Betting Breakdown: Analyzing the Struggles of Second-Year Coaches

Heading into the 2018 season, the Power Five had 12 head coaches who were preparing for their first year at a new school.

But with Arkansas and Florida State deciding to fire their coaches (Chad Morris and Willie Taggart, respectively) less than two seasons into their contracts, there are only 10 men remaining from the aforementioned coaching class.

While most college coaches are given time to recruit their own players, build their coaching staff and establish the culture within their program, there’s been a recent trend of coaches quickly getting fired after an underwhelming start — which can be controversial considering that there’s a school of thought that says a program will see its biggest leap in improvement from the first to second year with a new coach.

It makes sense because the coach would have two recruiting classes to find his own players and plenty of time to install his system for the athletes that are holdovers from the old regime.

That being said, 2018’s class of coaches have not only struggled from a win-loss standpoint, but have also failed to exceed the betting market’s expectations.

Here is a chart of their results:

Coach 2018 Record (Including Postseason) 2019 Regular Season Win Total 2019 Record 2019 Record Against the Spread
Dan Mullen, Florida 10-3 9 8-2 5-3-2
Mario Cristobal, Oregon 9-4 9 8-1 5-4
Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M 9-4 7.5 6-3 5-4
Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State 8-5 7.5 4-5 3-6
Herm Edwards, Arizona State 7-6 6.5 5-4 3-6
Willie Taggart, Florida State 5-7 7.5 4-5 3-5-1
Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee 5-7 6.5 5-5 6-4
Kevin Sumlin, Arizona 5-7 6.5 4-5 2-6-1
Scott Frost, Nebraska 4-8 8.5 4-5 1-8
Chip Kelly, UCLA 3-9 6 4-5 4-4-1
Chad Morris, Arkansas 2-10 5 2-8 2-7-1
Jonathan Smith, Oregon State 2-10 2.5 4-5 6-3

These second-year coaches have a combined 58-53 record, but are only 45-60-6 against the spread.

Seven of the 12 coaches missed bowl games in their first season, and five of those seven teams had a win total of 6 or more entering this season, which means that from a betting perspective, coaches who struggled in their first year had built-in expectations to improve in the second season.

Las Vegas decided that Scott Frost would need to push Nebraska — the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten West — from four to nine wins if they wanted to go over their win total. But now the Cornhuskers need to pull off at least one upset against Wisconsin or Iowa if they want to make a bowl game. On top of that, Nebraska has only covered in one of their first nine games.

Over in Southern California, Chip Kelly was expected to rebound from a 3-9 season and lead UCLA to a bowl game. Instead, the team is 4-5, and it looks like the early expectations for Kelly may have been too high given that his unique offensive schemes require a specific type of recruit.

Even Chad Morris was expected to boost Arkansas from two to five wins in his second season, which was a big ask considering the Razorbacks play in the SEC West. Unfortunately for Morris, he suffered home losses to San Jose State and Western Kentucky, and that’s likely what got him fired this early.

Dan Mullen, Mario Cristobal and Jimbo Fisher are clearly the best coaches of the bunch, but they are average when it comes to covering point spreads this season. Keep in mind that those three coaches took over head coaching jobs for healthy programs where there was talent already in place with plenty of resources at their disposal.

Moving forward, the lesson here is for bettors to be patient with the next batch of second-year coaches in 2020. If the market overvalues those teams due to expectations of massive improvement, there could be serious value in taking the under for some of the win totals.

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