there would have to be some to wash away
I’ve been wondering lately about Michigan’s modern coaches (i.e., from Bo on), and how their winning percentages stack up when we consider the quality of the opponents they’ve played. Just off the top of my head, it seems to me that:
- Lloyd Carr was a much better coach against ranked opponents than we give him credit for, but lost more games than he should have to unranked teams.
- Brady Hoke thusfar has done well in winning the games he should win (i.e., vs. unranked opponents), or at least has done better than Lloyd Carr did.
- Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr went through an absolute gauntlet of a schedule in the 1990s.
But I wanted to see if those notions are actually supported by the stats. So I started looking at Michigan’s coaching from 1969 to 2012 against ranked teams. I should start out by explaining that “ranked” here means the AP Top 20, as the AP did not rank teams 21-25 until 1989. I’ve therefore disregarded all 21-25 rankings of opponents.
Here are our heroes’ (and anti-hero's) overall M records:
*All Hoke stats are through 2012 only, as we don't have final AP rankings for 2013 yet.
Here’s how U-M’s coaches have stacked up against teams ranked at game time:
|vs. AP 1-10||vs. AP 11-20||vs. Unranked|
|Bo||16-19-1 (.458)||21-12 (.636)||159-16-4 (.899)|
|Mo||7-5-1 (.577)||5-1-1 (.786)||32-7-1 (.813)|
|Lloyd||19-9 (.679)||19-11 (.633)||84-20 (.808)|
|RR||1-5 (.167)||1-4 (.200)||13-13 (.500)|
|Brady||0-2 (.000)||1-2 (.333)||18-3 (.857)|
Some obvious points jump out:
- RichRod and Hoke, and even Moeller to some extent, have small sample sizes. Keep this in the back of your mind for all that follows.
- Lloyd had a VERY impressive record against the AP Top 10. In fact, he started out on a huge roll. From 1995-2002, Lloyd was 11-1 against the Top 10 at game time.
- Lloyd lost a substantial number of games against unranked teams. Brady’s done pretty well against the unranked. Bo really killed the teams he should have killed.
I know, I know, pre-season bias in rankings, especially early. But let’s not completely discount game-time rankings. Though some of them, particularly early in the season, are just plain wrong, some might actually be good indications of a team’s quality as of the time you played. For example: some of Glen Mason’s Minnesota teams were pretty good as of Michigan week, but then plummeted through the rest of their seasons, perhaps from psychological issues, after losing their red-letter games for the Jug. Were those teams better when Michigan played them in week 5 or 6 than those teams’ final unranked status would indicate? Very probably.
But of course, rankings at game time, particularly early in the season, don’t tell the full story about the quality of the team you’ve played. The season’s final rankings are probably most illustrative (except for Minnesota-like situations as described above):
|vs. AP Final 1-10||vs. AP Final 11-20||vs. Final Unranked|
|Bo||6-25-1 (.203)||16-8 (.667)||172-15-4 (.911)|
|Mo||2-7-1 (.250)||7-2 (.777)||35-4-2 (.878)|
|Lloyd||10-14 (.417)||14-6 (.700)||98-20 (.831)|
|RR||0-8 (.000)||0-3 (.000)||15-11 (.577)|
|Brady||0-3 (.000)||1-1 (.500)||18-3 (.857)|
Final rankings may give you a better overall picture by removing most of the pre-season bias, but with final rankings a big caveat also applies: When you beat a team, its final ranking drops. When you lose to a team, its final ranking rises. Beating a good team makes it look worse to the poll voters. So in general, the coaches should have worse winning percentages against teams in the final rankings than they'd have against teams ranked at game time.
- Bo’s REALLY kicking ass against the unranked dregs (Mo and Hoke too), but not doing so hot against teams having great seasons. It makes sense that a coach’s record against the final Top 10 should not be great, but Bo’s was pretty dismal. All of the bowl losses certainly didn’t help him.
- Lloyd’s 10-14 against the Final Top 10 is still pretty darned impressive, and his combined 24-20 against the Final Top 20 is fairly impressive as well. But again, he’s lagging behind in beating teams having unranked seasons.
- RR of course was absolutely dismal against teams finishing in the Top 20. Wisconsin’s 2008 team was not able to crack the final Top 20 to put a single mark on the board for Coach Rod.
So it looks as if my first two initial thoughts were generally right. Thusfar Lloyd was a pretty good big-game coach, taking his whole career into account (I’ll save comparisons of early career vs. late career for another piece). And Brady’s not losing to a lot of teams that he has no business losing to.
But what about the schedule strength? On average Bo faced fewer ranked teams in the days before 85-scholarship parity (in 1970 he didn’t face a single team ranked at game time or in the final rankings) and before the resumption of the Notre Dame series and the scheduling of Miami and Florida State. Also, even in some of his best seasons the Big Ten didn’t let him go to a bowl game. How many of their games on average did our coaches play against ranked teams?
Based on the game-time rankings:
|% of Games Played vs. AP 1-10||% of Games Played vs. AP 11-20||% of Games Played vs. Unranked|
Based on final rankings:
|% of Games Played vs. AP Final 1-10||% of Games Played vs. AP Final 11-20||% of Games Played vs. Final Unranked|
- It looks like Mo’s schedules were indeed murder, whether you look at the game-time rankings or the final rankings.
- Bo’s and Lloyd’s schedules got significantly easier when you look at the final rankings.
- RichRod’s schedules became brutal when you look at the number of teams he faced that finished in the Top 10. But again, if you lose games, the teams you play look better in the final standings. And of course it’s a small sample size; if RR manages to beat Utah in 2008, Penn State in 2009, Iowa in 2009, or Wisconsin in 2010, those numbers look different.
- Hoke hasn’t played a lot of high quality teams. Thanks, down Big Ten and watered-down non-con scheduling.
Given the disparity in schedule strength, let’s look at the coaches’ winning percentages as if Lloyd’s 13-year schedule is the measuring stick for schedule strength. I think that’s fair, as 13 years is a pretty good sample size, Lloyd had both some really good and some bad seasons, and Lloyd’s tenure was the time in which Michigan’s schedule entered into our current era of weaker non-conference scheduling and greater parity as the effect of the 85-scholarship limit has fully set in.
For example, we’re going to take Bo’s .458 against the Top 10 at game time and assume that he’d played as many games against the Top 10, on a percentage basis, as Lloyd did, and so on. How do our coaches’ career winning percentages stack up then?
Based on the game-time rankings:
|Actual Win %||Win % Adjusted to Lloyd's Strength of Schedule||Change|
Based on the final rankings:
|Actual Win %||Win % Adjusted to Lloyd's Strength of Schedule||Change|
- When adjusting for schedule strength, Lloyd suddenly looks pretty good. He’s only around 20 points lower than Bo’s storied/heralded/legendary career. A swing of just four games in Lloyd’s career would’ve put him above Bo. If Lloyd goes 126-36 instead of 122-40, Lloyd becomes the Michigan coaching king when percentages are adjusted for schedule strength. And that’s not too big a stretch at all. Think about it: if Michigan had gotten few breaks in the 2000 season (i.e., Hayden Epstein doesn’t miss an extra point and a 24-yard field goal against UCLA; Michigan scores more than a field goal in the second half at Purdue; the A-Train holds on to the ball at Northwestern), and if Michigan hadn't given up just one of the several fourth-quarter blown leads in 2005, Lloyd would’ve had a better career winning percentage than Bo, equalized for schedule strength. But more on this later.
- Again, Mo’s schedules were murder. His percentage rises when compared to Lloyd’s schedule strength.
- RichRod’s also up in the final rankings, again because of the many opponents he played that wound up in the final Top 10.
- Hoke doesn’t look so hot. But rebuilding and fusion cuisine and all that.
In the comparison of Lloyd to Bo above, we’ve adjusted Bo’s 1-10 percentage and 11-20 percentage to Lloyd’s frequency of playing in those games. But playing the national No. 1 is usually a much tougher game than playing the national No. 10, or even No. 3. I haven’t taken the time to adjust the winning percentages by frequency of playing every single spot in the rankings, but I have collected some info on how those guys did against the Top 2 and against the Top 5 at game time:
|Record vs. AP 1-2||Record vs. AP 1-5|
|Bo||3-6-1 (.350)||8-12-1 (.405)|
|Mo||0-3 (.000)||2-4-1 (.357)|
|Lloyd||3-3 (.500)||8-3 (.727)|
|Brady||0-1 (.000)||0-2 (.000)|
Those are some great numbers from Lloyd, but all of those games are 2003 or earlier, when he started 11-1 against the Top 10, aside from games against No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 1 Ohio State in 2006. For what it’s worth, U-M hasn’t beaten an AP No. 1 since Miami in 1984.
So how often did the coaches play in really big games (using game-time rankings)?
|% of Games Played vs. AP 1-2||% of Games Played vs. AP 1-5|
So Bo played really big games just slightly more often than Lloyd did, and Mo’s murderous schedules are apparent here as well. I’m not sure this difference between Bo and Lloyd is significant. I’m still comfortable saying that Lloyd is only a touch behind Bo in terms of impressiveness of career. Sacrilege? Perhaps. But in terms of wins, losses, and quality of opponents, I think that’s a fair statement. Now, that's not saying anything about what Lloyd could have achieved, or how maddening it was to watch some of his games. Of course, Bo sustained that level of success eight seasons longer than Lloyd did, and there's something to be said for that.
What do we get from all of this? I think the stats support the wisdom of the ideas set out above: Lloyd Carr was pretty darned good against ranked teams, but not as hot as he should’ve been otherwise; blame the 85-scholarship parity era for that. Brady Hoke has generally won the games he should win. And the 1990s schedules, particularly Gary Moeller’s, were potentially the most brutal stretch Michigan has ever faced.
And don't worry, I'll say it for myself: Cool story, bro.
[Edited to correct Brady Hoke's 2-year record to 19-7 instead of 18-7. All stats accordingly corrected.]