Who is Al Borges? (Part I)

Submitted by Ron Utah on June 13th, 2013 at 3:10 PM

In the recent B1G interview, Al Borges sounded a lot like a man who had just been freed from prison.  That prison, of course, was coaching one of the most dynamic players in Michigan history and NCAA's all-time leading rusher at QB.

What's clear from the interview is that Al is giddier than Heiko watching a bubble screen at the thought of running "his" offense with predominantly "his" players.  But, what the hell does that mean?  In Part I (of three), I'll give Al's background and coaching career through his time at UCLA.  Like most of my diaries, it's long, but if you want to know Al's football past, it's thorough.

So, let's go back, waaaaaaay, back...

Al Borges started coaching football at Salinas High School in 1975.  He was 19-years-old.  He didn't get his bachelor's degree in physical education until 1981.  This is a guy who has always been a football coach, and always wanted to be a football coach.

After six years working as a HS assistant, Al moved into the college ranks as an assitant at Cal, but only spent one season there--probably unpaid.  His first big break (if you call it that) came at Diablo Valley College, a two-year community college in California's Bay Area.

FYI: This is not the Big House

After spending two years as the Tight ends/receivers coach (1983-84), Al got his first job as OC.  Obviously, Diablo Valley College--which seemed destined to have a cool mascot like the "Blood Devils" or something, but ended-up with the "Vikings" and a green/white (gross) color scheme--didn't pay well, since Al worked part-time as a defensive assistant for the USFL's Oakland Invaders.  The USFL, if you're wondering WTF that stands for, was the United States Football League--a pro football league that played in the spring and early summer, because in the '80's we didn't have message boards to keep us busy in the off-season.

In any event, in 1985, Al Borges was the OC for the Diablo Valley College Vikings, and he must have been pretty good at it, since Portland State hired him to do the same job in 1986.  Maybe he felt comfortable with the mascot--the Portland State Vikings.

Portland State is a Division II school that was wildly successful, in a Buffalo Bills kind of way, during Borges' time there.  While Al and HC Pokey Allen (no, I did not make-up that name) were building the program in 1986, the Vikings went 6-5 and scored 288 pts (26.2/gm).  In '87 and '88, Borges and Allen led one of the most successful teams in DII history, putting up 406 and 474 pts (29.0 and 31.6/gm) and reaching the DII Finals both years, only to lose.  As good as those teams were, Borges' last two offenses would best them--scoring 471 and 502 pts in '91 and '92 to average 33.6 and 38.6 pts/gm in his final two seasons with Portland State.  Sadlly, both seasons ended in semi-final losses in the DII playoffs.  Pokey's work was good enough to get him inducted into the Oregon Sports HOF.  Which is pretty good, I guess.

Al then followed Pokey to Boise State, where the move to Division I-AA took its toll.  Their first season they were 3-8 and managed to score only 210 pts.  By year two their system was humming again, and they went 13-2 and scored 433 pts (28.9/gm) on their way to the I-AA Finals...which they lost.

Tired of second place trophies and ready for D1-A football, Al took an offer to become Oregon's OC in 1995.  Al had big shoes to fill--he was taking over for Mike Bellotti (who had been promoted to HC).  The Ducks would go 9-3 in Bellotti's first year as HC, and scored 326 pts (27.2/gm, #39 nationally) on their way to #18 ranking by AP.  And here's where we get our first statistics:

  Plays % Yards % of Yds Yds/Play
Run 350 42% 1225 29% 3.50
Pass 483 58% 3026 71% 6.27
Total 833   4251   5.10

Under Bellotti, Borges was decidedly pass-heavy.  And it's not like their passing game was that great.  Tony Graziani was in his first year as a starter, and posted an underwhelming 110.95 rating with 13 TDs and 10 INTs.  He averaged only 6.1 yds/att.  The ground game was even worse, averaging a paltry 3.5 yds/carry, with the leading rusher (Ricky Whittle) getting most of the work and finishing the season with 1021 yards.

But Borges must have done something right, because he was offered the OC job at UCLA, which, at the time, was kind of a big deal.  And there was obviously no bad blood between Borges and Bellotti, since Bellotti would later try to bring Borges back as OC (Borges had alread accepted the Indiana [wtf?!] job).

At UCLA, Borges earned his reputation as a QB guru and pretty-darn-good OC.  Working under HC Bob Toledo (now the OC at SDSU), Borges had another lackluster opening season, going 5-6 (though they did beat USC).  The offense averaged a very respectable 30.0 pts/gm (#30).  Here are the numbers:

  Plays % Yards % of Yds Yds/Play
Run 461 56% 1677 40% 3.64
Pass 359 44% 2553 60% 7.11
Total 820   4230   5.16

The starting QB was Cade McNown, and he wasn't very good at it.  McNown finished the season with a 115.24 rating, throwing for 2424 yards, 12 TDs, and 16 INTs.  His 52.4% completion rate and 7.2 yds/att weren't so good either.  Primary RB Skip Hicks carried the ball 224 times for 1034 yards--a 4.62 avg--and scored 17 TDs.  

1997 was a different story altogether, and could be labeled as Al's "coming out party."  McNown had been the goat of the '96 team (justifiably so) and no one expected much of him in his third year as a starter (he was bad in '95 too).  Skip Hicks was still the starting RB.  But UCLA would go 10-2, and finish the season as Co-Champs of the Pac-10, beat Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, and end-up with a #5 ranking in the AP poll.  Again, the numbers:

  Plays % Yards % of Yds Yds/Play
Run 497 61% 1986 38% 4.00
Pass 320 39% 3185 62% 9.95
Total 817   5171   6.33

Remember, QB sacks count as rushing yards for some unexplainable reason, so a 4.00 yd/play rushing average is pretty bangin'.  Hicks averaged 5.0 yds/carry on his way to 1282 rushing yards and 22 TDs.  McNown averaged 10.0 yds/att, threw 24 TDs, and only 6 INTs while he racked-up a 166.0 (!) rating.  To put that in perspective, that would have been the fifth highest-rated QB in 2012.

The best part of that '97 team?  39.8 pts/gm (#3) with only two losses: an opening defensive stinker (lost 34-37 to WaSU) followed by a 24-30 stumble against Tennessee, who finished ranked #3 in '97 with a guy named Peyton Manning.  That game--against a very good Tennessee defense--was the lowest output of the season, which included a 66-3 win over Texas in week 3.  Also of note, two WRs--Jim McElroy and Danny Farmer--combined for 88 (47%) of the team's 189 catches and 1,637 yards (51%).  

They managed all of this with the 6th-toughest schedule in the country (SRS).

1998 was a near carbon copy.  Finishing 10-2 and outright champs of the Pac-10, the Bruins' passing game was stellar again in McNown's final season.  While the season did end with a disappointing 31-38 loss to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and a #8 AP ranking, UCLA pumped out 39.7 pts/gm (#5) and had very good numbers:

  Plays % Yards % of Yds Yds/Play
Run 447 57% 2038 39% 4.56
Pass 333 43% 3240 61% 9.73
Total 780   5278   6.77

McNown would finish third in Heisman voting, posting another monster season with 3130 passing yards, 23/10 TD/INT, 9.7 yd/att, and a 156.9 rating.  But Borges deviated from his "workhorse back" pattern in a big way: the top three rushers had 635, 503, and 420 yards each.  The top guy--Deshaun Foster--was a freshman who wasn't quite ready for the complexities of the position, but was darn good (5.5 yds/carry).  While Borges prefers a workhorse back, 1998 proved he could adjust for a talented freshman.

In 1998, the Bruins' schedule was rated the 5th-toughest (SRS).

1999 is probably a year Al would like to forget.  Losing McNown and saddled with a terrible O-line, the Bruins could neither run nor pass effectively.  Cory Paus started most of the season at QB, but Drew Bennett and even Ryan McCann stole some reps as none of these dupes could run the offense.  UCLA stumbled to 20.9 pts/gm (#90) and went 4-7.  In this case, the numbers don't lie:

  Plays % Yards % of Yds Yds/Play
Run 409 53% 1193 33% 2.92
Pass 366 47% 2406 67% 6.57
Total 775   3599   4.64

Not much to say here, except that everyone sucked.  Deshaun Foster's sophomore season was plagued not only by the aforementioned terrible O-line, but also a sprained ankle and ended with just 375 yards and 3.4 yards/carry.  Paus was awful; his 107.8 rating is one of the worst for a Borges QB.  They were just really, really bad.  The lone bright spot was a freshman WR named Freddie Mitchell, who had 38 catches for 533 yards, but not a single TD.

2000 was a step up, but certainly not a return to glory.  The Bruins would finish 6-6 and lose to B1G nemesis Wisconsin 21-20 in the Sun Bowl.  Paus and McCann once again shared the QB job, and the O-line was still not very good.  UCLA managed 29.4 pts/gm (#40), although their SOS was rated #1.  Again, the numbers tell the story:

  Plays % Yards % of Yds Yds/Play
Run 421 54% 1105 28% 2.62
Pass 363 46% 2904 72% 8.00
Total 784   4009   5.11

An anemic running game--even with Deshaun Foster as the workhorse back--made it tough for the Bruins to have any offensive success.  Foster spent the season running for his life behind another bad O-line, and the QB play was shaky at best (though Paus did finish with a solid 145.7 rating in his second year starting for Al).  Freddie Mitchell caught 68 passes for 1314 yards and 8 TDs, with a 19.3 yds/rec.  He and fellow WR Brian Poli-Dixon caught 114 (58%) of the 198 completions and accounted for 2014 (69%!!!) of the receiving yards.

It was a so-so season at UCLA, and it would be Al's last.



June 13th, 2013 at 4:06 PM ^

I've been waiting for a diary like this. I just got a copy of his book Coaching the West Coast Quarterback, and was toying with the idea of doing an analysis during the season, probably at mid-season, to discuss Devin's technique compared to Borges' ideal QB archtype, as outlined by the book.

Thanks for writing this up.


June 13th, 2013 at 4:11 PM ^

Nice diary, certainly gives me some more confidence in his abilities now that he has an offense more suited to his style. Looking forward to parts 2 and 3.


June 13th, 2013 at 6:11 PM ^

Al was playing with his guys...his crappy OL.  I've heard Al has a reputation as a so-so recruiter.  I guess it came from the downward spiral of UCLA.  Who recruited all the crappy lineman?  Were their stars hurt and they started a bunch of second/third stringers?  Any insight into why things went downhill?

Ron Utah

June 14th, 2013 at 12:27 AM ^

I'll be sharing some of the patterns and possible conclusions from the data I've gathered in Part III.  It's hard to say it's all Al's fault for not having a more talented O-line, but there is no doubt that the UCLA recruiting was not getting them the players they needed to be successful.  That said, I don't think it's the OC's job to make sure recruiting goes well.  Sure, it's a piece of his job, but that responsibility really falls on the HC and Recruiting Coordinator.

Don't get me wrong--Borges needs to make sure he has players that can make his system work and he needs to recruit--but I don't think all the blame can be laid at his feet for UCLA's O-line struggles.

EDIT: As to why things went downhill at UCLA, the answer seems pretty obvious: lack of talent.  The recruiting wasn't good enough.  The O-line and QB weren't good enough.  And the coaching wasn't good enough.  Again, more on this in Part III.


June 13th, 2013 at 8:34 PM ^

If Al doesn't do well this year in a pro style offense this year we may need to look for a new O Coordinator. I hope he does well but time will tell!


June 14th, 2013 at 9:59 AM ^

Last summer I scoured the internet looking for stats on Borges' offense at Boise State, and was pretty surprised to find nothing available.  So, I e-mailed the Boise State SID asking if they could help me out.  To this day, I have still received no response from anyone at Boise State.  For a while, I was kind of pondering whether their lack of response might be some kind of open records violation, though probably not since I don't live in Idaho and the SCOTUS has just ruled that states don't have to answer public records requests from out-of-state requesters.  Still though, to hell with Boise State.


June 14th, 2013 at 11:22 AM ^

Really cool - thanks for doing this. Liking forward to the next parts!

Just curious - where do you get the confidence that the OL was bad in '99 and '00? I believe you, but if we're going to assign the blame to them, it's important to justify our thoughts! I'd love for it to be true, clearly, so we can maintain optimism about Borges ;)