How Long Does it Take for Larry Coyer to Change a Defense?

Last week, I took a look at how long it takes for Wade Phillips to change a defense.  It was suggested I do the same with Larry Coyer, the Colts’ defensive coordinator.

Indianapolis is Coyer’s fourth job.  In terms of improving defenses, he has a mixed record.  After he got hired in Pittsburgh, the defense did improve by DVOA in the first year, but regressed in terms of its league rank in points, yards, and turnovers.

In Denver, the Broncos defense suffered a significant regression in points, yards, and DVOA, but did experience a massive leap forward in turnovers forced.  At no point during his tenure in Denver did the defense ever play as well by DVOA as it did before he arrived.  He did have seasons that were quality in other respects.

The one place where Coyer had an immediate and undeniable impact was Tampa. NOTE: The original article is incorrect. Coyer worked with the defensive line, not as the DC. The bio I used was incorrect. Tampa’s defense was not run by him.  The Bucs saw immediate and unqualified improvements in all categories under Coyer.

It’s difficult to fairly assess Coyer based on final 2009 numbers in Indianapolis. The Colts rested defensive players in the final three games of the season, and gave up huge point and yardage totals against the Jaguars and Bills.  Those numbers make the Indy defense look worse overall than perhaps it was.  Still, going strictly by the numbers, the Colts regressed in all categories under Coyer.

So, by league rank in four categories, Coyer’s first season with a team showed improvement in 6 possible categories (1997 DVOA, 2000 turnovers, 2007 yards, points, DVOA, turnovers).  Coyer’s first season with a team saw the team’s rank in those same categories decrease in 10 instances.

Unlike Wade Phillips, it’s difficult to argue that Larry Coyer is good a ‘fixing’ defenses. None of this means that he is a bad coordinator, in fact he’s lead a top 10 defense in DVOA five times in 14 seasons, as well as a top 10 scoring defense 7 times in 14 seasons.  11 of 14 seasons, Coyer has lead a defense that was better than league average (not counting 2009 or 2002 when the Broncos were right at league average).

Larry Coyer’s resume as a defensive coordinator is a solid one, but he has not shown a penchant for turning teams around. This may be in part because in his first two stops he took over defenses that were already solid. He managed to keep them at reasonable levels with some regression.  I have been open in my questioning of Coyer’s system, but do admit he’s had units ravaged by injuries.  Given his track record, it’s reasonable to expect some bounce back from the Indy defense in 2011.  If not, it will be difficult to argue he should keep his job.  The 2010 Colts were a bottom 10 unit in the league, and even a move back to the middle of the pack would be welcomed.

The stat tables with the raw data appear after the jump.

All numbers are league ranks except for DVOA.  BC is Before Coyer, showing the defensive stats before Coyer was hired.


Pitt Points Yards DVOA Rank TOs
1996 (BC) 4 2 -16.8% 4 2
1997 11 6 -18.3% 2 4
1998 7 12 -8.0% 12 16
1999 12 11 -8.1% 12 11
Den Points Yards DVOA Rank TOs
1999 (BC) 11 7 -12.2% 10 25
2000 23 24 -3.8% 15 2
2001 21 8 -2.6% 19 6
2002 15 6 0.5% 17 12
2003 9 4 -7.0% 12 28
2004 9 4 -11.7% 5 29
2005 3 15 -8.5% 9 4
2006 8 14 -3.0% 12 10
Tampa Points Yards DVOA Rank TOs
2006 (BC) 21 17 4.6% 21 24
2007 3 2 -10.8% 4 3
2008 10 9 -7.3% 6 5

NOTE: Coyer was not DC for Tampa

Colts Points Yards DVOA Rank TO
2008 (BC) 7 11 0.1% 10 13
2009 8 18 1.7% 15 18
2010 23 20 8.2% 24 28