Coaches with strong records 

March, 25, 2009

I've gotten a lot of e-mails from folks annoyed that I might have slighted their favorite teams in that list a week ago about the programs that had the best chance to break through and win a national title.

One of the arguments I've heard the most, regarding programs such as Georgia, Va. Tech and Cal, was that they had coaches who have put together very strong records and should be considered much more so than places run by guys who haven't proven anything yet. Their targets were Rick Neuheisel, Lane Kiffin and Chip Kelly. It's a fair criticism, but from studying the programs that have won BCS titles in the past decade, you do notice a pattern that indicates otherwise.

Almost all the coaches who have won BCS titles have done so in their first four years at their programs. Look at the list:

  • 2009 Florida: Urban Meyer's 4th year

  • 2008 LSU: Les Miles' 3rd year

  • 2007 Florida: Meyer's 2nd year

  • 2006 Texas: Mack Brown's 8th year

  • 2005 USC: Pete Carroll's 4th year

  • 2004 LSU: Nick Saban's 4th year

  • 2003 Ohio State: Jim Tressel's 2nd year

  • 2002 Miami: Larry Coker's 1st year

  • 2001 Oklahoma: Bob Stoops' 2nd year

  • 2000 FSU: Bobby Bowden's 24th year

  • 1999 Tennessee: Phil Fulmer's 7th year

To me that is reflective of a couple of factors: 1.) Coaches who come in bringing a new energy to a program can have huge success; 2.) In many cases they've inherited situations with programs that have the talent base but are eager for a change in direction. (Some players initially will respond better to a hard-line staff. Others to a "players' coach". Either way, the shift can be the key.) 3.) Successful coaching staffs can get stale over time and players/recruits, just like fans, can be swayed by the next new thing around and they want to be part of a fancy turnaround project.

That also leads to the flip side to this thing. I've always thought that coaches, like most other professionals, get better with added experience, but there are certainly other elements that can fly in the face of that: People do tend to get complacent; the message might no longer be fresh; maybe a coach's enthusiasm isn't quite what it once was when there was more determination to prove you belong.


• Since we're about midway through spring practice, where most teams have at least kicked off spring ball, I wanted to check in on how the experts are sizing up various teams to see whose stock is rising over the past two months and whose is falling.

Apparently, there's some enthusiasm for Michigan in Year 2 under Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines went from being a 200-1 shot to win the 2010 BCS title game (on Feb. 3) to a 100-1 shot as of March 24. My hunch is there are three main reasons for this:

  1. Rodriguez' history indicates a big jump from the first year of his system to the second. (His team won three more games in his second season at Glenville State. At Tulane, where Rodriguez ran the offense, the Green Wave went from 7-4 to 12-0. Then at Clemson, where he also ran the offense, the Tigers went from 6-6 to 9-3. At WVU, his team won six more in Year 2, jumping from 3-8 to 9-4.)

  2. All the promising young talent that Michigan redshirted now gives the Wolverines some depth, but also adds more athleticism to their O-line;

  3. In Tate Forcier and incoming freshman Denard Robinson, the Wolverines now have two QB options with the speed to make Rodriguez's offense that much more potent.

Clemson also made a sizable jump, going from 100-1 to 75-1. The Ole Miss Rebels, riding the wave of a big Cotton Bowl win, were bumped up, going from 60-1 to 50-1. Va. Tech went from 25-1 to 20-1. Of the elite teams, Texas went from 10-1 to 5-1 and Florida went from 4-1 to 7-2. I actually would have thought the Gators with Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes returning would have been closer to 2-1 or even 3-2, but maybe that speaks to the respect for the rest of the SEC.

I was also surprised to see Oregon go from 20-1 to 30-1. Maybe that is folks being nervous about the status of RB LaGarrette Blount and figuring there will be growing pains for first-year head coach Chip Kelly. As I wrote before, I think the new blood will be good for the Ducks. Another number that had me scratching my head a little: UNC backslid from 50-1 to 75-1.

Georgia, Miami, Oklahoma State and Ga. Tech dropped from 50-1 to 60-1. Penn State went from 30-1 to 35-1. Pitt and Texas Tech made even bigger falls, going from 60-1 to 100-1. Maybe that's what dismal performances in bowl games can do.

• The Wolverines' revamped offense though, won't have Toney Clemons any more. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore has been released athletically by Michigan and plans to transfer to another Division I school at the end of the spring semester, reports Bill Beckner Jr.:

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