I did not make this headline up
A common theme here lately has been that quality programs have no tolerance for failure. It got me wondering both whether that’s true, and whether it’s effective for those programs that practice it. How often do programs fire a coach after his first losing season? What are the ramifications of pulling the trigger, or not?
I’m going to ignore coaches who lose right out of the gate. Nobody’s on the hot seat in their first year or two at a school; nobody gets fired that quickly unless they were an interim hiring in the first place. I also don’t want to spend a lot of time looking at what happens in the MAC or the Sun Belt. So what I’m looking for are coaches…
- since 1970, who
- coached at a school that’s currently in a power-5 conference (or ND), and
had their first losing season at the school in year 3 or later.
The second criterion might seem a little odd because it’s going to grandfather in some schools that weren’t really power-conference programs in 1970, but I didn’t want to have an argument with myself over what was or wasn’t a power conference 40 years ago. If you want to pull Frank Burns out of what follows, I won’t argue with you. It also won’t materially change any of the results.
(And, to be clear, it’s that first losing season that needs to have happened since 1970. If the coach was already at the school before that date I’ll still include him.)
The plan was to pull the end-of-season Massey rankings for those schools for a ten-year period, starting four years before the season in question and ending five years later, compare the average rankings before and after, and see if there’s more improvement in the group of schools that fired the coach or in the group of schools that retained him.
63 coaches fit the criteria. Of those 63…
…only 7 were fired. 56 were retained.
Wasn’t expecting that.
Of course, there’s a big difference between a Mack Brown or a Frank Kush who’s a decade or two into a career and someone who stumbles in year 4. Maybe the inclusion of those more successful long-time coaches is skewing the results? So I split the list up into groups, based on how long they’d been at the school before the first losing season. Surely schools are more likely to fire someone if they’re already failing early than they are if they’ve established success at the school?
fired retained % fired Year 3-5 3 40 7% Year 6-9 3 7 30% Year 10+ 1 9 10%
Apparently not. If you want job security it’s best to get your losing out of the way early. Wait until year 6 or later and they’ve got the knives ready for you.
Of the 52 (not a typo—we’ll get to the other 4 in a moment) coaches that returned, 17 followed that losing season with another. Of those 17, 11 were retained again. Only 6 were fired.
That’s amazing. These are, by definition, schools that are used to winning. Fanbases tend not to be patient in the face of a losing season after a succession of winners; athletic directors apparently are. Only 11% of these coaches were fired after the first losing season; only 37% were fired after two successive losing seasons.
Unfortunately, the small number of firings is going to make it difficult to get any results out of the study because there aren’t enough examples to get us to anything statistically significant.
On the flip side, the list is so small that we can actually look at the cases in detail.
Let’s get the oddities out of the way first—these 4 coaches aren’t going to be included in the results because they never gave the school a chance to make a decision: they moved on to better jobs.
- 1970: Dan Devine’s first losing season in a hall-of-fame career at Missouri was his 13th at the school, and when it was over he was off to Green Bay to become head coach and GM of the Packers. Long-time DC Al Onofrio was promoted to the head job and after a rough 1-10 first season he had them back in a bowl game by year 2. We’ll pick up the Missouri story in a bit.
- 1976: Jim Young’s first losing season at Arizona was his fourth, and Purdue was impressed enough with his work the first three years to hire him away. He was B1G coach of the year two years later.
- 1981: Jerry Claiborne’s 4-6-1 season at Missouri was his worst in ten years at the school. He was hired away by his alma mater, Kentucky, and like Young he was conference COTY in his second year at the school.
- 1984: Darryl Rogers went 5-6 in his fifth year at Arizona State and was promptly snapped up by the Lions (we can argue about whether that counts as a “better job”). Rogers was not NFL coach of the year in his second year.
And now the firings:
LARRY JONES, Florida State, 1973.
Jones was hired in 1971 to replace the successful Bill Peterson, inventor of the “hot receiver” and progenitor of a coaching tree to rival Genghis Khan, who had left for a better-paying job at Rice(!). Jones had been DC at Tennessee and was considered a can’t-miss coaching prospect, and for two years he was able to maintain the level established under Peterson, going 15-8.
Then in 1973 he supposedly instituted a new and apparently rather harsh off-season training program. (I say “supposedly” because it wasn’t actually new—Jones had simply maintained a program already in place under Peterson. What was new was that players had brought it to the attention of the press.) Officially it was a PE course, “Physical Conditioning”, and was open to all students. In reality it was a required pre-spring conditioning program that rather flagrantly violated NCAA regs. Chicken wire was strung four feet off the floor in an unused part of the locker room and players forced to fight to submission in the resulting cage. There were no rules except for one against hitting below the belt; there was no attempt to segregate players by weight or strength, a QB might be going at it with a defensive tackle. And the loser had to stay in the cage and keep fighting new people until he won. Descriptions of it sound almost like a cockfight between human beings, with players completely covered in blood and vomit (anyone that vomited was forced to clean it up with his body).
Under Jones this all apparently got even worse, and there were allegations that he was using “The Room” as a harassment tool to run off players he no longer wanted to waste scholarships on. If so he got more than he bargained for. 30 upperclassmen quit the team, several assistants left, the St. Petersburg Times ran a three-part series exposing FSU as “everything that’s wrong with college football”, there was an NCAA investigation, and FSU went 0-11.
Jones was out; Darrell Mudra was hired from Western Illinois to replace him and went 4-18 during his two years at the school. You probably know who they hired next.
The Massey bar (the yellow cell in the center is 1973):
Grade: C+. I’m not sure what to do with this one. The immediate successor was no more successful than Jones; the eventual decision to hire Bowden was independent of the firing decision here. They also didn’t really have any choice and it’s hard to grade a decision that isn’t one.
WARREN POWERS, Missouri, 1984.
At the time, Al Onofrio’s tenure at Missouri must have seemed a bit of a downer. The 2- and 3-loss seasons that were common under Devine had turned into 4- and 5-loss seasons and they only had a winning conference record once in Onofrio’s 7 years. After a particularly poor 1977 campaign they turned the reins over to Powers, who had been an assistant under Devaney and Osborne at Nebraska and whose one year as a head coach at Washington St. had been a success (it was only their second winning season in the last 13).
Powers ran off a series of 8-4 and 7-5 seasons, taking Missouri to bowl games in 5 of his first 6 years. But there were no conference championships, none of the trips to the Orange or Sugar that Devine had pulled off, the fans were disgruntled, and when the 1984 season turned sour that discontent bubbled over into full-scale revolt. Attendance was down, there was grumbling about his “boring” ball-control offense and claims that he had only been able to win with Onofrio’s players. Powers returned the compliment with a shot at fans who just come to games “to coach and criticize” but pull their support when the team loses. “These people are a detriment. They don’t mean anything to the program.” At season’s end the university’s Chancellor stated that “there is a kind of negativity that has grown around the program and we believe that it is time to make a change.”
They didn’t know what negativity was but they were about to find out. Replacement Woody Widenhofer went 1-10 his first year, with the only win a one-point victory over Iowa State. It would be thirteen years before Missouri had another winning season, 23 years before they again cracked the top-20. And there are still no conference championships or major bowl games.
Grade: F. An absolute catastrophe, by far the worst outcome of the 63 cases here.
FRED AKERS, Texas, 1986.
Fred Akers’s ten years at Texas included three near-misses at national championships: Cotton Bowl losses following undefeated regular season in 1977 and 1983 (the latter a 10-9 loss to Georgia on a late TD following a muffed punt) and a #2 finish in the AP poll in 1981 after a Cotton Bowl win over Alabama.
Going into his last season Akers’s winning percentage of .759 was just a hair behind Darrell Royal’s .774. He’d been to a bowl game every season.
And Texas had never fired a football coach. Never.
But alumni wanted Akers gone.
Here’s a fascinating Houston Chronicle piece from the time; I can’t recommend it enough (I’d post the original but the link seems to be broken, so I’m linking a version quoted at shaggybevo that has the added attraction of a piece from SI that’s also worth reading). This sort of behavior among alums may seem commonplace now but at the time it seems to have been something of a novelty.
Summarizing and reading between the lines: Darrell Royal’s “retirement” in 1976 was less than voluntary—he’d been asked by a powerful alum to “break whatever recruiting rules he needed to” to win, and he resisted. He assumed his long-time assistant Mike Campbell would get the job and since Royal was the new AD he had reason to think he might have some say in the matter. Akers was hired instead, over the athletic director’s head, and a split was formed in the UT football community that still hadn’t healed ten years later. Royal’s boys wanted Akers gone regardless of what happened on the field. Fans were going to games hoping Texas would lose so Akers “would be that much closer to being fired.” The losses in ‘86 helped sway public perception, but the firing may well have been coming regardless.
“Akers is gone. They’re just waiting for the right reason to do it.”
“I think he’s gone. He could win the national championship and he’d be gone.”
“We have some that are absolutely violent on their position. And we can’t fire them; they’re alumni.”
“[After the ‘85 bowl loss] there were so many alumni calling in wanting Fred fired, you couldn’t get a phone call through. But DeLoss [Texas AD] took the position that if you fire him now, it’ll just be a message to the alumni that they run the program.”
They did. They do. Texas went 5-6, making the firing easier than it might have been. (And if anyone wants to study the ability of alumni to hamstring a coach by hurting his recruiting, I suspect mid ‘80s Texas would be a great place to start.)
It didn’t help on the field. Akers’s successor had three losing seasons out of five (remember, ‘86 was Texas’s first losing season in 30 years); we’re about to meet his replacement.
For his part, Akers was hired by Purdue. He wasn’t particularly successful there; their starting QB (Jeff George) immediately transferred because of the change of offensive system.
Grade: D. His replacement, David McWilliams, went just 31-26 over his five seasons with some humiliating losses (44-9 to Oklahoma, 47-6 at BYU, 66-15 at home to Houston, 50-7 at home to Baylor) and it was 15 years before they finished a season in the top 10, something Akers had done four times. And the firing did nothing to reunite the political factions behind Texas football—they’re still at it three decades later.
JOHN MACKOVIC, Texas, 1997.
Texas had never fired a coach before 1986 but by now they’d acquired the habit. McWilliams’s mediocre results led to his firing after five years and John Mackovic was brought in from Illinois as a reputed turnaround specialist. Mackovic was everything McWilliams wasn’t—McWilliams was personable but said to be a bit disorganized; John Mackovic is…well, let’s just say that John Mackovic isn’t personable.
Mackovic had modest success by Texas standards, making it to three bowl games and winning one conference championship in six seasons. Being John Mackovic, he also had the virtue of uniting the various Texas factions into a singular despite. When a somewhat fortunate B12 conference championship in ‘96 was followed by a 66-3 calamity at home against UCLA in week 2 the following year, the writing was on the wall. Six losses later he was gone.
Unusually for Mackovic, I can’t find any reports of players holding secret meetings with management to request his ouster. I guess they didn’t need to.
Grade: A. Has anyone ever regretted firing Mackovic? And Mack Brown had immediate success, going to 12 straight bowl games, with ten straight seasons of 3 or fewer losses plus a national championship along the way.
TERRY BOWDEN, Auburn, 1998.
OK, technically Bowden wasn’t fired. He tendered his resignation, then waited for two days for a phone call from the University president asking him to reconsider. When it didn’t come, his lawyer went to the University’s attorneys to try to undo the resignation, but eventually Bowden decided it wasn’t worth the fight.
I’m going to call that a firing.
Other than that I’m not quite sure what to think. I’ve read everything I can find about the end of the Bowden era and I still don’t know. Here’s a good place to start, if you aren’t familiar:
It all borders on the surreal…
- Bowden hires Bobby Lowder’s daughter as a secretary, presumably to get an in at Auburn. He gets the necessary political intel from his brother, who’s a coordinator there.
- When Dye’s staff was eventually and inevitably unable to “keep it down home”, Bowden was ready—he spent hours with Lowder rehearsing for his interview for the job (I’m not entirely sure why that was necessary; surely it would have been clear to everyone that Lowder’s choice would be Auburn’s).
- Bowden wins his first 20 games. And as so often, success breeds jealousy. Pat Dye’s still best buds with Lowder, after all, he even serves on his bank’s board. The rot begins to spread.
- Dye starts making regular appearances on Finebaum, a show sponsored by Lowder’s bank, and is critical of Bowden’s coaching. He’s abandoned traditional Auburn smashmouth football, for one thing.
- Bowden’s DC starts trash-talking Bowden within the department; Bowden fires him. Unfortunately, said DC was a Dye protégé and got married in Lowder’s home.
- His replacement, Brother Oliver, is fresh from scandal at Alabama and is hot for a head coaching job. He also, allegedly, begins accumulating a power base within the department in hopes of getting Bowden’s job. And he’s also an old friend of Dye’s.
- A star DB is dismissed for unspecified violations of team rules; Bowden explains that he’d gotten into debt gambling at a local dog track. The dog track owner is a wealthy alum, and is pissed about the public embarrassment.
- Rumors fly about a supposed affair between Bowden and his former secretary, Lowder’s daughter.
- An article appears in a Huntsville paper declaring that Bowden is done, no matter what. Lowder allegedly tells Bowden he’s the unnamed source; Bowden allegedly tells staff and players he doesn’t believe the rumors and they shouldn’t either; Brother Oliver allegedly brings a hidden tape recorder to a meeting hoping to catch Bowden on tape telling a lie.
I’m leaving out some of the sillier stuff, like fans being angry because the block AUBURN TIGERS in the end zone had been replaced by script.
And there’s no end of allegations of what was really going on behind the scenes during all this. There’s an alleged interview of Bowden by Paul Davis that’s made the rounds, especially on Bama boards. You can decide if you think there’s anything to it.
Whatever it was, Bowden was out, Oliver had his head coaching job if only briefly, Auburn football went on as it always had. If I was surprised by how few of the coaches in my sample actually got fired, I’m even more amazed at how frequently behind-the-scenes factional fights in the community were the cause, with on-field results just providing a convenient excuse.
Grade: C-. The rest of the season was a disaster and Oliver was also fired at season’s end; his replacement Tommy Tuberville was never able to get things back to where they’d been the first two years under Bowden but there’s no reason to think Bowden could have either.
PAUL HACKETT, USC, 2000.
Hackett, formerly OC for the Chiefs, was hired when USC fired or didn’t fire John Robinson after the 1997 season. Hackett had been an assistant under Robinson during his first stint at the school.
Recruiting went well during his three years at the school but the on-field results weren’t there yet. Hackett was disappointed when informed of the firing, stating that he felt things were moving in the right direction and he regretted that they wouldn’t have time to finish the job. AD Mike Garrett said he wanted immediate success and felt they should be competing for Rose Bowls and National Championships every year.
For once, that wasn’t just bluster. The next guy delivered in year two, and didn’t stop.
Although it’s maybe worth noting that the next guy was far from Garrett’s first choice. He wanted to hire a proven winner at the college level, and only moved to Carroll after he’d whiffed on Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti and Mike Riley.
Grade: A+. If you ignore the off-field scandal and the eventual vacation of the wins, it’s hard to imagine a better outcome than this. If Missouri was by far the worst result of the 63, this is easily the best.
GENE CHIZIK, Auburn, 2012
You probably know the Gene Chizik story as well as I do. He’d been a successful DC at Auburn and Texas but his record in his two years at Iowa State was a bit short of mediocre and he was high on the list of coaches expected to be on the hot seat the following year.
To say his hiring at Auburn was a surprise is understating the matter. Piecing out who deserves responsibility for what during his meteoric rise and fall at Auburn? Your guess is as good as mine. 3-2-8-14-8-3 is the most remarkable wins line of any coach I can think of. In four years he went from 2-12 to national champion and COTY to being replaced by his former OC, who’d left for Arkansas State in search of more autonomy after Chizik allegedly asked him to slow down the offense to protect the defense.
An aside: weirdly, Chizik’s very first college-level job was as a GA under Clemson defensive backs coach Brother Oliver. College football is a small world. Or maybe Auburn is.
Grade: INC. So far so good on Malzahn. Of course Chizik’s record looked pretty good two years in, too.
That’s it; those are the only 7 firings.
Pressing forward with the statistical analysis even though it’s hopeless, I’ve calculated :
- the improvement in the Massey ranking the next year over the current, losing, season
- the improvement in the average Massey ranking in the next three years, over the three years that ended with the losing season
- the improvement in the average Massey ranking in the next five years, over the five years that ended with the losing season
And the results:
|fired coach||retained coach|
are a great big and unsurprising nada. Any signal is completely lost in the noise.
The only conclusions I’d even tentatively propose:
- It’s suggestive, if completely inconclusive, that the biggest moves of any school in the sample in each direction (USC up, Missouri down) were both in the small sample of firings. That looks to be the high-variance risky move, as you’d probably expect.
- Again, it’s remarkable how many of the firings came out of weird backroom alumni/booster politics, or in the case of FSU backroom stuff among the players themselves. The two repeat firers here, Texas and Auburn, are two of the most politically-riven programs in the country, and I don’t think that’s an accident.
Inspired by Eye of the Tiger 's wish list, I decided to put together what I'm hoping for in the next head football coach at the University of Michigan. And, rather than say it all myself, I'm calling on some ultra-successful coaches to help me explain what I want.
“We’re not sustaining a gosh darn thing. We despise the word sustaining. We despise the word satisfaction.”
Appropriately, I'll open with a Jim Harbuagh quote. Michigan football has a rich tradition, and that tradition was not built by repeating the past, but by surpassing it. We should not stubbornly adhere to old strategies or only consider coaches who have spent time at U-M. What made Michigan great is what will make it great again: being willing to push outside the box to do whatever is necessary to achieve success.
I want more than B1G championships--I want CoFoPo appearances, All-Americans, Heisman contenders, and coaches that are the envy of the nation. That's what it means to be the Leaders and Best.
"Schemes and play calls don't win games, Execution wins games."
Chip Kelly knows scheme matters. The guy is a football mad scientist who cooks-up complimentary plays better than anyone else in the business--pro or college. What he means is that no matter what system you run and no matter how witty the play call, the players must be able to execute the play.
I would love a spread, no-huddle offense. I would prefer a blitzing, hyper-aggressive defense. But whether we get that or I-form and Cover Two, all I really care is that our players can consistently and effectively execute the scheme. Everyone can run the plays Chip Kelly runs, but few coaches can get their players to execute the way he does. Building a system that fits your players and makes it as easy as possible for them to be successful is what coaching is all about.
It's important to note that Kelly's attention to detail and specific instruction, combined with fast, high-stress training methods are essential to his success. He creates an environment where the players can learn quickly and builds a culture of attention to detail. It's that laser-like focus on execution that separates Kelly from his peers, and he simply uses the scheme that he believes makes it easiest for his players to execute.
Player development is not about telling a player he MUST do thing X or he will be benched. It's about getting a player to see what he's capable of and putting him in a position to capitalize on his talents. This means high expectations and demands are put on players, but that it's done in a constructive way that fits your roster.
Part of this is impatience--you must ask your players to do what they're capable of each and every day, and not be satisfied with less. Plenty of programs around the country are getting big contributions from younger players by showing them how they can be successful right away, not just as upperclassmen.
"You can't afford to have one bad coach on your staff."
Loyalty is a virtue, but if not you're being loyal to anything less than excellence. Jim Harbaugh knows that, and it's why many of his assistants are talked about as some of the best in the business. Building a great staff is vital when you have 100+ players to manage, and the next coach should expect and demand results every day. If it's not working, find some one who can make it work.
Bielema didn't hesitate to fire his O-Line coach when his O-Line wasn't producing. Beilein made drastic changes when his staff wasn't getting it done. While Hoke did fire a friend and hire what appeared to be the ideal fit, he only did it at one position. We need a coach that will find the right leaders for the team at EVERY post.
While I don't necessarily think we should stick with MANBALL and "physicalness" as the cornerstones of our program, we should always have a coach that understands college football's greatness is rooted in getting a bunch of young men to work as a team. This means self-sacrifice, integrity, and hard work. It means playing not just with each other, but for each other.
There are some winning college coaches out there I wouldn't want (Saban, Meyer) to coach at Michigan because they have reputations that are focused on individual, win-at-all-costs success instead of building a program of young men that carry each other to victory. It's a lot to ask, but I want a great coach who also understands Bo's ultimate speech--and that it applies to the coaches as well as the players.
These five quotes sum-up what I'm looking for in the next Michigan Head Coach: a willingness to adapt to think outside the box to find success; a detail-oriented culture with a focus on designing a scheme that compliments the talents of the players; player development that helps players see and realize their potential, and starts doing that as soon as they arrive on campus; a staff that is second-to-none in the country with no weak links; and a commitment to team that fosters a high-character environment where nothing but success is tolerated.
And as you can tell from my quotes, there seems to be one guy that certainly meets that criteria. But I'm not stubborn--I'll take any coach that can do all these things, win the B1G, go to the CoFoPo, produce All-Americans consistently, and have regular Heisman contenders. Oh yeah, and winning the playoff--he should do that, too.
Foster just beat Meyer; Pruitt has the Dawgs defense among the nation's best
You could do a lot worse than this pair of defensive coordinators. Pruitt is the young, up-and-comer who has been dynamite, but has done it with top talent at 'Bama, FSU, and now Georgia. Foster is the uber-loyal Beamer disciple who has demonstrated sustained success with meh talent.
Jeremy Pruitt, DC Georgia
Track Record: B. Hard to say here. He was at 'Bama from 2007-2012, and coached the DB's, which is where Saban injects himself the most. He probably learned a ton, but how much of the success is his? Then he went to FSU and won a championship, taking over the #6 scoring defense and making it the #1 scoring defense (they've dropped to #35 without him). Now he's at Georgia, the #19 scoring defense vs. #79 last year. Looks pretty good, for a limited sample.
Michigan Ties: D. Was the DB coach at 'Bama for Nuss' first season as the OC. Other than that, nada.
Recruiting: B. Was the recruiter of the year in 2012. Could not be better here, but his expertise is in the south.
Chances/Loyalty: C. A southern guy who has build a network and recruiting empire along I-10, he probably fits best as a coach down there. But he clearly wants his own program, and U-M is one of the best jobs out there, and is, in many ways, the U-M of the south.
Demeanor: B. 40. Presents well. Extremely demanding, high-energy coach who pushes his players for 60 minutes. Admires Richt's character, and that bodes well for his ability to meet Michigan's morality standards.
Three Phases: C+. Never been a HC at any level. Purely a defensive guy...my first question if we interview him is, “Who is your OC?” Might bring good friend and Georgia O-Line coach Will Friend.
Roster Fit: B-. Georgia runs a multiple offense not dissimilar to Nuss' system, and FSU runs a passing spread. 'Bama runs manball. Uses multiple defensive strategies. I do think U-M has the personnel to run a 3-4, FWIW.
OVERALL GPA: 2.43 (C+/B-). Pruitt is a fast-rising DC that will run his own program someday, and I think he could be very good. But he's probably best fitted to the south, and I'm not sure he'd stay at Michigan. That said, it's hard to find things not to like about him.
Bud Foster, DC Va. Tech
Track Record: B+. Has done more with less talent than almost any DC in the country, and he's done it for a long, long time.
Michigan Ties: D. Raised in Nokomis, IL. Has been at Va Tech since 1987, before that was at Murray State, which is in Kentucky, so...D seems about right.
Recruiting: B. Very strong recruiter that has reeled-in some top defensive talent.
Chances/Loyalty: C+. Bud is 55, and if he wants his own program, Michigan would have to be attractive. The athletes are already there for his defense. Would he go back to Va Tech when Beamer retired? Maybe, but not if it were 5 years down the road, IMO.
Demeanor: A-. Polished presenter, and players love him and play hard for him.
Three Phases: C+. Another purely a defensive guy. Would need an established OC to be a good fit...and would probably bring Loeffler. On the plus side, Va Tech's special teams are some of the best in the business, so hopefully he's learned from that.
Roster Fit: B-. Michigan has the athletes to run his defense, and Loeffler's offense is another multiple scheme that has lots of similarities to Nuss' system.
OVERALL GPA: 2.61 (B-). Foster used to be talked about everytime there was an opening, and has said he'd like his own program. He's also said his dream job is HC at Va Tech. If he would commit to Michigan long-term, there are many, many worse options out there. His defensive gameplan vs. Ohio State this year was magic, and hiring a guy who just beat Meyer might please the fanbase.
Before the season started, most pundits and fans figured we were either an 8-4 or 9-3 team. We were going to lose to MSU and probably OSU too; Notre Dame was a tossup, and there was probably going to be one unexpected loss in there as well somewhere. My prediction fell along these lines; at the time, it felt safe.
These assumptions were based on an analysis of “on paper” talent and experience, an apparent upgrade to a more rational, constraint-based offensive scheme, promises of a more aggressive defensive scheme better suited to the conference’s growing number of spread offenses, and the overall weakness of the Big 10. So we had our reasons, and they appeared to be good ones. Granted, the pessimists among us thought we were naïve; they suggested Michigan was more likely to go 7-5.
Now we sit at 3-4, having lost to Notre Dame but also Utah, Minnesota and Rutgers (yes, Rutgers). Our run offense has improved somewhat, but pass protection is a mess, while Gardner has seemingly regressed in the new system. Meanwhile, our defense has been good but not the elite squad we hoped for: we are better against the run than we were a year ago, but still mediocre at best against the pass. Oh, and our -11 turnover ratio spells DOOM. For comparison’s sake, we had a -2 turnover margin through the end of October 2013; we neither protecting the ball well enough on offense nor generating enough turnovers on defense. This is why we are bad.
Looking forward, 8-4 is still not impossible, but it’s so unlikely that it might as well be. The prospects for 7-5—that dreaded repeat of 2013—are moderately higher, but unless there’s some appreciable improvement (particularly in the turnover department), we won’t win in Evanston—let alone East Lansing or Columbus. As Seth recently said, this team may struggle to end up 6-6. Going 5-7 or worse is no longer unimaginable.
To illustrate, the predictive model I presented last time initially suggested we’d win 8.65 games. If you replace the predictive probabilities with the actual outcomes (0 or 1) for all games up to this point, it now suggests we’ll win 6.13. That’s still dependent on those preseason probability assessments, all of which look too rosy now. If I were to reassess them, the equation outputs 5.05 wins, with Indiana and Maryland the most likely. But even those games come with question marks—Maryland especially, given their WRs and our inability to cover WRs.
Using my Alien/Aliens based metaphor, we are clearly:
5. Alien Resurrection
Metaphor: Directed by the supremely talented Jean-Pierre Jeunot and featuring a screenplay by Joss Whedon—what could possibly go wrong? Nearly everything, that’s what. As Whedon later said: “It wasn't a question of doing everything differently, although they changed the ending; it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines...mostly...but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They… just executed it in such a ghastly fashion as to render it almost unwatchable.”
Scenario: 7-5 or worse. Our defense is not as good as expected and/or our offense is as bad or worse than last year. Coach: meet hot seat. Athletic Director: meet pitchforks.
.15. Not outside the realm of possibility, but I’m also just not seeing this as very plausible either. Hard to see this turning out any other way at this point.
Maybe I was wrong--dead wrong--about how many games we won, but is this not a perfect description of our football team? We execute everything wrong, Devin is cast wrong, we have piped-in RAWK instead of the band scoring our home games, we say things wrong, and, at least twice this year, we have played unwatchable football. Obligatory image of the Springfield Tire Fire:
A Eulogy for the Brady Hoke Era
I'm genuinely sad about Brady Hoke's career trajectory. Everything started with such promise--sure there was a lot of talk about "running power," but it was all talk. Hoke was a "whatever works" guy, even if that meant (smartly) retaining most of Rich Rodriguez's offense. He said all the right things, gambled at the right time, brought in a dizzying array of top recruits, and oversaw a defensive transformation from worst-in-the-country to top 3 in the conference. We even won a BCS game, the first since Tom Brady led that epic comeback against Alabama in 1999/2000. Plus there was this:
Even going 8-5 in 2012 was understandable, since 4 of those losses came to the AP's final #1, 3, 4 and 8 teams--none of whom we played at home--and we were competitive in 3/4. It wasn't 11-2 with a BCS game, but at least we could hold our heads up high. Then the wheels started to come off against Akron last year, and almost nothing's gone right since. No need to recap--we all know the score at this point.
Bottom line, I'm grateful to Brady Hoke for the good memories, and am genuinely sad that it hasn't worked out. But without a roadmap to future success, with serious questions as to whether this staff can develop recruits, and with most of us tired of and frustrated with this seemingly endless sojourn in football purgatory, it's absolutely, 100% time to move on. Now.
My CC Wish List
At this point, the most important question is whether we are also Notre Dame 2.0. Not Notre Dame right now, but the Notre Dame of the post-Holtz/pre-Kelley interregnum—a brand-name program that can’t seem to translate top recruiting classes into consistent win percentages. They went through three, not two, bad coaching performances (Davie, Willingham and Weis) before finally settling on a guy (Kelley) who appears capable of consistently translating recruiting classes into wins. So are we going to find our Brian Kelley, or are we going to end up with our Charlie Weis?
With the urgency of preventing the latter of happening, I’d like to present a set of parameters that I’d hope would guide the next coaching search.
NOTE: this is not meant as a list of "musts." It's a wishlist, i.e. the things I'd, ideally, like our next coach to do. I do not necessarily expect our next coach to fulfill all of them. Actually not many realistic candidates fulfill all of them. However, these are the things I would look for, were I the one conducting the search.
1. Hire someone with a clear track record of “coaching up” recruits.
At this point I think we can all agree that our current staff’s main deficiency is its inability to turn highly-rated recruiting classes into highly-ranked football teams—most obviously on the OL, but at safety, RB and arguably WR as well. This is not something unique to Michigan: Texas has had the same problem for years, as have Tennessee, Florida and USC on a shorter-term basis (see also: ND prior to the Kelly hire, Nebraska prior to the Pelini hire, Washington between James and Sarkesian, etc.).
Clearly being a football “blue-blood” with a natural recruiting advantage does not automatically ensure on the field success. I’d also argue that it’s significantly more important than pulling in highly-rated recruiting classes: look at Dantonio and Bielema, who have both been able to get the most out of recruits other schools passed over. I’m not saying we ignore recruiting evaluations or go for the same 2-stars as Wisconsin—just that we stress a track record of player development over other considerations in our coaching search. Put another way, finding a guy who can consistently turn 4/5 star recruits into high-level performers should be our #1 priority. Everything else is secondary.
Prioritizing this, of course, would likely preclude us from hiring a coordinator without head coaching experience, as OCs and DCs don’t have experience building staff. That doesn’t mean an OC or DC couldn’t do a great job developing talent, but rather that we are no longer in a position to take that kind of a risk.
2. Hire someone who takes a non-ideological approach to coaching (and especially offense)…
I get that this site includes a number of “spread zealots,” and I do like spread offenses (more on that later) but I’m weary of zealotry and its ancillary effects at this point. Lots of different offensive schemes can and do work in the FBS, and zealotry at the coaching level seems to always come with strange manifestations of stubbornness—at least at Michigan.
One thing I loved about Brady Hoke in the beginning was how, despite all the talk about “toughness” and “power,” he and Borges ran what was in essence a continuation of Rich Rodriguez’ speed-oriented spread-to-run offense. The wheels started to come off as soon as we moved away from “whatever fits our personnel” to “let’s pretend our athletic, dual-threat quarterback with accuracy issues is Tom Brady in the 1990s because this is Michigan fergodsake RUN POWER.” There are other reasons for our decline since the final whistle of Notre Dame 2013, of course, but this is a big one.
So essentially I want a coach who isn’t ideologically committed to things going a certain way, but is rather flexible and open-minded about how to use what you’ve got and build what you don’t. Though he’s fundamentally a spread-to-run guy, look at how Urban Meyer has run the offense in Columbus—or if that example rankles, consider Oklahoma under Stoops, Les Miles at LSU or Jim Harbaugh in transition from Stanford to the 49ers. These are all guys who take a flexible approach to offense, and have enjoyed success with different on-paper skillsets from the roster. We could learn from that.
[On the defensive side, see: Rodriguez’ bizarre insistence on the 3-3-5 regardless of staff or personnel.]
3. …but who does have a systematic approach to offense.
Being non-ideological about offense does not mean you have run grab-bag offenses with a lot of plays and no cohesion. I want someone who understands and runs the Constraint Theory of Offense, which stipulates that you run play B to keep defenses from keying in on play A, and you run play C when they overcommit to stopping A. For example, Rodriguez in 2010 with: QB Iso (A), Bubble Screen (B) and Pop Pass (C). Or Rodriguez in 2007 with: Zone Read RB (A), Zone Read QB (B) and Pop Pass (C). Or Nussmeier at Alabama with: Inside Zone (A), Bubble Screen/Outside Zone (B) and Play-action Pass/Power O (C).
The Constraint Theory of Offense does not care if you align in the spread or go pro-style. It just wants you to: a) read defenses and make adjustments according to what the defense is giving you; and b) capitalize on any and all overcommitments. As Chris Brown says, everyone should do this.
4. Hire someone who dispenses with the huddle, whether or not they go hurry-up.
Please correct me if I’m making the wrong assumption here, but I’ve always inferred that Brian, the Mathlete and others take a strategic view of tempo, by which I mean that they generally think uptempo (HUNH) is better (aside from obvious situations in which going fast leaves too much time on the clock at the end of a half/game). Hoke, on the other hand, appears to think that “you got to huddle” and wind down the clock on every play—no matter the circumstances.
If I had to choose, I’d take HUNH over "sloowwwwwwwwww it dowwwwn" in a heartbeat. However, I’d argue, as I have in several diaries and comments on this blog, that a tactical approach to tempo is ideal. By “tactical tempo” I mean: a) the ability to go fast or slow at any given moment; b) the willingness to go fast or slow according to circumstance; and c) deliberately varying tempo settings to unsettle defenses, settle your offense and/or give your defense a rest—game to game, drive to drive and play to play.
Tactical no-huddle approaches, like HUNH, work best when you dispense with the huddle. But whereas going no-huddle is a practical necessity for HUNH, it’s more a competitive advantage here. By getting to the line quickly, you either get a play off quickly (HU) or you give your quarterback time to read the defense. Time in the huddle is wasted time however you cut it, and QBs like Gardner and Morris could clearly use more time reading defenses.
For some empirical examples, I’d point you to how Urban Meyer approaches tempo at OSU—right now they are ranked #13 in ToP, compared with #113 for ASU and #123 for Oregon. But unlike some other Big 10 dinosaurs, Meyer’s OSU can turn on the jets pretty much whenever they want.
5. Hire someone for whom shotgun is the default...
I have nothing against under center play—it can work great for schools with mauler OLs and accurate, quick-reading QBs. But as long as we have questions on the OL and QBs who can make plays with their legs but are also prone to making questionable throws on a regular basis (Morris appears to be the fourth of these in a row), we are better served by shotgun formations. Shotgun helps the QB read the defense pre-snap, gives the QB more time to read the defense post-snap and allows for QB runs (or at least the threat of QB runs). I see no downside to shotgun.
6. …and who is known for running a dynamic passing offense.
Do you remember the last time we had a dynamic passing offense for a whole season? I do—2006. At present there are three principle ways teams install one of these: 1) have 2-3 dominant receivers no one can cover; 2) spread out your WRs and get little dudes in space; and 3) put at least 2 pass catching TEs on the field who are too big for DBs and too fast for LBs. Examples of each would be: 1) us in 2006 or USC under Pete Carroll; 2) anyone who learned anything from Mike Leach; and 3) Jim Harbaugh at Stanford/the 2011 New England Patriots.
Few schools appear able to bring in 2-3 dominant WRs with consistency, including us in the years since Manningham and Arrington left for the NFL, so I’ll go with options #2 or #3. With regards #2, as much as I hated losing to Rutgers, I admired how effectively their spread-to-pass scheme took advantage of our gooey inside pass coverage and suspect safety play. And I’ve long admired how schools like TTU can put almost anyone in at QB and produce 300-400 passing yards/game. FTR, we have some anyones on our roster.
I also see this as relatively easy to install given our personnel. We’re already zone blocking on most plays anyways, so the OL would’t need to learn a whole new system. The WRs would, but given the lack of progress with our WRs this year, it might be for the best. And just imagine our new coach/OC splitting Funchess and Darboh/Chesson out wide, and then using their routes to get Canteen/Norfleet/Jones lost in space—until defenses adjust and then you’ve got Michael Crabtree Devin Funchess going vertical one-on-one. Plus Butt and Hayes are guys you could line up inside and then split out wide whenever you like, so there’s that too.
I also love the flexible, dual TE offenses Harbaugh and BoB developed. Going dual TE would require another pass-catching TE, of course, though *maybe* we’ll get one this year.
7. …and an aggressive, read-based defense.
Our defense improved by leaps and bounds under Mattison and Hoke, but since 2012 it’s felt soft—especially on pass coverage. I’m just going to be straight up and say I want us to install an aggressive defensive scheme where corners know how to press and everyone knows how to read the offense pre- and post-snap. Chris Brown’s piece on MSU’s defense is instructive. I know, I know--easier said than done. But let’s keep trying to do that too. It's where defensive scheme is at right now, and looks to be in the future.
8. Hire someone who can do PR/tell AD to butt out of game planning.
The former appears to have been a problem with Rodriguez, the latter with Hoke. So clearly attempt #3 requires someone positioned to do both.
Can you think of anyone who roughly fits this bill? I can. His name begins with a "J" and ends with an "im Harbaugh."
Big week for a few of Wolverines. Let me know what I missed, or if you have any more insight that I can add.
Week 7 Notes: Mario Manningham was cut from IR. Fitzgerald Toissaint was cut from practice squad.
Jason Avant (2002-05) | Carolina Panthers, WR (L 38-17 vs. Green Bay)
- 2 receptions for 6 yards.
- In his first year with the Panthers, Avant has made 19 catches on 28 targets for 185 yards, and 1 TD.
Tom Brady (1997-99) | New England Patriots, Starting QB (W 27-25 vs. New York Jets)
- Big game: 20/37 for 261 yards with 3 TDs and no turnovers. Was sacked once.
- For the year, Brady has thrown for over 1,700 yards, with a 13 TDs and 2 interceptions.
Stevie Brown (2006-09) | @steviebrown27 | New York Giants, Backup FS (L 31-21 vs. Dallas)
- 1 tackle.
- Brown tore his ACL and missed the 2013 season, and has started 3 games this year. He has amassed 13 tackles in 6 games.
Will Campbell (2009-12) | @idonttweet73 | Buffalo Bills, Practice G (W 17-16 vs. Minnesota)
- Recently signed to the Bills practice squad.
Kenny Demens (2009-12) | @kdemens25 | Arizona Cardinals, Backup ILB (W 24-13 vs. Oakland)
- Did not record a statistic.
- In 6 games played, Demens has recorded 5 tackles and 2 forced fumble.
Michael Cox (2008-11) | @mikecox1mill | New York Giants, Kick Returner (L 31-21 vs. Dallas)
- Returned kickoffs for 21, 26, and 40 yards.
- This was his second game of the year, exclusively in kick returning duties.
Larry Foote (1998-2001) | @larryfoote313 | Arizona Cardinals, Starting MLB (W 24-13 vs. Oakland)
- 4 tackles and 1 sack.
- Has started all 6 games in his first year with Arizona, recording 35 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 INT so far.
Jonathan Goodwin (1999-2001) | New Orleans Saints, Starting C (L 24-23 vs. Detroit)
- Goodwin was carted off the field with a leg injury before halftime and did not return. QB was sacked 1 time. Goodwin had a holding call against him.
- In his first year with New Orleans. Has started every game since 11/24/2008.
Cameron Gordon (2009-13) | New England Patriots, LB (W 27-25 vs. New York Jets)
- On injured reserve.
Brandon Graham (2006-09) | @brandongraham55 | Philadelphia Eagles, Backup LB (Bye Week)
- Has not started yet this year, but has 17 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles in 6 games.
Leon Hall (2003-06) | Cincinnati Bengals, CB (L 27-0 vs. Indianapolis)
- 4 tackles and 1 pass breakup. Had a lower back strain during the game. Fans were NOT happy with his performance.
- Has 27 tackles and 1 interception in 6 starts.
David Harris (2004-06) | New York Jets, Starting ILB (L 27-25 vs. New England)
- 4 tackles.
- In 7 starts, Harris has recorded 54 tackles and 1 forced fumble.
Junior Hemingway (2007-11) | @younghemi21 | Kansas City Chiefs, Backup WR (W 23-20 vs. San Diego)
- Did not record a statistic. Had a bad, bad drop.
- In 6 games, Hemingway has 8 receptions for 89 yards.
Chad Henne (2004-07) | @chad_henne | Jacksonville Jaguars. Backup QB (W 24-6 vs. Cleveland)
- Did not play.
- Started 3 games to begin the year. 42/78 for 492 with 3 TDs and 1 interception and 1 fumble. Has apparently lost starting job to rookie Blake Bortles.
Tim Jamison (2005-08) | Houston Texans, Backup DE (MNF vs. Pittsburgh)
- Has started 1 of 7 games this year. Jamison has recorded 9 tackles and half of a sack.
Jordan Kovacs (2009-13) | @jkovacs32 | Philadelphia Eagles, SS (Bye Week)
- Recently signed to Eagles practice squad.
- Was cut from Miami during fall camp. Played in 9 games last year for the Dolphins.
Taylor Lewan (2009-13) | @taylorlewan77 | Tennessee Titans, Starting T (L 19-17 vs. Washington)
- QB was sacked 3 times.
- Started second consecutive game.
Jake Long (2004-07) | St. Louis Rams, Starting T (W 28-26 vs. Seattle)
- QB was not sacked this game.
- Has been a starter since he entered the league 7 years ago.
Mike Martin (2008-11) | @gomikemartin | Tennessee Titans, Starting DE (L 19-17 vs. Washington)
- Started and made 3 tackles.
- Started last two games. 9 tackles this year.
David Molk (2007-11) | Philadelphia Eagles, Starting C (Bye Week)
- Has started past 3 games, due to starter injury. Film reviews have been positive on him.
Ryan Mundy (2003-06) | @rmundy29 | Chicago Bears, Starting SS (L 27-14 vs. Miami)
- 5 tackles.
- Has recorded 34 tackles and 1 pick-six interception in his first 6 games with the bears.
Patrick Omameh (2009-12) | @patrickomameh | Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Starting G (Bye Week)
- Has started all 6 games this year.
Denard Robinson (2009-12) | @denardx | Jacksonvile Jaguars, RB (W 24-6 vs. Cleveland)
- First game as feature back, huge game. 127 yards rushing on 22 attempts for 5.8 yard average, AND his first NFL TD. This game almost doubled his career total in yards. He also played a big part in making a tackle to avoid a pick-6 on one of Bortles 3 INTs.
- Highlights: http://bit.ly/1t1h20k
- Has started 3 games this year, has rushed for 221 yards on 50 carries, and has 11 receptions for 37 yards. Robinson has zero fumbles, compared to 3 fumbles on 20 rushing attempts last year.
Steve Schilling (2007-10) | Seattle Seahawks, Backup G (L 28-26 vs. St. Louis)
- Started his second consecutive game. Got banged up during the game. QB sacked 3 times.
- In his first year with Seattle.
Michael Schofield (2009-13) | @schoblue75 | Denver Broncos, Backup T (W 42-17 vs. San Francisco)
- Has yet to play. Is marked as inactive.
LaMarr Woodley (2003-06) | @lamarrwoodley | Oakland Raiders, Starting DE (L 24-13 vs. Arizona)
- 1 tackle.
- 4 tackles in 5 games.
Charles Woodson (1995-97) | Oakland Raiders, Starting FS (L 24-13 vs. Arizona)
- Big game: 7 tackles, 1 pass breakup, and 1 interception with a 30-yard return.
- Has 39 tackles and 2 interceptions in 6 games.
I decided to start at the bottom and work my way up to what I think will be the standings next year. Rutgers was not very good this year, finishing 5-13 in the not-so-good American conference. A lot of people would say, "you can only get better from here". This may be true for this Rutgers team. Rutgers loses seniors Wally Judge and J.J Moore. Jerome Seagears, D’Von Campbell, and Craig Brown are also transferring. Losing these five players means a loss of:
48% of their points
41% of their rebounds per game
and 50% of their minutes
They do bring in 6 freshmen who, unless they contribute right away will leave Rutgers pretty awful.
So here is their projected roster:
# Name HT WT YR POS
11 Kadeem Jack 6-9 235 SR. PF
Starting Power Forward, averaged 14.3 points per game with 6.8 rebounds. A close second to Mack.
4 Myles Mack 5-10 175 SR. PG
Starting Point Guard, averaged 15 points per game with 4.3 Assists. Rutgers' best player.
0 Malick Kone 6-5 200 SR. SF
The starting Shooting Guard, averaged 3.5 points per game last year.
3 Kerwin Okoro 6-5 215 JR. SF
Does not play meaningful minutes.
21 Stephen Zurich 6-5 205 JR. SF
Same as Okoro.
23 Jalen Hyde 5-8 165 JR. PG
35 Greg Lewis 6-9 245 JR. PF
The starting Center that has a decent rebound rate. With him starting Rutgers actually has a pretty big lineup.
10 Junior Etou 6-7 230 SO. SF
The starting Small Forward, averaged 5.3 points per game.
33 Khalil Batie 5-10 175 SO. PG
5 Mike Williams 6-2 190 FR. SG
3 Star, offers from Dayton, Iowa, ST. Johns, Temple...
2 Bishop Daniels 6-3 185 FR. SG
3 star, no other offers
32 Ibrahima Diallo 6-10 240 FR. C
Rawer than sushi. 3 Star
22 D.J. Foreman 6-8 230 FR. PF
Offers from Iowa State, Minnesota, Pittsburgh…
13 Ryan Johnson 6-6 190 FR. SG
A low ranked prospect. Supposedly he can shoot. According to Rutgers he is the next Jeremy Lamb.
40 Shaquille Doorson 6-11 275 FR. C
Low ranked recruit. Redshirt.
15 Jake Dadika 5-11 160 FR. PG
My projected starting lineup:
Point Guard: Myles Mack
Shooting Guard: Malick Kone
Small Forward: Junior Etou
Power Foward: Kadeem Jack
Center: Greg Lewis
Michigan plays Rutgers at home and on the road next year, which is favorable for us.
In all, Rutgers is a pretty small team that is losing a lot of players of. They do not have depth, or much skill. The junior class looks to have nothing so the team will rely on mostly seniors. I project Rutgers will go 4-14 and tie with Purdue for last.
Next up... Purdue.