Coaching Analysis: Jim Tressel

July 7, 2008

He has accumulated many nicknames over the years, from the Senator to CheatyPants McSweaterVest. He has also accumulated many wins, conference titles, a national title, and two spectacular flameouts in the past two BCS title games.

He is Jim Tressel, head coach of Ohio State and one of the more controversial figures in the sport.

He would seem an unlikely candidate for the role of controversy. He wins a lot but seldom via embarrassing blowouts. He speaks out in public only on rare occasions. He projects an image of a conservative, almost introverted college professor who is more likely to give a lecture on economics than a pregame motivational speech.

He also has earned that second nickname listed above thanks to a string of off the field incidents that range from player arrests to guys taking money from boosters. They date back to his time at Youngstown State, and a New York Times article from the week before his game against Florida outlines the major stories if you’re interested.

One thing that can’t be denied regardless of affiliation is that the man wins a lot of games. Through seven seasons in Columbus, he has won a national title, four conference titles, and appeared in five BCS bowl games. He is one of only two coaches, along with Bob Stoops, to have made three BCS championship games; however, they are also the only two coaches to have lost two of them in a row.

Ohio State has won the Big Ten three years in a row, and it appears to have the best team going into 2008. That means Tressel is threatening to turn the Big Ten into what Pete Carroll has made the Pac-10: one team on top and everyone else playing for second place.

Here is Tressel’s record broken down by site. This table does not include games against I-AA teams.

Jim Tressel at Ohio State
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 44 5 49
Away 24 8 32
Bowls 4 3 7
Totals 72 16 88

Overall, that’s pretty impressive. That’s a winning percentage of .818, which is about as good as anyone can do over an extended period of time. The bowl record obviously could use some work, but I’ll get into more of that later. The home record isn’t quite as good as I had expected, but two of those five losses came in Tressel’s first year.

Here is Tressel’s record broken down by site. As always, first tier opponents are teams that had a winning percentage of .750 or better, second tier were .500 to .749, third tier opponents were .250 to .499, and fourth tier opponents were .249 and below.

Jim Tressel at Ohio State
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 9 9 .500 23 24
Second 31 5 .861 28 15
Third 28 2 .933 33 13
Fourth 4 0 1.000 31 6

The obvious: he wins a lot of games, beats the teams he should beat, but doesn’t win by gaudy scores. This much we knew. The two losses to third tier teams, if you were wondering, were to five-win teams in his first year on the job.

That said, the 9-9 record against the top tier surprised me.

Prior to the last two BCS title games, Tressel had a reputation for being one of the best big game coaches in America. He could be counted upon to win the big games, one of the few in the country who were trusted to do so. Yet toss out those two championship game fiascoes, and he’s a good but not great 9-7 against that top tier.

One of those seven other losses was to Vince Young in 2005, which is entirely understandable. Two more were to Illinois’ miracle 2001 squad and Lou Holtz’s one good South Carolina team in Tressel’s first year, which are also understandable.

He also had a loss to Joe Paterno’s last great Penn State team (the 11-1 team in 2005), Kirk Ferentz’s last great Iowa team (his 10-2 team in 2004), and the sole loss to Michigan in 2003 (which can’t be complained about given the outcome of every other Michigan game). Overall, it’s hard to blame him for those.

However, guys don’t get reputations for being a great coach on the biggest stages based on understandable losses. I have to conclude that his big game rep was built on beating Michigan year in and year out and his 4-1 bowl record through the 2005 season.

Perhaps that should be enough to qualify a coach for that status, but perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised to see the losses to Florida and LSU. Given that LSU was almost certainly the better team from the start of 2007 and the overwhelming talent on Florida’s defense, those losses were also understandable (though the final scores were not).

I mentioned Bob Stoops earlier, and now I want to bring him up again. He and Tressel have many similarities, most notably their winning the national title in their second years and then going on to lose two BCS title games in a row. I wanted to see though, just how similar their records are.

So, here are the records of Stoops in his first seven seasons and Tressel side by side.

Stoops and Tressel, through 7 Seasons
Stoops Tressel
Record 74-16 72-16
Bowl Record 4-3 4-3
BCSCG Record 1-2 1-2
vs. 1st Tier 14-7 9-9
vs. 2nd Tier 27-7 31-5
vs. 3rd Tier 26-2 28-2
vs. 4th Tier 7-0 4-0
Nat. Titles 1 1
Conf. Titles 3 4
vs. Rival 5-2 6-1
Heismans 1 (J. White) 1 (T. Smith)

BCSCG means BCS Championship Game. For Stoops, “Rival” means Texas; for Tressel, “Rival” means Michigan.

Their records aren’t just similar, they’re eerily close. Just about as close as Mack Brown and Phil Fulmer through ten years.

Stoops was better against the top tier, but Tressel was a little better against the second. Otherwise, everything is basically the same down to getting blown out in the national title game with their Heisman-winning quarterbacks.

It gets even spookier when you line up the year-by-year records of each from best to worst:

Records by Year
Stoops Tressel
13-0 14-0
12-1 12-1
12-2 11-2
12-2 11-2
11-2 10-2
8-4 8-4
7-5 7-5

It can’t get any closer than that, can it? Have a look at the year-by-year records for Oklahoma and Ohio State if you want to reconcile the differences in number of games for each season, though most have to do with Oklahoma playing in the Big 12 title game.

This second section was mainly for fun, since there’s not a lot that can be gleaned from it. It’s a remarkable coincidence that these two coaches in different conferences in different time periods with fairly different philosophies can do almost the exact same thing over such a long period of time.

It just goes to show that football success takes all types, and that even high levels of success can be matched elsewhere. Will Tressel go into as big a bowl tailspin as Stoops did? It’s just one of the many interesting subplots that will make the 2008 college football season great.

Happy Independence Day

July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day, all. Back next week with more content.

Coach Analysis: Les Miles

July 2, 2008

Recently I did an analysis of Urban Meyer’s record at Florida, even though he’s only been here three years. It’s not long enough to make lasting conclusions, but it’s enough to get some general ideas about what has happened and where he’s going.

There is another coach, though, who joined the SEC at the same time yet is overshadowed by Meyer when it comes to discussions of the conference’s best coach. He has been to one more conference title game and has a national title too, but rather than be singled out for excellence he’s always grouped in with the five SEC coaches who have won a national title.

Life has certainly been interesting at LSU for Les Miles.

His hiring was widely questioned, and for good reason. His best record at Oklahoma State was 9-4, he came into Baton Rouge off of a 7-5 year, and his reputation was mainly built on two improbable upsets of Oklahoma.

Shortly before his debut, Hurricane Katrina struck and football became the least of anyone’s worries in Louisiana. Despite the adversity he led his 2005 squad to a 10-1 regular season, losing only in overtime to Tennessee in a game postponed by Hurricane Rita. After losing the SEC title game to Georgia, his Tigers hammered the Miami Hurricanes 40-3 in the Peach Bowl in a delicious bit of ironic symbolism.

Even after winning the 2007 national championship, some doubters still remain. The stars of that 2007 team – guys like Glenn Dorsey, Matt Flynn, Jacob Hester, and Early Doucet – were Nick Saban recruits. That 2007 team also lost two games, leading some to point out that, “You can’t spell Les Miles without two Ls.” On top of that, the architect of his fearsome Tiger defenses, Bo Pelini, has left to take over at Nebraska.

Whatever you think of his time before joining or his future at LSU, you can’t help but be impressed by the records he has posted there so far. His 2005 game against Appalachian State has been omitted in keeping with the policy of only analyzing I-A competition.

Here it is broken down by site:

Les Miles at LSU
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 18 2 20
Away 11 3 14
Neutral 1 1 2
Bowls 3 0 3
Totals 33 6 39

The neutral site games are SEC title games.

A winning percentage of .850 over three years is impressive no matter how you slice it. The three bowl wins are more impressive when you consider they were by 37, 27, and 14 points. Both of the home losses came in overtime games, and the two road losses in 2006 were to Florida and Auburn teams that combined to go 24-3 on the year.

Here is Miles’ record broken down by tier. As always, first tier opponents are teams that had a winning percentage of .750 or better, second tier were .500 to .749, third tier opponents were .250 to .499, and fourth tier opponents were .249 and below.

Les Miles at LSU
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 7 3 .700 25 16
Second 12 2 .857 37 21
Third 13 1 .929 37 12
Fourth 1 1 1.000 56 3

Miles has had a first tier team each year, so the three losses within that tier are understandable. They were to basically equal or better teams.

The other three losses were to 5-6 Tennessee in 2005, 8-5 Kentucky in 2007, and 8-5 Arkansas in 2007. The common thread that binds these games together, besides being losses to lesser teams, is that they all were overtime losses.

That means Miles is a few well-placed field goals away from being an eye-popping 36-3 over his first three years with perhaps a third BCS appearance in ’05. Given his struggles in overtime so far, it’s no surprise that Miles coined the “undefeated in regulation” doctrine last year.

It’s likely that the Miles/Meyer comparison will go on for quite some time since both appear to be at their current schools for the long haul and both have had so much early success. Miles has had a slight upper hand so far, mainly because while Ron Zook left the cupboards full at Florida, Saban left an embarrassment of riches for his successor when he bolted for the NFL.

Periodically, the argument will arise about the pecking order of coaches in the SEC. Before you instinctively put Urban Meyer over Les Miles, just think about his record so far because it’s really, really good. Then go ahead and put Meyer ahead anyway because he’d be celebrating ring number three if he had Saban’s players the past three years.

Coach Analysis: Mark Richt

July 1, 2008

Mark Richt is by any measure the Anti-Gator: a former Miami quarterback, former FSU offensive coordinator, and now Georgia head coach. All he’s missing is some sort of grad assistant tenure at Tennessee.

He also is by any measure the best head coach in Athens since Vince Dooley. Not that surpassing Ray “Goof” was going that difficult, and on close inspection Jim Donnan’s record isn’t quite as good as it looks. By the time he’s done, Richt may end up surpassing Dooley himself.

Since Richt arrived in 2001, it’s hard for any Bulldog fans to complain about his record there. Except, of course, that he hasn’t won a national title. And he’s 2-5 against Florida. And he lost to Vanderbilt. You know what? Let’s just move on to his record as a whole.

Here is the tale of the tape by venue for Mark Richt:

Mark Richt at Georgia
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 34 7 41
Away 25 4 29
Neutral 4 6 10
Bowls 5 2 7
Totals 68 19 87

If you’re counting along at home, he actually has a better road record percentage-wise than his home record. He’s been good in bowls, with the West Virginia blitzkrieg and a loss to Boston College in his first year as his only blemishes. That neutral site record includes his 2-5 record against Florida and his 2-1 record in SEC title games.

That home record could stand to be shored up some, but two of the losses did come in 2001 with Jim Donnan’s players. The away record loses some of its sparkle if you include his record in Jacksonville, but with the crowd there being split 50-50, it truly is a neutral site game.

Here is his his record based on quality of opponent. As with before, first tier is any team that finished the year .750 and up, second tier is .500 to .749, third tier is .250 to .499, and fourth tier is .249 and below.

Mark Richt at Georgia
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 9 10 .474 24 21
Second 32 8 .800 28 18
Third 18 1 .947 28 13
Fourth 9 0 1.000 37 14

Richt’s record against the first tier is pretty good, though nowhere near Bob Stoops’s 17-10 mark. The second tier record is good, showing that he wins four of every five against the group directly below him as Georgia has been a first tier team five of his seven years. The one loss to a third tier team was to Vanderbilt in 2006.

It is somewhat puzzling to see that his teams don’t average 30 points a game until you get to fourth tier opponents, considering how explosive his offenses at FSU were. It goes to show that as a head coach he’s been a bit more conservative on offense.

It’s also interesting to note that he averages a 24-21 win against the first tier if you look at points while he’s just 9-10 against it. Part of that is due to the fact that he has some large blowouts over first tier teams (Hawaii in 2007, Auburn in 2006, Tennessee in 2003 to name a few) and part is due to the fact that he generally doesn’t get blown out himself.

For you pattern watchers out there, he’s 0-2 against eventual national champions but 2-0 against defending national champions. That makes for two interesting weeks in a row when Georgia plays at LSU on October 25 and Florida on November 1, given what LSU did last year and the preseason magazines’ fawning all over the Gators this year.

Mark Richt has been good. He’s not been Bowden/Spurrier in the ’90s good or Bob Stoops at Oklahoma good, but not many are. He has two SEC championships, a 13-1 season (which wins a national title nearly every year except 2002 when he posted it), and for the most part he beats everyone he’s supposed to beat.

He’s also an all-around good guy and will have the Georgia job as long as he wants it. Putting partisanship aside, it’s good for college football to have him at a high-profile program like Georgia, and he likely will continue to be one of the game’s top coaches.


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