Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
[Ed: Bump. Also see Brooks's lax primer.]
A historic moment for U-M seems to be getting a little bit of a short shrift - mgolicious shouldn't be the most notable place for a mention of the first varsity NCAA lacrosse game in Michigan history - so for those interested in the game but who couldn't make it out to Pontiac or watch the live feed, here is a recap. This will be kind of a cheap diary entry, since most of it will just be copying and pasting my updates (plus a few others from other folks) from the de facto game thread. In other words I'm basically just rounding up the thread and its comments in a more digestible form. This way you won't have to do as much scrolling and you can get the feel of the game all in one.
A quick primer: yesterday, the dynastic Michigan lacrosse team took its first step into a larger world with a game against the other instate D-I program, Detroit Mercy, and lost, 13-9. It was a very even, back-and-forth game until about halfway through the third period. The game was hosted by UDM but took place at a neutral venue in Pontiac, which appeared to be almost - if not totally - sold out.
Quasi-play-by-play recap follows, as C&P'ed and polished up a little from the game thread:
- First ever goal in UM Lax D1 history-Bryant. 1-0 UM
- 2-0, Michigan. It's been a pretty defensive game. Neither team getting many shots.
- 2-1, Michigan, UDM with a goal.
- UDM's man-up opportunity amounts to nothing because UDM took an early shot and failed to back it up, U-M ran out the rest of it but gave up the goal shortly after. 2-2 now.
- Michigan up 3-2 after one and looking good in spots. Nice feed for the third goal.
- 4-2 score now with U-M converting a fast break chance.
- Always with the scoring exactly as I'm typing. 4-3. This game started off slowly in the offense department but has a chance to be very high-scoring indeed. Just to drive the point home, 4-4 now with a quick UDM goal off the faceoff.
- U-M looking sloppy now. Failed clear follows three lost FOs in a row.
- Goal UDM, 5-4 Detroit. Short-stick middie got beat badly on a run by the UDM middie.
- Michigan ball now, nice save by the Detroit goalie but a poor clear puts Michigan back on the attack.
- 5-5 now with about 3:30 to go in the half.
- 43 seconds left in the half, Detroit calls timeout to set up one last shot. Tied at 5.
- Halftime and we're all tied up at 5. I would say UDM has the ground ball edge but Michigan is holding its own. (Note: This proved to be a false impression, as Michigan actually had the GB edge in the game, 29-23, with most of that margin coming in the first quarter.)
- UDM up 6-5, early in the 3rd.
- Michigan had a great chance on a fast break but Levell made another beautiful save.
- Goal Michigan, 6-6 now, almost halfway through the third period.
- 7-6 UDM with a Detroit goal from close quarters.
- Sudden scoring spurt - 8-6 Detroit now on a semi-fast-break.
- UDM backs up a Michigan shot and gets the ball, about 5 minutes to go in the 3rd.
- 8-7, Michigan goal, very nice defense behind the net led to getting the ball and a goal with about 3 to go.
- 9-7 Detroit on a hard-fought goal. Michigan wins the ensuing FO and has the ball.
- Detroit with a steal off a terrible pass and a fast-break goal to go up 10-7. 35 seconds left. A lazy, sloppy play.
- 3rd period over with a 10-7 UDM lead.
- 11-7 now on a bounce shot....UDM starting to open it up. 12:18 to go.
- Looks like a UDM EMO coming up. The boys are starting to get a little too desperate.
- And UDM scores on the EMO. Michigan had done a nice job on defense and got the ball, but couldn't hold on as UDM used the extra man to double up and get the ball back. 12-7 Detroit now.
- Michigan scores, 12-8 now. 8:17 to go, so there's definitely plenty of time.
- Looks like an EMO coming for Michigan now. Silly, silly penalty by UDM, which is known to be a little bit of an overemotional team.
- Again nothing doing on the EMO. Detroit ball and Michigan doesn't seem interested in playing aggressively to get it back.
- As soon as the penalty was over, UDM went on the attack again and Michigan got the ball back pretty quickly.
- Time-out, 2:22 to go. UDM holds the 12-8 lead.
- And UDM with what looks like a clincher at 13-8, eight seconds after the end of the TO.
- Michigan with a respectability goal to make it 13-9. 24 seconds.
- Detroit 13, Michigan 9 is the final.
And now for the editorial section:
- 1st quarter: Playing solid defense against what's supposed to be a solid UDM squad offensively. But you can also see why this team will struggle: faceoffs are about even against a team that's been absolutely worthless at the X, and the man-up chance didn't look good at all, no coordination or sense of urgency to attack.
- Halftime: Though only outscored by one, not a good half for Michigan. Only one goal on a settled situation, the other, IMO coming from taking advantage of mistakes that better teams don't usually make. Detroit exposed a weakness by attacking the SSDMs - didn't always score on it, but created chances. Part of the Michigan offensive slowdown came from improved defense by UDM, though, including one very, very nice save by Titan goalie Levell. Michigan got killed on faceoffs in the 2nd, though, which just can't happen against Detroit, by far one of the worst faceoff teams in the nation.
[Ed: second half and recap afte the jump.]
St. Paul (MN) Cretin-Derham Hall ATH James Onwualu recently picked up a Michigan offer as the Wolverines joined Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Purdue, and Stanford among schools to extend him a scholarship. I interviewed Onwualu back in January, before receiving his offer, and recently got the chance to talk to him again now that his recruitment is quickly picking up steam. Onwualu told me prior to the interview that he planned on graduating early, so we discusses his accelerated timeline, new offers, and more:
ACE: You just got your Michigan offer recently. Who have you been talking to from Michigan and what was your reaction to getting the offer?
JAMES: I've mainly been talking to Coach Mattison, but also talking to Coach Hoke. Obviously that's a big offer for me, a big-time school. They're really making a lot of different changes and really coming up as a program. It's a huge offer for me. I was excited.
ACE: What's your impression of Michigan as a school and a football program?
JAMES: I think they're one of the best in the nation, personally. I think that their academics are extremely high, their business school ranks high, which means a lot to me. Also their alumni base ... is huge. Then I think everybody pretty much knows what their football traditions are, what they look to in every season.
ACE: You pulled in a few other offers recently. What other schools are showing interest in you now and how do the schools stack up in terms of your interest?
JAMES: I haven't really made a list of where I'm going to go yet, I haven't come up with a top ten list or anything. I'm just kind of pulling everything in. But Notre Dame continues to show a lot of interest, Stanford, Florida, Ohio State, Texas, a lot of big schools have been showing a lot of interest. I'm just keeping it open right now.
ACE: Do you have any plans in terms of taking visits to schools now that you've got offers coming in?
JAMES: Yeah. I'll definitely go up to Michigan. I haven't gone out there before so it'd be good to go out there. I'll probably go back down to Florida and go down to Stanford, possibly.
ACE: Coming from Cretin-Derham, that's a school that's obviously produced a lot of football talent. Do you ever talk to some of the guys who have gone D-I from there and got an impression of what going through the recruiting process is like?
JAMES: Yeah. Actually, [former Heisman winner] Chris Weinke is one of the guys who's kinda guided me through this whole thing, along with [former Notre Dame receiver] Mike Floyd, and also [Baltimore Ravens Pro-Bowl center] Matt Birk. Oh yeah, and also [Denver Broncos offensive tackle] Ryan Harris. Having people like that around me, it really helps being able to manage the schools and balance out what the coaches are actually saying and what I actually want in my future.
ACE: I know you did the Army All-American combine, but do you have any more plans for doing training or camps over the summer?
JAMES: Probably not. I train seven days a week with the best trainer in the nation, Ted Johnson. I don't really find the need to go to any more camps. I think that I can really start focusing in on what I want to do in college. I'm looking to be committed here so I'm going to be spending a lot of time with the school that I'm going to.
ACE: The last time I talked to you, you said you were looking to commit in the spring, and you mentioned the possibility of graduating early. Is that timeline still holding true right now for you?
JAMES: Yeah, as of right now, I think so. It may be pushed back a little bit into the summer, but as of right now, I think I'm going to get it done with and start focusing on what I have to do, like I said.
ACE: In terms of focusing, in terms of improving on the football field, what do you think are your strongest qualities on the football field as a player right now, and what are you looking to improve as you work towards the next level?
JAMES: I think the main thing I'm good at is really making a play after the catch. That's probably just because of my base in playing running back, being versatile all over the field. I really think that I'm going to start working on—there's so many different styles of play around the nation—just learning different styles of DBs and just getting more experience.
ACE: What position did Michigan offer you for? I know you're listed as an athlete. Do you know what position you'd play if you decided on Michigan?
JAMES: Well, as of right now, they just have me offered as an athlete. We haven't really talked position-wise. Since I've been talking to Mattison a lot of people assume I'm going to be playing safety or corner, but as of right now I don't really know.
ACE: Do you have a preference in terms of where you fit best on the field? Do you prefer offense or defense?
JAMES: I don't know, it could change. Next year I'm going to be all over. We've got a really good running back, [2014 RB] Blake Banham, who's going to be playing next year, so I'm not going to playing as much running back. We've also got a safety, [2014 S] Tim Gordon, so we're going to have to see, I might be playing corner and receiver.
ACE: Going away from the football field, what's one thing you want people to know about you that has nothing to do with football?
JAMES: That's a tough question. I'd say I like going and watching my friends play sports, like Cortez Tillman, I don't know if you've heard of him, but he plays basketball at my school, so I like going and watching him on the weekends.
Thanks to James for taking the time to do the interview. He made sure to tell me before we ended that I should be keeping an eye on his class of 2014 teammates—he sounds like a great guy to have alongside you on the team.
Warning, this post is meta-stat nerd.
What is Success Rate, and How Did It Come To Be?
The first question is pretty straightforward and the second I can only guess.
Success Rate is a measure is an attempt to measure how good a player or team is at the traditional concept of “staying ahead of the chains.” There are some slightly different calculations but for the most part a success is defined as at least 40-50% of yards to go on 1st down, at least 50-70% of yards to go on second down and first down achievement on third or fourth down. Typically the target is 50% success rate.
Although I doubt there is any recorded history on how this came to be (I believe its origin or at least its popularization comes from Football Outsiders) I have two theories. The first is that this is how football fans, players, and coaches have been conditioned to think, especially old school, grind-it-out football folks. You still hear it often among clichéd commentators: the offense’s number-one priority is to stay ahead of the chains, don’t put yourself in bad down and distance, stay away from obvious passing downs. All of these things are good things for a football to do.
The second reason I think it came to be is that advanced football stats came to be after advanced metrics for baseball had come a long ways. One of the key tenants of Moneyball/SABR revolution in baseball is that On Base Percentage >>> Batting Average. On top of that, one of the fundamental advanced baseball stats is OPS, On Base Percentage Plus Slugging Percent, a combination of Success and Magnitude. One paralleled by Football Outsiders* in their S&P metric.
*I want to be clear that this is not a critique of Football Outsiders. They do tremendous work and are at the forefront of advanced football analysis.
Why Football is Not Baseball
Good OBP is critical for baseball because you are dealing with a finite, irreplaceable resource, outs. You get 27 of them per game. Once you generate an out there is no way to get it back; you are 1 step closer to the end of your chance to score, and you only have 27 total steps per game. OBP measures a team or individual’s ability to forego outs when they come to the plate. Not getting out will always improve your chances of winning while getting an out will almost always decrease your odds of winning (this is not an article about the sacrifice bunt).
Contrast that with football, where the only finite resource is time. Even if the quarterback gets sacked and loses 10 yards, one play later the effect of that loss can be wiped out. In a sense a set of downs is finite, but not an individual set of downs. If there were a team correlation, first downs converted would be more appropriate and I don’t really see a true individual equivalent.
The Goal Is To Score Points
Consistently being in good down and distances is not a bad thing, but it’s not nearly as important for today’s offenses. Modern offenses have a much greater ability to convert unfriendly down and distances than offenses of old. Plus, the offense’s goal is to score points, not get first downs. Getting first downs obviously helps score points, but a metric like EV/PAN that directly accounts for how each play contributes to scoring is a much stronger measure, not just a complimentary stat like Slugging Percent. In baseball the complimentary stat is needed because of the finite nature of outs. In football, everything is a sliding scale and categorizing plays as pass-fail is simply too black and white for a sport that has more gray.
A couple of examples of how success rate can be misleading (first down gain, second down gain, third down gain):
4,3,2: This is a 67% success rate but is a three and out.
3,3,4: This is a 33% success rate but a first down, plus the first two plays are nearly identical but the first two downs of the first group are both successes and the second group are both failures. Over a large group of data some of these will iron themselves out, but why put such a black and white metric over something that is not. 2nd and 7 is almost the same as 2nd and 6, but 2nd and 1 is very different from 2nd and 6. Success rate completely misses the magnitude of plays.
This is why for football, an Expected Value model is much more valuable. With an enough data, you can get a pretty good description of the expected points based on all down, distance and yardline combinations. Once you have this you can evaluate the shades of gray for each play. A three yard carry on first and ten is nearly as good as a four yard one. A nine yard carry is even better. Expected Value can quantify the subtle and substantial differences between plays. The value difference between first and ten and the twenty and first and ten at the thirty will be the same whether it was one ten yard play or three runs totaling ten yards, although the value per play will justifiably be better. Success rates can vary wildly based on how you get from point A to point B, EV only carries where you start and where you finish.
What is Success Rate Good For?
It is an interesting stat and isn’t totally without value, I just think that it is unnecessary and shouldn’t be a fundamental part of team evaluation. There are lots of stats that fit this characterization. For a lot of teams it’s how they mentally operate, especially in the running game. Success rate does a good job evaluating running backs in traditional ground games. It might not totally align with scoring points and winning games, but it does align well with accomplishing a team's offensive objectives. Running backs often get tightly bunched near the mean in an EV model but success rate can be a way to further separate individual backs. Success rate will hold up between the tackle pounders but knock down the home run threat. EV may consider them the same (or more likely the home run threat will be higher) but the consistency of the old school back will be valued better by success rates.
I don’t think success rate has much value for the passing game. Completion percentage and YPA are more than adequate to indicate both explosiveness and consistency.
Coming Next: The Wisconsin Case Study and Optimal Offense and Defense Response
The underlying context of “ignore success rates” is that the traditional running game is overrated. If your main goal as an offense is to avoid bad third downs, and you are good at it, you will likely end up with a lot of third and short or third and manageable. Even if you they are all “good” third downs, each third down is a chance for the defense to take the field. We all remember the classic drives with multiple third down conversions, but we forget all the ones that could jump the odds and failed after giving the defense one too many chances to get off of the field. Explosive plays are essential to a productive modern offense and unless you are running a Chip Kelly or RichRod style ground attack, explosive plays are much more likely through the air than on the ground.
Next week I will follow up with a detailed look on the relative values of Russell Wilson and Montee Ball to Wisconsin’s 2011 offense. Ball had the TDs and the hype and Wilson was considered a quality second option. I’ll dig deep into the numbers and show why Wilson was the real threat of the Wisconsin offense.
Following that, I’ll have the final article in this series looking at how offenses (and maybe moreso defenses) can effectively maximize their expected points for and against through a better perspective on managing offensive output versus managing each down’s success or failure.
Michigan kicks off it’s 2012 season on Sunday. So, I figured it was worth a short post to explain the basic rules and set up of a lacrosse field. If you grew up playing the game or around the game, this post will seem boring and really rudimentary, but hopefully you’ll find some of the later posts more interesting and helpful. If you’re new to the game and want to have a sense of what’s going on this spring, then my hope is that you find this really helpful.
Note: everything below is for the men’s game. If people have questions about the basics of the women’s game I’d be more than happy to address those as well, but since the men’s team goes varsity in 2012 I figured I would start with men’s basics.
Here is a link to what a field looks like and its dimensions. The field is roughly the same size as a football field and just slightly smaller than a college soccer field (110 yards by 60 yards). In terms of rules and what to think about when you’re looking at the field, the easiest correlation is to a hockey rink. View the midline in lacrosse as the red line in hockey, and the two restraining lines as the two blue lines. You have an offensive and defensive half of the field on either side of the midline, but in actuality your offensive and defensive zone go from the restraining line (hockey blue line) to the endline.
Like ice hockey, you can also take the ball and play offense/defense behind the goal. There is a lot more room behind cage in lacrosse, so you’ll see a lot of offenses set up their plays and formations from behind the cage.
Each goal is surrounded by a crease. The goal is 6 ft x 6 ft, and the crease has a diameter of 18 feet. The defense is allowed to pass through their goalie’s crease, but offensive players are not allowed to step into the crease during play. If an offensive player does step in the crease, it’s an automatic change in possession. Their sticks and arms, however, can break the airspace of the crease. Sometimes you will see an offensive player steps into the crease and no call is made. This means the referees determined 1 of 2 things occurred on the play: either a) the offensive player was pushed into the crease by a defensive player, therefore it was not his fault he stepped in or 2) there was a goal on the play and the player stepped in the crease after the ball crossed the goal line. Since the play was over once the ball crossed the line, the offensive player could enter the crease.
Basics: Each team has 10 players on the field at any given time: 1 goalie, 3 defensemen, 3 midfielders, and 3 attack. You can normally tell which player is which based on what stick they have.
- Goalies (in addition to normally being around, you know, the goal) have a stick with the biggest pocket (net). It’s around the size of the net that you’d see a pool cleaner use or that you would use fishing
- Defense are also called “long poles” (easy on the jokes, people, lacrosse provides plenty of “that’s what she said” moments) because they have the biggest sticks on the field (settle down). Their stick is just under 6 feet long (ok, have at it)
- Midfielders and Attack have the short sticks. If you’ve noticed the neighborhood youths in front of your coffee shop have traded in their hacky sacks for lacrosse sticks, they are normally middie/attack sticks.
Now that you know who’s on the field, let’s talk about who goes where. On defense, you must have at least 4 players on your defensive half of the field (behind the midline) at all times. Normally, these are your 3 defensemen and your goalie. On offense, you must always have 3 players on your offensive half of the field (again, behind the midline). You normally have your 3 attack stay on the offensive side of the field at all times. That leaves the 3 midfielders who, like in soccer, run the entire length of the field and play both offense and defense. If you are ever caught with the wrong number of players on either half the field, it’s a penalty—if you have the ball you lose possession, if the other team has the ball you will be called for a 30 second penalty (more on those later).
This means that while the game is technically 10v10, the majority of time is often actually played 6 v 6: the offensive team’s 3 attack and 3 middies (since their team’s 3 defense and goalie are behind the midline) vs. the defensive team’s 3 defensemen and 3 middies (since their team’s 3 attack are behind the midline).
One other thing you’ll notice is that teams talk about their “LSM,” which is an abbreviation for “Long Stick Middie.” Each team is allowed a maximum of four long poles on the field at any given time. So, when a team is on defense they will try to sub out one of their midfielders for an extra defender. This brings us to:
Substitutions in lacrosse are also very similar to ice hockey. You’ll see a lot of teams will do most of their substitutions “on the fly” or during the flow of the game. So, while your offense is passing the ball around, you may bring in a new group of midfielders onto the field. The second one player is off the field, you can bring another one on to ensure no one ever has more than 10 players on the field at a time. Many teams will try to get a group of 3 defensive middies on the field (an LSM and 2 midfielders who specialize in defense), and then will sub them out for 3 offensive middies (players who specialize in offense. Wait, sorry, that was probably pretty obvious).
The other situation for substitutions is called a “horn.” If the ball goes out of bounds along the sideline only, either coach is allowed to ask for a horn, which stops play and allows both teams to make as many substitutions as they need. On a horn, you could theoretically sub out all 10 players without risk because the ref will not re-start play until both teams are done substituting.
Finally, after a goal, time out or a penalty that results in a man-up or man-down situation, both teams are also allowed to make as many substitutions as they need and referees will stop play until both teams complete their subs.
At the start of each quarter and after every goal, there is a faceoff. During a faceoff, only the three midfielders from each team are allowed to run in between the restraining lines.
This is also why having a good faceoff guy is so important. If you consistently win the faceoff, lacrosse almost becomes “make it-take it.” You never have to let the other team touch the ball. Or, if you give up a goal, a good faceoff guy gets you possession so your offense can get you back into the game and your defense take a breather.
When the Ball Goes Out of Bounds
This is where lacrosse confuses most people. If the ball goes out of bounds on a pass, it’s just like any sport—whoever touched the ball last loses possession of the ball.
On a shot, however, whichever team is closest to the ball when it goes out of bounds gains possession of the ball. As a result, most teams will keep one offensive player behind the net at all times. While it gives them one less shooter for the defense to account for, it means that they always have a player right on the goal line to keep possession after every shot.
Finally, penalties are very similar between ice hockey and lacrosse. Even the penalties you’ll hear called are very similar: offsides, slashing, push(check) from behind, tripping, illegal body check, etc. Rather than go through every single penalty individually, here’s the basic rule of thumb: you can do whatever you want to an opponent as long as it isn’t to their head, from behind, or below the waist. Other than that, most things are fair game.
In the event of a penalty, one of two things will happen. If neither team has possession of the ball when the penalty occurs, it’s considered a “loose ball” and the ref will stop play almost immediately. Some refs will allow for a “play on” if the victimized team has an advantage in play like in soccer, but that is not very common. If you commit a loose ball penalty, the other team is given possession of the ball (there is not stoppage in play for substitutions in the event of a loose ball penalty).
If a penalty does occur when a team has possession, the refs will throw the same flag that you see in a football game, but like in ice hockey they will let play continue until the next whistle. Like ice hockey, after the whistle blows the player who committed the penalty sits in the penalty box and the team plays one player short for either 30 seconds (for technical fouls like push from behind or offsides) or 60 seconds (for personal fouls like slashing or illegal body check). These situations are also called “EMO” or “extra man opportunities.” The offense gets to then play against a defense 6v5 rather than 6v6 until the penalty ends. With almost all penalties, if the team playing man-down gives up a goal then the penalty automatically ends and the player is again allowed back onto the field.
If you have any other questions about basic rules, please ask them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer (or any of the other readers who have as much experience, if not more so, than me with the game). My next post is going to be about the basics of offensive and defensive strategies and what Michigan will most likely run based on their the coaching staff’s past. As always, also let me know if there’s anything specifically you’d like me to cover.
Columbus (OH) Marion-Franklin WR Jaron Dukes made his first-ever trip to Ann Arbor yesterday for an unofficial visit to his childhood favorite, Michigan. Dukes told me earlier this week that he was "ecstatic" upon receiving his Wolverine offer and "[has] my mind set on where I want to go," but he's heeding the advice of his coaches and parents and making sure to check out not only Michigan, but other schools as well before me makes a commitment. I spoke with Jaron last night when he returned from his visit, and needless to say he enjoyed the trip:
ACE: How'd you enjoy the visit?
JARON: Oh, I loved it. It was the best.
ACE: Do you want to expand on that? Take me through what you saw in Ann Arbor.
JARON: I'll tell you what I saw. I saw a love for Michigan. Everybody I talked to loves the university, loves everything about it. They were a family, you could tell there was a bond everywhere you went, you could just feel it. It was just a great place to be. They took me through the facilities, they showed me the field, academic center, athletic center, I talked to the dean, everything—it was just great.
ACE: Who hosted you on the visit and what coaches were you talking to?
JARON: It was myself, Coach Heck, Coach Montgomery, and another coach, I think he was the linebackers coach.
ACE: What was your impression of the coaching staff?
JARON: (laughs) We were just over there having a good time, laughing and talking, making sure Michigan will be a place that I will be happy at. It was just having a great time getting to know the school and everything, not putting pressure on me, just letting me enjoy seeing the campus and everything for right now.
ACE: What would you say was the high point of the visit? Can you pick out a particular thing that stood out to you?
JARON: Easily. Easily I can say the highest point was me starting from the very top of the tunnel, running down the tunnel, jumping, and just walking out onto the field. I went from the 'M' in the center of the field, to end zone, to end zone, and back to the center, and a tear came down my face.
ACE: Is Michigan a place you could see yourself playing?
JARON: Oh, yes sir.
ACE: I know you didn't want to make a snap decision, a commitment on the visit, but what is it going to take it terms of knowing when you'd like to make a decision? Also, what's it going to take for another school to be able to match what Michigan offers?
JARON: I don't think, well, I don't know. I guess they have to show, they'd have to impress my parents. If my parents are happy, then I'm going to be happy, but as long as I feel I'm safe there, then it'll be OK.
ACE: What did your parents think of the trip?
JARON: My parents really liked it, they loved it. They just want me—and they should—they want me to go around and make sure that I've got everything else out of the way that I want to see. They want me to go around and see what other colleges have to offer. Show me that there's more than just one school out there.
ACE: Do you know what other schools you want to see at this point?
JARON: Yes. I would like to take a trip to Cincinnati, Michigan State, I'd like to go up to West Virginia, maybe Illinois.
ACE: Do you know when you'd want to take those visits and when you'd want to be done with your recruitment, or is that still to be decided?
JARON: That still has to be decided with my parents, and me and my coaches would have to go over it.
I spent the afternoon reading about the careers of Ohio's staff, on the theory that coaching college football is a group endeavor, so Meyer is only as good as they are. This isn't a study of their tendencies or preferences as coaches, just a simple look at their résumés. I also wanted to compare Meyer's staff to Michigan's in terms of how it came to be -- unlike Hoke, Meyer has an extensive coaching tree to draw upon. Did he do so?
Let's begin with Hoke's staff at Michigan. Five coaches came with him from SDSU (Borges, Ferrigno, Hecklinski, Funk, Smith), three of whom have been with him since Ball State. Mattison and Jackson have relationships with him from his time at Michigan. So that's seven of the nine hires with previous experience working with Hoke. Of the remaining two, Mallory is a Bo/Mo Michigan alumni who coached at Ball State (Hoke's alma mater) while Hoke was at Michigan, so I'm going to guess they were not strangers prior to 2011. So that just leaves Montgomery, the youngest and least-experienced member of the staff, as a total newcomer to Hoke's world.
The same cannot be said of Urban Meyer's new staff. There are two carryovers from Florida, one of whom was already in Columbus. The other was a graduate/quality-control assistant at Florida and has never been an actual coach under Meyer, with precious little experience beyond that. None of the rest has any history with Meyer, except for one year in 1986 (more on that later).
Another thing worth pointing out is there are four coordinators, two for defense and two for offense. Maybe this is a way to justify higher salaries, but if not it seems like a recipe for confusion. In both cases, you have a full "coordinator" and then a "co-coordinator." On offense the duties are apparently split between the passing game and the running game. Meyer has brought in two coaches with recent success as offensive coordinators to fill these two positions. On defense, I'm not sure what the split means.
Anyhow, here's the rundown on offense (with links to their official bios):
- Tom Herman. Coordinator/Quarterbacks. 11 years experience. Hired because of Iowa State 2011 and Rice 2008. No history with Meyer.
- Ed Warinner. Co-coordinator/Line. 29 years experience. Hired because of Kansas 2007 (the year they were 12-1). No history with Meyer.
- Tim Hinton. Tight ends/Fullbacks. 31 years experience. Knows Meyer from 1986 Ohio staff (both were graduate assistants) under Earle Bruce. No history with Meyer since then. Has link to Dantonio at Cincinnati.
- Stan Drayton. Running backs. 20 years experience. Running backs coach at Florida (2005-2007, 2010). Drayton was already at Ohio (wide receivers) in 2011.
- Zach Smith. Receivers. 3 years experience. Spent five years as a graduate assistant and quality-control dude at Florida under Meyer. Did a lot of work with the special teams at Florida, so may also have that role here. [Note: He is Earle Bruce's grandson. h/t to elaydin in the comments.]
- Luke Fickell. Coordinator/Linebackers. 14 years experience. No history with Meyer.
- Everett Withers. Co-coordinator/Safeties. Also Assistant head coach. 24 years experience. Comes to Ohio after four years at North Carolina. No history with Meyer.
- Bill Sheridan. Cornerbacks? 31 years experience. Hired later, when Taver Johnson (Cornerbacks) left to follow Paul Haynes to Arkansas. Sheridan has Michigan ties, a graduate assistant 1985-86, linebackers coach 2002, and defensive line coach 2003-2004. He is also Nick Sheridan's father. Knows Warriner from six years together at Army (linebackers and defensive line). His only experience in the secondary seems to be 2001 at Notre Dame, where he coached safeties and special teams. No history with Meyer.
- Mike Vrabel. Line. 1 year experience. 14 years as an NFL player. No history with Meyer. [Note: Vrabel had the linebackers in 2011. Now he moves to the defensive line, replacing Jim Heacock, the defensive line coach since 1996 (also coordinator since 2005). For those keeping score at home, that's fifteen years of continuity up in smoke. h/t to BlueDragon in the comments.]
A few thoughts. One is that it could take a while for this group of coaches to gel. There are not a lot of existing relationships here. There could even be some turnover as things shake out over the next few years. Second, I guess Meyer is in control, so maybe it doesn't matter who his coordinators are, or how many there are. Nonetheless, he seems to have emphasized hiring coaches with significant experience as coordinators, which could cause friction. Third, for what it's worth, there is a stark difference between this situation and Michigan's last year. One of the principal reasons Michigan's 2011 season went so smoothly was because the new staff was able to work together immediately and without rancor. The players pick up on this.
Fourth, you have to wonder about the offense -- you've got three coaches with past ties to Meyer working under the two new offensive co-coordinators, neither of whom has ever worked with Meyer. Here's Meyer on Zach Smith: "He knows my system inside and out and he teaches the system the way I want it to be taught." How will Herman and Warriner, both of whom have had significant success coordinating their own offenses, function in the face of that? It's not quite the same situation, but I can't help thinking of Scott Shafer's year at Michigan.
On defense, it's clear Meyer tried to keep most of the existing staff together, but the loss of Taver Johnson undercuts that plan (especially with regard to Cleveland-area recruiting, or so I hear, not that it matters -- Ohio is Ohio). Now he's just got Fickell and Vrabel from the old staff, both alumni whose only real coaching experience is in Columbus -- what will the dynamic be like between these two hothouse flowers and the other two defensive coaches, both veteran teachers with many stops on their résumés?
Finally, I have to bring up the fact Meyer hired Tim Hinton. Both men were graduate assistants under Earle Bruce at Ohio in 1986. Bruce was fired the next year, before the end of the season in 1987. You have to wonder about that. Do they share some sort of long-simmering sense of injustice? If so, what sort of effect could that have if everything doesn't go perfectly?