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Handicapping College Coaches

   by Scott Spreitzer - 10/08/2006

If you listen to the mainstream media, you get the impression that every head coach in college football is a fantastic leader. They're either veterans who have always run solid programs, up-and-comers who are ready to make their mark, or great guys who are handcuffed by outside limitations of the program. You'll never hear a play-by-play guy or game analyst, say "this guy is just a bad coach!"

If you listen to call-in radio shows in football cities, you get the impression that every head coach in college football is horrible! Doesn't matter if the guy has won multiple national championships, gone to 20 straight bowls, or put 40 guys in the NFL. You'll find a bunch of locals who think the program would be better with somebody else.

So, which one is it? Should handicappers try to determine if some coaches have advantage over others? Or, is it really a sport where the players decide who wins.

It's important to get a handle on this if you're trying to pick winners. And, it's important that you come up with your own way of evaluating the job that coaches do for their teams. You can't be swayed by what you hear from either the hype artists or the harsh critics. The media can't pick winners. Guys who call radio shows and rant can't either. You've got to see through the smoke and see the reality.

One thing I want you to keep in mind is that college football has just gone through a sequence of innovation and reaction that created several illusions across the sport. Here's what I mean:

*Several coaches installed spread offenses that caught defenses flat footed. They had great results for a couple of seasons taking their programs to new levels. Maryland started winning games. Oklahoma started playing for national championships. Even a program like Boise State made a name for themselves by dominating at the mid major level.

*Many of these coaches climbed up the ladder and moved to bigger programs. Guys who made names for themselves at places like Boise State, Utah, and Louisville are now running programs in major conferences.

*Success breeds copycats, and soon a lot of other teams were trying to make this approach work for their teams.

*Defenses got tired of chasing people, and made adjustments that have basically neutralized this style of offense in most cases. It will still work against the bottom 25-percent of college defenses. But, that's it.

And suddenly, all the coaches who were geniuses a couple of years ago don't look like they're bringing any edges to the table at all. It's not that these guys have been exposed as pretenders. They were either one-trick ponies who had their trick taken away. Or, they were copycats who can't find anything to copy any more.

This has happened at Purdue, Maryland, NC State, and even at Oklahoma. Even though the Sooners have a strong team that's capable of playing with anybody, it was just a few years ago that people were saying they had one of the greatest teams of ALL TIME! They were supposedly head and shoulders above the rest of the sport. Defenses figured out what they were doing, and now they're just another marquee program hoping they can catch a break in close games.

Here are some quick tips for evaluating colleges coaches in terms of what they mean to their teams right now:

*Look at defenses. This is where the latest innovation has occurred. Teams who have mastered blitzing and disguising their coverages are having great success. Give credit to the coaches whenever you see a team that consistently holds opponents under 20 points and 400 yards.

*Look at turnover differential. This is a great key indicator for evaluating how a team performs the fundamentals. Since the coach's job is to teach fundamentals, this reflects directly on coaching quality.

*Look at pointspread results. We're at the point now where most of the influences determining Las Vegas pointspreads concern the talent on the field for each team. If you see somebody that's covering a lot of spreads, or not covering a lot of spreads, more often than not you can trace that to strengths or weaknesses of the head coaches.

If you make a concerted effort to evaluate head coaches in the college game, you'll see immediate success in your football handicapping. You'll start finding edges you hadn't seen before. And, you'll start avoiding the traps you had been falling into because you were paying too much attention to what other people thought about coaches who fell off their one-trick ponies.

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