Out of Curiosity: Is Year Two Always a Step Forward?

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Has nothing to do with this post, but it's the first thing that comes up when you search "out of curiosity," and I like it.

Last year about this time I was reading one of the preview magazines and it made a blanket statement to the effect of "Alabama will win more games this year since programs always show improvement in year two under a new head coach." I'll try avoid splitting hairs over what "show improvement" means under these conditions, since improvement doesn't always equal wins, and the idea that a team is going to be better just because it has had a year to better absorb a new coach's schemes and style ignores a lot of factors like player attrition/graduation, the difference in schedule between years, staff turnover, recruiting, and etc. But since this is just me amusing myself during the long dark that is the offseason, I decided to take a look at all of the current SEC coaches (save Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, who has never been a head coach, and UT's Lane Kiffin, who's only head coaching experience was with the Oakland Raiders and therefor doesn't count as head coaching experience) and see if their win totals improved from year one to year two at each of their coaching stops.

As you can see by the chart below, there's enough evidence (at least among the SEC head coaches) to support the assertion that teams will show improvement in year two of a new head coach:

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A few thoughts:

  1. Houston Nutt, shockingly, is the only anamoly here, posting a one game improvement at Murray State, then overseeing a one game regression at Arkansas.
  2. Only Rich Brooks and Gene Chizik managed to consistently regress (though to be fair, Chizik only had the on chance, while Brooks managed it at both Oregon and UK).
  3. Saban and Bobby Johnson posted the biggest increases in win percentage in the league at 28% (at Alabama and Furman, respectively), while Saban and Mark Richt have posted the biggest increase in number of wins with five.
  4. Five of the ten coaches listed here managed nine or more wins in their first year on the job.  Not sure what to make of this, honestly.  You can argue that they are such good coaches that they were able to win immediately with someone else's players (who clearly weren't winning with them to begin with, otherwise "new head coach" wouldn't be there), or that they walked into a situation where success was inevitable and that anyone could have come in and won right away.  Either way it's impressive, and honestly I'm a little surprised that only Nutt regressed.  I would have imagined more of them would have pulled a Miles and stayed static until their recruits were truly in the system (year three mainly), but that's not the case.
  5. Even though there is generally improvement in year two, unless you are dealing with a proven head coach like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer or a program with the facilites and tradition to facilitate a big leap forward (like Georgia and Richt), for the most part a one or two game swing is the likeliest scenario for a new head coach heading into his second year.
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