For the kids at Davis.
I like Bill Connelly’s work over at SB Nation, but I was a little surprised to see his defense of Bob Davie’s hiring by New Mexico. Connelly admits that his defense is “tepid,” and says that it is founded upon the notion that Davie’s tenure at Notre Dame wasn’t as bad as widely thought. In truth, however, Connelly’s argument is based on the notion that Lou Holtz’s tenure – or at least the end of it – wasn’t as good as you think, and that, in retrospect, Davie at least wasn’t any worse than Ty Willingham or Charlie Weis. But, even if any of that is true, does it really say anything about whether Davie did a good job at Notre Dame?
You can argue that Holtz was not recruiting so well at the end of his tenure, but that excuse only lasts for a couple of seasons. Davie’s 5-6 record in his fifth and final season can’t be attributed to Holtz. And with as much flack as Willingham catches, the argument “not as bad as you think” probably applies to Willingham more than Davie given how Willingham was run off after three seasons. Willingham won 10 games in his first season with Davie’s players. His following two years were roughly at Davie’s level (5-7 and 6-5), and then Weis came in and won 19 games in two seasons primarily relying on players recruited by Willingham before Weis basically reached the level of Davie and Willingham before him with 7-6 and 6-6 seasons to wrap up his tenure.
But ultimately whether Davie is “not as bad as you think” comes down to the facts underlying his record at Notre Dame. There are some key points to remember about Davie’s tenure. During his time, rival USC was mired in mediocrity. USC’s record during Bob Davie’s tenure was just 31-29, with only two bowls in
ten six years. Other west coast rival Stanford – under Ty Willingham – was 30-27 during that period (I know Willingham did good things at Stanford relatively speaking (although again, look at USC and other perennial power Washington during that time), but why Notre Dame thought he was going to come in and win national titles right away seems crazy in retrospect). Navy was in the pre-Paul Johnson era, collapsing into awfulness under Charlie Weatherbie. Look, Notre Dame should always beat Navy, but at least Bob Davie never had to deal with the Johnson-Niumatalolo era Midshipmen. Davie was 1-2 against three very good Michigan teams, but he didn’t even have to face Michigan in his final two seasons. Davie was 0-5 overall against Michigan State, and 0-3 specifically against Nick Saban-coached Michigan State teams, losing by an average of 15 points against Saban. Probably what aggravates most Notre Dame fans the most about Davie are his getting dominated by Michigan State, his two losses to (very good) Purdue teams, losing twice in his last three seasons to Boston College, and a horrible record against ranked teams. While maybe the end of Lou Holtz’s tenure wasn’t great, it was truly Bob Davie that started the reign of mediocrity at Notre Dame over the past decade.
There is a lot of merit in the argument that the quality of the Notre Dame job is a bit overblown. Kids aren’t necessarily knocking down the door to play for the Irish the same way they might have been 50 years ago. On the other hand, the school has a ton of money to devote to football success, they have incredible national exposure even now, and they should be able to recruit successfully even if Indiana is not a hotbed for elite football recruits. A Notre Dame coach should almost never win fewer than 8 games. While the Notre Dame schedule can look superficially tough, there are typically at least a half dozen games on the schedule that Notre Dame just should not lose if the coach has been doing his job. In any given year, there are not going to be more than 1-2 games on the schedule – again, if the coach is doing his job – in which Notre Dame should be counted as a clear underdog. That’s going to leave 4-5 games where Notre Dame should be no worse than a coin-flip. When you add it up, even in a mediocre year Notre Dame should generally win 8 games unless the coach just isn’t doing a very good job. And at least every few years the schedule should be there to win 10 games and get to a BCS bowl. Every year should bring a bowl, and it isn’t unreasonable to ask the coach to win at least 50% of the bowl games.
I am not a Notre Dame fan, so this isn’t about a fan’s unrealistic expectations. Given the schedule that Notre Dame plays, their resources, and their ability to recruit nationally (if lacking proximity to elite athletes), even with any drawbacks that you want to count up for that job a coach should be expected to win at least 36 games over a four year period. That’s three seasons of 8 regular season wins, one season of 10 regular season wins, and 2 bowl wins. Put another way, a Notre Dame coach should roughly average 9 wins a season, or a winning percentage of 69.2% to meet reasonable expectations. That to me is pretty much the over/under line for judging a Notre Dame coach in this day and age. (By the way, even with the messy situation that Charlie Weis left behind, Brian Kelly was able to win 8 games in his first year and has seven wins this year with two games and a bowl left to play.)
So where did Bob Davie fall in comparison to the standard I described above? He won 35 games in 5 years. Since Davie had three seasons with just 11 regular season games, he is forgiven a bit in terms of gross number of wins, but if winning 69.2 percent of the time is the standard at Notre Dame, then he should have won at least 41 games – and possibly more since he should have had two more bowl games (and I rounded down from 41.5). Even without those two bowl games factored in, Davie was roughly 15% below what an average Notre Dame coach should do.
Maybe it is true that Davie wasn’t as bad as people suggest – in that he wasn’t awful. But he was definitely not good, and, in my view, he was clearly below average. Nothing about his tenure at Notre Dame really supports his hiring by New Mexico, unless you count that Davie has a high profile and might bring some attention to a beleaguered program. When you add in the fact that Davie has been out of coaching for a decade, it certainly raises some questions about New Mexico’s choice. If Davie embraces the changes that have taken place in football over the past decade, and if he surrounds himself with excellent coaches and recruiters on his staff (despite budget limitations), then this may all work out. But it is a pretty big gamble.
Something that caught my eye today on college sports conference expansion was this article from Kirk Bohls on West Virginia being the top candidate for the Big 12 to replace Missouri. There’s an interesting quote from some anonymous (of course) “school official” from a Big 12 school:
West Virginia has better football than Missouri, better basketball than Missouri, a better budget than Missouri and more passion among its fans than Missouri. They’re better, anyway you turn ‘em. The travel’s not good (to Morgantown, W. Va) but that’s it.
Let me just say this as plainly as possible: that’s a load of bunk. If West Virginia was better than Missouri, than West Virginia would already have accepted its invite to play in the SEC. West Virginia was hoping for an SEC invite. The SEC prefers Missouri because Mizzou is a bigger prize, “anyway you turn ’em.”
There’s an argument that West Virginia has better football than Missouri, but over the last five years West Virginia hasn’t been much better (if at all). It is fine to argue that the Mountaineers have a better long-term tradition in football (which is true), but if you are going to say that then you have to acknowledge that Mizzou has a better long-term tradition in basketball. On top of all of that, the insult to the passion of Mizzou fans is curious given that Mizzou outdraws West Virginia at its home football games.
The budget claim is also curious. It turns out that some athletics budget figures are available for both WVU and Mizzou. While it appears that WVU spends more on football, Mizzou’s overall athletics spending appears to be much higher.
As for travel, the anonymous source is correct that travel will be tough. Check out Morgantown’s airport schedule. Unless schools are chartering planes (which makes little sense for non-football sports), they are most likely going to have to fly into Pittsburgh and bus it the rest of the way. Oh, and as far as markets go, West Virginia is a small state with no large cities. By way of comparison, the state of Missouri has about three times as many residents, and two large cities in Kansas City and St Louis whose metro area populations are larger than the population of the entire state of West Virginia.
I know that there will be a pretty heavy PR push to polish the turd that is Missouri leaving the conference, but trying to claim that West Virginia is a much bigger prize than Missouri is fairly laughable. I hope that some of the media members who will report this stuff will try to place it in the context of reality. Is West Virginia the best of the possible replacements for Missouri? Perhaps – maybe even probably. But that does not make them a better program for the Big 12 than Missouri has been.
With the Big East in a messy situation right now, there’s no shortage of speculation about how the Big East might act. We know that they’re going to expand, and it sounds like they plan to expand to 12 football-playing members. I don’t think they should stop at 12. Here’s a suggestion – just a back of the envelope suggestion – for a plan to cobble together a feasible conference that might – might – have a chance at keeping their BCS AQ bid.
First, forget Villanova. Yes, Villanova sounds like it wants to move up to FBS. But even if Villanova can make it happen, whenever it does happen the program is unlikely to do anything to help the Big East maintain its precarious AQ status. It will be years before they can compete at a high level – if ever. Cross that road when you come to it, but don’t build a plan around Villanova moving up at this point.
Second, invite UCF, Memphis, East Carolina and Temple for all sports. There are trade-offs to be made here. East Carolina and UCF likely add nothing outside of football, but they do provide the best football options the Big East is likely to see East of the Mississippi. Memphis and Temple help the league strengthen its basketball presence. Temple has not historically been a strong football program, but if they can keep up their recent success, it will help. Memphis’ football program is in atrocious shape right now, but there may not be any available program out there that can hope to fit the void left by Syracuse or Pittsburgh in basketball the way that Memphis can. The league will just have to work with them to rebuild the football program.
Third, invite Houston, SMU, Boise State, Fresno State, Colorado State, and San Diego State for football only. You can’t really ask these teams to join in non-football sports, because it would spin mid-week travel in non-football sports out of control. Yes, Air Force is a more attractive option than Colorado State, but I question whether Air Force would make the move without the other service academies. Can also consider Nevada, UNLV, and others for that Colorado State spot. Due to the need to maintain a contingent of western football teams to prevent travel from being too onerous for schools like Boise State, this may be the way to go.
Here’s the new 16-team football Big East, broken down into respective pods:
San Diego State
In case you were wondering what a schedule would look like in this set-up, here’s two sample schedules for two top programs:
Sample Schedule for Boise State
San Diego State
Sample Schedule for West Virginia
San Diego State
Is this a slam-dunk option for maintaining AQ status? Absolutely not. But there is no such option available. The best the Big East can do is cobble together teams that might help it maintain AQ status while, at the very least, putting together a football conference that can score a decent TV deal without hurting the basketball product.
As for the six football-only schools, this is where I think adding enough football-only schools West of the Mississippi helps. They can serve as the core of their own viable non-football conference. They can then go out and try to cherry-pick other schools to join in all non-football sports. They might be able to swing a non-football deal with the remaining WAC or Mountain West teams, or they could just go out and try to land some lesser programs to cobble together a decent conference. No, it wouldn’t be optimal, but, again, there is no such thing as optimal for teams not on the radar of the big conferences. Here’s a potential 12 team basketball conference featuring the six football-only Big East members:
San Diego State
Long Beach State
Again, the idea isn’t to achieve perfect, which is not possible. The idea is to achieve an optimal set-up given the options reasonably available. This might seem to crazy to try, but I think it might just be crazy enough to work.