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Panthers Fire Ron Rivera

In rather stunning news, the Carolina Panthers have fired Ron Rivera, per ESPN's Adam Schefter:

Rivera was hired by the Panthers in 2011. He went 76-63-1 as their head coach (3-4 in the playoffs), leading them to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl berth in 2015. 

Just a month ago the Panthers were 5-3 and in the heart of the NFC playoff race, but four straight losses to the Packers, Falcons, Saints, and Washington have dropped them to 5-7.

Cam Newton's future with the team is very much in doubt, and as NFL Network's Tom Pelissero notes, there may be more changes in management to come. The Panthers could be radically different in 2020.

Comments

189 comments, Last at 18 Dec 2019, 10:32pm

111 "he needs to be aware that…

"he needs to be aware that models are slaves to the assumptions and inputs you put in."

It's worse than that, because all inputs to any statistics of football are automatically biased, because teams are trying to win. A model might think that it makes sense to pass every single play, for instance, but if a coach sees in practice that this plan is physically impossible, it never happens in the actual inputs, and the model has no idea why. The model doesn't know that what isn't tried doesn't work.

"The only current coaches that would give me that level of certainty are belichick and to a lesser extent Reid and that's only because they've achieved extreme long-term success with a large permutation of factors having come and gone."

I think that's a great point. I think Reid going to Kansas City and instantly turning that team into a perennial playoff contender completely sold me on how good a coach he is.

Honestly I think Belichick just skews every single coaching argument there is. People forget there's never been a coach like him (or a franchise like the Patriots, if you want to think of it that way). Ever. So when ranking coaches in this era, I pretty much just pretend Belichick doesn't exist and evaluate the other coaches pretending the Patriots don't exist. Because if this Patriots franchise existed in the 1980s, you'd be having the same questions regarding Joe Gibbs and Bill Walsh, and that's just insane.

"It's why I scoff at Morganja's near certainty about Ron Rivera's coach ranking."

Well, to be fair, he's not trying to use statistics to prove it or anything. He's just stating that he's confident in his opinion based on watching the games, which is fine. Rivera's been coaching in the NFL for a very long time, and again, given that actually bad coaches disappear, that's actually a decent indicator that he's better-than-average.

113 He's stating that Rivera is…

He's stating that Rivera is the second best coach in the nfl - a statement that feels absurd given the evidence. It could be true, but what is he basing this on but his own subjective value judgements. Just about everyone posting here agrees that he's somewhere in the top 10 or maybe top 5, with a lot of murkiness beyond that. 

114 I think "absurd" is a little…

I think "absurd" is a little strong there. If everyone agrees he's at least a top 10 coach, and that trying to rank coaches statistically is essentially impossible, someone having the opinion that he's a top-2 coach isn't exactly absurd, just probably biased upwards. My point is that it's totally possible for someone who's followed that team closely to be a better evaluator of how he did in Carolina in specific conditions. I just don't think it's very likely, since I don't think Carolina's that dysfunctional a franchise location.

My point is that if Rivera goes and gets hired somewhere else and they become a consistent playoff contender and he wins a Super Bowl there, it wouldn't be impossible to argue that Rivera's a top-2 coach in the league. I still wouldn't do it, but it wouldn't be impossible. I mean, if Coughlin had retired after the second Super Bowl, for instance, he probably would've had people arguing for that, and that's basically Rivera's path.

116 "My point is that if Rivera…

"My point is that if Rivera goes and gets hired somewhere else and they become a consistent playoff contender and he wins a Super Bowl there, it wouldn't be impossible to argue that Rivera's a top-2 coach in the league. "

 

Ok, but that hasn't happened yet. We are going off of what has happened to this point. Also, maybe its a matter of semantics, but he wrote as if it was a matter of fact that Rivera is the second best coach. Its absurd because his resume is nowhere near what Andy Reid's has been to this point and there are a slew of coaches you could argue are better depending on the context. That's my overall point, you can't just blithely state something when the evidence is so murky. 

127 Tom Landry and Vince…

Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi, who were both coordinators on the same team.  You can't even say there's never been a quarterback like Tom Brady, a six round pick who turned into the best quarterback in history.  Johnny Unitas was a ninth round draft pick cut by the Steelers and signed after a tryout by the Colts.

147 No.Not even close. I'm not…

Edit: this came out wrong. Not trying to compare coaches, or separate Belichick/Brady. Trying to point out that Belichick's had an outsized effect on the league. He's been the AFC rep in 50% of the past 18 Super Bowls, so there's simply not that many left for everyone else. Belichick's presence in this era depresses everyone else's Super Bowl wins/appearances.

It's like the NBA, if you judge players in the East for not making the Finals. Or teams for not winning it all in the 90s with Jordan.

But there's never been a coach like that in the NFL. Lombardi only did it for two years, Landry was similar over a 10 year stretch, but 18 years is long enough that it really messed up career numbers.

152 You're correct to compare…

You're correct to compare the effect to that of Lebron and Michael Jordan, but Lombardi had a similar effect in Green Bay in the 60s.  It didn't last as long because Lombardi left Green Bay and then got cancer and passed at 57, but he won 5 NFL championships in Green Bay, not 2.  Landry had a lesser effect in Dallas but a playoff/winning streak as long as New England's current one.

153 I was just comparing in the…

I was just comparing in the Super Bowl era, since when you're talking about so few teams it's hard to compare. But I guess you could consider the first three like NFC championships (as in he blocked half the other coaches from the same achievement).

That still stresses the difference though: yes, Lombardi and Landry (and Noll as well) were basically the best of half the league half the time for a decade: but Belichick was that for *two*. Again I'm not trying to say he's better, but being that dominant for that long is long enough to screw up other coach's records. Landry, Shula, Noll, and Grant all overlapped, but none of them were so dominant over the others for so long that it wasn't obvious they were all good coaches.

In other words, you can look at Peyton Manning and say "only 3 Super Bowl appearances" but since Belichick took *half* of them, that could be the equivalent of 4-6 in any other era.

103 I like Rivera for the Browns…

I like Rivera for the Browns, they have enough talent that they do not need a genius or a ton of development. The Lions could be another fit or even the Texans. Discarding the Falcons as that would just be too weird.

105 Even if you believe that…

Even if you believe that Rivera is only a top 10 coach, you still don't fire him. You don't fire a top ten coach, or get rid of a top ten quarterback. There is no way to be certain that the replacement is going to be better. You are extremely lucky if he is approximately as good.
I think Rivera is much better than a top ten coach. People who know, played and coached professional football think he is one of the very best. But let's just go with the educated opinion of everyone here who has rarely, if ever, seen a Panther's game.
When is the last time that a known top ten coach was available? Or the last time a known top ten quarterback was available?
The closest parallel would be Andy Reid in 2012.
Rivera is going to be the top choice for every opening this year, and a number of openings that are contingent on him taking the job.

106 Given Rivera's propensity to…

Given Rivera's propensity to go for it on 4th down, I doubt analytics is an actual reason Tepper is letting him go. It makes more sense that he decided he wants his own guy in the offseason, and is using this losing streak to pull it off.

Honestly, he's a hedge fund manager. Why should I believe a word he says?

128 Ascribe it to my working…

Ascribe it to my working class bias and overall mistrust of the financial industry.  I'm probably being unfair to Tepper,  he's definitely more honest than the senior Irsay or Haslam.  I'm also biased because the Jets' owners are foolishly honest, telling everyone they fired MacCagnan because he couldn't get along with Gase when they should have just said something bland like what Tepper said.  Tepper will probably make a better coaching hire than they just did.

137 I believe active managers …

I believe active managers (and hedge funds in particular) tend to be addicted to complexity, take poor risks, and regularly conflate luck for skill. Financial analytics have regularly demonstrated that you are much better off paying 0.10% for an index fund portfolio than paying the 2/20 for an opaque, illiquid, tax inefficent, and likely highly-leveraged hedge fund. I don't think hedge fund managers are inherently dishonest, because they genuinely believe in their own BS. I just think they're demonstrably worse than, say, sticking with a 70/30 total stock market/total bond market portfolio through thick and thin.

I made the point somewhere above that finding a good head coach is very similar to finding a good fund manager: even if you manage to be one of the 5% who beats their benchmarks, chances are it was luck rather than skill - both on the part of the manager, and on the process that picked him.

This is all my middle-class Boglehead bias speaking, though. And I suppose a little Chicago economics bias, too (though, really, I've always been more of an Austrian). I like to think the numbers back me up, but I'm sure a hedge fund guy would dispute that.

141 Ahh, this post sings to my…

Ahh, this post sings to my heart. I will admit to being closer to the Chicago style economic tradition than a pure Austrian. 

 

I agree wholeheartedly. To quote John Cochrane, " Too many people seem to pay for active management with little evidence of additional return. But then I think people spend too much on cars, clothes, and cell phones. But that's a judgement, not a distortion"

 

I will admit, I have adopted my investment strategies around Cliff Asness, billionaire hedge fund manager. His basic point, invest in anomalies because over long periods of time, they seem to provide higher return relative to risk than standard asset pricing would suggest. He didn't claim it was that way due to magic, but rather, there's some inherent tail risk there that he's willing to absorb. Basically, when a recession breaks out, these assets are likely to suffer even more than standard balanced portfolio might. Thus, if you are prone to liquidating your savings in a recession(which is not unreasonable), you are better off with a 70 30 split in an index fund. 

142 Gotta love this classic case…

Gotta love this classic case study (from an avowedly progressive investor)!

https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnwasik/2018/01/08/how-buffett-won-his-1-million-bet/

I don't think one's economic/political philosophy has too much weight on investment views. Your predictions of financial markets don't have much to do with your preferred form of government (or lack thereof). Unless, of course, your biases cause you to under/overrate certain industries/asset classes (e.g. gold, crypto).

158 On the off chance you or…

On the off chance you or someone else might be reading this, let me indulge in finance flavored nerdgasm.

 

In the old old days, the prevailing wisdom was that high relative stock prices relative to earnings(think tech startups or crypto or whatever) was signaling higher expected returns. In laymans speech, if a stock looks relatively expensive despite meager earnings, its because people expect it to grow. Similarly, if rents are high relative to house prices, its because people expect house prices to go up in the future. Taking the economy as a whole, when stock prices are higher relative to earnings over a period of time, there's a view that people expect the market to go up in the future. Otherwise, why the heck would you buy these stocks? The flip side also holds. If a stock is cheap, or low priced relative to earnings, people must think its not expected to earn much in the future. 

 

This turned out to be entirely wrong. High prices relative to earnings actually signals a period of low returns on average. Same with rents, a period of high rents relative to house prices signals a period of low growth in house prices.

 

This was a stunning discovery and now we are left with two competing theories about why this is and which you believe is the dominant factor largely comes down to political philosophy.

 

Philosophy A) People are irrational. Dutch Tulips. 1929 stock market. 2007 housing market. People see the high prices relative to earnings and just believe in the good times are going to continue. Which is why in the booms running up to the crash, everyone believes they need to get into the action or they will be left behind. So they bid up prices beyond the earnings justification and then things go belly up. In a recession, instead of seeing the value in stocks, people are so pessimistic about the economy they just pull their money out altogether and refuse to invest no matter how attractive it seems. 

 

Philosophy B) It's all about risk. Time varying risk. People have risk tolerances. When things are good, we are willing to take on more risk, despite the lower expected returns. You and I see a boom market and things are going well for us, we are willing to invest in higher priced assets and take on the chances of lower returns because we can bear that extra risk. Conversely, in a recession, even though things look like they are undervalued, we are unwilling to bear risk because we might lose our jobs or we just cannot suffer another loss even if it feels like its a great buying opportunity.

 

Functionally, both stories tell the same thing, but telling them apart is actually super difficult and based on which story you believe does inform the type of assets you should be avoiding / buying. 

160 "Off chance"... ha! As if I…

"Off chance"... ha! As if I would have missed this. Great post. Thanks!

Perhaps, if you subscribe to Austrian Business Cycle theory, you'd see a bull market as an unsustainable central-bank induced artificial boom, and thus destined to collapse (or rather, to "correct" the "fake" boom), which would lead you to short stocks. Whereas, say, a Krugman or Fisher would proclaim the market to be in the midst of a "permanently high plateau" and thus put all their savings, and those of their spouse, into said unsinkable ship of a market! In that case, political/monetary views would play a large role in your market analysis.

Still, this isn't necessarily a political distinction. You could perform totally apolitical "fundamental analysis", Graham & Dodd style, and come to the conclusion, based on sheer numbers & financial statements, that stocks are over/undervalued. Sure, monetary/fiscal/trade/war policy has a huge effect on market conditions, but your personal views with regards to said policies don't have to color your analysis.

Philosophy (A) could be as much psychological as anything. A contrarian sees the lemmings rushing madly towards the cliff, and sprints in other direction. Philosophy (B) is more the viewpoint of an unsophisticated, "low-information" investor and is also bereft of politics.

Regardless of politics, numbers - and knowledge of markets - are king... or should be, at least!

164 There is also the Fama…

There is also the Fama-French view, which holds that the market is efficient (using the economist's definition of efficiency - not that everything is always priced correctly, but that it is already priced according to all available information). Market crashes still can and do occur because information can turn out to be wrong or fraudulent (such as 2008, though I note that the Treasury actually netted a profit from TARP, indicating that the pre-crash MBS's were not as mispriced as we thought), but on the whole, Fama-French predicts that most traders will not be able to outperform the market, and when they do, it will primarily be due to luck rather than skill.

In fact, this is exactly what has been observed time and time again - less than 10% of active traders are able to outperform the market over a 15 year period, and of the ones that do, 90% will under-perform over the next 15 year period. There are factors (such as size, momentum, qualtity, etc.) which predict higher performance over time, but typically at the cost of higher risk/volatility. This is just a TLDR description, but but the basic idea is that in an efficient market, the best way to make money is to maintain a diversified portfolio to try and capture market gains as a whole rather than try to predict individual winners. 

To take us back to the original topic, the efficient markets view of finding a head coach (or drafting a QB, for that matter) is that (1) everybody is looking for a great head coach, (2) everybody is privy to more or less the same information, and (3) coaching candidates will, on average, turn out to be mediocre by definition. 

Somebody is going to turn out to be Bill Belichick/Peter Lynch, and somebody is going to turn out to be Rich Kottite/LTCM. The point is that (1) it is impossible to know who will be which ahead of time, and (2) it is impossible to know how much of success/failure of that coach is due to luck versus skill, and (3) it is impossible to know how much of the selection process' success/failure is due to luck versus skill. Under this theory, if Rivera was just lucky, then you are no worse off by waiting and firing him when he regresses to the mean; if he was skilled, then you hold on for dear life because you've already won.

My idea is that someone like Tepper, who made a ton of money as a hedge fund manager, is inherently going to believe he can identify inefficiencies in the system and pick a winner through analysis, because that's how he sees himself making his fortune. (And he might be right - us efficient markets people don't actually discount the possibility he's as good as he thinks). But in addition to the previous assumptions regarding the efficacy of his active management, it also makes an even bigger assumption that his skills financial analysis will be just as effective when applied to football. I am quite skeptical. 

165 The Fama French regressions…

The Fama French regressions were trying to address this point about anomalies. Full disclosure, I basically copied their regression weights and used me as my guide to building an anomalies portfolio. 

Incidentally, in graduate school, I also took their luck vs skill paper and applied it to the nfl draft. Despite two completely different domains, my results were fairly identical to theirs! It was shocking. And that suggested there is skill, but very very little. 

The stock market analogy suggests that you can beat active managers just by passively investing in index funds. The analogue for the draft would be, you can just draft based on mock drafts and you would more or less match a typical GM.

 

For head coaches, I don't know if it would hold up. The conventional wisdom of hot candidates does not inspire much confidence in market information. The biggest issue that we don't have any idea of what makes a good head coach. Most of the time, you hire coordinators from successful teams and turn a blind eye to the fact that maybe its not the coordinator but the talent. I remember Tanier had a funny line, "everyone wants a broncos offense and a Seahawks defense(back in 2013), so they grab the coach and forget the messy process of getting the players). 

 

 

166 Ok I am going to cross the…

Ok I am going to cross the line only because ... what the heck. Aaron please let it go :D

I believe which philosophy you buy into has policy implications. In speeches and in writing, Robert Shiller and Krugman both believe its irrational exuberance and follow the logic of high marginal income taxes, higher capital gains taxes, and more onerous regulations on credit, ceo pay, and capital requirements. The logic suggests that in order to curb this enthusiasm, ensure that they lack the funds to do so in the first place.

 

If you instead believe Philosophy B, then people are just going off risk preferences and this behavior is entirely normal. Thus, doing all of the above doesn't solve the underlying problem, leaving all of the negatives and none of the positives. So political viewpoint certainly has real world implications. 

 

The Fed complicates everything. In theory, they are able to offset irrationality/time varying risk preferences using their tools. In layman's terms again, they do some wizardry and poof, the economy stabilizes and mitigates the damage from financial crisis. 

And yet...the original theory of how the Fed works is wrong. This has led to a scrambling of alternative theories. The latest snappy new keynesian models are all hyper complex and have a ton of problems. The Fed, in effect, is operating on assumptions of what their policies do but they are very much in the dark in terms of really knowing. Its also sad to see how academics can brainwash people. My brother is doing a Phd in economics and is in the midst of modern macro. I transitioned out of econ and finance so his knowledge base is sharper than mine, but I still knew enough of the general critiques. He batted them away claiming they now have fancy bayesian models to solve those puzzles, almost with near certainty. I harrumphed because I am familiar with bayesian models and they are never a skeleton key to these things. But he seems convinced. 

161 Good heavens, how in the…

Good heavens, how in the world did we go from Rivera's sacking to this? I know, hedge fund manager owner, but still, quite the segue!

Might have to start an Irrational Actors vs Risk Tolerance thread...

168 Yep, she'll be the #1…

Yep, she'll be the #1 overall pick for General Manager A (a.k.a. David Gettleman), despite 7th round projections at best in mock drafts!

The question is, what position would she play? Tight end, or would that be presumptuous, since we could only see her face?

188 Or is it?

Is it not this?

https://www.footballoutsiders.com/four-downs/2006/four-downs-afc-south-1

Opening salvo: "The best punter in the history of the game would never go first overall in the draft - not even if he could pin the opposing team at the 1 on every single punt."

Hell of an idea- to think that a throwaway comment in the last paragraph of a long post would spawn a thought experiment that endures to this very day, 13 years later!

A rough estimation of Robo's value would be: (average punts per game) * (expected points from average punt starting position - expected points from 1 yard line).

https://www.advancedfootballanalytics.com/index.php/home/stats/stats-explained/expected-points-and-epa-explained

Let's say average team takes over at the 20 after a punt (no idea if that's true). 20 yard line is worth about 0.4, whereas 1 yard line is around -0.5. Teams seem to average around 4.5 punts per game (https://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/stat/punt-attempts-per-game), so that's about 4 points per game added. Not bad! Roughly the dropoff from starting to backup QB.

140 Despite Rivera's "riverboat"…

Despite Rivera's "riverboat" nickname, he wasn't as aggressive as you might think.  The fake punt on their own side of the field earlier this year, and the going for 2 when down 8 both struck me as "suggested" by new ownership, as those were definitely not staples of the first several years of Rivera's Panther teams.  In fact, he was so outwardly conservative in his first 2+ seasons, that it nearly cost him his job, which led to the complete on-tilt approach to 4th downs for half a season that earned him the nickname, which he never really lived up to again afterwards.

157 That being said, I think the…

That being said, I think the part that stuck to me with Rivera there is that he was willing to learn from the situation and improved his overall decision making around fourth downs. Yes, he went more conservative after that bit, but his old self would probably still be horrified at some of the go for it decisions he's made.

That type of self-honesty and self-improvement is invaluable and one of the things that made me really respect Rivera as a coach. I'd agree with the general Top-10 trend here and I fully expect him to have a job this offseason if he wants one.

 

On another note here - on Marvin Lewis I think its also important to remember how much of his job also included having to manage Mike Brown, convince him to actually invest some money in the team and doing some of the scouting and the like because the Bengals often didn't have that type of infrastructure. I thought Lewis was a good coach overall, but an outstanding one for the Bengals given the Brown management and other factors he showed the ability to handle.

174 Numbers are only as accurate…

Numbers are only as accurate as the connection they have with real facts. In stock market speculation, for the most part, it doesn't matter whether the numbers have any connection to reality whatsoever. The numbers only matter in the context of what other people think of those numbers.
A hedge fund manager is playing a game with other people's opinions of numbers, and of course charging fees on his opinion of what other people think about these numbers.
One can apparently make billions doing this sort of thing.
But it has no relation to the actual production of goods and services.
Ron Rivera is the type of person who understands what it takes to turn a group of men into a productive, functioning team.
It's two different worlds.