"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
As some of you know, I’m joining MGoBlog to provide various types of basketball coverage, now that we’re a #basketballschool and all that. A brief introduction: I’m an Honors LSA Senior majoring in English (hopefully with a creative writing sub-concentration), I grew up making weekly pilgrimages from the Grand Rapids area to Ann Arbor on Fall Saturdays with my parents—both of whom graduated from the B School before Ross slapped his name on it—and younger brother—an Honors LSA sophomore (who is also named Brian Cook). I am not related to the proprietor of this site, as far as he and I know. We were a football family, but I fell in love with Michigan Hoops in 2009-2010 with Manny, Peedi, Coach B, and the gang. I’ve learned to love the NBA recently as well, but regret that I missed the glory years of my Detroit Pistons. I’m a Lions masochist, I complain about the Tigers’ managing and bullpen all summer, and I recently committed to Everton as my new EPL team (because Tim Howard’s a national hero). It’s a little up in the air as of right now, but Ace and I will sort out who covers what during hoops season. As for non-sports things: I’m a proud native Michigander and spend my summers living on Barlow Lake—Heaven on Earth, as far as I’m considered—I run as quickly as Terrance Taylor and am addicted to Bruegger’s on North U (these things may be related), and if anybody wants to hire me to a full-time job after school, PLEASE DO. If you see me on campus, say hi. I’ll be the tall, skinny-fat guy with curly black hair and light blue headphones.
Follow me on Twitter ( @alexcook616 )
(Freshmen and incoming transfers are not included. They’re very difficult to accurately contextualize with returning players and they’ll be covered next week.)
* * *
For the Big Ten Player Comparisons, I created an algorithm that spits out the most similar statistical profiles for a given player’s. There are 20 unweighted categories—most of which are advanced metrics—but shooting and rebounding are well-accounted for. The database consists of 750 players from the 2008-2014 seasons. This post is already absurdly long, so I’ll have to explain it further at some other time. This system will probably be used pretty extensively.
Considering that the Hoosiers had Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh—the latter was drafted in the lottery of a deep draft—their struggles were perplexing. A stable of uninspiring role players did little to augment the talents of their two stars and their offense was often stagnant and extremely turnover prone. Indiana didn’t shoot the ball well from the field, but the inability to hold onto the ball was crippling—IU finished 330th nationally in turnover rate, easily the last in the Big Ten. Ferrell can be best categorized as a scoring point guard: he’s ball-dominant and often probes the defense with his quickness rather than driving right to the rim, he’s one of the better shooters in the league (40% on a ridiculous 220 attempts, mostly from above the break), and he gets to the free throw line and shoots better than 80% from the stripe over his career. There were a few games that Yogi took over with his scoring ability: 30 points (on just 15 FGA) at Illinois, 27 (including 7 made threes) against Michigan and at Purdue, and 25 and 24 in two games against Wisconsin. With Indiana’s turnover issues and Ferrell’s role as its offensive catalyst, his turnover rate—18.0%—wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t exactly anomalous amongst analogous point guards.
Yogi didn’t have the ball-security of a Jordan Taylor or Drew Neitzel, but it wasn’t bad. Turning the ball over was a collective effort: the entire rotation (aside from Ferrell) had turnover rates of at least 20%. Adding five-star combo guard James Blackmon, Jr. should help out immensely in regard to that issue and it should enable Ferrell to play off-the-ball and distribute a little more this season. Ferrell will likely be the best point guard in the Big Ten and there’s a chance that he could lead the league in scoring.
[After THE JUMP: Caris checks in, others.]
Big playmakers needed (Upchurch/MGoBlog)
1. The Defense
|Season||Expected Pts||Conversion Rate||Bonus Yards||Red Zone|
|2014 Nat’l Rank||97th||2nd||116th||96th|
Michigan State’s team has transformed its identity somewhat so far in 2014. The defense is still dominant and on a down by down basis, they are actually very elite. Over the last five seasons, only one team has held opposing offenses to less than 55% conversions. That team was 2011 National Champion Alabama who held offenses to an illegal in 49 states 42% first down conversion rate. This year both MSU and Louisville are below 55% half way through the season.
The flip side of the coin is that the offense is pushing the game to a much higher possession game, putting the defense in a position to allow a more points, by virtue of field position alone. The 29+ expected points allowed is pushing close to triple digit territory. This has produces some cosmetic changes to the traditional stats without implicating the defense, necessarily.
As confirmed by Ace in the FFFF, this year’s defensive unit is much more prone to allowing the big play. The last three seasons, the Spartan defense has been well below 2 yards per play allowed beyond the first down marker, all three top 10 results. This year they nearly find themselves on the wrong 10 list, ranking well into the triple digits.
What it means for Michigan
As bad as Michigan has been generating big plays, this is the game to throw the “identity” out the window. If Michigan plays for Time of Possession as a key outcome, they are nowhere near good enough to get past this Michigan State defense. If they can actually attempt to get the ball downfield, they could have a puncher’s chance of putting up more than 6 points on Saturday.
2. The Offense
|Season||Expected Pts||Conversion Rate||Bonus Yards||Red Zone|
|2014 Nat’l Rank||4th||10th||23rd||4th|
The flip side to 29 expected points allowed is the 34+ points expected for the offense. The magnitude may be higher than the traditional Dantonio field position stranglehold game plan, but the advantage is just as strong. Michigan State’s 5.2 point per game net advantage in field position is good for 14th nationally.
While the defense has driven its conversion rate allowed down to near record levels, the offense has made the same stride forward. After a pedestrian 62% conversion rate last season, this year’s squad has cracked the Top 10 and improved by over 10 percentage points. I may have been wrong about the Spartan offense this year. Thanks in large part to Tony Lippett, MSU has also been able to stretch the field. Tony Lippett has been worth over 7 points per game himself and is 6th overall among pass catchers in 2014.
What it means for Michigan
Not a lot of weaknesses on the surprisingly potent Spartan offense. Michigan’s defense has shown occasional signs of strength and will need its best performance of the season to keep the offense in the game. A couple of turnovers wouldn’t hurt either. If Jourdan Lewis and company can keep Lippett in check, there is a chance Michigan can slow down the Spartans.
3. Special Teams
Value added on the season (National Rank/B1G Rank)
Punt Team: +1.1 pts (59th/7th)
Punt Return: –3.0 (108/12)
Kickoff Return: +0.5 (54/8)
Kickoff: +6.1 (13/2)
FG/PAT: –1.6 (86/11)
Total: +3 (55/7)
Michigan State hasn’t displayed particular strength or weakness across their special teams. If the Spartans are able to open up a big play in the punt return game, it will be in area that MSU hasn’t found success to date.
4. The Fourth Quarter
Michigan State’s in-game win odds by game
One opportunity for Michigan could be Michigan State’s lack of competitive fourth quarter situations on the season. In their six wins, the Spartans have had less than 90% win odds for about 30 seconds late against Nebraska before picking off Tommy Armstrong Jr.
The same went for their loss against Oregon, when they quickly dropped into the low teens early in the fourth before seeing their odds slip away midway through the quarter. Whether something as abstract as “4th quarter experience” is a real thing that matters or not is a up for debate, but
5. Dumb Punt of the Week
Dumb punting a Michigan football may be the same thing. Michigan takes a bye and so does dumb punting. The best entry I could find for the week was Middle Tennessee punting on 4th and 3 at the UAB 36 in the fourth quarter. The Blue Raiders were up by 5 at the time, but a punt into the end zone isn’t valuable enough to forgo a virtual red zone trip with a successful conversion.
In this week’s roundtable, we all agreed Hoke hadn’t shown anything to indicate he could save his job. The “Win the Time of Possession” game plan will lose this game barring a massive turnover disparity. An aggressive game plan maximizing Michigan’s two best weapons (Funchess deep and Gardner’s legs) might have a chance. This Michigan State team is better at more things than they have been the last several seasons, but there is also a potential crack in the armor if Michigan isn’t too stubborn to exploit it.
Michigan State 28 Michigan 17
One theme I've read in a lot of CCs is one of age and duration. While in a perfect world of unicorns and rainbows we get a Bo/Bowden/Paterno/Bryant candidate this is definitely not the current reality of modern football. In fact there is only 1 (2*) coach of that ilk out there.
Most candidates will come with an issue of duration whether due to age (Miles being the obvious one) or outside interest (if Harbaugh comes here we will be subjected to Saban like NFL rumors every offseason). A unicorn candidate would be one that is relatively young, and did well - but not well enough to ever attract interest from the NFL or ...say Alabama. Heck even Kelly is getting NFL rumors. So I'd encourage us not to get so infatuated with the ideal of someone being here 10+ years - while ideal, this is not the current landscape.
Here is some data. With Bowden and Paterno leaving CFB the past half decade the number of super long tenured coaches in FBS Power 5 conferences is down to 1* - Beamer. He has been at VA Tech since 1987.
*Bill Snyder is an outlier at Kansas State having been there in 2 stints - 89 to 05 then back again in 09-current. So he would be the 2nd.
After that there is a decade long drop to #2 - Bob Stoops who has been at Oklahoma since 1999. Ferentz joins him at that level.
There are only 4 other Big 5 conference coaches who have been around for more than a decade - and one (Gary Patterson) has only been in the Big 12 for 3 years. Richt (Georgia), Pinkel (Missouri), Riley (Oregon State) are the other 3.
That is not even 2 handful of coaches across all the power 5 conferences that have lasted > decade. You get 7 more in the 8 to 10 year range :
- 2005 hire - Gundy (alma mater), Miles, Whittingham (BYU grad coaching in Utah), Spurrier
- 2006 hire - Fitzgerald (alma mater)
- 2007 hire - Dantonio, Saban
There are now 64 schools in Power 5 conferences, so that is 8 schools with a coach >10 years (12.5%), and 7 other schools with a coach with 8 to 10 years (11%).
Long story short - you have a 1 in 9 chance of landing a coach who will be here 10+ years, and a 1 in 10 chance of one who will be here 8 to 10 years. Most Big 5 schools have had their coach for 7 years or less (76.5%). We should not disqualify people who might be here "only" 6-8 years because we want to find a unicorn. And as important, seeing what type of people they spin off in their coaching tree is probably quite important because rather than trying to find 1 man to coach 15+ years the most likely situation for a successful "era" is 1 man handing the baton off to another.
Since this is a shorter than usual diary I will end this with a video of the opposite end of the spectrum - one of the youngest "football" coaches in the world, who is coaching in Croatia at age 24. ;) Enjoy.
Floyd Mayweather is by any measure is a well conditioned athlete. Power, speed, endurance, mobility. In a video, it was interesting to see he has a foam roll in his house. That's used for Myofascial Self-Release, known as Trigger Point Therapy. This increasingly popular method, pioneered by Dr. Janet Travell and Dr. David Simon, gets tension and knots out of muscles.
People carry much more chronic, restrictive tension in our bodies than most realize. Trigger point release, along with stretching, yoga, massage, etc, releases adhesions and restrictions in the muscles and connective tissue. Teaching this for 24 years, I've seen it have a powerful effect.
More examples? In 1976 Hasely Crawford won the Olympic gold in the 100 meters. He was able to generate tremendous force with speed to generate power, and overcome his inertial mass more effectively than anyone in the world. I met Hasely Crawford in Ann Arbor in1978. We spoke for a while. He was probably the most relaxed person I ever met in my life. He carried very little tension of any sort in his body or being.
Usain Bolt does a great job of staying loose before a competition. Do you think he works on just getting stronger, or having resilient, efficient muscles?
Olympic coaches nowadays emphasize releasing muscles fibers from chronic tension, and maintaining pliability and resilience in fascia, tendons, ligaments. If an Olympic athlete carries tight, non-functional muscle fibers, it's like an anchor. They can't compete at world class levels. S&C coaches are all over the map on this subject. A former U of M S&C coach thought flexibility was useless. That's really WRONG.
A primary principle for athletic training is: The more you do something the better you get at doing that thing. As a health and fitness instructor, and former addiction counselor, I've worked with pro and Olympic athletes. We train with bands and cables more than weights. Stabilization training produces real world power, and is optimal for the joint's supportive tissue. Elastic bands support maximum force generation along with explosive speed, optimizing endurance as well. Barwiss uses this training. Starett strongly emphasizes mobility.
Flexible, mobile, efficient muscles generating power through a wide range of motion are the key to athletic power, and for preventing injuries. Core training in all three planes of motion (sagittal, ventral, transverse) is also important, because the core is the weak link in transferring power from the legs to the torso.
Why do we have so many ACL and other injuries? Where is our fourth quarter performance? It can be traced to the type of strength and conditioning training being practiced. There are four protocols for training: Strength, Power, Endurance, Hypertrophy. It's apparent from results on the field: Our S&C program over-emphasizes gross muscle mass, that is Hypertrophy, over Power and Endurance, which are the real factors in athletic performance. Those impressive pictures we see of our football players getting bigger? That's body building muscle, which does not translate well to sports performance, and sets up our players for injury.
Who is responsible to determine the direction of our S&C program? Aaron Wellman has a say in this. But who makes the final decision? This rash of injuries is not a random fluke, but can be explained by current sports science. Old school training protocols, which promote superficial results, lead to these painful outcomes.
After all of the CC threads, I was very surprised that there has only been one mention of Doc Holliday. I personally like keeping track of unbeatens in college football and when Marshall was 4-0 I started to get curious. So I looked up there coach and started some research. Now that they are 7-0, I thought that this would be threadworthy. I am gonna break this up into a couple different categories similar to how Ron Utah has done his in the diaries(which are good reads). The categories are: Coaching Background, Offense, Defense, Special Teams, Recruiting, and likeliness of him coming here and staying.
West Virginia(Part 1):
He started off at West Virginia under Don Nehlen, who was a QB coach at Michigan, as a Wide Receivers coach. He did that for 7 years and moved to the defense to coach the Inside Linebackers. Then he went back to Receivers and then was promoted to Assistant Head Coach. He coached the three top career and single-season reception leaders in school history and 8 of the top ten players in both categories.
He coached in Raleigh for four years as an Assistant Head Coach and receivers coach. During his time here he coached three of the top 8 recievers in school history. Notice the pattern here.
You guys may not like this but Holliday coached under Urban Meyer from 2005-2008 as an Assistant Head Coach, safeties coach, and recruiting coordinator.
West Virginia(Part 2):
Almost hired as the head coach after Rich Rod left to coach somewhere, he was hired as the Assistant Head Coach, tight end coach, fullback coach and recruiting coordinator.
Where he is now, he has been the coach from 2009-Present.
Easily Hollidays strong suit, besides maybe recruiting. His teams can put up points and fast.
Here are his average rankings for yardage per game so far at Marshall:
47th TOTY/G = 435 Yds
40th PY/G = 265 Yds
60th RY/G = 170 Yds
But what about scoring?
Well, here you go:
20.8 PPG = 108th
22 PPG = 106th
40.9 PPG = 9th
43 PPG = 7th
2014(thru 7 games):
47.4 PPG = 2nd
This averages out to the 46th best Points per game. That is about 33 Points per game which is enough to win every game.
He runs a spready offense, but at this point I think we all would take someone who can win, it doesn't matter if he runs the triple offense, just score more than the other team.
The iffy spot of this guy, his defenses, have been above average but again not great.
He has had the
71st best pass yardage defense, the
65th best run yardage defense, and the
68th best total yardage defense.
That averages out to
237 pass yards,
163 rush yards, and
411 total yards.
Now points wise, his teams have averaged the 66th best defense in the country, which this year would be good for 27 points per game. Again, with his offense, enough to win.
An average special teams coach, this is by no means "Beamer Ball" but I do not think we would have to worry about counting the players on the field.
Over his career at Marshall, his punt team has averaged 42.8 yards per punt.
They have averaged 9.2 yards per punt return. Michigan averages 7.8 right now.
And they have averaged 22 yards per kickoff return. Michigan averages 19 right now.
So, a downgrade in the punting game but an upgrade in the return game. Plus I would imagine that Norfleet is better than what he can get at Marshall.
Doc Holliday is known for being a pretty outsanding recruiter. He has won the recruiting award for his area a bunch and has pretty good ties down south. He pulled together some pretty good classes at Florida and West Virginia. Here are his recruiting class rankings from rivals:
1 ****, 8 ***.
1 ****, 10 ***
3 ****, 8 ***
To get these consistent classes at Marshall is pretty impressive. He is not in a recruiting hotbed which some small schools are and he is at a school that is not intriguing.
He has averaged the 66th best class, that is consistent and an average class. He has gotten 5 four stars over six years. He has also averaged 10 3 ***s per class. Again these are pretty encouraging. At Michigan, there are a handful of kids that fall in love with Michigan no matter who the coach is. It seems like Holliday would do well enough here.
Likeliness of him coming/Staying:
I think if he was offered the job of a big time school i.e. Michigan, He would accept. However, he has only coached down south and has spent most of his time at West Virginia so I would say there would be a 40% chance of him coming if we offered. He only makes 600,000 a year right now so of we offered him 3 mil. I couldn’t see him turning that down. Also, if WVU ever came offering, I could see him spurning Michigan for that opportunity.
So overall, I really like Doc Holliday. He has gotten consistent results with worse players. Is he the best option? No. Should he be considered? Definitely. He has a lot of the things you look for in a quality coach.
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.