Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

21 Dec 2017

FiveThirtyEight: The Five-Year Rule to Winning a Championship

For FiveThirtyEight, I looked at The Five-Year Rule, which I first talked about in FOA 2017 in regards to the Chiefs this year. No team has ever started the same quarterback under the same head coach for more than five years and seen that duo win its first championship. Alex Smith and Andy Reid are currently in their fifth year together, and sure enough it could be the last if the Chiefs don't come through with a ring.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 21 Dec 2017

20 comments, Last at 28 Dec 2017, 1:31pm by PatsFan

Comments

1
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 3:33pm

I'm inclined to think this is down to small sample sizes.

Not many coaches last past five years without winning a SB.

Pairings like McCarthy/Rodgers; Tomlin/Roethlisberger; Harbaugh/Flacco; Payton/Brees may have won one in the first five but they haven't won one since.

11
by JIPanick :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 6:45pm

Yeah, it's rare for a coach or a QB to last 5 years. It's really rare for a coach and QB to last 5 years together; it's really, really rare for a coach/QB combo to last 5 years together without a championship to keep the owners happy. I wonder just how many opportunities there have even been to break the 5 year rule?

... I looked up the list. Do what you want with it.

The Cards have never had a QB-coach combo on their 6th year in the Super Bowl era.

Atlanta had two "excess" years of Smith-Ryan that achieved nothing.

Baltimore has never had a QB-coach combo on their 6th year without a ring.

Buffalo had only Levy-Kelly violate the 5 year rule (the partnership went 11) and 3 of 4 conference titles came in 6 thru 8. 10 and 11 produced two playoff spots and a division title.

Carolina, excluding this year, has only last year's Rivera-Newton.

Cincinnati has had 5 excess years (2 Wyche-Esiason, 1 Lewis-Palmer, 2 Lewis-Dalton) and only one playoff loss to show for it.

Cleveland had one excess year of Rutigliano-Sipe, which went nowhere. Collier-Ryan doesn't count, since they won the NFL championship in 1964.

In Dallas, Landry-Meredith and Landry-White each went 7 seasons and neither combo won, but the 4 excess seasons produced three division championships and the Ice Bowl, the closest call on this list.

In Denver, only Elway-Reeves went past 5 years at all; the last 5 seasons produced a Super Bowl appearance with what was probably their best team (Montana steamrolling them in the Super Bowl notwithstanding) and another CCG app that they lost by three after Elway was knocked out in the 3Q.

Detroit has never had a QB-coach combo on their 6th year in the Super Bowl era.

Green Bay had one excess year of Sherman-Favre and accomplished nothing.

Houston has never had a QB-coach combo on their 6th year, period.

Indy has never had a QB-coach combo on their 6th year without a ring.

Jacksonville had three excess years of Coughlin-Brunell which produced nothing.

Kansas City had Stram-Dawson win the Super Bowl in their 8th year together... maybe the 1962 AFL champ disqualifies them?

The Rams had one excess year of Robinson-Everett which produced nothing.

Miami had the last seven years of Shula-Marino, which produced 4 playoff spots, 2 division titles, and a CCG appearance.

Minnesota had one excess year of Van Brocklin-Tarkenton produce nothing and two of Grant-Tarkenton produce two division wins and a CCG app.

New England has never had a QB-coach combo on their 6th year without a ring.

New Orleans has never had a QB-coach combo on their 6th year without a ring.

The Jets have never had a QB-coach combo on their 6th year, period.

The Giants have never had a QB-coach combo on their 6th year without a ring.

Oakland had one excess year of Madden-Stabler which produced nothing.

Philadelphia had 1 excess year of Vermeil-Jaworski and 5 of Reid-McNabb, totalling three playoff spots, one division title, and a CCG app.

Pittsburgh has never had a QB-coach combo on their 6th year without a ring.

San Diego had 4 excess years of Coryell-Fouts and one of Turner-Rivers that produced nothing. They also had 3 of Gillman-Hadl that might count (won 1963 AFL champ with QB by a committee including Hadl but he did not lead the team in passing yards) and produced nothing.

San Francisco has never had a QB-coach combo on their 6th year without a ring.

Seattle has had 9 excess seasons: 2 of Patera-Zorn produced the same nothing as their first 5. 4 of Knox-Krieg produced the only division title of their 9 year tenure, but nothing else. 2 of Holmgren-Hasselbeck produced two division titles and two playoff wins. The 9th is ongoing.

Tampa has never had a QB-coach combo on their 6th year, period.

Tennessee had two excess years of Fisher-McNair, producing a CCG app and a 12-4 WC that lost by 6 to the eventual champs in New England.

Washington had two excess years of Allen-Kilmer produce nothing.

12
by jtr :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 7:53pm

Nice research. I think this article has the premise backwards. It's not "if your coach and QB haven't produced a Super Bowl in five years they won't ever", it's "if your coach and QB are together for a sixth season, they've probably already won a Super Bowl, or at least come damn close." Either that or your owner is Mike Brown and he can't be bothered to fire a coach.

13
by Scott Kacsmar :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 10:01pm

It's not "if your coach and QB haven't produced a Super Bowl in five years they won't ever"

But that usually is what happens. 27 of 31 Super Bowl-winning coaches won their first title within five years on a team. It's 21 of 31 for quarterbacks, but a lot of the 10 other cases involve backup situations (Young, Stabler, Hostetler, Rodgers, etc.). Very rare for a Peyton (9 years) or Elway (15 years) to take as long as it did as an every-year starter.

19
by Alex51 :: Thu, 12/28/2017 - 1:36am

“It's not ‘if your coach and QB haven't produced a Super Bowl in five years they won't ever’”

But that usually is what happens.

Nobody’s disputing that. But your article implies that the fact that they haven’t won a Super Bowl in the first five years somehow makes it harder for them to win a Super Bowl in year 6. That’s not how the causation works here.

27 of 31 Super Bowl-winning coaches won their first title within five years on a team.

27 of 31? That’s a little over 87%. A high percentage, to be sure. But it doesn’t prove what you think it does. Look at the current season: of the 32 NFL head coaches, 22 are within their first five years on their current team. Of the other 10 coaches, 6 have already won a Super Bowl.

Let’s say every NFL coach has exactly the same chance of winning the Super Bowl this year. The probability of the winning coach either being in his first 5 years or being a previous Super Bowl winner would be 28/32. In other words, a little over 87%. That’s perfectly consistent with previous results, without invoking any magic 6-year curse.

It's not that coaches lose their ability to win Super Bowls after 5 unsuccessful attempts, it's that there just aren't that many that are still employed after 5 years without a title (so, this statistic tells us more about NFL owners than about NFL coaches. Specifically, it tells us that they tend to fire coaches after 5 years without a title). The coaches that are still around after 5 years win titles at about the same rate as other coaches.

15
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 12/22/2017 - 4:29am

The one that really struck me was Minnesota's Bud Grant - Fran Tarkenton.

Got together in 1972 and 3 SB appearances in their first 5 years then two more years before Tarkenton retired.

And then Grant coached another six season where the team only won one division title.

Seems like the Grant-Tarkenton combination brought more success than being split apart.

16
by Bob Smith :: Mon, 12/25/2017 - 7:47pm

Nice spin on our (Dolphins) situation, but to be perfectly honest about it: no coach/qb combo had less real success than Shula/Marino for 13 years. One Conf. Champ. in 13 years, and on top of that we only won 2 playoff games 1 time ('84) in 13 years together. Dan gave us too many negative value games in the PO's according to P-F-R.

2
by Chuckc :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 3:45pm

Not all of the numbers are right. Jeff Hostetler was in his 6th year with Parcells in 1990. Joe Montana was in his 3rd year in 1981. I didn't check dates on all of the pairs but at least some of them aren't correct.

3
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 3:54pm

It's based on starting. Didn't DeBerg start in 1979 and obviously Simms was the starter until he went down in 1990.

7
by jasmolinsky :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 5:12pm

That's what it says but it lists Rodgers/McCarthy as 5 years when Rodgers was only drafted in 2005, he didn't start until 2008.

8
by Scott Kacsmar :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 5:24pm

AR/MM being listed as 5 instead of 3 is my bad. Converted this over late from years on team to years as QB1 and forgot to change that one.

4
by jtr :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 4:16pm

I think this has more to do with the fact that it's rare for a QB and HC to last more than five seasons together unless they win a Super Bowl. For instance, Manning-Caughlin probably doesn't last into a sixth year if it weren't for the upset over the Patriots in the 2007 season. The pair almost certainly doesn't last until 2011 for that Super Bowl win; Caughlin was on thin ice a few times despite the ring.

Also, the 2004 Eagles lost a close Super Bowl in season six for McNabb-Reid. If a few plays had gone the other way, I guess we'd be talking about the six-year rule.

9
by Jetspete :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 5:31pm

Also don't forget the 2008 eagles led 24-6 in the NFC title game and that was in year 10! This "rule" feels completely arbitrary.

14
by vrao81 :: Fri, 12/22/2017 - 2:21am

Youre wrong there, the cards lead 24-6 and won 32-25.

10
by JIPanick :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 6:04pm

Another close call: Landry/Meredith were in year 6 together when they lost the Ice Bowl. That one just needed one play to go the other way...

6
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 4:49pm

The 1950 Browns were arguably on year 5, if you don't count their AAFC titles.

Lewellen/Lambeau were on year 6 for the 1929 Packers.

Bernie Masterson was on year 6 with the 1940 Bears and Halas. He split starts with Luckman in 1939 and 1940, and played in the 1940 title game.

Thompson and Neale were on year 6 with the Eagles, although there was a WWII hiatus and a Steagles season in the middle.

5
by greybeard :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 4:42pm

The article says Smith is free agent, which is not correct. KC can cut him and would only have $3.6M dead money. But he is signed and due to receive $2M (or $3M) start of the next season.

17
by rich006 :: Tue, 12/26/2017 - 6:55pm

This is like saying "A band's second album is rarely as good as their first." If their first wasn't unusually good, they never would have produced a second. I'm not a statistician but words like "selection bias" and "regression to the mean" seem relevant. In the NFL, if a coach/QB combo doesn't produce unusual success in their first 5 years, at least one of them is likely to be let go.

18
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Wed, 12/27/2017 - 11:57am

FiveThirtyEight's polling stuff is great - but everything else just seems to be textbook examples of not understanding that correlation doesn't equal causation, and not being willing to put the effort in to understand the subject being studied sufficiently.

20
by PatsFan :: Thu, 12/28/2017 - 1:31pm

I was going to say to not blame 538 because they didn't write it. But then again, they did choose to publish it and so have to bear some of the blame after all.