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Odds and Ends – December 2010

Got lots of opinions to throw out there, most of which are supported by data.

  Long time readers know the drill- challenge them, but support your arguments.  Anybody making a contrary claim based on opinions or feeling will be mocked.

 Item 1- We had a really bad offense in 2010

 Duh.  The only reason to discuss this further is if people aren’t aware of exactly how bad it was.  It was really bad.  Since Mack Brown took over in 1998, the stats for points per drive have been kept.  Here they are-

1998- 2.6
1999- 2.1
2000- 2.3
2001- 2.6
2002- 2.2
2003- 2.8
2004- 2.6
2005- 3.4
2006- 2.7
2007- 2.6
2008- 3.5
2009- 2.5 (Note- Texas led BCS teams in scoring this year, but only because the defense and special teams snagged 11 TDs.  The offense was faltering, and anybody who could view it critically noticed.)
2010- 1.7

It gets worse.  a friend noted that we scored a lot of garbage points in the 4th quarter.  I decided to check scoring through the first 3 quarters for this year, and compare it to prior years.  Here's the averages-

1998- 24.9
1999- 27.1
2000- 28.0
2001- 27.0
2002- 24.5
2003- 31.4
2004- 28.1
2005- 41.2 (Ha-ha-ha-ha!  Ha-ha-ha-ha!)
2006- 28.6
2007- 24.6
2008- 33.0
2009- 30.6
2010- 15.3

Wait, it gets worse.  I wanted to check scoring in the first 3 quarters of league games, to eliminate the effect of Rice, FAU and Wyoming.  I've only done this for a few years, but here it is, along with defensive points through 3 quarters-

1997- 15.3 – 23.1

2005- 43.7 – 13.3

2006- 26.1 – 16.0

2007- 22.0 – 20.1

2008- 31.1 - 17.0

2009- 28.2 - 11.2

2010- 11.1 - 21.9

The offense dropped off the cliff this year.  Yes, the defense was not good, and even quit at times.  The fact remains that the defense was a high ankle sprain for the Longhorns this year, while the offense was a severed femoral artery.

 Item 2- Greg Davis and the Fickle Fanbase

 How could Texas say that Davis was a bad Offensive Coordinator (OC), when he was the architect of the 1998, 2001, 2005, and 2008 offenses? I am convinced everybody is overanalyzing this. It's really very simple.

1. You hire an OC for the offensive scheme he brings.
2. His continued employment is based on the effectiveness of the scheme and how well he implements (scouts, recruits, teaches, gameplans, playcalls) it.
3. The state of the art of offense in college football is constantly changing. Note that James Street, QB for the first Wishbone team, had 10 interceptions from 80 pass attempts in 1969, and that was okay.  The offensive game in football has changed a lot, and will continue to change.  That means every offense has a shelf life, and must be refreshed or discarded.  An example is Mike Sherman at TAMU.  He was hired for his pro offense, which he discarded as soon as he sized up the current college game and the talent available to him.
4. To stay employed as an OC (the effective ones typically end up as HCs), an OC must be constantly planning ahead and plotting the next tweaks and reboots of his offensive scheme.

It's not hypocritical or stupid to say Davis did a good job in 2005 and a crappy one in 2010. In 2005, he had a current offensive scheme, and in 2010 he had a stale one. It's really not a more complex an issue than that. To be brutally frank, when a HC hires or promotes a new OC, he needs to start planning for when he will replace him.  He will have to, when the OC is hired away, or needs to be replaced by someone with a fresher or more effective offense.

 Can I make a request of the Barking Carnival readers?  When you propose an OC, or criticize one, or defend one, please stop and think, “What is Coach ____’s preferred offensive scheme?  Does he run the ball much?  When is his QB under center, and when is his QB in the shotgun?  Is that a good scheme for today’s game?”.  If you don’t know the answers, how founded is your opinion?

 Item 3 – Vince Young

 Since 2006, the Titans are 30 - 17 with VY starting.  They are 14 - 17 with anybody else (Kerry Collins, except for the Texans game last week) starting.

Over his last 16 starts, Vince has a 89.7 passer rating (did not count the Miami relief performance, although that would help his stats), and the Titans are 10 - 6.  Over Collins last 16 (regular season) starts, the Titans are 5 - 11 (includes last 7 regular season games from the 2007 playoff season), and Collins' passer rating is 69.2.

 Think there’s another explanation other than Vince being a markedly superior QB?  I’ve checked out defensive scoring, and it’s a wash.  I’ve checked out games with and without Chris Johnson, and it’s a wash.  I’ve checked out quality of competition, and it’s a wash.

 In Fisher's press conference earlier this week, he noted that last year they turned it around after starting 0 - 6, and they will this year too. The media is giving him a pass on that statement, but the Titans message boards aren't, noting what exactly turned them around last year- the insertion of VY as a starter.

It's a funny thing. A lot of coaches and media don't understand what leadership is, or they pretend not to. Fisher tells the media that VY is a poor leader, and he's wrong. Know how you can tell that VY is a strong leader? You can tell because the team follows him. It's like when Mack blamed the 2007 arrests on lack of leadership. That locker didn't lack leaders- plenty of players were following Robert Joseph’s example. He was the leader in that locker. 
VY is a strong leader. Now, is he a good leader? That's a different question. A good situation for him would be one where the coach focuses VY's attention on the goals that he has. An extreme example is where the 1950s Lions HC, a fellow alcoholic Texan, turned the team almost wholly over to Bobby Layne.  A less extreme example is 2004 – 2005 Texas, where Mack signaled to the team that they could follow Vince’s lead, while focusing his leadership on just one playr- Vince.  A bad situation in the NFL will be any one where the coach expects VY to kowtow to him, because VY will always balk at that. VY is not unique that way.

Funny thing. Don Meredith was a hometown hero in Dallas. He struggled with Landry over control of the team.  Landry insisted on calling plays, and Meredith believed the QB needed to (in that era, all self-respecting QBs called their own plays, except for Cleveland’s). Landry resented Meredith's hold over the team (Bob Lilly spoke on the radio last night about how po'ed Landry was when Meredith sang "Turn Out the Lights" on the sidelines with the Cowboys losing by 30).  The word was leaked that Meredith didn’t work hard enough to suit Landry, and his teammates claimed that he worked plenty hard.  Finally, Meredith, injured, played in a huge playoff loss. The media panned him, and Meredith retired in a fit of pique. He approached Landry about returning a couple of months later, but Landry declined (he had Craig Morton and Roger Staubach in reserve). This is not at all an exact parallel to the VY scene, but it does provide perspective.  How would we view Vince and Fisher if their story played out the same way, but Vince was a good ol’ boy from the Dallas suburbs and not a modern day Mowgli, raised by wolves in urban Houston?

 I still believe that Vince Young can be a champion NFL QB if paired with a coach who will embrace his unique skillset and leadership traits.  I don’t know if such a coach exists in the NFL

 Item 4 - Staff Turnover

 Something had to be done this year, and the departing coaches seem like a good start.  Still, if this season did anything, it exposed how fragile the framework of a very successful program is, and how a competitive conference can take down a program when it fails to continually address shortcomings.  The possibility remains that the reinvention of the program we’re viewing might not work.  It didn’t in 1986.

 To refresh for the younger readers- In 1986 Fred Akers was entering his 10th season as Head Coach at Texas.  His record on the 40 Acres was 81 – 25 – 2.  He had won the SWC outright twice, and coached the team in three Cotton Bowls, winning one.  He led Texas to finish in the Top 5 three times, played twice for a MNC, and coached a Heisman winner.  Still, the program was clearly beginning to struggle.  Its rivals, TAMU and OU, were ascendant, and after getting slapped by the NCAA a couple of times, Texas opted out of all of the recruiting hijinks of that era.  Texas had a horrible collapse from a top ranking in 1984, and finished 1985 with a bowl loss to a service academy.

 Akers’ DC, Davis McWilliams left to be the HC at Texas Tech, and Akers decided to hire a new OC (a long complaint of the fans was the simple conservative and unimaginative nature of his offenses).  He hired Dwain Painter to be his OC, and charged him with updating the offense.  The only holdovers on the staff from 1985 were Dean Campbell and Tommy Reaux (1986 was the year Bobby Jack Wright began his Longhorn career).

 The reinvention failed.  Texas went 5 – 6, and Akers was fired.  Could the same failure occur in 2011?  Maybe.  If the weaknesses in the program are structural, rather than operational, changing coaches won’t help.  If Texas only has talent to win 7 – 8 games, then changing coaches won’t make us champions.

 The past is not destined to repeat.  There are key differences between 1986 and 2011.  The 1986 staff changes occurred two years after the year when the wheels fell off.  This time, there is an immediacy to the changes.  Also, there is no reason to think yet that Texas can’t recruit and operate at a high level, unlike 1986 when most of the blue chips just weren’t interested in the Longhorns once they found that we were only offering scholarships. 

 All in all, 2011 looks to be one of the most interesting seasons yet.