These things are facts:
- The format of the current NFL season has 16 games.
- Tom Coughlin has been an NFL head coach for 15 seasons, 8 with the Jacksonville Jaguars (1995-2002) and 7 with the New York Giants (2004-present).
- With the Jaguars, Coughlin coached 128 regular season games and compiled a 68-60 (53.1% win) record; and with the Giants, Coughlin has coached 111 regular season games with a total 64-47 (57.7% win) record.
- Teams with Tom Coughlin as head coach are prone to fading as the season progresses.
Tom Coughlin is obviously a good football coach. He has 15 years on his resume as an NFL head coach — a very long time for an NFL head coach — with only 5 of those years resulting in losing seasons. He took the Jaguars to the playoffs 4 straight seasons (1996-1999) and has taken the Giants 4 straight seasons as well (2005-2008)…one of those trips resulting in a Super Bowl win with the Giants. Just considering his current stint with the Giants and coaching his teams to wins in 57.7% of their regular season games, he’d have the 27th highest winning percentage of all time, right behind Mike Sherman (57.8% wins).
But, in all that success, Coughlin’s teams have been assigned a certain reputation: chokers. They supposedly lose games down the stretch of the seasons and are known for fading. The talk began again back in November after starting the season 6-2 and losing to the Cowboys at home in game 9. Now, the Giants are on an embarrassing 2-game losing streak with the meltdown loss to the Eagles at home and this past week’s blowout loss to the Packers on the road, and only have one game left (at Redskins) in the 2010 regular season.
The Giants collapsing talk has really revved up this week, and it seems to be an assumed fact that it was going to happen. What does it mean to collapse down the stretch? How many games is that? How many losses does a team have to incur during that arbitrary number of games before they’re labeled chokers or considered fading?
I looked at all of Coughlin’s 15 seasons to see if there’s any career trend for his teams not performing as well to punctuate the season as they do to open the season. The results surprised me. I used several different ways to try to prove or disprove this notion. First, I’m a visual guy, so I like to look at data in formats like graphs and charts and tables to look for trends. So, naturally, I fired up my old buddy Excel and we converted Coughlin’s head coaching records to pretty pictures. See for yourself (click graphic to enlarge):
Chart 1 – Tom Coughlin’s Season Progress with the Jaguars:
Chart 2 - Tom Coughlin’s Season Progress with the Giants:
These two graphs chart the wins for each of Coughlin’s seasons with the Jaguars and Giants. Every win causes the line for each season to advance higher. The plateus in each line are the losses. If Coughlin’s teams collapse, we should see more plateus late in the season than we do early in the season. For now, I’ll use the midpoint of the season as the dividing line. It looks like there are more plateus later in the season than earlier, but I needed something else.
Chart 3 – Tom Coughlin’s Season Aggregate with the Jaguars:
Chart 4 – Tom Coughlin’s Season Aggregate with the Giants:
Instead of just adding the wins, I also subtracted the losses to come up with an aggregate progress throughout the season. This exercise would show at what point in a season a team peaks. For Coughlin’s teams, I counted 4 years out of 8 with the Jaguars that his teams peaked before week 9 and, with the Giants, 3 years out of 7 where his teams peaked in the first half of the season. That’s 7 out of 15 years where his teams have peaked in the first half of the season.
Here is when Coughlin’s teams peaked:
Ok, here’s what I see: Coughlin had 4 good teams with the Jaguars and 4 bad teams, and he’s all over the map with the Giants. I was still not completely convinced one way or another.
Table 1 – Coughlin’s Seasonal Wins Working Forward and Backward:
Table 2 – Coughlin’s Seasonal Wins Summary:
Here’s what I’m doing here…first, Table 2 is just a summary of Table 1. When the heading is “Working Forward,” I’m starting at the beginning of the season and looking at Coughlin’s win percentage after each game…i.e. how Coughlin’s teams “start” the season. When the heading is “Working Backward,” I’m starting with the final game of the season and looking at Coughlin’s win percentage for a grouping of games at the end of the season…i.e. how Coughlin’s teams “finish” the season.
An example of how to read these tables is as follows: Coughlin’s teams win 64.0% of their first 5 games over his career, and, Coughlin’s teams win 49.2% of their final 8 games over his career.
Two observations stick out. Check out the “Working Forward” section and notice that Coughlin’s winning percentage decreases as the season progresses. That means a Coughlin-coached team is less likely to win games as the season drags on and more likely to win games early. Now, check out the “Working Backward” section and compare those winning percentages to his career winning percentage of 54.9%. He has never coached a team that finishes a season stronger than his overall winning percentage.
Before skewering Coughlin for his teams’ fading trend, we all have to understand that this is a fairly simple case analysis with him as the sole subject. This analysis does not take into account circumstances such as player injuries, opponents strength of schedule, margin of victory/defeat, or desperation (winning the division by a landslide or playing for their playoff lives). Those are all important factors that could be used in another case study. Also, to be completely fair, we would need to perform the same analysis on multiple coaches, preferably those with comparable resumes. But, until one of you jumps on that exercise, this is all we’ve got. So, carry on referring to his teams as “collapsers” or “chokers” and continue expecting them to “fade down the stretch.”