoff with a winning season isn’t enough for NBA front offices given that 16 out of 30 teams make the playoffs each year. This group is highlighted by coaches with playoff success though surprisingly, Marvin Lewis remains with the Cincinnati Bengals despite never having won a playoff game in 12 seasons.
In general, it takes a winning percentage above .500 (surprise!) to remain in charge for more than half a decade. The one exception is the San Diego Padres’s Bud Black, who has somehow remained manager for eight seasons with a 0.477 win percentage and never making the playoffs. It’s no shock that Sports Illustrated included Bud Black on their preseason hot seat list, along with Terry Collins of the New York Mets who is quickly approaching the five season limit for managers with losing records. Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals is already there but presumably a World Series run is worth at least a few percentage points. Now the real question is: will one of these managers be fired first or will the the Oakland Raiders randomly fire a head coach first?
I love to hear your comments and feedback! I’m also taking requests for fun data sets to look at now that I’ve gotten back to writing.