Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mandel, Right And Wrong

From Stewart Mandel's mailbag column at SI.com today:
For me, the main reason Tuberville has never cracked my "Top 10 coaches" list in three years of doing them is that for all those big wins, his teams (with the exception of that one, perfect season) always seem to lose at least a couple games they shouldn't. Just look at this season: The Tigers beat No. 4 Florida in The Swamp but lost at home to Mississippi State. Last year, they beat two of the top three teams (Florida and LSU) in the season's final AP poll but lost at home to Arkansas and Georgia teams that were unranked at the time.

I was trying to figure out this phenomenon when I remembered something ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe said during the first half of Saturday night's game. She said she'd seen Tuberville in the tunnel prior to kickoff and that he looked "as intense as I've ever seen him." Well, of course she hadn't seen him like that before -- prior to her much-deserved promotion this season, Rowe had been stuck doing the Noon ESPN2 games (or something like that). She's probably used to seeing Tuberville before some of those not-so-big games. If you've never been around Tuberville, he is without question the most laid-back head coach of any major program. While most of his colleagues are Type A, tightly wound balls of stress, Tuberville's every-day demeanor is that of a guy who's out fishing.

Don't get me wrong, I love the guy's personality. But it may also explain the disparity. Because Tuberville is so laid back most of the time, I bet when he gets really fired up for a big game (as Rowe saw him), his players truly take notice. (Whereas if they played for a guy like Ed Orgeron, they probably wouldn't know whether they were about to face Florida or Florida International). Players feed off that kind of energy. But then when Auburn plays Mississippi State, he's probably more like his every day self, and the players feed off that energy -- or lack thereof -- as well.

Can you tell I put a little bit too much thought into this?
Nope. I think that is a dead-on piece of analysis. The only thing I'd add would be to expound on your thesis a bit by observing that Tuberville's 'laid-back' attitude has tended to lead to complacency, which in my mind is his real weakness as a coach. He's at his best when his back is against the wall--just look at the 15-game winning streak that started days after the fabled private jet flight--but he does have a hard time sustaining that high level of success. Prime example, that streak ended one game into the 2005 season, after a summer of unending accolades and a year when the program was surrounded by an aura of invincibility. I can't bring myself to get too down on Tuberville over that; every coach gets complacent after successes--which, of course, doesn't make the apparently-inevitable letdown afterwards any easier to take.

There's no questioning Tuberville's abilities when he's on his game. He just isn't on his game all the time. That's who he is, and that's what you get. What you get is some damn effective coaching... except when it isn't.

Then Mandel goes and blows it answering the very next question, which echoes my own take on the "Urban Myth" offense:
We've seen the spread work at enough different places in different conferences -- from Oregon to Louisville to Northwestern to Cincinnati -- that I simply don't buy the "SEC-is-too-fast-for-it-to work" argument. Shoot, it just worked to the tune of 59 points against Tennessee two weeks ago! The Vols may not have one of the conference's better defenses this year, but do you really think if we lined up Tennessee's defenders and Auburn's defenders at the goal-line, pressed our stop watches and let them to the run to the 40 that the Tigers would all be waiting at the finish line by the time the Vols got there? I highly doubt it.
Uh, Stewart, nobody ever said Tennessee's defense was slow, but they did say it was bad. The Vols are at or near the bottom of the SEC in nearly every defensive category, and they're a dismal 111th nationally in points allowed. The signature of Meyer's offense isn't that it only works against slow defenses (although it certainly does)--it's that it only works against bad defenses. Tennessee has a bad defense. Auburn doesn't.

4 comments:

Joe Blow said...

It's hard to argue with that. Tuberville isn't much of an inspirational speaker (if you've seen one of his pregame speeches, it's hard to disagree). I'd like to see more fire in his eyes. I think that made all the difference on Florida's last drive. His emotion over the bad penalty on the punt very well could have fired up the defense to shut down the gators' offense.

I think Auburn's performance goes beyond that. I think there's something they're doing for away games that they aren't doing for home games. Look at the W/L record over the past few years for those games. The ones that they should win but lose, are usually at home. At any rate, it doesn't look like they're getting up for the home games (excluding LSU and UF).

KennyBanya said...

I wish that Tubs would take care of business every year against lesser opponents - but I think its a bit myopic to think all coaches don't have the same problem.

If I recall, Pete Carroll has lost to heavy heavy underdogs like Oregon St, UCLA, Kansas St, and Washington St. over the last few years. I don't see that as being any different than losing to Arkansas or Mississippi State. Mack Brown and Bob Stoops have lost even more "gimme's" than Carroll. And those are the coaches people consider the best around.

Even the Great Saban lost to UAB a few years ago (IIRC). Don't forget that Tuberville has 1 of 3 undefeated seasons in the last 5 years as well (by my calculations).

The one difference is that we seem to often get blown-out of the stadium in our losses (see Arkansas - most years, UGA last year). Oh well, we'll never find perfection - and if you have a coach that consistently beats your rivals (winning record against Bama, UGA, and LSU) then you better hold on for dear life.

Also - no one really talks about the recruiting disadvantage that Tuberville must over come year in and year out. We are not the flagship school in Alabama, we have to convince young black males to come to Auburn, AL as opposed to places like Athens, Gainesville, Tallahassee, and Baton Rouge. That is no small feat in and of itself.

I'm 50/50 right now on Myers offense. I think we'll have a much better idea after this year. He has his quarterback, his quick receivers. If they struggle against LSU, UGA, USC then there might be something to the theory of GOOD, Speed defenses shutting him down.

KennyBanya said...

sorry for the novel by the way - enjoy the blog.

Lein Shory said...

I agree with you, kennybanya. As frustrating as the Tubster can be at times, his record is as good as anyone's in the last five years, and it's insane to think that Auburn could turn up someone who's going to do better. That's uat thinking.