best counter

Your Ad Here
Just The Sports: 2010-03-28

Just The Sports

Friday, April 02, 2010

How Does He Still Have A Job: Part 2

When the University of Colorado hired Dan Hawkins to replace Gary Barnett as the college football head coach, they did so in order to polish the tarnished image Barnett had left behind. While at Boise State, Hawkins ran a clean program whereas the later years of Barnett's tenure were filled with scandals ranging from players being undercharged for on-campus meals to luring recruits to Boulder with sex and alcohol to allegations of player sexual assault. One would hope that the University of Colorado athletic director, Mike Bohn, also planned on Hawkins putting together a team that was not only scandal-free, but actually won games and competed in the Big 12.

Although Barnett took a lackadaisical approach to monitoring what happened off the field with his players, there is no denying that he put together teams that were among the top in the Big 12. Out of the seven years Barnett spent coaching the Buffaloes, four of those years saw the University of Colorado in first place of the Big 12 North. Admittedly, the Big 12 North is the weaker part of the Big 12, but a title is a title and what Barnett did is a far sight better than anything Hawkins has accomplished during his five years at the helm.

In fact, the Buffaloes have regressed with Hawkins heading up the college football program, most noticeably on the offensive side of the ball. Barnett's teams never set the world on fire offensively, but they did enough to at least post a winning percentage of .563 (49-38). Since Hawkins has taken over, his teams are scoring an average of 5.8 fewer points per game (21.6 to 27.4, completing passes at a lower clip (53.7% to 58.7%), and getting fewer yards per pass attempt (6.0 to 7.0). What is even more of an indictment to the poor coaching job Hawkins has done is there does not seem to be even a hint of improvement on the horizon. Due to the fact there has been little change on the defensive side of the ball between the two tenures, it should come as no surprise that Hawkins's teams have only won 32.7% of their games (16-33). Not being able to improve on a predecessor's teams, especially when the predecessor was fired, is a talent only unemployed coaches should have.

Besides the fact that Hawkins has avoided bringing more scandal to the University of Colorado, he has done nothing else to warrant his further employment. The only thing that his teams are good at is being mediocre, a distinction that usually ends with a coach being fired. Furthermore, there are dozens of coaches in the football world that can manage both to win and keep their teams off probation. Dan Hawkins is not one of them and why he is allowed to continue to put a mostly losing product on the field every week during college football season is an unsolved mystery beyond any tale ever narrated by Robert Stack.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

How Does He Still Have A Job: Part 1

Just how or why Ron Zook continues to be employed as the head coach of the college football team for the University of Illinois is unfathomable. Other than a 2007 season that saw the Fighting Illini win nine of thirteen games and culminated in a Rose Bowl Appearance and a subsequent Rose Bowl blowout loss, nothing Ron Zook has done as the head coach helps explain why Illinois continues to have faith that he will do anything but field future teams that will win more than they lose. Yet, even after the 2008 season where the Fighting Illini went 5-7, the powers to be at Illinois decided it would be a right idea to give Zook a one-year contract extension that now takes the length of his contract to 2014. Of course, Zook rewarded their confidence with a record of 3-9 for the 2009 season.

Please humor me for a minute while I play a hypothetical game that requires the player to possess a modicum amount of common sense. Pretend for a moment that the University of Illinois had a football head coach before hiring Ron Zook. We shall name this mythical predecessor Ron Turner and say he coached from 1997-2004. Since he was fired, one would imagine that for his successor to continue to be allowed to have a job, the successor would need to outdo what Turner did. If the successor fielded teams that were no better than Ron Turner's, would you continue to let him coach your college's team?

Congratulations; if you said no, then you are qualified to work for the University of Illinois. Zook has been the head coach of the Fighting Illini for the past five seasons and since then, his teams have put up virtually the same stastistics as Ron Turner's eight squads. On offense, the only statistically significant difference between the two tenures is that Zook's teams are a more prolific running team; they have averaged 4.9 yards per carry to Turner's teams' 3.9 yards per carry. However, that extra 1.0 yard per carry has not translated to more points for the Zook-led Illini; their 23.7 points per game are barely better than Turner's teams' 23.2 points per game. The lack of added game is not surprising since an increase in passing yards per attempt is a much better advantage to have over an increase in running yards per carry. Unfortunately, Zook has failed to develop any sort of proficient passing game, just one of many strikes against him.

Defensively, Zook again failed to improve over a coach who only had a 35-57 (.380 winning percentage) record; Zook's overall record is 21-39 (.350 winning percentage). Actually, Zook's teams have been worse defending the pass, allowing a 60.2% completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks, statistically significantly worse than the Illinois teams of Ron Turner. Still, there is little difference in the amount of points opponents have scored per game. Zook's teams allowed 28.6 points per game to the 27.9 points per game of Turner's squads, completely erasing the minimal advantage Zook's teams had on the offensive side of the ball. The comparison gives further evidence to the fact Zook has failed to improve on Turner's tenure.

The struggles of Ron Zook should provide a cautionary tale to athletic directors across the nation. There are simply too many contract extensions given too early to head coaches, usually at the first sign of success without first making sure the coach is capable of duplicating his team's accomplishments. Zook received a three-year contract extension in the middle of the 2007 season at a time when his teams had gone 9-21 (.300 winning percentage). Therefore, it is little surprise his teams have continued to struggle to win games on a consistent basis. Athletic directors should be more frugal with their contract extensions instead of handing them out like candy on Halloween. Otherwise, they too might end up with a Ron Zook.

It is really hard for me to imagine what more Ron Zook has to do to be fired, but I will be interested in seeing if he can do so anytime soon. Until then, the fans of the Fighting Illini might want to find something more productive to do with their time during the college football season than to watch Ron Zook's teams lose on the field.

Note: The statistics for Ron Turner's team do not include the 1997 game against the Louisville Cardinals where the Fighting Illini lost 26-14; the box score was unavailable.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

NFL Quarterback Draft Prospect: Sam Bradford

For once, I actually agree with the opinions of the majority on an issue. Sometimes in this blog it might seem I am being a contrarian just for the sake of being contrary, but the truth is most of the time people demonstrate a basic lack of understanding when it comes to sports. Imagine my relief then being able to rejoice in the fact that most everyone agrees Sam Bradford is highly deserving of an early draft selection. He and Colt McCoy are the two best quarterback prospects in the draft and are the ones for whom I feel most assured of predicting a good, if not great, NFL career.

Former University of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford's greatest attribute is no secret to anyone who has either watched him play or perused the box scores of his games. Bradford possesses accuracy in spades as evidenced by his 67.9% completion percentage and 9.2 yards per pass attempt. His extremely high career yards per pass attempt demonstrate he was not just dinking and dunking the ball down the field, artificially inflating his completion percentage by throwing only the safest of passes. Instead, Bradford was only completing the more difficult downfield passes at a very efficient clip, which indicates he will be able to keep NFL defenses honest by forcing them to respect his ability to complete passes at all distances.

What most reassures me about Bradford's statistics not being only a product of the offense he played in are the struggles Landry Jones had as a starter after he took over the offensive reins following Bradford's shoulder injury. Whereas Bradford completed 69.5% of his passes his first year as a starting quarterback for the Sooners, Jones only completed a pedestrian 58.6% of his passes. As long as Landry Jones continues to fail to equal Sam Bradford's exploits, Bradford can continue to be looked upon as a truly elite quarterback.

There is only one aspect of Bradford's career that I would have liked to have seen changed. For all of his spectacular passing numbers, there is no changing the fact that he only attempted 884 pass attempts in games where he played a significant amount of time, the fewest number of passes for the quarterbacks I have examined excepting Tony Pike. After accuracy, there is no more important criterion for an NFL-bound quarterback to have then a large number of repetitions at the college level. In addition to providing the quarterback with valuable experience, it also allows a larger sample size that allows the observer to get a more complete picture of what kind of a quarterback a player is.

Due to the fact Bradford was not able to play in more games on the college football level because of injury, I would caution any team that drafts him against throwing him onto the field too early. As difficult as it will be for any NFL franchise to practice restraint with someone they are providing with so many millions, the success of both the team and Bradford will be greater if they wait until he is absolutely ready to quarterback in the NFL. There is a reason why colleges redshirt most of their players for the year between high school and college; the college game is a lot more complex and many quarterbacks require extra time to learn everything about what is required of them in the offensive systems and how to execute their jobs at a high level. NFL teams would do well to do the same thing with rookie quarterbacks since the leap from college football to the NFL is even more gargantuan, and rookie quarterbacks need extra time to acclimatize themselves to professional football. The more time these quarterbacks have to prepare, the better they will do when they finally get a chance to play.

Deservedly so, Bradford will be an early draft selection in the upcoming NFL draft. He has all the makings of an excellent professional quarterback, but he still should not be rushed onto the field. Even if the team that drafts him has to endure another losing season, it will be worth it to give Bradford time to fully develop and understand how to succeed in the NFL.


NFL Quarterback Draft Prospect: Tony Pike

Seemingly, all of the numerous NFL draft websites and experts have agreed that former University of Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike is one of the top quarterbacks in the draft, a fact which I find both amazing and disheartening. Possessing the knowledge that there are those who actually think Pike is a viable quarterback draft prospect is amazing because nothing could be further from the truth and it is disheartening because it once again demonstrates how little most people have learned about judging which college quarterbacks will be good pros. This is not to say that Tony Pike is the worst quarterback who is available to be drafted (that award goes to Jevan Snead), but Pike is definitely not worth a draft pick.

In the Dan LeFevour post, I mentioned offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn, whom LeFevour played for his freshman year before Quinn brought his no-huddle spread offense to the University of Cincinnati. Quinn's offense is designed to elevate a quarterback's numbers so one would think that at the University of Cincinnati, Pike put up such spectacular numbers that there is no way one could avoid thinking such a fantastic college quarterback would make a great pro. Erroneous. What Pike ended up doing during his time is incredibly underwhelming. In nineteen games where Pike played a significant amount of the game, he only completed 62.5% of his passes and 7.6 yards per pass attempt. Even for a college quarterback playing in a pro-style system in this day and age, a completion percentage of 62.5% is not one that translates well to the NFL; for a spread offense quarterback, 62.5% screams that here is a quarterback who could not even master an offense that begs players to put up gaudy numbers so there is little chance he will succeed in any one that an NFL team runs.

Not only do Pike's numbers look poor by themselves, they are made even worse by the play of his back-up Zach Collaros during the four games Pike missed due to injury. In those four games, Collaros completed 78.3% of his passes and 11.6 yards per pass attempt. Although it would be a Sisyphean task for a quarterback to maintain such astounding statistics for an entire season, Collaros's numbers are much more in line with what one would expect from a truly elite spread offense quarterback and raise a very important question. How can any NFL team expect for Tony Pike to be the top quarterback on its squad or in the league if he was not even the better quarterback on his own college football team? Although Brian Kelly allowed Pike to resume his starting job after he regained his health, Collaros is the one who should have started for the Bearcats for the rest of the season.

Moreover, Pike was a very inconsistent quarterback while at Cincinnati. His completion percentage standard deviation of .124 is the highest of the five quarterback prospects I have examined so far, which demonstrates just how untrustworthy a quarterback he really is. His inconsistency is yet another reason for NFL teams to take a pass on him.

Tony Pike is one of the more undeserving quarterback prospects of a draft pick this year. No team should covet him enough to waste a draft pick on a player it can use on someone who may actually end up helping the team in the long run. No matter what many draft experts and pundits would like to believe, everything about Tony Pike indicates he will never succeed in the NFL.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

NFL Quarterback Draft Prospect: Dan LeFevour

As more and more college football teams adopt spread, gimmicky offenses, which artificially inflate a quarterback's passing numbers, there will be many more Dan LeFevours to come through the pipeline. For all of his many records and decorations during a storied college football career, nothing that he did for the Central Michigan Chippewas will prepare him for a successful life in the NFL. Instead, more than likely, over the next several college football seasons, his numbers will be more run of the mill than many people probably believe.

There are two aspects of Dan LeFevour's career that give me pause and warn me that LeFevour may just be a product of the offenses in which he has played. Although he has been a very good quarterback in the offenses he has run, LeFevour is not a quarterback any NFL teams should trust to play for them professionally in a starting capacity.

The first aspect that is a flashing neon sign of warning about LeFevour is taking into consideration for whom he has played. His first offensive coordinator during his redshirt freshman season at Central Michigan was Jeff Quinn. For those who have never heard of Jeff Quinn, he has been Brian Kelly's (current coach at Notre Dame) long-time offensive coordinator. While everyone has praised Kelly for his team's offensive exploits, it is really Quinn who has spearheaded those efforts, developing a high-octane no-huddle spread offense that is very quarterback-friendly. Most quarterbacks in his offense will have a pretty good completion percentage and LeFevour was no exception; LeFevour completed 63.8% of his passes for 7.9 yards per pass attempt. In other words, he performed as one would expect in such an offense.

LeFevour's offensive coordinator for the next three seasons was Mike Bajakian, who is now the current offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bearcats. He also ran a no-huddle spread offense, which focused on shorter, more easily completed pass attempts, which certainly helped LeFevour in his completion percentage. This was easy to tell because LeFevour's yards per pass attempt were never that impressive in his three years under Bajakian. Over the course of three seasons, it was only 7.2 yards per pass attempt and 10.7 yards per reception, indicating LeFevour rarely threw the ball downfield. In the NFL, at least the threat of a deep pass is needed to keep the defenses honest. A further example of how the offense made LeFevour and not the other way around, when he was injured for two starts in 2008, LeFevour's back-up, Brian Brunner completed 69.7% of his passes with 10.3 yards per pass attempt. Brunner's performance indicates how interchangeable Bajakian's offense makes the quarterback position.

There is little doubt in my mind that Mike Bajakian will turn Cincinnati's Zach Collaros into the next college quarterback star. Like LeFevour, Collaros played under Jeff Quinn and has all the tools to perform more than admirably under Mike Bajakian. When that happens, a little of the luster of LeFevour's career will certainly be taken off.

The second aspect of LeFevour's college career that would scare me off as an NFL franchise is how poorly he performed against the BCS conferences. Over four years as a starter, LeFevour played in twelves games against BCS conference foes where he either attempted the most passes for Central Michigan or threw for the most yards for the Chippewas; during that same time frame under those conditions, he played in thirty-nine games against non-BCS conference opponents. When he was playing against BCS conference opponents, LeFevour only completed 57.7% of his passes and 6.2 yards per pass attempt. Those numbers are significantly worse than when he was passing against non-BCS teams and completed 69.5% of his passes and 7.7 yards per pass attempt. For a team like Central Michigan that does not have all the benefits of a BCS conference team, one would expect a little regression, but LeFevour's mighty struggles against those teams further demonstrate he is not an elite quarterback.

Although Lefevour completed 66.3% of his passes over his career at Central Michigan, there is nothing about his quarterbacking resume that says to me he will be a good NFL quarterback. More than anything I am left uninspired by his statistics. Most quarterbacks in such an offense would put up equally good numbers, meaning LeFevour is not the special quarterback some are hyping him up to be. NFL teams should take a pass on Dan LeFevour.