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That New Coach Smell: The Effect on SP+

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How does a new head coach affect a program’s SP+ trends?

NCAA Football: Texas State at Appalachian State Brian Westerholt-USA TODAY Sports

So now that we know where SEC coaches come from and how a new hire impacts recruiting, let’s take a look at how the quality of teams are affected by the impact of a new hire. With the understanding that schools make new hires because their team was probably terrible — or at least not meeting expectations, right Barry? — most fans of the sport would probably think that the impact would be positive immediately, or at least better in to Year 2. Let’s see if that’s actually the case! I’ll be using the same sample as I did for recruiting, the 13 Power 5 programs that made a new coaching hire at the end of the 2017/beginning of 2018.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Arizona State
Kevin Sumlin
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Wildcats - Kevin Sumlin

2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 3.2 - 55th

2017 SP+ Ranking: 3.7 - 59th

2018 SP+ Ranking: 3.6 - 58th

2019 SP+ Ranking: -6.0 - 97th

I’m honestly surprised Arizona is going to keep Kevin Sumlin. Recruiting has dropped off and team quality has really taken a nose dive this year. Even with worse recruiting in Year One the product on the field was a little better than 2017 but falling to 97th is hard to defend.

Arizona State Sun Devils - Herm Edwards

2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 5.9 - 38th

2017 SP+ Ranking: 1.0 - 68th

2018 SP+ Ranking: 5.0 - 52nd

2019 SP+ Ranking: 7.0 - 41st

I guess Herm Edwards should have been coaching in the college ranks all along! Recruiting has improved and he’s steadily improved the quality of the team in every year he’s been in charge. The win/loss record hasn’t reflected this improvement yet but you could possibly be looking at a 10-win team next year.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Arkansas
Chad Morris
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas Razorbacks - Chad Morris

2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 6.9 - 31st

2017 SP+ Ranking: 2.1 - 63rd

2018 SP+ Ranking: 4.5 - 53rd

2019 SP+ Ranking: -9.7 - 104th

You saw the recruiting improvement that Morris and his staff had, but this shows why he and his staff were canned. 104th is the worst ranked Arkansas in the SP+ era and the worst ranked SEC team ever in the SP+ era.

Florida Gators - Dan Mullen

2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 8.9 - 28th

2017 SP+ Ranking: 10.1 - 34th

2018 SP+ Ranking: 23.0 - 9th

2019 SP+ Ranking: 23.9 - 7th

The first year under Dan Mullen saw a huge improvement in quality, and this year, he improved even more. Blue blood programs tend to need a simply good hire to start thriving again and that’s certainly what they got with the Mullen-regime.

Florida State Seminoles - Willie Taggart

2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 17.0 - 5th

2017 SP+ Ranking: 22.8 - 9th

2018 SP+ Ranking: 1.4 - 71st

2019 SP+ Ranking: 2.2 - 57th

Recruiting slumped in Taggart’s first year and the product on the field did as well. Even though everyone understood that there was improvement in Year Two, you can’t have Florida State ranking 50th or worse in consecutive years and the win/loss record reflected that issue as well.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Mississippi State
Joe Moorhead
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State Bulldogs - Joe Moorhead

2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 11.7 - 17th

2017 SP+ Ranking: 16.0 - 19th

2018 SP+ Ranking: 23.2 - 8th

2019 SP+ Ranking: 5.1 - 50th

Moorhead is doing this backwards! You’re supposed to have regression in Year One, then the big leap in Year Two! Instead the Bulldogs rode the best defense of 2018 to 8th in the country then collapsed to 50th this year. But, hey, as long as you win the Egg Bowl you can keep your job forever at either Mississippi school.

Nebraska Cornhuskers - Scott Frost

2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 3.9 - 51st

2017 SP+ Ranking: 2.5 - 62nd

2018 SP+ Ranking: 5.4 - 49th

2019 SP+ Ranking: 2.9 - 52nd

Scott Frost certainly improved the quality of the team in Year One and Two, but the wins have not come as quickly as the folks in Lincoln would like. SP+ shows a team that’s probably on the right track, and as a treasured alum, I’m sure Frost will get enough leash to get it turned around. However, when you reside in the B1G West, a division that’s much more manageable to win than the B1G East, it would be in his best interest to start competing for division championships soon.

Ole Miss Rebels - Matt Luke

2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 12.4 - 14th

2017 SP+ Ranking: 11.6 - 26th

2018 SP+ Ranking: 9.8 - 33rd

2019 SP+ Ranking: 2.8 - 53rd

Year One regression, Year Two regression, and lost the Egg Bowl. That’s about all that’s needed to lose your job in Oxford. Especially compared to the halcyon days of Hugh Freeze, where they were beating Bama and hauling in elite recruiting classes, it was going to be hard for anyone to follow that up and Luke certainly did not.

Oregon Ducks - Mario Cristobal

2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 9.7 - 24th

2017 SP+ Ranking: 9.1 - 37th

2018 SP+ Ranking: 7.3 - 41st

2019 SP+ Ranking: 18.3 - 16th

Slight step back in Year One, huge leap forward in Year Two. Cristobal’s two-year reign is basically what every fan base thinks they’re getting with their new coach. It’s nice for a plucky, underdog program like Oregon to finally have something go right for them...

NCAA Football: Oregon State at UCLA
Jonathan Smith
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon State Beavers - Jonathan Smith

2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: -3.1 - 85th

2017 SP+ Ranking: -12.6 - 109th

2018 SP+ Ranking: -16.0 - 111th

2019 SP+ Ranking: -1.3 - 65th

...and at the other Oregon school, Jonathan Smith has had the same progression except amplified ten times over. Smith has had an impressive stint, especially for a bottom-tier program.

Tennessee Volunteers - Jeremy Pruitt

2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 6.4 - 34th

2017 SP+ Ranking: 1.2 - 67th

2018 SP+ Ranking: 5.5 - 48th

2019 SP+ Ranking: 9.5 - 32nd

I know we all crapped on Tennessee’s record this year, saying that they only beat bad teams, and that is true! However, he has improved the team’s quality for the past two years, and while he’s been able to match - and exceed - the 5-year average that Butch Jones put together, Tennessee should be better than Top 30 given their recruiting successes.

Texas A&M Aggies - Jimbo Fisher

2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 9.9 - 23rd

2017 SP+ Ranking: 9.4 - 36th

2018 SP+ Ranking: 21.6 - 11th

2019 SP+ Ranking: 15.3 - 21st

Texas A&M rewarded Jimbo Fisher by scheduling one of the toughest schedules in the country for the first two years. And despite that schedule, A&M was still a Top 25 team in both seasons...and with a schedule that eases up next year, get ready for the “darkhorse Playoff candidate” conversations around College Station.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California
Chip Kelly
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA Bruins - Chip Kelly

2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 9.4 - 26th

2017 SP+ Ranking: 4.9 - 51st

2018 SP+ Ranking: -0.4 - 76th

2019 SP+ Ranking: -3.6 - 80th

A regression in recruiting and a regression in quality of team, masked by some big, timely wins this past season— including one of the best comebacks in football history. Chip Kelly will probably keep his job based off of name and reputation but he’s certainly far from the quality he produced at Oregon.

Analysis

Given these 13 programs, what is the average difference between last-year-of-fired-coach and first-year-of-new-coach? Well, that’s why you clicked on this story, right? Here you go:

Average Change in SP+ Percentile Performance: +0.96

Average Change in SP+ Ranking: +1.5

All that to say...not much changes! A slight bump, on average, to team quality and rank. So the averages don’t tell us much but that’s typically not applicable anyway. Each team reacts differently to their new coach and we’re all crossing our fingers hoping that Coach Drink’s impact is similar to Dan Mullen’s or Mario Cristobal’s as opposed to Willie Taggart’s or Chad Morris’ (though we’ll take that recruiting!). I’ll admit... I thought this data set would show a more defined trend, and my hunch going in was “regression” would be the prevailing trend. We’ll see what happens this fall!