Spurrier is in Good Company

November 17, 2008

A lot was made this weekend about Florida giving Steve Spurrier his worst lost of his career in terms of margin of victory. He’s not alone.

The 51-21 win over LSU stands as Les Miles’ worst loss as a head coach. The 49-10 win over Georgia was Mark Richt’s worst loss as a head coach. That makes three worst losses ever for three coaches with 2 national titles and a 13-1 season between them. In the same season. Wow.

As for Spurrier, he told Urban Meyer to go on a four-game winning streak at the end of the game. Once a Gator, always a Gator.


Les Miles Not Sleeping on Florida

October 7, 2008

Over at TSK, a piece on how Les Miles is not sleeping on the Gators despite the fact that some Gator message board creatures think the sky is falling, that Dan Mullen should be fired, and that the luster is gone from Urban Meyer. Here’s a hint: Miles doesn’t care.

Combine him and Meyer, and you’ve got two guys getting paid more than $3 million annually who think things aren’t that bad around here. Hmmm…

SEC Power Poll Ballot: Preseason

August 19, 2008

The preseason SEC Power Poll this year (conducted by Garnet and Black Attack) is not a ranking of the teams, but a ranking of the coaches. Specifically, it is a ranking of coaching ability.

My ballot is based on who is good now, and it is slanted towards performance in this decade. No lifetime achievement awards are being handed out here.

Here’s my list and the explanations.

1. Urban Meyer

Call it a homer pick if you want, but he’s done well everywhere he’s gone. He turned in an undefeated season at Utah, becoming the first BCS Buster ever. Let’s also not forget that he did it before the BCS expanded to five games.

At Florida he won a national and conference championship and got a quarterback a Heisman. He proved the spread could work in the SEC and did it so convincingly that other coaches in the league are going to install some spread-style goodness of their own in 2008. Add to that his ace recruiting abilities, and you have my vote for top SEC coach.

2. Tommy Tuberville

I should specify that this is a vote for the Tuberville of 2004 and on and not for the Tuberville of 2003 and prior. There is a difference, and I outlined it here.

The post-2003 Tuberville has been one of the best coaches in the country in that span, though the fact he’s only parlayed that into one conference title is the reason why he’s second on the list. He also gets points for abandoning his old, conservative offense and actually giving former outcast/spread guru Tony Franklin the shot at major college coaching that he deserves.

3. Mark Richt

Richt is on pace for becoming the most successful head coach in Georgia history. He has two conference titles and a 13-1 season that wins him a national title in nearly any other year than the 2002 season in which he did it. He also lost to Vandy in 2006, something that a top league coach shouldn’t do six years into his tenure despite the strides the Commodores have made under Bobby Johnson.

He ended up third in the league on my ballot. That is still nothing to sneeze at in the best coaching conference in the country. How he does with the heaps of expectations on him this year will help to sort out his place in the hierarchy as well as help to define his legacy as a head coach.

4. Nick Saban

I know some people will be upset seeing him this high, especially given the loss to Louisiana-Monroe last season. It’s difficult to blame him too much for the negative goings on last season though given that his predecessor was Mike Shula, a guy who never should have been given a head coaching position.

Despite that fact, all six of the losses were by eight points or less so the Tide was competitive in every one of them. He had a blowout win over the SEC East champ Tennessee. Let’s also not forget the BCS championship he won at LSU and the incredible amount of talent he left there when he bolted to the Dolphins.

5. Les Miles

I decided that the first five guys on the ballot had to be guys who have won the national title in this decade, or at least have done enough to win one in a normal year. Since Miles won his national title with two losses while Meyer’s and Saban’s came with one loss (and Tuber ville had an undefeated season and Richt had a 13-1 year), he ended up fifth.

Yes it’s true that he walked into a treasure trove of talent at LSU. It’s also true that he has gone 11-2 each of the past three seasons with two blowout wins in BCS bowls and a Peach Bowl win that ended Miami football as we knew it. He also doesn’t get nearly enough credit for keeping the LSU team together after the Hurricane Katrina disaster just days before the start of his first season in Baton Rouge. He’s colorful, but he can coach.

6. Bobby Petrino

I’m going to throw out his time with the Falcons, which was spent under conditions that pretty much no one could succeed under. Instead, I’m looking more at his time at Louisville where he turned it into one of the country’s best teams, nearly made the national title game, and helped save the Big East.

The immediate drop off after his departure should highlight how good of a coach he was. He still did win his BCS game as the Big East champ though, which unfortunately doesn’t mean a whole lot, and it was over surprise ACC champ Wake Forest, which makes it matter even less. He’s still got a bright offensive mind and knows how to build a winner, so he goes here.

7. Phil Fulmer

You could make a case for him being higher or lower on the list, but he’s listed here thanks to being the final guy who has won a division championship at his current school. His East Division title last season helped some, but the fact remains that he has not won a conference title since 1998 and none of his teams has truly been elite without David Cutcliffe.

He gets some points for hiring Dave Clawson but nothing big until we find out if the Clawfense can succeed long term in the conference. Fulmer didn’t really manage his staff as well as he could/should have in the time between the Cutcliffe stints, but maybe this is a step forward. He will have to win the conference again to move higher on my list though.

8. Steve Spurrier

It pains me a little to put him this low, but there’s not a lot he’s done at South Carolina to support putting him higher. The Orange Bowl win in his final year at Florida was this decade so it does count some, but not being able to break past seven wins at South Carolina hurts his ability to go higher on my list.

Now, he did go to two bowls in a row in 2005-06, which ties the longest bowl appearance streak in school history. Lou Holtz also left the school on probation and in questionable shape. However, I can’t ignore the epic collapse last season after climbing to #6 in the country. His upward mobility will be determined in large part by whether he can win the division.

9. Houston Nutt

This could be a little low, but we’re talking about ability to perform the duties of head coach with this list. He won the SEC West twice this decade, but with Matt Jones and Darren McFadden on those teams, you’d expect that to happen.

In recent years, his ability to be a head coach has appeared to decline. His regime at Arkansas had increasingly been marked by scandal, and last season there was precious little offensive talent behind the McFadden-Felix Jones combination. The cupboards at Ole Miss appear to be relatively full, so he’s going to need to produce quickly in Oxford.

10. Sylvester Croom

Mississippi State was a toxic waste dump of a program when he arrived, and he got it to eight wins and a bowl just four years later despite having no dominant offensive players. Even in Croom’s rebuilding years, he scored upsets over Florida in ’04 and Alabama in ’06 despite them being in better shape.

He has not been perfect; he initially wanted to run a West Coast scheme despite not having nearly the talent or practice time to pull it off. However he’s built a winner, and he built it the right way. If he can sustain it, he can move up.

11. Rich Brooks

Brooks has taken Kentucky to two consecutive bowls, and that should win him some sort of award. I mean, this is a school that used its newly-hired basketball coach to sell football tickets last fall despite having gone to a bowl the previous season.

I have a feeling though that any of the other guys on the list could have done that with the personnel Brooks had. I also suspect that many of them would have done it faster than he did. For that reason, he’s behind the rest.

12. Bobby Johnson

I actually like Bobby Johnson, so I don’t like ranking him last. He has made Vanderbilt a competitive team week in and week out, and he has defeated Tennessee and Georgia in recent years. That’s really good for a school that doesn’t even have an athletics director.

At the same time, he’s not yet made a bowl so I can’t put him ahead of guys who have. His 2005 team with Jay Cutler was his best chance to get eligible, but they lost late in the season to 3-8 Kentucky. As far as I know, Vanderbilt is happy with him so he’s not going anywhere, but I’d like to see him get a shot at a school with more resources.

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.

Coaches’ Contracts: Les Miles

April 18, 2008

The next stop on the SEC coach contract tour is Baton Rouge for Les Miles’ legally binding document with LSU.

The first thing you find out, and it’s in bold and all caps too, is that LSU’s full name is “Lousiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College.” That’s LSUA&MC for those of you keeping score at home. So does the contract use Leslie Edwin Miles’s full name? Nope, he’s just Les Miles.

As with Nick Saban at Alabama, Miles had to initial every page of his contract, including the one with everyone’s signatures. The contract also has the odd convention of writing out numerical values and putting the value as expressed by numbers in parenthesis after. Money values are written out as if it was a check. See the selected quotes below for an example.

His bonuses are pretty standard – for bowl games, winning the SEC West, winning the entire SEC, and appearing in the BCS national championship game. He does not get any extra money over the $175,000 for appearing in the BCS title game, but you’d think a coach wouldn’t need extra motivation to want to win it.

This one’s for you guys, Trindon. I’m all out of performance bonuses.

On top of those, though, he gets relative pay adjustments. If he wins 10 games, his total pay must be at least the 5th highest in the SEC, if he wins the conference his total pay must be at least the third highest in the SEC, and if he wins the national title his total compensation for the year must be at least the third highest in all of Division I. This is notable because the USA Today shows him as having the sixth-highest total pay in the conference, not counting those relative pay kickers.

The rest of the contract is mostly bland legal stuff regarding conduct, buyouts, and everything else you’d expect in a contract. Attached after the contract, though, is a letter to Miles dated December 5, 2006 from former LSU Chancellor (and former NASA administrator) Sean O’Keefe announcing that the school would extend his contract. It concludes with:

“Congratulations on another successful season! Geaux Tigers!”

Only at LSU.

Selected Quotes:

“The UNIVERSITY agrees to pay COACH an annual salary of Three Hundred Thousand and No/00 ($300,000.00) Dollars, payable in twelve (12) equal monthly installments.”

This is an example of the odd phrasing of numerical values.

“COACH further acknowledges that he has no expectation of the granting of tenure by UNIVERSITY.”

I can’t recall a mention of tenure by other contracts. It makes sense, of course, not to give a coach tenure because then it would be impossible to fire him.

“Within ten (10) days of the expiration or termination of this agreement… COACH shall return to the UNIVERSITY all credit cards and keys issued to him by UNIVERSITY.”

Do coaches usually get to keep credit cards and keys? This is the kind of frivolous contract-padding that makes me think the lawyers got paid by the word. The document already established that anything LSU gives to him as a part of his job must be returned, so why do credit cards and keys warrant their own sentence?

Keys? Wait, where did I put my keys? Crap, someone frisk Perrilloux.

Coach Contracts: Nick Saban

April 9, 2008

This is the first in a series on coach contracts. You can find them thanks to the USA Today. Today’s subject is Nick Saban’s contract with Alabama.

Image CC by Flickr user jimmyjosh.

Either the University of Alabama is particularly paranoid (entirely possible), doesn’t really trust Nick L. Saban (also possible), or both (most likely candidate). Saban was required to initial every page of his contract, including the final page where he signed it, something only Les Miles at LSU was also required to do. In addition, there are constant references throughout that he should not do things to embarrass the university, which is probably a result of the Mike Price fiasco.

In fact, after the standard introductory legalese the contract begins with expectations regarding his behavior and a statement requiring him to be “a loyal employee of the University.” Every other contract goes immediately into financial terms, but not Alabama’s. It starts right off requiring him to be a good citizen and a loyal employee.

And that’s another thing. In these contracts, the person being hired is generally referred to as “Coach” throughout rather than using the guy’s name. This is probably so it’s easier to recycle the contract with minimal editing after they kick the lout to the curb for not winning championships every year. There are three exceptions to this in the conference: Mark Richt is “Richt,” Phil Fulmer is “Coach Fulmer,” and Nick Saban is “Employee.” I suppose it’s because Alabama has a bylaw somewhere restricting the use of the word “Coach” to the Bear and only the Bear.

The only capital “C” Coach the University of Alabama has ever had. Image CC by Flickr user jimmywayne22.

Saban gets a number of perks, though it’s interesting where the university draws the line. It will pay for him to have a country club membership, but not any food he buys while there. It must give him two cars to use, but it is not required to give him athletic shoes or clothing. He gets up to 25 hours flight time on a private jet (something no other coach I’ve seen gets), but those hours don’t roll over from year to year.

Overall it’s 32 pages long, tied for longest in the conference (not counting addenda to other coaches’ contracts) with Urban Meyer’s deal at Florida. The majority of it seems standard in comparison to other contracts, though the sections on what allows the university to terminate the contract and the ensuing damages are longer than in most other agreements.

Selected Quotes:

“Employee accepts the employment and agrees to act at all times in a manner consistent with good sportsmanship and with the high moral, ethical, and academic standards of the University. Employee shall exercise due care that all personnel and students under Employee’s supervision or subject to Employee’s control or authority shall comport themselves in like manner.

It must not be difficult to meet these requirements at the University of Alabama, with its rich tradition of bending and breaking NCAA rules. I wonder if all of the player arrests this off season mean he’s in breach of his contract?

“Employee agrees to be a loyal employee of the University.”

Again, this is the first thing the contract says after going through the legal definitions. Got trust issues, do we?

“If Employee is awarded the Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant Coach of the Year Award by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association… $50,000.”

This is from the details of his bonus for winning coach of the year from any one of 4 organizations. Meyer and Steve Spurrier also have various national coach of the year award-related bonuses, but only Saban gets dough specifically for winning the Bear Bryant award. Huge shocker there.

The Hat before Les Miles was the Hat. It will forever loom large over the Alabama program, and perhaps its commemoration will earn its current coach a cool $50,000. Image CC by Flickr user diamondduste.