After losing to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4, the Houston Texans fired Bill O’Brien. O’Brien had lost the confidence of his players, and eventually the organization. His firing left the players with a sense of relief that helped re-energize them for their matchup against Jacksonville. The Texans took their first win thanks to that energy.
Will the Falcons enjoy the same benefits after firing Dan Quinn?
Since 2006, 26 teams have fired their coaches in the middle of the season, including this year’s Falcons. At time of firing, those teams were a combined 68-180-2, or about a 4-12 pace. That’s not surprising, since teams don’t fire their coaches when things are going well. In the game immediately following, those teams went 12-13. By sheer win-loss, that’s a slight bump, though a sample of 25 games is difficult to trust.
I wanted to get a better sense for the air in Atlanta, so I asked Aaron Freeman of the Locked On Falcons Podcast. He told me, “It’s not one of those situations like we saw in Cleveland where it seemed like a very dysfunctional situation in that coaching staff and that organization.” So we can sort out situations like O’Brien’s and Hue Jackson’s. The players have expressed plenty of confidence in Quinn. It wasn’t a messy divorce, like Lane Kiffin’s in 2008. Quinn’s tenure wasn’t an abject disaster like Dennis Allen’s in 2012-2014.
Here are the twelve coaches whose firing were immediately followed by a win:
Linehan, Childress, Singletary, Haley, Kelly, Gruden and O’Brien don’t exactly apply, since they had all lost their respective locker rooms. It’s difficult to compare to Gus Bradley or Joe Philbin, who never achieved the same success as Quinn.
Phillips and Sparano are good comparisons. Both had success earlier in their tenures. Wade Phillips won Dallas its first playoff game since 1996. Sparano won Miami the AFC East for the first and only time in the entire Belichick era. Both had the full support of their players. If players tend to rally for the cause of their fallen leader, the 2011 Dolphins and 2010 Cowboys are evidence.
Of the others, Jeff Fisher and Ron Rivera fit the bill. The 2016 Rams famously loved Jeff Fisher, and his firing shook that locker room to its core. Those Rams fell apart entirely, losing all three of their remaining games.
Ron Rivera was just as beloved by his long-tenured Panthers players. They wouldn’t win any of their remaining games either. In both cases, it seemed like the firing of the head coach broke the spirit of an already frail locker room.
Unless the Falcons entirely break down without Dan Quinn, it’s unlikely that they’ll fall apart in October the same way those teams did in December. But that is not an impossible scenario. Whether or not they’ll rally or falter is difficult to predict using past precedent, but it can point out what to look for. On the whole, seeing a 4-12 team turn into an 8-8 team suggests that the freshly fired head coach comes with a boost more often than not. But each situation is different.
As for Sunday’s game, it may be wise to look at the body language of the Falcons. If their hands are on their hips, or they lackadaisically mill around between plays, their hearts may not be in it. If they shout out in triumph after every positive play, this may be a juiced up team. Either way, the Vikings are unlikely to take the Falcons for granted.