2017 Aggie Football Season Prediction – Part 2

2017 Aggie Prediction Graphic

In last week’s post I talked about the team in general and how I think this year’s team is worse than last year’s team from a talent standpoint.  The loss of Trevor Knight, Myles Garrett, and Josh Reynolds will be a major factor in how this team does and I think it does worse than last year.  That won’t help Sumlin as I think Sumlin needs to win 9 games in the 2017 season to save his job.  There’s an outside chance he could win 8 games but he’ll need that 8th win to be against LSU and I’m not sure that’s possible.  At the end of last season I thought the 2017 season would be a colossal failure with 6 wins being a major question.

Looking at the schedule again I think it’s possible there’s more than 6 wins this season.  The schedule is not nearly as daunting as I originally thought.  There’s a lot of winnable games.  Now, that doesn’t mean there’s more wins than last season as we still have the same coaching staff that only won 8 games with a more talented team.  Still, this schedule is more manageable for wins that I originally thought.  The problem will be coaching.

For this exercise I’m looking at each game from a standpoint of if it’s winnable with the talent we have on the 2017 team and then if it’s winnable from the standpoint of the current coaching staff.  I’m calling these two assessments WWT for Winable With Talent and SOS for Same Ol’ Sumlin.  There is enough talent to win 9 games but I don’t think our coaching staff and most importantly the man who wears the #1 headset has the ability to win 9 games if the last 5 years are any indication.

Let’s get to the games.

UCLA:

This is an interesting game because UCLA was 4-8 last season and we beat them to open up the season.  We had them handily beat but a late 4th quarter come-back by UCLA sent this to overtime where the Aggies prevailed.  Their 4-8 record is deceiving because they lost Josh Rosen halfway through last season and Rosen makes this a totally different team.  Prior to Rosen going down in the Arizona State game they were 3-2 with wins over BYU and Arizona with losses to A&M and Stanford.  They only lost to Arizona State 23-20 so it’s reasonable to think they win that game if Rosen doesn’t go down.  He means a lot to this offense.

They lost quite a bit from last year’s team much like A&M but I think getting Rosen back will be the difference in the game.  Their defense is susceptible and they lost some talented receivers.  When I look at this matchup I feel that they have a good offensive line and outstanding QB so it’s really a fairly even matchup across the board as we have great defensive tackles.  Their defense is susceptible as will be our offense with a new quarterback taking his first ever snaps under center or a quarterback that’s never beat a P5 team in multiple starts.

This is a winnable game but I don’t think Mazzone runs an offense different than last year’s and like always he’s just randomly picking plays over having a real plan to attack their defensive weaknesses.  Rosen is going to put up points and we have to counter but I don’t think we do.  We’ll be on the road with a new quarterback playing in an almost full stadium.  It’ll be a beautiful sight everywhere except on the field for the Aggies.  Winnable With Talent is a Yes but Same Ol’ Sumlin is a No here.  Sumlin suffers his first loss of the season in game 1 although it’s a winnable game.  Not the way to start the season.

SOS: 0-1; WWT: 1-0

Nicholls State and ULaLa:

Two Louisiana schools roll into Kyle Field and get Sumlin back to and above .500 before heading to Jerry World to take on Arkansas.  I know ULaLa once beat us causing me to call R.C. Sloucm’s ex-wife to discuss the game but that was in Lafayette and Tupac had just been killed so the team wasn’t focused at all.  At least that’s a rumor of why we lost that game.  Rap seems to be in a peaceful place where any feuds are just words and not bullets so I think the Aggies are safe in both of these games.

SOS 2-1; WWT: 3-0

Arkansas:

This is the most fascinating series to me because after the Johnny Years when we went back to JerryWorld Arkansas has outplayed us for the most part.  The games 2 and 3 years ago we had to make amazing fourth quarter comebacks to send it to overtime where we won out.  Last year’s end result was a total ass kicking but had our defense not made some key stops, got some turnovers, and Trevor Knight not make two big runs we lose that game.  We really do.  While we’re 3-0 in the last three games of this series we could easily be 0-3 at the same time.  Sumlin has been lucky these games.

I think Arkansas is similar to us in that they’re not as good as last year.  I love their quarterback in Austin Allen as he’s as solid as they come but I think their offensive line is worse than last year and they don’t have the running game they had either.  Defensively they’re just okay and not great.  I think this is going to be a pretty ugly game but the Aggies win in the end.  It’s definitely a winnable game and I think A&M continues their run against Arkansas as Sumlin has Beliema’s number although Sumlin has no clue how or why he does.  Arkansas couldn’t definitely win this game though and it’s not a gimme.  Still, I think the Aggies win.

SOS 3-1; WWT: 4-0

South Carolina:

Our “rival” in the East comes to Kyle Field to open up SEC play at Kyle.  I think South Carolina is getting better under Muschamp but I think they have a long way to go to match A&M’s talent.  This is an interesting game to me because I feel A&M is much better from a talent standpoint but Will Muschamp could see this as a winnable SEC game for his squad and pull out all the stops beating Sumlin.  Not really a trap game but just South Carolina implementing some wrinkles A&M is not expecting at all.  Muschamp knows he needs some SEC wins and a win over A&M would be a big feather in his hat.  If Sumlin and the team take South Carolina lightly they’ll absolutely lose but for the first home SEC game of the season I think the Aggies win here.

SOS 4-1; WWT: 5-0

Alabama:

There isn’t ANY chance that A&M beats Alabama in 2017 even at Kyle Field.  Not a single chance.  I really think this could be a slaughter.  Something like 45-7 and this is where the wheels start coming off the Sumlin wagon.

SOS 4-2; WWT: 5-1

Florida:

After getting pounded at home against Alabama the Aggies will have to turn around and head to The Swamp.  Believe it or not I think this is a winnable game for the Aggies.  I think Florida is a slightly better team but they’re not the Florida teams under Urban Meyer or even Muschamp’s first year.  This is a team that went 8-4 getting pounded by Arkansas, Florida State, and Alabama while blowing a sizeable lead to what wound up being a mediocre Tennessee team.  Their marque win was a 16-10 win against LSU in Baton Rouge in which they should have lost.  They also barely beat Vandy 13-6.  Still a really solid team but this is a winnable game with great coaching.  However, we don’t have great coaching.

I think we lose but don’t be surprised if this is an Aggie win as this Florida team is really beatable despite what people think.  McElwain is not an elite coach at all.  They’re going to get pounded by Michigan to start the season.  I just don’t think Sumlin can pull this one out after getting beat by Alabama but it’s entirely possible.

SOS: 4-3; WWT: 6-1

Mississippi State:

While MSU had our number last year I think we’ll take care of them this year at Kyle.  This will likely be an 11:00 am game so we’ll return the favor they did to us last year.  They have a great young quarterback but we’re still a more talented team and I think we’ll be looking for payback for what happened last year.  I honestly think Mullen might be the second best coach in the SEC because what he does with MSU is remarkable.  It really is.  He’s as good as any coach in the SEC not named Nick Saban.  He just doesn’t have the talent to compete with the other teams in conference.  Aggies win this one no doubt.

SOS: 5-3; WWT: 7-1

Auburn:

I’m really torn on this game because I can’t figure out Gus Malzahn.  At one point I thought he was a remarkable coach but I’m torn on him at the moment.  They were 8-4 in the regular season last year but got pounded by OU in the Sugar Bowl.  OU had a really good team but Auburn wasn’t even really competitive in that game.  They’re not consistent at all.  He didn’t have a quarterback last year but he had a pretty solid defense and they were kind of all over the place.

This year they have Jarrett Stidham under center which I think changes the dynamic of their team as Malzahn is at his best with an exceptional quarterback.  I think Stidham is the difference in this game and Auburn beats A&M.  This too is a winnable game for A&M with great coaching but I think the quarterback play will be the difference.  It’ll be ironic as Sumlin has passed on recruiting Stidham twice.  The first time he favored Kyler Murray over Sitdham and now there’s no Murray on the team.  This last year he favored Kellen Mond over Stidham and Stidham went to Auburn.  Might be kind of ironic if Stidham winds up being the reason Sumlin loses his job.  This is a winnable game for the Aggies but Sumlin will find a way to blow it.

SOS: 5-4; WWT: 8-1

New Mexico:

This will likely be an 11:00 am game and will be the least attended game at Kyle Field all year.  Maybe ever for the new Kyle.  Ironically enough it’ll be Sumlin’s last game at Kyle and nobody will be there to see it.  Sumlin will get the win but if there’s nobody there to watch it will it really matter?

SOS: 6-4; WWT: 9-1

Ole Miss:

I have no clue what to think on this one.  This is the 11th game of the year for Ole Miss and their season could go in two COMPLETELY different directions.  Obviously Hugh Freeze is a moron off the field but I’ve always thought he was a moron on the field as well.  Twice he let Johnny Football come back on him at home and then twice he won two games in which A&M completely vapor locked from a coaching standpoint.  At Ole Miss two years ago Jake Spavital made a fool of himself and his precious note cards.  The Aggie defense played well enough to win that game but Spav couldn’t get the offense to do anything.  Last season Ole Miss scored 23 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to beat A&M.  It’s not anything Freeze did but the A&M coaching staff collapsed in those games.

Enter Matt Luke who was the offensive line coach for Ole Miss.  I know nothing about this man but I do know he could be better than Hugh Freeze as a coach.  He has an outstanding young quarterback in Shea Patterson.  Luke is coaching for his life and has a decently talented team.  Can he rally an Ole Miss team by coaching better than Freeze?  I think it’s possible as Freeze’s bar wasn’t really high in my mind.  Or is Luke a failure of a coach and by this game the whole Ole Miss team has quit making this an easy for win for the Aggies?  I honestly have no clue because I don’t know anything about Luke as a head coach.  A&M could be falling apart at this point as well with the team knowing Sumlin is gone.

Right now I’ll give Sumlin the benefit of the doubt in this game because interim coaches tend to be worse than the previous coach.  At best I think Luke is Coach O at LSU last year but I think that’s a stretch.  It’s entirely possible A&M loses this game but at this point I’ll give Sumlin the win.

SOS: 7-4; WWT: 10-1

LSU:

I promise I went through the list of games above independently not looking at the season as a whole.  As it stands with my prediction Kevin Sumlin walks into Baton Rouge with his job on the line needing to get to 8 to have any chance of keeping his job.  I didn’t do that by design but it could absolutely play out like that.  If he goes 7-5 with a loss in Baton Rouge for his 6th straight loss to LSU then he’s done.  I don’t think there’s anything that will save him in the scenario.  However, if he can pull off win 8 against LSU and especially with Mond as his quarterback he has a puncher’s chance of holding his job.  I think he would hold it if that happens because his buyout is so much and he seems to be recruiting decently enough.

I’m not sure what to make of Coach O as head coach at LSU.  He’s working with one of the most talented teams in the country with two outstanding coordinators and a dynamic running back but they still don’t have a quarterback.  I was never a fan of Les Miles as he reminded me of Mack Brown.  He beat the teams he was supposed to be beat with the talent he had but he had problems against more capable coaches.

I don’t see any way A&M beats LSU in this game but I don’t know what Coach O looks like over the course of an entire season.  A part of me thinks he’s a super conservative coach that doesn’t want to make mistakes.  Those are the kinds of coaches you can beat with an aggressive game plan.  That’s not Sumlin but depending on how the season goes with Coach O along with what’s on the line for Sumlin this could be a winnable game if Sumlin has his back against the wall.  I think this LSU team is too talented for this A&M team so LSU wins even with great coaching but by game 12 you never know what could happen with a job on the line.

I’m chalking this up to a loss even if Sumlin’s job is on the line and A&M comes out with an aggressive game plan.  It’ll be too little too late and Sumlin will get his $10 million check and be on his way.

SOS: 7-5; WWT:10-2

 

Summary:

So there you have it.  Kevin Sumlin will go 7-5 and this will be his final season in Aggieland.  It’s possible with this schedule and the talent on the team to go 10-2 so Sumlin can save his job if he’s really focused.  I don’t think he cares though.  I think in the back of his mind he knows he’s getting $10 million no matter this year’s record.  He doesn’t have it in him to make the changes needed in how he handles game preparation and in game management.  I think that’s why there’s so much talk about the new strength and conditioning coach.  He’s deflecting his shortcomings.  As I’ve said time and time again it wasn’t strength and conditioning that lost those final 4 games to close out last season.  It was mostly lack of good decision making by the head coach.  He couldn’t see things before they happened and prepare the team.  Instead he just looked shell shocked at the result.

I hate saying this but I equate this year’s Aggie football season to last year’s Presidential election.  Don’t get stirred up by what happens prior to November.  None of it matters.  Don’t get worked up over what’s in the press or what happens in games.  I equate games to the debates as they won’t be pretty at times and you’ll wonder if this is the best we have to offer.  There will be a change in November and there’s nothing you can do about it.  I just hope those in the decision making process give us something better than Hillary or Trump.  If not, we might be wishing for Same Ol’ Sumlin…

Gig’ Em!

2017 Aggie Football Season Prediction – Part 1

12th Man Flag

I have no clue how the 2017 Aggie Football season will go.  I don’t think Kevin Sumlin will be the Aggie head coach come December but I’m not sure of our final record.  I think Kevin Sumlin has to win 8 games to even have any consideration of keeping his job.  If he wins nine then he’s fine but I don’t know if he’ll get there.  Based on last season I think 7 wins is the ceiling for this team.  There’s no kool-aid to be drank here as far as the team goes but there is optimism in the schedule.  Coming into the season I thought the schedule worked against us and doomed Kevin Sumlin but I don’t think it’s as bad as we originally thought based on looking at it little more.

I’ll go through my game by game prediction with a record prediction next week but for now I want to talk about the team in general which is where I see the most concern.  This 2017 team has to start where the 2016 team ended and that’s not good.  For a brief re-cap the 2016 is the team that lost to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, LSU, and then lost to Kansas State in the bowl game for which they had a month to prepare.  That’s a pathetic ending to the season.  Simply pathetic.

Against Mississippi State the team was simply not mentally prepared riding their #4 ranking.  Sure, the loss of Trevor Knight during the game didn’t help along with Myles’ injury but there’s more talent on the A&M team than Mississippi State team and A&M should have won.  The team thought they could sleep walk to a win and was wrong.  That was on coaching.

The Ole Miss game was a complete choke job AT Kyle Field.  We blew a 21-6 halftime lead AT Kyle Field to lose 29-28 to a guy starting his first college game ever as a TRUE freshman.  That’s right, a Kevin Sumlin lead time let a TRUE freshman start his first game AT Kyle Field and overcome a 21-6 halftime deficit.  I’m not even sure that’s the worst loss of the season.  It should be but to me it’s not.  I don’t even want to get into the LSU game.  That game was a 54-39 shootout.  That still boggles my mind.  How did their inept offense score 54 points and then our pop gun offense score 39 points on them is beyond comprehension.  I would have to watch film of that game a dozen times to figure it out and I have don’t have the time or desire.

To me the worst loss of the season came in our bowl game against Kansas State.  In Houston in a stadium full of Aggies we let an inferior team beat us 33-28.  That’s an infuriating loss.  How does Kevin Sumlin let that happen?  The team was not prepared despite having a month to get ready for a Bill Snyder team that just doesn’t make mistakes.  They don’t do anything flashy but they just don’t make mistakes.  That was a crappy KSU team and they owned Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies.  Sumlin should have been fired for that loss.  He really should have.  Instead Sumlin blames his strength and conditioning coach for the collapse down the stretch and fires him as he’s the last coach Sumlin hasn’t fired other than himself.  Meanwhile nobody is wondering how with a month to get our legs and stamina back we lose to KSU in a home bowl game.  That is maddening.  It really is.  Larry Jackson was not the problem last year.  Kevin Sumlin was.  For the last half of the season he didn’t have his team prepared to beat a Power 5 conference team.  He lost all 5 of the final games against Power 5 conference teams.  That’s a major collapse beyond strength and conditioning.

Yet, all you’ve heard this off season is how amazing our new strength and conditioning coach is.  People are really buying into the fact that our team will be totally different because for 5 seasons we had a total sham of a strength and conditioning program.  I just don’t get how people are drinking so much maroon kool-aid because of a different strength and conditioning program.  I have no doubt Mark Hocke is an outstanding strength and conditioning coach but I also have no doubt the issues with this team extend beyond the team’s strength and conditioning.  It starts at the top with Sumlin.

The 2017 season will go beyond the issues at head coach as this team just isn’t as talented as last year’s.  There might be more depth and experience at needed positions like linebacker and offensive line so that’s good but I’m not convinced that’s actually the case.  Either way, this team lost the three most important players from last year.  Those players in order of importance are Trevor Knight, Myles Garrett, and Josh Reynolds.  Yes, I put Trevor before Myles.

There is no doubt the most productive quarterback in the Kevin Sumlin era is Johnny Manziel.  Believe it or not there is also no doubt that Trevor Knight is the second most productive quarterback of the Sumlin era when it comes to wins and losses.  It sure as hell isn’t Kenny Hill, Kyler Murray, or Jake Hubenak.  A case could be made for Kyle Allen but Trevor Knight was 7-3 in games he started including the Mississippi State game which I think we win if he plays the full game.  Trevor Knight is the second best quarterback in the Sumlin regime and now he’s gone and people are expecting this team to be better.  I think we’re a 6-6 team at best last year without Trevor Knight.  That’s why he’s the most important guy from last year.  We certainly lose to Arkansas without him and likely lose one of UCLA, Auburn, and Tennessee without him if not all three.  We might have had a losing season without Trevor Knight last year.

We’re going to start a quarterback at UCLA that has either never taken a snap at the college level or never won a game against a Power 5 team.  Nick Starkel is not Johnny Manziel.  Kellen Mond is not Jalen Hurts.  Jake Hubenak is Jake Hubenak.  This is our quarterback situation for the 2017 team.  Trevor Knight was a fifth year senior and even though he lost his job to Baker Mayfield he did win a Sugar Bowl against Alabama.  With all of that Trevor was still 7-3 as a starter.  He was a little erratic as a passer but he was perfect for Mazzone’s zone read offense.  I’m just not sure we’re going to have someone as good as Trevor under center this season.  Mond could get be all world but I don’t think it’s going to happen as a true freshman.  We shall see.

The loss of Myles is obvious.  He was the #1 pick in the NFL draft and he was a one man Wrecking Crew even while injured.  Teams looked to double team him (aka hold) and rolled plays away from his side.  He was the focus for opposing offenses and now he’s gone.  I don’t see how the defense is better without him because he was that big of a factor for our defense.  Our defense will still be loaded at defensive tackle, should have more depth at linebacker, and will have great safety play with Watts and Wilson but the loss of Myles is going to be like the 2013 defensive line losing Demontre Moore and Spencer Nealy rolled up in one person but even worse.

I know everybody loves Christian Kirk but all Josh Reynolds did last season was have 111 more receiving yards and 3 more touchdowns despite 22 fewer catches than Cristian.  That’s not a knock on Christian at all as he’s an amazing talent but the coaching staff always wants to talk about Kirk while Reynolds was more productive and under-utilized in my mind.  He was way more Mike Evans than we realize and he’s going to be missed.  I know we get Kirk back and Ausborn looks legit but we lost our most productive receiver from last year and nobody is talking about this headed into the season.  The drop off from Reynolds and Kirk to the other receivers last season is dramatic.  There’s nobody close on the 2017 roster than can match what Reynolds did besides Christian.  Nobody.  Ausborn will be a true freshman so I don’t see how he replicates the production of a senior that got drafted in the NFL.  Maybe he gets to 75% of Reynolds production but even that’s a decline.  I just don’t see how the loss of Josh Reynolds isn’t a factor for the 2017 receiving corps being worse.  I’m confused why everyone thinks our receiving corps is going to be so strong when Ricky Seals Jones and Speedy Noil did nothing from a production standpoint despite their natural talent.  Josh Reynolds is easily a Top 10 all-time A&M receiver and nobody is talking about his departure like we’ll miss him.  We’ll miss him in a bigger way than most people would imagine.

While we’re talking about receivers, after this season Kevin Sumlin will have had 4 receivers drafted into the NFL in Ryan Swope, Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, and Christian Kirk.  Outside of those 4 guys I can’t think of a serviceable wide receiver in the Kevin Sumlin era besides Malcome Kennedy.  Kennedy was a solid college player but he wasn’t great.  Basically, if you don’t have NFL talent then Sumlin isn’t going to develop you to be a productive collegiate receiver.

With those three guys gone from last season I don’t know how this team is better.  I just don’t.  There’s still plenty of talent on this team so it won’t be terrible but the more I think about it, I think the 2016 Aggie Football team was a damn solid football team.  The best since 2012 by far.  That team still only got 8 wins and it wasn’t from lack of conditioning.  It just got outcoached and that hasn’t changed for 2017 as the coaching staff remained in-tact except a couple of position coaches.

Let’s look at this team from unit standpoint:

OFFENSE

Coaching – Noel Mazzone is back calling plays for another year.  While he’s not horrible he didn’t show in year 1 that he’s an exceptional play caller.  He relied a lot on zone read and didn’t adjust for when Jake Hubenak took the reins when Trevor went down.  That’s a concern he’s not adapting to his talent.  He’s better than Spavital but I’m not sure by how much.  He’s what I call a play picker and not a play caller.  He’s okay at designing plays but from what I’ve seen he doesn’t really call plays in any kind of succession that sets plays up or calls them in some rhythm for what the defense is doing.  He just looks at his play sheet and randomly calls plays based on theoretical execution.  I don’t have a lot of faith in Mazzone but hopefully I’m wrong.

Quarterback – I covered this above but we’re going to start someone that’s never taken a collegiate snap or never won a game they started against a Power 5 conference team.  Trevor Knight was a 5th year senior that had played in some big games at OU.  We don’t have that under center.  You hear great things about Starkel and Mond but they have to produce in a game.  Allen and Murray supposedly had all of the talent in the world and we saw how that turned out.  I’m just real cautious at QB as this could be our worst season yet under center.

Running Back – Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford are back.  Both of these guys are outstanding backs averaging over 5 yards a carry last year but they’re not exceptional.  They wouldn’t start at Bama or LSU which are two teams we play every year.  That’s not a knock on those guys but just more of a reality of the situation we’re in.  Until you get guys that can start at LSU or Bama you’re always going to be looking up at them.

Wide Receiver – Covered this above as well but the loss of Reynolds is going to be huge in my mind.  Ausborn sounds legit but he’s still a true freshman.  Think back to Trayveon Williams and how he faded down the stretch.  A 12 game SEC schedule is not a high school schedule.  There’s going to be an adjustment period.  I know there are some other talented freshmen but they’re still freshmen in the SEC and that’s tough.  Some people are making this out to be a strength of the team because of talent and depth but we’ve had that before as Ricky Seals Jones and Speedy Noil were supposed to have NFL talent and we know how that turned out from a production standpoint.  We’ll see but I think our passing attack takes a step back with the loss of Reynolds.

Offensive Line – The offensive line should be better this year as the interior of the line has one more year under its belt.  Our tackles seem serviceable with Sutherland and Martin but let’s not kid ourselves this is not our usual offensive line where there’s NFL caliber talent anywhere on the line.  It will be a decent offensive line but it won’t be anywhere near as dominant as we’ve seen in the past under Sumlin.  Once again strength and conditioning are being blamed but maybe it’s just lack of talent that’s been recruited.  Only so much a strength and conditioning coach can do if there’s no talent.  I love Jim Turner and think he’ll get the most out of them but this isn’t a dominant offensive line that can overcome a bad game plan, play calls, or errors by the skill position.

DEFENSE

Coaching – It’s no secret I love John Chavis as a defensive coordinator.  The dude looks and talks the part.  Prior to the last half of last season he executed the part too.  However, the last half of the season made me wonder if he’s like a pitcher that lost his fastball.  Our defense got torched starting in the Mississippi State game.  I was ready to crown this defense the Wrecking Crew again after the Auburn and Arkansas games but I think the Tennessee game took a toll on the defense.  In that game they started holding guys up and trying to strip the ball which helped as we got 7 turnovers that game.  However, I think the team lost the fundamental ability to tackle which I thought was Chavis’ real calling card as a DC.  Up until that game it was the best tackling unit I’ve seen since way back when RC was head coach.  Hopefully the second half was just a blip and Chief gets his defense back to fundamentals of assignment football and tackling.  The jury is currently out on him though based on the second half of last season.

Defensive Tackle – We’re loaded here.  We really are.  This is definitely the strength of the defense which is good because you have to be loaded at defensive tackle if you want to compete in the SEC.  I just hope Daylon Mack finally takes that next step as he seems to have first round NFL talent but hasn’t played up to it.  This unit is the anchor of our defense and I feel good about them.

Defensive End – As talked about above the loss of Garrett is going to be massive as well as Hall although it seems he might have underachieved last season.  His talent was still real.  There’s actually some decent talent here but it hasn’t produced up until this point.  Not the talent of Garrett and Hall but it’s not terrible talent.  We just don’t have much depth here either.  I think the defensive ends can be serviceable but serviceable defensive ends aren’t usually enough in the SEC.

Linebackers – I’m torn on the linebackers.  It seems we finally have some depth here but I’m not sure as not sure if the true freshmen will be able to provide that depth.  I like Anthony Hines and Marchiol but they’re still true freshmen entering the SEC.  We heard all about how Tyrell Dodson was ready to crush heads in the SEC but the dude had problems executing his assignments last season.  I think Dodson will be better this season but while we now apparently have depth at linebacker staying healthy and executing assignments are the next step.  Neither of those have been a strength of our linebackers under Sumlin so not sure this is the season it becomes different.

Safety – We’re totally fine here with Watts and Wilson and Larry Pryor looks like he can fill some of the void left by Justin Evans.  Much like defensive tackle this is a strength of our team.  Watts is like a little Honey Badger as he just has a nose for getting the football when we need it most.

Cornerback – This is an area of concern for me.  Nick Harvey was spotty as a coverage guy last season and he’s out for this season.  Looks like Willis and Oliver will be the starters who are decent but I don’t think outstanding.  My main concern at the corner back position is with no pass rush these guys are going to get exposed.  Chavis likes to play aggressive with his corners and if there’s no pass rush these guys could get exposed big time.  I think we could see some big passes against us this year if Chavis doesn’t back these guys off a tad unless we develop a pass rush.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Outside of Christian Kirk returning kicks I’ve never seen anything from the special teams under Kevin Sumlin and Jeff Banks.  I mean nothing.  We’ve had some decent punters but even then they weren’t Shane Lechler.  Most elite teams have really good punters so it’s just more of the norm in college football these days.  That should be our expectations.

Last year we had Justin Evans and Keith Ford returning kicks which still boggles my mind.  Those guys are great athletes at their positions but they’re nowhere near the explosive return man you need for big returns.  Evans was a freaking strong safety and he’s returning kickoffs.  I never understood that.  We couldn’t find a single receiver that was fast than Evans and Ford with hands we trust?

Other than Christian Kirk I’d love to know the number of touchdowns we’ve scored on kickoff or punt returns against Power 5 conference teams.  I bet it’s not more than 5 during Sumlin’s 5 years here.  Other than Myles Garrett how many field goals or punts have we blocked against Power 5 conference teams?  I bet it’s not more than 5.  I don’t know how 2017 will be any different for our special teams other than Kirk returning a couple punts for TDs.  This unit has just been a non-factor under Sumlin unless there’s an extremely talented player.  It’s certainly not well schemed and coached in my mind.  It’s not even average.

If I were Sumlin I’d put a poster of Frank Beamer in my Special Teams coach’s office and limit his internet browser to YouTube and videos of Virginia Tech special teams under Frank Beamer.  I’m not kidding.  For some reason some people think Jeff Banks is a good special teams coach and I can’t think of why as there hasn’t been big plays out of our special teams since Sumlin has been here.

Summary

This team isn’t horrible by any stretch but I don’t see how it’s better than the 2016 team.  This really reminds me of the 2013 season where everyone thought we’d be fine but no one truly analyzed the losses because we had Johnny Football back.  That 2013 team lost a lot on defense and a few key spots on the offense like Luke Joeckel and Ryan Swope.  That 2013 team lost two more games in the regular season than the 2012 but that 2012 team won 10 games so 8 wins wound up being respectable.  Last year’s team only won 8 games so if the 2013 and 2017 teams parallel the previous season’s team we’re looking at 6 wins in 2017.

Next week I’ll take a game by game look at the schedule and make predictions.  I honestly think there’s anywhere between 5 to 9 wins on the schedule.  I think 9 wins is VERY extreme but I don’t think the schedule is quite as tough as we originally imagined so 9 wins is possible.  It’s still daunting but there’s some factors about each game I’ll cover next week.

Analyzing the Chief

At the end of last season I was utterly confused on what to think about John Chavis.  I’m the Chief’s biggest fan but I was questioning if I was fan because he fits the mold of defensive coordinator from Central Casting or if it was because he was an effective defensive coordinator.  During the 2015 season I felt I saw a defense that was the best since 2012 and likely back to Von Miller’s senior season with Cody Hodges.  I felt in the early part of the 2016 season we were seeing the return of the Wrecking Crew after great defensive efforts against Auburn and Arkansas.  Tennessee was questionable with the 4th quarter collapse but at the end of the season it was clear this defense was different than 2015 and the first half of 2016.  This defense appeared to be a shell of what it had been since Chief started.

To help figure out what was real and wasn’t I went back and looked at every loss with Chavis as our DC.  There were lots of games I felt our defense played well enough to win but our offense let us down.  We’ve lost 10 games in the two years Chief has been handling our defense.  I went and made a chart that showed the score of the game, how many points the defense gave up, second half points, total yards, and rushing yards.  I then came up with a purely arbitrary grade called GETW which stands for Good Enough to Win.  I wanted a feel for if the defense played well enough for us to win the game.

Here’s the chart and I’ll go down game by game analyzing each one.

Bama – 2015:

This is one of the most maddening games of the Sumlin era that nobody talks about.  The final score wound up being 41-23 so it looks like a blowout but everyone forgets our offense threw THREE pick sixes in this game.  That’s right, the offense gave up almost as many points as our defense.  It’s not a  simple exercise to remove 21 points and say the Aggies win 23-20 as it doesn’t work that way.  It is a simple exercise though to think the defense did everything they could that day for the Aggies to win.

Derrick Henry gashed the Aggie defense in the first quarter and a half but after that the Aggie defense really did shut him down along with the Bama offense.  So much so that Bama only scored 2 field goals in the second half outside of the interception returns for touchdowns.  I don’t care if Bama was in lead protection mode as to still hold Bama’s offense to only field goals in the second half is impressive.  The most impressive statistic of that day was that Bama was only 4 of 16 on third down conversions.  25 percent.  That is DAMN impressive to have that Bama offense only convert 25% of their third down conversions.  The defense was getting off the field when they had to.  The defense definitely played good enough to win this game and the offense just pissed it away.

Ole Miss – 2015:

This game makes me want to pull out my hair because it was the most inept offensive performance I’ve ever seen.  It was maddening being in the stands watching an offense just spit and sputter.  The statistics make it look like the defense didn’t play well enough but they absolutely did.  They gave up 23 overall but just 7 in the second half which shows John Chavis has the ability to make in game adjustments.  In addition the defense got 4 turnovers while the offense had 3.  The defense responded EVERY time the offense turned the ball and yet the offense did NOTHING with those gifts from the defense.

Statistically this game looks bad for the defense and it’s not great but they played their hearts out that night.  Meanwhile Jake Spavital struggled just to keep his note cards in some order so he could get plays signaled in that wouldn’t amount to anything.  I don’t even want to write anymore on this game because I want to go find Jake Spavital and choke him.  He really should have been relieved of his duties after this game.  He absolutely should have.

Auburn – 2015:

This is a very confusing game for me to analyze from a defensive standpoint.  First off, our stupid offense only scored 10 points against a suspect Auburn defense.  That 10 points was the lowest Auburn held an opponent to all season where the next lowest was 17 and every other game their opponent scored at least 20 points.  Boy Wonder Spavital mustered 10 points against this defense at Kyle Field.  Unreal.

Defensively we got gashed this game.  Auburn ripped off 311 yards on the ground and just gashed us all night.  We couldn’t slow them down at all on the ground.  Malzahn is a run game genius but they were just running willy nilly against us.  They were pretty balanced scoring 14 points in the first half and 12 points in the second half.  This is a game that on the surface the defense didn’t play well enough to win but our offense was so anemic I think they could have played well enough to win with some kind of support from our offense.  I don’t put this one solely on our defense.

LSU – 2015:

Another maddening game thanks to our offense.  Even though this game was in Tiger Stadium and they scored 19 points there’s no doubt in my mind the defense played well enough to win this game.  They gave up 14 points in the second half but our offense was doing nothing yet again as they only scored 7 total points.  I know LSU has a damn good defense but there were holes the offense could have exploited to score 20 points but they didn’t.

Statistically the Aggie defense held the LSU offense to 327 yards which his amazing.  They held the LSU offense in total yards to basically what Auburn did on the ground against us a few weeks before.  I don’t like the 19 points but our offense turned the ball over 3 times to LSU’s once so once again our offense did nothing to help our defense.  It’s a little questionable but I’d say our defense definitely played well enough to win this game as our offense was once again just putrid with Spav wearing the headset.

Louisville – 2015:

I’m torn on this game as well.  My main issue here is we gave up too much too early to Lamar Jackson.  This was his coming out party and we weren’t prepared.  We gave up 537 total yards and 307 on the ground as Jackson just ran silly in the first half.  In the second half our defense tightened up holding them to 7 points but once again our offense couldn’t muster anything at all this game.  Despite scoring 21 points most of it was in the second half and it was too little too late.

I think this was a winnable game but the defense game up too many yards and points to Lamar Jackson in the first half while the offense spit and sputtered yet again so by the time things got working for both the offense and defense in the second half it was too little, too late.  This wasn’t a terrible showing by the defense as it was definitely a winnable game based on their effort but they’re not without faults this game.

Bama – 2016:

This is a semi-tough game to analyze because the defense played well enough to win for the first half and first series of the second half until Shaan Washington shoved Jalen Hurts to the ground on a 3rd down Bama was not converting.  The offense had opened up the second half scoring on it’s first drive to make it a 14-13 lead.  The defense had held on a 3rd down but a stupid penalty gave Bama the first down to which they then went on to score putting Bama back in a lead situation they would never relinquish.  The defense would give up another score in the second half and the offense would also give up a score like the previous year.

Maybe if Shaan Washington doesn’t push Hurts the outcome of the game is different but in my mind this is equal parts offense and defense and the reality is the defense didn’t play well enough in the second half to win this game so I can’t give them a great grade here.

Mississippi St – 2016:

This is the ultimate tale of two halves for the Aggie defense.  In the first half they gave up 28 points to a suspect Mississippi State offense and in the second half they only gave up 7 points but did get some key turnovers when it looked like Mississippi State would score in the second half.  The defense held until Mississippi State’s final possession where they scored a touchdown to go up 35-21 and put the game out of reach.  Credit to the defense for holding as long as they could to let the offense get back into it but they broke giving up that TD late in the 4th quarter that put the game out of reach.

The most frustrating part about this game is Mississippi State had 574 yards of total offense and 365 rushing yards.  I mean no dis-respect to the Bulldogs but that’s TERRIBLE for an Aggie defense to give up to a team like Mississippi State.  I still don’t know how that happened.  Still, the Aggie defense held for the second half except that final possession so I do have to give credit for trying to make up for an atrocious first half but they just couldn’t hold MSU out of the end zone in the second half and that caused the loss.

Ole Miss – 2016:

This game is a total head scratcher from a defensive standpoint because in this game our defense COMPLETELY fell apart in the fourth quarter.  This defense gave up 23 points to a true freshman starting his first game ever.  Now, he looks like a pretty special quarterback but you can’t give up 23 points at Kyle Field in the 4th quarter.

Even if the offense had put up more points the Aggie defense giving up 23 points in the fourth quarter is unacceptable and not like a Chavis lead defense at all.  So despite this being a 1 point game and the defense held Ole Miss to 6 points through 3 quarters you can’t collapse like that and expect anything positive.  It’s like never cheating for 15 years of your marriage and then the last 5 you start cheating and when you get caught thinking you get some credit for the first 15.  The first 15 years were wiped up by your failure in the last 5.  Ironically enough does anybody know Hugh Freeze’s marriage stats?  It might be similar.

LSU – 2016:

The worst game of Chavis’ time at A&M.  There is not one redeeming quality of this game from a defensive standpoint.  Not a single one.  LSU was led by Danny Etlinger who hadn’t done much all season for LSU.  Well, he walked into Kyle Field and lit us up.  Our defense gave up 54 points and 622 total yards of offense with 298 on the ground so they basically equally shredded us on the ground and through the air.

This is the game that got me questioning everything I believed about Chief.  I don’t even want to talk about it because it was so bad defensively.

KSU – 2016:

We “only” gave up 413 yards but we gave up 33 points to a VERY pedestrian KSU offense.  This is another head scratcher.  We gave up a 79 yard touchdown pass and a 52 yard touchdown run in the first half which is 131 yards and almost 33% of their total offense on two plays.  If you take away those two plays this is a very respectable defensive effort and we likely win but in reality the defense gave up those two plays so they don’t get any credit.

This game is just the perfect capper for a defense that flat out fell apart in the second half of the season.  They didn’t play well enough to win.  No way should KSU have scored 33 points on us.  I think most Aggie fans were numb for this loss because it’s part of yet another season collapse for a Sumlin lead team but this really is an EMBARASSING loss for the Aggie defense.

Summary:

In analyzing this I have no clue what to think.  In 2015 our defense was EXTREMELY consistent in every game all season except maybe the Auburn and Louisville games but our offense did it no favors in those games.  Despite losing, the defense played well enough to beat Bama, Ole Miss, and LSU so that’s damn impressive.  The effort and results of the 2015 defense is very respectable.

However, 2016 was a total Jekyll and Hyde performance.  Against UCLA and Tennessee the defense played damn good except for 5 minutes in the fourth quarter where they gave up 15 points both times but we still won in OT.  Against Auburn and Arkansas they were flat out dominant.

For a half against Bama they played well enough to win but the wheels came off in the second half and Chavis never got them put back on or left them in Tuscaloosa.  I can’t explain it.  I really can’t.  His first year he had a damn solid and consistent defense that was honestly good enough to win 10 games with a decent offense.  The next year in 2016 the performances accurately reflect the scores.  The defense didn’t play well enough to win any games that were lost.  It’s odd.  Two seasons and two totally different results.

I hate saying it because I love everything about the man from a coaching standpoint but Chief is in the same boat as Sumlin.  Chief needs to prove he still knows how to coach a defense because the second half of 2016 puts it in major question.  Sure, Sumlin’s fate will ultimately decide Chief’s fate but Chief has a lot of questions to answer himself.  I like to think he’s an elite level defensive coordinator but the results from the second half of the 2016 season say that’s in question.

Only the 2017 season will tell.

Characteristics of the Great Active Coaches

As potential for a new head coach at A&M looms if Kevin Sumlin can’t win enough games this season I got to thinking about the traits that make a great head coach.  I’m talking about truly great in these are active coaches that have at least five championships to their names.  Unless I’m leaving someone out there’s only four active head coaches in major men’s sports that have five championships to their name.  Those four are Bill Belichick, Nick Saban, Gregg Popovich, and Mike Krzyzewski.  There’s some coaches in other sports that qualify like Pat Henry in collegiate track and Geno Auriemma in women’s collegiate basketball but I’m talking about major men’s team sports which is what Sumlin coaches.  As we go through this piece you’ll see Henry and Auriemma exhibit the exact same traits as the other four mentioned based on what I know.  I’m just not familiar enough with each to write about them.  Even with Coach K I’m mostly familiar but not intimately familiar as I don’t follow men’s college basketball as closely as the other sports.

As I got to thinking about the traits of Belichick, Saban, Popovich, and Coach K I realized there are a LOT of similarities in their personalities and how they coach.  I mean they are eerily similar and different from their counterparts.  First off, there’s no doubt these are extremely intelligent people.  They’re the kind of people that would be successful no matter their chosen career path.  In coaching they’re different because they take a truly systematic approach to how they handle everything.  And I do mean everything.  I truly believe these 4 people live their life to win at their chosen sport and nothing else matters.  Not a win at all cost mentality but a focus that’s unlike anyone else.  Their raw intelligence is definitely a factor but the application of their systematic approach is what makes the difference.

I decided to list out what all these coaches do and came up with the following list.  This doesn’t include everything but it’s pretty exhaustive and it really pertains to each coach.

What they do great:

  • Focused on winning. Nothing else matters.
  • Minimize distractions.
  • Don’t care about being popular.
  • Fundamentals matter. All aspects.
  • Game awareness. Continual adjustment and adapting.
  • Team plays as a unit. No malcontents.
  • Players police themselves.
  • Minimal trouble off the field/court if at all.
  • Second chances given but with a super short leash.
  • No individual stars above the team even if extremely talented.
  • Next man up drives starters to compete. No job security.
  • Game plans ALWAYS evolve based on opponent.
  • Identify situational players and utilize their strengths.
  • Objective analysis of team and players.
  • Practice has a specific purpose and not just a routine.
  • They are the main reason for success. Subordinates don’t find the same success.
  • Their approach is much more basic than most people realize.
  • Relate to players differently on the field/court and off.
  • Assistant coaches are hired to do their job. Always hire the best.
  • The media is a game.

That’s 20 characteristics and while there’s some overlap in some of them it’s a truly impressive list of what each one does.  Each one of those coaches does this entire list for the most part.  I thought of some other coaches this might apply to and I really don’t think they belong.  The biggest name I tried to apply this to was Urban Meyer and while he’s an outstanding coach he doesn’t fit them all.  My main issue with having Urban Meyer on this list is he handles his players differently than the four coaches I’m talking about.  I think Urban Meyer is about himself and that resonates with his players in how they act.  Really good coach but I don’t think he belongs with those four names.  Apply these to any other active coach and I really don’t think they fit like they do Belichick, Saban, Pop, and Coach K.

There is truly a systematic approach these guys take when it comes to everything they do.  How they handle the actual Xs and Os, the players, the games, their assistants, the press, the fans, and everything else they do that is eerily similar between the four.  These guys have five championships to their name for a reason.

Let’s roll through the characteristics and how they pertain to how they coach:

Focused on winning.  Nothing else matters.

I truly believe these guys live every second of their life thinking about winning at their respective sport.  They’re not major personalities and actually very dry because all they thinking about is winning.  They’re not horrible people by any stretch and actually probably really solid friends once you get to know them but they just have this aura about them.  Maybe that aura is because of their championships but look at how they act compared to their counterparts and I really feel they have different personalities.  It’s a focus of always thinking about how they can win their respective sport.

Minimize distractions.

Along with the one above not only are they focused but I think they purposefully minimize distractions to help that focus.  If whatever it is doesn’t help them win then they don’t care about it.  They really don’t.  Belichick doesn’t care how he’s dressed and I’ve heard Nick Saban’s wife sets out his clothes every day so he doesn’t have to mess with it.  Wasting time on something that doesn’t help them win their respective sports is eliminated.  It’s a little different than always being focused as I really feel they’re active in eliminating distractions that don’t help them win.  You can still be focused and ignore distractions but I think these guys purposefully eliminate distractions so they don’t even have to be ignored.  They just don’t exist if they can help it.

Don’t care about being popular.

While I do think these guys are genuinely good people in their everyday life I don’t think they give a damn about being popular.  If they weren’t winning I bet fans would run them out of town like any other coach that wasn’t winning.  In fact they’d be working with a short leash because they’re not really endearing to their fans other than they’re winners.  They don’t care what fans, boosters, media, or anybody else think about them because winning is all that matters to them.  They know if they win they’ll be accepted and that’s good enough for them.  Worrying about it otherwise is a distraction that loses focus.

Fundamentals matter.  All aspects.

I’ve always said if I was a head coach I would have a coach on staff titled Coach Fundamentals and I’m dead serious.  This person would constantly preach the fundamentals of the sport and chew ass whenever someone has a mental lapse.  These coaches start with fundamentals which mean they rarely beat themselves.  They might get beat by a better team or even out coached by another team but they’re not going to beat themselves by forgetting the fundamentals and basics for the sport.  Watching these teams is usually like watching a clinic in fundamentals for their sport and it BOGGLES my mind how that seems so rare.  I don’t get how other teams forget about fundamentals and wind up beating themselves.  These great coaches live for teams that have lapses on fundamentals because they’ll take advantage of it.

Game awareness.  Continual adjustment.

I always love watching these teams play because you can see the adjustments they’re making.  They know a game plan can always blow up in a moment’s notice so they better be ready and anticipate that happening.  The focus on fundamentals allow those adjustments and knowing what their team is capable of.  They don’t focus on fundamentals during a game because they’re ingrained in their players so adjustments in strategy are easier to implement.  They’re always looking for adjustments by the other team or weaknesses in their own team so they adjust the game plan accordingly.  Very few times are these coaches just flat out throttled because they anticipate it before it happens.  These coaches are working with their assistants rather than just letting their assistants run their component.  These head coaches are watching every play of the game thinking about how it impacts the entire game plan and what’s worked and hasn’t worked up until that point.  They’re not just a spectator as they’re thinking about every play and how it factors into the game plan as a whole.

Team plays as a unit.  No malcontents.

They have total buy in from the team.  They all understand they’re a cog in a machine and have jobs to do that affect other players on the team.  Not doing a job will is letting a teammate down so they’re all focused on what they’re assigned to do or should be doing.  It really is all players working together toward a goal for each other.  It’s not individuals free lancing what’s best for them.

Players police themselves.

While the coaches are exceptional leaders because the team has bought in as a unit they police themselves.  Not only on the field or court but in the locker room and in workouts.  Even when the head coach isn’t around the players are always watching each other knowing their work and actions in the locker room, weight room, track, practice field or wherever else is part of their preparation to win.  They don’t want to let one another down because they have total bought in to be champions.

Minimal trouble off the field/court if at all.

This kind of goes with the one above but you RARELY see off the field issues with the teams these people coach.  If you think about these teams they seem to have less off the field issues compared to other teams.  Sure there have been some arrests or suspensions for mis-conduct but I feel it’s REALLY rare compared to the other teams in their sport.  I think it all goes back to the type of people these guys create.  I think many of their players see their coach as a respected father figure and don’t want to let them down.  I think they’re also aware any punishment will be swift and just and they don’t want to miss out on being part of something bigger than themselves.  They really seem to have good players on and off the field compared to other teams.

Second chances given but with a super short leash.

These guys don’t just have saints on their team as they’ll give someone with a previous issue a second chance.  The rules are clear and any mis-steps are dealt with swiftly which is usually dismissal.  I can’t speak to Coach K but I can think of examples where Belichick, Saban, and Pop have brought on players that had some conduct issues elsewhere and given them a chance.  Sometimes these guys stick with their second chance and sometimes they don’t but if they don’t they don’t hang around for a third chance.  They’re gone.

No individual stars above the team even if extremely talented.

While there are certainly stars on these teams they don’t hold themselves out differently no matter the talent.  Tom Brady is the perfect example for the Patriots.  Alabama had Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy, Amari Cooper, and a host of other guys who have been 1st round picks but they never pretended to be bigger than the team.  The Spurs had the ultimate super star in Tim Duncan but you never knew it.  Duncan has as many rings as Kobe Bryant and one more MVP over basically the same period but Duncan never made the team about himself like Kobe did in L.A.  The Big Fundamental.  Duke is an interesting scenario as they seem to have players that other fans and the media hate like Christian Laettner and Grayson Allen but those guys appear to have been great teammates despite the attention they received.

Next man up drives starters to compete.  No job security.

The mantra of their teams appear to be that no job is ever guaranteed.  If you ever slip in your preparation or performance there’s someone else behind you ready to take your job.  It’s why when someone goes down with an injury the team just soldiers on.  Even without Tom Brady the Pats still showed up expecting to win.  Without Tim Duncan the Spurs expected to win.  Bama and Duke don’t worry about losing a player to eligibility or draft because someone else is behind them.  Every starter knows there’s a guy behind him ready to take his job and every second teamer knows with hard work or an injury they’ll be on the field with the same expectations of the person that previously started before them.  Some of it is because they have talented depth but most of it is attitude your job is never safe if you don’t work or execute.

Game plans ALWAYS evolve based on opponent.

These coaches don’t have “systems” they trot out for every game.  They have basic platforms they prepare their team with but they adjust for every opponent better than any coach in their sport.  Even Alabama that usually has more talent than the other team takes a different approach to each team they play.  They really do.  I feel Bill Belichick is the king of this as he’s said time and time again he adjusts his offense to attack a weakness of the opponent’s defense and his defense focuses on taking away the strength of the opponent’s offense.  Pop and Coach K are no different.

Identify situational players and utilize their strengths.

This is more pointed to Belichick and Pop because they have roster limitations based on draft and salary cap limitations.  Saban and Coach K can go out and recruit the best but even then they identify specific players for their team.  Its uncanny how there’s no dead space on their rosters.  EVERY player on their roster has an identified strength and there are no roster fillers or hope that someone is a development in the works.  If you can’t contribute to winning you’re just not on the roster.  A player knows their strength and role and executes it.  They’re like CEOs that can ride the elevator with anyone in their company and not only know their name but know how they contribute to the company.

Objective analysis of team and players.

Coupled with the above I think they objectively analyze all of their players and how they factor into the team as a whole.  There’s no emotion with their players when it comes to evaluating their performance.  They don’t hope a player will come through as they know what their player is capable of and how they’ll contribute to the team as a whole.  They know when their team is overmatched and adjust accordingly or when their team is the superior team to make sure their team doesn’t take another team lightly.  They know every player and opponent is different so they’re objective in their assessment of every component.

Practice has a specific purpose and not just a routine.

Practice isn’t something that you have to do.  It’s an opportunity to become a better player and prepare for an opponent by installing a specific plan.  These coaches instill that practice is THE key ingredient to winning championships.  There’s no wasted effort in practice just doing things to do things.  Everything done in practice is specific to make better players and the team to win championships.

They are the main reason for success.  Subordinates don’t find the same success.

This is kind of a weird one but I can’t think of one of the subordinates that have even come close to their success.  Maybe Jimbo Fisher under Saban but I can’ think of anyone else for these other coaches that have even won a championship.  There have been some coaches that have left and made the playoffs but I think Jimbo Fisher is the only subordinate for any of these guys with a championship to their name.  I’m not sure why that is because I think what they do is able to be replicated but I don’t think the people under them have the raw intelligence and discipline these guys have.  I really think that’s the secret sauce.

Their approach is much more basic than most people realize.

As just mentioned I really think what these coaches do can be copied pretty easily.  The problem is it takes a LOT of discipline and focus.  It’s truly about fundamentals, preparation, and managing players like a good parent not letting anyone get away with too much.  While I think these coaches have a high level of intelligence what they do day to day really isn’t all that complicated other than they can manage so many things at once.  But still it’s very basic what they do.  You don’t ever hear them talking about a schematic advantage or something like that.  Other people talk about “the process” these coaches have but you don’t ever hear them talking about them.  I really think to these coaches what they do is common sense and they don’t think it’s all that complicated.  There’s a lot complexity managing everything but they’re not overcomplicating any specific thing so it’s easier to execute everything.

Relate to players differently on the field/court and off.

I talked about it briefly earlier but I really think these coaches are seen as respected father figures on and off the field/court.  They’re able to switch in and out of mentor and coach mode depending on the situation.  They know when to coach to a game plan and when to mentor to be a better person and player.  Their players truly respect them as more than just their coach.  They see each of these coaches as being a mentor for their life beyond the sport they play.  They give respect where respect is given.  They don’t really abuse their players and the players don’t feel abused/used.

Assistant coaches are hired to do their job.  Always hire the best.

Assistant coaches are hired to do a specific job and nothing else and they hire the best.  This goes back to being objective in their evaluation of everything they do as they don’t hire their buddies or “yes men.”  They’ll hire someone they’re not familiar with if they believe that assistant’s body of work is the best hire they can make for the team.  Much like the players, the assistants know they have a specific role and don’t deviate from it and know lack of preparation will let down the other coaches and the team.  They won’ t have as much fun as other assistant coaches on other teams but they’re hired to win championships and winning championships is pretty damn fun.

The media is a game.

Coach K is kind of an exception to this but even he’s not a great sound bite.  He sees the media as something that’s necessary related to the sport but he’s not super jovial like a Les Miles or Mack Brown.  Belichick, Saban, and Pop are DEFINITELY in the same boat when it comes to the media.  They don’t hate the media but they see it as wasted effort so I think they see it as a game to annoy reporters like they annoy them.  I think they respect some media people but if you’re a stupid reporter they going to make sure it’s pointed out.

 

I don’t think any of this is earth shattering by any stretch but I do think it’s interesting to look at this entire list and realize it really only applies to the best of the best.  These people are the truly great active coaches in their respective sport.  It’s like what I remember the first semester of business school being like.  We weren’t launching rockets or curing cancer so anybody with basic aptitude could do it.  It took a basic level of intelligence, extreme focus, and minimizing distractions while not overthinking what you were working on.  It really was about managing so many things to be so successful.

So how was I in business school?  I’d like to think of myself as a step better than Sumlin.  I was better than average but I let distractions like they serve beer on campus get in the way of truly being great.  I was definitely not the Belichick, Saban, Pop, or Coach K of my class.  However, knowing what I know now I truly think I could go back and be a great of my class.  Eh, who am I kidding?  I like beer too much to be great in business school.  I’m fine being the Kevin Sumlin of business school.  I just wish I got paid $5 million a year to be a touch above average.

Is Kevin Sumlin an Offensive Mastermind?

Since Kevin Sumlin’s original time at A&M he’s always been credited with being an outstanding offensive coach.  It makes sense in a way because since taking over the play calling duties at A&M he seems to have been part of very productive offenses.  Last week when speculation of Chip Kelly being a candidate at A&M got tossed out there I heard many Aggies say they’re opposed to Chip Kelly because the Aggies already have an offensive mastermind in Kevin Sumlin.  Do the Aggies have an offensive mastermind like his reputation presents itself?  Let’s take a look.

I went back and charted some variables with Kevin Sumlin’s career since taking over the play calling duties after A&Ms third game in 2002.  Prior to that Kevin Sumlin had only ever been a normal position coach with no play calling duties or any responsibilities to play calling.  I charted Sumlin’s position, if he had play calling duties, the related offensive coordinator, and quarterback.  I also looked at season record, the average total yards per game that season, average passing yards per game that season, touchdown to interception ratio totals for that season, and finally where that team’s offense ranked in all of college football for points scored.

So let’s take a look:

(You can click on the image to see larger and then backspace to return from image)

First off, let’s start with his year as offensive coordinator at A&M.  He took over after the third game when A&M had a totally miserable offensive showing against Virginia Tech.  That’s the game where R.C. Slocum famously said, “It always puzzles me that I’m the one that gets the blame for being conservative.  If I were calling the plays, I’d throw that sucker 40 times if you played me like that.”  I guess R.C. wasn’t involved in watching game film and seeing the offensive game plan each week in addition to having a head set where he can hear the play calls while knowing he had the authority to actually throw that sucker 40 times if they’re stacking the box.  I mean he IS the head coach and his staff reports to him.  That’s probably my favorite R.C. quote of all time even above the famous half the teams lose every week quote.

Back to Sumlin – when he took over that A&M offense it did get much better.  He did go to a much more balanced offense increasing the pass.  Those teams never scored less than 20 points which was actually a rarity for Aggie offenses under Slocum.  Sumlin’s offenses had the following scoring outputs of 31, 47, 41, 47, 31, 23, 30, 27, and 20.  Despite the 4-5 record with Sumlin as OC that’s actually a pretty solid output.  That Aggie offense still only ranked 49th in points scored that year so it wasn’t a true juggernaut.  Needless to say 2002 was the year the Wrecking Crew officially died as those scores would have won 10 games with the real Wrecking Crew.  Sadly we haven’t seen it since other than a few glimpses in 2016.  With the death of the Wrecking Crew R.C. Slocum got fired and Sumlin went looking for work.

He wound up in Oklahoma based on the fact he had beat Stoops that season as offensive coordinator.  Sumlin spent three seasons just as the wide receivers coach where OU had Chuck Long and Kevin Wilson as co-offensive coordinators.  Sumlin didn’t have anything to do with calling plays during those three years at Oklahoma.  After the 2005 season Chuck Long took the head coaching job at San Diego State and Kevin Wilson was promoted to sole Offensive Coordinator while Sumlin got the “Co-Offensive Coordinator” position.  That’s right, Wilson had the title of Offensive Coordinator and Sumlin got the Co-Offensive Coordinator title.  I think this is where people get confused on Sumlin being part of an offensive juggernaut that was the Oklahoma offense during his time there.  Based on everything I’ve read Sumlin was just the “passing game coordinator” and nothing more.  Kevin Wilson called the plays.  It’s weird Sumlin was a “co” coach with nobody else.  I think they do that for titles related to pay.  Either way I don’t think Sumlin had any major inputs on those offenses as it was Chuck Long and Kevin Wilson clearly calling the plays while Sumlin was on staff.  He really can’t get credit for those Oklahoma offenses in my mind.

In the 2008 season Kevin Sumlin headed to Houston to be the head coach based on his time at Oklahoma.  He inherited a great team from Art Briles including Case Keenum.  Sumlin made a really great hire in getting Dana Holgorsen from Tech to run his offense.  If you know anything about Holgorsen you know he’s an offensive mastermind that learned under Leach.  With Holgorsen and Keenum those Houston offenses for Sumlin’s first two seasons were flat out potent.  Sure, they were playing in a weak conference but they averaged 563 yards per game and put up 70 TDs a season.  The 2008 offense ranked 10th in total points scored and the 2009 offense ranked 2nd in total points scored.  Impressive no doubt.

Holgorsen left after the 2009 season to go run the offense at Oklahoma State.  Jason Phillips was promoted to OC and there was this guy named Kliff Kingsbury who was also promoted to quarterbacks coach.  Case Keenum went down in Houston’s third game which was against UCLA.  Prior to that they lit it up in their first two games.  After Keenum went down true freshman David Piland (who ironically enough I’ve played golf with) took over the reins as quarterback.  The offense took a step back but it didn’t truly struggle.  The 2010 UH team struggled to a 5-7 record but the UH offense still averaged 480 yards per game and scored 54 touchdowns which was still good enough or 13th in points scored that season.  The offense definitely took a step back with a true freshman under center but it wasn’t horrible.  The worst part about that season was the number of interceptions which is expected with a true freshman under center.

In 2011 Keenum came back and Kingsbury was promoted to co-offensive coordinator and that UH offense hit on all cylinders.  It averaged almost 600 yards per game that season and scored 88 touchdowns.  That was good enough to be the top ranked scoring offense in college football that year.  I don’t know how much input Sumlin had into that offense but it sure seems like it was all Keenum, Phillips, and Kingsbury.  I’m guessing Sumlin just sat there with the headset on and watched the magic happen all season.  I don’t blame him.

Sumlin got the A&M job for the 2012 season and we know how that turned out.  Manziel and Kingsbury rocked that Aggie offense to average 558 yards per game even in a tough SEC West.  That offense scored 74 touchdowns which was good enough for 5th in the nation for points scored.  Once again I think Sumlin stood there with the headset on watching the magic happen and once again I don’t blame him.  Meanwhile Kingsbury cashed in that season for the head coaching gig at Tech where he hasn’t had much success in the terms of wins and losses but he puts points up.  The last two seasons he’s been ranked in the Top 5 of scoring offenses thanks to Pat Mahomes.  Outside of Mahomes under center he’s been 24th and 54th ranked while letting Baker Mayfield go to Oklahoma.  Just some nuggets of info there.

In 2013 Sumlin promoted running backs coach Clarence McKinney to offensive coordinator and the reins to Johnny Football.  That offense barely took a step back as it still averaged 538 yards per game but it was really just Johnny and Mike Evans playing backyard ball.  That offense still scored 73 TDs which was basically the same as the previous season and once again it ranked 5th in points scored that season.  At the end of the season Sumlin demoted Clarence McKinney as offensive coordinator.  I always thought it was because the offense seemed to slip.  However the more I see Sumlin’s tenure I wonder if it was because McKinney didn’t want to call plays anymore.  I mean this is the same head coach that kept Spavital way longer than he should have but yet he didn’t even let McKinney call the plays in the bowl game.  That was his only season as offensive coordinator when he really wasn’t horrible even if he did have Johnny Manziel.  When Sumlin made that move I thought he was a stone cold head coach and expected excellence from his offensive coordinator.  His next hire would prove that theory wrong.

For the 2014 season Sumlin promoted Jake Spavital from quarterbacks coach to replace McKinney.  You now my thoughts on Spav so I don’t need to go in depth on his time but statistically that Aggie offense dropped off dramatically by almost 100 yards per game to 455.4 yards per game.  In addition it scored 15 fewer touchdowns to drop to 28th in points scored.  Kenny Hill regressed to the point he didn’t see a snap after the Alabama game and left A&M.  Some of that’s on Hill but I don’t think Spav should be off the hook for the lack of his development during the season.  What started with a major show against South Carolina wound being a dud by the time it was all said and done.

The 2015 season is EASILY the worst offense of Sumlin’s tenure.  The offense averaged 427.5 yards per game and only 36 touchdowns to rank 71st in points scored.  How that team went 8-4 in the regular season is actually a big surprise when you look at how anemic that offense was when it came to scoring.  Maybe John Chavis needs a lot more credit for the defense in 2015 as opposed to what he really got credit for.  A lot of people were down on that defense but they really bailed out that anemic offense a lot more than people realize.  Spavital got to coach the bowl game which boggles my mind but he was let go shortly after that.  I think he even got to stay through signing day which is borderline criminal in my mind as everyone knew he was going to be gone so why deceive recruits.

Noel Mazzone was hired as the offensive coordinator for the 2016 season and Trevor Knight transferred in from Oklahoma.  Together they improved the offense from 2015 as last year’s offense averaged 467 yards per game and scored 53 touchdowns which ranked it 34th in points scored.  Still not a juggernaut and I shudder to think what would have happened without Trevor Knight.  We saw it in the Mississippi St, Ole Miss, and LSU when Jake Hubenak started QB.  Outside of the Alabama game those games against Mississippi schools were the lowest offensive output totaling 382 and 342 yards per game and scoring 28 points.  That’s basically 100 yards a game off the average.  Somehow against LSU we totaled 472 yards and scored 39 points with Hubenak under center.  I still haven’t the foggiest how that happened along with everyone in Vegas who had to pay out the people that wagered on the over.  Either way that 2016 offense would hardly be considered a juggernaut.

Considering what’s happened the last 3 seasons without Johnny Manziel under center I think it’s safe to say Sumlin is no offensive mastermind.  I mean it’s pretty clear Sumlin is only as good as his offensive coordinator and quarterback.  His one season at UH without Keenum is actually pretty impressive considering he started a true freshman QB that never did anything beyond that season but I can’t help but think his success at UH was centered around Keenum, Holgorsen, and Kingsbury.  This is classic Mack Brown and Les Miles where you’re only as good as the talent on your staff and on the field.  He’s just the puppet master with no real clue how the strings move everything.  He’s not a horrible coach because he can recruit but he’s no offensive mastermind for sure.  If he was the last three seasons wouldn’t have dropped off without Johnny and we wouldn’t have so many questions headed into the 2017 season from an offensive standpoint.  Maybe the offense finds it’s magic in 2017 but I just don’t see it happening.

As for Chip Kelly when he was the offensive coordinator for two seasons at Oregon they ranked 12th and 7th in points scored.  In his four seasons as head coach they ranked 8th, 1st, 3rd, and 2nd in points scored while winning 3 conference titles.  He also did that in those six seasons with 4 different quarterbacks with only one of those getting a shot in the NFL in Marcus Mariota.  Now that’s an offensive mastermind.

PS – I work with some Tech guys and they said the shine is off Kingsbury and he could be out at the end of this year.  Amazing to think if Sumlin and Kingsbury are out their jobs and Johnny is still looking to get back to the NFL.  The magicians of the 2012 season will all be looking for work at the same time.  Meanwhile they each banked at least 30 million dollars over the last 5 years for that season.  Kingsbury is probably too expensive to buy out so I doubt he’s out but would be ironic if he, Sumlin, and Johnny are looking for work based on that 2012.

When Aggie Football Was Great

As the Founder, President, and main client of the Make Aggie Football Great Again Movement I often get asked when Aggie Football was ever great.  Obviously it was great in 1939 when the Aggies won their only official National Championship.  In addition there was the 1956 team that went 9-0-1 and finished 5th in the AP poll, the 1976 team that went 10-2 and finished 7th in the AP poll, and of course in recent memory the 2012 team that went 11-2 finishing 5th in the AP poll.  Those are four isolated seasons where one was definitely great and three others that were really good bordering on great.

For me there was a decade of Aggie Football in recent memory that was borderline great that I think Aggie Football can get back to with the right head coach.  College football is cyclical but there’s a decade of Aggie Football that should the standard by which Aggie Football is judged.  That decade is from 1985 to 1995.  20-30 years ago seems like a distant memory now but it should be a reminder of what’s possible.

In those 11 seasons Aggie Football finished outside of the Top 20 only once.  They finished in the Top 10 in five of those seasons.  They finished with 10 wins in six of those seasons in a period when only 11 games where the norm as opposed to the 12 games that are played now.  There were some 12 game seasons back then but the majority of those seasons were 11 game seasons so 10 wins is a big milestone.  There were three 9 win seasons and only one season of 8 wins and one season of 7 wins.  That’s pretty damn impressive from a win standpoint.  That’s a combined record of 104-27-2 for those 11 seasons for a winning percentage of .782.  That is an outstanding winning percentage over a decade.

Here’s a chart that summarizes each season:

There’s a lot to digest but there’s no doubt that’s a decade of REALLY good football bordering on great.  Win one national championship in there and that’s absolutely a great decade of football.  There were legitimate chances to win it all in 1985, 1992, and 1994.

1985 was a lot like the 2012 season where they opened up with a tough loss to a ranked Alabama team on the road, lost to a ranked Baylor team in the middle of the season, and then got hot and just rolled everyone they played absolutely thrashing their final three opponents in TCU, Texas, and Auburn that included Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson in the Cotton Bowl.  Had they not lost one of those early season losses they might have had an outside chance to get Penn St to the Cotton Bowl instead of OU getting them in the Orange Bowl which is how OU won the national championship that year.  Early season losses set this team back just like in 2012.  There’s no doubt though at the end of the season this was one of the best teams in the country.

1992 was an undefeated regular season but like the modern day Big 12, Texas A&M was playing in a wretched Southwest Conference.  So wretched there wasn’t one team in the Southwest Conference that was ranked when they played.  A&M’s only win over a ranked opponent was to open the season against Stanford who was ranked 20th at the time.  At the same time both Alabama and Miami went undefeated beating more ranked opponents than A&M so Miami went to the Sugar Bowl instead of the Cotton Bowl.  Had Bama lost a game that season there’s an outside chance Miami and A&M would have matched up in the Cotton Bowl for the national championship but that’s still a stretch as Miami might have played Florida State in a re-match.  The Southwest Conference did A&M no favors that season because the teams were crap much like what top Big 12 teams face today.  Of course A&M losing to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl makes talk of a national championship that season moot but that was a damn good Notre Dame team.  However, A&M didn’t help itself for that game having to suspend Greg Hill for receiving improper benefits.  As it was A&M belonged in the conversation of Alabama, Miami, Florida State, and Notre Dame teams that were just loaded with talent.  That was a great team.  Probably the greatest of that decade for Aggie Football.

The 1994 team technically went undefeated but thanks to Greg Hill not going to his cush job for Warren Gilbert at a Dallas apartment complex they were on NCAA probation.  A&M was banned both from the post season and television that year.  A&M had no chance to win a national championship that season but if Greg Hill goes to his job or doesn’t take the money this potentially could have been a championship team.  The reality is this team wasn’t really all that close as even if they weren’t on probation and hadn’t tied SMU in one of the worst games I’ve ever witnessed as an Aggie fan, an undefeated Texas A&M likely wouldn’t have climbed over undefeated Nebraska and Penn St who had better regular season opponents and impressive bowl victories to remain undefeated.  Playing in the Southwest Conference was just not going to position a team for a National Championship unless a bunch of other teams lost in their better conferences.  That didn’t happen in 1994 but if A&M goes undefeated in 1992 and isn’t on probation it’s not a total stretch to think this team is playing for a national championship assuming they beat SMU that season.

While the Southwest Conference was pretty bad for the most part the statistic that stands out to me during that decade is the record at Kyle Field.  63-5-1 is just flat out amazing.  That’s partially where the mystique of Kyle Field came from in recent memory.  In 11 seasons Texas A&M only lost FIVE games at Kyle Field.  FIVE games in 11 seasons.  That’s unreal.  In 7 seasons Texas A&M never lost a game at home.  There was one tie which is kind of losing but it’s not a loss so we won’t count it that way.  Only one season did A&M lose 2 games and that was easily the worst team of that decade.  A&M never lost more than 1 game at Kyle in any other season and had a five year run where a fan at Kyle Field never saw a loss with just one tie.  That is flat out amazing at defending Kyle Field.  That my friends is absolutely great Aggie Football at home.  I don’t care how bad the Southwest Conference was as there were some big wins over non conference opponents and some solid Southwest Conference teams along the way.  Five losses in 11 seasons.  That’s amazing.

I won’t classify that entire decade as truly great because of the struggle in bowl games and key road losses but it’s not far from it and it’s what Aggie Football expectations should be.  With A&M’s resources there’s no reason why we can’t return to a decade of Aggie football like this and make it even better.  Make the right hire and we can get back there.

The most interesting part of this decade is a conversation I had with Dr. Loftin in 2010 after Nebraska and Colorado announced they were leaving for the Pac 12 and we had flirted with the SEC but didn’t pull the trigger.  This was prior to the Longhorn Network being announced.  Dr. Loftin told me the support for going to the SEC wasn’t as large as it seemed.  He said it was actually divided more to staying as there was a silent majority that was fearful of the SEC.  He told me he had basically divided support for the SEC between two major groups.  One was the recent graduates who were enamored with the SEC because of all the publicity it was getting at the time and the other was those Aggies that had graduated during this decade of Aggie Football and more specifically those that had been in school when Jackie was coach.  Those Aggies didn’t fear the SEC like those that didn’t attend school during that decade.

Dr. Loftin didn’t say this but there’s no doubt those Aggies during that period remember dominating football teams and most importantly dominating Kyle Field.  They weren’t scared at all of the SEC as they know Aggie football can compete at the highest level with the right coach.  This decade of Aggie Football should be the minimum standard of expectations going forward.  If those results aren’t being achieved then we need to be doing a serious study of what’s going wrong and what change is needed.  Shift the mindset that this decade is what Aggie Football should be.  We’re not there from a mental standpoint.  We really aren’t.

If you didn’t experience that decade as a student or fan you don’t know what you’re missing out on.  Kyle Field rocked every game and the biggest reason was the Wrecking Crew.  Defense was the staple of that decade and a coach needs to focus on bringing the Wrecking Crew mentality back.  It won’t be easy in this new era of high powered offenses but A&M needs a head coach that makes recruiting and preparing defensive players to thrash opponents a top priority.  Easier said than done but offense just wins games and the Wrecking Crew can win championships.  If a coach doesn’t understand the importance of bringing the Wrecking Crew back then we stand no chance of ever being great again.

There is no doubt with the right mindset a head coach can absolutely Make Aggie Football Great Again.  There’s a decade that says it’s possible.

#MAFGA

The Curious Case of Lane Kiffin

I actually planned on writing this blog entry for a while and decided last week to write it.  In researching this blog I learned the day I’d post the link would be Lane Kiffin’s 42nd birthday.  Happy birthday, Coach Kiffin.  I hope you’re on a Florida beach with a beer bottle in hand soaking in your 42 years.  I’d be disappointed if you weren’t.

Everything about Lane Kiffin intrigues me.  The dude has a genius football mind but he can’t seem to keep focus or have any kind of drive to want to be great.  Something I talk about all the time in what I think drives people to be great is channeling losing to get better but losing doesn’t seem to bother him.  He just seems like a frat guy that doesn’t take anything too serious.  He’s extremely gifted for his profession but he doesn’t seem to really care.  He was definitely too young to be named head coach of the Raiders at 31 but in a decade of having major responsibilities as a coach he hasn’t appeared to have grown up or developed any kind of drive to be great.  He’s just living life.

On his 42nd birthday Lane Kiffin will have had the following titles:

  • Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders
  • Head Coach of the Tennessee Volunteers
  • Head Coach of the USC Trojans
  • Offensive Coordinator at Alabama with three straight berths in the College Football Playoffs winning one national championship.
  • Head Coach of Florida Atlantic University

There are coaches in their 60s that would die to have just one of those titles.  Lane Kiffin has done this by his 42nd birthday.  It’s remarkable.  And he hasn’t been terrible at each stop other than Oakland but who hasn’t been terrible in Oakland.  His main issue is he never lived up to the expectations put on him at USC but he was working with a stacked deck against him with postseason bans and scholarship restrictions.

I really didn’t watch much of Lane Kiffin while he was at Tennessee or USC to know what kind of coach he truly was when it came to games.  I remember the remarks he made at Tennessee that pissed off Urban Meyer and some of the shenanigans he had at USC like claiming he didn’t know the ball boy was deflating footballs or whatever it was.  There was some other stuff at USC that I remember thinking he wasn’t taking things seriously as a head coach.

Where I really started paying attention to Lane Kiffin was as OC at Bama.  With A&M playing Bama every year and Bama being the bell cow of college football I started watching a lot of their games.  To me Kiffin has hands down been the best play caller in the country over the last three years.  Sure, he’s working with a ton of talent but the reality is he jump started a Bama offensive that was pretty bland and vanilla before he got there.  Bama started putting a lot more points on the board.  I don’t think Kiffin gets enough credit for it because everyone just points to Bama’s talent and thinks anyone could have done it.

For people that make that argument let me make a counter argument in that Kiffin won the SEC three years in a row with Blake Sims, Jake Coker, and true freshman Jalen Hurts as his QB.  Look at that list again.  I don’t think there’s another OC in the country that even with Bama’s other offensive talent would have won the SEC and been to the College Football Playoff three years in a row with that string of quarterbacks.  The only consistent in Bama’s offensive output in those three seasons is Lane Kiffin.  The dude has been a magnificent play caller in his three seasons as Bama’s OC.

The only game I can recall where I thought Kiffin was questionable was the 2014 CFP Semi Final against Ohio State.  Ohio State took the lead in the third quarter and then Sims threw a pick six which put Ohio State up by two scores.  Bama was able to score and get the game within six and then both teams punted back and forth a little.  On one particular punt the Bama defense pushed Ohio St back to the goal line and Ohio St botched the punt giving it to Bama at the 23 yard line.  That is opportunity pounding on the door if I ever saw it.

Considering Sims had thrown the pick six three series ago I felt Bama should have pounded it down Ohio State’s throat with Derrick Henry.  Lean on their defense and at worst get three points out of the deal while giving the defense some rest.  What does Kiffin do?  On the very first play of getting the ball on the Ohio State 23 he calls a pass play to the goal line.  Ohio State picks it off at the one yard line and returns it to the 8.  Bama had a chance to gain all the momentum back but Kiffin gave it right back to Ohio State.  He trusted his play calling over Sims ability.  Kiffin got greedy instead of being smart and it cost Bama the national championship with that playcall because to me Bama never recovered from that call.  There’s little doubt in my mind they would have beaten Oregon just like Ohio State did had they beat Ohio State that game.  Had Kiffin made a different set of play calls there and then coached the national championship game this year there’s a good chance Nick Saban has three national championships in a row.  I’m dead serious.  If that’s Kiffin’s only blemish that’s still REALLY damn good for his three years at Bama.

Midway through last season Kiffin started getting mentioned as a head coaching candidate again.  Had we fired Sumlin last season I thought the combination of Kiffin running the offense and John Chavis running the defense would be a pretty salty staff.  Kiffin’s actions at the end of the season have given me major pause that he’s matured and is driven to be a great head coach.

Kiffin wasn’t in line for any major coaching jobs it seemed.  I think the best opportunity he had was for the UH job and the rumor is he turned that down because of the restrictions and buyout they wanted to prevent him from leaving after a year or two.  I get him not wanting the restrictions but UH is a good program where he could have spent 3-4 years and then stepped up.  They were going to pay pretty well but instead he took the Florida Atlantic coaching job for less money than he was making as OC at Bama.

There’s no doubt his time at Bama had run its course and he had to move on.  I just don’t understand why he took the FAU job for less money than he made at Bama and much less money than he would have made at UH.  FAU is a crappy job.  They haven’t won a damn thing and as great as I think Kiffin is as an OC he’s not going to turn FAU around overnight.  He’ll need to spend 4-5 years there I believe.  He would have been better off going to UH for more money even with the restrictions.  If he won at UH like Briles, Sumlin, and Herman before him there’s no doubt he’d be set up for a solid head coaching gig in a Power 5 conference.  I don’t know that there’s anything more he could accomplish at FAU over UH and he’s taking probably 1/3 of the money to do it with more risk.  It makes no sense if he’s matured and truly driven to be a national championship winning head coach.  The FAU job is a real head scratcher from a coaching standpoint.

In addition to the UH job there’s another clear better option than FAU.  Kiffin could have gone to LSU to be OC for his buddy Ed Ogeron.   LSU would have likely paid Kiffin $2 million a year to run their offense and there’s enough talent at LSU to beat Bama and win a national championship.  If Kiffin had at minimum beaten Bama just once in two years then SEC schools would have backed up dump truck piles of cash to give him their head coaching job.  There’s no doubt in my mind about that.  I actually think taking the LSU OC job would have been his best move as he would have made twice the money he’s making at FAU and he could have beaten Bama with LSU’s talent.  LSU has every bit of talent as Bama but just doesn’t have the coaching.  With a Bama win under his belt at LSU he could have the pick of SEC jobs.  SEC schools would have fired their coach not named Saban or Coach O to hire Kiffin.  Hell, LSU might have fired or demoted Coach O if Kiffin actually beat Saban.  I’m dead serious.

What I really think happened is he took the FAU gig solely to chase women.  He got divorced a year or two ago and outside of coeds on the Bama campus I can’t imagine there were any single women in Tuscaloosa up to his standards.  He knew Bama coeds were off limits or Saban would actually castrate him.  He thought with the wrong head and headed to Boca Raton where the women for his standards are plentiful and nobody cares about the social life of Lane Kiffin because he’s basically a nobody in South Florida.  I really think that was the main factor for his taking the FAU job.

At USC he made $3.4 million in his last year which was 2013 and he had two years left on his deal so he also made $3.4 million in 2014 and 2015 between USC and Bama.  In 2016 he made $1.4 million which is $2 million less a year from his previous salary.  Then he took a gig for $1 million a year while turning down better opportunities for at least twice the money.  Plus, he’s paying child support and alimony to his ex wife so it’s not like that money is going directly to him so he’s taking a SIGNIFICANT pay cut to coach at FAU.  I really think he just moved to Boca Rotan for the women because he doesn’t care about coaching all that much.  There’s no doubt money isn’t everything but I just wonder if he’s driven to be great.  It doesn’t seem like it’s a driver for him right now.

The other thing that makes me pause for his true drive to be great is how things went down at Bama.  When he accepted the FAU job it was stated he would finish with Bama including the national championship game if they got there.  After beating Washington to get in the national championship game two to three days later it’s announced Kiffin would not be coaching in the national championship game.  That was out of the blue and my guess is Saban told him to pack his stuff because he wasn’t focused anymore.  A guy driven for success would have been so focused to win that game knowing it would help his recruiting at FAU even more by being able to show off back to back championship rings.  If he’s suffering burnout at 41 for being just the OC at Bama it gets much worse trying to be a national championship head coach.

Maybe I’m wrong about Kiffin.  Maybe he has a plan in place for achieving greatness which to me is winning national championships.  Maybe he doesn’t care and just wants to live an easy life away from the stresses of big time college football.  If he truly wants to be great there are better paths to take than the one he’s taking now.  He just turned 42 today so maybe there’s time for him to mature but I believe this is about the time he should really mature and change his focus.  Based on his actions in the last 6-9 months he’s definitely not ready to be head coach at an SEC program competing for national championships in my mind.

Either way he’s accomplished more than most head coaches at the age of 42 so maybe he’s just on the beach with a cold beer in his hand smiling that he figured out the world before it figured him out.

Happy Birthday Coach Kiffin.