Saturday, July 21, 2007

Is it possible to have a sustained breakthrough?

I've been thinking about football recruiting a lot lately, but I haven't posted too much about it, so I thought I'd share some thoughts here.

Much credence is given to the thought that Gary Pinkel needs a major on-field breakthrough to ease some recent in-state recruiting ills, and that thought is definitely true to some degree. possible is it for a mid-rung, non-'name brand' school like Missouri to break through to the other side...and stay there?

The Florida's and Ohio State's and Texas's and USC's of the world will always be near the top unless they're doomed by a wretched coaching hire--or series of hires, a la Oklahoma in the mid-'90s. However, your Purdue's and Missouri's and Oklahoma State's and Oregon State's seem to always find themselves in peaks and valleys. It seems there's something of a cycle with most mid-rung, major-conference teams and their new coaching hires. (And I realize this is a crude summation of how things actually go down.)

1) A new coach comes in, convinces a couple of classes of kids that their team is the next big thing, and sews up some recruiting successes.

2) The transition between the old coach's players and the new coach's players–not to mention the fact that this New Coach is either an old coach whose shortcomings got him fired from a previous major job ( i.e. Larry Smith) or a younger coach new to the major conference level of play (i.e. Gary Pinkel) and needs a transition period of his own—leads to minor success at best and shows kids/parents/fans that New Coach isn't the second coming of Vince Lombardi (or Urban Meyer, eh?)...or in the case of the older coach, his steam and vigor begin to run short. This results in a couple of years of less-stellar recruiting.

3) The kids from the first couple of classes begin to mature in Years #3-5 of the New Coach's administration, bumping up the level of on-field success and, potentially, recruiting success.

4) Those players graduate, leaving behind the lackluster classes as upperclassmen. Quality of play takes a step backwards, so does recruiting.

5) At this point, either the success disappears altogether and the coach gets fired/retires, or the coach fights it out until the next round of better recruits reaches upperclassman range, and another step forward is taken. At this point, a cycle of 'a couple up years, a couple down years' emerges for as long as that coach has the job.

This is obviously over-simplified, but when you think about it, this really does describe a majority of major-conference teams who aren't 'name brands.' Yes, you get the occasional Glen Mason's (i.e. the coaches who seem to win 7 games every single season and never actually threaten to break into the elite levels) and Bill Snyder's (he created a 'name brand' situation, but it looks like maybe he was the name brand, and not K-State), but for the most part, the only difference for most coaches at these schools is the height of the peak.

Very few coaches fight their way out of this cycle. Honestly, looking back at mid-rung teams from the past 10-15 years, I can think of one coach who has initiated some level of long-term success at a school like this: Frank Beamer. He's more-or-less taken Virginia Tech to 'name brand' status...though they're still a step or three below the Ohio State's and USC's of the world. And who knows how much of that status is due simply to the lingering effects Michael Vick's revolutionary tenure there? You might be able to add Jeff Tedford and Rich Rodriguez to the 'permanent breakthrough' list soon, though Rodriguez might soon belong in another category: potential cycle-breakers who jump to a 'name brand' school. Coaches in that category—think of Les Miles at OSU or, in basketball, Billy Gillispie—break the peaks-and-valleys cycle only hitting the reset button on them. A mid-rung school is forced to make repeated perfect hires to sustain a high level of success and threaten to break the glass ceiling.

This leaves Gary Pinkel in an interesting position. The schedule is relatively kind, and if the defense can make its way to above-average status (and the injury bug doesn't get hungry...knock on wood), this could quite possibly be his most successful season at Mizzou. Being that the recruiting class of 2008 is already half-filled (if not 90% filled) at most places, you can assume that a huge season in '07 would lead to a very strong Class of '09 for Pinkel and staff. However, when Chase Daniel graduates after '08, there will quite likely be an offensive dropoff for at least a year or two...and possibly a dropoff in wins for a couple seasons. When that Class of '09 matures, though, things begin look up again...if he's still around.

Of course, we could also go 7-5 this year, at which point Pinkel would officially enter Glen Mason Territory. But I don't want to think about that right now.

Thoughts? Am I totally off-base here?