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The Perfect Gameplan: How Mediocre Coaches Stay Longer than they Should

When Doc Sadler was fired by Tom Osborne, I  was befuddled at how the Nebraska media covered: they rarely highlighted Sadler’s lack of accomplishment and instead praised hie effusively for being a “good guy”. Good grief, Nebraska beat writers and columnists. Doc Sadler was like a girlfriend who you knew was wrong for you and you continued to go out with, because she was a good cook. Yes, her brownies were amazing, but that’s not enough to overlook the fact she doesn’t listen to you. Not that I mean to gloat; he got fired, which is a sad. But he had six years in a competitive job, more than a lot of coaches get.

But it got me to thinking about the more important question: why wasn’t there enough pressure on Osborne to fire Sadler after the embarrassing end to last year, as Nebraska was switching conferences? Sure, it’s college basketball, less pressure than football. I think there’s something else, and it has to do not only with how basketball is perceived at a football school, but how football is perceived at basketball schools.

If you live in Nebraska, in July, you read the story on Husker football’s summer workouts before you read the baseball box scores. If you live in St. Louis, on a Tuesday in November, you read about who the Cardinals are going to sign, before you read Missouri’s or Illinois’ practice report. We follow the team we care about most every day and the other teams we care about when they are on. And if most fans only watch on game day, there are going to judge a coach more on his game plan. This is the mold for the coach who keeps his job longer than he should: he is  a great game planner, but he isn’t a great recruiter, and not reaching out to the fanbase. For example:

Ralph Friedgen at Maryland. Friedgen went 31-8 in his first three years at Maryland, at a school that hadn’t even made a bowl game in ten years. Yet the Terrapins went 44-42 in Friedgen’s subsequent seven seasons. Friedgen was know as genius inventor on offense (he ran Georgia Tech’s offense in their national championship season in 1990 and for the San Diego Chargers’ when they made the Super Bowl in 1994), but several Maryland high school players who crossed the state line to play at Virginia described Friedgen as crusty and difficult to work with. ACC blogger Heather Dinich said in an interview on 1620 the Zone in Omaha that Maryland players have been bailing in droves since Randy Edsall has taken over the program over a year ago, a possible sign Friedgen was recruiting the wrong players. He also didn’t help attendance: Maryland alum and ESPN personality Scott Van Pelt noted that the luxury suites at Byrd Stadium were empty during Friedgen’s final year (translation: he doesn’t appeal to big money boosters).

Mark Mangino at Kansas. While Mangino was a great coach, his temper kept getting in the way; the fact that Kansas only pointed out when the team started loosing after two years after winning the Orange Bowl just goes to show how little attention was being paid to the program. For as highly regarded as Mangino was as an x-and-o-er (one of  the best in college football), he was only two games above .500, mainly because of a weak non-conference schedule and a weak division in the Big 12. As a Nebraska fan, I always hated it when Mangino was the Jayhawk coach, because without him, I knew we could crush their mediocre players. (And Kansas has their own sense of self-importance. They hired Charlie Weis.) And when Mangino left, Kansas football went straight into the tank. Translation: Mangino couldn’t recruit.

And there was Sadler. For six years, I kept hearing about how great Nebraska’s defense was (not unlike Bo Pelini’s), so great that good programs didn’t want to play Nebraska in their non-conference schedule. But Sadler couldn’t recruit a single great players, and there were contributing players leaving the program after every year. And in the off-season, Sadler, much like fellow Steve Pedersen hire Bill Callahan, left the state to recruit or camped out in his office.

That defense were the brownies that Sadler always made Nebraska. Surely, they came in the form of several court-storming wins (Oregon 2–7; Texas 2009 and 2011; Texas A&M 2010; Indiana this past year), but an annual court-storming isn’t enough to build a passionate (i.e., ticket buying) fan base.

4 responses to “The Perfect Gameplan: How Mediocre Coaches Stay Longer than they Should

  1. Pingback: Nebraska vs. Wisconsin: Game of Shadows « Thoughts of a Wandering Mind

  2. Pingback: Overpaid Kirk Ferentz Gets Fired and…It’s a Bigger Waste? What About Bo Pelini? « Thoughts of a Wandering Mind

  3. Pingback: Maryland-Big 10: What Happened to Consensus? A Nebraska Perspective « Thoughts of a Wandering Mind

  4. Pingback: Finally, a Bill Callahan Story « Derek Johnson Muses

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