So Auburn is still awful. And Tony Franklin's post-mortem interview the otherday revealed little about the situation, though it reaffirms a basic coaching truth: it's always going to be about more than Xs and Os. Yes there's the old Jimmies and Joes, but it's also whether or not your colleagues actively dislike you. That never helps.
2. Spread Worth Watching
Texas Tech and Kansas play this upcoming weekend. For all the talk about the rise of awful spread teams, these two squads still get it right. Interestingly both Mike Leach and Mark Mangino worked together at Oklahoma, and after Leach left to take the TTech job Mangino basically ran Leach's offense the year OU won the title. But now, don't get them confused. While Leach still runs his Airraid offense, Mangino's has evolved into something of a more traditional -- but still unique -- spread offense. (They run the absolute heck out of the smash package, and they run it better than just about anyone else.)
And although Rich Rod's Michigan tenure, along with failed spread experiments at Auburn, Virginia, and others may have sufficiently freaked out any head coaches, athletic directors, and boosters at major programs from making a switch, both Leach and Mangino should get serious consideration for top jobs at major programs.
3. Nick Saban, Football Historian
Nick Saban is a good coach, alright? And he's been around for longer than people realize. So it warms my heart in a special way to hear him making a point that I've made on many occasions: Football is a game of repeating cycles, with what went out one year coming back the next. In a recent interview, Saban got all fired up on the topic (prompted by a discussion of the Wildcat offense):
...Now the Crimson Tide coach really starts waxing poetically about the past. You mention a running attack... He went deep into the memory bank for this reference. Back to being a defensive assistant on a West Virginia team that lost 52-10 to Oklahoma in 1978.
"I've been coaching for a long time, aight?" Saban said. "Played Oklahoma when you couldn't even see the other sideline because the crown of the field was so heavy, when they tried running downhill, and they were moving. They had (David) Overstreet, (Billy) Sims, and guys that could run fast anyway, they didn't need any help. And so, I've been through that. And them horses that pull that wagon around every Oklahoma scored, [darn]-near died, because they had to do it so much the day we played them."
His final point was a good one: "All this stuff comes around," he said.
"One of these days," he warned, "when old the guys like me don't coach anymore, and the young bucks who grew up defending four-wides and everything, somebody's going to run the wishbone, and they may not know a thing about how to stop it."
Let's unpack this a bit. The main point is a simple one: good schemes ebb and flow, and knowledge bases change so, as he says, defensive coordinators who have done nothing but face spread teams may not have good and ready answers when a spread team comes around. There's not much new in football (contrary to the beliefs of some fanatics unlearned in football's history). Further, Saban is a great coach, but he knows what it is like to be unprepared. The worst I ever personally saw a Saban defense perform was back when he was at Michigan St. when they played Purdue, which was quarterbacked by Drew Brees at the time.
Purdue 52, Michigan State 28
Drew Brees had over 500 yards passing and five touchdowns. And oh-by-the-way, it was Michigan State's homecoming. Whoops. Saban's defense was simply unprepared for the precise, pass-first spread offense Purdue was using.
But the point about football knowledge is one illustrated by Saban himself. The next year Purdue was arguably better (they went on to the Rose Bowl and had beaten both Michigan and Ohio State), and Michigan State crushed them 30-10. So the point is that, while I agree with Saban that what goes around comes around in full force, I disagree that, in the future, coaches will have to start from scratch.
Defenses do not forget. Football might be cyclical, but its history is recorded. What worked once might work again, but the answers are also right there on the game film to be retrieved; there's no guesswork necessary. Saban might be right that the wishbone might come back -- it's an exceptionally well designed offense, and with the right talent, any offense can work -- but no one will succeed simply by resurrecting football's dinosaurs. Someone will have to put a new twist, or a new spin on it. So a restatement of the rule might be that football is cyclical, but it evolves at every step.