A Fox's Food For Thought: Coaching Stability


Editor's Note: Fleet Fox makes the case for keeping Ron Wilson based on science.

Since reading DaveDaytona's Fanpost, I've begun pondering whether or not it is a good thing that The Leafs are saddled with Wilson for another season. After some research and consideration, my answer remains the same: Wilson does indeed deserve another chance next season with a more stable roster, but another bottom-five finish will have him out of a job - particularly if Burke gets him a decent No. 1 centre to open training camp with. Yes, Ron Wilson is a good thing for The Toronto Maple Leafs right now, and all arguments supporting this point of view can be summed up in two words: Organizational Stability.

Earlier in the season, I made a case for making fewer trades, given a correlation between the number of regular season wins and the teams that traded less. At this juncture, I have a similar correlation to present to you, from the data gathered by Rick Audas, from the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland; John Goddard, from The School of Business and Regional Development at the University of Wales; and W. Glenn Rowe, from the Richard Ivey School of Business of the University of Western Ontario. The following information is from their article entitled Modelling Employment Durations of NHL Head Coaches: Turnover and Post-succession Performance. The data set for their tables ranges from the beginning of the 1967 season, and ends at the end of the 2001-02 season. 

In Table 1, we can see a distinct drop-off in the rate of job departure over the years, and I would speculate that one significant reason for this is that teams have recognized the benefits of workplace stability. It’s just a thought. Note that the number of team seasons vary due to the expansion of the league.


In Table 2, we can see that every coach over the span of the data set (35 years) that has coached in excess of 400 games has had a winning record save for three: Holmgren, Arbour (in New York), and Gainey. In both Holmgren and Gainey’s case, these were relocated teams, struggling to get off the ground. Arbour, on the other hand, was handicapped by John Pickett, who refused to reinvest any money into his team – we might think of him as the Harold Ballard of New York, except he was around for six years as a minority owner, and another twenty as a majority owner – but that’s a Fanpost unto itself.

The situation is this: the coach that sticks around wins, but obviously, the winning coaches tend to stick around. It’s the classic chicken-before-the egg situation


Table 3 is perhaps the most illuminating. Notice that there is a correlation between the teams that have made fewer coaching changes and the teams that have won the most: Montréal, Edmonton, Washington, NY Islanders, and Philadelphia are prime examples here. I am sure that if we extended the data set to include the 2010 season, we would see the emergence of very stable New Jersey, Detroit, Ottawa, and Buffalo organizations as well. Of course, there is more to the chain of organizational stability than the coach, but a coach is nevertheless an essential piece of the puzzle.


It is also worth noting that in the aforementioned study by Audas, Goddard, and Rowe, the authors found that if a head coach is replaced mid-season, the firing was most often preceded by a period of about 15 games when the team's record began to drop off - a shocking revelation, I know. But they also proved that upon the appointment of a new coach, the next 10 games were often even worse, before returning to a level of success no higher than the previous coach was able to attain. So, in short, mid-season firings hurt the team's success in the short term, but did nothing to improve for the remainder of the season, either. No information was given on the teams' successes the following seasons. Food for thought.


I should be very clear in stating that I have no intention of settling for stable but mediocre team performance. I am under no illusion that The Leafs’ organization will improve simply by leaving everything the way it is.  Brian Burke may well decide next summer that Ron Wilson is no longer the man to do the job in Toronto, and that’s fine.

I do firmly believe, however, that clear organizational direction and stability are key components to consistent success in the NHL, and that every opportunity to foster these components should be granted. Given that Wilson is a known constant in a team full of variables (i.e. mostly just the players, but possibly Dave Nonis too), Burke’s familiarity with his old buddy’s coaching style and character will help him better assess what we have in our players. From a player's point of view, Wilson lends a measure of certainty to an uncertain job - by now, they should know the kind of work ethic he expects.

Wilson stays for another year. is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of

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