There are two types of arguments: Those supported by the facts, and those supported by opinions. The beauty is -- as everything from sports to politics have taught us -- both types can and will be disputed by those with louder opinions.
For just that reason, it is always with great enjoyment that I come upon a topic of conversation that intrigues me over at Senator Blutarsky's Get the Picture blog. While the rest of the sports world revels happily in delusions, the facts still get the weight they deserve at GTP.
So, consider me in a bit of a pickle on the latest fact-based discussion, which came via ESPN's Bruce Feldman, via the Senator. Feldman presents an argument with plenty of factual ammunition. And yet, based mostly on my own opinion, I can't bring myself to believe it.
Here's the basics: Feldman wonders if college football coaches have a shelf life and puts forth the assumption that after about Year 4 or 5, the chances of a coach winning a national title decrease significantly. Recent history gives the theory a healthy dose of evidence.
* 2009 Florida: Urban Meyer's 4th yearThe lone veteran on the list is Bobby Bowden, with only Phil Fulmer and Mack Brown joining him in winning a title beyond Year 4. As I'm sure Georgia fans are aware, Mark Richt is entering Year 8.
* 2008 LSU: Les Miles' 3rd year
* 2007 Florida: Meyer's 2nd year
* 2006 Texas: Mack Brown's 8th year
* 2005 USC: Pete Carroll's 4th year
* 2004 LSU: Nick Saban's 4th year
* 2003 Ohio State: Jim Tressel's 2nd year
* 2002 Miami: Larry Coker's 1st year
* 2001 Oklahoma: Bob Stoops' 2nd year
* 2000 FSU: Bobby Bowden's 24th year
* 1999 Tennessee: Phil Fulmer's 7th year
So, does the evidence here indicate that the MNC ship has sailed on CMR? (I still can't decide if I like this blogger lingo.)
According to Feldman, the theory goes a bit like this:
To me that is reflective of a couple of factors: 1.) Coaches who come in bringing a new energy to a program can have huge success; 2.) In many cases they've inherited situations with programs that have the talent base but are eager for a change in direction. (Some players initially will respond better to a hard-line staff. Others to a "players' coach". Either way, the shift can be the key.) 3.) Successful coaching staffs can get stale over time and players/recruits, just like fans, can be swayed by the next new thing around and they want to be part of a fancy turnaround project.
I like it. It starts with a hypothesis, adds evidence and concludes with a viable explanation.
But are we really to believe then that Richt stands less chance of winning a national title now than he did three years ago? Should we assume that, after four more years, the shine will be off Urban Meyer? (NOTE: He'll probably be in South Bend by then anyway.) Should you be concerned that Richt is destined to get the Fulmer treatment in a few years?
Hey, anything's possible, but I have a hard time giving this more than a, "well, that's interesting."
As Feldman points out, there is some rationale to the theory. Yes, complacency can set in for a coach, and that's a bad thing. But there are more factors at work here.
Look at the list again. Of those coaches, three had national-championship-caliber rosters when they first arrived. (Say what you want about the Zooker, but the guy could recruit.) Larry Coker, Meyer and Les Miles all took exceptional talent that was already in place and added the last ingredient to the national-title recipe.
Two other names on the list deserve a good bit of credit, but both helmed sleeping giants. The Texas and USC programs have huge recruiting advantages and by all means never should have slipped to the depths they had reached prior to Pete Carroll and Brown's arrivals.
Moreover, should winning a national championship really be the barometer by which we measure these things? It's one of Richt's favorite cliches, but the national title is really out of a coach's hands. Yes, it should be the ultimate goal each year, but what is the real difference between Georgia's 13-1 season in 2002 and Florida's 13-1 mark a year ago? (Or LSU's 12-2 the year before?)
More than just wins and losses, however, the bigger reason that fewer veteran coaches are taking their teams to national championships these days, may have a lot less to do with motivation of players and a lot more to do with money in the bank.
Over the past 10 years -- the time period Feldman looks at -- the salaries for head coaches have increased dramatically, which leads to two undeniable truths: Coaches (like Nick Saban) are more likely to jump ship for a richer deal, and schools are less likely to keep a high-paid coach in place when he's not winning. From 1993 through 1999, only Lloyd Carr won a national title at a school he had coached at for fewer than six seasons.
In essence, it's the result that proves the question. There is so little tolerance for losing among fan bases, boosters and administration now that most coaches either win a title early or they aren't around anymore by Year 8, 9 or 10.
Of course, all this is taking the long way back to my original point -- my defense is, at heart, my opinion that coaches can stick around for a while and still have a reasonable (or as reasonable as the next guy) shot at winning it all.
But who am I? If you're going to base an argument on opinion, after all, you should at least find someone whose opinion actually carries some weight. So I went straight to the man, himself. And guess what? Mark Richt seems to agree with Feldman.
"You need to revive, you need to always go back to the basics every year," Richt said. "You just can't take anything for granted. Even when you have a staff that understands what we do, how we do it."
As you may have read, Richt's plan for this season is to reinvent his approach by looking back at his early years in Athens. That's a move he wouldn't have made in years past, despite his certainty in its value now.
"There's been years where I've said, 'Men, I know what you're going to do, I know how you're going to do it, I'm not going to have to insult anybody's intelligence to say we're starting from ground zero,'" Richt said. "But this year, I said I don't particularly care if anybody's feelings get hurt. We're going to pretend like we've never done it before, and we're going to make sure we do it the Georgia way. That's the mentality with the staff and with the players and myself."
This, as much as anything else, illustrates the advantage to a veteran coach. They learn from experience.As much as Richt wants to downplay the failures of last season -- the Dawgs did go 10-3 after all -- there was a lesson learned, and it's essentially the lesson that Feldman's article illustrates. The message does get stale. The landscape changes, and the coaching staff needs to change with it.
I see this in the newspaper business every day. There are hundreds -- thousands -- of good writers and reporters out there who won't make it in today's market. They don't know a blog from a buffalo, and they become out of touch with what it takes to succeed in the current environment.
If last year accomplished nothing else, it served as a reminder to Richt and his staff that no one can rest on their laurels and fresh ideas are invaluable. (Heck, even Richt is on Twitter now!) While Feldman's piece illustrated a trend that is tough to ignore, there's a difference between likelihood and destiny. The way to avoid the likely outcome is to learn from the past, and that's something Richt and his staff seem anxious to do.
"I think the coaches have enjoyed it actually," Richt said. "It started in the bowl practice, and it started with me. I think we've really got a lot of good momentum right now."