Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ty-ed after Fifteen | by Jeff

I keep tripping over a certain chestnut in many of the recent stories trumpeting the Return to Mediocrity of Notre Dame football: "Well, Ty Willingham also started 11-4!" Admittedly, there are some disturbing similarities on paper between Ty's start and Charlie's start:

  • Both coaches started 11-4
  • Both coaches lost their initial bowl game
  • Both coaches lost their 15th game in blowouts to Michigan
However, there is another Irish coach that started 11-4, and, perhaps not surprisingly, I haven't seen any mention of Dan Devine in any of the "11-4" articles. Lets take a quick look at where Charlie stacks up after 15 games.

Coach First 15
Win Pct MOV Career Rec.
Harper 13-2 .866 +453 .863
Parseghian 13-2 .866 +317 .836
Brennan 13-2 .866 +276 .640
Rockne 12-1-2 .866 +197 .881
Leahy 12-1-2 .866 +189 .855
Layden 12-3 .800 +126 .770
Anderson 11-3-1 .766 +379 .630
Devine 11-4 .733 +168 .764
Weis 11-4 .733 +148 ?
Willingham 11-4 .733 +38 .568
Faust 9-6 .600 +102 .535
Holtz 8-7 .533 +138 .765
Davie 8-7 .533 +11 .583
Kuharich 6-9 .400 -54 .425

Drawing conclusions from this breakdown is actually rather difficult. If you think Wins and Losses are the essential factor, it is tough to rationalize how Terry Brennan is tied for first with 13 wins and an .866 winning percentage, yet Lou Holtz is second-to-last with only 8 wins. Sorting the list by Margin of Victory does little to clear up the picture, as Hunk Anderson jumps to second place, and Brennan stays in the top five. However, MOV does appear to be a slightly better indicator on the low end, as Faust, Willingham, Davie, and Kuharich all started with MOVs of +102 or worse.

Based on the numbers, a coach's performance after 15 games is a very poor predictor of his ultimate success. Fifteen games is simply not enough time to evaluate the full range of changes that a coach will instill in a program. Strength of schedule is also a factor, as a couple of extra easy opponents can rocket someone from middle-of-the-pack to top-of-the-list. (Hunk Anderson's first three games in his second season were won by an average score of 59-0.)

Even if you do buy the idea that there is something meaningful about "11-4", there is a lot of hope for Coach Weis and ND fans. While Willingham lost his 16th game 22-16 to Michigan State, Devine won his 16th game, 41-0 against Oregon. Had ND gone to a bowl game after Devine's 8-3 first season, his 16th game would have been his 24-6 win over who else, but Michigan State.

Let's see how Weis does with his shot at the Spartans this weekend (and, over the next year and a half) before we start making lazy comparisons to our erstwhile Molder of Men.