NFL Team Results in First Game with Interim Head Coach

How have interim head coaches done in their first game? We take a look at the results since the start of the 2010 season.

Matt Rhule is out in Carolina after five games (John Byrum/Icon Sportswire)

The Carolina Panthers fired head coach Matt Rhule this week after a 37-15 home loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the final disappointing result in a 1-4 start. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has been promoted to interim head coach for the rest of the season.

It’s a situation that doesn’t come up all that frequently, but can happen a couple of times a year. So how have teams done in the aftermath of an in-season coach firing? As it turns out, pretty well in an admittedly small sample size of outcomes.

Interim Coach Results (2010-2021)

Going back to the start of the 2010 NFL season, here are the results in each team’s first game played with an interim head coach. (The table is initially sorted by week that the new coach took over.)

2020HOU5JAC-6-285W 30-14
2021LV6DEN5175W 34-24
2020ATL6MIN3.5167W 40-23
2019WAS6MIA-6-250W 17-16
2015MIA6TEN2.5120W 38-10
2014OAK6SD7.5300L 28-31
2018CLE9KC7.5334L 21-37
2015TEN9NO6.5256W 34-28
2010DAL10NYG12.5450W 33-20
2010MIN12WAS-1-131W 17-13
2020DET13CHI3137W 34-30
2011JAC13SD3151L 14-38
2019CAR14ATL3.5165L 20-40
2018GB14ATL-4-197W 34-20
2017NYG14DAL4184L 10-30
2010DEN14ARI-4-195L 13-43
2016LAR15SEA15.5875L 3-24
2013HOU15IND6220L 3-25
2011KC15GB11485W 19-14
2016JAC16TEN4.5180W 38-17
2016BUF17NYJ-4-210L 10-30
2015PHI17NYG3.5165W 35-30
2010SF17ARI-6-250W 38-7

Here is the overall summary of those results. Teams with an interim coach in the first game are:

  • 14-9 against the spread (ATS)
  • 14-9 straight up (SU) despite being the underdog in 16 of 23 games.
  • +14.0 units in 23 games against the Money Line, assuming a flat risk on 1 unit per game.
  • The average result is 15.7 points away from the spread.

Teams have been above average against the spread in the game after a coach firing in the last decade, and we have seen some extreme value on the money line in these situations, suggesting they are highly variable situations. Two of the three teams that were a double-digit underdog in the aftermath of a coach firing, for example, won the game outright.

Early Firings Have Been More Profitable than Late Ones

If you look at that list, you will also see that situations where the coach was fired earlier in the year have been more profitable than later in the year.

  • Five of the six previous interim coach debuts in Week 6 or earlier saw the new coach’s team cover (and win outright).
  • Eight of the 10 interim coaches who took over by Week 12 covered the spread (and won).
  • Interim coaches taking over in Week 13 or later are 6-7 ATS and SU.

Overall Outlook

Since 2010, teams playing their first game for an interim coach have shown value in a limited number of opportunities, particularly earlier in the season. The market may not always react rationally here, if it anticipates that the team who fired a coach is likely to perform worse. Sometimes, the changing of a coach who was struggling (these firings often come after multiple disappointing seasons, or because a team is underperforming) can have a positive impact, or at least not be the negative that it might be perceived to be.