The Chiefs: Firing Head Coaches and Behavioral Economics

We all had high hopes. We have a talented young football with dynamic playmakers at many key positions. The opening day loss to the Buffalo Bills was tough. I hate losing, especially at home, especially to Tim Tebow and the Broncos. I'm disappointed, but I'm not losing my head.

After a season like this, somebody will get fired—somebody should get fired. But I don't think that somebody should be Todd Haley, here's why...

First a confession, I'm in advertising. Heartless bastards like me process mountains of data and use it find ways to manipulate people into making purchase decisions based on emotions instead facts. 

The field of behavioral economics studies these decisions that individuals make in regard to their own economic self-interest. Particularly fascinating to an evil ad guy like me, is the Nobel prize winning research done to explain how people irrationally seek satisfaction instead maximizing benefit to themselves. 

One of these little boons to advertising is called action bias. Simply put: action bias states that when faced with uncertainty or a problem, particularly an ambiguous problem we prefer to do something, in fact we are happier doing anything, even if it counterproductive, rather than doing nothing, even if doing nothing is the best course of action.

Head coaches in the NFL are usually fired after a bad season. When things go wrong, the fans start calling for owner and GM to do something—anything to improve the team, often the owner concedes, making the decision based on emotion not a careful examination of the coach's performance.

What the owners and fans fail to consider is that when a team has a particularly bad season, it's usually because several bad things all happen at once. It's the same as when factors like turnovers, injuries and strength of schedule all work together to boost an improbable young team to an undeserved 10-6 record. 

The logical flaw is to make predictions that expect exceptional results (like a humiliating home loss to Tim Tebow or a 6.38 yards-per-carry average) to reoccur as if they were average. Instead, people are most likely to take action when variance is at its peak. Then after results become more normal they believe that their action was the cause of the change when in fact it was not causal. Which is also why you see coaches signing lucrative extensions after improbable cinderella runs they are unlikely to ever replicate.

For more this, check out this piece by Brian Burke on his website Advanced NFL Statistics. He talks about statistical regression-toward-the-mean and how firing an NFL head coach rarely improves a team's win-loss record.


Which is not to say that there aren't good times to cut a coach loose. The firing of Jeff Fisher in Tennessee is a good example. After 16 years of building the team his way, the Titans needed a change. The same goes for letting Marty Schottenheimer go because he couldn't get over the hump. The sample sizes in both cases were large enough to know that the coach couldn't get it done.

These logical, reasoned personnel decisions are in stark contrast to the annual fire-and-hire fests by Dan Snyder, Jerry Jones and the late Al Davis. The constant state on flux has caused these talented teams to routinely underachieve.

I don't know if Todd Haley is a good coach or not. He could be the next Eric Mangini, a talented coordinator who couldn't hack it as the head man in the NFL or the next Bill Cowher, who simply requires a little more time and a little more talent to build this team into a champion.

I'll be watching these last few games with great interest; to find out if Haley can keep the Chiefs motivated, scheme to keep them competitive and to see if he breaks out any gadget plays to keep them fun to watch.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.

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