Guest columnist Zachary O. Binney fact-checks a story in a national publication and finds that everyone makes mistakes.
01 Aug 2011
Guest Column by Kevin Haynes
One of the most overlooked aspects of the decline and fall of Jim Tressel is the fact that of all the teams in the Big Ten, Ohio State had the least reason to cheat. The school has such a strong competitive advantage that it’s almost as if it was created for the sole purpose of being good at football. Take the size of the war chest that the Buckeyes football team has at its disposal: not only is the program in Columbus blessed with the largest budget in college football, but the gap between their monetary resources and that of their closet competition is so sizable that it’s more than twice as large as eight of the 12 teams in the Big 10.
The Buckeyes have not just the good fortune to be located in the heart of a fantastic football state, but to also have little direct in-state competition for Ohio’s top recruits. A recruit choosing Cincinnati, Miami of Ohio, or Ohio University over Ohio State, straight up, is rarer than a Prairie View A&M win in the 90's. And although Ohio State certainly is a good school with plenty of alumni that contribute to society in all sorts of positive ways, there should be no disregarding the fact that its admission standards are not so high that mediocre students need not apply.
|Ohio State (2006 to 2011)|
|Year||Model's Win Projection||Actual Wins||+/-|
|*-(w/ Pryor, et al.) ~-(w/o Pryor, et al.)|
So does all that mean Ohio State shouldn’t get credit when it wins? It’s not like Tressel and his staff had to outsmart their opponents. Instead, they could simply rely on the faster, stronger, more talented Buckeyes to control the line of scrimmage, keep possession of the ball, and cruise to yet another win over a less capable team like Minnesota or Purdue. Yet a glance at the far right column in the above table shows that according to the resource-centric model’s predictions, Ohio State actually exceeded its projected regular season win totals since 2006 at a fairly consistent rate. So whatever Tressel was doing in Columbus, be it hiring the right conditioning coach, identifying which recruits would best fit his system and then rigging raffles to ensure those same recruits won prime merchandise at OSU’s summer camp, or staying up late to watch game film, it seems to have paid off.
It might be a stretch, of course, to accept the resource-centric model’s discrepancies with reality as signs of over or underachievement by coaches. They could just be computational errors that stem from the variables included (or not included) in the model, or problems inherent to the technique of multiple regression in and of itself. Furthermore, is it really fair to pin, say, Sam Bradford’s 2009 shoulder injury on Oklahoma’s head coach, Bob Stoops? Can we really give full credit to Gene Chizik for Auburn’s improbable 2010 National Championship? And can we truly make fair judgments about a coach’s ability with just five years (and, in many cases, less than that) of data? Probably not. But curiosity compels us to go on, so here are the best coaches of BCS teams since 2006 according to the plus-minus measure:
|Best coaches of BCS teams since 2006|
|Brian Kelly||Cincinnati / Notre Dame||4||2.30|
|Lloyd Carr ~||Michigan||2||2.21|
|Jimbo Fisher||Florida State||1||1.90|
|Jeff Jagodzinski *||Boston College||2||1.65|
|Mike Gundy||Oklahoma State||5||1.29|
| ~ - Retired * -Fired (sort of) |
Sifting through these results is a bit of a chore, and probably can’t be accomplished with much nuance in this short space, but a few high-level findings do stand out. There’s a lot of good coaching happening in states that begin with the letter "O," so North Carolina (see below) may want to change it's name to Orth Carolina. Also, Gary Pinkel might be the best coach that doesn't draw constant praise on studio shows.
The model may give too much credit to coaches when teams experience significant turnarounds from one year to the next (such as Michigan winning seven games under Lloyd Carr in 2005 and 11 games in 2006). However, because there does seem to be a solid case to be made for most of the coaches on the above list to be among the best in the college ranks -- Chip Kelly has turned Oregon into a true power, Jimbo Fisher has rejuvenated Florida State, and Brian Kelly’s run at Cincinnati almost single-handedly qualified him for the Notre Dame job -- the model does produce a good mix of expected and unexpected results. Now lets turn our attention to the other end of the spectrum: the worst coaches of BCS teams since 2006
|Worst coaches of BCS teams since 2006|
|John Bunting *||North Carolina||1||-2.05|
|John L. Smith *||Michigan State||1||-2.17|
|Mike Shula *||Alabama||1||-2.29|
|Tyrone Willingham *||Washington||3||-2.34|
|Ted Roof *||Duke||2||-2.36|
|Chuck Amato *||NC State||1||-2.54|
|Paul Wulff||Washington State||3||-3.32|
|Walt Harris *||Stanford||1||-4.99|
| * -Fired |
It’s tough making conclusions on such limited data, but on the surface we can certainly make a few claims. First, a good number of these underperforming coaches seem to have gotten what they deserved: a pink slip. Second, asides from Mike Shula at Alabama and perhaps John L. Smith at Michigan State, each of the jobs on this list are not attached to schools that should be especially good at football due to their academic standards, program budgets, or geographical location in a talent-poor state. We don’t really have that much data for most of these coaches, so it’s not completely fair to consider the above results as 100 percent indicative of their abilities. Given the current employment status of so many of the names on this list, however, it might not be the worst idea for Butch Jones and his family to hold off on purchasing a home in Cincinnati for at least another season or two.
Kevin Haynes is a statistician in Cincinnati, Ohio. He earned a B.A. in English and Creative Writing at Clemson University and has a M.A. in Applied Economics from the University of Cincinnati. A lifelong Michigan fan, Kevin has spent the last four years making excuses for what’s been happening on the field in Ann Arbor, and swears that this season he won’t get too excited if the Wolverines beat Notre Dame.
Football Outsiders is always accepting guest columns that have a unique perspective on either the NFL or college football. Send your ideas or samples to mailbag-at-footballoutsiders.com.
35 comments, Last at 04 Aug 2011, 2:52am by Solomon