NFL Head Coach Traits and Their Implementation

At the NFL draft, teams use a state-of-the-art computerized resource that is also used by fans for fantasy football scouting and by certain coaches for play-calling. This is not the start of a new Spygate or NFL plot, but rather IBM’s Watson at work.



It’s been a while since the supercomputer program Watson beat human champions at “Jeopardy!,” but in that time it’s broadened its capabilities to do everything from rank red carpet looks to prescribe cancer medications.


Now, we’re putting Watson’s knowledge to work in the real world to find out what traits successful NFL head coaches have. It’s not the giant play-calling papers or the sleeveless sweaters worn in the thick of winter that set these coaches apart; it’s their personalities. Is it your goal to compare and contrast Bill Belichick and Doug Pederson, or to find out what they might have in common as potential Super Bowl winners? Read on to hear our take on Watson’s research.


The Formula for Success

Watson’s study of press conference and interview transcripts, as well as social media posts on Twitter and Facebook, helped us determine which traits were shared by the 10 NFL coaches with the best winning percentages.



In the National Football League, some head coaches actually call the plays themselves, on top of their other duties like recruiting star players, studying film, and motivating the squad. Given the scope of their duties, it’s not surprising that Watson found caution to be the most prevalent trait shared by successful head coaches.


The league’s most successful coaches have the attribute of being cautious and analyzing all possibilities extensively before making a choice, even if doing so may not bring them as much press as calling a daring play. Thinkers, intelligentsia, loyalists, and emotional range are just some of the traits shared by the NFL’s most successful coaches.


Any successful professional must have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of their chosen area. The majority of NFL head coaches have also played professionally before assuming their current roles as coaches. According to Watson, a high IQ makes one more open to new ideas, more likely to think metaphorically and abstractly, and more engaged in the world around them. When it comes to the success of a sport with such deep roots in history that some fans can brave minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit for the sake of pride, a little bit of innovation can go a long way.


Favorable Statistical Patterns

Who are the coaches who best represent the six traits that can help their teams win more games and advance in the playoffs?



However, just being cautious may not be enough to ensure success in the NFL, despite Watson’s claim that it is the attribute shared by all successful coaches. Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers and Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals are two of the best coaches in the NFL. The Chargers went 9-7 in Lynn’s first season as head coach, although they missed the playoffs. Lewis, on the other hand, has never led the Bengals to a postseason victory despite taking them there seven times during his 15 years as head coach.


Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams, and Sean McDermott of the Buffalo Bills were the three head coaches who received the highest intelligence scores from Watson, and they all led their clubs to the playoffs in 2017 and 2018. Watson found that seven of the top ten coaches in terms of intelligence all made the playoffs in 2018.


NFL fans can experience the full range of human emotion on any given Sunday, from euphoria at a win to devastating disappointment at a defeat. Watson discovered that effective coaches exhibited a wide range of emotions, which helped them form stronger bonds with their teams. The degree to which an individual is emotionally open and receptive to their environment is known as their emotional range (or neuroticism). Anthony Lynn, Marvin Lewis, and John Harbaugh have the most emotional range among the Baltimore Ravens’ coaches, according to research conducted by Watson.


God’s chosen one?

Being one of the final two teams in the NFL playoffs with a chance to repeat as champions is an even greater achievement than making the playoffs. Watson’s analysis of the similarities and differences between the two surviving coaches helped us prepare for the big game.



The Philadelphia Eagles went 13-3 in Pederson’s second season at the helm. When Pederson was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator from 2013 through 2015, the team made the playoffs each year. This is his first season as a head coach. Doug Pederson is a newcomer to the limelight while Bill Belichick is a legend in the coaching world. In his 18 years leading the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl, he has also faced plenty of criticism and controversy. Nevertheless, there are football experts who rank Belichick among the all-time greats.


So, what makes these two instructors so special? Based on his analysis, Watson concluded that Belichick and Pederson share similar traits of intelligence and prudence. Both Belichick and Pederson identified intelligence as a key differentiator, but Pederson also noted a conservative bias.


Belichick ranked Pederson’s candor as his second best quality, although Pederson’s character traits hinted to a strong devotion to duty. How open someone is to trying new things, as opposed to how friendly they are known to be after games or during interviews. Belichick’s transparency typically manifests itself in the form of a lengthy winning streak.



There are no foolproof strategies for winning in the NFL. It’s possible for the underdog to prevail, and unexpected outcomes do occur. However, analysts keep digging for the answers to the question, “What makes winning teams tick?” in the hopes of providing a road map for future teams. Watson found that there were certain similarities amongst the most successful NFL head coaches. It’s possible that certain head coaches will stand out from their contemporaries not because they are more tenacious on the sidelines or more forthright in the locker room, despite the fact that these qualities are essential in any professional sport. Instead, the best coaches in the league have traits like reserve, wit, and candor. Given the wealth of data in Watson’s “brain,” perhaps a new squad will arise to threaten the Patriots’ dominance.


For this study, we gathered information from current NFL head coaches by compiling transcripts of their press conferences, interviews, and social media posts on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The altercation occurred at 5:02 pm on January 19, 2018. We used IBM’s WatsonTM Personality Insights API to analyze the gathered data and derive inferences about each coach’s personality. We analyzed the winning rates of all NFL coaches and identified the top six traits that all winning coaches have.

IBM’s WatsonTM Personality Insights can sift through mountains of text to create nuanced depictions of individuals. By analyzing the user’s language usage, the program can infer things about their personality, such as their Needs, Values, and Big Five traits.

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