Head coaches in professional sports are masters at their crafts. They are paid handsomely to put up with onerous owners, petulant players, and fickle fans, all the while knowing that no matter how many championships they win, they’re never more than a losing streak away from the unemployment line.
It’s long been said that coaches are “hired to be fired”—so much so that the next time you see a new coach at his introductory press conference, taking over his new team, consider that in a little over three years, that team likely will be putting on another media gathering…for its next new coach.
A head coach who currently has a job in one of the US’s four major professional sports can expect to keep it for only 3.3 seasons. Positions in Major League Baseball are the most secure, with managers averaging 4 years on the job. Current NHL coaches, in keeping with the slippery nature of their sport, can expect to be behind their benches an average of only 2.3 seasons—the lowest average among the four sports.
Not that coaches now working in the NFL (3.6 seasons) and NBA (3.2) should consider buying instead of renting, either. Clearly, having a little security is not part of the job description, no matter the league.
And while those averages seem low enough, the truth is even worse: they’re inflated by a small number of long-lasting outlier coaches. Most head coaches and managers can expect their tenures to be considerably shorter than the already diminutive average.
The odds an NBA head coach has been at his current job shorter than the league average are 1 in 1.43 (70%).
The odds an NFL head coach has been at his current job shorter than the league average are 1 in 1.6 (62.5%).
The odds an NHL head coach has been at his current job shorter than the league average are 1 in 1.3 (77%).
The odds an MLB manager has been at his current job shorter than the league average are 1 in 1.43 (70%).
Interestingly, the 24-hour news cycle, the Internet, and the “win now” mentality have had little effect on those numbers, which largely hold up throughout modern professional sports history.
The longtime presence of legends like Connie Mack, who managed the Philadelphia A’s for 49 years, George Halas (40 years stalking the sidelines for the Chicago Bears) and John McGraw (29 seasons at the helm of the New York Baseball Giants), has done little to affect the overall average coaching tenures through history—4.1 seasons in the NFL, 2.6 in the NBA, 2.5 in the MLB, and 2.4 in the NHL, for a four-sport total average of 2.9 seasons, not too different from the average tenures of today’s coaches mentioned above.
Clearly, the managerial shuffle is no modern phenomenon. Consider that the National League’s St. Louis Browns—the Cardinals’ predecessors—changed managers 13 times in only a three-year period from 1895-97, including three separate stints by the immortal Chris Von Der Ahe, who had a 3-14 record.
Some have managed to buck the trend, however. Take Jerry Sloan; he’s coached the Utah Jazz for the better part of 22 seasons, the longest current tenure in professional sports. Another coach who’s taken a licking and kept on ticking is Jeff Fisher, who has led the Tennessee Titans for 15-plus seasons—the longest current tenure in the NFL.
The odds an NBA head coach has been at his current job longer than the league average are 1 in 3.75.
The odds an NFL head coach has been at his current job longer than the league average are 1 in 2.6.
The odds an NHL head coach has been at his current job longer than the league average are 1 in 5.
The odds an MLB manager has been at his current job longer than the league average are 1 in 3.33.
Rare are those such as Bobby Cox—who will go out on his own terms and retire after this season following more than 20 years in the dugout for the Atlanta Braves—and Barry Trotz, who owns the distinction of being the only coach the Nashville Predators have ever had since they joined the NHL as an expansion club 11 years ago.
The odds an NBA head coach has been at his current job 10 seasons or more are 1 in 15.
The odds an NFL head coach has been at his current job 10 seasons or more are 1 in 10.67.
The odds an NHL head coach has been at his current job 10 seasons or more are 1 in 15.
The odds an MLB manager has been at his current job 10 seasons or more are 1 in 10.
Interestingly, though all four sports have fairly low average coach tenures, they’re far from equal when it comes to which have the most stable (and least stable) franchises. Eight of the top ten most stable pro franchises in terms of coaching tenures are in the NFL, and several near the top of the list (Dallas, Minnesota, Green Bay and Miami) are clubs that have traditionally been winners with coaches who have worked many years (Tom Landry, 29 years with the Cowboys; Bud Grant, 18 years with the Vikings; Curly Lambeau, 29 years with the Packers; and Don Shula, 26 years with the Dolphins).
The moral on the other side of the spectrum: stay away from the NHL, with eight of its franchises on the list of the 12 least stable where coaching tenure is concerned. Curiously, the New Jersey Devils, despite winning three Stanley Cups, have an average coaches’ tenure of only 1.2 seasons, which ties them with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies for the shortest average tenure in pro sports.
Keep all of that in mind the next time you think you can do a better job from your sofa.
Most Stable Coaching Jobs by Franchise
|Team||League||Years in Existence||Average Tenure|
|Green Bay Packers||NFL||89||5.3|
|New York Giants||NFL||85||5.0|
Least Stable Coaching Jobs by Franchise
|Team||League||Years in Existence||Average Tenure|
|New Jersey Devils||NHL||35||1.2|
|St. Louis Blues||NHL||42||1.4|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||NHL||9||1.5|
|Los Angeles Clippers||NBA||40||1.6|
|St. Louis Cardinals||MLB||129||1.7|
|Los Angeles Kings||NHL||42||1.7|
|Toronto Blue Jays||MLB||33||1.7|