“On the offense last year, they had great spacing. That’s what I remember. Great spacing, great shooters, like Nik Stauskas, who’s not there right now. But they always have someone to fill the roles. They have a cutting offense, kind of hard to guard.”
profiles in heroism
|OC @ Clemson||2001-2005|
|OC @ Tulane||1995-2000|
|HC @ D-II Glenville State||1993-1994|
|West Virginia defensive back under Don Nehlen, 1981-1984.|
Rich Rodriguez was, until recently, the coach of West Virginia. Now he is the coach of Michigan. Should this make the tingly bits tingle as they do?
Survey says yes. Our default Stassen comparison for the ten years prior to Rodriguez' arrival:
For those who weren't paying attention in the 90s -- guilty -- it comes as something of a surprise: the Mountaineers are in fairly good company here. Rodriguez did not take over a program in shambles, as Don Nehlen was finishing up a 21-year term at WVU when Rodriguez arrived. Like Ferentz, RichRod was preceded by a coach somewhere between very good and excellent, though by the time Rodriguez arrived West Virginia was in a bit of a rut, coming off 7-5 and 4-7 seasons.
Rodriguez did not immediately fix said rut -- West Virginia bombed its way to an ugly 3-8 year in 2001 -- but after an initial adjustment period the program ignited in two phases. Phase 1: West Virginia turns into a consistent winner that hovers at the edges of the top 25 from 2002 to 2004, winning eight or nine games and losing four or five. Phase II: The White-Slaton rocket fuel era that features 10 and 11 win seasons, BCS berths and bowl victories, and one really ill-timed thumb dislocation. In seven seasons at West Virginia, Rodriguez is 60-26. That's a 69% winning clip at a school with some history of success but nothing like the sustained powerhouse status Rodriguez (and White and Slaton) brought to town. If you forgive Rodriguez his ugly transition year, he's winning at a 76% rate -- better than Lloyd Carr.
Caveats should be mentioned: the Big East got a lot easier in 2004 when Miami, BC, and Virginia Tech took off for the ACC. West Virginia did not depose the reigning king, but rather stepped forward into a power vacuum. And since the Big East is stuck at 8 teams, West Virginia can schedule a fifth nonconference game against a tomato can, an opportunity the Mountaineers have seized with gusto. As far as back-to-back-to-back ten win seasons go, WVU's are somewhere between LSU's and Boise's in terms of impressiveness.
But, right: in terms of back-to-back-to-back ten win seasons.
Xs and Os Proficiency: The things that spring to mind when Rich Rodriguez is considered are Pat White and Steve Slaton and that crazy run-oriented spread option that shreds defenses like Ginsu. The table at right shows the Rodriguez offense in its nascent glory; aside from the ugly first year, West Virginia has been at worst 40th in scoring offense and, aside from a poor 2003, has never been a below average offense in terms of yardage. The last two and a half years have been truly remarkable displays of offensive exploditude interspersed with the occasional worrisome clunker, though those have usually come when either Slaton or White is injured.
Though the NCAA doesn't provide stats this far back, Rodriguez had two successful stints as an offensive coordinator. The first was coordinating the explosive 1997 and 1998 Tulane offenses that saw Shawn King develop into a peripheral Heisman threat (he finished tenth in '98). The Green Wave went 12-0 in '98 thanks in large part to Rodriguez's offense, and unlike the West Virginia spread, the Tulane spread was pass oriented. King was only mobile-ish. While Rodriguez used what mobility he had -- King had 600-some rush yards at 4.1 YPC -- the heart of the offense was King's arm. He completed 67% of his attempts, threw for almost 3500 yards, and had 38 touchdowns to just six interceptions.
After the '98 season, then-Tulane head coach Tommy Bowden was hired by Clemson. Rodriguez followed and worked further magic. After a tough 1999, the 2000 Clemson team was 9-2 in the regular season, 10th in total offense, and 16th in scoring offense. Woody Dantzler was a Pat White-esque run-pass threat who finished with 947 yards on 172 rushing attempts and 1600-some passing yards.
Everywhere Rodriguez has gone he has installed the spread offense he first devised, then continued to tweak and tweak until it turned into a ball of knives and 60-yard touchdown runs. Everywhere he has been has found success, and with generally marginal talent. He can take his and beat yours; give him yours and he'll beat his.
Recruiting: Unfortunately for Rodriguez, West Virginia is located in West Virginia, a talent-barren state that has as many in the NFL as American Samoa. The Georgia Sports Blog took a look at the remarkable job Rodriguez did with zero available local talent when it looked like he would be the Alabama head coach, concluding:
The entire state of West Virginia has produced only 4 players that are on current NFL active rosters. By comparison, the State of Georgia has 90 players on active rosters, and the state of Alabama has 44. The island nation/province of American Samoa has produced as many NFL players on active rosters as West Virginia.
Rodriguez has to travel all over the country to attract talent without an "Instate" recruiting pitch. He almost never gets to talk to kids about the pride of staying at home and playing in front of your own fans. His current recruiting class only has 3 of 18 players from the State of WVa.
(Image: Pat White is from Daphne, Ala.)
Last year's recruiting class had ZERO in state kids. There weren't any worth offering. This year, the state has only 2 players rated above 3 stars. He's signing both of them. He normally has to go into Pennsylvania and battle with Penn State. He has to go into Ohio and battle with Ohio State. Or get their left overs.
All of this with crap facilities in a Tier 2 conference. That's more time on the road. That's less time knowing kids b/c you're spreading your relationships thinner. That's just tougher recruiting.
It's therefore tough to point at Rivals recruiting rankings and say Rodriguez can or can't recruit. But the data:
The anomalously poor 2006 class was a very small one. Since recruiting sites senselessly add up all your dudes without taking opportunity cost into account, WVU took a hit. Other than that it's a consistent story: virtually no instaters, many kids from Pennsylvania (especially Western PA) and Ohio, a presence in Florida that went from minimal to critical in 2005, and a thorough sprinkling of JUCOs, diamonds in the rough, and knuckleheads. In recent years Rodriguez started picking up national recruits like Jason Gwaltney and Noel Devine, but those guys often came with warning labels. Devine's grades were highly questionable (for a long time he looked destined for prep school); Gwaltney was just sort of an all-around nutcase who ended up a legendary recruiting bust. This year RR was finally making headway with non-questionable blue chippers like national #1 recruit Terrelle Pryor and PA LB/DE Shayne Hale; we'll see how he closes now that he's pitching winged helmets.
Though Rodriguez has struggled to bring in high profile recruits while at West Virginia, he was playing with awful hole cards. With no instate talent, little in the way of national profile, and facilities that were falling well behind in the ongoing arms race, RR had to be content picking off the overlooked. He obviously has an eye for talent -- West Virginia has regularly outperformed guru projections -- and the dedication required to unearth under-the-radar gems. Can he rack up blue-chippers? That's another matter, but the initial returns with Pryor seem good.
Another benefit of hiring Rodriguez: though his hunting around PA and OH has mostly turned up OSU and PSU leftovers, the years of scouring have undoubtedly forged an extensive network of connections in two of Michigan's primary recruiting areas. In particular, Rodriguez has pounded Pittsburgh, an area Michigan has also recruited heavily (and with success: Marlin Jackson, Steve Breaston, Ryan Mundy); Western PA recruiting should be a particular strong point.
Potential Catches: Maybe it's unfair to tar the coach when a couple of guys he got through school turn out to be world-class knuckleheads, but the idea of a Pacman Jones or a Chris Henry at Michigan is unsettling. It's not like Michigan's team is full of Mother Theresa's -- indeed, this year the team racked up arrests at a near-Zookian pace -- but there are some limits. Rodriguez also availed himself of JUCOs and academic risks that might not fly at Michigan. Though he dismissed academic concerns at the press conference by citing uniform NCAA standards, Michigan likes its high graduation rates and excellent APR numbers. If those start to come down he'll catch heat.
Is this likely to be a major concern? No. When Rodriguez invented(!) the spread offense at Glenville State it was out of necessity; when Rodriguez took fliers on a wide array of kids that, for whatever reason, were passed over by bigger schools it was also out of necessity. At Michigan he'll have access to a much wider pool of potential recruits and won't have to take a Chris Henry (or, say, Eric Knott and Damon Dowdell) when a Braylon Edwards or Jason Avant is available.
And then there's the Mallett issue. Mallett can get out of the pocket and improvise; he's not exactly John Navarre. But he is also not exactly Pat White. That's an understatement. If you were sent on a scavenger hunt for "the two college quarterbacks least like each other," Mallett-White would be a strong entry. Michigan can't just transplant the spread-n-shred.
There is something to be concerned about here. Since 2004, West Virginia quarterbacks have run for 861, 952, 1219, and 1185 yards. At Clemson Dantzler went for nearly a thousand. Even Shawn King was deployed frequently at Tulane. Rodriguez wants his teams to run and wants the quarterback to do a fair bit of the running; anyone who saw the Brady Leaf era at Oregon knows this is not generally compatible with Lurch-style pocket passers. When the Rodriguez offense has operated at maximum effectiveness, it has always used the quarterback as a runner.
On the other hand, when Rodriguez had King he threw with abandon. King averaged 30 attempts per game as a senior and racked up 3500 yards; both sets of numbers would have been higher if Tulane wasn't well ahead in many of their games that year. In the press conference today he promised to adapt his offense to the personnel he inherited and talked about the flexibility the spread provides. He's not stupid and he'll have the most talent he's ever had over the next few years; continued success is likely.
Would He Take The Job? It's peanut butter jelly time!
Overall Attractiveness: There were three, maybe four, obvious A-list candidates who seemed feasible going into the year: Miles, Tedford, Rodriguez, and possibly Schiano. After flailing about for a solid month, they locked down an A-list candidate. There are no complaints from this sector. There is an apology pending.
Rodriguez is a proven winner and offensive innovator who will drastically alter the culture of the program. I haven't seen enough of West Virginia to tell you if he's a Romer disciple, but the Sugar-s
ealing fake punt is a salutory indicator and the man does not have anything approximating the current Michigan staff's outdated philosophy. He is an offensive innovator who hold clinics on his offense every year -- the Great White Fail himself paid a visit to RR before last season's disastrous Georgia Tech game -- and a guy who has consistently gotten his teams to outperform their talent levels. He has extensive recruiting ties in fruitful recruiting areas for Michigan, is young enough to stick around for 15 to 20 years, and is a true outsider who will bring Michigan into the 21st century.
Rodriguez is everything a Michigan fan could want in a hire; to get him after the month-long disappointment train that was the coaching search is manna from heaven.
Better that Debord? YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES
|Head Coach, Ball State|
|DL coach @ Michigan||1995-2002|
|DL coach @ Oregon State||1989-1994|
|LB Coach @ Toledo||1987-1988|
|DL Coach @ WMU||1984-1986|
|Four-year letterman and captain at Ball State as a defensive lineman.|
For those of you who are not Jason Whitlock and thus know nothing about the Ball State football program, like all red-blooded Americans should, Brady Hoke is its head coach. In five years on the job, Hoke is 22-36 and has one winning season, this year's 7-5 campaign that will end when Rutgers houses the Cardinals in the International Bowl. Hoke's main accomplishments to date are
- being the first coach to torch Johnny Sears and one of dozens to hang close with Michigan despite a massive talent deficit,
- nearly beating the worst Nebraska team ever, and
- being good friends with Lloyd Carr.
There isn't a power program in the country that could make Brady Hoke's candidacy for their head coaching job seem like anything other than a PR move designed to help a friend of the program... but remember the boats. The goddamn boats. Anything is possible.
Ball State's Stassen numbers for the decade preceding Hoke's arrival:
|68||San Diego State||0.45690|
Hoke's winning percentage? 38%. And he did not take over a program in disarray. Ball State had disastrous years in 1998 and 1999, going a combined 1-21, but recovered from the tailspin to go 16-18 the three years before Hoke arrived.
Hoke promptly put up records of 4-8, 2-9, 4-7, and 5-7 before his "breakthrough" 2007, when he finally got the program back to the level it was at when he arrived. Historically, Ball State has been one of the better programs in the MAC, their overall record above distorted by those two bombs; other than that the last time they won fewer than five games was 1987. The evidence suggests Hoke is outclassed in the MAC.
So let's make him Michigan's head coach!
Xs and Os Proficiency: Hoke has never been a coordinator on any level.
Recruiting: A N/A. It's Ball State.
Potential Catches: Potential "catches"? The whole damn thing is one big catch! Even in the realm of people who Michigan would approach after getting turned down by everyone -- EVERYONE -- there are vastly preferable candidates: Ron English. Mike Trgovic. Glen Mason. Jon Chait. Me. The Golden Retriever from "Air Bud: Golden Receiver." Mussolini, who is dead. Dick Vitale. Sigourney Weaver. Richard Nixon's penis. Sigourney Weaver's penis. All of these people and organs don't have a track record that suggests they are a below average MAC coach. It is in this way they are superior to Brady Hoke.
Relative Compensation: Hoke makes 170k per year, the third lowest in D-I. We'll probably offer him $120k.
Would He Take The Job? Yes.
Overall Attractiveness: Awful. Awful, awful, awful. The worst possible candidate. The mere idea this guy -- who's never even been a coordinator anywhere and has his MAC team performing at a level well below the program's historical baseline -- could get the job is infuriating. Only at Michigan could this happen, and if it does I guarantee you that Bo is going to haunt the mofo that signs the contract.
Better that Debord? No. Absolutely not better than Debord. The functional equivalent of Debord and a guy who would either keep Captain Failure or bring in Stan Parrish. If Hoke is hired there will be a riot, and with good reason.
|Head Coach, Boise State|
|OC @ Boise State||2001-2005|
|WR coach @ Oregon||1995-2000|
|QB Coach @ Portland State||1993-1994|
|QB Coach @ Pitt||1992|
|UC-Davis QB, 1983-1986.|
For some reason, Chris Petersen keeps getting brough up as a candidate for a Profile In Heroism by emailers and commenters. I will oblige, though it's just because he might have the best nickname outside of "OBC" in the coaching ranks: Papa Smurf. But, lo, he appears to be an attractive candidate.
At 43, he's beaten Oklahoma in the BCS and run up a 23-2 record. Before he was head coach, he coordinated the crazy effective Bronco offense to consistent success. And there was Trick Play Fiesta 2007, which endeared him to college football fans everywhere.
There's not much of a historical baseline to compare here, but what exists will be discussed in the "potential catches" section. In sum: Peterson's maintained, not built, the Boise legacy of WAC dominance. And really, how hard is it to dominate the WAC? If you can lose to one of the worst teams in the Pac-10 by two touchdowns, then house the rest of your conference, chances are that says more about San Jose State than it does Boise State.
None of these things are states!
Xs and Os Proficiency: As Boise State's offensive coordinator since 2001, Petersen has a wide array of shiny numbers to his credit; these can be seen at right. Boise gets guys in space against overwhelmed linebackers and eats them alive; the results against the rest of the WAC have been consistently devastating.
Petersen would be most welcome as an offensive coordinator.
Recruiting: A N/A; two years at a school in Idaho does not provide much in the way of info.
Potential Catches: Beating WAC teams is no great accomplishment, and Petersen stepped in to a situation ready-made for winning. Boise only moved from I-AA in 1996 and, after a rough first couple years, immediately established itself as the WAC power. BSU's worst year since a 4-7 1997 campaign was Dan Hawkins' first season, when the Broncos went 8-4. The rest of Boise State's existence as a I-A program: 10-3, 10-2, 12-1, 13-1, 11-1, 9-4.
This consistent success launched both Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins to BCS level jobs. Koetter was totally mediocre at Arizona State and was fired after six years; Hawkins is in his second year at Colorado -- too early to tell. But Petersen is not a Schiano or a Tedford who built up one of college football's doormats, he's just a guy who managed to not screw up Boise State's evident institutional advantages over the rest of the WAC.
This is not Urban Meyer, who turned around Bowling Green and Utah in record time. This is a guy who walked into success and has maintained it.
Relative Compensation: I think we could probably swing it.
Would He Take The Job? Yes.
Overall Attractiveness: No. If Oklahoma tackles that guy on the hook-and-ladder last year we are not having this conversation. Two years as a head coach at a place set up for success does not a Michigan candidate make.
Is he better than the idea of Hoke or Interim English? Yes. If Michigan really screws up this search 100% -- and they're on their way -- Petersen would be somewhere on the C list of guys who would obviously take the job if offered. But God, what a fiasco that would be.
Better that Debord? Several times better.
|Head Coach, Rutgers|
|DC @ Miami||1999-2000|
|DB coach with Chicago||1996-1998|
|DB coach @ Penn State||1991-1995|
|Linebacker at Bucknell from 85-88.|
It's a testament to the Rutgers program that Greg Schiano is going to be the only guy with a losing record profiled in this series or considered for major jobs across the country. Previously, Rutgers was known for two things: winning the first ever college football game 6-4 against Princeton in 1869 and losing every game since.
Stassen data for the ten-year stretch before Schiano's hiring:
Schiano, like Ferentz, walked into a nightmare situation and suffered greatly his first two years. In 2001 and 2002, RU was 3-20 and no one thought much of hiring a guy who had been defensive coordinator at Miami for all of two years, but things began to turn around in 2003. Rutgers went 5-7 that year; the next year they struggled to 4-7 but managed to down Michigan State along the way, providing endless schadenfreude to Michigan fans. So thanks for that.
Things got seriously turned around the next year, when Rutgers went 7-5 and got to a bowl game for the first time since the Richard The Lionheart administration, losing a tight game to Arizona State. 2006 was the 11-2 year with the Louisville upset that saw Rutgers seriously enter the national championship discussion before clunking an ugly game away to Cincinnati and coming up short against West Virginia in an overtime game that would have sent them to the BCS. Schiano won no fewer than five coach of the year awards. In 2007. When Wake Forest won the ACC.
This year, the question was "can he do it again?" The answer was "no, not really." Rutgers slipped to 7-5. Their destination this offseason: Toronto.
Xs and Os Proficiency: Schiano's brief tenure as an defensive coordinator was successful, but at the time Miami was busy being a juggernaut with first round picks everywhere. The "2000" at left was a mark Schiano put up as the Miami defensive coordinator.
At Rutgers, things have been different. Obviously. Until the 2006 breakthrough, Schiano's defenses had been between mediocre and wretched. Again: Rutgers. Even during the past two years, the Scarlet Knights have been light on the surefire NFL beasts. Last year's Loiusville game was my first real exposure to the idea of Rutgers as a real program, and it was relevatory. It looked like all eleven guys on RU's defense were about the same size, like a high school team was going up against one of the best offenses in the country, but a lot of slashing through gaps and cleverly disguised blitzes held Louisville down long enough for Ray Rice to pound forward for the winning yards. It's anecdotal, but when all you have is a seven-year-old monster D and a lot of talentless chaff in between, anecdotes are all you've got.
It's not a sure thing, but I believe Schiano defenses at Michigan would be consistently very good to great.
Recruiting: Recruiting at Rutgers was largely a matter of begging MAC leftovers to consider a "BCS" team, if only in the most technical sense, for most of its existence and well into Schiano's tenure. Aside from the occasional local guy who likes mom's cooking, it's been a parade of two-star recruits for Rutgers. Even now, things are a little bleak: the bounce you would expect after a program-establishing 11-2 season consists of Rivals 250 OT Art Forst and another four-star defensive tackle from New York among just eight commitments, all of them from New Jersey or New York.
But there is a perceptual shift. Michigan's pursuing three recruits from Rutgers' neck of the woods this year and each has named the Scarlet Knights to be Michigan's primary competition. Michigan won the battle with Marcus Witherspoon and JB Fitzgerald and leads (or at least did lead before Carr's retirement) for Brandon Smith, but Rutgers is a real player for the New Jersey kids who usually flee the state en masse. And, man, Schiano's following Fitzgerald around in a helicopter.
Recruiting's mostly about energy, not personality -- do Ron Zook and Charlie Weis seem like guys you want to spend four years around? -- and Schiano has that.
Potential Catches: The very idea of having a head coach from New Jersey conjures up images of the Great White Fail at Notre Dame; other than that Schiano seems pretty clean. The major concern is that Schiano's had one year that could be considered even slightly successful by Michigan standards, that being 2006 and hasn't proven he can operate a program on an elite level, but there's exactly one candidate out there you can't say that about and Les Miles is quite the longshot at this point.
Relative Compensation: Rutgers made a major outlay to Schiano after 2006's 11-2 campaign and has invested in facilities upgrades with an eye towards making the program a consistent p
ower, but Schiano remains relatively cheap. Rutgers reworked his contract in February, bumping his salary up to $1.5 million a year; Michigan can afford far more than that and Martin continually makes noises that Michigan will be offering in the mid-twos. Can Rutgers afford that? Maybe. They're under fire for investing in the football program at the same time the university faces a major budget crunch, so they'd be faced with increasing their outlay even more or potentially watching their investment to date go belly up. 50-50 they would find the money to hold onto him.
Would He Take The Job? Maybe? It's hard to imagine the coach at Rutgers turning down... well... anyone, but Miami made a run at Schiano last offseason and got shot down. That could have been a money thing, though. Miami's pathetic fanbase can't sell out the Orange Bowl even against big names like Virginia Tech and the 'Canes ended up settling on defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, a guy no one was pursuing and came cheap.
Another reason Schiano might have stayed: he had no particular affiliation with the Miami program. Schiano was raised in New Jersey and has spent most of his life in and around the Midwest and Northeast. Check the table above: Schiano was DC at Miami for two years. This ends his career south of Chicago. Or maybe State College. I don't have longitudes handy. So it's possible he looked at Miami's offer skeptically. A petulant, disloyal fanbase that expects national titles or bust, a mediocre contract offer, and a move thousands of miles away from home? No thanks.
Michigan's fanbase is marginally less petulant and vastly more loyal, the school is closer to home, and the money will be better. So there's a chance. But the persistent rumor out there is that Schiano's content at Rutgers and dreams of being a Bowden or Paterno-esque program patriarch; the other rumor out there is that he's waiting for JoePa to beam home so he can take the Penn State job. It might be a tough sell.
Overall Attractiveness: Schiano would be one of the few guys out there Martin could plausibly hire in the wake of the Miles fiasco without enraging the Michigan fanbase. You can't even call his job at Rutgers a "resurrection" or a "rebuild," since both those terms envision a Rutgers program that, you know, existed before Schiano's arrival. It did not; Schiano created one out of whole cloth. If you believe the program desperately needs a breath of fresh air, Schiano is a good bet to bring it in.
He's also enticingly young. Michigan's looking for a guy with extensive head coaching experience, which mostly constricts the search to guys in their early to mid fifties; Schiano is just 41. If he works out Michigan gets 20 years instead of 10.
What doubts exist are because of the Rutgers thing. Yes, he has seven years as a head coach. But how much data can we glean from the first four? Not much. So we're left with one shining example of the poor rising up and some decent-for-Rutgers seasons around it. But to get a guy like Schiano you have to move now, before he has that second season or that third season that proves to both him and the university that this is not a fluke and he becomes even tougher to pry out of New Jersey. He's a risk, yes, but he's also a guy with huge upside; he would be an A- pick.
Better that Debord? YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES
|Head Coach, Iowa|
|Assistant HC & OL Coach w/ Baltimore||1993-1999|
|HC @ Maine||1990-1992|
|OL Coach @ Iowa||1981-1989|
|"academic all-Yankee Conference linebacker" at then lower-division UConn.|
Three years ago, Kirk Ferentz was a folk hero in Iowa, NFL teams were stabbing each other just to get an interview with the guy, and if you had told a Michigan fan he would be the man to take over from Lloyd Carr, he would laugh gleefully then punch you for getting his hopes up. Ferentz had just completed a remarkable turnaround, taking a moribund Iowa program that went 1-10 in his first year to the BCS and finishing #8 three consecutive years.
Iowa promptly made Ferentz one of the highest-paid coaches in the land; Ferentz returned the favor by going one game over .500 the next three years. Michigan fans still want to punch people at the idea of Ferentz as the new coach, but for entirely different reasons.
The de rigueur Stassen comparison is not as flattering to Ferentz -- the decade before his arrival saw Iowa win at a 57% clip, good for around 40th nationally -- because he had the misfortune to directly succeed Hayden Fry, a Hall of Fame coach who was Iowa's version of Bo. Most of the other guys this series has considered were preceded by literal losers; that's why they got the job.
Ferentz walked into an unusual situation at Iowa, directing a program with a history of success that had fallen on hard times as the previous coach held on too long. This may sound familiar. (Michigan's situation is far less of a disaster -- Fry went 3-8 his last season.) How should we judge his tenure? It's hard to assign blame for either of his first two years, in which Iowa bottomed out at 1-10 and 3-9, but going 7-5 in your third year is not a huge accomplishment at a place like Iowa, even if the previous two years were ugly. Iowa's a 7-5 kind of program, long term, and that's an average performance.
No one questions the next three years, when Brad Banks and Drew Tate built Iowa into a burgeoning Big Ten power as Penn State fell off the radar; everyone questions the most recent three. Ferentz does have some good excuses: the last two years Iowa was injury- and discipline-wracked on the same level Michigan safeties were during the Year of Infinite Pain. Check this midseason assessment out from Black Heart, Gold Pants:
Anyway, this weekend, Iowa is without the following elements of the team, all of whom were '07-eligible on campus the middle of the spring semester:
- Starting WR Dominique Douglas
- Starting WR Andy Brodell
- Starting TE Tony Moeaki
- Starting LT Dace Richardson
- Second-string OL Alex Kanellis
- Second-string OL Rob Bruggeman
- Second-string WR Anthony Bowman
- Third-string TB Shonn Greene
- Third-string OL Clint Huntrods
- Starting FS Devan Moylan
- Starting MLB Mike Klinkenborg
- Second-string FS Marcus Wilson
- Second-string CB Justin Edwards
- Second-string DT Ryan Bain
- Third-string CB Amari Spievey
All but three (Moeaki, Moylan, Col. Klink) are gone for at least the rest of the season. Most will never play another snap for Iowa.
At this point three other as-of-yet unnamed players were being held out despite Iowa's severe need because of an ongoing sexual assault investigation, so that's a total of 18 kids Iowa did not have at its disposal. Throw in a new starting quarterback and it's pretty obvious why Iowa's offense was 117th in the country.
Digression: midway through the first quarter of the Oregon-Arizona game I thought to myself "Chip Kelly is a genius." Then Dennis Dixon, apparently already playing on a torn ACL, took the wrong step and exited from the season. Oregon since: negative seventy points, negative six trillion yards.* Sometimes it really is out of your hands as a coach. Sometimes you've just got Brady Leaf and... like... damn, dude, what do you do?
But to go 6-6 when you have 4 nonconference gimmes and no Michigan or Ohio State is beyond explanation. And in 2006 a senior Drew Tate finally had a healthy Albert Young and the Hawkeyes still went 2-6 in the Big Ten. Yes, the receivers were young and the offensive line spotty and the defense banged up, but can we submit that anyone in is 8th year at a decent program like Iowa who is a great coach should not go 2-6 in the Big Ten?
Frustration is building at Iowa; when Ferentz' name first came up I quoted some BHGP frustration that sounded eerily familiar:
I mean, seriously, change some names and this BHGP passage could have been lifted verbatim from the comments of this blog during the Ohio State game:
We wasted the best front seven since 2004 on an offensive line which flat out refused to block anyone. We wasted the best running back tandem since Russell/Lewis on a quarterback who couldn't hit an open receiver and receivers who didn't catch the ball when he did. We wasted a tough, classy, downright professional group of seniors on a team filled with convicts and thugs and a coaching staff that was too f---ing stubborn to even attempt to fix the all-too-obvious problems.
Oh, oh, and this one:
Defenders of this coaching staff have repeatedly said, "the coaches put players in position to win, and it's the players' fault for not performing." Assuming (I think incorrectly) that this system would actually lead to success, it's the job of the coaches to prepare these players both schematically and technically. If the players are unable to perform effectively in otherwise correct schemes, the players must be more technically sound, the players must be replaced by those who can perform, or the schemes must be adjusted to account for a lack of talent/knowledge.
Initial promise, disappointing recent results, an epic swath of disciplinary and injury problems, outdated strategy, and a prim propriety in public? Lloyd Carr clone, come on down.
Xs and Os Proficiency: Ferentz has never been a coordinator on any level, leaping from offensive line coach to head coach twice without any intermediate stops along the way. So this is mostly a "not applicable."
Anyone who's watched Iowa can see the philosophical similarities between the two programs: run the ball, play tough D, punt a lot, and for God's sake never take any risks whatsoever. The zone/waggle game had been a staple -- the staple -- of Iowa's offense for years when Michigan decided to implement it, though Iowa tends to go
with guys with actual mobility.
Recruiting: Iowa, aside from the secret government lab where they breed the next generation of Inexplicably Great White Wide Receivers, is decidedly unfertile recruiting territory, and Iowa does not have the sort of national pull a Michigan or Nebraska -- which did shockingly well with recruits from all over in the Callahan here -- does. And it shows in the recruiting rankings (all from Rivals):
- 2002: 51st
- 2003: 43rd
- 2004: 38th
- 2005: 11th(!)
- 2006: 40th
- 2007: 28th.
I wouldn't put much weight in these, as recruiting rankings begin to have very low fidelity as you get down into the three stars, of which there are a million of differing abilities. The general trend is mediocre save for that anomalous 2005 class, which was gathered at the height of Ferentz mania. Ty Willingham was abdicating Notre Dame's class, the Zooker was yet to land at Illinois, and there was a bumper crop of highly rated Chicagoland recruits. Most of them ended up at Iowa. It was a perfect storm of circumstance that the subsequent years have proven does not reveal any particular skill on Ferentz' part. He's done okay considering Iowa's circumstances, but is unlikely to improve on Carr's recruiting at Michigan. (Not that Carr was bad at recruiting; he was pretty good. But this is not a particular asset for Ferentz.)
Potential Catches: There are many. From the perspective of the fan: he's one damn game above .500 the last three years and has a severe case of Lloydballs. Not as severe as the man himself -- let's all remember the Brad Banks era -- but he has many of the same flaws Lloyd does: stubborn loyalty to failing coordinators who happen to be friends, a tendency towards extreme predictability, a team-harming aversion to risk.
From the perspective of an athletic department that evidently thinks very little of its fans and wants a "Lloyd Carr clone": 10% of Ferentz's team was arrested for Serious Business this year. Since 2003, Iowa has suffered a 42% attrition rate. Ferentz' son availed himself of taxpayer subsidized housing for the poor; Ferentz refused to speak about it publicly.
For every rumor out there about Les Miles' supposed lack of morals, there's a kid who's left Iowa's team for being a hooligan. But Miles is the guy with "character issues" because said something mean or wrong or impolite about Carr. Our athletic department's priorities are awesome.
Relative Compensation: This has been discussed ad nauseam: Ferentz makes somewhere between 2.6 and 3.4 million a year depending on how you figure the bonuses. He's insanely expensive.
Would He Take The Job? This was extremely doubtful earlier in the year but as the rumors persist it begins to seem more plausible. It's still doubtful, though. First Michigan would have to match his steep pay package, numbers which would make it possible to hire Les Miles and undoubtedly outrage fans, alumni, and the big-baller donors Michigan is banking on to fill the luxury suites currently under construction. Then Ferentz would have to leave Iowa, a place he likes very much, on the verge of his son's commitment there.
It still appears doubtful.
Overall Attractiveness: Ferentz would not be a disaster of a hire, but he would be a disappointing one. He's no more moral than dozens of coaches across the country. He's increasingly incapable of keeping the kids he recruits under control. He lost to Iowa State and Western Michigan this year. He represents the closest thing to an extension of the Carr era available out there, something which may be attractive to Sailboat Bill Martin but is an anathema to anyone who actually remembers the Appalachian State game earlier this year.
The opportunity represented by the Carr retirement is to take the program in a different direction. Michigan has stagnated, allowing Ohio State to pass it both off the field and on. Ohio State has better facilities, has won six of seven against Michigan, and has fewer disciplinary problems. The Horror was supposed to be a wakeup call inside the department and amongst the heavy movers; Ferentz represents the snooze button, especially if his hiring is contingent upon retaining certain key assistants who have done nothing to suggest they are capable of coaching out of a wet paper bag.
As an insanely expensive backup plan, Ferentz is fine. The program is unlikely to fall apart under his watch. At Michigan he'll have the talent and depth to beat Western; he won't put up with Michigan's stone age strength and conditioning program, and he's likely to have a level of success comparable to Carr over the long haul. And that's not bad.
As a primary option, Ferentz is indicative of a diseased thought process that hasn't watched the past three years. Lloyd Carr was a very good coach, but the emphasis is on was. It's over. "Eff you, try to stop us, oops you did let's punt" is over. Ohio State has raised. Picking Ferentz is, essentially, folding.
Better than Debord? YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES
|Head Coach, Navy|
|Head Coach @ I-AA Georgia Southern||1997-2001|
|OC @ Navy||1995-1996|
|OC @ Hawaii||1987-1994|
|OC @ Georgia Southern||1985-1986|
Paul Johnson has carved a winner out of moribund Navy, a grand accomplishment in this era of college football. Navy the ten years before Johnson's arrival:
After an ugly 2-10 first year, Navy has gone 8-5, 10-2, 8-4, 9-4, and is currently 8-4 with the Poinsettia Bowl pending. The last time Navy had five consecutive winning season was 1978-1982, and before that you have to go back to the sixties. Johnson's 6-0 against Army -- the first six-game winning streak in that rivalry's history -- and 5-1 against Air Force. Navy does not suck.
Johnson's record at Georgia Southern is even more impressive. In his five years with the Eagles, Johnson won five conference titles, four national coach of the year awards, and two national titles. He won 86% of his games and turned around a program that had gone 4-7 the year previous; Johnson's first year at GSU resulted in a 10-3 season, the program's best since 1989.
Xs and Os Proficiency: Johnson's specialty is offense, and he's worked wonders with limited talent by taking advantage of what military academy players do have: smarts and discipline. At Navy, Johnson's triple option attack has consistenly landed the Middies in the top 30 in offense, an accomplishment all the more impressive when you consider the game-shortening that naturally occurs when you run the ball all the damn time. At Georgia Southern and Hawaii he lit up scoreboards as well.
The question here is the same that dogged Urban Meyer before his arrival at Florida: can this offense work against top-flight defenses? In Meyer's case, the answer appears to be "as long as you have a robotic hulk-beast that devours all in its path, sure!"
Recruiting: The great unknown with Johnson, as he's never coached at a place that we can gather any data about.
Potential Catches: Ah, but so. Johnson has done all this with a pounding triple option ground attack that hasn't been seen at a major college program since Nebraska made the infinitely wise decision to hire Bill Callahan.
A host of other BCS programs have looked at Johnson but fled the risk of a system often regarded as antiquated, and they aren't nearly as married to the idea of Paul Bunyan on the pocket as Michigan is. The current QBs on the Michigan roster: 6'7" statue Ryan Mallett, 6'5" statue Steven Threet, and 6'5" statue David Cone. The current Michigan QB recruit: 6'5" statue John Wienke. Johnson just wouldn't be able to run his system for two to four years.
Johnson has a history of sniping at the press, too, which no doubt disqualifies him. I heard Belicheck once forgot to feed his cat, so he's out, too.
Also, the guy has a masters degree from Appalachian State.
Relative Compensation: Michigan could easily afford Johnson, but he's a hot name this offseason with SMU and Duke rumored to be pursuing him heavily, SMU with a $2 million per year offer. Michigan would probably have to match that.
Would He Take The Job? Yes.
Overall Attractiveness: Johnson looks to be an outstanding coach. You can't have his results and not be exceptional at what you do; he's working at one of the toughest jobs in the country right now and outperforming all reasonable expectations for what an academy can do in this era of college football. Before that he dominated a lower division much like Jim Tressel and Brian Kelly did.
But he's too much of a risk for Michigan. We have no idea if he can recruit or if his offense can function at a high level, and we know damn well that his offense can't work with Michigan's roster as currently composed. It's not that Johnson can't succeed running something else, but one of his main assets is this clever triple option thing that he's spent better than a decade perfecting; he's much less attractive without that.
It's not really the triple option that bothers me. I kind of like the idea of having an offense unique in major college football, as it would make Michigan (gasp!) difficult to prepare for. But the unsuitability of the current roster to run it would make the first three or four years of implementing it painful, and at 50 Johnson does have enough long term upside to justify the risk. Hiring him to run something else is silly, the equivalent of Notre Dame fans quickly backtracking and saying "wait, Charlie just needs to learn how to be a COLLEGE coach!" when the thing that set him apart was his brilliant NFL mind and his contacts and blah blah blah.
Johnson's a good, maybe great, coach, but a poor fit at Michigan. If I was Maryland or Michigan State or Ole Miss or any hopefully mid-level BCS program, though, he would be top of the list.
Better that Debord? YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES