Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dirk Koetter and the Coaching Bell Curve

My column about Dirk Koetter ran on Friday.  The point is simply that we really don't know much about most coaches because they are highly dependent on context:

Take Dirk Koetter as an example. What do we really know about him based on his resume? When he was at Boise State, he was instrumental in that program's emergence from I-AA to becoming a non-BCS conference power. He went 20-5 in his last two years there, which landed him the head coaching job at Arizona State. With the Sun Devils, he went 40-34. His offenses were all over the map, averaging 34, 32, 25, 30, 37, and 27 points per game from 2001 to 2006. He also had the misfortune of coaching when Pete Carroll's USC was at its absolute apex: 2001-06. What coach was going to succeed against Carroll in the first half of the Aughts, especially when that coach not only had to go up against Carroll on the field, but also had to vie for talent in Southern California against a recruiting dynamo? Taking his college record as a whole, did he forget how to coach when he moved from Idaho to Arizona? Or is there something about Boise State that allows its coaches to win and then those coaches cannot replicate that success elsewhere? (Dan Hawkins is currently nodding furiously.) A regression analysis of the Broncos' rise to prominence would not identify head coaches as a driving factor, but I digress.
Koetter then proceeded to Jacksonville, where his first offense was excellent - sixth in scoring and seventh in yards - and then his next three were mediocre before the bottom fell out this year with a rookie quarterback and receivers so bad that Dunta Robinson was moved to mock them. Was Koetter a good coach in 2007 and then had a lobotomy before the 2008 season? Or was he a lifeboat on the heavy seas that were David Garrard playing the season of his life in 2007 before a six-year, $60M contract destroyed his motivation?  
When my editor at SB Nation asked me to write about Koetter and/or MIke Nolan, my initial thought was "I really don't have an opinion on either of them."  I then got up from my desk, filled up my water cup, and by the time I came back, I had a theme based on the fungibility of coaches.  I had just read the Soccer Men chapter on Capello, so it was in the front of my brain.

I'll also admit that the three Michigan coaching hires since I enrolled there in 1993 affect my thinking.  When Lloyd Carr was hired in 1995, he was one year removed from presiding over one of the worst defenses in Michigan history.  By the close of his third year, he had won the national title that eluded Bo Schembechler.  By the close of his fifth year, he had a pair of major bowl wins, or one fewer than Bo had in 21 season.  Carr was then replaced by Rich Rodriguez, who came in with a sterling resume and left three years later on a rail, having won six conference games total in three seasons.  By contrast, Carr failed to win six Big Ten games in only three of his 13 seasons as head coach - 1995, 1996, and 2005 - and in those years, he won five.  Rodriguez was then replaced by Brady Hoke, a hire that made me positively apoplectic.  Hoke went 11-2 in his first season and won the Sugar Bowl.  If anything, this experience should make me respond to every coaching hire by shrugging my shoulders and quoting Zhou Enlai: it is too soon to say.

4 comments:

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vandycomdr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vandycomdr said...

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