November 24, 2014

Top Of The Food Chain

The dominoes are still falling and will be for several weeks…maybe months.  How good was it to be at the top of the coaching food chain for a change?

As things unfolded last week, it became apparent that candidates were waiting to see what Arkansas, and to a lesser degree, Tennessee did with their openings before doing anything rash.

It was no coincidence that Gus Malzahn got back to Auburn and said ‘yes’ to the Tigers minutes after the Bret Bielema to Arkansas news broke.  Likewise, former Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said ‘no thanks’ to Colorado once Tennessee finally reached out to him.

You can say a lot of things about Jeff Long, but I think most would admit he did pull off a coup here to land Bielema.  There are not a whole lot of coaches who’ve led their teams to three or more BCS bowl games walking around out there — 12 to be exact — who are willing to up and move to another gig.

We found it interesting how Bielema reached out months earlier and sent a note to Long after his emotional press conference to announce the hard decision to let Bobby Petrino go.  He commended Long for the way he handled the difficult circumstances, and in doing so planted the seed for what unfolded last week.

Say what you want, but coaches like Long and see him as a partner — someone who can provide them with the tools, facilities and money to be successful.  Bielema knew he couldn’t keep burning though assistants (11 in the last three years) because Wisconsin AD Barry Alverez refused to pay them a competitive salary.  Something had to give.

When you analyze the hires, Arkansas and Auburn went in diametrically opposite directions.  The Hogs and Long decided that if you have to break through the SEC West ceiling of Alabama and LSU, you’re going to have to play like they do — power run game, play-action pass, and a stellar defense.

Auburn, on the other hand, hired Malzahn and will spread the field.  Try to score quickly and leave the defense to fend for themselves.  No doubt, in sharing the state with the Crimson Tide, the Tigers felt they needed to be the ‘anti-Alabama’ and go opposite.

There are lots of ways to win football games.  But if you look at the last six national champions (seven if you count Bama’s pending defeat of Notre Dame), being able to run the football and play solid (if not stifling) defense was the key in winning five of the six.  Auburn in 2010, with a freak at quarterback, was the exception.

It will be interesting to see which approach/school can get themselves back into position to compete for the division.  Either…neither…both?

Some Hog fans will not like Bielema’s offense.  It will certainly not be as ‘high-flying’ as Petrino’s offense.  (Although when Wisconsin had Russell Wilson at quarterback two years ago, they proved to be as good as anyone in the country.)

There have been a few fans that were pretty vocal against the hire.  If you ask some of them why, you quickly realize it’s because they think they won’t be entertained on Saturdays.  And that’s what they pay their money to see — entertainment.  They’re not as concerned about winning as they are about being entertained.

But we like what we saw from Bielema at the press conference last Thursday.  You can tell he’s a grinder with a ‘blue collar’ approach.  Given time, that should resonate with Arkansas fans, who can now sit back and watch other schools scramble to get their ‘next guy.’

  • Hog in Iowa

    I, personally, am extremely happy that we got Coach B. A guy that I work with stopped in my office the day Bielema was announced and, after seeing my Razorback stuff hanging on the wall, said “Well, I guess I’m going to be an Arkansas fan now”. I asked him why and he said that Coach B was his position coach when he played football at Iowa. He said that Hog fans are going to love the guy, just like everyone did that played for him. He said he’s an intense coach and will not accept anything less than full-out effort. He also said look for the line-play to improve drastically, which was good news to my ears. Anyway, I believe we all have something to look forward to now, and given a couple of years of development and recruiting will be back in the thick of things.
    Go Hogs!

  • Opossum

    For those that choose entertaninment over winning is laughable. Winning puts people in the seats and they leave happy. entertainment puts people in the seats but they may or may not leave happy.
    We have seen, during the Petrino years, the Hogs score in 2:00 or less then put the D back on the field. It didn’t work against the elite.

    • Jim Dogg

      I think its also laughable but that’s because I don’t know anyone who prefers “entertainment” to winning. But if you give up 60, its nice to be “entertained’ by scoring a bunch yourself. Insofar as the elite is concerned, little steps for litle feet, after all Petrino only had four years. His system did take Arkansas from the bottom to the near top. Given more time Petrino would have gotten the defenses he wanted.

  • GolfHog

    There is a lot of confusion around this whole entertainment,
    style of play thing. Sumlin, Freeze, and Malzahn don’t run the HUNH to be
    entertaining. They want to win. A&M turned Alabama every which way but loose. Ole Miss had LSU and A&M on the ropes. It is a style that was developed to attack conventional teams and defenses. It works. I’m not proposing it for Arkansas. As we saw with Tebow and Johnny Football, it takes a special QB. Gus will have a tough time next year unless he finds a good JUCO QB.

    Arkansas fans have a unique understanding of winning and being
    entertained. It is our Nutty legacy. Stupid football is no fun even when you win. 5 plays that beat up your own running back and the other defense into submission may win you 8 games a year and keep your job but it is neither entertaining nor does it hold much hope of winning against quality competition. A bus driver and a blitzing defense will only go so far. Coach B has a better plan. It involves QBs and receivers and, I hope, real balance. There will be plenty of entertainment involved beyond simply the final score. If I thought that we were getting a better Houston Nutt I would be against it simply because it is not winning football. The bus driver teams will win a title once in a blue moon. Call it boring or trade the best 8-4 in
    America for the best 9-3 coach in America. You aren’t going to beat Nick Saban
    without all 22 players.

    As for Long, the bus driver, credit where credit is due, as
    soon as it’s due. I said a week ago, this is the second time in two tries that
    quality coaches has reached out for the Arkansas job and Jeff Long has said yes. We are in a good place for any number of reasons. Jeff will enjoy the next few
    years better than anyone as long as all goes well. His job appears to be done.

  • Jim Dogg

    So, you’re saying that wide open offenses don’t work? Just because LSU and Alabama have dominant defenses. Or using ND as an example. Sorry. The difference is the recruits that Bama, LSU, and ND get for their defenses. May I remind you of two other examples: Who beat Alabama? TAMU and it’s wide open offense. Who almost beat Alabama? LSU with its coming out party for Metzenburger. And who lost it for LSU? It’s vaunted defense in the last minute. Oh yes, there was Georgia, probably the second best team in the country that almost won the SEC championship on the arm of Murray. Another example, Michigan State had one of the best defenses in the country and was lucky to get eligible for a bowl. You’ve got to score. Petrino did not get Arkansas into a BCS bowl with outstanding defense. Petrino recognized that at that point in time in his tenure that he couldn’t recruit against some of the big boys in the SEC when it came to lineman. So, he went with the wide open offense where there are large numbers of skill players available. (For all those “Free Willy” advocates who didn’t like” bend but not break”, they ended up with “bend AND break ” especially on third and long).

    Now I know that many, if not most, on this blog are mainly (only) Hog and SEC fans, but I would suggest going back to the two Wisconsin-Michigan State games of last year. Both were wild offensive games. The first ending with a Hail Mary pass and the second with a punt return that put the Spartans on the 3 yard line with a first and goal with less than a minute to go. Unfortunately for MSU it was wiped out due to a roughing the kicker penalty. My point is that both teams were good defensively but required all out offenses to win. And it means that any team with a wide open offense will always have a chance to win even if its defense is mediocre (See Baylor last year). So, don’t discredit wide open offenses especialy since a number of coaches favor it. There maybe some who like it for entertainment, but I think that most would rather win. Personally I would rather lose 48-36 than 14-0 knowing that we would have a chance to score (and win).

    Insofar as Bama beating ND, I see it if Bama can dominate with its running game. If not it will be low scoring. I’m probably out of the loop, but I think Georgia with Murray would more easily beat the Irish. Will seem strange when the oddsmakers will favor the number 2 team over the number 1. Ah, the power of the undefeated record.

    • GonzoHog

      Dominant defenses go hand in hand with power running games. Even when Miami, with their explosive offenses (passing) back in the day, they still had very good running games.
      I’ve never seen a wide open passing attack win a NC. I think this is partly due to defenses staying fresh.
      When offenses rely on mostly passing, they either score quikly or quikly go 3 & out.
      Beilema’s offensive and defensive approach should work just as effectively as Pretrino’s in the long run.
      It remains to be seen whether or not it will be more effective in the SEC.

  • Voice of Reason

    What are ya’ll smokin? Who says Wisconsin’s offense isn’t exciting? They averaged 35 points per game this year and 44 points per game last year. That’s right. But the stat I like better? Their defense only gave up 19 points per game the past 2 years.
    Personally, I think a great run is more exciting than a pass play. Which would you rather see, a running back run for 250 yards per game and 4 touchdowns, or throwing for 300 yards and 4 touchdowns? I don’t care either way.
    It’s just as fun for me watching folks run over each other than a guy getting wide open for a pass. But I’m wierd like that.

  • Voice of Reason

    And by the way, the teams that win the championships play great defense. Sure, A&M and Ole Miss were able to keep up with the big boys for a while. But the difference in those games was a defensive stop. LSU could get a stop when Ole Miss couldn’t. Bama had a rare defensive breakdown, while the A&M defense played the game of their season.
    Petrino and Chip Kelly have proven that you can’t win championships without a strong defense. Arkansas led the SEC in total offense for a few years under BP. That didn’t get us a championship.
    I think Notre Dame is going to get destroyed. I’ll bet that Notre Dame doesn’t cross the 50, similar to last year.

  • Carolina Hog

    Off topic, but did Darius Winston finish out the season? Never heard his name.

  • Defense Wins Championships

    Even Florida with Myers were successful because they could run and play great defense. And yes they could pass. They had excellennt RBs and could pop one on the ground.