The independent voice of Notre Dame Athletics

  • Comparing Coaches

    by SEE

    (Notre Dame Football News | The Rock Report) – The 2010 regular season is in the books and, as is the norm for most first year coaches, it was a roller coaster ride.  If we’ve learned anything about first years, as Vannie pointed out in Patience and Measuring Success, they’re more about changing the team system and mindset than just pure winning.

    “The barometer for this year’s team, if I may steal a cliché, will not be whether it wins or loses but how it plays the game. That’s admittedly an unacceptable concept to Notre Dame and Kelly would never publicly settle for fewer than 12 wins, but it’s more important that this group of players shows steady progress throughout the season and does not fall victim to the mindset that has crept into the program during the last three years: losing is no big deal. Watching the team sway to the alma mater after being punked by the likes of Navy, Connecticut and Syracuse is not my idea of must-see TV.

    Installing new offensive and defensive schemes is a chore for any football coach, but perhaps the biggest challenge facing Kelly is to motivate the players he inherited. Many will welcome new leadership and attempt to seize an opportunity to climb the depth chart, but there is no guarantee that players who previously cut corners on the field and in the weight room will embrace a more demanding culture. Each will judge whether if Kelly treats them equally and learn if there are real consequences for poor play and mental errors before deciding whether or not to buy in. Kelly’s candid remarks early in his regime regarding the “sense of entitlement” among the players tell me that some of them have to do a bit of soul-searching.”

    Weis and Willingham both had impressive first years and later bombed. The top recent coaches, save Meyer, all experienced odd years, but each coach also won a surprise game that showed promise.   Carroll and Saban both hit 4 game losing skids at completely different times in the year.  Tressell never won more than two games in a row. Stoops started off with 3 straight wins and then went 4-5.  Meyer, except for a debacle against Alabama, turned in a strong first year.

    There has been an ongoing debate on Rocks House about how Kelly’s first year compares to the “home run” coaches in the game. Specifically posters looked at win improvement and scoring margin. In trying to get an objective view, I used Sagarin ratings to see how Kelly measures up to the best coaches in the game. Sagarin has a long enough history to benchmark coaches, has rankings, wins against top teams and also looks at strength of schedule. Sagarin may not be perfect, but it is consistent.   Before I begin, a caveat: there’s nothing meant to be conclusive here.   i.e. just because a coach is better in one area or another means little, I see it more as a rough check on weather Kelly outside the norm.  None of this means Kelly will perform at the level of these coaches, it just means his performance is in line with the standard-setters (these, of course, will all get adjusted for the bowl game.)

    Here we go and the goal here is to see if Kelly missed the target group by a meaningful amount.  The second and third years will be far more telling.


    When it came to overall performance, Meyer led the way in the rankings followed by Stoops and Kelly.  Kelly looks better when taking into account SOS.

    1. Meyer:    19  Florida                  A = 83.95     ( 40)
    2. Stoops:   27  Oklahoma           A = 81.35     ( 63)
    3. Kelly:    28  Notre Dame    A = 79.22   ( 24)
    4. Saban:    31  Alabama              A = 79.26     ( 30)
    5. Tressell: 35  Ohio St.               A = 78.96      ( 37)
    6. Carroll:  37   Southern C al     A = 78.47     ( 24)

    Win Improvement

    Meyer also led the way in win improvement with a two game advantage over 2004 (using the baseball method here) followed by Stoops.   Kelly, Saban and Carroll all finished one game above the previous year’s finish.

    1. Meyer    +2
    2. Stoops  +1.5
    3. Kelly     +1
    4. Saban   +1
    5. Carroll   +1
    6. Tressell  -1

    Win Improvement Over Top 30 Teams

    No coach notched a win over a top 10 team.  The next category Sagarin looks at is wins over top 30 teams.  Here, Meyer and Kelly both improved by two games.  Notre Dame was 0-4 in 2009 and went 2-2 in 2010.

    1. Meyer    +2
    2. Kelly    +2
    3. Saban    +1
    4. Stoops   +1
    5. Carroll   +1
    6. Tressell   0

    Rank Improvement over Previous Season (SOS change)

    It starts to get more interesting when you look at who improved his team’s rankings the most from the previous season.  It’s here that Saban stands out moving Alabama up 24 places over 2006.  Kelly and Stoops were next with 20 place improvements.  Kelly improved against a harder schedule (13 places harder).

    1. Saban    + 24       (0)
    2. Kelly    + 20  (+13)
    3. Stoops   + 20    (-43)
    4. Carroll  + 14     (-14)
    5. Meyer    + 11    (+17)
    6. Tressel  – 14       (-4)

    What does it all mean?

    Not much more than Kelly hasn’t performed, to this point, outside of the pack against the standard setters of recent memory and did so with mostly a second string offensive backfield against 11 bowl eligible teams.  Even given all of that and a win over USC, it doesn’t erase the debacle to Navy.

    20 Responses to “Comparing Coaches”

    1. John Valdinatos says:

      Stats can make anything seem real.

    2. Very interesting analysis. Now if you do this again and compare it to Weis and Willingham, will it show that they have even more favorable results than Kelly?

    3. Dave Barry says:

      Interesting. Now, how did Weis do in his first year in 2005 and how did that tenure end up?

    4. Three coaches that would have been interesting to have included: Mack Brown, Weis, and Willingham. Leaving Mack Brown off of the “standard-setters” was an oversight.

    5. Pedro Paramo says:

      Interesting indeed! As already pointed out about looking at one year:

      ” one swallow does not make spring”

    6. As others have said, it would be interesting to see Weis and Willingham on this list. Likewise, I’d like to see how the core group did vs. bottom ranked opponents. For example, did Saban, Stoops, or Meyer have their share of Tulsa’s? I think the major concern held by the fan base right now is that we’re in store for as many Tulsa’s as we are top 30 wins such as Utah.

      • A 7 Point Loss for Saban to Louisiana-Monroe in Bryant-Denny Stadium • Tuscaloosa, AL L 14–21. Probably a more troubling loss than Tulsa.

        • El Kabong says:

          Saban’s first AL team had issues on offense. That game was one of the problematic ones. At the end of the season, he fired his OC and hired someone with more experience.

      • Well Stoops did lose to a Bob Davie led ND team for what it’s worth. And Saban loss to Louisiana Monroe as people said. In the Tulsa game ND surrendered a blocked xtra point return, an Int return and a punt return for scores. Not saying they weren’t earned plays but most teams will lose when stuff like that happens. I’m more concerned about the manhandling Navy put on ND.

    7. So here are the numbers for Weis & WIllingham (only stats I could find were post bowl stats for Willingham and Weis, since each lost their bowl, it is possible that the end of regular seasons numbers may be even higher, also I am trusting accuracy of all numbers for coaches mentioned above):

      Rank: 1. Weis: 8 Notre Dame A = 86.75 (14)
      2. Willingham 17 Notre Dame A=85.03 (14)
      3. Stoops: 27 Oklahoma A = 81.35 (63)
      4. Kelly: 28 Notre Dame A = 79.22 ( 24)
      5. Saban: 31 Alabama A = 79.26 ( 30)
      6. Tressell: 35 Ohio St. A = 78.96 ( 37)
      7. Carroll: 37 USC A = 78.47 ( 24)

      Win Improvement

      1. Willingham +4 (5-6 to 10-3, someone can double check my baseball math)
      2. Weis +3 (6-6 to 9-3)
      3. Meyer +2
      4. Stoops +1.5
      5. Kelly +1
      6. Saban +1
      7. Carroll +1
      8. Tressell -1

      Rank Improvement vs top 10
      1. Willingham 1 (he was 1-1 vs top 10, Davie was 0-2 in 2001)
      2. All others 0

      Rank Improvement vs top 30
      1. Willingham +4 (0-4 under Davie, 4-3 under Ty)
      2. Meyer +2
      2. Kelly +2
      4. Saban +1
      4. Stoops +1
      4. Carroll +1
      7. Tressell 0
      8. Weis -1 (2-4 under Ty, 1-2 under Weis, I can see an argument to give him a 0 if we are using percentage, as both were .333)

      Rank Improvement Over Previous Season
      1. Willingham +26 (0)
      2. Saban + 24 (0)
      3. Weis +23 (-9 (from 5th to 14th toughest)
      4. Kelly + 20 (+13)
      5. Stoops + 20 (-43)
      6. Carroll + 14 (-14)
      7. Meyer + 11 (+17)
      8. Tressel – 14 (-4)

      Given this data, we should have never gotten rid of Willingham…either that or it means that these stats are not particularly indicative at predicting how a Coach will perform.

      Nothing to see here, move along.

    8. Weis and Willingham both had great first years – so I’d expect this first year analysis to show them – statistically – right up there with Meyer. Which, we all know, isn’t the case.

    9. Do you guys really need to see Weis and Willingham’s first year stats? They are off the charts I’m sure. Davie’s ’01 team went 5-6 before Ty came in and went 10-3. Ty’s ’04 team went 6-6 before Charlie came in and went 9-3. Ty had a +5 and Charlie had a +3. Great improvements, but it didn’t last long.

    10. VADomer02 says:

      I’m not sure why you keep mentioning the difficult schedule as an excuse for the final ranking. It could help to explain why we didn’t have more wins, but isn’t the strength of schedule already taken into account when determining rank?

    11. It’s always interesting to consider this or that stat, and/or create some sort of interesting comparative analysis. So, nice article.

      However, like I said/posted at the beginning of this year: ” It’s going to be an interesting year. I hope that it’s more ‘ interesting good ‘ than ‘ interesting bad.’ ”

      Well, despite an improved 7-5 regular season record, I think that the measuring scale tips a bit more to the “interesting bad” side. But, there does seem to be some indication that things may be getting better for our football program.

      Bottom line: Kelly deserves to get a “nod” of approval for this season. (Although his own bonehead calls/decisions on the field probably cost us a couple W’s. Certainly, the Tulsa game is one of them. And who knows what he really had to deal with – behind the scenes – off the field? )

      So, here we are at the end of the regular season with an interesting match-up on New Year’s Eve, no less. (Now, that’s fun!) And Kelly has a couple more years to prove he’s the real deal, or that he’s not.

      Having said all that: it sure was nice not to see Charlie Weis on the sidelines. That was damn painful.

      • Just a quick follow-up for those of you who may see me as a glass-half-empty guy: A win over Miami will tip that scale to the “interesting good” side.

        Go Irish!

    12. If you read the article, he concludes by saying that all of this doesn’t mean much other than his performance is similar to the ‘benchmark’ coaches. Time will tell whether we look at Kelly’s losses to Navy and Tulsa as outliers (a la Saban vs La-Monroe) or as consistent inconsistency/ineptitude (a la Ty/Weis/Davie). I am very hopeful that teams like Tulsa and Navy won’t be enjoying success against ND again for a LONG time.

    13. To me this all means nothing. Team improved later on in the season but had a terrible Sept. Pushed around by Navy and Stanford and losing to Tulsa is inexcusable in my book. Good wins over Utah and SC. I had them pre-season 7-5 so they ended just where I thought they would be. Not very impressed with some of BK’s game day coaching decisions. Hopefully things will improve.

    14. From the perspective of a person who has played at the college (not ND, just a fan) and professional level, BK had a very successful season. ND had a terrible team culture under the CW era. It was evident in every facet of the game. I eventually stopped going to games during the CW era because the attitude and play of the team was offensive to me. Whether it was linemen not knowing how to use their hands and feet properly, or Jimmy throwing tantrums on the field (an unforgivable sin in my book), or defensive players who looked slow and out of shape, the team was fractured and (a)pathetic.

      First let me provide insight into how good head coaches think, they don’t focus about records or scores. Their first job is to ensure that the team has the right attitude and approach to preparation. Saban is a perfect example, he focuses almost exclusively on instilling belief in ‘the process,’ because he knows that winning is the natural by-product of his process. I had a similar coach, and I know from experience that he’s right. The result of each game has much more to do with how hard players have worked in the offseason, how hard they practice in the preseason, and how much film they watch each week, than anything else. We followed that mantra and won three conference titles in four years.

      So when BK doesn’t seem to care enough about W&L’s, try not to get pissed, because it’s a sign that he’s a good coach. If you don’t believe me, look at the CW era. He was all about W&Ls, which is why he focused so much on schemes and star players. Basically, he never progressed past thinking like a coordinator. Consequently, the team went to shit as all of the role players, who are the backbone of a team, went undeveloped (and often un-recruited).

      Strip away all of the extraneous stuff (scores and record) and look at the way the team transformed over the season. They started out playing like a CW team, inconsistent and soft. That is to be expected, cultural changes do not happen overnight. But by the end of the season, something wonderful happened, the team toughened up. Instead of folding when they suffered a few bad losses, the team rallied together and started playing more physical and more disciplined football. That showed a wholesale cultural transformation from the CW era. The culmination of that transformation was a ROAD win over a much more talented USC team.

      So instead of thinking, ‘grumble, loss to Navy, grumble, loss to Tulsa, grumble,’ trying thinking, ‘holy crap, we won three games in November against good opponents, with an 18-year-old QB and half the starters injured by out-physicalling our opponents.’ Seriously, when was the last time we saw ND beat a better team by just lining up and punching them in the mouth? This team found its toughness, which is a change that will carry into the offseason, where the foundation for great teams is truly laid.

      Incidentally, the injury-prone nature of the team is likely a holdover from the shit strength and conditioning program of the CW era (poor S&C = more injuries is axiomatic). It takes at least two off-seasons to transform players physically, partly because of the time required and partly because it takes time for guys to grow accustomed to pushing themselves closer to their physical limits.

      • THANK YOU!! This is one of the best posts on the ND Nation website that I’ve read in a long time. anyone who didn’t see that this team came together and got tougher didn’t watch or didn’t have enough intelligence to know what they were seeing. If i’d have told you at the beginning of the season that we’d lose Rudolph, Floyd (only for a game or two), Allen, Crist and 2 defensive tackles, all by the middle of the season, how would you all have said we would have finished the season? I am failry certain not with wins over a top 15 Utah team and assuradely not with a win over USC on the road. WE lost some tough games and made some stupid plays and had some stupid play calls to be sure, but this program is on the rise and these players are beginning to believe, not in their past but in their future possibilities, and I for one am very excited to see what that future holds over the next 2 years!

        GO IRISH!!!!!

    15. Former Kelly fan says:

      Brian Kelly was my pick to be the next Irish coach, and man was I ever wrong. Where to start? At the start of the season, I thought he’d be smart enough to start a kid who played the spread in high school. That didn’t happen. Crist is a slow-footed Jimmy Clausen light. Kelly never saw it. I thought Kelly’s play-calling and game preparation would be top shelf. Wrong. His play-calling directly led to the Tulsa loss, his lack of preparation led to the Michigan State fake FG debacle and his schemes overall have been ridiculously unimaginative. How long into the season was it before we saw five-wide? The other stuff that’s happened this year isn’t worth going back over … it’s awful and Kelly obviously owns some of the blame. He simply wasn’t up for the job.