Photo: John Byrum/Icon Sportswire

In the last 10 years, 10 NFL head coaches have been fired in their first season. And Frank Reich, having served as the Panthers head coach for just 305 days, was the fastest among them to be fired. It’s the second-shortest tenure in NFL history, second to only Pete McCulley’s 9 games with San Francisco in 1978.

To further contextualize how pissed off owner David Tepper must be, please note the general tyranny among the organizations on this list. Two franchises had back-to-back one-and-dones – the 49ers with Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, and the Texans with David Culley and Lovie Smith – and a third was responsible for two within 6 years of each other (the Browns). Even Nathaniel Hackett lasted four weeks longer than Reich; Urban Meyer, a full month. All told, there’s a lot of organizational dysfunction among the teams on that list, so this firing would have made the Roman emperor Commodus proud.

This seems like more of an indictment on Tepper – who has seen five head coaches come and go since he bought the franchise in 2018 – than Reich, especially considering drafting Bryce Young was the former’s decision, but we just might be able to empirically measure how he stacks up against fellow one-and-dones.

The contestants are:

Coach Season Time on job Preseason Win Totals Record
Frank Reich 2023 305 days 7 1-10
Nathaniel Hackett 2022 333 days 10.5  4-11
Lovie Smith 2022 335 days 4.5 3-13-1
Urban Meyer 2021 336 days 6.5 2-11
David Culley 2021 349 days 4 4-13
Freddie Kitchens 2019 351 days 9 6-10
Steve Wilks 2018 343 days 6 3-13
Chip Kelly 2016 353 days 5.5 2-14

One way to do this would be to compare the preseason win totals to the coach’s record. This is a bit fraught considering that some of these coaches didn’t even make it a full season (among other reasons), but it can give us some sense for performance relative to expectation. By this measuring stick, Reich and Hackett appear to be the worst, falling 6 games below their preseason Vegas win total odds.

We can gauge this slightly more robustly using player-level Total Points to compare player performance before and after the coach arrived. This is likewise shaky because of factors like player development, scheme fit, and rookie production, but it’s still worth examining. It is, however, a wash. None of these teams manage to meaningfully distinguish themselves from the others in this regard, with the differences between the team-wide average Total Points/play being a few thousandths of a decimal point. It is worth noting, however, that the 2023 Panthers (0.04) and the 2021 Jaguars (0.04) were the most talented of these teams.

Perhaps it may be better to just measure how bad they were on the field.

Among these teams, Carolina has had the second-worst offense by EPA/play (-0.19). Only the 2018 Arizona team (-0.21) was worse, and the Cardinals famously replaced Josh Rosen after just one season. Rosen’s performance that year ranks 310th out of 321 quarterback seasons in passing Total Points/play, and Young currently isn’t too far above at 304th – he’s that bad. None of these offenses were any good, though. The best among them was Freddie Kitchens’ Browns (-0.06), whose unit ranked 23rd that year. 

Defensively, Reich’s Panthers team was second only to the 2022 Broncos, allowing -0.04 EPA/play, but that’s not saying much considering this collection of teams features Kelly’s 49ers (0.06) and Meyer’s Jags (0.06), who were the 20th- and 21st-worst defenses of the last eight years, respectively. Considering some of the defensive players Reich inherited, this may not come as a surprise, but it’s also disconcerting that an offensive coach by trade was getting carried by the defensive side of the ball (to the extent that a 1-10 team can be carried, anyway).

Reich’s fourth down decision-making is more directly in his purview, and while he’s had worse seasons by SIS’s fourth down model, he wasn’t particularly good this year. He ranked 120th out of 270 coach seasons since 2016, costing his team an average of -1% expected win probability (xWP) on fourth downs. Among the one-and-dones, only Meyer (188th), Smith (228th) and Hackett (267th) were worse.

Speaking of win probability, the 2023 Panthers had the third-highest percentage of plays that fell between 40% and 60% win probability – more or less a coin flip– at 30%, so it could be said that his team was more competitive than most of the teams on this list. It’s not by much, though; the average across all these squads is 27%.

In some aspects, Reich was worse than his one-and-done cohorts. He arguably had the most talented team of all the coaches on this list – which should induce cognitive dissonance among people who say Young has no talent around him – and he obviously failed to meet expectations, regardless of whether or not you believe those expectations were reasonable. 

It’s not clear if things will get any better next year. Whereas teams like the Broncos and the Texans have seen immediate improvement this year, other teams had to wait years to get back above .500.

One thing is for certain, though: Frank Reich signed a 4-year contract and will be just fine.