CU study finds firing losing college football coaches doesn't help a team -- and may even hurt

BOULDER, Colo. - When a college football team hits a losing streak, fans soon cry, "Fire the coach!"

But two University of Colorado political science professors say statistical analysis indicates firing the head coach for poor team performance is far from a surefire way to turn things around -- and may actually harm a team's future performance, the Boulder Daily Camera reports.

The study, titled "Pushing 'Reset': The Conditional Effects of Coaching Replacements on College Football Performance," was co-authored by CU-Boulder professor Scott Adler, CU-Denver professor Michael Berry and Loyola University Chicago professor David Doherty. It was published online last month in the journal Social Science Quarterly.

"I had always watched these teams fire coaches, pay for a buyout and then hire more expensive coaches and I wondered, 'Are they actually getting anything out of this?'" Adler, a University of Michigan alumnus and college football fan, told the newspaper. "What we find is, as you go out to the fourth year, the difference between teams that did and didn't replace their coaches were just nonexistent. They were performing just about the same."

The study analyzed Football Bowl Subdivision college teams -- a rung below major college programs in Division 1 -- between 1997 and 2010.

Beginning in 2008, researchers compared the records of teams that fired losing coaches -- about 10 percent of teams in any given year -- and similarly positioned teams that didn't can coaches.

Looking at results for four years after a coaching replacement, the study concluded bringing in a new coach, on average, had a negligible effect on a team's win-loss record, the Daily Camera reported.

Overall, the study found that when teams were really bad, they often experienced a small, short-lived improvement after a coaching change before returning to their lowly former state.

But researchers were amazed by a study finding about what happened to the teams that won about half their games the year before their coach was fired, Adler said.

"What was surprising was finding that the mediocre teams often did worse after they had replaced their coaches,"

Adler told the newspaper.

Losing and calls to can football coaches have been sore spots in recent years for CU Buffaloes' fans.

In 2010, CU fired then-head coach Dan Hawkins, who posted a 19-39 record over five years. The university had to pay Hawkins $2 million to buy out his contract.

A quote by Hawkins inspired the study's title.

Hawkins, at a 2008 news conference, responded to a reporter's question about how easily colleges fired head coaches by saying, "We're in the era of PlayStation. If you don't like it, just hit reset."

Now, some fans are already calling for the scalp of Hawkins' replacement, Jon Embree, who was given the tough task of rebuilding the CU program.

The Buffs' are currently 1-9 and -- if they lose their last two games -- they risk being branded the worst football team in CU history.

When asked if the study's results could serve as an argument that almost no coach should be fired based on a poor win-loss record, Adler chuckled.

"I would hate to be the coach trying to make that sell," he told the Daily Camera.

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