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Perhaps the most ridiculous comparison yet

Avi over at CGB suggests that it takes time to build a program. Completely agree there.

What I can’t even come close to agreeing to is his examples of how it takes time:

“It took Chip Kelly just over two years to turn Oregon into an uncatchable spaceship.” Says Avi. But in his first year as head coach, he went 11-2, losing only his first game and the Rose Bowl. In his 2nd year, he went undefeated until losing in the BCS championship game. Perhaps he was referring to his time as OC, but in both seasons he improved over the prior season.

“Harbaugh had two losing seasons in Palo Alto…” Yes, but considering that they were 4-8 and then 5-7 after going 1-11 before his arrival, that’s a pretty big improvement.

“Saban got embarrassed by Louisiana Monroe and got creamed by Utah on a national stage.” Er, but that ‘national stage’ was the Sugar Bowl… hard to call that a “takes time to build” example.

He also mentions Urban Meyer, Chris Peterson, Mike Leach at Texas Tech and Art Briles at Baylor, the last two probably being the best examples of the group, but in whole, few of them saw their programs actually take a meaningful step backwards in their first season, which is what we’re seeing so far in Berkeley with Dykes.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the argument. Sometimes it does take a step back to get moving in the right direction. I just couldn’t help but think these were some of the worst examples.

Is HydroTech my alter ego?

Saw Hydro’s last post on CGB, including this tidbit:

I have not ONCE ever stopped watching a game early. No matter how bad the loss. No matter how painful it was to watch. Yes, I’ve sat through the drubbings we received from Oregon in 2008 and 2009. The USC losses where we were competitive for about half a quarter. Watched all that [redacted]. Except for this game. For the first time in 11 years I turned off the TV and went about the rest of my life like a Cal Football game wasn’t on.

The same is true for me.

I was there when the clock expired against Oregon just over a week ago, when everyone else had been frozen out. I sat through the 2009 Oregon drubbing (although we won in 2008, so he’s misremembering that one). I’ve also never left or turned it off.

But on Saturday night, watching via a crummy streaming connection and getting tired, I asked myself what the point of this was during the 3rd quarter and I turned it off and watched a movie.

When both HydroTech and KenCraw do that, it’s time for a coaching change.

While on the topic of HydroTech, it appears he’s turning in his blogging keys and moving on with his life.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for his years of service to the Cal blogosphere and wish him the best of luck in his culinary endeavors. Your voice will be missed Hydro!

Welcome CGB refugees

“Wifeisatroj” comments in a previous post:

With CGB in new-format-turmoil, now is your chance to shine! Never mind that new fangled graphical look, stick with tried and true. With solid content.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks the new format over there is terrible. I wonder how much it has affected their traffic?

Take comfort that EMFMV will stick with the tried and true format we’ve always had.

I feel somewhat sorry for the leadership over there, and it furthers my resolve that unless I was being paid, I can’t imagine myself ever blogging on for-profit site. (not that anyone is offering) Twist tried to put a happy face on it over at CGB, but I get the feeling like the rug has been pulled out from under them.

And the thing is, CGB is not popular because of SB Nation. Sure, there’s a few things they’ve done that have facilitated CGB’s popularity, but overall, the popularity comes from what their writers and contributors have done. I’d feel pretty under-appreciated if I were them.

Bend But Don’t Break?

Over at CGB, the’re discussing the 10 best moments from 2008. In the process of discussing #3 the idea of the Bend But Don’t Break defense came up and HydroTech objects to the term:

I’m pretty sure Gregory hates it when Cal fans use the whole “bend but don’t break” line to describe the defense. I remember some interview of him where he thought that phrase was inaccurate. In a sense, that line is inaccurate to describe our defense because that line implies that other defenses aren’t “bend but don’t break,” however every defense is a “bend but don’t break” defense in that every defense would much rather give up yards and a field goal rather than a touchdown.

Defenses are all the same. They share the ultimate goal: stop the offense.

What differs in defenses is how they accomplish that goal. Some prefer to be very aggressive. Others prefer to be less aggressive. Cal fans tend to associate “bend but don’t break” with less aggressive defensive play, but to only associate that line with less aggressive defense is to ignore the fact that more aggressive defenses are also “bend but don’t break.” Whether a defense is more aggressive or less aggressive, they both want to minimize the amount of yards the offense gains. They do that via different methods. A more aggressive defense will blitz more often hoping to get sacks, and putting the majority of the defensive duties on their secondary to lock down the WRs to prevent completions. A less aggressive defense will drop more men into coverage hoping to get more incompletions and interceptions while putting the majority of the defensive duties on their defensive line to get a good pass rush on their own. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. As of lately, due to the 2007 collapse, many Cal fans have become adverse to less aggressive defense, and have begun to inappropriately use the phrase “bend but don’t break.”

(I couldn’t decide how much of his description to give you and in the end decided to give you the entire thing.)

Sorry Hydro, I think you’re awesome and I love your commentary, but this particular one is ripe for a take down!

My first complaint is that Hydro is over-emphasizing a name. While I generally agree with him that accurate names are preferable, in the end, we do need to come up with a name for things even if they fail to perfectly describe that thing. So yeah, BBDB may not be the best name for the defensive strategy at issue here but we do need a name for each defensive strategy. And just about all defensive strategies use names that are true for all defenses. “Prevent” defenses don’t have a monopoly on trying to prevent touchdowns. “Contain” defenses don’t have a monopoly on containing the opposition. “Pressure” defenses don’t have a monopoly on applying pressure. “Zone” defenses don’t have a monopoly on using zone converages. I could go on and on. The names point out the areas of emphasis, not exclusivity. Just because other defenses attempt to “Bend But Don’t Break” doesn’t mean that it can’t be used to describe a particular strategy.

Which brings me to my second point, there’s no doubt that in 2007 the Bears used a specific defensive strategy that was different from the earlier Gregory defenses and most definitely different from the 2008 3-4 defense. Hydro makes it seem, perhaps unintentionally, that all defenses are the same and we should shy away from naming them. Hogwash! The 2007 defense emphasized more than any defense during the Tedford era keeping the defense behind the play. It rarely put the individual secondary positions “on an island” to go man-on-man against the receivers. It’s reasonable to ask that this defensive strategy be given a name.

Fundamentally, there are different strategies. One could call the highly aggressive defense the “Pressure But Don’t Prevent” because they do accept the risk that they’ll completely blow it on one play and give up an 80 yard TD. What they’re counting on is that 9 possessions out of 10 the opposition gives up the ball quickly without gaining many yards. So there’s no aspect of the “prevent” defense in their scheme, instead they focus heavy “pressure” to force the 3 and out. Is it a great name? No, but it is somewhat descriptive.

So if we’ve got the PBDP versus the BBDB, one has to admit, no matter how poorly they’re named, that they are two different defensive strategies AND (and I think this is what really bugs Hydro, is that people don’t realize) they’ve both got their pros and cons.

I mean, let’s phrase BBDB in the positive. They’re going to minimize the number of points our opposition scores on each possession and decrease the number of possessions that the opposition has to score (because all the time each possession takes off the clock). By making them march slowly down the field, keeping everything in front of them, the opposition is going to take a lot of time off the clock getting down the field and when they get close, because the defense hasn’t been killing itself trying to force the quick out, they’ve got lots of energy when the shorter field is to their advantage.

Doesn’t that have at least some benefit? Isn’t Bend But Don’t Break at least a reasonable name for that strategy?

Now, one could make a number of counter-arguments:

  • That BBDB is a bad strategy.
  • That the Bears didn’t use a BBDB defense in 2007
  • That the fans don’t properly understand what BBDB is
  • That BBDB is a poor name for the strategy

Fair enough, but none of those things take away from BBDB being a defensive strategy and that’s it’s not the same as all the other defenses. So, unless Hydro or someone else would like to come up with a new name and get the rest of the Cal Blogosphere to adopt the name, I say we stick with BBDB to describe the defensive strategy that most people accuse the 2007 Bears of using with lots of zone coverage and emphasizing keeping everything in front of the secondary.

None of this should prevent Hydro from:

  • Criticizing TwistNHook from using BBDB for the 2008 defense
  • Criticizing those who symplify the BBDB defense to “playing soft”
  • Emphasizing the positives of the BBDB defense
  • Reiterating the common goals of all defenses

But let’s just accept BBDB as the short-hand name for this style of defense.

Why lump it all on the head coach?

Ragnarok over at CGB has a great post about how we place so much emphasis on the head coach to the exclusion of everything else and what the consequences of doing that is: Read it here.

I generally agree on the implications of this reality, but I don’t think the solutions provided are very workable. Basically he suggests that the solution is to emphasize the rest of the program so that no one guy can take it down. I mostly agree with his list of what makes up the rest of the program, but I think each of them are difficult to promote/maintain outside of the coach.

I’ll run through each one of them he listed:

  • Assistant coaches: The big problem here is that all head coaches demand that they bring in their own coordinators. And why shouldn’t they in today’s environment where they’ll reap all the success (or failure) of the program? Rag mentions the idea of bringin in assistants to groom for the head coaching spot down the road and while this idea has some merit it has a lot of pratical problems. For one, the list of head coaches who were internal promotions that were a failure is a long one including both of Cal’s most recent internal hires: Gilbertson (who also failed as an internal promotion at UW) and Holmoe. The jump from coordinator to head coach is a difficult one. Even Tedford, who has done really well, has had some bumps in the road as he’s had to learn how to stop being the offensive coordinator and focus just on being the head coach.
  • Academics: This is great as far as it goes, but it has two problems: One, the biggest and best recruits are thinking NFL not their fallback job in the real world. Two, only certain schools have this and it’s very hard for the school to turn it around based on athletic desires to make it better. (not that it wouldn’t be noble if it could be done)
  • Facilities: This has the chicken and the egg problem. When the program isn’t successful it’s very hard to get donors to contribute money. Cal is the perfect example. We needed Tedford to turn the program around before the SAHPC could be built. And of course once you find that coach, they’re going to get “god status”, just like at Cal.
  • Location: This has the same problems as Academics as you’ve either got it or you don’t and it’s almost impossible to change it substantially. Plus it also suffers from the NFL problem of not being a big factor for top athletes who see this as a stepping stone.
  • Other things that don’t change with head coach: There’s just not much here to rely on. Big donors (like Nike for Oregon)? Well that risks a different sort of problem that’ll get you in trouble with the NCAA if it’s not sold right. Strong set of young players (or good recruiting classes)? Yup, that can most definitely be used, but it’s not a headliner sort of thing. About the only thing I can think of that can be used is success of the program with proof that it transcends multiple head coaches. Boise State can do that as can the big programs like USC and Florida. But even at those schools, they’ve had down times and for recruits since they’re only going to be there for 4-5 years, hearing that the program will be good in the long run doesn’t give them much confidence if the program looks to be entering a dry spell.

Overall, I think it is because of the difficulty of selling these other items that the head coach, the singular place a program can put all of their marbles, has become the focal point. It’s similar to politics where the president gets all the glory (or blame) for whatever happens in the country no matter how much or little it was their doing.

The same is going to be true for head coaches.

Fire Tedford. Are you NVTS!?!

There’s a great line from movie “History of the World, Part I” from the Roman Empire period:

Oh you are nuts. N-V-T-S – NUTS!

That’s the way I feel about anyone who thinks it is time to dismiss Tedford. Apparently these people don’t know about the alternative and just how hit and miss a new coach can be, and that’s not even taking into account the GUARANTEED short-term downsides in recruiting and other problems the loss of continuity causes. So for those of you who think stupid thoughts, here is a quick list of things to remember:

  • Number of Coaches a winning record in every one of their seasons (3 seeason min.): 1 – Jeff Tedford
  • Tedford’s winning percentage rank (3 season min.): 4th behind Andy Smith, James Schaeffer and Pappy Waldorf
  • Number of 10 win seasons outside of Tedford’s 2: 5 and only one since 1949
  • Number of coaches who have had any success in getting new facilities since the 20s: 1 – Jeff Tedford

That last one is the kicker for me. For a moment lets pretend that Tedford is a horrible coach who somehow managed to use Holmoe’s recruits (snicker, snicker) to do well and will now fall on his face. Even if that was true, he’s in the middle of building something (quite literally) that’ll have a larger impact on the longterm success of the program that any coaching staff could ever have: renovating the facilities.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but the most important game of the 2007 season in my opinion was not played on Saturday. It was played in the court room during the week. We don’t have the official answer yet but it seems that the worst case scenario is a delay of game penalty and not a loss. Hopefully we’ll hear soon that it won’t even cost the University a delay but assuming there is a delay, we need to keep this good thing rolling long enough to cut down the trees and break ground on the SAHPC.

Tedford is a great coach. Yeah, 2007 wasn’t his shining hour, in fact nothing has matched his most shining season of 2004 yet, but I have full confidence in his ability to learn from this season’s mistakes and improve in the future. He’s got a great eye for talent and continues to put together good recruiting classes despite the sub-standard facilities (unlike Oregon and UCLA) and and lack of a long term tradition of winning (unlike USC). Down years are part of the experience of college football. Sometimes it’s a key injury. Sometimes it’s the lack of talent at a position or two. Sometimes it’s losing the moral of the team. What sets good coaches apart from bad ones is their ability to retool and rebound in future years.

I have full faith in Tedford to be able to do so.