Washington State on Right Track Under Coach Leach

Mike Leach
WSU Head Football Coach Mike Leach

Fire the coach!  This happens at most other colleges, but not at Wazzu!  After an ugly home loss in their season opening game, many so-called loyal Cougs are calling for the firing of Washington State University Head Football Coach Mike Leach.  Just starting out in his 4th season at WSU, Leach 12-26, a record that has many fans unhappy and feeling that there should be more wins by now.  One has to wonder, who would these people want to replace him with?  What has happened to the Coug fans whose pride for the Palouse and WAZZU is far more passionate than we see at any other school in the nation?

Saturday, September 5, 2015, in rainy weather, at Martin Stadium, the Washington State Cougars,and FBS school of the PAC-12 Conference lost to Portland State University,an FCS team, of the Big Sky Conference.  Does this signal the end of Mike Leach’s coaching days at WSU?  Not at all.  Is this season over after just one  game?  Not even close.  Is losing to an opponent from a smaller conference humiliating? It stings, but there is much more parity in NCAA Div-1 Football than ever before and these types of upsets, when FCS teams are able to topple FBS opponents, seem to be happening much more often.

Coach Leach has elevated the program to a place where they can now win any game they play.  Obviously they need to actually do more of this and earn more victories, but the overall process is working and they continue to improve.  Last September, the Cougs fell to Oregon, 31-38, one score away from defeating the Ducks!  The following weekend, WSU beat Utah, and in November the Cougs knocked off Oregon State, and both PAC-12  wins were on the road. They also suffered tragic losses in a 3-9 season, but they were a team that could put together some very good games.  In 2013, Washington State won 6 games and went to their first bowl game since 2003 and had some big wins, including a 10-7 victory over then #25 USC in early September, and wins over Cal, Arizona and Utah.

The Cougars should have rolled over Portland State, but the pass oriented offense had a difficult day in the rainy weather and after a 10-0 lead in they fell to a senior-dominated, physical Portland State team. The fact that WSU had not lost to a Big Sky Conference team in 60 years may be true, but it probably isn’t as bad as it sounds. The playing field in college football is much more level today than in past decades. This is due to NCAA limits on the number of scholarships football programs may grant to players.  The Texas Longhorns used to give out over 120 football scholarships and a coach was once asked if that was fair to some players who may never play in any games with so many players competing for positions . He said something like, “certain players with scholarships may not ever play for us on a game, but we sure as hell won’t have to play against him.”

In 1973, the NCAA limited college football programs to 105 scholarships each. This number was reduced to 95 scholarships in 1978 and reduced even further to 85 in 1992, where it remains today.  Since the mid 1990’s, some traditional “powerhouse” football programs have suffered a significant decline in success while many smaller schools, from smaller conferences, have become very successful . Winning is the result of many factors, but the NCAA rule limiting football programs to 85 scholarships has made an obvious and dramatic impact.

The PAC-12 also has tougher entrance requirements, and  players who are not able to get into PAC-12 institutions can sometimes find a way into schools from smaller conferences. Beyond that, the Big Sky Conference has a rich history of winning and a ton of pride.  On August 25th, the University of Montana beat defending FCS Champions, North Dakota State, 38-35, showing how tough the Big Sky Conference can be.  Portland State finished last season 3-9, which led to the firing of their head coach and allowed offensive coordinator Bruce Barnum a chance to take the reins.  To say he had a big win in his first game as head coach would be an understatement.

I’m not making excuses for Washington State’s loss to Portland State, but I’m not sure it is accurate to call it the “worst loss in WSU history”, and I don’t think it is productive to or say that Coach Leach should be fired.  Washington State hired a great coach in Mike Leach and things are on the upswing, lets not give up on him now.  He has raised the overall team grades and the wins are coming, He has a proven track record and if he is not able to win at WSU it could show that the problems complex and the solution is much more complicated than simply replacing the head coach!

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Brawl of the Wild- Montana and Montana State battle for Great Divide Trophy

One of the oldest and most intense rivalries in college football.
One of the oldest and most intense rivalries in college football.
University of Montana, Missoula
University of Montana, Missoula

The Montana–Montana State football rivalry is an annual college football rivalry game between the University of Montana Grizzlies and the Montana State University Bobcats. Primarily known as Cat-Griz, it is also referred to as Griz-Cat and the Brawl of the Wild.  The winner receives the Great Divide Trophy.  Source: Wikipedia

This intense rivalry is over 100 years old and the University of Montana leads overall 70-37-5 (.647) The first game between the two teams was played in  Missoula, Montana, in 1897. Montana beat Montana State 18-6 to take first lead in the series.  Montana won the first 3 in a row, but Montana State finally got their first win in 1899, winning 6-0 in Missoula. See results from each game in the history of the rivalry: The Brawl, year by year

What is so special about this game?  Plenty: Cat-Griz rivalry among oldest in college football

http://www.abcfoxmontana.com/story/27422741/cats-and-griz-ready-for-114th-brawl-of-the-wild

Other great college football rivalry games: http://bloguin.com/crystalballrun/2013-articles/ten-places-college-gameday-needs-to-visit.html

Volcano Stadium

Volcano Stadium in Guadalajara
Click on the image above for a slideshow of the Volcano Stadium

A stadium with grass sloping up the sides, which is used as a park when the stadium is not hosting an event.  Cars are parked under the stadium and it is all environmentally friendly.  Where?  Guadalajara, Mexico!

 

The city of Guadalajara has unveiled a volcano-like soccer stadium that is veritably exploding with green features. Created for the popular Chivas team by French architects Jean-Marie Massaud and Daniel Pouzet, the stadium features a volcano-evoking exterior that captures rainwater and processes it through wetlands for use in watering the pitch. All lighting is energy efficient, and the parking garage features natural ventilation.

The stadium, which hosted its first match last year, consists of a white membrane — intended to look like a cloud hovering atop the volcano — and grassy sloped sides. It seats 45,000 and tucks away 8,500 parking spaces under the hillside, which will be open as public parkland when there’s no match on. Link

Rivalry Weekend in Pac-12

Rivalry Weekend: Each year in late November, rivalry weekend brings upsets, bragging rights, huge crowds, office jokes, family feuds and much, much more.  Here are some of the games that make the Pac-12 special:

The Apple Cup- The Apple Cup is the trophy awarded to the winner of an American college football rivalry game played annually by the teams of the two largest public universities in the U.S. state of Washington: the University of Washington (UW) Huskies and the Washington State University (WSU) Cougars. More

The Civil War-  an American college football rivalry game played annually by the Oregon Ducks football team of the University of Oregon and Oregon State Beavers football team of Oregon State University. First played in 1894, it is the seventh most played college football rivalry game in the United States. MORE

The Territorial Cup- The Arizona–Arizona State football rivalry, sometimes known as the Duel in the Desert, is a college football rivalry between the University of Arizona Wildcats and the Arizona State University Sun Devils. The winner receives the Territorial Cup, the oldest trophy in college football. The two schools first played in 1899, and the game now continues annually as a Pacific-12 Conference match-up. It is part of the wider Arizona–Arizona State rivalry, which crosses all sports.  More

Territorial: The History of the Duel in the Desert

UCLA–USC Rivalry- The UCLA–USC rivalry is the American college rivalry between the UCLA Bruins sports teams of the University of California, Los Angeles and USC Trojans sports teams of the University of Southern California.
Both universities are located in Los Angeles. The rivalry between the two is among the more unusual in NCAA Division I sports because the campuses are only 12 miles (19 km) apart, and both are located within the same city. The close proximity of both alumni and students, and the likelihood of encountering each other and interacting on a daily basis make this one of the most intense college rivalries in the United States. MORE

The Big Game-  The Big Game is an American college football rivalry game played by the California Golden Bears football team of the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford Cardinal football team of Stanford University. It is typically played in late November or early December and the rivalry. First played in 1892, it is the ninth most played college football rivalry game in the United States.  MORE

The Play-  The Play refers to a last-second kickoff return during a college football game between the University of California Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday, November 20, 1982. Given the circumstances and rivalry, the wild game that preceded it, the very unusual way in which The Play unfolded, and its lingering aftermath on players and fans, it is recognized as one of the most memorable plays in college football history and among the most memorable in American sports.  More on The Play   Video of “The Play” 

Coaches should study and learn from “The Coach Who Never Punts”

I posted about this already, a few posts back.  However, it came up in the media again and it is worth revisiting.  A fascinating concept.  The numbers are there, major college football coaches punt too much and take a very conservative approach, even though they might coach a wide-open offensive game.  Job security seems to big too much of a deterrent for coaches to use all 4 downs, and  instead stay with the “status quo” and use  “3 downs and punt.”

Some gutsy coaches will take advantage of this strange mindset and reap the rewards in the form of first downs, scoring and ultimately in wins.  It is just a matter of time.  Who would have thought the game would turn into such a passing frenzy with points adding up so fast that even the powerhouse programs who dominated college football for decades had to abandon their consistent but reliable ground game in order to keep up?  We may see a similar morph and coaches will reluctantly abandon their old ways of giving the ball back to the opponent one down too early.  Maybe I will put together a resume and just apply as the “punting coach” or at least have a consulting firm persuading coaches to use all four downs they are allowed under the rules of football.

As it turns out, going for it on fourth and one from anywhere on the field makes statistical sense. Teams convert a fourth and one — which includes situations ranging from fourth-and-inches to fourth-and-a-yard-and-a-half — around 74 percent of the time.  Football Statistics Suggest Teams Should Go For It On Fourth Down

 

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Taxes on Visiting Professional Athletes and Entertainers

Professional athletes must pay taxes in many of the cities and states in which they play road games, which can create a tax preparation nightmare.  Article – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

…nonresident athlete taxes — seldom collected 20 years ago — are now significant sources of revenue for municipalities and states and can cause serious headaches for entertainers, athletes and accountants at tax time.

Any employee who travels with the team, which includes coaches, broadcasters, equipment managers and scouts, is subject to the same tax requirements.

Of the 24 states that house professional sports teams, 20 collect income tax on their home and visiting teams. And nearly a dozen cities, including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Cincinnati, impose “jock taxes” and fees on teams and players to address budget shortfalls and to help pay for arenas and stadiums built with the taxpayers’ wallet.

Athletes, entertainers and support staff receive dozens of W-2s in the mail each year, and the stack of tax returns for dozens of states is as thick as a phone book.

And they continue to punt!

It is amazing that this has not been more of an issue and a topic of intense and widespread discussion.  Teams at every level of football continue to punt on 4th down when the numbers show that in most situations, coaches should run a play instead of punting on 4th down. Punting should be a rare event, a unique novelty, talked about but seldom seen. It will be interesting to look back at this conservative approach to the offensive game, even in programs running wide-open, offenses.  If high-scoring, yard-gobbling teams commonly punt, one can only wonder about the wasted opportunities. How much better could teams have been with logical and open-minded coaching?

Football coaches have been trained to punt since they learned the game.  As players and as assistant coaches, punting was called almost automatically on 4th down with some rare exceptions.  This way of playing is ingrained in coaches minds and nobody questions or argues when the punting team is sent to the field to use their remaining play of the series and kick the ball back to the other team.  Giving that team a first down and a chance to score. (That is if the other team is stopped before returning the punt for a touchdown, or a yardage gain which essentially cancels out the reason for punting in the first place.)  It is much safer for coaches to punt, and the risk-reward payout leans toward punting, thereby eliminating many scoring opportunities and applying the brakes to offensive production.  They could play that fourth down and increase their chances of scoring and winning the game, and giving the fans a more exciting, better coached game. This could have a positive mental impact on their team and cold build confidence and morale.  It could also make a statement to opposing teams and help win the psychological battle always present in any athletic event. However,the ridicule coaches risk facing if they fail or fall short of earning a first down can be damaging to their reputations and job safety, and possibly their head coaching careers.  If they were able to see what would happen if they changed their mindset and played aggressive football, the call would be almost automatic. “Go for it!”

Hire me as part of any coaching staff.  I can guarantee any team will gain more yards, score more points and probably win more games if they hire me as their 4th Down Assistant Coach.  On any 4th down situation, I make the call.  Every single time I wave off the punting team and give the team and the fans what they want, an opportunity to gain yards, score and win games! If it makes no sense to punt, why do coaches continue to almost unanimously choose punting over getting another chance to earn a first down, gain yards, and/or score?  Coaches and players are entrenched in the game and often in the position and small portion of the game for which they are responsible. Can they get a view of the entire game from their super-focused situation?  How many players or even coaches have detailed and extensive knowledge of the entire game?  Not many.  There is so much to learn about each specific facet of the game, unless the opportunity presents itself or someone is forced into it, they probably don’t have the time, energy or most important of all, the passion to care about other positions, duties and responsibilities beyond the one in which they are immersed.

Game changer Looking at it one way, not punting opens up one more down and therefore one more chance for a team to earn a first down.  A team could also score while they earn that first down. However, using all four downs to score does much more than allow one more opportunity to convert.  Once players (and players collectively playing as a team) know they have four downs, they have a new way of looking at each down.  Conversely, defenses also aware that a team will strike at them with all four opportunities, need to adjust and react to this new offensive approach.  In this era of punt-mania, the teams choosing to eliminate punting will face defenses with no experience defending this 4-stike attack and will inevitably make mistakes.  This opens up scoring chances and games as these defenses lose confidence and the offense builds even more momentum.

Eliminating punting changes the individual characteristics of each of four downs. First down becomes a new type of down never seen in organized football. This is a play which is guaranteed to be followed by three punt-free plays. (Unless there is a score or a turnover, running out of time, etc…)  Sure, this happens when teams have 1st and goal, or 1st and 10 inside 30 yards of their target end zone, but not when a team is in their own territory with a huge field full of opportunity spread out in front of them.  Even in the rare situation where teams will play all four downs without punting, the entire situation is different since these teams normally punt and have no experience and have not developed the new mind-set and philosophy and all the positive attributes that come with this new approach.  This is all new territory…. Second downs are called and played with far less pressure and allow wide-open plays, similar to traditional first downs.  Third down doesn’t have the coin-toss type of drama, forcing fans to cross their fingers and pray for a first down and avoid yet another series ending with the punting team jogging on to the field to punt the ball, and give up another opportunity for the offense to play (players have worked hard year round to prepare for very limited opportunities and they end up giving many away, one for sure each time the punting team takes the field.)

Failing to earn first downs can be tough on morale.  Choosing to never punt should increase the number of first downs earned and thereby lessen this loss of morale experienced by failed 3rd downs.  The no-punt offense can boost confidence and excitement when first downs are earned as a result of the increased number of downs, which also make more big plays possible. This positive momentum is also affected simply by experiencing the new dynamics of this approach, which can confuse, exhaust and frustrate defenses which are accustomed to the traditional three-downs and out (punt) system.  We can all visualize a punting team jogging onto the field, heads hanging a little bit, as they are about to attempt to recoup 30 or 40 yards of field position after the offense just failed to score.  They have little chance to score with this play and this is another opportunity squandered.  Why run plays that don’t give a team a chance to score?  The impact on a team’s fan base will be significant.  Those coaches who are the first to successfully execute a punt-less approach will not only see a rise in offensive production, scores and wins, but will also attract attention from all levels and formats of the media. Fans will respond with enthusiasm and teams will experience increased season tickets sales. College programs will see a rise in donations and a variety of support for the football program, the athletic program and the school.

References

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=40

“The average punt in high school nets you 30 yards, but we convert around half our fourth downs, so it doesn’t make sense to give up the ball,” Kelley says. “Besides, if your offense knows it has four downs instead of three, it totally changes the game. I don’t believe in punting and really can’t ever see doing it again.” Kevin Kelley, head coach of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark.  Read More:   Just Go For It! A coach’s case for kicking conventional wisdom to the curb

The punt seems to contradict football’s essence, as coaches voluntarily relinquish the ball even though they have at least one more chance to move it forward. “If everyone agrees out of fear or ignorance to sort of play ultraconservative, nobody really has an advantage,” Burke said. “There’s no development, no evolution. Coaches have strategies that are generations behind where the sport really is. It’s going to take someone to stick their neck out.”  Read more at NY Times-Punting Less Can Be Rewarding but Coaches Aren’t Risking Jobs on It

New Yorker Magazine piece makes a case against punting on 4th down:  It is not news that we often act against our own interest. Human nature yanks us in so many ways as to make rational decision-making almost impossible. Parents give their teen-agers cars and cell phones. Much of the middle class votes Republican. And N.F.L. head coaches continue to punt the ball on fourth down. A paper by David Romer (PDF), a professor of political economy at the University of California at Berkeley, has become “the gospel for the antipunting faction.” Romer’s determination, after studying punt data from 1998 to 2004, was that teams should never punt when facing fourth down with less than four yards to go for the first, regardless of where they are on the field. Other analysis has suggested that teams should never punt from inside their opponent’s forty-yard line. As a corollary, they should always go for a touchdown, rather than a field goal, from inside the five-yard line.

The archetype for non-punting football has become a high-school team in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Pulaski Academy Bruins do not return punts (fumbles and penalties outweigh big returns, they say), they perform onside kicks after almost every score, and they never, ever punt. Last season, they went undefeated and won the state title.  Read more- THE CASE AGAINST PUNTING

Here is an example of a coach who is out of punters but keeps punting anyway:   Raiders – Chargers game(9/11/12) gave one team a unique opportunity to implement the no-punt strategy.  With the Raiders’ long-snapper hurt, the Raiders coach had a much less risk-averse reason to try always going for it on fourth down. Especially after the first punt was blown and the punter tackled with the ball, who could blame the coach for going for it on fourth every time? Alas, he proceeded to attempt more punts, and three in a row were blocked or otherwise blown.   (Freakonomics.com)

In this post I’ll explain, as clearly and simply as possible, why the evidence points to a more aggressive attack on 4th down.”  The 4th Down Study – Part 1

This article has stats and even a calculator to help make decisions based n statistical data:  Are NFL Teams Making a Mistake by Punting on 4th Down? When Economists Talk, Pulaski Academy Listens

  • Don’t punt on the opponent’s side of the field.
  • Really consider going for it on 4th down after crossing your own 40.
  • Field goals only make sense if there are more than 5 yards to go and you are between the 10 and 30 yard lines.
  • If you’re in opponent territory and these two criteria aren’t true, you should be going for it.   Fourth Down Decisions: Never Punt With Tebow