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Just The Sports: 2009-03-29

Just The Sports

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Overrated Coach

Usually when the adjective overrated is used in the realm of athletics, it is describing an athlete. This time around, I would like to use it to discuss the newest head coach of the University of Virginia men's basketball team: former Washington State head coach Tony Bennett. Almost two years ago, I wrote about my reasoning for why I disagreed with Bennett winning Coach of the Year. Since then, Bennett's Washington State teams have done nothing to change my conclusion about his coaching acumen and in fact, I am more sure than ever that I was right in thinking Bennett might just be a good coach and not a program-changing one. That spells trouble for the University of Virginia if they think that is the kind of coach they are getting.

As I laid out in my first post about Tony Bennett, he did do an admirable job at Washington State in his first year, helped along by the fact he was working with a roster stability of .85. He coached his team to a 26-8 record and on the way, the Cougars outscored their opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions.

His second year was even better even though his team lost one more game that season (26-9). The Cougars made it all the way to the third round of the NCAA tournament by having a positive margin over their opponents of 18.0 points per 100 possessions. Then again, he was working with the extreme advantage of coaching a team with a roster stability of .98, meaning he had almost the exact same team from the previous season. It is a well-documented fact that a team's performance will improve the longer said team plays together. Bennett was just reaping that benefit.

Not until this past season, Bennett's third as head coach at Washington State, was Bennett facing a position where all the cards were not stacked in his favor. The first obstacle Bennett had to overcome was his lowest roster stability as a head coach (.63); that roster stability is the equivalent of losing two position players from a team. Bennett failed to do so, with his team only garnering a 17-16 record and a margin of 5.7 points per 100 possessions. A truly excellent coach would not have allowed losing a few players to turn his team into a mediocre one.

Take Bill Self, for example, who I consider to be one of the great active college basketball head coaches. His 2007-08 Kansas Jayhawks won the national championship and then he had to sit and watch as his starting five either graduated or left early to go into the NBA. Yet, this season, he still managed to take a team with a roster stability of .45 comprised nearly completely of new parts to the third round of the NCAA tournament, where they bowed out to a Michigan State team that is now in the Final Four.

Until Tony Bennett can show he can reload his team, even after losing key parts, and still lead them to great heights in the college basketball world, he will never be more than a good coach, who will be able to put together a couple of outstanding years if his players stick around.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Cooling Off On John Beck

Two years ago, during the 2006 college football season and before the 2007 NFL draft, I was the driver of the John Beck bandwagon. I told anyone who would listen to me that John Beck was an excellent NFL prospect and that teams should be looking to draft him ahead of more famous quarterbacks like Brady Quinn. Now, two years later, I have to admit that I may have been too hasty with my effusive praise for John Beck and that I have begun to cool on him as an NFL player. This is not to say that he was not a very good college quarterback, but the fact is with the way his successor, Max Hall, has played is keeping John Beck from being a special college quarterback.

The years I will be using to compare John Beck and Max Hall to each other are the last two years of Beck's college career and then Hall's two years as a starting quarterback. I only chose the last two years of Beck's career because 2005 was the year Bronco Mendenhall took over the reins as head coach and brought over Robert Anae from Texas Tech to be the offensive coordinator. It was in that season that Anae's system turned Beck from a quarterback whose completion percentage was hovering between 52%-55% to a 64.5% passer.

Hall did not have as great a year in his first year as starting quarterback under Anae as Beck did, only completing 60.1% and 7.8 yards per pass attempt to Beck's 64.5% and 7.2 yards per pass attempt. However, comparison of the two quarterback's two years under Anae shows the competition is basically a wash. Beck has slightly superior passing statistics (66.7% completion percentage/8.2 yards per pass attempt to 64.5% completion percentage/8.0 yards per pass attempt) than Hall, but they are not statistically significantly better, which reiterates the fact Beck was a product of the offensive scheme in which he was playing.

Anytime there are successive college quarterbacks who play under the same offensive coordinator and combine a large number of pass attempts per game with a high completion percentage with seemingly no drop-off no matter who the quarterback, it should scream to the observer that these are quarterbacks who are made by the system and probably would not have as much success if they play for someone else. The fact there is no drop-off in production from BYU quarterbacks demonstrates John Beck was probably not worthy of all the accolades with which I wanted to anoint him.

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