In 2013, the NFC East featured some pretty experienced NFL head coaches. Mike Shanahan in Washington was in his 20th season as an NFL head coach, Tom Coughlin was in his 18th year, and Andy Reid in Philadelphia was in his 15th. Jason Garrett in Dallas (4th year as head coach) was a young pup by comparison.
After the 2013 season the four NFC East head coaches had 57 years of combined NFL head coaching experience, which is quite a lot considering that entering the 2016 season, the AFC West has the most experienced head coaching quartet with a combined NFL head coaching experience of "just" 39 years (Reid: 17, Del Rio: 10, Kubiak: 9, McCoy: 3).
But things have changed dramatically in the NFC East since 2013. Entering the 2016 season, Jason Garrett is the grizzled veteran of the East with six years NFL head coaching experience. Philly and New York have rookie head coaches and Jay Gruden in Washington has two years as an NFL head coach under his belt.
That means the Cowboys will play their six divisional games against a fairly inexperienced group of head coaches, and if we look at the entire 2016 schedule, the Cowboys' 16 opponents have just 69 years of combined NFL head coaching experience, the second lowest value in the NFL.
||NFL HC Experience||W-L%|
|1||Ben McAdoo||- -||- -|
|8||Doug Petersen||- -||- -|
|12||Washington Redskins||Jay Gruden||2||.406|
|14||@||New York Giants||Ben McAdoo||- -||- -|
|15||Dirk Koetter||- -||- -|
|17||@||Philadelphia Eagles||Doug Peterson||- -||- -|
In addition to the Giants and Eagles, the Buccaneers also have a rookie head coach, so the Cowboys will play five of their 16 games against rookie NFL head coaches. Add Hue Jackson with one year along with Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer with two years of NFL head coaching experience, and the Cowboys will play nine of their 16 games against NFL head coaches with two years or less of NFL head coaching experience.
The Cowboys' schedule above has an interesting six-week stretch from Week 12 through Week 17, where they'll play three teams coached by rookie head coaches, and all six teams combine for just 9 years of NFL head coaching experience.
In principle, you would think that playing against less experienced head coaches would be an advantage. As a rule, longer-tenured head coaches are more successful than their younger colleagues; in the what-have-done-for-me-lately NFL, losing coaches quickly lose their jobs, while winning coaches get their contracts extended. Of the 32 coaches heading into the NFL season, only six head coaches have a career losing record as a head coach: Jay Gruden in the NFC and five head coaches in the AFC (Rex Ryan, Mike Mularkey, Gus Bradley, Mike McCoy, Jack Del Rio).
At the same time, where veteran coaches are a known commodity, their less experienced counterparts are often less predictable, perhaps making them harder to game-plan for. But the lack of NFL head coaching experience doesn't automatically mean lack of NFL experience. Minnesota's Mike Zimmer is a case in point: Zimmer was a defensive coordinator in the NFL for 14 years (including from 2000-2006 in Dallas) before moving up into the top spot with the Vikings, and at 60 years of age, he's got plenty of football experience.
In a league that chews up and spits out unsuccessful coaches at a rapid-fire rate, playing against head coaches with a lot of NFL head coaching experience usually means you're playing against strong competition. Similarly, playing against teams without a lot of NFL head coaching experience usually means you're playing against weaker competition.
The Cowboys' 2016 opponents combine for only 69 years of NFL head coaching experience. Taken at face value, that's the second-lowest total in the league, an indication that the Cowboys face a favorable schedule this year. But in those 69 NFL head coaching years, that collection of coaches was fairly successful, accumulating a .575 win percentage, the ninth best of any of the 32 teams' collection of 2016 opponents.
Ultimately, the Cowboys can only play the schedule they're given. They'll face a fairly high number of teams with little NFL head coaching experience, but with a strong win percentage. Whether that turns out to be an advantage or disadvantage depends largely on the Cowboys themselves.
Here is the full list of each team's 2016 opponent HC record. The table is sortable, just click on the blue column headers to sort.
|Combined Opponent NFL Head Coaching Experience, 2016 opponents|
|Team||HC Years||Games||Won||Lost||Tied||W-L %|