Football Head Coaching Performance Article posted on February 1, 2012

They say “defense wins championships,” but do defensive-minded head coaches outperform offensive-minded coaches?

To find out, we classified NCAA Division I head coaches as either “Offensive-Minded” (OM) or “Defensive- Minded” (DM) based on their career history of coaching on either side of the ball, and compared the two groups across several performance metrics over a ten year data set (2000-2010). The results:

Unsurprisingly, OM coaches gain more points and yards per game than DM coaches (29.2 vs. 27.1 ppg and 389 vs. 373 ypg), while DM coaches give up fewer points and yards than OM coaches (24.1 vs. 25.2 ppg and 353 vs. 365 ypg). Therefore, after accounting for both sides of the ball, OM coaches realize a slight, per-game, net advantage in both points and yards; netting a +4 ppg average over opponents (one more net ppg than DM coaches), and a +24 net ypg advantage over opponents (four more net ypg than DM coaches).

Wins and losses, however, tell a different story.

While both offensive and defensive minded coaches have very similar overall winning percentages (.574 vs. .576), DM coaches appear to hold a distinct advantage in head-to-head matchups over their offensive counterparts, winning 55% of historical head-to-head battles over the ten year period. Additionally, over the past eleven NCAA football seasons, DM head coaches have won the “season series” in head-to head matchups against OM coaches nine times.

Therefore, while offensive and defensive backgrounds are likely to produce very similar scoring margins over the course of a season or career, head coaches with defensive backgrounds seem to realize a strategic, match-up based advantage in head-to-head situations. So, does defense win championships?

It may depend on who’s coaching the other team.