Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Coaching vs. Recruiting

So Mergz and I have our first disagreement. Actually it's a very minor one. Mergz asserts that He believes "talent is the primary factor in wins over a season."

I certainly believe that talent is a very important factor but I also believe that makes the predictive models fallible is coaching. I believe that you could take the same exact personnel and have two completely different outcomes at season's end depending on the coach you assigned.

Generally I agree with the idea that coaches are overrated and don't influence winning and losing as much as people think. Players win games. But in no other sport does a coach influence what happens between the lines as much as in football. The offensive and defensive strategies and schemes are determined by coaches. All of the actual plays that are run are called by coaches.

Also, I don't generally buy the intangible elements of team sports like a team that "gels" or team "chemistry." A very dysfunctional baseball team can win the World Series (and some have) because, at its core, baseball is an individual sport. But college football is the exception to my rule. Emotion goes a long way in college football and its participants are particularly young. A coach generates the right (and the right level) of emotion, through his words and actions.

If coaches didn't matter at all (and I'm not say Mergz said that because he didn't) then there wouldn't be such a big disparity in the career records of the coaches we all accept as good and the ones we think are bad. Coach Meyer for example has accumulated an amazing W-L record in 6 seasons with 3 programs. So it's not that he can recruit (though he seems to be proving that he can) but that he can coax players to play at their optimum level.

Certainly Boise State did not have talent that Oklahoma did when they met in the Fiesta Bowl. And despite leading most of the game, BSU almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as they ran out of gas against the more talented team. Then BSU's coaching staff made a couple of ballsy calles and they prevailed. If this were a best of 3, it's possible that BSU wouldn't win either of the other 2 games. But that's not the way football works.


machete said...

kind of the point i was trying to make a while back on this site when I said that Coker wasn't as bad a recruiter as everyone said. Coker's problem was that he was not the leader he needed to be, couldn't foster individual growth like he should have (cultivated the talent), and became very conservative as a play-caller.

So while I agree that talent is possibly the most important factor in a college football team, that isn't to say that shortness of talent cannot be overcome by good coaching and smart(er) play (or conversely, that great talent cannot be undone by poor preperation and leadership).

Senator Blutarsky said...

Henry, you left "scheme" out of your discussion. HeismanPundit would be most disappointed. :)

Mergz said...

I totally agree that coaching has some part in winning. That is why you see one coach take essentially the same players as a previous coach and have vastly different outcomes(Spurrier in 1990, Meyer in 2005).

The problem is that, as a stat geek, I have no way of quantifying good against bad coaching.If there was some way, I would add it into my talent model, and have an undoubtably more accurate model. But without it, I go on talent ratings alone (which are also subjective, but have proven pretty accurate overall).

Were I to "rank" the 4 primary factors in winning I would go thusly -

1. Talent
2. Schedule
3. Coaching
4. Luck

Wake's success this year, in my opinion, falls in a subset of talent, but not one that is findable in my rankings. They had one of those convergence years where nearly the entire starting team was 4 or 5 year players, and they caught some luck (reminds me of the year Northwestern won the Big 10). Even though their coach just got the big extension, most of the starters are gone, and Wake will be lucky to win 5 next year.

Perhaps beside just having value as a predictor, my talent model also shows good - or bad - coaching too. Methinks another post is on the way...

JJ Gator said...

Any successful college coach needs to "wear two hats" so to speak, both as an instructor and a recruiter. BOTH are essential to a winning program, and a successful coach will balance the two, as Urban Meyer has been able to do at Florida so far.

As much as Illini fans are wishful thinkers they can't seem to see that Zook may have some recruiting savvy but lacks the ability to be a success on the field as a coach and motivator. I'll be very surprised if he lasts thete another two years if he can't develop a winner.

On the other end of the spectrum Glen Mason at Minnesota and Ron Turner (former Illini coach) couldn't balance the two either; but their weakness was in recruiting.

As far as any team's schedule goes, a good coach and his staff will scout their opponent before the game is played and have their team ready to face them on gameday; like Sun-Tsu said in The Art of War "every battle is won BEFORE it's ever fought."

JJ Gator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jimcaserta said...

One question - what would FSU's record been if they had UF's coaching staff? Only one of their losses could be blamed on talent - UF. At least 3 losses (WF, NCSt, MD) were to less talented teams, while 2 could be considered even (BC/Clemson).

One of the biggest ways coaching matters is with motivation, intensity, and focus. I'd say talent and coaching are both necessary conditions, with which being more useful a less interesting question.

Anonymous said...

Henry ...your a sports wizard...couldn't agree with you more about the "coaching factor" making mergz predictive models nothing more than stat geek junk.

Take a look at Bielema at Wisconsin. He's a former Kansas State co-defensive and recruiting coordinator who brought a Kansas State record setting stud freshman QB Allan Evridge with him for the 07 Badgers. Bielema's got the Badgers playing wide open compared to the conservative Alvarez. Bielema also recruited a freshman running back John Clay who some say is the next Jim Brown. Look for the Badgers to shock the polls next year with another 2nd year mythical National Championship coach.

LOL... wouldn't that screw mergz's predictive model up real good? A team not even ranked in the top 25 in the BCS title game!
Wisky Fan

Henry Gomez said...

where can I get me some of that badger flavored kool aid? Right next to the Illini, I guess.

What's your major malfunction dude? Why do you take it so personally.

Anonymous said...

They both matter of course. Mickey Andrews, FSU's defensive coordinator, once said that the problem with speed is that if it is moving in the wrong direction, it gets there faster. Good coaching gets the talented players to the right place at the right time on a play. (sorry to quote Andrews, but he is right on this)

You want to see the difference in leadership? Think Dallas Baker getting the stupid penalty at Tennessee and then think about Dallas Baker as a senior. It's the same talent, but better coaching.