No Sleep Till Football

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Lucky or Great? Coaches in Close Games

When you talk in baseball circles about sabermetrics and how they apply to close games, the thought was that games decided by 1 run was due to pure chance. That a team, say the Milwaukee Brewers, who went 19-20 in 1-run games in one season would go 20-19 the next season in games decided by 1 run or less. This obviously is regression to the mean.

The next stop on this train of thought in baseball was that games decided by 1-2 runs were due to luck, but then thinking got to be that it was possibly that 1-run games were actually decided by a manager. The way he might use his bullpen. The way his lineup would be constructed or possibly the way he pinch hit late in the games or whether he made the right defensive adjustments to preserve victory.

The point is that regression doesn’t always even things out, so what is left? There has to be some kind of cause being effected by the man in charge. In baseball that’s the manager. In college football it’s the head coach. So how did head coaches in the 2010 NCAA football season do in “close” games as defined by a final margin of 7 points or fewer? Here they are broken down by conference.


Ralph Friedgen/Maryland: 4-1
Butch Davis/North Carolina 5-3
Frank Spaziani/Boston College 3-2
Tom O’Brien/NC State 3-3
Paul Johnson/Georgia Tech 2-2
Jimbo Fisher/Florida St. 2-2
David Cutcliffe/Duke 2-3
Frank Beamer/Virginia Tech 1-2
Randy Shannon/Miami-FL 1-2
Jim Grobe/Wake Forest 1-2
Mike London/Virginia 1-3
Dabo Sweeney/Clemson 1-4


Doug Marrone/Syracuse 3-0
Randy Edsall/Connecticut 3-1
Skip Holtz/South Florida 3-3
Greg Schiano/Rutgers 3-4
Bill Stewart/West Virginia 2-3
Dave Wannstedt/Pittsburgh 1-3
Butch Jones/Cincinnati 0-1
Charlie Strong/Louisville 0-4


*Rich Rodriguez/Michigan 4-0
Mark Dantonio/Michigan St. 3-0
Bret Bielema/Wisconsin 2-0
Jim Tressel/Ohio St. 1-0
Pat Fitzgerald/Northwestern 5-1
Tim Brewster/Minnesota 3-2
Bill Lynch/Indiana 2-3
Danny Hope/Purdue 1-2
Ron Zook/Illinois 1-3
Kirk Ferentz/Iowa 1-5
Joe Paterno/Penn St. 0-1

*It’s interesting here that Rodriguez is 4-0. Michigan was overall 7-5 meaning the Wolverines were 3-5 in games that weren’t close. To a degree that has to be attributed to the overall difficulty of the Big 10 and the fact that this is only Rodriguez’s 3rd year in completely revamping the Michigan program. There are rumblings that Rodriguez could be fired at the end of the bowl season & I think it would be a mistake. I think if a Jim Harbaugh is available then I guess you have to pull the trigger assuming Harbaugh wants to coach at Michigan for the next 20 or so years, but if not then Rodriguez is doing more than enough to keep the job. The defense needs to be brought up to speed, but Rodriguez had some tremendous ball hawking defenses at West Virginia. He needs a bit more time assuming Harbaugh doesn’t want to come back to Ann Arbor.


Bob Stoops/Oklahoma 5-0
Tommy Tuberville/Texas Tech 3-0
Art Briles/Baylor 2-1
Turner Gill/Kansas 2-1
Bill Snyder/Kansas St. 2-1
Mike Gundy/Oklahoma St. 2-1
Mike Sherman/Texas A&M 3-2
Gary Pinkel/Missouri 1-1
Paul Rhoads/Iowa St. 1-2
Mack Brown/Texas 1-2
Dan Hawkins/Colorado 1-3
Bo Pelini/Nebraska 1-3

PAC 10

Jim Harbaugh/Stanford 2-0
Chip Kelly/Oregon 1-0
Rick Neuheisal/UCLA 1-0
Steve Sarkisian/Washington 4-1
Lane Kiffin/USC 3-3
Mike Riley/Oregon St. 3-3
Mike Stoops/Arizona 2-3
Paul Wulff/Washington St. 1-2
Jeff Tedford/California 1-3
Dennis Erickson/Arizona St. 1-4


Gene Chizik/Auburn 5-0
Les Miles/LSU 6-1
Bobby Petrino/Arkansas 3-1
Dan Mullen/Mississippi St. 3-2
Derek Dooley/Tennessee 1-1
Joker Phillips/Kentucky 2-3
Nick Saban/Alabama 1-2
Urban Meyer/Florida 1-2
Houston Nutt/Mississippi 1-2
Steve Spurrier/South Carolina 0-1
Bobby Johnson/Vanderbilt 0-1
Mark Richt/Georgia 0-3


*Mike Haywood/Miami-OH 6-0
Kyle Whittingham/Utah 4-0
Greg McMackin/Hawaii 2-0
Gary Patterson/TCU 1-0
Bronco Mendenhall/BYU 3-1
Pat Hill/Fresno St. 3-1
June Jones/SMU 2-1
Chris Ault/Nevada 2-1
Tim Beckman/Toledo 2-1
Jerry Kill/Northern Illinois 2-2
Chris Petersen/Boise St. 1-1
Brian Kelly/Notre Dame 2-3
Brady Hoke/San Diego St. 2-4
George O’Leary/Central Florida 1-2
Troy Calhoun/Air Force 1-3
Kevin Sumlin/Houston 0-3

*I somewhat can’t believe that Mike Haywood didn’t get any sniff of interest from either Indiana or Minnesota in their head coaching searches. Maybe it’s too soon as Haywood just completed his 2nd year at Miami-OH & his 2nd overall year as a HC, but in his first year he took the Redhawks to a 1-11 record. In year 2, Miami-OH went 9-4 and are MAC champions! That’s INSANE! Keep in mind Miami-OH was dead last in the MAC East in year 1. They win the MAC East in year 2 & also beat a heavily favored 10-2 Northern Illinois team in the MAC Championship. In his 2 years in Oxford, Haywood is 7-2 in “close” games! Haywood is only 45 years old so he could still be in Miami for a couple more years before moving on. Enjoy him now because he won’t be coaching the Redhawks for long.

It’s also good to keep in mind that successful coaches should be given lots of credit for keeping their teams out of close games. Chip Kelly was only 1-0 in “close” games this year meaning Oregon blew out the other 11 teams they faced on the schedule. Les Miles was 6-1 in “close” games meaning that at least by this metric he’s a lot better (or maybe just incredibly lucky) than I normally give him credit for. Then again LSU was 10-2 meaning he was 4-1 in games that weren’t close. The reason Miles gets hammered quite a bit by coaching critics is that LSU probably shouldn’t be playing 58.3% of their games by margins of 7 points or less. They are far too talented to have to win close games so often.

Something to keep in mind too is that great teams are always going to over produced in situations like these. It is what makes them great teams. The 1998 New York Yankees won 114 games although their run differential said they should have won 108. They outperformed their run differential by 6 games. This phenomena is clearly best seen with Auburn this season where they are 5-0 in close games. Even adjusting for luck, Auburn could still be quite lucky and be 4-1 or even 3-2 in those contests. Instead they are showing true greatness by running table at 5-0.


December 6, 2010 - Posted by | Coaching, Miami-OH, Michigan, Mike Haywood, Rich Rodriguez

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