Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

PFF: Kingsbury is the NFL’s 4th best head coach, and better than 49ers’ Shanahan

Marc Adams
Jun 6, 2022 at 1:13 PM--

Either that person who is always hacking into people's Facebook pages and sending fake friend requests has hacked into PFF (Pro Football Focus), or someone from Kliff Kingsbury's family has been added to its editorial staff. In a PFF article released today, Kingsbury is listed as the fourth-best head coach in the NFL. Ahead of San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, and ahead of other head coaches like Sean McVay, Pete Carroll and Mike Tomlin. Kingsbury trails only Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, and Andy Reid.

You read that correctly. Kingsbury is the fourth-best coach in the NFL. Ok, stop laughing for a few minutes. I want you to finish reading this so my editor starts thinking I'm getting better at this.

With all due respect to the Kingsbury family, cousin Kliff doesn't even belong in the top half of a list ranking NFL head coaches.

In the article, the writer, Conor McQuiston (if that's truly his name), offers the secret sauce that makes up these rankings. McQuiston wrote, "Ranking NFL head coaches from an analytics perspective is a Sisyphean [that means 'impossible to complete;' I had to look it up] task for one simple reason: It's easy to win games with good players. Barring a calamity or an incredibly poor surrounding roster, most competent NFL coaches would still manage to be competitive for a playoff spot with Patrick Mahomes as their starting quarterback.

"Using this idea in ranking the current NFL head coaches, we try to do two things: 1) properly account for a team's talent level, and 2) predict something less volatile than wins. We do this by creating a multilevel model where the fixed effects are the salaries of each starter on both sides of the ball, including an indicator for if the player is a rookie, and the target is points scored or allowed in a season.

"The coaches are the random effect, giving us an estimate for their contribution to points scored or allowed. We can then use Pythagorean wins to estimate how many games the coach would win with an average team, defined as a team scoring and allowing 348 points in a season. This was the average mark for all teams between the 2017-2021 season."

So the ranking is based on what a coach would do with an average team. But it doesn't matter to me because any list that puts Kingsbury ahead of Shanahan, McVay, Tomlin, Carroll, Mike Vrabel, and Ron Rivera can't be taken too seriously. And there are others listed lower than Kingsbury who we could argue are actually better than him as well. Coaches like Matt LaFleur, Frank Reich, Sean McDermott and Zac Taylor.

Kingsbury has been a head coach in the NFL for three seasons now. In that time, he has a 24-24-1 record. He's also 0-1 in the postseason. Let's compare his record with the others I mentioned, who are listed behind him (just for the past three seasons only):

  • Kyle Shanahan (29-20)- 4-2 in the postseason, with two NFC Championship appearances and one Super Bowl appearance. Listed as 7th best in this PFF ranking.
  • Sean McVay (31-18)- 5-1 in the postseason, with one Super Bowl victory. Listed as 11th best in this PFF ranking.
  • Pete Carroll (30-19)- 1-2 in the postseason. Listed as 5th best in this PFF ranking. (Seeing Carroll listed two places higher than Shanahan made me throw up in my mouth a little.)
  • Mike Tomlin (29-20)- 0-2 in the postseason. Listed as 13th best in this PFF ranking.
  • Mike Vrabel (32-17)- 2-3 in the postseason, with one AFC Championship appearance. Listed as 8th best in this PFF ranking.
  • Ron Rivera (19-30)- 0-1 in the postseason. Listed as 18th best in this PFF ranking.
  • Matt LaFleur (39-10)- 2-3 in the postseason. Listed as 6th best in this PFF ranking. (Yes, that puts LaFleur one ahead of Shanahan, even though he has Aaron Rodgers and still can't beat Shanahan.)
  • Frank Reich (27-22)- 0-1 in the postseason. Listed as 9th best in this PFF ranking.
  • Sean McDermott (34-15)- 3-3 in the postseason, with one AFC Championship appearance. Listed as 16th best in this PFF ranking.
  • Zac Taylor (16-32-1), 3-1 in the postseason with one AFC Championship appearance and one Super Bowl appearance. Listed as 22nd best in this PFF ranking.

I would take every one of those coaches over Kingsbury. Even if you want to remove the coaches with really good quarterbacks, like Taylor (Joe Burrow), McDermott (Josh Allen), LaFleur (Rodgers), Carroll (Russell Wilson), and McVay (Matthew Stafford), you'd still be left with five coaches that should be ranked higher than Kingsbury.

Kingsbury's favorite writer also added, "We will be considering only macro-level, on-field performance for these rankings, which are not opponent-adjusted. We will not be considering factors such as roster construction decisions or giving outsized weight to factors such as passing rate or fourth-down decisions."

Interesting that he said they did not consider such factors as "roster construction decisions or giving outsized weight to factors such as passing rate or fourth-down decisions." Are those decisions not macro-level enough?

Those actually seem like important things to omit. Many coaches, including Shanahan, are involved in the roster construction, and I assume they all have some say in those decisions that are made. Also, passing rate and fourth-down decisions are important "on-field" factors for a coach and his team's performance. These factors should probably be considered, as well.

Again, these rankings are supposed to be based on an average team, taking away the advantage of a coach having a great roster. So if you took a generic team, and put any coach on the sideline, they're saying Kingsbury is the 4th best head coach in the NFL. I'm still not seeing it.

And some of the comments on each coach seemed to lose me. For instance, regarding Shanahan, the Kingsbury family—I mean McQuistan—wrote, "Shanahan has been publicly lauded for impressive offensive outputs despite middling passers running his offense, and this is borne out in the data, as well. Unfortunately, his overall mediocre defensive outputs considering the talent at his disposal has been captured, too."

Mediocre defensive outputs? Sorry, "Conor," but you must not have seen this defense play in 2019. That unit was dominant, terrorizing quarterbacks all season long. The 2019 defense was sixth in the league in forced turnovers (27), second in total defense (281.8 yards per game), first in passing defense (169.2 yards per game), and fourth in sacks (48).

And the 49ers' 2020 defense, playing without Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and DeForest Buckner, wasn't too shabby either. And last season, in 2021, the 49ers' defense finished the season ranked third in total defense, while also being the only team in the NFL to finish top 10 in both rushing and passing defense.

But "Conor" may just not understand defense, because he also wrote that LaFleur "has still managed to elevate the Packers' offense while maintaining strong defenses during his entire stay in Green Bay." Not sure I've seen that strong defense yet.

I really don't know where PFF and "Conor" are getting their information. Maybe they're smarter than I am and we'll soon see cousin Kliff take the Cardinals to the Super Bowl. But I'm not expecting that to be the case anytime soon, especially since Kingsbury continues to be a mediocre head coach.

In the meantime, PFF, whatever the Kingsbury family has on you—don't give in.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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