I’ve been meaning to write a post about Cignetti leaving and the hire of Ludwig for a while now, but finding the time has been a challenge.
First, Cignetti’s leaving:
Personally, I thought Cignetti was an awesome offensive coordinator and worked perfectly with Tedford. Those two were twins separated at birth. As such, Tedford could focus on being the head coach and could leave much more of the offensive play-calling where it theoretically belongs: in the booth. Also, Cignetti had a great balance of adding in trick plays, run vs. pass, inside vs. outside, about the only area where Cal seemed to have an tendency was throwing out of the shotgun. Well, I hate it when we run out of the shotgun so as long as Cal only starts out of the shotgun when it’s an obvious passing play, which seemed to be the becoming the norm as the season progressed, it’s not a tendency that bothers me.
So I was really high on Cignetti and his leaving was a tough one for me to take.
But the question remains, is his leaving a systematic problem of the program or just part of college football. On the one hand, we’ve lost a lot of offensive coordinators, particularly in the last 4 years. Here are the OC’s of the Tedford era:
2005: Cortez (hired away)
2006: Dunbar (pushed out)
2007: Michalczik (Demoted)
2008: Cignetti (hired away)
Really, Cal did a great job of holding onto the OC through the first few years. It’s been the last 4 where things have gotten “ugly”. Breaking it down even further, Cortez getting hired away after 2005 is completely understandable, so it need not be discussed. Michalczik was really a figure head for Tedford when he didn’t have someone he wanted to hire externally in 2007. So really, we’re talking about two coaches: Dunbar and Cignetti.
Dunbar to me was the failed experiment. Tedford wanted to bring in someone who would challenge him to introduce new ideas, specifically the spread. But Tedford didn’t realize just how much it is a matter of philosophy and when you get a pro-set guy and a spread guy trying to join their philosophies together, it’s just not going to mesh. Each is going to suggest that the solution to the current set of problems is to go further down the road of their philosophy and away from the compromise.
So that explains why Dunbar left after one year.
Which leaves Cignetti. On the surface, what we’re told is that Cignetti left Cal for his “dream job”. I think as fans we’ve got two choices: We either assume that they’re lying and something else was going on under the covers or accept that they’re telling us the truth and this really just was a unique situation. Personally, I’m inclined to believe that this was a unique situation. There was nothing in the interaction of Cignetti and Tedford both on and off the field that suggested Cignetti was anything but happy in Berkeley. It also doesn’t seem like the money he was getting in Pitt was anything to entice them away on its own right.
And because of that I’m inclined to believe there is no OC problem in Berkeley. Just one failed experiment and one unique situation.
On to Ludwig:
At first glance Ludwig has both a bunch of upsides and at the same some big downsides. First the upsides:
The first big upside is that he knows Tedford’s system. Having both taken over for Tedford at Frenso State and at Oregon when Tedford left, he’s very familiar with Tedford’s playbook, his terminology and also how it has progressed over the years. There’s no doubt that when Ludwig was handed the Cal playbook what he saw was very familiar.
There’s a subtle upside to this as well. Because Tedford hired him with the “knowing Tedford’s system” as being a big reason, there’s no debate who’s offense is going to be on the field in 2009. This is unlike Dunbar where it was a “lets join forces” operation. Ludwig knows who’s offense he’s being brought in to run.
The second big upside is the success he had at Utah. I’ve followed Utah with interest ever since Cal lost to them in 2003. They looked darned good. After Utah won their BCS bowl game in 2004, my suspicions were confirmed. But then Urban Meyer was hired away by Florida (as an aside, boy did Notre Dame miss the boat on that one…) and I figured Utah was a flash in the pan. But somehow they rebuilt into the BCS Bowl team they were this year and instrumental to that was their offensive coordinator, Ludwig. How can one argue with 37.4 points and 405.3 yards per game with a pretty good balance of pass and run (over 2000 yards each)? Plus they went undefeated and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
But underneath that big upside lies the downside: spread offense.
Ludwig, for all of his experience with Tedford offenses, has become a spread guy and he’s had a lot of success with it. So despite the fact that he knows he’s coming to Cal to run Tedford’s offense, one may wonder just how much his heart will be in it. Could it be that somewhere deep down inside he’s hoping to convince Tedford to open the playbook to morph it more towards the spread again?
That’s my biggest fear. We can’t afford another Dunbar.
To compound that fear… talk to any Oregon fan about how Ludwig did running the Tedford offense in Eugene. They were VERY glad to be rid of him. I temper my thoughts on the subject because Oregon fans tend to have overly high expectations and are over critical. But nevertheless, one only need look at Oregon’s performance in 2002-2004 (7-6, 8-5, 5-6) to see that the Ducks were not in top form with Ludwig in the booth. In fact, since 1998, the only season the Ducks performed as badly as the best of Ludwig’s 3 seasons was 2006 when they went 7-6. Other than that, Ludwig’s 3 seasons as OC were the 3 worst years of the recent past.
So, what does this all mean?
It’s hard to tell really. I’m taking a wait and see attitude. Particularly considering how late of a hire Ludwig was, it’s important not to under-estimate the value of bringing in a guy who is comfortable with Tedford’s offense. At the same time, there’s reasons to be concerned with his history of running pro-set offenses. However, his recent past suggests he’s developed into a very good OC… but with the Spread. It’s all very, very, very hard to tell.
So I say, let’s give this guy a chance. Only time will tell what will happen.