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Don't fire Eddie Jordan ... yet

Calls to fire Eddie Jordan are fashionable these days, and with good reason.  The Wizards' three-point defense has gotten worse every year.  The Princeton offense is sputtering, since there is no Gilbert Arenas to break it or Brendan Haywood to bounce bodies around in the middle.  The team's prized youngster, Andray Blatche, is having his worst start as a pro.  Rotations have no rhyme or reason.  The list goes on.

But there's no reason to fire Eddie Jordan for a little while.  The reason?  Historically, firing a coach in the middle of the season hasn't made much of a difference on that season's success, and five games, no matter how bad they were, is too small a sample to determine whether we have no chance at the playoffs.  Sure, our 0-5 start probably hurt any chance to gain a high seed, but in theory, you can fire EJ after the season anyway and start a new season with a new coach and a new direction.  There's a larger pool to choose from in the offseason, whereas you're basically resigned to promoting your assistant coach if you fire someone in the middle of the season.

Here's a table of teams who changed their coaches in the middle of the season since 2005.  I bolded the two biggest outliers on both ends.

Team Prev W/L Fired coach New coach FC W/L NC W/L Win % Diff
2007/08 Bulls 49-33 Scott Skiles Jim Boylan 9-16 24-32 +0.07%
2006/07 Bucks 40-42 Terry Stotts Larry Krystkowiak 23-41 5-13 -0.08%
2006/07 Timberwovles 33-49 Dwayne Casey Randy Wittman 20-20 12-30 -0.21%
2005/06 Heat 59-23 Stan Van Gundy Pat Riley 11-10 41-20 +0.15%
2005/06 Sonics 52-30 Bob Weiss Bob Hill 13-17 22-30 -0.01%
2004/05 Knicks 39-43 Lenny Wilkins Herb Williams 17-22 16-27 -0.07%
2004/05 Cavaliers 35-47 Paul Silas Brendan Malone 34-30 8-10 -0.09%
2004/05 Magic 21-61 Johnny Davis Chris Jent 31-33 5-13 -0.20%
2004/05 Nuggets 43-39 Jeff Bzdelik George Karl 13-15 32-8 +0.44%
2004/05 Blazers 40-42 Maurice Cheeks Kevin Pritchard 22-33 5-22 -0.25%
2004/05 Lakers 56-26 Rudy Tomjanovich Frank Hamlin 24-19 10-29 -0.23%
2004/05 Mavericks 53-29 Don Nelson Avery Johnson 42-22 16-2 +0.23%
2004/05 Grizzlies 50-32 Hubie Brown Mike Fratello 5-7 40-30 +0.15%

Let's rank them again, but now in order of most improvement to most detrimental.  I'm also including the number of games played before the change.  The ones italicized are the changes that simply involved promoting an assistant coach.  Bolded is the median.

  1. 2004/05 Nuggets: Jeff Bzdelik to George Karl (28)
  2. 2004/05 Mavericks: Don Nelson to Avery Johnson (64)
  3. 2005/06 Heat: Stan Van Gundy to Pat Riley (21)
  4. 2004/05 Grizzlies: Hubie Brown to Mike Fratello (12)
  5. 2006/07 Bulls: Scott Skiles to Jim Boylan (25)
  7. 2005/06 Sonics: Bob Weiss to Bob Hill (30)
  8. 2004/05 Knicks: Lenny Wilkins to Herb Williams (39)
  9. 2006/07 Bucks: Terry Stotts to Larry Krystkowiak (64)
  10. 2004/05 Cavaliers: Paul Silas to Brendan Malone (64)
  11. 2004/05 Magic: Johnny Davis to Chris Jent (64)
  12. 2006/07 Timberwolves: Dwayne Casey to Randy Wittman (40)
  13. 2004/05 Lakers: Rudy Tomjanovich to Frank Hamlin (43)
  14. 2004/05 Blazers: Maurice Cheeks to Kevin Pritchard (55)

There are a few lessons here.  First, most  teams don't really improve when changing their coach in the middle of the season.  They don't usually tank like the Kevin Pritchard-less Blazers of 2004/05, but a success story like the 2004/05 Nuggets doesn't usually happen either.  Most of the time, the team doesn't play all that differently.  This really shouldn't be all that surprising.  Most of the time, coaches are replaced in the middle of the season by their assistants, and the team rarely responds differently to someone who shares their previous coaches' perspective.

The bigger lesson is that the only coaches who have succeeded in really making a difference are established ones hired from the outside.  Of the nine cases where an assistant coach took over, only two made a positive impact on the team's win/loss record, and only one of those two rose their team significantly higher in the standings.  (Of course, that one person is available right now...).  Even some of the improvement stories come with mitigating factors.  Shaquille O'Neal was injured during Stan Van Gundy's tenure in 2005/06, for example.  And while George Karl's team didn't sufer any major injuries before he took over, Jeff Bzdelik was fired after a five-game losing streak where the team played without Carmelo Anthony.  Of course, we have a key guy recovering from injury as well, but any coach would benefit from Gilbert Arenas' return.

In essence, firing a coach in midseason rarely works as a motivating factor.  More often than not, it signifies giving up on the season.  The Wizards have been absolutely terrible in the first five games, sure, but it's only been five games.  There are 77 more to potentially turn things around.  If we haven't shown significant improvement by game 25, for example, then I would advocate firing Eddie and beginning the rebuilding process.  By game 25, we have a better idea of where we stand as a team.

If we improve enough to get to about 43 wins and a first-round exit, we can still fire Eddie in the offseason.  In the middle of the season, though, a coaching change rarely makes a positive impact on the team.  The only scenario I can envision where it works this time is if we hired Avery Johnson, but I doubt Ernie's going to do that and I doubt Avery wants to leave his cushy TV position. 

So don't fire Eddie Jordan.  At least not yet.