The job description for a backup quarterback at the NFL level is usually pretty simple. You come in the game if the starter gets hurt or if your team is involved in a blowout. Aside from that, it’s a lot of clipboard holding and serving as a sounding board for the starter.
But Geno Smith has an extra duty that is uncommon for backups. He serves as the Seahawks’ coin toss specialist in overtime games.
Coach Pete Carroll used to send former Seahawks backup Tarvaris Jackson onto the field for coin tosses in overtime. They’ve kept that tradition going with Smith, and he has proven good in that role. So, that’s why Smith has gone onto the field for each of the four overtime games the team has played since he signed in 2019.
“He’s all time,” Carroll said of Smith’s ability to call coin flips in November of 2019. “[The Seahawks fans] were chanting his name when he was walking out there. ‘Geno! Geno!’ It was awesome.”
Just how good is Smith in the coin toss? What is his strategy? Smith’s methods may not exactly be mathematically sound, but you can’t argue with results.
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Geno Smith coin toss results
Smith has participated in the overtime coin toss four times for the Seahawks since joining the team in 2019. Seattle has won three of those four coin flips.
However, Smith’s numbers are actually better than that. His one loss came in Week 2 of the 2021 NFL season against the Titans. Tennessee called the toss in that instance, so Smith didn’t call and lose the toss.
Here’s a breakdown of Smith’s coin toss performance since 2019.
Considering that winning a coin flip is a 50-50 proposition, winning three of four tosses is great performance. And it’s even more impressive considering that he wasn’t the one to call the lone coin toss that he lost.
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Geno Smith coin flip strategy
Smith’s strategy for winning the coin toss appears to be simple. Whatever the result of the opening coin toss is, he will choose the opposite to occur in overtime.
NFL Network’s Jim Trotter first revealed this strategy after discussing with Smith the quarterback’s back-to-back coin-flip wins against the Buccaneers and 49ers in 2019.
“I asked, ‘Well, why did you call heads?'” Trotter said on NFL Network. “[Smith] said, ‘Because Russell Wilson called tails to start the game.’ He said the mathematical odds always favored you to go in the opposite direction. He told me to do the math.”
Smith’s logic here is actually somewhat flawed. Coin flips of an unaltered, unbiased coin have a fixed probably, so they will always amount to a 50-50 chance of getting heads or tails. Previous results don’t impact the probability moving forward — i.e. landing on heads the first time doesn’t mean the coin is more likely to land on tails the second time; there’s an equal chance of heads or tails coming up every time.
The strategy definitely isn’t mathematically sound, but so far, Smith has won at a 75 percent rate with the Seahawks. Regression to the mean dictates that should even out, but it’s still an impressive mark for a coin toss specialist.
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Geno Smith coin toss controversy
Smith’s coin toss success doesn’t come without controversy. His second overtime coin flip win, which came against the 49ers in 2019, was the subject of much Internet debate.
Did Geno Smith say heads or tails? Originally, clips that were posted to Twitter made it seem like he had said tails, as you can see below.
However, Smith did, in fact, say heads, as he explained after the game. The referee heard him say heads and Richard Sherman, the opposing representative for the coin toss, didn’t appear to have an issue with what transpired. Had Smith said tails and been awarded a win off heads, Sherman likely would have been irate.
The 49ers still had two possessions during which they had a chance to end the game. They ended up missing a potential game-winning field goal and punting with less than two minutes left in the overtime period. The Seahawks got into field goal position to win as time expired in overtime.
All told, this moment was much ado about nothing, but it did remind the world that Geno Smith can still have an impact on a football field. It’s just largely limited to the coin toss.
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