Predicting New NFL Coach's First Game Performance
It can be very hard to judge how effectively a new coach is going to be able to get his team on track and playing like they are capable of – especially if the guy has never been a head coach before. Some guys are able to look like veterans right out of the gate, while other guys take a long time to get comfortable – and some new coaches never settle in and perform effectively. The scoreboard doesn't tell us much about how a coach performed in their first game, and even stats can be misleading depending upon the opponent. To get a much more accurate sense of how quickly a coach might become effect and trustworthy for bettors you have to watch their first game for more subtle clues. Here are four signs of how well a new NFL coach is adjusting to the challenges of their new job:
Were the players engaged? – It is very rare that a coach is replaced while things are going well and the team is enjoying success. Most often a coaching change follows a tough time for a team. A new coaching regime should represent hope for the team and the players, so you want to make sure that the players are playing like they have hope that they didn't have before. Are they running onto and off the field, or are they taking their time? Are they talking to teammates and coaches on the sidelines to learn from mistakes and continue to improve? Are players who aren't playing watching closely and doing what they can to help the team? In short, do the players look like they are completely involved in the game? Chances are good that under the last coach as things started to go bad players were less engaged. You want to see clear signs that that has changed.
Was the team organized? – Teams under a new coach are inevitably going to make mistakes. New coaches bring new schemes, and players are asked to do things differently than they are familiar to. I don't get worried, then, if a team makes a lot of mistakes in the first game under a new coach. When I do worry, though, is when a team looks disorganized. If they aren't getting into the right places on offense or defense, if they are taking delay of game penalties too often, or if players are in the wrong place but argue about it then the team has some issues. It's a sign that the coaching staff is struggling to get the team to understand and buy into what they are trying to do, and that's an issue that could linger.
Were there significant improvements in previous problem areas? – When a team is bad enough to warrant a change in head coach there are clearly going to be areas in which they just weren't very good. Perhaps their running game was terrible, or their pass rush was non-existent, or their special teams were disastrous. A new coach can't be expected to work miracles, but they are obviously going to be interested in addressing the biggest issues the team had before they arrived. While you can't expect perfection it would be a very good sign to see the team show real and significant improvement in problem areas. The more signs of growth and development the team shows the more confident you can be in the short term prospects of the new coach.
Did the coach seem calm or confident? – You can learn a lot about a coach by watching his body language in his opener. This is unquestionably the biggest day of his professional career, and unless he is a robot he is going to be very nervous and excited. How he responded to those nerves and that excitement provides big clues to how he will handle pressure situations the rest of the season. Does he look calm and composed? If he doesn't seem confident and ready to play then the team is going to see that and they are going to react to it. If he seems like everything that happens is totally normal and that he has seen it a hundred times before, though, then the team is going to respond with confidence and belief in what they are doing. That doesn't mean that a coach can't show emotion or react when things go well or poorly. It just means that when they react they still have to look like they are in control. The worst possible thing you can see is a coach who looks tentative and isn't totally decisive and sure when faced with making a decision.
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