A history lesson on the impact of midseason NFL coaching changes
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It's the sort of career freefall that resonates even with the most seasoned NFL coaches.
Less than 10 months after Brad Childress had his team a field goal away from the Super Bowl, the Minnesota Vikings fired their embattled coach on Monday.
"It's a crazy profession," Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said this week, "when that does happen when you're a play away."
But just how unusual was the timing of Childress' firing? And what are the chances the change pays dividends in the short term for the Vikings -- or in the long term for interim coach Leslie Frazier, whose success in a six-game audition will hinge largely on his ability to sell the potential that remains in this lost season?
Here's a history lesson on how such moves have worked out the past two decades:
• Since the 1990 realignment, 18 teams have combined to make 24 in-season firings -- an average of a little more than one per season. Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, the Vikings and St. Louis each have done it twice. Fourteen teams haven't fired a coach during the season at all.
• Only five of the coaches fired (20.8%) had taken their respective teams to the playoffs the previous season -- including Childress and Wade Phillips, whom the Dallas Cowboys fired on Nov. 8. The others were Cleveland's Bud Carson in 1990, the Vikings' Dennis Green in 2001 and Atlanta's Dan Reeves in 2003, with only Carson (seven games) fired before Phillips (eight) and Childress (10). Combined record in the respective seasons they were let go: 14-41.
• Of the 22 interim coaches who have completed the season, only four (18.2%) -- Bruce Coslet (7-2 with Cincinnati in 1996), Phillips (2-1 with Atlanta in 2003), Gary Moeller (4-3 with Detroit in 2000) and Mike Singletary (5-4 with San Francisco in 2008) -- have posted winning records, and Phillips took over a team that was 5-4 under Bobby Ross. The only other coach fired with a winning record was Norv Turner (7-6 with Washington in 2000).
• In the remainder of the season, those 22 interim coaches posted a combined record of 51-111 -- a .315 winning percentage that's only marginally better than the respective coaches they replaced (54-136, .284). The 2000 Lions are the lone team that ended up with a winning record (9-7); none of them made the playoffs.
• However, eight interim coaches (36.4%) ended up being promoted to the full-time position -- including Mike Tice with the Vikings in 2001 and current head coaches Jeff Fisher (Houston/Tennessee, 1994), Singletary and Tom Cable (Oakland, 2008).
• It took Fisher (141-115) five full seasons before he posted his first winning record in 1999. Singletary (16-19) and Cable (14-24) still are looking for their first. Coslet (21-39 with Cincinnati), Dave McGinnis (17-40 with Arizona), Dick LeBeau (12-33 with Cincinnati) and Richard Williamson (4-15 with Tampa Bay) never had one.
What does it all mean?
Bad teams tend to stay bad, no matter who is coaching them. And no matter what the numbers say about the Vikings' slim remaining playoff hopes, history suggests it'll take more than a fresh voice -- more like a miracle -- for them to even stay in the hunt.
It's on Frazier to keep players and lame-duck assistants focused on the task at hand, beginning Sunday against Shanahan's Redskins. But more went into Childress' firing than a slide in the standings, just like Frazier's success in this challenging situation is sure to be judged beyond the narrow scope of wins and losses.