If all goes well for Nebraska, Bo Pelini is Mike Gundy.
Let me explain.
The future of Nebraska football continues to be a hot button — if you expect me to ignore it, you may want to scroll down to the nuggets on Doug McDermott and Wil Myers. The Husker discussion boils down to this: Can Bo get over the hump?
There are dozens of ways to analyze the situation. Here’s perhaps a new one: I looked at the past decade of college football. I wanted to see how often a coach breaks through after five years; Pelini enters year six in 2013. Is it common? Or do the elite coaches typically thrive sooner?
Here’s what I found:
Since 2003, these are the BCS-level coaches who waited at least six years (at their respective schools) to win a first conference title.
– 2011: Mike Gundy, seventh year at Oklahoma State
– ‘06: Jim Grobe, sixth year at Wake Forest
– ‘05: Mack Brown, eighth year at Texas
– ’04: Tommy Tuberville, sixth year at Auburn
– ’03: Bill Snyder, 15th year at Kansas State
(Note: I didn’t even bother looking at the Big East. Its teams play a seven-game conference schedule and they don’t have a title game. This year, there was a four-way tie for first. The previous two years, three teams tied. It’s a mess.)
But conference titles aren’t the only way to measure success — for instance, Brown and Snyder both contended for national titles before winning a conference title. So let’s look at it a different way.
Since 2002 (we go back one more year because the final polls aren’t complete), how many coaches — BCS or non-BCS — waited at least six years for a Top-10 finish?
– 2011: Steve Spurrier, seventh year at South Carolina
– ’10: Mike Gundy, sixth year at Oklahoma State
– ‘07: Gary Pinkel, seventh year at Missouri
– ’07: Mark Mangino, sixth year at Kansas
– ’04: Tommy Tuberville, sixth year at Auburn
That’s eight total coaches in the two categories, each with various track records. We addressed why Brown and Snyder don’t fit the Pelini model. Neither does Spurrier. He took a long time to succeed at South Carolina — he had five or six losses each of his first six years — but he owns a national championship ring. No one doubted his ability.
Grobe, Mangino and Pinkel took advantage of weak divisions/conferences. They were shooting stars. Pinkel had a slightly longer stay near the top, but even he only had one Top-15 finish.
That leaves Tuberville and Gundy. Each has notable similarities and differences to Pelini.
Tuberville came to Auburn in 1999 after four mediocre years at Mississippi. He made the SEC championship game in 2000, but couldn’t do better than four losses in a season.
Things got so tense that during 2003, an 8-5 campaign, Auburn’s administration contacted Bobby Petrino to gauge his interest in replacing Tuberville. The media reported it, creating one of the most awkward coaching situations you’ll ever see.
Tuberville kept his job and, the next year, Auburn came out of nowhere and went undefeated. It missed the BCS championship game — imagine that happening to an SEC team now! — but finished 13-0.
Tuberville had Top-15 finishes the next three years, then went 5-7 in 2008 and resigned. In hindsight, you could argue he was simply a better version of Pinkel.
Then there’s Gundy, who’s only four months older than Bo. He had never been a head coach when he took over for Les Miles in 2005. He went 4-7 his first year. Then he had a pair of 7-6 seasons, the second of which included his infamous YouTube moment — “I’m a man! I’m 40!”
Through three years, Gundy had an 18-19 record, compared to Pelini’s 29-12.
But Gundy progressed with back-to-back 9-4 seasons. Finally, in year six, he broke through with an 11-2 season. The Cowboys, despite a regular-season loss to Pelini’s Huskers, finished 10th in the coaches poll.
The next year, 2011, Gundy did even better, making a run at the BCS title game, finishing 12-1 and third in the polls. (He’s only 7-5 in 2012, but was courted intensely by Arkansas and Tennessee the last few weeks).
What does it all mean?
Occasionally, unproven head coaches do figure it out after five years. But when they do, they typically rise briefly, then fall back to the pack.
Elite head coaches, on the other hand, almost always prove it early. Look at when the most successful coaches of the past decade had their first Top-10 finish (as a BCS-level head coach):
Bret Bielema: 1st year
Urban Meyer: 2nd year
Jim Tressel: 2nd year
Pete Carroll: 2nd year
Chip Kelly: 2nd year
Bob Stoops: 2nd year
Mark Richt: 2nd year
Brian Kelly: 3rd year
Jeff Tedford had his lone Top-10 finish in year three at Cal. Jim Harbaugh, who took over a 1-11 team at Stanford, went 12-1 in year four. Bobby Petrino went 11-2 in year four at Arkansas. Ditto for Kirk Ferentz at Iowa.
Year five delivered a Top-10 season for Rich Rodriguez and West Virginia, and for Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio.
The obvious missing names are Nick Saban and Les Miles. Both struggled initially in middle-of-the-road BCS jobs before taking better BCS jobs. Saban left Michigan State after five years and moved LSU into the Top-10 his second season in Baton Rouge. His successor, Miles, left Oklahoma State after four years and immediately ran off three Top-10 seasons.
Pelini, who’s won 48 games and played in three conference championship games, may indeed break through after five years at Nebraska.
But if he does, he’ll be breaking the mold.
>> In his Sunday column, Tom Shatel made the popular comparison between Bo Pelini’s early years and Tom Osborne’s early years.
More specifically, he drew a parallel between the disappointment of Pelini’s losses to the disappointment of Osborne’s Oklahoma losses.
Tom acknowledged one difference — the margins of defeat. Let me highlight the more critical difference, a piece of this discussion too often overlooked.
In Osborne’s 12 losses to OU, these were the Sooners’ AP rankings at kickoff — 3, 1, 7, 8, 3, 4, 8, 9, 4, 5, 3, 2.
Last Saturday night, the sixth-best team in the Big Ten beat Nebraska 70-31. And even after doing so, Wisconsin still wasn’t ranked in the AP poll.
Read that paragraph again.
Yes, Sooner Magic ruined many a good Thanksgiving dinner. But time after time in the 70s and 80s, Osborne’s teams were one or two plays from beating the best program in the country.
The equivalent of Switzer’s Oklahoma in today’s college football is Saban’s Alabama. How would the last five Nebraska teams match up against the Crimson Tide?
The answer to that question is why we ought to retire all Pelini-Osborne comparisons immediately.
>> Remember Wil Myers, the minor league player of the year who bombed balls onto the berms at Werner Park last summer? He’ll never take an at-bat for the Kansas City Royals. Dayton Moore traded him for James Shields.
Yes, the Royals desperately needed a starting pitcher. But you don’t give up six cheap years of Wil Myers for two years (at $10.5 million per) of James Shields, who, by the way, has a career road ERA of 4.54. To make matters worse, Moore threw in Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi, two of Kansas City’s best pitching prospects; K.C. also got Wade Davis.
I think the Royals will regret this move, especially if they don’t win the division in 2013 or ’14. It’s almost like Moore was told, “If you don’t make the postseason by October 2014, you’re fired.” So Moore decided this was his only option.
The better option was to sign a $10-15 million pitcher. If he’s not quite Shields, fine. But at least you’re not selling the farm for only two shots at glory. Besides, who’s to say the difference between Myers and Jeff Francoeur in ‘13 and ‘14 doesn’t exceed the difference between Shields and a free agent starter?
>> After a relatively slow start, Doug McDermott is playing like a first-team All-American. He’s hit 17 of his last 24 attempts from 3-point range! As good as Doug is on the block, sharpshooting is why an NBA team will draft him in the first round.
>> In the past three months, Adrian Peterson has taken a giant step in becoming one of the greatest running backs of all-time. Wow. He’s on pace for almost 2,000 yards less than a year after he tore his ACL and MCL. You thought Bo Jackson looked good on “30 for 30” Saturday night? AP is the running back Bo could’ve been.
>> I’ve been a Redskins fan for more than 25 years. The past 20, there hasn’t been anything to cheer about. Until this year. After the Monday Night Football win over the Giants, I bought an RG3 T-shirt on the Internet. It showed up in the mailbox Friday. Two days later, this happened. I feel like I put a Madden jinx on him.
>> The New York Times looks back at Alabama-Notre Dame, 1973. It was Ara v. Bear, North v. South, Catholic v. Baptist, a duel billed as “the game of the century.” Yes, Husker fans, that label appears in the article.
>> Frank the Tank, a Big Ten-based blogger obsessed with conference realignment (like me!), makes a case for Jim Delany adding Florida State. It makes a lot of sense, but I gotta think the culture gap would be too hard to bridge.
>> Here’s ESPN.com’s All-Big Ten team. Kenny Bell, Spencer Long, Ciante Evans and Daimion Stafford are first team.
>> Sports Illustrated’s Thayer Evans didn’t put Johnny Manziel on his Heisman ballot because, as Evans explained, Manziel has pending criminal charges related to a fight last summer. It wouldn’t sound like such a random reason except that Evans last year voted Tyrann Mathieu second.
>> A Louisville basketball beat writer apparently was recording Rick Pitino’s press conference with his iPhone. One problem: the phone rang. What did Pitino do? He answered it!
>> Finally, the best YouTube video of the weekend is undoubtedly the worst free-throw attempt you’ve ever seen.