Are Rookie Head Coaches Good Bets in their First Game?

NFL Jul 30, 2021

Entering the 2021 NFL regular season, seven teams will begin with rookie head coaches.

Coaching an NFL team is a job with lots of pressure.  Every team has high expectations when a new coach and staff take to the sidelines.  The problem is, there's a serious "learning curve" when it comes to coaching at this level.  It takes time for a new coach to learn about his players, prepare a winning game plan, and make in-game adjustments.

And so the question becomes – all else being equal – are rookie head coaches good bets or bad bets in thier first NFL game?

The past results and answer to that question might be surprising.

First, let's look at the seven NFL teams with new coaches heading into the 2021 regular season:

Atlanta Falcons - Arthur Smith

Detroit Lions - Dan Campbell

Houston Texans - David Culley

Jackonsville Jaguars - Urban Meyer

L.A. Chargers - Brandon Staley

N.Y. Jets - Robert Saleh

Philadelphia Eagles - Nick Sirianni

Since re-alignment nearly 20 years ago, there have been 83 new head coaches.  It will be helpful to examine both the STRAIGHT UP and AGAINST-THE-SPREAD results of these rookies since 2002.

Note that we will only examine FIRST ROAD GAME records in the following numbers.  Data shows that rookie head coaches actually fare decently when playing at home, but it's enough of an edge to bet this blindly.  So, all discussion from this point forward deals with rookie head coaches in their first-ever road game, which will come up SEVEN times in the 2021 season.

Also note that we must credit Matt Blunt at for this research:


The SU record of rookie head coaches in their first road game is a dismal 32-51 SU overall, which is only a 38.5 percent success rate.  So, betting the moneyline would produce a winning ticket in 51 out of 83 occasions, but since we'd be laying a price in most of these games, the impressive numbers here likely wouldn't produce any profits.

It's been even worse recently.

Since the start of the 2017 season, rookie coaches in their first road game are just 4-15 SU, which is only a 21 percent success rate.  This is slightly surprising since last year new coaches playing road games didn't have to deal with the usual heckling and crowd noise since no fans were allowed to attend.  In other words, many games were basically played at neutral sites last season – on reason many road teams did quite well overall.

Let's point out the obvious:  Rookie head coaches tend to be burdened with bad (losing) teams from the year before and it takes time to reverse failure.  For a bad franchise to become successful again it takes multiple games, and sometimes even a number of seasons.  For some teams, things seem to never get better.

It's interesting that two rookie head coaches will face off in Week 1, which pairs Jacksonville and Houston.  And that's not the only game that puts two new coaches head-to-head the first week either, as Philadelphia plays at Atlanta.

Other teams with rookie head coaches beginning the year on the road include the L.A. Chargers at Washington and the N.Y. Jets at Carolina.


Here's where money is to be made.  Read this part carefully.

The ATS results are actually much better – 49-32-2.

Again, the caveat here is that rookie coaches are usually taking over rebuilding/bad teams and will be catching quite a few points in their first games away from home, and these lines can be somewhat inflated given market perception on the coaching hire, the new team he's in charge of, and/or the quality of opponent they are facing.

Backing rookie coaches ATS on the road in their first game isn't just something that's worked rather well over the past 19 seasons.  It's on a 19-9-1 ATS run since the start of the 2014 season.  With more markets open for betting, we think the perception on the favourites will be even more inflated when playing bad teams with rookie coaches.  So, this becomes a great contrarian betting opportunity.

Betting this angle blindly would produce the following wagers (bet on the first team listed on the pointspread):

WEEK 1 (first road game)

Urban Meyer (Jacksonville at Houston)

Robert Saleh (N.Y. Jets at Carolina)

Nick Sirianni (Philadelphia at Atlanta)

Brandon Staley (L.A. Chargers at Washington)

WEEK 2 (first road game)

Dan Campbell (Detroit at Green Bay)

David Culley (Houston at Cleveland)

Arthur Smith (Atlanta at Tampa Bay)

Get a bet down now at SPREADS.CA, Canada's Best Bet!