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What's More Important: The Players' Talents Or Coaches' Strategies?

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We haven't rounded the Belt in a while. Huh. Time to find a topic that has nothing to do with MACtion and make it become everything to do with MACtion. Alex, Brown and Gold, James Jimenez and Keith all argue with each other.

Dave Clawson helped turn BGSU aroun, winning the MAC Championship in 2013. He is now in Wake Forest.
Dave Clawson helped turn BGSU aroun, winning the MAC Championship in 2013. He is now in Wake Forest.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Alex: So guys, I was reading this article over at Baseball Prospectus recently, discussing fantasy proposals like trading a team's best prospects for another team's GM. Now, it's not the same thing, but let's put this into MAC terms.

Would you rather have the best offensive and defensive players in the MAC on your team with an average coach, or a team with just average and below average players led by an excellent coach?

Brandon: Can I just interject here?

Are we talking the best players like having a Jordan Lynch or Khalil Mack? Or are we talking best players now like Matt Johnson? Because if the latter is the case, I think you have to take the best coach every time, especially for "down years" like this one.

Alex: I guess I'm speaking in generalities here, but I get what you're saying, Fitz. And I think I'd agree with you. I think this is just a really weird way of trying to figure out what we deem is more important for our favorite college football programs: talent or strategy?

James: The best players. Look at it this way: the MAC is the "Cradle of Coaches" for a reason. When you're a really good coach, and I mean, a REALLY good coach, you are always looking for bigger opportunities. A good coach is always curious to see if they could do that job better than somebody else, whether you are willing to admit it or not. *ahemJimHarbaughNickSabanahem* An average coach who really commits himself to recruitment and can create a competent game plan, and have enough trust in those players to execute it, rather than try and find and force players to fit the system, has a better chance of long-term success.

Keith: Give me the dynamite head coach. By a mile. If this season in MAC football has taught us anything, it's that everybody, including our top stars, can be bitten by the injury bug. This is because we schedule as many Power Five schools out of conference, and let's face it, they recruit a better athlete. Bigger, stronger, faster. This means more injuries, even to top stars that Matt Johnson. Top MAC coaches on the other hand, have but one destiny. That's to coach at a Power Five school. Innovation and creativity in every aspect of the game, starts in the Mid-American Conference. I'm not saying that it translates to the next level, but this is where it starts. It's also matter of getting the most out of the talent you're able to recruit. So give me the head coach, and as long as we are drafting, I'll take Pete Lembo.

Alex: Okay, so let's spin this around. Could it be that some coaches are just good because of the talent they have? I look at Chris Creighton as a good football coach (even though he's never coached at the division-I level, but he was a player/coach over ont he other side of the world, winning their franchise's first championship), but you're not going to do well in chess if you're only playing with pawns, ya know?

James: If I'm next in the order in the coaches draft, I'm picking up Coach Bowden.

But you kind of make my point fpr me... the good ones leave. If we're looking at JUST long-term success from an AD's standpoint, an average coach with above-average recruitment, that is content with staying at the school to develop the program has a lot better chance. If we're looking at LONG TERM success from the AD's standpoint, an average coach that is able to recruit relatively well while staying at the school can achieve that success.

Keith: Sure I think that there are coaches that are successful simply because they are able to recruit elite athletes, but I think those situations only exist on the Power Five level. I can't imagine that I would ever say that a coach is a "good coach" without results, regardless of how poor the talent is, but at the same time, if a coach like Chris Creighton were successful, I would never diminish those accomplishments with simply, "well he did a good job recruiting."

Summed up: I think you can be successful at a Power Five school without being a great coaching mind. Certain schools don't rebuild, they reload. To win a lot of games on the MAC level, you have to be bringing something to the table from a strategic standpoint that your peers are not.

Khalil Mack turned Jeff Quinn into a decent coach.


James: With that logic, who is to say that the "reload, not rebuild" theory can't be successful in the MAC? Any program, regardless of prestige, can pull in recruits with the right message, even if the coaching is only adequate. I see Matt Johnson as a good example of this in action.

Keith: The schools I am referring to (Alabama, LSU, USC) don't in fact recruit at all. Players come to them. I don't think there exists an example of that in the MAC. I also don't think any program can pull in any player with the right message, unless that message is: you will be on TV and go to the NFL.

James: There we go again. The talent coming to the program. We got to take a step back: we're looking at real life situations. The root of the question is a hypothetical. So we have to compare the two based on surface merits. If I can get the talent and an okay coach, results happen. If I get the talent NOW and can consistently bring talent in, even without a real gameplan, why would I want a great coach with pawns for players and wait for the inevitable "I'm leaving" presser as soon as that team has a good season?

Keith: You could recruit the best player in the country, let's say Matt Johnson, and lose him in the first game of the season. You will not however, lose a great football mind.

James: Again, when recruiting for talent, we can also make the assumption of depth of talent. An injury like that could stall a team for a moment, but eventually they'll get going again. Next man up.

Keith: That's not an assumption I was making. By eventually, do you mean the following season?

James: I mean after a couple weeks, but next season can apply too. Especially if we're talking long-term success.

Keith: No way in a couple of weeks.

So let's make it real. If you are starting a MAC program and you get your pick of a player or coach right now, who do you take? Also might I had without a top notch leader, a disciplinarian, your players can and will get in trouble. I'm not saying that a coach can prevent every instance of that, but I think it really helps.

James: I don't know if this will cause me to be thrown out, but Coach Bowden and Justin Cherocci.

/ducks incoming rotten garbage

Keith: You're fired. Next.

Alex: I think knowing that players' tenure at college are very short and play four or five years at most, in most cases. Coaches can stick around for a lot longer. With that said, I think we're all in agreement that we've got a much higher return on investment on the head coach, who could potentially bring in some baller recruits that could play after said coach takes over at Michigan.

Brandon: I mean, a good coach is nice to have, but having a Khalil Mack turned Jeff Quinn into a decent coach. Jordan White made WMU into a bowl bound team. If you have a stud player, you're short term investments might pay off into long term ones with players trying to follow the lead of these stars.


Alex: Good point. In my case at EMU, I'm all for great short-term success. So I can see why some people would be cool with having great players instead.

Brandon: I'm just saying. Look what Jimmie Ward and Jordan Lynch did at NIU (Orange Bowl, 1 win away from a Fiesta Bowl). Look what Randy Moss and Big Ben did. These players led their teams to greatness. It also brings excitement to the program and exposure since ESPN seems to have a hard-on for athletic players (usually with egos, but I digress). When's the last time EMU had a stud? Akron? Go on and on. Kent State looks lost without Dri Archer and Roosevelt Nix. CMU hasn't done jack squat without LeFevor (NOTE: fix this spelling please), even if he played in the Butch Jones/Brian Kelly era.

James: Yes, yes, yes. This is what I was trying to say earlier, except I totally screwed it up because I lack a good historical #MACtion background.

Brandon: Smh. Central fans.

James: I try my hardest. There are a lot of fair weather fans here in the pleasant mount... launch the complaints at them.

Alex: Townies. All of them.

And I like the point with Dri Archer and Kent. Who was Kent State before Archer? Sure they had a good group in 2012-13, but none of that would have been possible without Archer. As a sabr-friendly baseball fan, it'd be nice if there was a WAR statistic (that at least everybody knew of) for football to help smooth this argument out, but there are just so many outliers in this argument that, you know what, let's just pick on the CMU kid here instead. He hasn't even been here for a year, so he needs to go through some fratty initiation or something. That's way cooler than talking about sports.

James: I have accepted my fate, but am still somewhat upset at myself for making the right argument in the wrong fashion.

Alex: Let's role play, James. I'll be principal Trunchbull and you're the twerp that goes in the chokie for a little bit. Sound good?

James: Doesn't sound good. But it's my fate.

*James goes into the chokie. We will end Rounding The Belt right here.*