Thursday, January 13, 2011

Brady Hoke: By the numbers

Yesterday, I probably wasn't giving a fair shake to Brady Hoke in the wake of his coach speak introductory press conference. More appropriately, Hoke seemed like a good guy that was eager to get started rebuilding the program and was faced with the most mundane, obnoxious ordeal college head coaches experience: answering questions for local newspaper quotes. My general displeasure with his hiring has not subsided, though, and a fair, objective look at the past performances of his teams was in order.

The following charts are the national statistical rankings Hoke's various teams have achieved. In parenthesis are the raw data: YPG, PPG, turnover margin, and the collective record of their opponents, respectively. We'll look at each side of the ball individually.

Team Record Rushing Def Passing Def Pass Eff Def Scoring Def Def FEI Turnovers Strength of Schedule
Ball St. '03 4-8 98th (197.6) 24th (189.50) 90th 92nd (32.2)
86th (-5) 32nd (64-53)
Ball St. '04 2-9 100th (197.4) 106th (260.64) 117th 109th (36.8)
29th (+5) 99th (49-61)
Ball St. '05 4-7 105th (202.3) 95th (256.64) 110th 112th (37.8)
44th (+3) 32nd (63-49)
Ball St. '06 5-7 103rd (175.7) 115th (257.83) 100th 83rd (25.8)
51st (+1) 95th (56-68)
Ball St. '07 7-6 106th (204.3) 58th (228.00) 90th 68th (28.3) 93rd 4th (+17) 92nd (61-74)
Ball St. '08 12-1 84th (163.00) 55th (205.21) 38th 29th (20.50) 47th 38th (+5) 109th (59-80)
SDSU '09 4-8 85th (165.50) 53rd (216.50) 62nd 98th (30.50) 93rd 111th (-10) 79th (61-62)
SDSU '10 9-4 57th (148.77) 39th (205.00) 21st 35th (22.08) 45th 86th (-6) 67th (77-85)

We'll start with defense because that's supposedly Hoke's specialty. What we quickly realize that, no, it's not. Though Hoke has a reputation for being a defensive-minded guy--one of Dave Brandon's biggest selling points for him--Hoke's defenses have consistently hovered anywhere between middle-of-the-road and completely terrible. The early returns from his head coaching jaunts are understandably poor: he was taking over two historically bad programs and had lots of building to do. What's most disturbing is Ball State's continued incompetence even four and five years into Hoke's tenure.

Despite weak competition most years, Hoke's defenses only cracked the top 100 in rushing defense twice in his six years. Their passing defense was only marginally better in terms of YPG, but their passing efficiency defense tells a different story: team's didn't have to pass the ball because of a porous run defense, but when opponents did, they were successful.

The general takeaway here is that Hoke's defenses are not something to build your team on. Despite their ability to create turnovers (+17 in 2007!), his defenses do nothing exceptionally and, on average, are near the worst in the country. Any attempt to chalk this up to strong competition is easily dismissed when you look at their strength of schedule (which also hovered around the weakest in the country).

There are encouraging data points here though. For one, the Ball State team had 13 less turnovers gained in 2008 as they did in 2007, and despite that, were able to improve in almost every statistical category. This implies genuine improvement. Then again, their strength of schedule dipped significant between those two years and saw the easiest schedule of Hoke's career. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, however, and argue that his defense likely improved. Even still, they were hovering around the middle of the NCAA in most categories.

The other encouraging point of note is that the turnaround at San Diego State appears to be for real (much more about this later). With arguably the same strength of schedule from his first to second year, Hoke and defensive coordinator Rocky Long were able to make significant improvements in all relevant categories. Much like players can improve, so too can coaches. Optimism and hope for this regime can be found in what appears to be legitimate improvement by Hoke's defenses as his coaching career continued.

Team Record Rushing Passing Pass Eff Scoring Off FEI Turnovers Strength of Schedule
Ball St. '03 4-8 100th (114.83) 48th (227.5) 62nd 88th (21.75) 86th (-5) 32nd (64-53)
Ball St. '04 2-9 95th (114.27) 64th (209.0) 62nd 98th (20.45) 29th (+5) 99th (49-61)
Ball St. '05 4-7 98th (110.00) 93rd (189.0) 60th 93rd (21.18) 44th (+3) 32nd (63-49)
Ball St. '06 5-7 106th (91.92) 16th (259.3) 15th 39th (27.17) 51st (+1) 95th (56-68)
Ball St. '07 7-6 61st (148.92) 22nd (284.9) 24th 39th (31.46) 78th 4th (+17) 92nd (61-74)
Ball St. '08 12-1 31st (184.50) 24th (258.00) 12th 5th (34.93) 29th 38th (+5) 109th (59-80)
SDSU '09 4-8 116th (78.33) 30th (263.58) 73rd 85th (23.33) 93rd 111th (-10) 79th (61-62)
SDSU '10 9-4 48th (161.31) 12th (295.38) 20th 20th (35.00) 12th 86th (-6) 67th (77-85)

Just as surprising as Hoke's teams underachieving on defense is a competent-to-great offense, fronted primarily by a top-25 passing attack. In 2006, Stan Parrish replaced Ed Stults as the offensive coordinator and the passing offense never looked back. In Parrish's first year as the OC, the offense spiked significantly in production: 93rd to 16th in passing yards per game, 60th to 15th in passing efficiency, and 93rd to 39th in scoring offense. The running game was still puttering around in the bottom of the NCAA, but if your passing game is as effective as Ball State's appeared to be, the run game could be an afterthought. And eventually, even the rushing game was molded into something functional, presumably because opposing defenses were overcompensating for the pass.

Parrish did have the benefit of coordinating against one of the weakest schedule strengths for three straight years, but his consistency actually speaks to the schemes and his coaching ability. We know what the opposition was and we know what the results were. Parrish, however, didn't follow Hoke to San Diego State, but was named the head coach of Ball State, where he promptly ran the program into the ground. (This is another encouraging sign for Hoke's ability, though I don't know what the graduation rate was like when Hoke left.)

At SDSU, Hoke hired long-time offensive coordinator Al Borges. Borges runs a pass-first pro-style system which was adequately dissected by MGoBlog yesterday. Having not seen too much San Diego State game film (or knowing much about Borges' early career), I can't comment a ton on his style, personnel, or any progress they've made, but like the defensive performance at SDSU, the improvement through Hoke's two years points to a legitimate turnaround. And here, more than on the other side of the ball, the Aztecs made significant leaps in almost all categories against comparable competition. Though Hoke's offense was nowhere near the juggernaut that Rodriguez created in the last three years, there's a very real potential (especially with so many returning starters) that the offense remains in the top 25 next year. Much of that probably depends on the utilization of Denard or a significant talent leap by Devin Gardner.

What does it mean?
It means that Hoke is not quite who we thought he was with regards to his defensive acumen or his resume--some good, some bad. Only once did a Hoke team make a significant leap in the win column (the 12-1 season in 2008), and that was a year in which they had the 109th most difficult schedule; in other words, if that team hadn't succeeded, it would've looked disastrous. Then again, Hoke did craft a team that was able to take advantage of a weak schedule and did exactly what they were supposed to do. It's hard to discredit the coach or team for that.

The most encouraging aspect of Hoke's resume is what appears to be real growth by his teams in the last four years. Though not able to bring his teams into the national spotlight, it's tough to look at the numbers and not be at least slightly impressed with the improvements Ball State and SDSU made.

On the more pessimistic side of things, Hoke's inability to produce a truly elite defense is troublesome as is the continued failings of Ball State during Hoke's early career. Not only is he known primarily as a defensive coach, but we can reasonably expect that the offense will take a step back next year. If Hoke isn't able to significantly improve a moribund defense, Michigan could very realistically win less games in 2011 than they did in 2010. But with the depth that Rodriguez has created on the defensive side of the ball, barring attrition, that is probably unlikely.

In the end, Hoke is probably exactly what we've come to believe: a Lloyd Carr clone that will be able to rebuild the team to a point where it's head coaching vacancy isn't being turned down by people that haven't even been offered the job. It's still difficult to see the upside of Hoke, at least in regards to national championships and being an elite program, but he seems like a guy that is motivated, obviously loves the university, and has what appears to be a recent track record of improving downtrodden teams.


Jivas said...

I give Hoke credit for hiring to "name" coordinators at San Diego State - particularly for that level of school. I will be *very* interested to see who he hires as our DC ... hopefully we can lure a prime candidate there (to the extent any are still available) and we can see Dave Brandon's talk of increasing coaching pay actually come to fruition.

Chris Gaerig said...

Yeah, Hoke's DC hire might be the make or break moment. Randy Shannon is floating out there jobless. If Michigan can lure him in (and is willing to shell out cash for him), that would be a serious coup.

Jivas said...


Like you (and Brian @MGoBlog) I look at this hire objectively and I'm not a fan. But ... *if* we can attract quality assistants (starting with a prime DC), and *if* the offense ultimately (i.e. post-Denard) shows more of a passing lean than Lloyd's offenses did (as evidenced by Hoke's recent teams, above), I think our upside may be higher than the tail end of Lloyd's tenure.

I realize this is grasping at some straws, but given that the vast majority of the fanbase has been Hoke-notized and is demanding blind optimism, there may be value in stating at least one realistic route whereby this hiring can work.

Chris Gaerig said...

Well, returning to late-era Carr would be a scenario where people would argue that this hire "worked". My concern is reaching a higher level, though, and I still can't find any evidence that Hoke can get us there. That doesn't mean he's a bad coach, necessarily, I just believe that in the current college football landscape, if you're not a schematic guru of some nature, you're probably going to have difficulty winning national championships. Carr's success plummeted as college football evolved because Carr was never much of a schemer. But this is why Florida (Meyer), Auburn (Malzahn), and Alabama (Saban) have won national titles lately.

After working through all of this data, I feel better about Hoke. But I'm still not sold that he has a very high ceiling.

Randy said...

Good write up Chris. I would be interested in a break down of Hokes defensive line while he was at Michigan with comparable talent to what he "should" be able to recruit now as our head coach. Sacks, Rushing Yards per game,etc etc. After digesting the information you provided here I can conclude a few things #1 Hoke was not ready no experienced enough to be a HC when he was hired at Ball State #2 he embraced the challenge, learned on the job and realized the importance of surrounding himself with knowledgeable coordinators to learn from. #3 Because he has shown that he is learning on the job, his ceiling is incredibly difficult to predict, good bad or indifferent. #4 He was obviously not the most accomplished, polished or "sure-thing" hire that we could have made and skepticism is warranted but not any more warranted than optimism. #5 To me this hire is going to boil down to 2 things. First is recruiting, can he recruit? Tied into recruiting is the above mentioned hiring of coordinators. Bringing his staff from SDSU is not going to cut it (outside of maybe borges). Brady needs to surround himself with excellent X's and O's coordinators so that he continues to progress fundamentally. Team that with his intangibles and we have a very high ceiling. Theses are all leaps of faith and I guess we will just have to sit and wait a little longer to find out.

Lankownia said...

Isn't reaching middle of the pack in something like FEI (which accounts for schedule strength) a pretty significant accomplishment for a non-BCS schools with inferior talent?

Chris Gaerig said...

I think you might be double dipping here. That they're a non-BCS school with inferior talent is taken into account already when SoS is factored into the ratings. The FEI says that they performed really well (or poorly as it may be) against their level of competition. It's essentially a way to judge how effective teams are against their competition on a level playing field. By these standards, this year's San Diego State team was somewhere between moderately and really effective. This doesn't, however, mean that they were better than Random BCS Team with a lower FEI, just that they performed better, on a definite scale, against the teams they played.

Lankownia said...

In FEI, "A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams, win or lose, and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams"

FEI does not take into account talent in any way. If (a more talented) BCS team (like say Illinois) played SDSU's same schedule their FEI (theoretically) wouldn't have changed despite lesser competition. Likewise, SDSU's FEI wouldn't necessarily have changed if they played in the Big10. Thats the point of adjusting for SoS. What you're talking about are absolute stats that don't account for level of difficulty.

If you're adjusting for "on a level playing field" (i.e. SoS adjustment) then a team with a higher FEI is indeed better than a team with a lower FEI. Thats the whole point of the stat.

Otherwise we'd just look at yardage and points and call it a day.

Chris Gaerig said...

I equated talent and SoS: a team playing a weaker SoS is probably also playing against less talented teams.

"If (a more talented) BCS team (like say Illinois) played SDSU's same schedule their FEI (theoretically) wouldn't have changed despite lesser competition. Likewise, SDSU's FEI wouldn't necessarily have changed if they played in the Big10. Thats the point of adjusting for SoS."

I believe the above is patently false. Here, you're arguing that FEI is independent of strength of schedule, which it's not. It's an efficiency rating that accounts for a team's SoS and attempts to judge teams accordingly.

Lankownia said...

"Here, you're arguing that FEI is independent of strength of schedule".

No, I'm not.

You're arguing the FEI rank would go down for SDSU if they played in the big 10. In other words, the FEI rank would change if the SoS changed. i.e. SoS isn't factored in yet.

Chris Gaerig said...

If their SoS changed, so too would their FEI.

I think we're talking in circles here.

Lankownia said...

Only if you assumed their performance was the same, which it obviously would not be.

Say FEI is based on yards per play (its not, but just for the sake of one number)... a team might give up 3.2 ypp against a weak schedule, but might give up 4.0 ypp against a difficult BCS schedule. The SoS should function as an adjustment that would bump their 3.2 vs a weak SoS to a normalized 3.5 against an average schedule and bump down their 4.0
to a normalized 3.5 against an average schedule.

The point is to adjust/control for the SoS variable between teams. By including it in the formula, you attempt to remove its significance in ranking between teams.

Chris Gaerig said...

Right, but that just means that Team A was as efficient as Team B. It doesn't make any comparison between the two were they to meet head to head. You could throw in a random high school team into the FEI rankings and they could place really high were they efficient enough. But if they played against a college team, they'd still get faceplanted.

For a non-BCS team to achieve a high ranking in FEI isn't a significant accomplishment. It just means they were relatively efficient.

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