If you missed it, Skip Bertman showed up on ESPN 104.5 and started dropping some bombs on the coaching search, including how little he likes Lane Kiffin and also Bobby Petrino. There were more interesting nuggets about the process of hiring Miles, history with Saban and Jimbo and so forth. But one quote really stuck out to me:
Skip on coaching fit: It's very important. It's not just a word. #LSU— Scott Rabalais (@RabalaisAdv) September 28, 2016
We’re already neck deep in coaching search talk and all types of names are being bandied about. The reality is, we’re a couple months from any action in that regard, as any coach LSU might want will be obligated for the foreseeable future.
Grinding the gears of a coaching search is half the fun of the game, anyhow. And you can bet more and more ridiculous names will circulate and disappear long before this thing is over. Fans and media members are restricted to a pretty straight-line perspective on the coaching search. Pretty much all we can do is look at a Wikipedia page, watch a few games and recall stories from the past. We don’t get to conduct interviews or discuss plans. We aren’t privy to that information.
Thus it comes down to the all knowing “fit” argument. It’s key. It’s essential. It’s probably more important than anything else when considering long term success. Louisiana is a beast all it’s own and running a successful football program usually involves glad-handing some slimy individuals and learning how to say “etouffee” and dear god, you better suck the head.
During the preseason, Bud Elliott of Tomahawk Nation posted an excellent article about a better way to rank coaches. Bud elaborates:
Now, while Bud is dealing with silly preseason ranking lists of coaches, I think there’s a prescient point here. And it’s all about the level of institution and expectations of the given position. Gary Patterson isn’t expected to win like Les Miles was expected to win (until he was fired Sunday). He goes on:
The discussion for the next LSU head coach is already squarely focused on LSU tabbing an “elite” coach. The argument flows as follows:
“If you’re going to fire a coach as successful as Les, you better hire someone elite.”
“Find me 5 coaches in America with a better resume than Les Miles.”
“Saban is the only coach with more consistent success and we aren’t getting him. This is dumb.”
This argument is fundamentally flawed for the exact reasons Bud lays out above. When you start to evaluate all coaches on the same scale, you run into problems. Here’s two great examples:
That is Nick Saban’s record prior to arriving at LSU.
Nick Saban won 62% of his game as a head coach prior to stepping foot in Baton Rouge. This is over a six-year span. From that sample, would you assume Saban would go on to become the greatest college football coach in history?
That is Les Miles’ record prior to arriving at LSU.
Les Miles won just 57% of his games prior to arrive at LSU. From that sample, would you assume Miles would go to become the greatest coach in LSU football history?
Here’s a list of a few current, active head coaches with 57% or > winning percentage and 4 or > years coaching:
- James Franklin
- Dana Holgorsen
- Dan Mullen
- Butch Jones
- Terry Bowden
- Tommy Tuberville
- Dave Doeren
Do these names excite you for the future of LSU football? Because these are precisely the types of hires LSU made for the previous two head coaches. When LSU hired Nick Saban precisely no one thought it would ignite the Golden Era of LSU football. Even after Saban’s successful tenure, LSU dipped back for a coach that hadn’t won 60% of his games and had only been on the job for four seasons.
The level of expectation is different in 2016. Today, fans won’t be excited about a name that’s not Herman or Jimbo or the like. Even in our comments sections we are discussing how this is a gamble on greatness. Therein lies the rub. Of course the LSU administration is gambling on greatness by firing a coach that was destined to win 70% of his games every season but never contend for the SEC Title again.
Here’s where the “show me a better resume” argument falls flat. You’re playing with different variables. This is not to say “oh any coach could what Les Miles did,” so much as it’s not quite that simple. We wouldn’t expect Saban and Miles to accomplish what they did either, just by looking at their coaching resumes. There aren’t many Urban Meyer’s in the world that are true shooting star coaches (interestingly, Tom Herman may be that guy).
A major reason you won’t find a coach with as great of a resume as Les Miles is that there’s only a handful of jobs in America with the potential to achieve in that sense. Look at Bud’s list:
Of those jobs, it’s probable only 2-3 of those coaches would even be interested in our opportunity, if even that many. Getting a coach with a National Championship resume is an impossible ask.
But it’s not because those types of coaches are impossible to find. Here’s a list of coaches to have appeared in a national title game within the past two decades:
- Gene Chizik (and won!)
- Chip Kelly
- Brian Kelly
- Gus Malzahn
- Frank Solich
- Larry Coker (twice!)
- Jim Tressel (three times!)
- Mark Helfrich
- Mack Brown (twice!)
- Bob Stoops
- Nick Saban
- Urban Meyer
- Les Miles
- Pete Carroll
- Bobby Bowden
- Frank Beamer
- Philip Fulmer
- Steve Spurrier
- Tom Osborne
How many of these coaches would you consider to be truly elite, legendary coaches? Half? With the exception of Frank Beamer, Mark Helfrich and Frank Solich (who all got blown out), this is a list of coaches who landed at programs that recruit at an elite level.
A more relevant predictor of success than a coach’s coaching track record is recruiting. Bud’s blue-chip ratio indicates 13 different teams that meet the threshold, including LSU. When you scan the list of coaches to appear in a title game, most on the list found their title games within the first 3 years on the job. Maintaining an elite level of play is simply a harder job than inciting it as a change agent.
We will continue to assess coaches by winning % and style of play. But it’s worth considering that we may be evaluating the wrong metrics. What makes this difficult is that we don’t truly know. Saban and Miles weren’t Saban and Miles prior to coming to LSU. Coaches can achieve things at LSU that cannot be achieved at many other programs across the country.
If LSU wants long term success, they must find the right fit. If LSU wants to win a title soon, they can, if they find the right change agent. Here’s to hoping they find both.