FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. − Dan Quinn cranked up the music and turned up the energy for the Atlanta Falcons.
So far, the results have been nothing short of amazing.
The Falcons, who won only 10 games the last two seasons, are 4-0 for their new coach.
It’s much the same in New York, where Todd Bowles has the Jets sitting at 3-1, just one victory shy of their 2014 total. Gary Kubiak took over a winning team in Denver and kept it going, guiding the Broncos to a perfect start through the first month.
“I don’t think there’s any kind of magic to it,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said Wednesday. “I think Dan believes in what he stands for. I think guys respond to that.”
It’s not unusual at all for a new coach to have a positive impact right away.
A check of the last 20 years by The Associated Press showed that two-third of coaches who took over a team before the start of a season − 82 out of 122 − led their new team to a better record than the previous year. The study did not include those who got the job during the season, often on an interim basis.
In many cases, the new coach starts with a low bar of expectations.
In Atlanta, Quinn took the obvious step of changing up the schemes on both sides of the line. But he also focused on the camaraderie of his players, who seem to have taken to a frenetic, high-energy approach that includes loud music blaring at every practice.
“When you’re really close in the locker room and that carries over to the field − the looks, the communication you have with one another, how hard you want to play for one another − that’s what I see with our team,” Quinn said. “That’s exactly what I was hoping for.”
Often when coming to an organization that has been at the bottom of the standings, a new coach can seize on his players’ hunger for improvement and willingness to work just a little bit harder than they did before.
“I saw it right off the bat,” Quinn said. “We made tapes for everybody saying, `Here are some things that you’re doing really well, and here are some things you can improve upon.’ To a man, the challenge was, `Can you have the best offseason you’ve ever had? The best training camp you’ve ever had?’ A lot of guys took that challenge right to heart and said, `Yeah, I can do that.”
The bigger challenge is to maintain that initial level of success.
The rush of a new coach can wear off quickly, which happened before with the Falcons. In 2004, Jim Mora took over a team that went 5-11 the previous season and promptly went 11-5, winning a division title and guiding Atlanta to the NFC championship game.
Two years later, he was gone. The Falcons fired Mora after he followed up his memorable debut by going 15-17, missing the playoffs both seasons.
Not all new coaches are instant successes.
The Chicago Bears (1-3) have continued to struggle despite making the switch to John Fox. Jim Tomsula is off to a rocky start in San Francisco, where the 49ers are also 1-3 and have been outscored 107-28 the last three weeks.
Then there’s Rex Ryan, who promised to transform the Buffalo Bills but has yet to show things are much different with a 2-2 start. Of course, that same record looks pretty good in Oakland, where Jack Del Rio could match the win total for all of last season with an upset Sunday of the Broncos.
Despite that mixed results from this year’s new sideline crop, the evidence shows a coaching change usually helps, at least in Year 1. Going back to the 1995 season, the AP found that teams improved by an average of 1.56 victories when they made an offseason coaching change – a significant result given the parity of the league within a 16-game schedule.
In Denver, Kubiak and new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips installed an attacking, fight-to-end mindset that Denver general manager John Elway complained was lacking under previous coach Fox. In his four years, the Broncos were outscored 150-66 in the final game of the playoffs.
“The thing that I love about the football team is I think it has the belief that it’s going to find a way,” Kubiak said.
Kubiak had immediate creditability in the locker room because of his long ties to the organization, as both a player and an assistant.
“Having history here and us knowing that history, that helps,” running back C.J. Anderson said. “You want to get back to those glory days this organization has had in the past.”
In the end, a new coach can only go as far as his players will take him.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Ryan said, “a long way to go.”
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