jim harbaugh-michigan football-outback bowl

It might seem like the more attractive you are, the more successful you are but that could be wrong. At least it could be wrong on the football field. While everyone knows the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” it’s tough to not come up with instantaneous judgments, whether right or wrong, on someone we just meet.

Researchers at West Virginia University published a study and after processing the faces of every NCAA Division I football head coach, found a possible connection that the more attractive a coach is, the more likely they will be paid less. On the other hand, when measuring coaches faces for aggressiveness, those who appeared more aggressive have been shown to be paid more money. This obviously doesn’t translate to the situation of every head coach in the country but researchers found enough of a correlation to pursue a potential reason.

According to WVU economics professor Brad Humphreys, “One explanation for the attractiveness discount and aggressiveness premium may stem from that fact that American football is a very aggressive sport, and an unattractive face might signal mental and physical toughness, viewed as a desirable characteristic in this market.”

To explain the process in how researchers processed both attractiveness and aggressiveness, researchers did the following:

The research team, including Humphreys, associate professor Guodong Guo and graduate students Yang Zhou and Mohammad Iqbal Nouyed, used data from three sources:

  • Salary information for all NCAA Division I head coaches from 2014-2016.

  • Photos of all NCAA Division I head coaches from 2014-2016. 

  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Adult Faces Database, which contains 10,168 facial photos from the adult U.S. population. This database was utilized to help identify and predict facial characteristics applicable to the coaches’ photos. 

The system used to determine someone’s attractiveness rating “identified 68 separate facial landmark points like eyebrows, eyes and lips” and took into consideration conducting the study with a program in order to limit biases that would happen if humans, with their own standard of what “attractiveness” means just started rating people.

Researchers decided not to publish the entire list of individual results because “it would likely drum up endless social media debate and controversy” (correct) but revealed scores for five coaches. In a five-point scale, then Minnesota, now Washington State defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys (1.59/5) and then Texas A&M, now Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin (2.03/5) ranked on the lower half of the scale. Then-South Florida, now Florida State had coach Willie Taggert (3.05/5) is placed in the middle. Higher attractive head coaches include then LSU, now Kansas head coach Les Miles (4.02/5) and then Houston, now current Chick-fil-A franchise owner Tony Levine (4.94/5).

In terms of aggressiveness, out of a nine-point scale, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh is shown to be one of the most aggressive coaches out there at a 8.97/9. Conversely, his former Ohio State rival Urban Meyer clocked in at a 3.47/9 aggressiveness rating. Neither coach had their attractiveness rating revealed.

It’s important to note that aggressiveness doesn’t necessarily mean “ugly.” In fact, researchers found an upward trend between a coaches attractiveness rating and their aggressiveness rating so there is a potential link among the two. But when it came to their salary, only the most aggressive coaches seemed to overcome their attractiveness and got a higher salary than usual so their attractiveness seemed to have a bigger overall correlation in their pay than their aggressiveness.

Like in any study, only so much can be figured out based on a variety of limitations but it is an interesting look in how we may think in a conscious and subconscious way. Obviously, how a coach looks has nothing to do with how they coach but it’s tougher to tell your subconscious that. Either way, score one for us non-models.

[West Virginia University]

About Phillip Bupp

News and soccer editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. I also do video highlight game coverage for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

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