Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The One Man Fallacy

My morning reading brought me across our friend Senator Blutarsky’s “Get the Picture” Georgia blog and his comments on Urban Meyer’s new salary extension. While the good Senator gives credit where due – saying Meyer deserved his new contract – he once again raises the ongoing suspicion that Meyer may, someday, leave Florida.

However, the comments to the post are even more telling, with Georgia fans speculating what might happen when Tebow graduates (will Meyer stay?), and even adding their personal hopes for the eventual departure of Coach Meyer.

All of this seems eerily familiar. History does indeed repeat.

In 2002 I received an email from a friend (who happens to be a Notre Dame alumnus) that, with the retirement of Steve Spurrier, the Gators were done. “Once in a lifetime coach” my friend wrote, tauntingly, “Welcome back to the pack”.

So how did that prediction work out?

Now I am by no means suggesting that Urban Meyer isn’t a great football coach. He is. However what fascinates me is the hyper-focus fans – and people in general –put on an individual when it comes to crediting them, or blaming them, for larger events. The credit or reproach the President of the United States gets is a prefect example of this phenomenon. Presidential approval rises and falls inversely with gasoline prices, for example, while the President himself has virtually no control over the price of a barrel of oil.

College coaches, while having more direct input, aren’t much different. As I recall there was elation in Athens equal to the deflation in Gainesville when Spurrier resigned after the 2001 season.

And, in the seven years since, the Dawgs are 2-5 against the Gators. Even Zook went 2-1.

Meanwhile Steve Spurrier, who went 122-27-1 while at Florida, had a disastrous stint with the Washington Redskins, and then returned to the SEC in 2005 where he has since gone 28-21, or only 6 losses less than his entire time at Florida.

Moreover, with Spurrier as a Gamecock having gone 1-3 against Georgia, I doubt there is much current concern in Athens whether he stays at South Carolina or not.

Our rivals have similar feelings when it comes to Tim Tebow, believing that his absence from the Gators will serve as a panacea for their travails against Florida. Yet Tebow, as a starter, is 1-1 against Georgia. A win against the Bulldogs this year would make him the equal of Chris Leak’s 2-1 against Georgia.

While Leak and Tebow might be thought to have little in common on a skills level, what they did have in common, at least with regard to their championships, was Charlie Strong, or more specifically his defenses. Against Ohio State in 2006 and Oklahoma this past season the Gator defense gave up the same number of points – 14. In other words, offensively, 15 points or more was a winner for Florida in each contest. Florida has scored at least 15 points in its last 45 consecutive games, with the last time it failed to do against Georgia in 2005, a game Florida actually won 14-10. Even the much maligned Ron Zook failed to score less than 14 points only 3 times at Florida.

Now I’m not saying any quarterback could have led the Gators to the championships of 2006 and 2008, but I am saying that the single most important aspect of both those Gator teams was the defense. Consider the following –

Tim Tebow 2007 – 3286 yards passing, 32 passing TD’s, 66.9% completion AND 895 yards rushing, 23 rushing TD’s.

Tim Tebow 2008 – 2746 yards passing, 30 passing TD’s, 64.4% completion AND 673 yards rushing, 12 rushing TD’s.

2007 was statistically the better year in every category for Tebow (he won the Heisman, after all) but the Gators went 9-4. 2008 was statistically, although a great year, inferior to 2007 and all Florida had to show for it was 13-1 and a SEC and “national” title.

You don’t hear much talk of opposing fans wanting our defense to graduate, or Charlie Strong to take another job, but as far as the opposition’s success is concerned these events would be statistically more important.

Florida’s success is a compilation of many things of which Meyer and Tebow are a part. Of equal importance are our first rate facilities, our donor support and our athletic department. (Yes, Foley did hire Ron Zook. Foley also fired Ron Zook, and hired Meyer. Good athletic departments are smart and flexible.)

Most important, however, is our ability to recruit top flight talent right at home. As I have stated before it is no coincidence that over the past 25 years the state of Florida’s big 3 (UF, UM and FSU) have won 10 of the 25 “national” titles, and played for 6 others. Those 10 titles were won by 7 different coaches. Two of those coaches remain at their respective schools (Bowden and Meyer) and the 4 of the other five (Schnellenberger, Erickson, Coker and Spurrier) have had limited success elsewhere, generously stated. The other coach – Jimmy Johnson – of course found NFL success, but it can hardly be stated coaching has been the reason for college football success in the state of Florida.

Further, the top states for college football talent in addition to Florida year-in and year-out are widely considered to be Texas and California (certainly they have the most top level recruits every year), with Ohio, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania also known to be talent rich. Consider where the top national contenders and winners have been the past couple decades. See a theme?

Players always move on, coaches eventually do. Talent bases are much more durable. In Georgia’s case their problems with Florida didn’t end with Spurrier’s departure, nor did South Carolina’s problems with Georgia end with the arrival of the same. No single individual, whether coach or player is responsible for the entire fortune of any program.

As to my Notre Dame friend's assertions of early 2002, Florida appears to have had two "once in a lifetime coaches" in a span thankfully far shorter than that. What he thought impossible has in fact become reality, but not for the reasons he surmised.

That's why I don't lose any sleep over Meyer leaving, or Tebow graduating.


Henry Louis Gomez said...

Agreed 100% Mergz. Hiring a great coach should not be considered tantamount to winning the lottery.

The interesting thing about Meyer is that he retained Charlie Strong. And if Strong gets a lot of the credit for the two MNCs (as he should) then Meyer has to get credit for recognizing his talent and fostering it to an even higher level.

And that's what this is really all about isn't it? Being the best at finding and empowering talent. Whether you are an AD looking for a coach, a coach looking for assistants or assistants looking for recruits.

It's not voodoo or black magic. You can evaluate the track records of coaches. They are publicly available. What our rivals might find instructive about the hiring by Florida of both Spurrier and Meyer is that they won very early in their careers at schools that weren't known for winning.

Rather than trying to get NFL or other big school cast-offs or assistants maybe they should focus their searches on head coaches that are winning at lower levels. Guys that are innovating to make up for talent gaps in a sport with no real parity.

Anonymous said...

I am a Georgia fan. I have always had a love-hate thing for Charlie Strong. Gotta love the defenses he has but then again they are nasty, brutish, and the source of much off-field antics. They are the ones that crush opponents even when the QB is kneeling on the ground.

I say these things because I believe that you hit the nail on the head. It is never offense that wins but defense. I have often hoped that his name would be called to be a HC anywhere.

MikeInValdosta said...

Why is the buyout so small?

Eric Montas said...

Because Jeremy Foley stated that the University never wants to be stuck with a coach who doesn't want to coach at Florida.

jj gator said...

Hey Mike in Valdosta: Take your rumor-mongering someplace else. Meyer isn't going anywhere anytime soon, so take your Ritalin and get off mommy's computer. There are much better things in life for you to discover, little boy.

Mergz said...

Well, Mike, I pretty much just wrote a post stating I don't really care why the buyout is so small.

Let's put it this way - if Meyer leaves UF tomorrow he will, in 4 years, won twice as many national titles as Georgia has won ever.

I'd say it will have been worthwhile.

Tommy said...

Great points about defense. I haven't brought myself to rewatch last year's debacle in Jacksonville, but, if memory serves, Florida's offense was well-served by an opportunistic defense.

It is simply astounding (and infuriating to fans of Gator rivals) that Strong never gets a call when the annual coaching carousel gets started.

Mergz, Georgia counts two national titles ('42 and '80). I realize this is a subjective argument, given your issues with the BCS and that all CFB titles are mythical by definition, but there it is.

Mergz said...


Indeed, with a glance at the College Football Data Warehouse I see that Georgia is considered a 1942 national champion although they finished 2nd in the AP Poll. They are considered "co-champions" along with Ohio State who nabbed the 1st spot in the AP.

The war years were lean years for college football. Florida didn't even field a team in 43'.

But sure, why not? It is a stronger claim than about half the titles Alabama counts.

Mergz said...

One more thing - I don't get the lack of head coaching opportunites that have been offered Strong either. He is known to be a great coach, and is one hell of a nice guy (I've met him and his family several times). Other's loss is our gain I suppose.

jj gator said...
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jj gator said...
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jj gator said...

Hey Mike in Valdosta: You have that much of a problem with Gator fans "protesting too much" because you're feeding off a rumor that no longer has any substance, and have to use that half-assed "Bleacher Report" lackey site to rant about it? Fuck you and the jackass you rode in on too, little boy.

Does your mommy make sure you change your undershorts every morning?

MikeInValdosta said...

JJ, please quote the "rumor" you are referring to.

jj gator said...

Mikey, cut the bullshit. You know fucking well what "rumor" I'm referring to.