Why has my team moved to Norman, Oklahoma? Lessons from coaching transitions past; Keys to “Great Success” in football; Tempo i

Why has my team moved to Norman, Oklahoma? Lessons from coaching transitions past; Keys to “Great Success” in football; Tempo i

Submitted by remdies on September 26th, 2014 at 5:25 PM

Why has my team moved to Norman, Oklahoma?  Lessons from coaching transitions past; Keys to “Great Success” in football; Tempo is for favorites and other people who hate variance; Broad evolution in coaching hires; Ideologies kill coaches; Special teams venting; And, maybe… all is not lost?

 

I present the first 15 years of conference records for two coaches I hold in very high regard.  Bo Schembechler and Bob Stoops.  The first seasons and the tie give it away but I’m so struck by how similar they are.  They even switched to a nine game conference schedule in the same year of their tenures.

Coach A

Coach B

Conference Record

Conference Record

5–3

6–1

8–0

6–1

6–2

8–0

6–2

7–1

8–0

7–0–1

8–0

7–1

6–2

7–1

7–1

7–1

6–2

7–1

7–1

7–1

5–3

6–2

6–2

8–0

6–3

6–3

8–1

8–1

7–2

8–1

 

Bob Stoops might be this generation’s Bo except that he got a NC.  Their win percentages are about the same and OU is almost always great regardless of the assistant coaches or players they lose.  OU hired Bob at age 39 and Michigan hired Bo at 40 so both had very long runways to establish their programs.  Both paired good defenses with good offenses which SURPRISE, makes football teams good at football.  Bo’s offenses where great mostly due to talent since back then teams had more scholarships available so the best teams could hoard all the talent making schemes matter less.  

Side Note: The 85 scholarship cap is responsible for a lot more parity nowadays, but success still breeds success.  Captain Obvious says, “Ideally our next hire would be that kind of home run.”

What can learn from the Stoops hire?  I think we learned that you can hire a coordinator to a prestige program and have success.  Also you need to cover the HC’s blind spots.  Stoops was a DC and hired Mike Leach to run his offense after seeing what he was doing at Kentucky while they were both in the SEC.  Mike Leach was hired away after 1 season but from then on the Air Raid + good defense has been what’s made OU great.

Bob Stoops’ coaching tree is pretty impressive, also he is from the Bill Snyder / Hayden Fry coaching tree which is also huge so there is plenty of connections to help an assistant from his tree find more quality assistants.

Bob Stoops Coaching Tree

·        Mike Leach – Good HC; probably got screwed at TT; a little crazy

o   Greg McMackin – Not bad but resigned under odd circumstances

o   Sonny Dykes – Good at LaTech but too early to call for Cal

o   Ruffin McNeill – ECU has been good under him but they were good when he took over

o   Dana Holgorsen – Like RR needs Jeff Casteel on D to win

o   Art Briles – Turned Baylor into a team that actually wins at football!  Baylor!

·        Mark Mangino – Made Kansas good!  More than a little crazy

·        Mike Stoops – Could never get Zona past OK

·        Chuck Long – Not so good at San Diego State

·        Kevin Sumlin – Do want! BTW former OSU DC Mark Snyder under Tressel is his current DC

·        Bo Pelini – Pretty good but not Tom Osborne, but no one is Tom Osborne; Also more than a little crazy, but not Mangino crazy

o   Carl Pelini – Florida Atlantic didn’t go very well

o   Tim Beck – I just like his offense so I included him

·        Kevin Wilson – Indiana is chaos team due to insanely good offense and terrible defense

I would be pretty happy with the success most of those guys had if they also had Michigan's resources, though I would prefer less crazy in my head coach than a lot of those guys.  

I also thought it was very interesting how some of the most successful coaching transitions transpired.  The best at it is probably Urban Meyer.  First, he leaves BGSU to go to Utah and keeps Kyle Whittingham to run his defense.  This worked out pretty well.  Then he moves on to Florida to find that Charlie Strong is there so he keeps him and that worked out pretty well too.  He then keeps Luke Fickell around at OSU.  That worked out only ok by his standards so he brought in Chris Ash this year since Fickell isn’t as good as than the other two guys, but it still probably helped with the transition year.  Another example in this mold is Dana Holgorsen going to WVU and keeping Casteel around and winning big until RR stole Casteel away.  More along the lines of Bob Stoops, Kevin Sumlin hired Mark Snyder to be his DC at A&M who had won the NC under Tressel as his DC, results so far have been positive.

In the final analysis the key to being really good at football is being really good on offense and defense, and being good on both sides of the ball depends on having good coordinators on both sides of the ball, who’da thunk it.

If you can be good on a play to play basis then you have to get the higher level game theory strategies right so that you get the results you deserve more often than not.  Also, you do not have to be able to coach a team to figure this out and since time is so limited to coaches they probably never think about it since being good on a play by play basis is rightly their main focus.  Besides if you suck than this doesn’t matter as much, but this is where tempo comes in to play though.  If I’m a crappy team then I want to slow the game down as much as possible so that randomness becomes more important to the outcome of a game, because if talent and skill alone determine the outcome then I will always lose.  If I’m an awesome team then I want a huge sample size so that randomness becomes less of a factor, so I’ll want to play at as high a tempo as possible so that I don’t lose due to bad luck.  If I’m evenly matched with the other team then it doesn’t matter as much but going slow will still increase the variance in the outcome so I’d prefer to go fast so that our evenness will get a better chance at playing out and the order of events matter less.

Now that we’ve laid the ground work for what tempo people should run based on their skill level I want to consider how this should be taken into account with coaching hires.  Most head coaches at bigger schools are hired away from smaller schools.  When the coaches were at the smaller schools the optimal strategy was to go as slow as possible to increase their chances of winning.  When coaches get hired to bigger schools they carry over everything that worked for them in the past because experience tells them that it made them successful.  Thus, the slow tempo trait was naturally selected into the upper echelons of coaching.  Things that the coaches perceive to have aided them in the past are raised to the level of an ideology and ideologies cannot be changed.  This is mostly due to man’s influence from association tendency and inconsistency avoidance tendency but other psychological biases are at play as well. 

A few things happen to generally bring about the demise of slow tempo in the temples of college football.  First, with necessity being the mother of invention small schools develop better schemes in order to compete.  They also try to tire out the other team since everyone is used to going at a snail pace and most teams don’t have the conditioning of these smaller schools since they didn’t plan on using it and the other guys did.  Second, is the David vs. Goliath effect where if you are David do not try and out Goliath, Goliath.  You need to do something else so that you can fight more evenly, get yourself a damn slingshot!  So, teams go to a spread the field style since at the power schools they are typically smash mouth, load’em up style teams so their nickel and dime packages aren’t as good as their typical starters.  Third, the traditional slow pace of power teams makes upsets more likely for the underdogs which then get their coaches hired away to the power schools.  Lastly, once at the power schools their tempo that they adopted for other reasons helps them avoid as many upsets and high variance losses as their predecessors which means they get to keep their jobs.

Broad evolution is iterative so that at any single point in time we are not likely to have reached the optimal solution.  I believe this was especially true with head football coaches that inherited significant competitive advantages and saw no reason to change since they were still winning due to those advantages, but they never reached the optimal solution.  I don’t think anything exemplifies that better than Carr’s last game where every fan thought to themselves, “where has this been all my life?”

I have a feeling that Brady thinks that he needs his dominate defense to carry his bad offense and the best way to do that is to play slow.  I don’t think this is the right solution since a dominate defense still needs a large sample size to prove it.  By going slow and increasing variance the actual effect is that the defense’s awesomeness can be hidden by randomness.  I think that this was probably naturally selected into Brady which he then elevated into a belief and beliefs like ideologies are very hard to change in people.

I think other psychological biases have caused shield punting to be verboten in the Hoke era.  Other people have pointed this out but Brady was on the Carr staff that first introduced shield punting to Michigan and it went very poorly.  This type of extra vivid evidence causes the data to be overweighed in the human mind since it is more available than the myriad of non-event data points that dominate the punting game.  Confirmation bias then sets in so that anytime one of his teams, or any team for that matter, blocks a punt against the shield this further entrenches his belief.  Everyone is susceptible to these biases unless you are Darwin and make it a habit to pay extra attention to disconfirming evidence.

In other special teams’ issues, missed field goals are essentially turnovers and long field goal attempts in college have a high probability of being missed.  Why do we bother kicking these?  If we make it we get three points and they likely get it at their 25.  If we miss we get nothing and they get great field position.  The odds are high that a college kicker will miss a 45+ yarder.  If we go for it they either get good field position if we fail or we get a chance to score a TD or at least increase the odds of a FG by being closer.  It would depend on distance to go to determine the probabilities but most of the time if feel like going for it is the call.  This is mostly venting since I didn’t do the math and am thus allowing myself to be swayed by psychological forces that impair cognition but even so missing a field goal is essentially getting sacked for seven yards on fourth down and it hurts a certain sensitive part of my soul every time.  I think this might show up properly in Mathlete’s win probability charts so math may absolve me yet.

All may not be lost for this season though since on a per play basis Michigan is actually not bad.  The problem is that we are killing nearly every damn drive with a turnover or some similar disaster.  At least that’s what my availability addled brain is telling me.  If turnovers disappear then what you do on a per play basis matters again and maybe we can be good, or at least not bad.  That’s our only hope for this year really; that we stop killing ourselves on offense and our very good defense carries us to victories.  Maybe even the slow tempo will help us against MSU and OSU, variance does help the underdog and we are certainly that this year against both of them. 

Wait never mind, I just read the offensive UFR and all is probably lost for this season but at least our defense doesn’t suck anymore so that’s pretty awesome and maybe we can keep the coaches on the good side of the ball this time around.  Always look on the bright side of life…

So after all of this my conclusions are thus:

For a new Coach:

1.      Usually the new HC is the from opposite side of the football from previous one and all coaches have blind spots; Protect the blind spots

2.      Keeping some of the previous staff significantly reduces transition costs and teams tend to have one bad side of the ball that is keeping them down, the New Mexicos of the world don’t have much hope anyway

3.      If the new HC is an offensive guy (likely) then he should retain the defensive staff since the defense is actually really good

4.      If the new HC is a defensive guy then we should help him find an OC that has proven to already be awesome somewhere else

5.      The Air Raid is picked up quickly by new teams and has aided in first year successes of the Stoops progeny

6.      Josh Heupel, anybody?  No, ok just me.

For football in general:

7.      Being an ideologue typically leads to underachievement and losses and firings and pain

8.      Shield punting or death

9.      Slow pace leads to high variance which is the enemy of the favorite and people who don’t like luck to decide games, Michigan should always hate variance

10.   Missed long field goals are TOs

11.   TOs kill football coaches and fans

12.   Gugh… why can’t we be like Oklahoma anymore