The coaching clinic juggling act – it’s all business

There are plenty of other places Georgia football coach Mark Richt would rather be on this gray rainy day. But three days after signing a highly rated recruiting class, Richt stood in a hotel ballroom in the middle of Long Island at a Nike Coach of the Year Clinic.

Looks like double speed outs with a middle read and a shallow cross controlling the middle

Coaches at schools who sign lucrative sponsorship deals with Nike are required to speak at two instructional clinics each year. From late January to early March, 71 major-college coaches will travel to 21 clinics across the country. They will speak to youth, high school and small-college coaches about “The Bulldog Passing Game” (Richt) or the “Broncos Winning Philosophy + Punt Returns” (Boise State’s Chris Petersen), all while spreading the gospel of a certain shoe and apparel company, of course.

“Normally a couple days after signing day, after the grind of a season that begins Aug. 1 goes through bowl season, then right into recruiting, usually you pass out for about a week, but somehow, now I’m in Long Island, N.Y., on the Saturday after signing day, and I’ll be honest with you: I’d rather be with my wife and kids, OK?” Richt says to the hundred or so coaches. “But when you get where you’re going, you get excited about talking ball. Excited about being here.”

. . . . Before 9 a.m. Saturday, Richt left Atlanta on a commercial flight and arrived in New York shortly before his presentation. Rohe says that because of stormy weather Richt was worried he might not make it back to Athens that night to interview coaches. So why did Richt fly into a city amid one of the worst winters in recent memory to speak to coaches from an area outside Georgia’s recruiting base?”I think it’s part of the contract,” he says. In fact, it is.

Last year, Richt’s total compensation was $2.9 million. According to the terms of his contract, $742,000 of that sum is from “compensation for his Equipment Endorsement Efforts.” He also receives $3,600 worth of shoes, apparel or equipment manufactured by Nike each year. In the contract, it states “Richt agrees to fully comply with and abide by the terms and conditions of the Nike contract.” . . . (more…)

Best of Smart Football – 2010

Due to various life commitments (new job, moving to New York City, getting engaged) 2010 wasn’t quite as productive as 2009 was in terms of pure volume of articles and words produced, but the site continued to grow and, in the process of writing it, I learned a lot from the great readers here at Smart Football. Below, in no particular order, is a list of some of the best and most popular pieces:

Lastly, I simply must highlight two very popular guest articles for the site:

The future of football and the wave of brain injuries

We’ve been here before, historians remind us, and we have the pictures to prove it: late-nineteenth-century newspaper and magazine illustrations with captions like “The Modern Gladiators” and “Out of the Game.” The latter of those, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1891, describes a hauntingly familiar scene, with a player kneeling by his downed—and unconscious—comrade, and waving for help, as a medic comes running, water bucket in hand. It accompanied an essay by the Yale coach Walter Camp, the so-called Father of American Football, whose preference for order over chaos led to the primary differentiating element between the new sport and its parent, English rugby: a line of scrimmage, with discrete plays, or downs, instead of scrums.

What is old is new

Camp viewed football as an upper-class training ground, not as a middle-class spectator sport. But the prevalence of skull fractures soon prompted unflattering comparisons with boxing and bullfighting. Another image, which ran in the New York World, depicted a skeleton wearing a banner labelled “Death,” and was titled “The Twelfth Player in Every Football Game.” Campaigns in Chicago and Georgia to outlaw the sport were covered breathlessly in the New York dailies. That was in 1897, “the peak of sensationalized football violence,” as Michael Oriard, a former offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs who is now an associate dean at Oregon State University, explains in “Reading Football: How the Popular Press Created an American Spectacle.”

…What was missing from this picture was the effect of all that impact on the brain. You got your “bell rung,” they used to say. You’re “just a little dinged up.” This was not merely macho sideline-speak; it was, as recently as a decade and a half ago, the language of the N.F.L.’s leading doctors. Elliot Pellman, who served until 2007 as the Jets team physician, once told a reporter that veteran players are able to “unscramble their brains a little faster” than rookies are, “maybe because they’re not afraid after being dinged.”

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., is the name for a condition that is believed to result from major collisions—or from the accumulation of subconcussions that are nowhere near as noticeable, including those incurred in practice. It was first diagnosed, in 2002, in the brain of the Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, who died of a heart attack after living out of his truck for a time. It was next diagnosed in one of Webster’s old teammates on the Steelers’ offensive line, Terry Long, who killed himself by drinking antifreeze. Long overlapped, at the end of his career, with Justin Strzelczyk, who was also found to have C.T.E. after he crashed, fatally, into a tanker truck, while driving the wrong way down the New York Thruway….

…The fastest running on a football field often occurs during kickoffs and punts, when some members of the defending team are able to build up forty or more yards of head-on steam before a possible point of impact…. One proposed reform that I’ve heard about would involve removing this element from the game, through automatic fair catches, or at least neutering it, by shortening the distance travelled by the kicking team. The most frequent head-butting on a football field, meanwhile, occurs at the line of scrimmage, where linemen often begin in what’s known as a three-point stance: crouching and leaning forward on one hand, and then exploding upward in a meeting of crowns. Another suggestion: banning the stance and requiring linemen to squat, sumo style. And then, more important, there’s simply teaching proper tackling technique. As one recently retired player put it to me, “Instead of telling a kid to knock the snot out, you say, ‘Knock the wind out of him.’ ”

“The reality is you’re going to need about twenty fixes that reduce risk by a couple of percentage points each,” Chris Nowinski said. “There’s still going to be four downs. Still going to be a football. Still going to be eleven guys on the field—and touchdowns. Other than that, everything’s in play.” . . .

…How many of the men on the field in the Super Bowl will be playing with incipient dementia? “To me, twenty per cent seems conservative,” Nowinski said. C.T.E., as of now, can be observed only with an autopsy. The ability to detect it with brain scans of living people is at least a couple of years off. “It’s not going to be five per cent,” Nowinski went on. “The reality is we’ve already got three per cent of the brains of people who have died in the last two years confirmed, and that’s not alarming enough to people. What number is going to be the tipping point? People are O.K. with three per cent. They may look sideways at ten per cent. Maybe it needs to be fifty per cent.”

That’s from a piece from this week’s New Yorker, by Ben McGrath. Not much new is covered on this subject; indeed, much of it is giving deserved credit to the New York Times’s Alan Schwartz, who has made this subject his personal question. But it’s a worthy reminder of the serious risks inherent in our favorite sport and which we are only just beginning to understand.

I’ve written about this subject before, and I am still sure that the brain-injury/concussion problem remains the most serious threat to football, and it will not be resolved by tweets from Greg Aiello, the NFL’s spokesman. Yet — and this may sound harsh — I don’t really care about the risks to current NFL players. Like professional boxing, no one can, with a straight face, say that they don’t understand the risk of playing such a dangerous, high speed collision sport, and they are all compensated handsomely for it. (I have more sympathy for older NFL players who played before high salaries and before these risks were well understood.) Indeed, I think the NFL as spectator sport will continue to survive through more “Black and Blue Sundays” or even serious injuries like paralysis, potentially even a live-on-the-field death. Some quick cuts to show Roger Goodell solemnly addressing “the problem” with fines and rule changes will be enough to placate the masses and change the narrative on ESPN back to who will rally for the postseason.

But the more serious threat to football — and the one I care about more than whether a very narrow class of high-profile, high-risk, high-reward professionals are making a bad judgment by playing the game — is whether the evidence shows that amateur football can cause lasting, long-term brain damage. The big stories will come out of the NFL and, to a lesser extent, major college football, but if in ten years it can be demonstrated that four years of high school football significantly increases the risk of brain injuries and long-term disorders, then football really will have no future.

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Smart Notes – Venn Diagrams, Bowl Ratings, Kragthorpe – 1/20/2011

On the Diagrammatic and Mechanical Representation of Propositions and Reasonings, via Google Books. (Click to enlarge.)

- Bowl Ratings drop 9%, via WizOfOdds:

A lot of this was predictable since so many bowls were moved to being on ESPN (and thus not on network television), but still an interesting datapoint.

- The Fulmer Cup lives, over at EDSBS.

- Kragthorpe to LSU? The word is that Louisville’s former head man is LSU’s new offensive coordinator. Believe it or not, this could actually work. Kragthorpe didn’t have much success at Louisville, but he (like Crowton?) is a smart guy, as I’ve written about previously here and here. Miles will take care of the program, so we’ll see if Kragthorpe has more success as just the OC.

- Posnanski on the playoffs. Check it out here. Joe wonders:

The question, I think, is this: What’s the competitive point of an NFL season? Is it to determine the BEST team in the NFL? Or is it to give us a fun and easy-to-follow trail on the way to our Super Bowl party?

- Journal of not-at-all-surprising. Jonah Lehrer on the importance of vacation:

And this is why vacation is so helpful: When we escape from the places where we spend most of our time, the mind is suddenly made aware of all those errant ideas we’d previously suppressed. We start thinking about obscure possibilities — corn can fuel cars! — that never would have occurred to us if we’d checked in with the office everyday.

Too often, we fail to consider the ways in which our surroundings constrain our creativity. When we are always “close” to the problems of work, when we never silence our phones or stop responding to e-mail, we get trapped into certain mental habits. We assume that there is no other way to think about things, that this is how it must always be done. It’s not until we’re napping by the pool with a pina colada in hand — when work seems a million miles away — that we suddenly find the answer we’ve needed all along.

- Quick game. Joe Paterno to return to Penn State . . . Packers’ Ted Thompson vindicated for picking Rodgers over Favre . . . Eleven Warriors points out that Adam Rittenberg was wrong about the “Tat 5″ . . . Auburn’s place among BCS Champions, by the numbers.

How do you predict whether someone will be a good college coach?

We looked at the head coaches, offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators for the 66 major-conference schools, plus Notre Dame, and found that with a few high-profile exceptions, NFL experience isn’t a great recipe for success on Saturdays. Most notably, Pittsburgh’s Dave Wannstedt, the former Bears and Dolphins head coach, resigned under pressure in December. Meanwhile, California, Virginia and Oregon State all finished below .500 despite the gaudy NFL résumés of their coaches. The staff that logged the most NFL years was Stanford’s. New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and his coordinators, David Shaw and Vic Fangio, combined to coach in the NFL for 35 years, and the 12-1 Cardinal were better for it.

But Monday’s BCS championship game was more proof that coaches can do just fine without NFL grooming. Of the game’s two coaches and four coordinators, only Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti made a pit stop in the NFL, while Auburn’s troika was one of 21 that’s never worked on Sundays.

That’s from the Wall Street Journal. I’d like to see what factors do predict winning, preferably by running a regression analysis of BCS conference coaches, with, Y, the dependent variable, being winning percentage (with, say, a minimum of three years coaching). I’m curious what Xs, or independent variables, would be statistically significant. A non-exhaustive list of candidates:

  1. Years of NFL coaching experience.
  2. Years of previous head coaching experience (any level).
  3. Years of coordinator-level experience (college or higher).
  4. Rank of offenses/defenses in scoring, total yards, and yards per play.
  5. Rank of offenses/defenses in rushing or passing, individually, in adjusted yards per attempt.
  6. Years of total college experience (proxy for recruiting experience?).
  7. Winning percentage at prior coaching stops.
  8. Rank of punting and kicking units in net punt averages and kickoff/kickoff return averages.
  9. Red zone touchdown percentage of offenses and defenses at prior coaching stops (use both regardless whether offensive or defensive coach).

I’m sure there are other plausible ones; please add on in the comments. Also, please tell me why the test wouldn’t work if set up this way, and how it could be improved. I’d actually be surprised if any of these factors turned out to be statistically significant, but I’m also not aware of anyone working something like this out.

Smart Notes – Brady Hoke, Belichick, Chip Kelly’s offense next year – 1/12/2011

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?

- Chase has a great article over at the NYT; read it here:

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.

- Top Ten Sports Business stories of 2010, by Andrew Brandt.

- 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):

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Smart links – 1/5/2010

Hitchens on Orwell on making proper tea. I agree. Also, there’s nothing wrong with some skim milk in hot tea.

- Rich Rodriguez is not dead… yet. If Rodriguez does go, I think, assuming Harbaugh said no, that RichRod would have been safe if not for the disastrous bowl game. But that happened, and Rich Rod is still likely out. Pete Thamel has a (slightly) premature post mortem on the Michigan program.

- 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.

- Gravity and Levity suggests installing “dosimeters” in NFL players’ helmets to measure cumulative blows to the head.

- Ohio State wins a wild one over Arkansas.

- Just fall on it! Or don’t?

Smart Links – 1/4/2010

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.

- Andrew Gelman on statistics, over at FiveBooks. Interesting choices.

- Brian speculates on 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.

- Is the iPad destroying the future of magazines?

Smart Links – Strategery round-up – 1/3/2011

Along the Olentangy has some great previews of Arkansas in anticipation of Ohio State’s bowl game. As Ross notes, Petrino’s likes to gash the opposite over the top with big plays, including on the great “Mills” pass Spurrier made famous:

millsy

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:

shallow

Sometimes though — as shown below against Alabama — the defense fails to cover the runner on the wheel route.

Read the whole thing.

- I’ll have more to say about this, but Runcodhit has some excellent stuff about Oregon’s run game concepts. Specifically, it combines the outside zone play with the read of the defensive tackle or three-technique. (See also here.)

The upshot of this adjustment is it makes irrelevant the typical games defenses play to counteract “midline-esque” run plays, because if the linebacker scrapes inside to take away the quarterback he is widely out of position for the outside zone to the sideline. (For bonus material, check out this post about zone blitzes with split-safety defenses.)

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Smart Notes – Best plays, Manning’s slide, DFW – Dec. 27, 2010

Best college football plays of the year, courtesy of Dr Saturday:

2. Has anyone watched the DVD series on the passing game by Sonny Dykes, former Texas Tech assistant, Arizona offensive coordinator and current Louisiana Tech head coach? I’m tempted to get this as a self-Christmas present, but I’m not sure if it’s worth it, given how much I already know about the Airraid. Indeed, I’m actually somewhat more interested in this tape on teaching QBs and packaging plays with formations from Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst (who is rumored to be Texas’s next offensive coordinator, and who I think would actually be  a good fit there — he could even wind up the new coach-in-waiting). Let me know in the comments if any of you have seen either of these and what your thoughts are.

3. Yes, Dan Dierdorf, that’s smart football, but not for the reasons you think. Peyton Manning’s game-clinching slide at the two against the Raiders was one of the headiest plays of the year, but Dan Dierdorf muffs the analysis. As said on Shutdown Corner:

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!

As a bonus, check out Tim Tebow’s day against the Texans. He still has a long ways to go, but I’ve said all along that he can definitely be an NFL quarterback; it’s just a question of when he’ll be ready. So far, so good.

4. I make few promises on this site, but I promise never to write a 13,000 word sentence. There are some pretty famous examples of such efforts, however.

5. Understanding David Foster Wallace through his study of the philosophy of language.

6. I’m a bit late to this story, but UConn will be taking a bath on their BCS bowl appearance.