Can sacking a coach ever be a good/bad thing?

After starting the season with a win, draw and a loss, Southampton, a former Premiership team on the South Coast of England currently languishing in League One (the third division of English football), sacked their manager Alan Pardew.  Last season he won the club some silverware (albeit the lower division trophy called the Johnstones Paint Trophy) and almost got the club into the play-offs despite starting with a 10 point penalty for the club’s previous financial errors.

My initial response to this was shock and disappointment mixed with some bafflement – why would a team sack a manager so early in a campaign?  Can it ever be a good thing?  It means all the pre-season preparation with one particular coach is lost as a new coach comes in with little time to mould things around having to play matches thick and thin (at least one, usually two-per-week).  Apparently there were factors other than the recent results that drove the sacking which confound matters somewhat.

But of course, one can never say for sure that it was a good thing to sack a coach: We can’t rerun Southampton’s upcoming season with and without Pardew and see if they do better.  Academic research can look at the averages but can never speak into each situation due to this lack of counter-factual.  I wonder if evidence can be brought to bear on sackings earlier/later in a season, as it’s my suspicion that such early season sackings are especially counter-productive.  But I doubt that can ever be proved…

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