Sixty years of modern football history suggests the winless Atlanta Falcons didn’t exactly arm themselves with a magic bullet when they fired Dan Quinn and promoted Raheem Morris to interim head coach six days before Sunday’s scheduled game against the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Oh sure, Houston won its first game in interim coach Romeo Crennel’s debut last week. And, yes, three of the past five interim head coaches have won their first games.
But going back to 1960, the point of origin for what’s considered “the modern NFL,” the numbers say that if a team is lousy enough to get its coach fired in-season, it’s generally lousy enough to keep losing.
A few years back, Rick Gosselin, currently with Talk of Fame Network/SI.com and the godfather of NFL media and league history the past five decades, crunched some numbers regarding interim head coaches. Piggybacking off those numbers and updating them, here’s the won-loss record for interim head coaches in their first games since 1960: 31-60-1.
A .342 winning percentage for the 92 interim coaches who have gone before Morris since 1960. Best of luck, Raheem.
That, of course, doesn’t mean those 92 interim coaches didn’t enjoy an initial boost in effort and attention to detail from their players.
“One of the reasons you tend to get that bump with an interim coach is the players are auditioning for jobs all over again,” said Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who won his first two games as the Vikings’ interim coach after Brad Childress was fired after a 31-3 home loss to Green Bay in 2010. “Maybe the message is a little different. And there might be some lineup changes that help.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he doesn’t expect Atlanta to “change a whole lot” in less than a week. But he is leery of quarterback Matt Ryan and the offensive firepower that’s now in the hands of a coach who’s essentially gambling with the house’s money.
Morris has 11 games to prove he deserves another shot at becoming a head coach, sans the interim tag. He went 17-31 with no playoff appearances while coaching the Buccaneers from 2009-11.
“They may be more aggressive,” Zimmer said. “We’ll go back and look at the analytics of when he was at Tampa Bay and kind of see if there was anything different there.”
Of the 91 interim coaches since 1960 who finished out their seasons, only 17 had winning records.
The last one was Gregg Williams, who replaced Hue Jackson in Cleveland and went 5-3 to finish the 2018 season.
Frazier and Mike Tice are the only interim coaches in Vikings history. Both had the interim label removed the following season.
Tice went 0-1 after replacing Denny Green in 2001. Tice then went 33-33, including 1-1 in the playoffs, before being fired.
Frazier inherited a 3-7 team and went 3-3. He then went 18-29-1, including 0-1 in the playoffs, and was fired after the 2013 season.
“Interim is not the way you want to become a head coach,” Frazier said. “It’s not your team. The success rate of those guys is very low. So, although there is sometimes an initial bump, sustainability is another story.”
In other words, there aren’t many like Marv Levy or Marty Schottenheimer.
Levy went 2-5 as the Bills’ interim coach in 1986. Not long after, he led Buffalo to five AFC Championship Games and four Super Bowls en route to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Schottenheimer took over a 1-7 Browns team in 1984. He finished that season 4-4 on his way to winning 200 regular-season games — eighth-most in league history — for the Browns, the Chiefs, Washington and the Chargers.
As Gosselin noted a few years back, the greatest interim head coach in the modern era was the first one.
After winning the first AFL championship in 1960, the Houston Oilers grew impatient quickly and fired Lou Rymkus after a 1-3-1 start in 1961. Wally Lemm stepped in as interim and won 10 straight games, including the 1962 AFL Championship Game.
Is Morris the next Wally Lemm? The odds are decidedly against it.
Mark Craig is an NFL and
Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL