A few weeks ago, before the season officially got going, I was on KNYN radio in Evanston with Jake Hibbard to talk about the 2018 season (the program is here in case you want to listen). We got to talking about programs and coaches and all kinds of fun stuff, and I made the point that, most of the time, it takes about three years for a new coach to really put their mark on a program and win with their approaches.
But then I got to thinking about it and started to wonder — statistically, is that actually the case? Do coaches really do their best, in terms of winning games, in their third season? And did I just lie to a bunch of radio listeners in Uinta County????
To test this hypothesis, I tracked down the results of every Wyoming high school football coach who spent at least four consecutive years in their position since 1980 and looked at which of the first three years was the best. (Why four years? You’ll see soon.) I found 194 coaches who fit this description. Of those 194:
- 58 (29.9 percent) had their best year in their first year
- 64 (33 percent) had their best year in their second year
- 72 (37.1 percent) had their best year in their third year*
So, yes, there is a connection here — teams get better as the coach stays longer, at least through the first three years. My hypothesis was right — but not by the margin I thought. I thought it’d be much higher.
But I wasn’t done thinking about this topic. If it really takes three years to get up to speed, then shouldn’t the fourth year be the best of them all? So I decided to look at the fourth year, trying to answer the question of how many coaches have a season in their fourth year that’s better than any one of their first three years.
The answer: 46 of those 194 coaches (23.7 percent) had that fourth year be better than any of the previous three.
Even at random, a fourth-year coach should have a 25-percent chance of having their best year be their fourth year. Fourth-year coaches are below that. I’m not totally sure what that means, but I found it interesting nonetheless.
Finally, some light statistical breakdowns help show the (weak) trend that I inherently believed to be true but had never tested.
The third year really is the best — at least 37.1 percent of the time. That’s 37.1 percent good news for the nine head coaches starting their third year in 2018: Dan Gallas at Cheyenne South, McKay Young at Star Valley, Matt McPhie at Thermopolis, Mitch Espeland at Pinedale, Richard Despain at Rocky Mountain, Curtis Cook at Guernsey-Sunrise, Matthew Cornelius at Lingle, Doug Spriggs at Rock River and Trent Aagard at Burlington.
Answering the question WHY the third year is the best, though, is much more difficult. Still working on that one. 🙂
*-Note that in cases of ties, I went with the first year in which a record was reached. Rankings were by winning percentage.