Don't Blame Jeff Fisher's Record on His Quarterbacks

Jeff Fisher can't find his challenge flag against Patriots

Don't Blame Jeff Fisher's Record on His Quarterbacks

NFL

Don't Blame Jeff Fisher's Record on His Quarterbacks

Jeff Fisher was finally fired yesterday, done in by a string of six-straight losing seasons (five in a row with the Rams). The Rams were going from mediocre to worse as the season went on, and Fisher’s team–with rookie Jared Goff–got embarrassed at home.

Jeff Fisher hasn’t had a great group of quarterbacks over that time, and this tweet points that out [h/t: @ClevTA]:

Here’s the full list of quarterbacks that have started a game coached by Jeff Fisher, going all the way back to 1994:

Jeff Fisher Quarterbacks

It’s definitely a long list, with some very forgettable names. So I am going to try to ballpark an answer to the question, “how would an average coach do?”

The answer, as it turns out, is pretty much like Jeff Fisher did. Average coaches, though, don’t tend to get 22 years in the league.

To come up with that, I took into consideration every quarterback who started a game since 1970, and divided them into grades.

  • The A+ are the Hall of Famers or soon-to-be Hall of Famers who have played since then.
  • The A- guys are the next 25 guys who were pretty good but probably aren’t getting into Canton (or we don’t know yet). Steve McNair is part of this group, along with many of the top young guys playing today (Newton, Russell, Luck, Stafford).
  • The B guys were good starters for part of their careers, many went to a Super Bowl or deep in the playoffs in their primes, like Matt Hasselbeck, Danny White, Phil Simms, Brad Johnson and Rich Gannon.
  • The C guys were guys that started for a while, some had success at times, and includes journeymen like Jon Kitna, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jeff Blake, Jake Delhomme, and highly drafted guys who never became stars like Sam Bradford and David Carr.
  • The D guys are journeymen who were mostly backups but got to start a few seasons.
  • The F guys are the replacement starters, complete busts, and third string guys who didn’t have long careers.

I took each group and calculated the career win percentage of the group. Here are the results:

A+ = .627

A- = .538

B = .499

C = .486

D = .445

F = .406

Take those percentages, apply them to each coach who has coached at least six seasons and coached within last four years, and you get the following in terms of expected number of wins (based on the type of QB starting each game in their career) and actual wins:

Coaches, Win Loss by QB

Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, and Pete Carroll are the standard bearers. Fisher is down near the bottom. Ken Whisenhunt, who had OK teams (and one magical 9-7 Super Bowl run) when Kurt Warner was his quarterback and disastrous ones with anyone else, is at the bottom. Sean Payton, meanwhile, has had Drew Brees, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, as his quarterback in all but two games he has coached, and the winning percentage in New Orleans is below the typical Hall of Famer.

These categories pre-suppose something that also works to Fisher’s benefit in this analysis: that the coach has nothing to do with the quarterback developing to his level. Drew Brees is a Hall of Famer thanks to his time in New Orleans working with Sean Payton, and Payton is getting dinged here for having a Hall of Famer. If McNair would have been a Hall of Famer, but for being coached by someone else and having more team success, then that goes in Fisher’s favor. Similarly, turning a C-type quarterback (journeyman) into a B-type is probably something that reflects coaching.

Besides Whisenhunt and Payton, it’s Marvin Lewis and Rex Ryan (his best quarterback being Tyrod Taylor) just below Fisher. All of Fisher’s positive value there is with McNair, but his 58% winning percentage with the one-time league MVP is among the lowest in this group with their best starter.

Take Andy Reid, for example, and set aside Donovan McNabb. He still has a 59% winning percentage in games with Alex Smith, an old Michael Vick, an old Jeff Garcia, Nick Foles, and Vince Young as his quarterbacks. Mike Shanahan of course won his Super Bowls with John Elway. In games where he had Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler, an aging McNabb, Gus Frerotte, Steve Beuerlein, Bubby Brister, and Chris Miller, his teams won 57.4% of games.

If you take out Steve McNair, Jeff Fisher’s teams were expected to win 47.1% of games based on the quarterback. They won 46.9%. That’s not horrible, but it’s not something that should get you two decades in the league, either.

In the universe of coaching, most coaches didn’t get nearly 40% of their games with a near-Hall of Famer like Steve McNair. Fisher may not have had it as good as some other colleagues like Mike McCarthy in Green Bay or Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, who inherited elite quarterbacks, but he didn’t have it as hard as the average coach, all things considered.

And he certainly made a lot more money than the average coach, right up until the very end.

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