Hoke-a-mania. Michigan has hired Brady Hoke, prodigal son most recently of San Diego State. I don’t know much about Hoke — seems like a solid guy and he obviously wanted the job. The rumor is he’s bringing Al Borges with him to be offensive coordinator; I’m already getting lots of questions about his so-called “Gulf Coast Offense.” I don’t know where that name came from, but as far as I can tell he’s a pro-style guy: nothing too exotic. But he’s been an offensive coordinator for a long time (close to two decades), in three major conferences (the Pac-10 at Cal, the Big 10 at Indiana, and the SEC at Auburn), and when he’s had first-round NFL talent (Cade McNown at UCLA and Jason Campbell, Ronnie Brown, and Cadillac Williams at Auburn in 2004) he’s had elite offenses.
I think that sounds about right. Michigan’s coaching search was explicitly about someone who wanted to build the program, not hiring the next offensive genius. And I can’t really argue with that — the Rodriguez thing ended badly. That puts on the onus on Hoke, however, as he must recruit and build the program from the ground up; there won’t be any reliance on a decided schematic advantage to win. But is that a bad thing?
Below are some clips of Borges’s offense at San Diego State this year.
- Richard Sandomir takes down Brent Musburger. Ouch. I don’t know if I thought it was as bad as described in the article, but I have to admit that “This is for all the Tostitos” was an unreal comment.
- Pat Dooley apologies for “dumb” tweet.This really is crazy; what made him say that about Frank Beamer?
Tom Brady, the presumptive M.V.P. winner this year, was the 199th pick in the 2000 draft. The Patriots’ leading rusher, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, wasn’t drafted. Neither was their leading receiver, Wes Welker. Danny Woodhead ranks just behind Green-Ellis in yards from scrimmage but he wasn’t one of the 23 running backs selected in the 2008 draft. The rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught 10 touchdown passes, qualifies as a superstar by Patriots standards: he was the 42nd pick in last April’s draft. Of New England’s eight most productive offensive skill position players — Brady, Green-Ellis, Woodhead, Welker, Deion Branch, Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Tate — only Gronkowski was a top-60 draft pick.
… The Patriots led the N.F.L. in points scored. They threw the most touchdowns passes… They ranked second in rushing touchdowns and in net yards per pass attempt…. So how does Belichick turn an offense that appears marginal on paper into a dominant unit? …Conventional wisdom would suggest that Belichick is both a master of the draft, finding gems with late-round picks, and a fantastic coach in the truest sense of the word, able to turn young men into elite players with his tireless attention to detail.
[I]t goes a step further than that. The Patriots, for the first time in the past few seasons, have regained a level of organizational clarity that few teams can match. When Scott Pioli and Belichick built the championship Patriots teams at the beginning of the decade, New England consistently added “their guys,” players who fit the Patriot profile. With the drafting of Hernandez and Gronkowski, and the re-acquisition of Branch, to go along with Welker and Brady, the Patriots are back to finding players who, first and foremost, fit their system. Green-Ellis, Woodhead and Branch wouldn’t succeeed on a lot of teams, but Belichick knows exactly what he wants out of every roster spot and only looks for players who possess those traits. And that’s a big secret of his success.
- Did Chip Kelly not run this year’s offense in the National Championship game, and instead next year’s offense? Bruce Eien thinks so, as they will have three very good backs next season. Here’s Bruce’s visual preview (click to enlarge):
- More on risk and variance being the ally of the underdog in sports. Very good link, though see also here and here and here for prior work done on this. The upshot is that big underdogs wants higher variance in outcomes, even if it might reduce their overall expected output — i.e. they need to increase the “fat tails” on their chance of winning, even if they might be more likely to get blown out. The practical application of this in football is tricky, as you both need to shorten the game and increase the variance of your offensive output (i.e. get more aggressive). Due to arbitrary choices in how the game clock works, these two things, to an extent, work against each other. I think the question on defense is much tougher, and I do not think more blitzing is necessarily the answer.
Spencer Hall eats with Charlie Weis and discusses whether it was a good hire for Florida. I think no one really knows. The minus is that he’s Charlie Weis and all that entails in terms of personality, baggage and the fit of his pro-style attack with Florida’s players. The big plus is that Charlie will get to focus on exactly what he wants to focus on: developing his decided schematic advantage and calling those plays. His job isn’t to be the head guy, an administrator, a schmoozer with the booster, but instead he’ll have his face buried in that Denny’s menu of the playcall sheet and just call plays. We’ll see how it works.
- Virginia Tech got beat, but Tyrod Taylor had the play of the game:
- Oregon working on trick plays. Chip Kelly? Shocker.
- Brian speculateson Michigan, Harbaugh, etc. I have no idea what Harbaugh or Michigan will do, but if Rich Rodriguez goes I think the epitaph is that it’s no longer enough to be simply have a very good offense (of course it took Rodriguez awhile to get to that point, too). Rodriguez’s offense underperformed in the last few weeks of the year, but it was still an elite unit, especially if you discount turnovers (leaving aside whether you should). But Rodriguez is undone by organization, special teams, the general mood around the program and, most of all, defense. My takeaway is that if you want to be an offensive minded head coach and still call the plays, you need to make up your mind about your defense. You either hire someone who runs exactly what you want (a 3-3-5, in Rich Rod’s case) or you hire a guy and let him run his defense. Rodriguez’s approach was far too schizophrenic: switching to his preferred defense midseason or in the offseason, switching coaches, meddling here and there while not fully committing to that side of the ball. In 2004, 2005, when the spread was still ascendant, it may have been enough to call some really good plays and rely on talent on defense to carry you through. But in 2010, at Michigan, with a depleted roster, that’s not enough. Head coaches have to be head coaches, and coordinators must be coordinators. There will be counterexamples, but see my point above about Weis.
And when not throwing the deep ball, Petrino’s favorite series is the shallow or drive series. Ross observes that Petrino mixes and matches where the dig will come from as compared with the shallow (i.e. from the same side or opposite the shallow) but that Bobby likes to send the back on a wheel route to clear the way for the shallow:
Sometimes though — as shown below against Alabama — the defense fails to cover the runner on the wheel route.
Dierdorf’s commentary is unbelievable. He goes on and on about how Manning went down because he was going to get caught from behind (he wasn’t) and because he wanted to avoid injury (not that either). It never occurred to him that Manning was ending the game. He’s preaching the merits of smart football while sounding like someone who’s never watched a game. Ladies and gentlemen, your network No. 2 announcing team!
Stewart Mandel recently wrote a piece on NCAA enforcement incoherence. It’s a good piece and gives a nice overview of the problems built right into the system’s framework, and how the NCAA arrived at the recent Ohio State ruling:
We've come a long way
[I]f you’re just a general college football fan, you have every reason to be puzzled, outraged and perhaps even despondent that the NCAA came down harder on Ohio State players for selling rings than it did on Heisman winner Cam Newton, whose father shopped Newton’s signature for $180,000.
Just nine days away from the New Year, this Ohio State mess marks the latest chapter in an unusually busy year for the NCAA’s enforcement division. From the USC/Reggie Bush sanctions to the North Carolina agent suspensions to Bruce Pearl, Tom Izzo and Newton, the headlines have been never-ending.
In the heavily layered NCAA bureaucracy, however, different personnel groups handle infractions cases (USC, Tennessee basketball), agent issues (Georgia, UNC), Basketball Focus Group (Izzo) and athlete eligibility reinstatement (Newton, Ohio State).
It’s no wonder the rules and the punishments seem so wildly inconsistent.
Yet, given the byzantine, inconsistent and incoherent nature of our actual criminal sentencing system — which actually puts people to death, in jail or doles out other, unique punishments — I’m not convinced that everything can be solved by blaming or even reducing “bureaucracy.” “Bureaucracy” has a very negative connotation, but it also is a simple description, meaning “government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority” — a definition that describes any government or regulatory body or really any large organization, from the U.S. military to Apple Computer, Inc. or Google Inc. You can’t wish this stuff away; different penalties and judgments will come from different parts of the NCAA. Mandel’s column is good and it helpfully dispels the popular fan notion of NCAA as monolithic entity (with this perception awkwardly reinforced by the fact that the NFL (a far smaller organization than the NCAA) is ruled by fiat by them whims an imperial Commissioner). There are real problems with the NCAA’s rulemaking and enforcement system, but no one has yet systematically identified what they are and how they can be fixed.
Relatedly, Dan Wetzel’s recent paean to Cam Newton and his Dad as some kind of modern day Robin Hoods — “And yet we demand that Cecil Newton respect [the NCAA] and th[eir] rules?” — is just bizarre. This isn’t Correy Surrency disqualified from athletics on the basis of an overly narrow conception of what it means to be an amateur, but instead someone shopping their kid. Now, I am not saying that Cam should have been ruled ineligible. For purely selfish reasons — i.e. that I love watching him play in Malzahn’s offense — I am happy he’s still playing. And I also endorse anyone who, rightly in my view, criticizes systemic problems with NCAA enforcement, which, while it doesn’t have the effect of distorted criminal sentences that are alternatively too harsh or too lenient, can have seriously deleterious effects on individual student athletes, their families and their communities. But it’s another thing to make the leap Wetzel does from finding fault with the NCAA to absolving the Newtons and essentially encouraging future athletes to break the rules. Wetzel: “Yet Cecil Newton is the bad guy for asking for something close to what the market would bear? [Ed Note: The "market" in illegal payments for student-athletes?] Meanwhile all of the suits who run the game can sip cocktails and enjoy the Heisman ceremony? Why, because one dad did not respect the NCAA, its wobbly rule book and situational ethics? Why, for considering it all a sham and asking for a share?”
The answer of course is that Wetzel simply cannot be serious. Wetzel surely knows that it’s possible to critique one side without condoning the other. To use an extremely overdone analogy, in the past century, you could critique U.S. foreign policy without being an apologist for Stalin or Mao (again: this is just an analogy; Cecil Newton is neither Stalin nor Mao, but you get the idea). But Wetzel also prefers to kick up dirt rather than engage in serious argument. This is, of course, the generous reading of the article. If Wetzel is serious, well, I’m not sure what to say.
(h/t edsbs and Barking Carnival.) The only thing cooler than that play is Holgorsen’s Johnny Cash man-in-black look. More seriously, one reason that Holgorsen has had success in expanding on or putting “his own spin” on Leach’s Airraid is that he has focused on packaging concepts. In addition to packaging the “stick” passing concept with a draw play as described above, I’ve seen several other instances. One that I remember from his time at Houston — though I don’t have video of it on hand — was a “packaged” screen/downfield pass concept. Sometimes teams package a screen play with a tight-end drag or cross, where if the linebackers flow to the screen the tight-end could be open, but Holgorsen’s version attacked the safety on a wide receiver screen, as shown below:
The idea was that everyone else was blocked, but if the safety attacked the screen — not an unbelievable idea that he would, considering how many screens Houston used — the quarterback could loft it to the slot receiver who faked a block and then ran straight downfield. This is different than a true fake screen, where the quarterback does not have the option to throw the screen play if it is there. As with all of Dana’s plays, this one was well designed, but required quick decisions from the quarterback.
2. Troy stylings. The hero of Troy’s bowl win over Ohio? Will Goggans, whose beard was captured in what must simultaneously be called a photo, a statement and a power ballad by the artist known as Will Goggans. Going forward, the most intriguing player on Troy’s roster is redshirt freshman quarterback Corey Robinson.
During his final season at Lone Oak High School in Paducah, Ky., Robinson threw for 5,872 yards and a national-record 91 touchdowns. He was intercepted just four times in 520 attempts on the way to being named his state’s Mr. Football.
Robinson has a bright future, as in his freshman season (in terms of eligibility), he threw for 3,707 yards and 28 touchdowns. His journey to Troy was not straightforward, and Franklin helped him not only by installing his brand of the Airraid:
Heavy recruiting attention didn’t follow for Robinson, who is now listed at 6 feet tall and 214 pounds.
He received some attention from Sun Belt Conference schools and said “Ole Miss was talking to me a little bit here and there.” Troy knew about Robinson because then-offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was a good friend of Lone Oak High head coach Jack Haskins, whose son Billy Jack is a former University of Kentucky quarterback. Lone Oak ran an offense similar to Troy’s and Robinson felt comfortable in choosing the Trojans.
It wasn’t a quick journey to the field as a college player for Robinson. He spent the 2008 season as greyshirt and a part-time student at Troy.
Seems to be working out now.
3. Merger of equals. The excellent The Browser is merging with the excellent Five Books. The expected result will be self-defining.
There is a line in the story that I have thought about many times. Toward the end, Parker talked about how much he had learned from the pain and the hope and the fear of what would happen … but Gary did not use most of what Richie Parker said. Here is Gary’s explanation: “And he said a lot more, but it would be improper to let him do it here, for it might mislead the reader into thinking this was a story about Richie Parker.”
I have often wondered if Gary did the right thing using that line. Part of me thinks that it should have gone unsaid — that comes from the “if you have to explain a joke, it didn’t work” school of thinking. But another part of me remembers the jolt of recognition that clicked in me when I read the line the first time. I don’t think the story would have had quite the same power for me if he had left it out.
All of which is just my excuse to say this: Despite how it may look, the following story is not about really Jose Canseco.
Well that’s just disappointing. The new Big 10 logo:
Couple this logo with the new Big 10 division names — Leaders and Legends — and you have, well, yawn. The new championship trophy for the Big 10 will be called the “Staff-Paterno Championship Trophy,” and the trophy for best quarterback will be called the “Griese-Brees” trophy which, while appropriate (it honors two former Purdue QBs who went on to win Super Bowls), sounds strangely dirty. Brian and the mgoblog commenters have generally better division name ideas and logos.
2. Holgorsen, the search. Dana Holgorsen, orchestrator of Oklahoma State’s number one ranked offense, is rumored for a few different jobs. Florida fans are clamoring for him to join Muschamp’s staff at Florida, though this is based only on a few datapoints — i.e. that Muschamp’s defenses struggled at times with Leach’s Airraid at Texas Tech (where Holgorsen was a longtime assistant) and with Oklahoma State, and that Muschamp worked with an Airraid head coach previously in Chris Hatcher — but and not any actual sources. We do know that he interviewed for the head gig at Pittsburgh, and the talk now is that he will join West Virginia, either as offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting, or simply as head coach if Bill Stewart is shown the door after the bowl game.
Regardless of how all this plays out, we know one thing: Holgorsen’s offenses are good. In the last few years, first at Houston and then at Oklahoma State, he has taken the basic Airraid framework developed by Mike Leach and Hal Mumme (who Dana not only coached with but also played for at Iowa Wesleyan) and added his own stamp. I’ve discussed some of this previously, though there is much more to say (it will make a good summer project, which would be aided by the generous donation of game film — hint, hint). For now, I’d say the biggest overarching differences between Leach’s Airraid and Holgorsen’s offense are:
(A) Leach focuses on the Airraid staples, and makes a total commitment in his offense to the mesh play, which combines a high/low vertical stretch (a corner route over a runningback in the flat) with a horizontal stretch (two shallow crossing receivers and either runningbacks or receivers in the flats). This is a great play, but because the receivers show their intentions immediately at the snap, the play can be subject to pattern reading. Leach combats such tactics by “tagging” or altering specific receivers’ routes on the play while keeping the overall structure intact, Holgorsen instead generally prefers to build his passing game off of “vertical stems,” i.e. the receivers all begin their routes by releasing vertically and only show their intentions when they make their break. Now, this is not to say that Dana doesn’t use flat routes or crossing routes — staples of all modern passing games — but instead simply means that the basis for the offense comes from the vertical releases and the pressure this puts on the defense, and he prefers to save those adjustments for specific situations he can call out. Exhibit A in Holgorsen’s offense is four verticals, which he (along with then-fellow Texas Tech assistants Sonny Dykes (Louisiana Tech HC and former Arizona OC), Robert Anae (BYU OC), and Bill Bedenbough (Arizona co-offensive coordinator)) explains in depth in this coaching clinic article.
Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen couldn’t help but laugh this week as he created a composite of several dozen similar conversations that took place in the near-decade he spent as coach Mike Leach’s eye in the sky at Texas Tech. Leach would growl into his headset and ask why the Red Raiders’ quarterback took a sack or threw an incomplete pass or an interception.
Leach: “Who was open?”
Holgorsen: “Mike, I know you don’t want to hear this, but there wasn’t anybody open.”
Leach: “What do you mean there wasn’t anybody open?”
Holgorsen: “They dropped nine people and they double-covered all our guys. There was nobody open.”
Leach: “Well, how’d they get pressure on the quarterback?”
Holgorsen: “Well, because one guy can’t block one guy for seven seconds.”
Between games, Holgorsen would entreat Leach to call a few more running plays to keep the defense honest. Leach — who, to be fair, won an awful lot of games doing it his way — usually declined and kept right on calling passes….
“For so many years, I was scheming up plays, I was talking to Coach Leach, I was trying to find specific pass plays to run against a whole bunch of defenders — which gets tough at times,” said Holgorsen, who still calls Leach regularly to talk Xs and Os. “Having [RB Kendall Hunter] back there makes it easy to call plays, because you hand it to him, and he gets yards. Then if you’re not getting yards, there’s usually a pretty good reason for that.”
(C) Holgorsen is also less patient than Leach, however, because the (relatively, at least) greater willingness to run sets up more downfield throwing opportunities. Hal Mumme’s philosophy for the Airraid was “throw the ball short to people who score.” I think Dana Holgorsen’s philosophy has been shortened to simply “score.” This makes sense, too, because there’s good evidence that it’s better to go for chunks of yardage — explosive pass plays — than to simply try and dink and dunk it down the field. Now, in the early days of the spread the dink and dunk was an exceptional strategy, because defenses were unprepared and five yard completions, through the miracle of yards-after-the-catch, often turned into ten- or twenty-yard gains, but now it’s not so easy. Thus, the ability to use aggressively schemed pass plays with misdirection — play-action, fake screens, action passes, etc — is the hallmark of the best passing offenses: Holgorsen’s, Gus Malzahn’s (Auburn), Chris Petersen’s (Boise), and Bobby Petrino’s (Arkansas).
Ultimately though, there are more similarities than differences and, as Holgorsen says (see the video clip below where he talks philosophy), the common thread unifying all the best “Airraid teams” is the way they practice: simple assignments, with specific, football focused drills that allow their players to get maximum repetitions. Many teams preach this but the Airraid guys have figured out to how make practice really work; and really, there is no other way to be successful than to start with how you practice.
3. Muschamp, boom. Florida has hired former LSU/Auburn/Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and I found out about it in much the same way as most of the national media did: because Tim Tebow tweeted it (apparently from the Heisman ceremony?):
This is a good, if risky, hire. The reality is if you’re hiring a new head coach you are essentially left with two types of candidates: the Nothing But Upside, Wow He’s Fiery/Smart/Personable, But He’s Never Been a Head Coach and the He Seems Fine and Has Head Coaching Experience But Why Is He Available? Occasionally a guy emerges who seems to have it all — like Urban Meyer when he went to Florida originally — but as we’ve seen problems can still emerge there and Florida didn’t exactly get to time it’s choice, as Meyer forced its hand.
How all this ends up is anyone’s guess — and a lot will depend on what kind of offensive staff Muschamp brings to Gainesville — but for now enjoy a couple of good Muschamp stories, courtesy of Chris Hatcher, who was head coach at Valdosta St. while Muschamp served as defensive coordinator (as told to Spencer Hall):
By the way, Chris Hatcher, once you catch him, is happy to tell stories about Muschamp, the new Texas defensive coordinator. There are a few. He once called Hatcher four hours after practice to rage about non-contact whistles costing his players sacks in practice. He also watched Muschamp coach a whole game wearing a makeshift turban made of athletic tape and a headset.
“Third game of our career. We’re playing Southern Arkansas, and we just signed a deal with CSS TV. We’re the first I-AA game they broadcast. I look down the sideline before the game, and a grad assistant is putting pre-wrap around Muschamp’s head. His headset had been smashed to pieces on the plane ride, and he had to find a way to keep his headset on, so he had it taped to his head. He looked like The Red Badge of Courage.”
Hatcher is laughing out loud as he says this, but wants me to make sure Muschamp gets the props, as well.
“Please include this in the article, though: He may the best football coach I’ve ever coached with. He has a knack for getting his kids to play so hard for him. The best, by far, at his job.”
Done. But just try to picture Muschamp without a tape turban this fall after reading that.
- Josh Heupel, former Mike Leach protégé and National Championship winning QB at Oklahoma, will be the new OU playcaller. Showing that the holy grail in college football right now appears to be the quest to get the success of Mike Leach’s offense without the baggage of Mike Leach with it.
In contrast, and perhaps not surprisingly for the author of a highly praised biography of Burt Lancaster, who played Thorpe in the 1951 film “Jim Thorpe — All American,” the book’s second half, which covers Thorpe’s spotty film career, brims with life in its depiction of Hollywood during the 1930s and ’40s. Thorpe existed on the fringes of the studio system, trading on his name and playing mainly small roles as an Indian, but he was also not afraid of anonymous manual labor, as when he hired on with Standard Oil to paint things like gas stations and trucks. “Can’t keep the wife and the kids in food on ancient glory,” he told a sportswriter in 1930, when he was 42. …
…Drink and profligacy speeded his business failures and estranged him from his relatives. His plight wasn’t helped by the string of bars he invested in or was hired to appear at, like the Sports Club in Los Angeles, “a small, dimly lit bar and grill on a noise-ridden street,” as described by the journalist Al Stump, who produced what Buford calls “a haunting portrait” of the man: “He was weak, pliable, irresponsible and sometimes unruly, and he contributed to his own downfall.” He was also “the embodiment of this country’s eternal treatment of the vanishing Indian . . . underpaid, exploited, stripped of his medals, his records and his pride.”
In the commercial, Carl Weathers shows us his playbook, including the play “Blue 42 Trick Car Blitz”:
It’s not easy to see, but readers of this site will recognize the play shown as “mesh,” an Airraid staple. (Here’s another copy of the screen cap.) But what caught me was not that I recognized the play concept, it was that I recognized the diagram. Some of this was to Bud Light’s credit: typically play diagrams on TV or in media are incorrect, showing 13 players or ineligible receivers running routes or whatever else. So I was initially just shocked it didn’t immediately look incorrect. But there was something further — although there was some kind of faux defense drawn on top, I knew I’d seen the diagram before.
Compare the two images above. As I said, it looks like the Bud Light people drew some extra defense stuff on top of the play, but everything on offense is the same — the formations, the layout, the routes, and even the text (“Check flat”).
Of course there’s nothing wrong with this — the play doesn’t belong to anyone (even Norm Chow), and I don’t think Bruce will mind that his play diagram showed up in a Bud Light commercial. But obviously some guy at DDB Chicago (the advertising agency that made the commercial), did a Google Image search for play diagrams and came up with that one.
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