The first three UM games provided little for my desire to gif things, but here's my B1G in a nutshell:
UPDATE - It's been a beautiful morning with sunshine and warm temps! We're starting to see rain showers across the western side of the state, and in the northeastern lower. Precip models show the first part of the game being mostly dry, maybe a stray shower, but the end of the game looks to be more iffy, especially leaving the game - fingers crossed it holds off, but it's a close call. We've still got potential for strong storms through the evening, with the main threats being wind gusts to 60mph and 1" hail. The plus side is, storms won't last long- they'll move from the southwest towards northeast at 40mph.
Low pressure moving through northern Minnesota and into Canada will bring a warm front through Saturday morning, followed by a cold front going into the evening and overnight. This will give us warm, breezy weather throughout the game, and some scattered showers and storms. Some of the storms may be strong, so we'll keep an eye on it. Our main threats will be large hail and damaging wind gusts. Winds are out of the SW all day.
If you're heading out early it'll be chilly! You may also run into some fog. Waking up to temperatures in the upper 40s, but they'll reach the low 50s quickly after sunrise. Hitting 60 degrees by mid-morning, and 70 for lunch. The start of the day shouldn't be much to worry about - lots of sunshine with gradually increasing cloud cover, with rain chances beginning in the afternoon. Winds will also increase, out of the southwest at 10mph (leaves blow about) mid-morning, up to the mid teens by lunch, with gusts in the low 20s (small branches move).
More clouds by the time we reach kick-off, and we're looking at scattered showers and storms popping up. Warm, with temps sitting at the high for the day of 79 degrees. Winds are out of the SW in the mid teens, with gusts to 30mph possible (empty trash cans tip over, you can sometimes hear the wind whistling).
Still hanging on near 80, with scattered showers and storms possible. Winds have started to die down though, out of the SW in the low teens with gusts in the low 20s.
Showers and storms become likely ending the game, and they continue to pass through overnight and into Sunday. The wind will calm down a little - we get rid of the gusts in the evening - and they'll settle in out of the SW at 10mph overnight. Temperature-wise, we stay mild - mid 70s at the end of the game, and down to the mid 60s in the late night, and low 60s if you're out for last call - celebrating a win!
Christina Burkhart is a meteorologist for ABC in Flint, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!!
Four Plays – Utah @ Michigan 2014
I’ve always respected Kyle Whittingham’s Utah program. Whenever I watched his teams play in the past, they impressed me as tough, physical squads that got the most out of their talent. The Utes took down BYU on the road last season and followed that up with a stunning upset against Stanford, so they've shown the ability to compete with anyone. Even so, I wasn’t particularly worried about this game heading into the season. The Utes ended up 5-7 the past two years and haven’t finished in the AP top-25 since 2009.
That changed a bit after I read up on ths year's Utes. Utah’s quarterback, Travis Wilson, is a 6’7” (!) dual-threat (386 rushing yards in 2013) coming back from an intra-cranial artery issue. They have talent at WR and RB, and in the off-season landed spread guru Dan Christiansen--i.e., the guy who ran Mizzou’s offense in the Chase Daniel era--as their offensive coordinator. They've already put up 115 points in their first two games, plus they have a serious playmaker on defense in DE Nate Orchard.
But while Utah looked pretty formidable on paper, I was a bit less impressed after watching some of their game against Idaho State on video. The Utes really are not stout against the run, and while they have a few outstanding playmakers I just didn’t see the usual physicality that I associate with vintage Utah teams. This game should be a good all-around challenge, and Michigan isn’t going to win with a -4 turnover margin performance--but I’m still pretty confident Michigan gets the win so long as they take care of the ball and find a way to cope with Nate Orchard.
Now, let’s look at some matchups.
When Michigan has the ball…
1. 26 Power
Somewhat ironically, Michigan’s best running play this season (not counting the jet sweeps to Norfleet) has arguably been not Inside Zone, but the play Michigan could never really get off the ground despite years of trying under Al Borges: good ol’ Power O. Maybe it has something to do with catching opponents by surprise, maybe all the years of practice are finally paying off, who knows? But the play is easier (mentally) on the running backs and Magnuson has looked good pulling this season, so hopefully the success continues.
Shown here from an offset I formation against Utah’s base 4-3 Under, Power O attacks the “6-hole” between offensive tackle and TE. Key features of the play include: (i) the RT and TE will double-team the opposing SDE at the point-of-attack; (ii) the LG pulls and leads the tailback through the hole; (iii) the tailback cuts off of the LG’s block. Note that Utah runs a 4-3 Under front and calls its strongside LB the “Stud” and the weakside LB the “Rover.”
LT Mason Cole: Down-block WDE Nate Orchard
LG Erik Magnuson: Pull and lead through hole; block first defender (likely MLB Jason Whittingham)
C Jack Miller: Down-block 3T Sese Ianu
RG Graham Glasgow: Down-block NT Clint Shepherd
RT Ben Braden: Block SDE Hunter Dimick (try to seal him inside)
TE Jake Butt: Double-team SDE Hunter Dimick; then pop-off and progress to second-level
FB Joe Kerridge: Kick-out block on “Stud” LB Uaea Masina
RB – Derrick Green: Counter step, then receive handoff and aim for 6-hole outside RT, cut off of Magnuson’s block
While Michigan’s running game remains a work in progress, Utah (i.e., Nate Orchard) has 21 TFLs and a nation-leading 11 sacks through just two games. Despite the impressive statistics, however, the Utes’ interior DL looked soft against FCS Idaho State. With Jake Butt taking another step toward a full return, Kerridge off to a strong start, Magnuson exceeding expectations, and Green starting to live up to his billing, I am cautiously optimistic here. Orchard is a beast though, and Michigan’s young line still makes too many mistakes to warrant the advantage.
2. Shallow Cross
As even the most casual football fans can tell you, there are few better ways of attacking man coverage than with crossing routes. And when it comes to crossing routes, there are few better concepts than the shallow cross—a quick-developing, safe play with an easy triangle read for the QB. So it’s no surprise that the shallow cross is among the most popular passing plays in football, and reportedly a long-time staple of Doug Nussmeier’s playbook.
Shown here from a shotgun look, the TE and flanker will cross on the right side of the formation, while the slot receiver runs a “choice” route in between them (the choice route is a fade, which the receiver converts into a comeback route if he can’t get over the top). This route combination promises to generate a massive amount of traffic in one spot on the field, which will hopefully catch up at least one defender.
XWR Amara Darboh: Run post (7) route vs. BCB Eric Rowe
RB Derrick Green: Run flat route covered by Rover LB Jared Norris (or, help Cole pass protect vs. WDE Nate Orchard, then release to flat)
LT Mason Cole: Pass protect vs. WDE Nate Orchard
LG Erik Magnuson: Pass protect vs. 3T Sese Ianu
C Jack Miller: Pass protect vs. NT Clint Shepherd
RG Graham Glasgow: Pass protect vs. NT Clint Shepherd
RT Ben Braden: Pass protect vs. SDE Hunter Dimick
UTE Jake Butt: Run flat route, covered by MLB Jason Whittingham
YWR Dennis Norfleet: Run choice route vs. NB Justin Thomas
ZWR Jehu Chesson: Run 5-yard in route vs. FCB Davion Orphey
QB Devin Gardner: 1-step drop; read “inside-out” from Z to Y to Y; if Z open, throw as back foot hits on pass drop; if covered, hitch and throw to Y if open; if covered, hitch and throw to U if open.
Utah is reportedly strong at safety, but its corners and LBs are suspect. A play like this matches Michigan’s quality receivers against that weakness. The primary reads come open under the safeties, and as a quick-developing play it limits Orchard’s chances of getting home on a pass rush.
When Utah has the ball…
3. Inside Zone Read
Still probably the quintessential play of the Chip Kelley/Urban Meyer axis of spread offense, the Inside Zone Read works just like the regular Inside Zone, but buys the offense an extra blocker by using the QB run threat to option-off the backside DE. That means covered linemen will block the defenders lined up across from them, while uncovered linemen will head to the second level.
The general rule in defending zone read plays is to make sure the ball winds up in the hands of the less-dangerous threat. In Utah’s case, the backs (Devontae Booker and Bubba Poole) are considerably better runners, so Michigan will want QB Travis Wilson to keep. The simplest way to accomplish that is to have the WDE, who is normally responsible for defending the C-gap (outside the LT), exchange gaps with the WLB, who is normally responsible for the B-gap (between the LG and LT). That way, the WDE can crash down on the running back—and when the QB pulls and attacks the C-gap, the WLB will be there waiting for him (in theory, anyway).
WDE Frank Clark: Gap-exchange with WLB Joe Bolden; backside pursuit of RB Devontae Booker
NT Ryan Glasgow: Defend backside A-gap against LG Junior Salt
DT Willie Henry: Defend playside B-gap against RG Isaac Asiata, constrict playside A-gap
SDE Brennan Beyer: Defend playside D-gap (outside TE) vs. TE Westlee Tonga; backside pursuit if QB keeps, set edge point and force run back inside if QB gives
WLB Joe Bolden: Gap-exchange with WDE Frank Clark; defend backside C-gap vs. LT Jeremiah Poutasi, set edge point and force back inside if QB keeps, backside pursuit if QB gives
MLB Jake Ryan: Defend playside A-gap vs. C Siaosi Aiono
SLB James Ross: Defend playside C-gap vs. RT J.J. Dielman
This is the first of two games that will tell us whether Michigan’s stout run defense is the real thing or just fool’s gold. Both of Utah’s featured RBs have big-play speed, and can beat you both between the tackles and on the edge, so it’s a true matchup of strength vs. strength.
4. All Curls
Different teams run All Curls different ways, but the basic concept is to attack Cover 3 by having four receivers occupy the four underneath defenders, then stress one of the flat defenders by sending a fifth receiver (i.e., the running back) into the pattern. Of course, that means the play is not particularly effective against man coverage or even against zone schemes that leave five underneath defenders (e.g., Cover 2 Zone). But Utah ran All Curls to good effect against Idaho State, using the play to stretch the Idaho State defense horizontally and create one-on-one match-ups for the Utes’ superior athletes.
As Space Coyote explained in the comments to the Miami UFR, Michigan ran Cover 4 as its base scheme against the Red Hawks. All Curls is not a particularly good call against Cover 4, because the CBs stay in man coverage on the outside WRs and the WILL picks up the RB releasing into the flat. But the only other downfield Utah pass play I was able to discern from Pac-12 Network’s broadcast looked like a version of Levels, and that play isn’t particularly effective against Cover 4 either. So, FWIW, here is Utah’s All Curls play against the Cover 3 scheme we hope to see Michigan run very little of.
Before the snap, the QB chooses one side of the field to attack (based on the defensive alignment). At the snap, each receiver runs a 5-10 yard curl, attempting to sell the vertical routes before settling into open areas. The quarterback reads outside-in, and has an outlet to the releasing RB in the flat.
BCB Jabrill Peppers: Drop to cover deep 1/3 zone (sideline to hash on weakside)
NCB Blake Countess: Cover weakside flat vs. WR Dres Anderson, RB Devontae Booker
WDE Frank Clark: Pass rush vs. LT Jeremiah Poutasi
3T Willie Henry: Pass rush vs. LG Junior Salt
NT Ryan Glasgow: Pass rush vs. C Siaosi Aiono
SDE Brennan Beyer: Pass rush vs. RT J.J. Dielman
WLB Joe Bolden: Cover hook/curl zone on weakside vs. WR Kaelin Clay
MLB Jake Ryan: Cover hook/curl zone on strongside vs. TE Westlee Tonga
FS Jerrod Wilson: Cover deep middle 1/3 zone
SS Jeremy Clark: Cover deep 1/3 zone (sideline to hash on strongside)
FCB Jourdan Lewis: Cover strong side flat vs. WR Kenneth Scott
The Michigan secondary has the talent to stick with Utah’s receivers and Travis Wilson is not an overly-impressive passer. But Michigan’s pass rush still can’t seem to get home, and that same vaunted secondary had a rough outing in South Bend and now face an at least comparable set of receivers in Dres Anderson and Kaelin Clay. Deep-down I think M really has the advantage here, but I’m calling this even until the young DBs prove they can perform up to their talent level in a big game.
It was a good week for the Wolverines, winning by 24 points 34-10. While some questions remain for the offense, the defense seems to have assumed an identity. Week 4 rankings include 4 Big Ten teams with Nebraska ranked the lowest (24th) and the only ranked Big Ten team to remain undefeated. MSU(11) keeps the highest spot coming off a bye week.
Last week recap:
Winners: Iowa State(+12.5) @ Iowa 20-17
Nebraska(-10) @ Fresno State 55 -19
Kent @ Ohio State(-32) 0-66
UL Lafayette @ Mississippi(-27) 15-56
Losers: Houston @ BYU(-18.5) 25-33
Penn State @ Rutgers(+3.5)(for the WIN) 13-10
Georgia(-5.5) @ South Carolina 35-38
BYU is a good team but is too undisciplined to go very far this year. One of their starting def. lineman was thrown out because he tried to punch a guy. I’m just saying. Rutgers looked like they should have gotten the win last week but they seem to be afraid of success. Welcome to the BIG TEN!
SoFlaWolverine adds Washington to his win column.
Maize_in_spartyland adds TCU and Wakeforest to his win column.
For those of you who can’t wait till Saturday, here is Thursday’s most interesting matchup:
Auburn(-8.5) @ K-State:
Power Rankings: AUB 4 K-State 17
Auburn(5) moved up 3 spots in the power rankings, is 2-0 and 0-2 ATS. This will be their first challenge away from home and their first match up against a ranked opponent. K-State is 2-0 and 2-0 ATS. Both teams are 2-0-0 O/U. Last year Auburn beat K-State(20) 23-13 even though K-State outgained them 316 TOT – 291 TOT. Coates is out for Auburn this week and this could have an impact on the game as he accumulated 902 yards in receiving with 42 catches last year. Auburn is ranked 31st in def. this year but only 48th in rushing def. This is coming off opponents ranked 110th and 3rd in rushing, so it might not be that concerning but K-State is ranked 32nd in rushing off. K-State def. is ranked 23rd and had a good showing against Iowa State. I see Auburn winning this game by a field goal and a mutual offensive struggle.
K-State to Cover and the Under
A look around the Big Ten
IND @ Missouri(-13):
Power Rankings: IND 80 MIZZ 18
Indiana just lost to BGSU and struggled to beat their instate rivals, need I say more? I will anyways. Mizz comes off a strong win against UCF 38-10 and shouldn’t have any problems against Indiana. I’m guessing Vegas is concerned about the air raid that is Indiana’s only offense. I’m not, since UCF possibly has the best receiving core in the FBS. Get in on this line early to keep a 2 touchdown win.
Missouri to Cover
Utah @ Michigan(-5)
Power Rankings: MI 35 Utah 61
Michigan’s defense seems to be passing the eye test, and the numbers agree as they are ranked 7th overall and 10th and 23rd in rushing and passing. Last week UM was able to finish some drives but Utah is ranked 39th in rushing def. so far. The O/U seems low to me but I’m still not willing to bet UM puts up their share of points. Utah is ranked 14th in Off. This could be a very frustrating game to watch, or boring if you’re the type of fan than needs Michigan to put up 50 points a game. As a fan, Utah scares the hell out of me. As a real Michigan fan… I see Michigan winning this game by at least a touchdown. Utes are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 vs. Big Ten.
Over is 4-0 in Utes last 4 games following a SU win of more than 20 points.
Over is 6-1 in Utes last 7 games after accumulating more than 200 yards rushing in their previous game.
Wolverines are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games in September.
Wolverines are 0-7 ATS in their last 7 vs. Pac-12.
Under is 4-0 in Wolverines last 4 games in September.
Disclaimer: I don’t bet on Michigan sports. I refuse to bet against them for one, and I am way too biased. Since I follow them so religiously, I can always find an insider reason to hype them up. So, take it for what it’s worth.
Michigan to Cover
Iowa @ Pitt(-6.5)
Power Rankings: Iowa 32 Pitt 51
SJSU @ Minnesota(-8.5)
Power Rankings: MINN 40 SJSU 116
I’m hoping the TCU game has mired anyone willing to bet on Minnesota. This line seems a little low as a result and SJSU got embarrassed by AUB. I’ll take a flyer on this one.
Minnesota to Cover
Southern Illinois @ Purdue
Power Rankings: PUR 76
No one seems interested in this game so….. No action.
Massachusetts @ Penn State(-26.5)
Power Rankings: PSU 33 UMASS 113
Miami @ Nebraska(-7)
Power Rankings: NEB 20 Miami 41
Miami has the 8th best def. but is only ranked 89th in off. so far. If Nebraska can get their offense rolling this could be a very good game. Nebraska is ranked 8th in def. and shouldn’t have any problem holding Miami to 3 touchdowns. Nebraska is ranked 43rd in redzone def. this year. That should be enough to keep Miami kicking field goals, which they seem more than willing to do this year with Goudis having 50+ yard range. I’m staying away from this line but I’ll pick up some O/U action.
I’ll take the under
Maryland(-1) @ Syracuse
Power Rankings: MD 73 SYR64
Eastern Michigan @ MSU(-45.5)
Power Rankings: EMU 122 MSU 12
Texas State @ Illinois(-14)
Power Rankings: ILL 60 TXST 86
Rutgers @ Navy(-6)
Power Rankings: RUTG 65 Navy 57
BGSU @ Wisconsin(-27)
Power Rankings: WIS 23 BGSU 116
Bowling Green is 2-1 and 2-1 ATS. Wisconsin is 1-1 and 0-2 ATS. WIS is ranked 9th in def. but an atrocious 88th in off. They are however 39th in rushing. BGSU is ranked 23rd in off. and 125th in def. There is a huge mismatch on both sides of the ball. In a game of rock, paper, scissors, Wisconsin def. beats BGSU off. Wisconsin has never lost to BGSU and is 3-0 in the series. Last week’s BGSU Indiana game really has this line screwed up. It opened at -21.5 and I don’t see it stopping till after -29. Wisconsin’s star running back only rushed for 38 yards on 17 carries against Western Illinois 2 weeks ago (they had a bye last week). He had a good showing against LSU the week before though. WIS also returns their 2 best interior def. lineman. They were injured against LSU and I really think WIS would have won that game if they hadn’t been. I wouldn’t wince at this line if Wisconsin was 2-0 and BGSU didn’t complete a game winning drive late against a pathetic Indiana team. BGSU has a very fast paced off. completing 133 plays against Indiana. Wisconsin has held opponents to an average of 59.5 plays so far. Wisconsin is poised for a lopsided victory this week but I’m not sure how lopsided. I would wait till the line moves above -28.5 and take BGSU if I wanted this action. Instead, I’ll just take the under as it’s 4-0 for the Falcons.
I’ll take the Under
Western Illinois @ Northwestern
Power Rankings: No action on this one… Yawn
This week’s top ranked matchup: happens to be on Thursday, so… I bring you… wait for it…
Clemson(24)@ Florida State(1)(-17)
Power Rankings: FSU 3 (Damn) Clemson 24
For perspective, Clemson falls directly between Nebraska and Ohio State in the power rankings. Clem is 1-1 and 1-1 ATS while FSU is 2-0 and 0-2 ATS. Clemson’s only loss is to Georgia 21-45. Clem is ranked 27th in off. and 6th in def. FSU is ranked 42nd and 43rd in off. and def. respectively. They are also coming off a close win against Oklahoma State 2 weeks ago. Clem loss in embarrassing fashion to UGA their first game of the season. The last 2 times these teams met FSU won, tying a ten game series. In the 27 times they’ve played FSU has won 19. This game looks to be FSU’s last challenge to an undefeated season. In fact, FSU has a 73% chance to win every game this year, giving them a 40% chance to go undefeated and make the playoffs. This is more than double any other team in the FBS. It’s almost enough to make you sick. This line opened at -20 and I think it is about where it should be. However, last year’s Heisman winner J. Winston has been suspended the first half of the game for using vulgar language… %*$# This was released yesterday so expect the line to drop a little. Looking at the offensive struggles against UGA, Clemson looks like they could blow the best opportunity they’ll have to get back into playoff contention. But against South Carolina State, Clem put up 737 yard in a 73-7 win. If the Seminoles can stop Clemson’s pass game they will cruise to an easy victory as no one for the Tigers has more than 82 yards rushing. This should be a great game to watch, and a chance to route for Clemson to spoil a potential repeat.
Clemson to Cover
Now, your surefire win of the week, guaranteed to make you look stupid and lose you 50 dollars in the office pool:
Texas A&M(-33.5) @SMU
Power Rankings: TAM 10 SMU 127
Coming in at a 75% consensus, this week’s sure fire win will feature the most dynamic offense in the country. TAM is 3-0 and 2-1 ATS. SMU is 0-2 and 0-2 ATS. TAM is ranked 4th in off. and 68th in def. so far. They’re coming off a season opener win against South Carolina, 52-28, where they decided on this year’s game plan, keep the opponents offensive off the field by keeping your offense in their end-zone. They also put up 73 points against Lamar, so there’s that… SMU is ranked 128th in off. and 105th in def. They are however ranked 43rd in pass defense. I expect that ranking to drop about 20 spots after this week. SMU’s starting QB is also out for the season with an injury. This game couldn’t look worse for SMU.
Aggies are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 road games vs. a team with a losing home record.
Aggies are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games on fieldturf.
Aggies are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games after allowing less than 20 points in their previous game.
Mustangs are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games in September.
Mustangs are 0-6 ATS in their last 6 non-conference games.
Over is 7-1 in Mustangs last 8 games following a S.U. loss.
Texas to Cover and the Over
Who you Pick’n?
Any comments and suggestions are welcome. Good luck at the races!
Ahhh, a red snapper. Mmmmm, very tasty. Okay, Weaver, listen carefully. You can hold on to your red snapper... ...or you can go for what's in the box that Hiro-San is bringing down the aisle right now! What's it gonna be?
In case you haven’t noticed, there has been a fair amount of talk around here about a coaching change. Some have already made up their mind, especially after Notre Dame. Others, like me, want to wait until the end of the season, but I think we all recognize that it’s a real possibility if the team doesn’t show consistent improvement.
So, here we are. We might as well talk about it.
My personal feeling on coaching changes is that you have consider all the possibilities that can happen, not just focus on the potential positives. A lot of debates seem to just compare our current situation against the best case scenarios and dismiss the potential negative effects and scenarios that are possible as well. Names like Harbaugh and Chip Kelly are often brought up as an example of guys coming in and turning programs around, and as examples of why Hoke’s struggles of late are inexcusable not matter what the issues he’s had to deal with.
But guys like that are special and don’t grow on trees. You can rattle off their names off the top of your head precisely because they are the cream of the crop and the exception to the norm. But what happens the rest of the time? It behooves us to look at all the data, not just the outcomes we want.
Coaching Changes 2007-2011
We start with collegefootballpoll.com’s database of coaching all coaching changes in FBS. Since Michigan has a bit more job prestige than your average FBS team, I only included teams in the Power 5 conferences (B1G, Big12, Pac-12, SEC, ACC) and strong independents like Notre Dame to get a data set of teams more comparable to Michigan.
The database also does not differentiate between why changes were made whether they were retirement, voluntary resignations to move somewhere else, or firings. Clearly, only firings are relevant to our current situation, so I excised all examples that were voluntary separations, and further removed firings/forced resignations due to scandal. What we are left with are only programs that terminated their coach due to on the field performance.
We end up with a list of 36 coaching changes. These are schools in the proverbial “it can’t get worse” situation. These are schools that, even knowing the potential pitfalls of a coaching change, decided that enough was enough and something had to be done. You would think that schools in this situation would overwhelmingly benefit from a coaching change. After all, they perceived themselves to be a position where they had nowhere to go but up. As we’ll see from the data, and as we learned from our 2012 offensive line situation, things can most definitely get worse.
Do Coaching Changes Result in an Increase in Win Percentage?
We’ll first compare the performance of the new coach over their first three years vs the previous three years. The graph below shows the differential between the average wins per year of the outgoing vs incoming coach.
As you can see, it’s a mixed bag. The average change resulted in less than 1 win per season improvement (0.88 win/season), and the variation is pretty huge. On average though, coaches could not manage to significantly improve even upon the performance that was so bad it got their predecessor canned.
The big positive turnarounds should be familiar to you. These are, for the most part, the coaches you already know because this is how they made a name for themselves. Franklin at Vanderbilt, Brian Kelly at ND, Nick Saban at Alabama, Sarkisian at Washington, and our very own Brady Hoke are among the names that top the list.
The Immediate Impact
Next, let’s looked at now the new coach fared in the first year compared to the previous 3 year average.
The results here are even less encouraging. On average, the first year for the new coach was slightly worse than the previous coach in the 3 years prior to being fired (-0.11 wins/season). Brady Hoke and Houston Nutt were the significant positive outliers (mostly because their predecessors were really bad over their three years). On the other side of the spectrum, Minnesota replacing a perpetually on-the-cusp Glenn Mason with Tim Brewster was the worst idea ever.
The negative first year differential isn’t totally unexpected though. Coaching changes come with transition costs. There are transfers and the guys that stay have to learn a new system, sometimes one that doesn’t suit their talents. Clearly, those expecting an instant improvement will most likely be disappointed.
Third Year Performance
But what about year three? The new coach has installed his system on both sides of the ball and by now his recruiting classes are starting to see the field. One would expect that by now, they’ve overcome the initial hurdles and can place their stamp on the program.
Here, the data is finally a little more encouraging. Most schools were better off after year 3 than they were in the 3 years prior to the change. The average differential was about a game and a half better per season (1.44). This also suggests that generally coaches improve from year 1 to year 3, something Hoke has been criticized for not accomplishing (although, it must be said, he had the biggest year 1 turnaround of all coaches).
A Closer Look at the Turnaround Artists
People will say, “Well, just don’t make a bad hire then.” But do the guys that succeed really look that different from the ones that don’t?
If you look at the list of names that managed to turn schools around, just about all of them would be on anyone’s coaching wish list. But, do their track records before they were hired look like as much of a slam dunk as they seem now? Was there something on their resume at the time that differentiated them from the unsuccessful candidates, and screamed to ADs “Hire this man!”
If we limit the list to guys that improved their programs by an average of 3 or more games a season over their first 3 years, we have: Brady Hoke, Brian Kelly, Charlie Stong, David Cutliffe, Houston Nutt, James Franklin, Nick Saban, and Steve Sarkisian.
If we look at just the third year performance, the list adds: Art Briles, Bill Snyder, Butch Davis, Chip Kelly, Jim Harbaugh, and Jimbo Fisher. That's 14 guys total and is basically the top 1/3 of the 36 coaching transitions.
Let’s take a closer look at what each of these guys looked like at the time of their hiring:
Relevant experience at time of hire (epilogue in parentheses)
Up and down stint at Houston, although took over a 3-8 team. Went 32-28 over 5 seasons.
Life-long KSU coach, came out of retirement to help his former team. Unless Carr wants to come out of retirement, the situation is not relevant to Michigan.
Actually not that bad compared to the rest of the list… Similar to Brian Kelly, but one fewer stop. Improved a MAC Ball State year to year with 12 wins in the final season. Improved a 2-10 SDSU to 9-4 in two years.
One of the few with a slam dunk record. Improved teams everywhere he went from GVSU, to Central Michigan, to Cinncinnati (Big East). Only knock would be no power 5 experience. (Continued trend at ND until a tail off last year.)
One of the only ones on the list with proven HC experience at a Power5 school (6 years at Miami) and, like Saban, moved from the NFL back to college after being mediocre there. (Fired for misconduct at UNC in 2011)
Just 1 game of HC experience at Florida as interim (after Zook got canned). DC for 3 years at South Carolina and Florida each.
No HC experience, but fairly bulletproof record at OC. Similar to Rich Rod, had a signature offensive system that was successful everywhere he coached. OC at New Hampshire prior to that. (Now in NFL)
Long, up and down stint at Arkansas. 10 win high, 4 win low, 75-48 overall. (Fired by Ole Miss after 3 years. Took over tire fire, immediate success followed by precipitous decline.)
WR and QB coach at Maryland and KSU respectively, then went on to OC at KSU and returned to Maryland as OC. No Head Coaching experience,
Promising 3 seasons at FCS San Diego (Fighting Toreros!) as HC including conference champs in last two years. QB coach in NFL prior to that. (Now in NFL)
No prior HC experience. OC at LSU under Saban and Miles, and then at FSU where he was groomed as coach in waiting after Bowden retired.
Hovered around 6-7 wins before getting 9 in his last year at MSU, ~9 wins a year at LSU except for one 13 win season, turning around a floundering 3-8 record the year before. And then 2 rather lack-luster seasons in the NFL. One of the few proven entities at time of hire on this list.
No HC experience prior to hire. 2 years as QB coach at USC, 1 year QB coach in NFL, 2 years as OC at USC and went 22-3 in those years
These guys fall into one of three categories:
Proven HC Experience
at High Level
Up and Coming HC
at Lower Tier
Up and Coming OC or DC
at High Level
Of the proven category, Bill Synder was a career KSU man and a bit of a unique situation, coming out of retirement to help his former team. Michigan does not have an analogous option (Carr ain’t walking through that door). Houston Nutt’s 4th year at Ole Miss was 2-10 with no conference wins and got him canned. David Cutcliffe is stretching the definition of "proven" as he treaded water for 4 years before a good year followed by a bad year and was fired before becoming Duke's coach, a big step down from Ole Miss. Butch Davis left in scandal.
From the 5 years reviewed, Nick Saban was the only example of a successful hire of an established coach that Michigan can hope to replicate. Rick Neuheisel (UCLA) is an anti-example as an established hire to avoid. After a moderately successful HC stint at Washington that won the Pac-12 and rose bowl, he took over UCLA and only managed 21-29 over 4 years before being fired.
Neither of two the remaining categories are slam dunks either. For every rising HC star at lower tier schools that finds success at the next level, there are many more that don’t. Paul Wulff (Washington State) was an up and coming HC at the FCS level, earning Big Sky Coach of the Year honors in 2001, 2004, and 2005, but took over Washington State and won just 5 games in 3 years.
Same goes for rising coordinator stars. Randy Shannon (Miami) fielded two top 5 defense and three other top 10 defenses in his 6 years as DC in Miami prior to being promoting HC. Even with the relatively smooth transition you’d expect from being promoted within the same school, he went 5 - 7 - 9 - 7 wins compared to Coker's 9 - 9 - 7 that got him fired. Shannon himself was fired after year 4.
On the offensive coordinator side of things, Dana Holgorsen (WV) was a promising OC at Oklahoma St that turned the #61 offense to #1 in just one year, shattering school records in just about every offensive category (total yards, scoring, passing yards, completions). But he flopped at WVU averaging 2 games worse a season than his predecessor and winning just 4 games last year (although they look more competitive this year)
As bad as some of these hires seem in hindsight, at the time, these guys don’t look all that different on paper than the ones that went on to succeed. Interpreting a coaching record is tricky business (is Brady Hoke the guy that improved every team he coached, or the career sub .500 mid major coach?). And as they say, “past performance does not guarantee future results.” It’s not just a matter of having a competent AD make a straight forward decision; it’s a very tough call for anyone and in most cases relies on leap of faith that someone can continue their upward career trend.
One other thing that immediately hit me when putting together the data is just how many of these guys are no longer around.
Only half the coachs on our list of 36 are still at their schools. It gets worse as you go farther back in time. Of the 8 coaches hired for the 2007 season, Nick Saban and Mark Dantonio are the only ones still around. A whopping 5 were fired and another (Harbaugh) left for the NFL.
Even among the 14 “winners” covered above, the story is not much better. 5 guys capitalized on their success and moved on to other positions, and 2 were fired (one scandal, on failed to sustain their initial success), only 7 remain (Snyder, Saban, Briles, Hoke, Kelly, Fisher, Cutcliffe).
What We’ve Learned
Coaching changes are not guaranteed to succeed.
Coaching changes are a lot like Blackjack. If you’ve got 13 and the dealer is showing an Ace, you better hit. You might bust, but you don’t have much of a choice. On the other hand, if you’re sitting on 17 and just getting greedy, asking for another card could completely backfire on you. It's a calculated risk that should only be taken if you know your current situation is untenable.
Coaching changes take time.
The data shows that year one after a change is, on average, is a step back. Most of the time, it takes even the best a few years to get their teams going. Unlike Blackjack, with coaching you only get to play a hand every 3-4 years, and the cards you’re making a decision on get dealt one per season, so you better be patient and make a good call.
Even if you hit it big, you’re not in the clear
If you’re one of the lucky ones to get a good coach, the data shows there’s a good chance they’ll capitalize on their success and move to the next stop in their career. So even if you hit it big at the casino, you still might get robbed and wake up the next morning back right where you started. Michigan is probably a destination job for most coaches among the college ranks, but the SEC and NFL always beckon.
If all this sounds like a sales pitch to retain Hoke, I apologize because that's not my intention. I'm not opposed to a coaching change and I tried to remain as objective as possible while putting this together. There are certainly success stories to try and aspire to and I recognize the last year or so have certainly not been ideal. However, we should be mindful of the pitfalls as well when making the call and hopefully this diary provides some insight into those.
Thanks for reading.
Sorry for this
It was an unseasonably warm late November day in St. Louis, the kind of day that happnes once or twice or three times each winter there but would never grace Ann Arbor. My buddy's apartment complex had an outdoor pool that was still open, and he invited me over for a swim.
It was 2010, and we had just watched the Michigan vs Ohio State game a few days before. Even on this perfect day, standing in perfectly warm water looking around at beautiful, barely-bikini clad co-eds with perfect bodies we couldn't be completely happy.
I broke the silence first: "Rich Rodriguez has to go." My buddy bristled. His face transitioned from relaxed to tense almost instantly. We had both been RR supporters since his arrival on campus, but his expression told me that he knew I was right. "We'll never have an offense like this again," he responded. I nodded, then gave the obvious counterpoint we both already knew: "But hopefully we'll never have a defense like this again, either."
Here's the thing: though Ohio State had pummeled us by a score of 37-7, the game wasn't nearly that one-sided. We had piled-up 351 total yards of offense and had opened the game with two long drives: one that ended with a turnover on downs--since by that point in the season we didn't trust our kicker to even attempt a 45-yard field goal--and one that ended in a lost fumble at the Ohio State nine-yard line. Terrelle Pryor had to scramble about 50 yards on one thrid down to keep their first TD drive alive, then thread a perfect pass between two defenders that might have picked it off had it been just inches different in either direction for the score. And even though the Michigan offense chugged along a bit more, the defense completely fell apart and it was 24-7 by halftime. Game over. Season over. RR era over.
This is Michigan
Since I am an unreasonably passionate fan, I started doing research on who would eventually replace RR right away. While Dave Brandon said he was going to follow a "process" before deciding what to do, it was pretty clear that Rodriguez was on his way out the door. Even a victory in the Who-Gives-A-Fuck bowl wouldn't save the man who had coached Michigan's most fun offense and least effective defense. As it happened, the bowl game made the decision even easier.
Among the publicized possibilities for the position--Miles, Harbaugh, Fitzgerald, Hoke, etc.--I quickly found myself in the Brady Hoke camp. He had taken Ball State to an undefeated regular season. He had turned around SDSU in two years on the job. He seemed genuine, likeable, and he clearly loved Michigan. Don't get me wrong--I was hardly sold on Brady Hoke as the savior of our once-proud program, but he seemed like the best option.
But then he said all the right things at that first press conference, fergodsakes. My optimism took over. We were back.
In a lot of ways, that 2011 season was very un-Michigan-like. Things seemed easier than they should have been. The loss at Michigan State was maddening, but the trash tornado and brazenly unnecessary roughness of Staee made it feel a bit invalid. The Iowa game was VERY Michigan-like: an unexplainable gameplan with an even harder to understand performance that would give the Hawkeye faithful renewed faith in their consistently inconsistent head coach. But other than those two aberrations, the bounces all seemed to go our way, we broke the streak against Ohio State (now just "Ohio"), and we won a BCS bowl game to which we maybe should not have been invited and in which we certainly didn't outplay our opponent. Michigan never wins games like that, much less has seasons like that.
The 2012 schedule seemed foolishly challenging, and an 8-5 result with a close bowl game that we perhpas did deserve to win with our shiny new starting QB who seemed more than capable of both passing and running (Devin Gardner) gave us great hope. 2011 had proven Hoke's coaching chops in our minds, and even with doubts about Al Borges, 2013 looked oh-so-promising.
QB Oh Noes
Rather than talk about the Season of Infinite Pain--which is still all-too-fresh in our minds--I'd rather bring-up this happy memory. The great thing about RR's offense isn't that it always works--it didn't. No, the truly beautiful thing about a well-run spread outfit is how easy it looks when it's clicking. Watching Denard take two steps toward the line of scrimmage before flicking a wobbly duck to a W I D E open Roy Roundtree never-ever-ever got old. It made defenses look inept and Rodriguez look like a genius. When it worked.
And maybe that's why it was destined to leave Ann Arbor: Michigan isn't allowed to have it easy. I'm not sure if this is God's decree, but U-M is not graced with swimming pool days in late November or football seasons where everything goes our way. Even 1997 seemed impossibly hard, overcome only by the superheroics of Charles Woodson and friends.
This just happened
And maybe that's why I was so furious on Saturday. It shouldn't be hard against Miami (NTM), should it? I mean, it shouldn't be hard against any team whose football prowess is so pathetic that a paranthetical clarification is required. Not for Michigan. And yet, here I am, four years into the Hoke era, with my optimism completely erased and thinking to myself, "I will have to reassess my loyalty to this coaching staff at the end of the season."
But this is as it's always been. And looking at the numbers, I wonder if my frustration is somewhat without merit: through three games, we are 25th in the country on yds/play on offense and 10th in the nation on yds/play on defense. Sure, we've played two cupcakes, but so has everyone else in the top 25 (actually, Nebraska has played three). The offense seems to make sense, and the fake-bubble TD was reminiscent of the ease of QB OH NOES! Of course, even on that play, the throw was a bit off and the catch was bobbled. Still, a calm, rational thinker would look at our team and say, "You know what, this team actually could be really good before the season is over."
But this is as it's always been. The Lloyd Carr era brought a National Championship, but was consistently frought with losses that should not have been. Nine or ten wins felt like an unbreakable ceiling. Even the orgasmic streak of victories over Cooper's Buckeyes was shattered by a Youngstown State coach.
So why does a game against NTM have to feel like a Herculean effort? Why does a very respectable loss to an underrated (by me, at least) Notre Dame team have be a 31-0 result? Why can't it just feel easy, or even easier than impossible when we take the field? Why can't I feel even slightly confident about a game in East Lansing or Columbus?
I don't have answers to these questions, so I will do what a Michigan fan does: I will watch every game, often in agony, and wait for the end of the season to decide if there is any optimism left in me, or if it's time to have another talk with my buddy in the pool. Why? Because this is Michigan, fergodsakes.