Jim Tressel Attempts To Set The Record Straight On The Big Ten

July 22, 2008

On Monday, July 21st we got the first installment of ESPN’s College Football Live series in anticipation of the 2008 season. I know that many people dislike ESPN for one reason or another, but it’s hard to argue with having a 30 minute college football show every weekday.

We also know that the season can’t be that far away if the Mothership’s marketing machine is roaring to life. I think we can all agree that the season being close is a Good Thing, surpassed only by the season being here.

Anyway, they decided to bring out some big guns of controversy to kick off the season. One was Tim Tebow, who is either a saint or the most overexposed and overrated quarterback in years depending on who you ask. The other was the head coach of Ohio State, Jim Tressel.

After some pleasantries, including Tressel giving his best Jacques Clouseau impression, Jessie Palmer went right to the topic that has set message boards and comment threads alight all spring and summer long:

Palmer: “The Big Ten last year went 3-5 in bowl games. Ohio State obviously has lost the last two national championship games. What do you say to critics out there who say the Big Ten is a weak conference?”

Tressel: “Well, I think anyone that’s ever played against the Big Ten would refute that. The Big Ten is not a weak conference; it’s a strong conference.

Did we lose the last two national championship games? Yes. Did we lose the last two Rose Bowls, which is a BCS venue? Yes, and that gets the most notoriety so I think you have to look in the mirror and say, ‘If you want respect you have to win those games.’

I don’t know if you ever get respect in debates. You get respect in action, and 2008′s on the way.” (emphasis mine)

I like the way Tressel did that. He did not give in, but he didn’t dismiss the critics either. He acknowledged the fact that losing on the biggest stages alters perceptions more than anything else does.

Given how politically polished that statement was, it’s no wonder people still call Tressel “The Senator.” The 2008 season is indeed on the way, and he knows that all the bluster in the world during the offseason will never carry as much weight as what happens on the field.

Hopefully, this statement from the Sweatervest can serve as the final word in the overplayed, overhyped, and overdone debate over the strength of the Big Ten this offseason. I have little hope that it will, but a guy can dream, can’t he?


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.


Six Potential Trap Games in 2008

June 2, 2008

Trap games. They happen when a good team finds itself in way more of a competitive game than should be expected against a lesser opponent. They come before, after, or between big games, when a superior team thinks it could rest easy. During them, the most common refrain for these teams’ fans is, “This can’t be happening…”

Everyone hates them, because you usually can’t see them coming until you’re in them. After going through the schedules of the six BCS conferences, I now give you a potential trap game for each league. If you see your team here, beware.

The Game: Virginia Tech at UNC, September 20

Before and After: Georgia Tech before, at Nebraska after

Why It Will Be a Trap Game: While no one expects Georgia Tech to compete for an ACC title this year, Virginia Tech will need all the time it can get to prepare for Paul Johnson’s unconventional offense. The Hokies also will probably be looking forward to making a statement against Nebraska, since when they went on the road to a BCS school last year, they were sent home from Baton Rouge with a 48-7 loss. They will want to show they can win big road games out of conference, even if these Huskers aren’t as good as last year’s champs were.

In the middle of those contests sits UNC, in year two of the Butch Davis era. The Tar Heels were a mostly harmless 4-8 in 2007, and their recruiting and player development have not progressed far enough in to turn them into a conference title contender just yet. Still, UNC lost by just seven in Blacksburg last year, and could very well pull the upset if the Hokies are distracted.

Why It May Not Matter: Virginia Tech has Furman the week before playing Georgia Tech, so the Jackets may not be much of a factor. Plus, UNC has received a lot of preseason love already, so it might be difficult for the Heels to truly sneak up on the Hokies.

The Game: Texas vs. Oklahoma State, October 25

Before and After: Missouri before, at Texas Tech after

Why It Will Be a Trap Game: Did you know that Texas’ pass defense was ranked 109th in 2007? Did you also know that Texas will be starting two redshirt freshmen at safety in 2008? Both are true, and they could spell trouble when the Cowboys come to town.

Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson finished 12th in the nation in passing efficiency in his sophomore year, and he could be even better as a junior in 2008 without any Bobby Reid-related distractions hanging over the team. OSU only lost by three in Stillwater last year, so we know they can hang with Texas.

With the Longhorns having to deal with a presumed national title contender in Missouri the week before and an absolutely loaded Texas Tech team the week after, they very well could overlook this game and give Oklahoma State a chance to steal one in Austin.

Why It May Not Matter: Oklahoma State’s pass defense in 2007 was even worse—112th in the nation. Texas also has a rising junior quarterback in Colt McCoy who managed to finish 24th in passer efficiency last season, despite a more than shaky offensive line.

UT is a young team that figures to get better as the year goes on, so this game might be happening after everything clicks for the Longhorns. Plus, Texas hasn’t lost to Oklahoma State since its 4-7 campaign in 1997, and it hasn’t lost at home to the Cowboys since 1944.

The Game: West Virginia at UConn, November 1

Before: Auburn

Why it Will be a Trap Game: The Mountaineers’ trip to Storrs comes a week after what could be a titanic matchup with Auburn in Morgantown. West Virginia will doubtless be amped from the game against the Tigers, wanting to prove the school made the right choice by sticking with Bill Stewart as head coach.

The national feeling is that the bowl win over Oklahoma was a nice story, but Stewart may not be the right guy for the job. Defeating Auburn is probably the one chance the team has to stand up and make a statement on the national stage in favor of its beloved head coach.

The contest the week after has “classic letdown game” written all over it. After what will be an emotionally draining contest with Auburn win or lose, West Virginia must travel up north to face the well-disciplined Huskies.

UConn doesn’t play highly entertaining football, but last season it found a way to win ugly with ruthless efficiency. The bottom fell out of their season late last year, and the Huskies lost three of their last four. But in 2008, UConn will want to prove that they were not a one year wonder. Beating West Virginia would be the best way to do that.

Why it May Not Matter: For starters, West Virginia smoked UConn 66-21 last year. It was a tour de force for Mountaineers’ QB Pat White, and he’s back in 2008. He won’t be running exactly the same offense, but there’s something about him that UConn couldn’t handle. If the Huskies don’t figure White out, it’s over because they won’t have the firepower to win a shootout.

In addition, UConn might end up contending for a conference title again, in which case any trap potential goes out the window.

The Game: Ohio State vs. Troy, September 20

Before: at USC

Why it Will be a Trap Game: Principally, this could be a trap game because it comes the week after Ohio State plays the USC Trojans in Los Angeles. That is a critical game on many levels for the Buckeyes, mainly in restoring credibility to itself and to its conference. The ESPN College GameDay crew will be there, it will receive endless hype, and it may end up being the best regular season game.

The week after that circus, the feisty Trojans from Troy, Alabama come to town. They are well known throughout the South for near misses against good ACC and SEC teams. Troy runs the spread offense that gives OSU fits, and though former offensive coordinator and spread guru Tony Franklin has left for Auburn, his protégé Neal Brown is taking over and keeping complete continuity.

In a similar trap game scenario, Troy played Georgia to within 10 points the week after the Bulldogs played Florida. If Ohio State comes home fat and happy after a win in L.A., this game could be a lot closer of a contest than anyone thinks.

Why it May Not Matter: If Ohio State loses to USC, they will probably take it out on Troy in ugly fashion. While it’s true that the Trojans played Georgia to within 10 points, it took a touchdown with five seconds left to keep that from being 17. Troy also lost senior QB Omar Haugabrook to graduation and star CB Leodis McKelvin to the NFL draft this offseason.

Ohio State is absolutely loaded on both sides of the ball, so it’s a bit much to expect a Sun Belt Conference team to win in the Horseshoe no matter the circumstances.

The Game: USC at Washington State, October 18

Before: Arizona State

Why it Will be a Trap Game: Arizona State appears to be main contender in 2008 to end USC’s hegemony in the Pac-10. QB Rudy Carpenter will be in his senior year, it’s the second season under turnaround specialist Dennis Erickson, and the Sun Devils have seven returning starters on both sides of the ball. Given what Oregon has lost, ASU is the clear No. 2 in the conference this fall.

The week after that crucial game for USC comes a road match in Pullman, Washington. Washington State’s team is a bit thin in the first year of the Paul Wulff regime, and he is installing a new offense and defense there. His no-huddle spread offense could be dangerous against USC if the Trojans are napping the week after a big game.

Plus USC, won by only six the last time it played at Washington State, and if they can lose to Stanford last year they can lose to anyone. If things click for the Cougars by mid-October, they could be dangerous in this game.

Why it May Not Matter: Did I mention Washington State’s team is thin? It is, and it lost scholarships to Academic Progress Report-related penalties. Plus, there has been a rash of disciplinary and academic problems there. If injuries strike at all, they could torpedo the Cougars’ season entirely. Besides, the new schemes may not have gelled by this point, severely limiting Washington State’s chances in this game.

The Game: Florida at Arkansas, October 4

After: LSU

Why it Will be a Trap Game: Sandwiched for Florida between a road match at Tennessee and a home game with LSU sit two SEC West teams, each breaking in new coaches—Ole Miss with Houston Nutt and Arkansas with Bobby Petrino. It will be very tempting for the Gators to lump the two together as future threats, but nothing to speak of this season.

While that’s true for Ole Miss, Arkansas is an intriguing team. Petrino immediately brings credibility as a coach who has won a BCS bowl game, and senior QB Casey Dick will finally get a chance to play in an offense that treats the pass as more than a novelty. Dick had a nice spring for the Hogs too, and they get a week off before hosting the Gators.

Florida’s secondary was a disaster last year. Though Urban Meyer said it’s the most improved part of the team, even if it’s twice as good as 2007 it still won’t be elite. Petrino’s scheme gives Arkansas’s passing game immediate credibility, and Dick won’t have to play like an all-SEC quarterback to cause trouble if Florida is looking ahead to LSU

Why it May Not Matter: It’s not clear that Dick will have anyone to throw to, as every receiver on the Hogs’ roster is a question mark. The player with the most receptions in 2007 coming back is TE Andrew Davie with 14.

There’s also no guarantee that Dick can repeat his spring success against real defenses in game situations this fall. Florida’s defense will be better, and its offense should better too. If UF takes this one seriously, the disparity of talent and skill on offense should allow the Gators to win, even if the defense doesn’t show up.


Paterno: Anti-Playoff Arguments are “Bogus”

May 28, 2008

Joe Paterno has come out in favor of a college football playoff, calling the reasons why one does not exist “bogus.” He rejects the academics-based arguments against a playoff, like players missing class and that having a two semester sport is bad thing, by noting the length of the basketball season. That carries some weight coming from perhaps the only active major college football coach who has endowed a library at his university. He also says the champion “should be decided on the field.”

Knows what’s going on.

This is not really breaking news, considering that Paterno has apparently been in favor of a playoff for some time. It is relevant right now though, since this off season the playoff debate has raged on more so than in past years as more and more people speak out.

The BCS has been criticized since its inception for not providing a satisfying finish to the season. Then last year, we had UF President Bernie Machen’s short-lived playoff proposal that got shot down at conference meetings. This year, we’ve had university presidents, congressmen, and the SEC and ACC commissioners come out in favor of a playoff. FSU President T.K. Wetherell has gone so far as to call a playoff inevitable and has further debunked some anti-playoff arguments himself.

The Big Ten, Pac 10, and Rose Bowl are generally targeted as the villains who are obstructing progress towards a playoff, though Big 12 President Dan Beebe has been just as consistent in his opposition too.

Paterno reminding the world that he is in favor of a playoff is a crack in the unified façade that the Big Ten has tried to project. It’s not likely to change much though, since Paterno has held the belief for a long time without it making a difference, and Penn State is the newcomer to the conference anyway. Plus, Paterno will not be coaching the 10-15 years more that he joked he would.

Paterno’s belief also does something else: it proves that “old guys” aren’t all in favor of the bowl system. That idea is something that has been an unspoken undercurrent to many of the pro-playoff arguments I’ve seen: old guys clinging to old ways are blocking the flow of Progress*.

Paterno is older than every bowl except the Rose, and only 8 bowls that are currently still playing existed when he took over as head coach at Penn State: the Rose (first game in 1902), Orange (1935), Sugar (1935), Sun (1935), Cotton (1937), Gator (1947), Tangerine/Florida Citrus/Capital One (1947), and Liberty (1959). JoePa coaching in State College, PA is more of a tradition than the Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, or any other bowl you can name are.

Paterno is also not in favor of the rule requiring coaches voting in the Coaches’ Poll to select the winner of the BCS championship game as #1. His frustration with that rule stems from 2004 when he wanted to vote for Auburn as national champion. I’ll let JoePa himself sum it all up:

“They said, ‘Well, you’ve got to vote or else you can’t participate.’ So I will not participate in the voting. Not that I’m against what other people want to do, it’s just that philosophically I think you ought to win it on the field. If I have to vote for somebody only because people have said these are the two teams that ought to be in the BCS championship game and I think they left somebody out that probably ought to be in it, that’s when I’ll feel a playoff ought to be appropriate. I’ve always been for a playoff.”

*Decidedly old guy Beano Cook is in favor of a plus one system, so it’s not just Paterno.


The Guys Who Follow College Football’s Coaching Legends

May 9, 2008

We’ve all heard it a million times: “You don’t want to be the guy who follows a legend; you want to be the guy who follows the guy who follows the legend.”

It makes intuitive sense, and it certainly would seem true. Urban Meyer is the guy who followed the guy who followed the legend at Florida, and things have worked out quite well for him so far. Then again, Bill Callahan was the same at Nebraska, and the fans were ready to run him out of town two years before he finally got the axe.

To see how true this adage is, I’ve looked at some coaching legends and the guys who followed them. They are as follows, in chronological order from when the legend was hired:

OKLAHOMA

Legend: Bud Wilkinson, 1947-63, 145-29-4 (.826); 3 national and 14 conference titles

Follower: Gomer Jones, 1964-65, 9-11-1 (.452); 0 national or conference titles

Next: Jim Mackenzie, 1966, 6-4 (.600); 0 national or conference titles

This is somewhat of a bad example to start off with, since Mackenzie sadly passed away due to a heart attack after his first season.

Jones definitely had a difficult time following Wilkinson though, having not been able to break even in his two years. Wilkinson is the coach who led Oklahoma to its famed 47-game winning streak, and he failed to win the Big 8 title in only three of his 17 years.

AUBURN

Legend: Shug Jordan, 1951-75, 175-83-7 (.674), 1 national and 1 conference title

Follower: Doug Barfield, 1976-80, 29-25-1 (.536), 0 national or conference titles

Next: Pat Dye, 1981-92, 99-39-4 (.711), 0 national and 4 conference titles

Jordan held the job for 25 years and the stadium is named after him, but his .674 winning percentage is lower than any of the other legends on this list. Barfield followed him up with 5 forgettable seasons, with 8-3 being the best record he posted.

Dye had the most success in his tenure of the three, though he was forced out of his coaching and AD position when it was revealed that assistant coaches and boosters had paid a player. He still is fondly remembered, though, as the field at Jordan-Hare stadium was named after him in 2005.

OHIO STATE

Legend: Woody Hayes, 1951-78, 205-61-10 (.761), 5 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Earle Bruce, 1979-87, 81-26-1 (.755), 0 national and 4 conference titles

Next: John Cooper, 1988-2000, 111-43-4 (.715), 0 national and 4 conference titles

Earle Bruce did an admirable job in following Woody Hayes after Hayes’ unexpected meltdown and firing. He did not see the same success however, though he nearly won the national title in his first year.

John Cooper is a goat in OSU annals, having posted a 2-10-1 record against Michigan and having presided over numerous academic and discipline problems.

TEXAS

Legend: Darrell Royal, 1957-76, 167-47-5 (.774), 3 national and 11 conference titles

Follower: Fred Akers, 1977-86, 86-31-2 (.731), 0 national and 2 conference titles

Next: David McWilliams, 1987-91, 31-26 (.544), 0 national and 1 conference title

Akers did a much better job than McWilliams did. Akers caught flak though for losing bowl games and in his final few years having bad records against Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

McWilliams’s 1990 SWC championship year looks like a fluke in light of the rest of his seasons, with the 7-5 record in his first year being the second-best record he had.

ALABAMA

Legend: Paul Bryant, 1958-82, 232-46-9 (.824), 6 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Ray Perkins, 1983-86, 32-15-1 (.677), 0 national or conference titles

Next: Bill Curry, 1987-89, 26-10 (.722), 0 national and 1 conference title

Perkins left the New York Giants to coach at his alma mater, and he left four years later to take a rich contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An incident where a former player that he had recruited claimed he was paid led to the school being placed on probation in 1995.

Curry was doing well in his three years, though he was 0-3 against Auburn. He didn’t like the contract offered to him in 1990, so he left to coach Kentucky.

GEORGIA

Legend: Vince Dooley, 1964-88, 201-77-10 (.715), 1 national and 6 conference titles

Follower: Ray Goff, 1989-95, 46-34-1 (.574), 0 national or conference titles

Next: Jim Donnan, 1996-2000, 40-19 (.678), 0 national or conference titles

Neither Goff nor Donnan panned out for the Bulldogs. They both failed to win even an SEC East title, and both were used as Florida’s whipping boy. Goff is perhaps most famous for being called “Ray Goof” by Steve Spurrier.

MICHIGAN

Legend: Bo Schembechler, 1969-89, 194-48-5 (.796), 0 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Gary Moeller, 1990-94, 44-13-3 (.758), 0 national and 3 conference titles

Next: Lloyd Carr, 1995-07, 122-40 (.753), 1 national and 5 conference titles

Moeller is a controversial figure for Wolverines due to his messy departure following a drunken altercation at a restaurant. Some argue his best years were already behind him; some argue that he was trying to modernize the program and that Carr won his national title with Moeller’s players.

Carr is one of the few followed-the-guy-who-followed-the-legend guys who actually won a national title. His legacy will remain mixed due to his futility against Jim Tressel and the loss to Appalachian State.

BYU

Legend: LaVell Edwards, 1972-2000, 257-101-3 (.716), 1 national and 19 conference titles

Follower: Gary Crowton, 2001-04, 26-23 (.531), 0 national and 1 conference title

Next: Bronco Mendenhall, 2005-present, 28-10 (.737), 0 national and 2 conference titles

Crowton won the MWC his first year with Edwards’ players, but failed to reach .500 in his remaining three years. Mendenhall has put together consecutive 11-win seasons, winning the MWC title each year. His 2008 team is expected to contend for a BCS bowl.

NEBRASKA

Legend: Tom Osborne, 1973-97, 255-49-3 (.836), 3 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Frank Solich, 1998-03, 58-19 (.753), 0 national and 1 conference title

Next: Bill Callahan, 2004-07, 27-22 (.551), 0 national or conference titles

Solich is probably the source of the modern “You don’t want to be the guy who follows a legend” movement, having been fired after a 9-win season. Callahan ended up being a disaster, and will probably be despised by Husker fans forever.

FLORIDA

Legend: Steve Spurrier, 1990-2001, 122-27-1 (.817), 1 national and 6 conference titles

Follower: Ron Zook, 2002-04, 23-14 (.622), 0 national and conference titles

Next: Urban Meyer, 2005-present, 31-8 (.795), 1 national and 1 conference title

Zook was doomed from the beginning, having been a fallback choice for the coaching position and having never been a head coach before. He won games he shouldn’t have, but lost games he shouldn’t have too. He also presided over an explosion of off-field issues, including Zook himself being involved in a fight at a frat house. Some Florida fans still defend him, but the overall sentiment is that his hiring was a mistake.

After doubts about his offense abounded in his first year, Meyer solidified his position in his second by winning a national title. Some fans are uncomfortable with his highly aggressive recruiting tactics, which have drawn scrutiny from other coaches and the NCAA, but otherwise Gators are more than happy with his job so far.

*   *   *

Following a legend, regardless of place in line, is not easy. Only Pat Dye clearly surpassed his legendary predecessor’s accomplishments, but his departure was not the stuff of legends.

None of the followers distinguished himself after leaving, though Earle Bruce had a nice run with Iowa State before coaching the Buckeyes. Ron Zook still has time to carve out his legacy at Illinois.

The book is still open for Mendenhall and Meyer, but both appear to be in good shape. Despite their records, most of the coaches in that coveted “guy who followed the guy who followed the legend” role didn’t fare much better than the guy who did follow the legend.

There is some truth to the adage, but in the end good coaches will succeed in good situations regardless of who came before.


BCS Plus One Proposal Fails, but Why?

May 1, 2008

Unsurprisingly, there will be no plus one system added to the BCS for the 2010 season. It always was a non-issue since the Rose Bowl contract with ABC goes through 2014. Any big changes like a plus one system will have to come when all of the TV rights expire in the same year.

Beyond that though, the Big Ten and Pac 10 were never going to allow it to happen. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney loves being the playoff villain. He has stated on the record that a playoff could be good for college football as a whole, but adds, “I don’t work for college football at large.” His goal is to advance the Big Ten brand, and he sees tradition, the Rose Bowl, and a TV network as the way to do that.

Pac 10 Commissioner Tom Hansen has also said that the Pac 10 would rather secede from the BCS than have a plus one system. The ACC, Big 12, Big East, and SEC were willing to discuss the matter at the BCS meetings this week, but the Big Ten and Pac 10 had no plans for giving it a fair chance. Only the SEC and ACC were fully committed to the plan.

I keep hearing the same arguments over and over about why there shouldn’t be a plus one system. I will now address them one by one.

A Plus One system will inevitably grow

Not necessarily. Major League Baseball, having had playoffs since 1903, kept a four team playoff up until 1994. The only reason it expanded was because of expansion of the league. It stands at 8 teams currently, and there are no plans for the foreseeable future to change that.

Compare that with the hallowed bowl system, which has now expanded to 34 in total. That means 68 teams, or about 57%, of the 120 Division I-A teams will be going bowling. In the two years that wins over I-AA teams have counted towards being bowl eligible, 73 and 71 teams have made the 6-6 threshold. That’s cutting it awfully close.

Also, thanks to 6-6 teams losing bowls, we now have bowl teams finishing under .500 for the year. Is that really what people want? And what if there aren’t 68 bowl eligible teams in a season?

The arrangement only encourages more I-A teams playing I-AA teams, which weakens the regular season. I thought that’s what we were preserving…

A playoff dilutes the regular season

No, extra-long regular seasons dilute a regular season. Let’s go back to baseball. When only 4 teams made the playoffs every year, did anyone care about May baseball games? Of course not. There were a million other ones leading up to October. I also hear about how March Madness killed the college basketball regular season. It didn’t; everyone playing 30+ games before March killed the college basketball regular season.

Before there was a national title game in college football and teams just played to get to bowls, college football had a great regular season. Once a national title game was established, it made it even better because the competition suddenly expanded beyond conference borders.

Somehow, these BCS proponents think that everyone competing for 4 spots instead of 2 will instantly kill the regular season. That it will make Florida and FSU fans suddenly get along because who needs a rivalry now that four teams have a shot at winning it all at the end of the year instead of two? That Sooners and Longhorns will do the same, or that a September match up of USC and Ohio State will be not be as exciting.

You know how much a difference there is between two teams and four playing for the national title at the end of the year? It’s 1.67% of all I-A teams, or 3% of all BCS conference teams. No, giving four teams a chance to win it all doesn’t devalue the regular season because the scarcity of regular season games will still be there, and an very small percentage of teams will actually be playing for the title.

A playoff devalues the Rose Bowl

Here’s a hint: when the Rose Bowl joined the BCS, it gave up all claims to tradition. The only thing that makes it special over the other BCS bowls anymore is that it’s older than them. That’s it and that’s all.

The final ship to sail in this argument shoved off when Texas beat USC in the 2005 Rose Bowl to win the national championship. It should have become clear right then and there that the Rose Bowl is a great site to hold a game, but it’s the meeting of two great teams that make the game great.

This year’s Rose Bowl just further illustrates the point. We had a Big Ten/Pac 10 meeting, and it was a horrible game. Ohio State’s performance against LSU indicated that had OSU met USC instead of Illinois playing the Trojans, it wouldn’t have been much different. Great games are made by great teams, not stadiums. What happens on the field is what matters, not what occurs on Colorado Boulevard.

Ratings and revenues are up; the BCS must be what fans want

People like college football. That is what people want. They will pay to watch it in person regardless of the postseason format. They will watch it on TV regardless of the postseason format.

Let me tell you a story. The iPod mini was once the best-selling iPod of all time. It was even the best-selling portable audio device in the world in its day. In September 2005, Apple made a bold move and replaced it with the iPod nano. It was a risk because of the enormous popularity and revenue stream the mini had. The nano ended up being even more popular, selling a million units in just 17 days.

In short, this argument is a non sequitur. Correlation does not equal causation, and the BCS format isn’t driving the rise in ratings and revenues. The popularity of football as a whole is.

A playoff would make football a two semester sport

With spring practice, football already is a two semester sport.

Ignoring that for a moment, I don’t see how a plus one makes the postseason any longer. The 1-4 and 2-3 games would happen on New Years, and the title game would happen a week later. That’s the same timing that we have with the current BCS bowl arrangement, so this one is nothing but hot air.

It kills the tradition of the bowls

Too late. By segmenting off the BCS games, we already have tiers in the postseason. Besides, once we got bowls in Shreveport, Detroit, and especially Toronto, they no longer were about giving teams a reward for a good season by getting to play a game in nice locale.

Besides, not one playoff proposal I’ve seen, Mike Slive’s included, has proposed killing off all of the bowl games in favor of keeping only a playoff. No one is suggesting that, and having a plus one system will not diminish the prestige of the Papajohns.com bowl. It never had any in the first place.

*   *   *

I welcome any comments/discussions on the topic. If there are any other objections about a having a plus one system in college football, I’d love to hear them. It just infuriates me to no end to know that the people in charge of the system are getting rich off of fan dollars while not delivering what the fans want.


Coaches’ Contracts: Overrated?

April 14, 2008

In my world, there’s a scent of irony floating through that just as I begin a series on coach contracts, we come to find out that not everyone thinks they’re necessary.

Penn State and Joe Paterno have decided after weeks of hand wringing over him having just one year left on his contract that he doesn’t need one. PSU’s position is that his seniority is supposed to speak for itself, a contract is “not necessary or practical,” and not having a contract doesn’t imply a retirement date. Paterno, for his part, says that he doesn’t need a contract, trusts the university to do the right thing, and that if he needed a contract in order to keep his job then he’s in the wrong place.

Whether it speaks for itself or not, his seniority is certainly self-evident.

Across the border in West Virginia, neither Bill Stewart nor Bob Huggins has a contract with WVU. Apparently both have handshake and verbal agreements with AD Ed Pastilong that they won’t leave, and they are only bound by term sheets that outline their pay. Granted, term sheets can be binding legal contracts (and are in this case), but they don’t cover nearly as many legal contingencies as contracts do. They’re just bullet point outlines, after all.

Stewart and Huggins are West Virginia natives and each has known Pastilong for more than 30 years. Perhaps this is a special case in which contracts are not needed. Given Stewart’s coaching history and age, it’s unlikely that a school like a Michigan will come to poach him, and he doesn’t even have an agent. They’re probably fine with him. Huggins is a more difficult case; it’s not so much that he’d leave for greener pastures soon, but his history of misconduct should raise red flags to anyone with a proper risk management policy regardless of personal histories.

West Virginia should know better, given the messy departures of both John Beilein and another West Virginia native, Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s contract clearly states beginning on page 22 the terms of his buyout. The only way he could take another coaching job before August 31, 2008 and not have to pay the buyout is if WVU breached the contract. The agreement has no room for ambiguity there. Yet, thanks to an alleged verbal agreement with Pastilong that the buyout wouldn’t be enforced, the university is now trapped in court and no doubt spending quite a bit on legal fees trying to get the money that Rodriguez is contractually obliged to pay. Rodriguez said the school didn’t fulfill promises it has made to him over the years, but without them being in writing, I doubt he’ll win his case in court.

Rich Rodriguez: willing to fight in court to save Michigan boosters $4 million that they likely are more than willing to pay. Image CC by Flickr user CA2.

The proceedings with Beilein and Rodriguez should be enough evidence for the school that having all agreements be in writing is by far the best way to go. As I said, I don’t anticipate Stewart leaving for another job, but what if T. Boone Pickens throws a mountain of cash at Huggins after the guy who replaces Sean Sutton gets fired? Huggins’ term sheet has a $1 million buyout, but no one knows what handshakes and verbal agreements might be on the side.

The rumblings up at Penn State say that a movement to get Paterno out is building steam. The only thing allowing him to coach as long as he wants at this point is the desire of Penn State not to look bad for pushing a legend out the door. Based on how shameless big time college football powers have become lately, that may not be enough. At least the school hasn’t gone so far as to try to silence critics of Paterno.

In this day and age where legal ninjas roam the countryside, the importance of written contracts should be self-evident. The potential for ugliness is greater at Penn State, but I hope WVU doesn’t make a habit of this, or we’ll probably end up with more never-ending coach litigation sagas, and no one wants that.

A legal ninja (artist’s conception).


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.