NFL Coach’s Challenge: Best and Worst Records When the Flag is Thrown

Frank Doyle | Updated Oct 04, 2017

mike tomlin Pittsburgh Steelers challenge

NFL games are won and lost by a matter of inches. One toe out of bounds ruins a perfect touchdown pass or a running back comes a link of chain short of the end zone as time runs out.

Those are the moments where the spotlight shines on the head coaches patrolling the sideline as everyone in the stadium waits to see if he’ll throw the red flag, challenging the officiating team’s call on the field.

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The NFL coach’s challenge rule was introduced 14 years ago and over that time a lot of distinct trends have appeared. Some coaches rarely throw a flag, but when they do, they’re usually right. Others challenge every close call they see and don’t have any better success rates than a coin flip. Each head coach has his own strategy about when to toss the flag.

Since 1999, coaches throw a challenge flag an average of 0.39 times per game and on the whole, just 47.6 percent of those challenges are overturned. Maybe that’s part of the reason Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman challenged just five plays in his entire rookie season last year.

However, there are plenty of coaches who can’t get rid of the red flag quick enough. Denver Broncos head coach John Fox leads all active coaches with 110 career challenges but only 36.4 percent of those challenges were successful. Meanwhile, Mike Tomlin, head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has the best challenge success percentage (54.5) of any active coach with more than 50 career challenges.

Two other men on the sidelines to keep an eye are Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. Garrett has been successful on 10 of his 15 career challenges (66.7 percent) and while Arians has just one season of experience, he’s also hitting his challenges at 66.7 percent, having four of his six 2013 challenges overturned.

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