It’s Friday and on Friday all of us are given the freedom to present views that may be a little out of the mainstream. Here’s mine:
Mark Bradley’s blog on Thursday “Will UGA win at BCS title under Mark Richt?” reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a reporter. He basically asked me the same question about Richt and I said something that shocked him a little bit and it may shock you. But I have believed this for a long time:
The question about Richt is irrelevant.
Why? Because I believe coaches should not be ultimately judged on whether or not they win national championships.
You read that right. Having covered this sport for a long time I have concluded that national championships are not an accurate measure on whether or not somebody is a good coach or a great coach. Now if a guy like Urban Meyer has won two national titles in three years and is favored to win another, it’s a pretty good bet that he’s a great coach. But the absence of a national championship does not mean that someone is a lesser coach.
Here is how I back that statement up. In the era of the BCS, and we’ve had some version of it since 1992, there are simply too many variables beyond winning games that factor into a coach and team just getting a CHANCE to play for the national championship. You have two human polls and a bunch of computer polls that are combined and spit out a formula that puts two teams into the national championship game. There is simply too much luck and too much good timing involved for the national championship to be the standard we use to measure coaches.
Let’s just take this decade:
**–In 2000 Miami beat No. 1 Florida State on the field, 27-24. Both Florida State and Miami ended the season with one loss and Miami finished No. 2 in the human polls. But the BCS formula gave the spot in the national championship game to Florida State. So Butch Davis is less of a coach that season because the computers didn’t allow his team to play Oklahoma for the title?
**–In 2001 Oregon finished the season ranked No. 2 in both human polls and had only one loss. Nebraska finished No. 4 in the human polls, also with one loss, a 62-36 thumping in its last regular season game by Colorado. But Nebraska goes to the Rose Bowl instead of Oregon and Joey Harrington. That was Mike Bellotti’s shot at the national title and but the computers picked Nebraska, who got embarrassed by Miami, 37-14.
In 2002, Ohio State went 12-0 in the regular season with a five-point win over Wisconsin, a six-point win over Penn State, and a 10-6 win over Purdue where Craig Krenzel threw a 37-yard touchdown pass on fourth down in the final two minutes. Then the Buckeyes needed overtime to beat Illinois and beat Michigan 14-9 with a touchdown with less than five minutes remaining. Ohio State could have seen its national championship dreams derailed several times but to the Buckeyes’ everlasting credit, they always found a way to win. Mark Richt’s best team at Georgia (12-1 with a loss to Florida), which finished No. 3 in the BCS Standings, just needed for Ohio State to lose one of those games and the Bulldogs are in the Fiesta Bowl against Miami.
I can go on. In 2004 Auburn went undefeated and won the SEC championship. Under normal circumstances the Tigers would have been a lock for the national championship game. But USC and Oklahoma started 1-2 and never lost. That was a great Auburn team that didn’t get a chance. So does that mean that Tommy Tuberville was not a national championship coach that season?
Urban Meyer has won two national championships at Florida but some things had to fall into place for him to get the chance. In 2006 UCLA pulled off a stunning upset of No. 2 Southern Cal and Florida jumped from No. 4 to No. 2 (over No. 3 Michigan) after beating Arkansas in the SEC championship game. Florida just destroyed Ohio State in the BCS championship game but what if USC had not lost? Would that have made Meyer less of a coach in 2006?
Last season Florida earned its way into the BCS title game by beating No. 1 Alabama in the SEC championship game. But what if Alabama had not been No. 1? What if Alabama had been No. 10? Then Florida may have been watching Texas and Oklahoma in a rematch for the national title. Florida had the best team in the country and proved it in the BCS championship game. But some things had to fall into place for the Gators to get the chance.
The 2007 season is the best example of all of how it takes more than talent and good coaching to play for the BCS title. LSU began championship Saturday with two losses and ranked No. 7 in the BCS standings. The ONLY way the Tigers had a chance to get to the big game was by beating Tennessee in the SEC championship game and hoping beyond hope that both No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia BOTH lose. The odds against that were incredible but it did happen and LSU got its shot. LSU was the best team in the country at the end of the 2007 season but the Tigers would have never gotten the chance to prove it without some good fortune.
The point is this: In college football, especially in the SEC, the focus has to be on the conference championship. That is the thing as coaches and players that you can control. If you are consistently playing for the SEC championship, then more years than not you’re going to be in the hunt for the national championship.
A coach is either consistently playing at the top of his conference or he’s not. If your coach has all the resources to compete for the conference championship and proves over a period of time that he can’t do it, you should certainly question whether or not he should continue to be your coach.
But if two guys are consistently playing at the top of their league there is nothing magical that makes one a national championship coach and the other something less. It’s about winning your conference and then hoping the right dominoes fall into place that will give you the opportunity to play for something more.
Steve Spurrier told me during his great run at Florida that he never discussed the national championship with his players. “Our goal was to always win the SEC championship. That was the thing we could control,” Spurrier said. “If we won the conference championship, we figured there was a pretty good chance that we would get to play for the big title. But it doesn’t do any good to focus on that because you have no control over it.”
So what about this? Am I totally wrong here? The floor is yours. Have a great weekend.
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