Monday, September 7, 2015

The problem with how college football teams hire head coaches

If you watched Montana vs North Dakota St last weekend you were treated to a display of excellent football.

I actually skipped the game in my foolishness and failed to tape it but fortunately some considerate soul put it up on YouTube for us all to enjoy.

Bob Stitt's offense is fantastic and I broke down some of how it works here.

After breaking down the tape, particularly the chess match sequences between Bob Stitt and Chris Klieman when the Grizz were on offense against the Bison D, one thing really stood out.

These are two of the best coached teams I've watched in the last few years.

Montana's offense is a detailed spread passing attack with all kinds of hot reads and adjustments available to the QB with which to burn defenses while the Bison defense is at the same time both versatile as well as very fundamentally sound.

The best defense the Bison were able to bring against the Grizz ultimately proved to be a concoction including three different types of Cover 4, plenty of Tampa-2, several fire zone blitzes, and a line stunt that almost doomed the Grizz running game.

The number of AQ college defenses that you see execute all of those styles of defense as well as the Bison did in this game, a week 1 match-up no less, is not terribly long. Indeed, it's remarkably short.

Perhaps the athletes one finds at the FCS levels are smarter, and there is definitely an emphasis on development at that level with many of the starters comprising of redshirted upperclassmen, but the fact remains that these kids are very well coached and execute at a higher level than most college football teams.

It's hard to avoid the inevitable conclusion that this is because they are better coached unless we determine that it's entirely because of a lack of character or intelligence amongst D1 recruits.

So why aren't these coaches getting opportunities at D1 programs? Why can't Montana DC Ty Gregorak, who did an excellent job scheming ways to slow down a Bison offense with a diverse and highly effective power run game captained by an NFL prospect, get a DC gig in the Big 12?

Why did Stitt's breakthrough come at Montana rather than somewhere in the Sun Belt or AAC?

Because football hires at major universities work like stock trading with perception driving decision-making rather than wisdom.

You want to hire who from where? That's a typical response universities often hear even when considering well qualified candidates with impressive resumes.

College football is a big money business and its a booming cash cow for universities because it serves as a vanity project, or source of communal pride, for a school's alumni, boosters, and surrounding community. The more inflated their egos get about the school they are affiliated with (and the schools are eager to inflate their egos to absurd levels) the more that this beast needs to be fed with big time hires and big time results on the football field.

Only the biggest and grandest will do. When Mack Brown went down Texas fans clamored for Saban. Who else would be worthy of coaching at Texas other than the most successful coach on the market?

With Bob Stoops struggling to maintain support in Norman there is already a contingent quietly pushing for Chip Kelly to be brought aboard from the Philadelphia Eagles as a solution. If Michigan got Harbaugh we should get big name X!!!

If Texas had landed Saban or if the Sooners end up with Kelly those are undoubtedly big, splashy hires that will help those season ticket sales, lead to more donations, and help in the perception driven world of recruiting as well. It sure helped Michigan with Harbaugh.

But there's a trap here that claims as many victims as it does exalt programs. When you insist on boosting up your stock price with a big, public move that will have fantastic optics you really limit your pool of candidates.

What if the best man for the next Big 12 defensive coordinator vacancy is Montana's Ty Gregorak? Is he going to get that opportunity or is it going to go to the next up and coming young DC who was just on TV shutting down that explosive offense from the Pac 12 in that bowl game?

How many social media hashtags and nationally televised games will it take before Bob Stitt gets a chance at a major university? The man has been a brain trust for Air Raid coaches at big time programs yet his teams are on TV maybe once a year.

And it's not just the FCS coaches that are left out but also:

-Coaches that aren't coming off a successful year (because God knows that if a coach has had a bad year he sucks forever and can't be good in any context)

-Coaches that haven't been in the right context for their set of skills to translate to big success

-Coaches that have done a lot with a little at smaller AQ schools or FBS programs

What every program should do is take a careful look in the mirror, figure out what competencies are needed to produce results in their own context, and then scour the scene for candidates that possess those competencies.

The insistence on making hires based on what drives up the stock price is why big schools like Alabama or Florida languish in obscurity for periods in between successful hires. "Is Michigan still Michigan?" was a question people asked of Brady Hoke when he was hired.

Well maybe not with Hoke in charge but perhaps with a better fit it could be.

With college football only increasing in popularity and the TV money and booster donations going up with every passing season this isn't likely to change. But if nothing else, there's a market inefficiency here to be exploited if there's a university out there with strong enough leadership to take a long view of the program rather than trying to win the battle for headlines.

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