Tressel Versus National Coaches

In the first installment of this series, we examined whether or not Jim Tressel teams engaged in more close games than what Buckeye fans were accustomed to watching.

The results were eye-popping.

Not only is the perception reality, but it held true for every category of "close" games. Tressel teams had a higher chance of being involved in games decided by 3, 7, and 14 point margins than any other Ohio State head coach in the last 50 years.

The next logical question revolves around Jim Tressel's contemporary coaches. How often are fellow D-IA coaches in close scrapes? How often do they blow out others (or get blown out)? Is Jim Tressel still among the leaders in close games when compared to his current peers, or would he just be "average" in the frequency and/or ability to win?

The Scope of the Study:

1. The entire career (when possible) was examined for each coach. The only exceptions are those for whom scores were not available. They are marked with an asterisk.

2. The list was compiled by looking at the Final Coaches poll in 2001 and 2002. The list was thinned by the exclusion of any coach who has had less than 50 games.

3. The amount of explanations offered will be brief. The sheer number of coaches listed will preclude too much analysis.

4. Be careful of reaching sweeping conclusions from these statistics. By nature, stats offer few dynamic answers. They speak to results and not to motives.

5. Again, this is designed to be a starting point for discussion rather than a definitive explanation.

 

Coach

Total num games

Games within three points

Record games within three points

Games within seven points

Record games within seven points

Games

Fourt. points

Record fourt. points

Games

Fourt.+ points

Record

Fourt.+ points

Career

record

Joe Paterno

439

62

42-17-3

133

90-40-3

204

138-63-3

235

198-37

336-100-3

Bobby Bowden

432

46

19-23-4

104

59-41-4

180

113-63-4

252

219-33

332-96-4

Lou Holtz

365

66

33-26-7

124

64-53-7

182

102-73-7

183

139-44

238-120-7

Frank Beamer

255

38

15-19-4

82

38-40-4

140

69-77-4

115

90-25

159-92-14

Mack Brown

225

26

14-11-1

65

33-31-1

107

58-48-1

118

77-41

135-89-1

Jim Tressel

220

50

26-22-2

91

58-31-2

129

87-40-2

91

69-22

156-62-2

Steve Spurrier

184

17

5-10-2

43

23-18-2

65

40-23-2

119

102-17

142-40-2

John L. Smith

170

25

9-16

51

26-25

73

40-33

97

70-27

110-60

Bill Snyder

168

17

8-8-1

43

25-17-1

66

36-29-1

102

80-22

116-51-1

Mike Price

161

19

10-9

44

23-21

92

44-48

69

39-30

83-78

*Paul Pasqualoni

143

20

7-12-1

41

21-19-1

62

38-23-1

81

58-23

95-47-1

*Gary Barnett

131

29

13-16

48

23-24-1

72

40-31-1

59

25-34

65-65-1

**Philip Fulmer

128

20

15-4-1

37

24-12-1

58

40-17-1

70

62-8

102-25-1

Nick Saban

108

17

8-81

34

21-12-1

51

37-20

57

37-20

69-38-1

Lloyd Carr

99

21

11-10

46

30-16

60

41-19

39

35-4

76-23

*Mike Bellotti

96

21

16-5

43

33-10

57

37-20

39

30-9

67-29

Rick Neuheisel

96

16

12-4

38

24-14

62

43-19

34

23-11

66-30

Tommy Tuberville

94

15

11-4

35

22-13

54

35-19

40

20-20

55-39

Tyrone Willingham

94

14

10-3-1

41

26-14-1

62

36-25-1

32

18-14

54-39-1

Bob Pruett

93

9

8-1

20

18-2

33

26-7

60

54-6

80-13

Ron Turner

80

9

5-4

24

15-9

35

18-17

45

20-25

38-42

*Walt Harris

71

8

2-6

27

12-15

38

18-20

33

18-15

36-35

Tom O'Brien

71

8

4-4

21

13-8

35

19-16

36

21-15

40-31

Bob Stoops

52

4

2-2

10

6-4

22

13-9

30

30-0

43-9

                     
                     

Coach

 

% of Games 3 points or less

Win %

% of Games 7 points or less

Win %

% of Games 14 points or less

Win %

% of Games 14+ points

Win %

Career Win %

Joe Paterno

 

.1412

.7016

.3030

.688

.4647

.6838

.5353

.8426

.7688

Bobby Bowden

 

.1065

.4565

.2407

.5865

.4167

.6389

.5833

.8690

.7731

Lou Holtz

 

.1808

.5530

.3397

.5444

.4986

.5797

.5014

.7596

.6616

Frank Beamer

 

.1490

.4474

.3216

.4878

.5490

.2784

.4510

.7826

.6510

Mack Brown

 

.1156

.5577

.2889

.5154

.4756

.5467

.5244

.3422

.6022

Jim Tressel

 

.2273

.54

.4136

.6484

.5864

.6822

.4136

.7582

.7136

Steve Spurrier

 

.0924

.3529

.2337

.5581

.3533

.6308

.6467

.8571

.7772

John L. Smith

 

.1471

.3600

.3000

.5098

.4294

.5479

.5706

.7216

.6471

Bill Snyder

 

.1012

.5

.2559

.5930

.3929

.5530

.6071

.7843

.6935

Mike Price

 

.1180

.5263

.2733

.5227

.5714

.4783

.4286

.5652

.5155

*Paul Pasqualoni

 

.1399

.375

.2867

.5244

.4336

.6210

.5664

.7160

.6678

*Gary Barnett

 

.2214

.4483

.3664

.4896

.5496

.3092

.4504

.4237

.5

**Philip Fulmer

 

.1563

.775

.2891

.6622

.4531

.3164

.5469

.8857

.8008

Nick Saban

 

.1574

.5

.3148

.6324

.4722

.7255

.5278

.6491

.6435

Lloyd Carr

 

.2121

.5238

.4646

.6522

.6061

.6833

.3939

.8974

.7677

*Mike Bellotti

 

.2188

.7619

.4479

.7674

.5938

.6491

.4063

.7692

.6879

Rick Neuheisal

 

.1667

.750

.3958

.6316

.6458

.6935

.3542

.6765

.6875

Tommy Tubberville

 

.1596

.7333

.3723

.6286

.5745

.6481

.4255

.5

.5851

Tyrone Willingham

 

.1489

.75

.4362

.6463

.660

.5887

.3404

.5625

.5798

Bob Pruett

 

.0968

.8889

.2151

.9

.3548

.7879

.6452

.9

.8602

Ron Turner

 

.1125

.5556

.3

.625

.4375

.225

.5625

.25

.475

*Walt Harris

 

.1127

.25

.3803

.4444

.5352

.4737

.4648

.5455

.5070

Tom O'Brien

 

.1127

.5

.2958

.6190

.493

.5429

.507

.5833

.5634

Bob Stoops

 

.0769

.5

.1923

.6

.4231

.5909

.5769

1.0

.8269

*This denotes several coaches who had tenures at NAIA colleges for which the scores were not available.

**Alabama had to forfeit a game for the use of ineligible player. I counted the results from this game (a tie), while official records list it as a victory for Fulmer.

***I am indebted to http://www.stassen.com/football/ and http://www.1st-n-goal.net/ and http://michigan-football.com/ncaa/ncaa_1aa.htm for their hard work. If you have not bookmarked these sites, I would highly recommend it. They are worth their weight in gold when doing any sort of research.

Three Point Contests

Jim Tressel not only leads Ohio State coaches of the past 5 decades in the percentage of 3 point (or less) games, he leads this group of current head coaches. With nearly 23% of his games coming down to a margin of a mere field goal, Tressel's teams will surely provide for serious excitement (for fans of both teams). Gary Barnett (.2214), Mike Bellotti (.2188), and Lloyd Carr (.2121) follow in succession. Those with the fewest close games are Bob Stoops (.0769), Steve Spurrier (.0924), and Bob Pruett (.0968).

Bob Pruett (.8889), Phil Fulmer (.775), Mike Bellotti (.7619), Rick Neuheisel (.75), and Tyrone Willingham (.75) appear to be the toughest coaches to face in a 3-point game. Tressel falls somewhere in the middle of the pack with his 54% win ratio, but his percentages and standing leaps forward to the top 10 once his program is in place (.625). The coaches who have fared the worst in such games are Walt Harris (.25), Steve Spurrier (.3529), John L. Smith (.36), and Paul Pasqualoni (.375).

So what does all this mean?

It means Tressel once again finds himself forcing close games, and in a pinch – he should be considered the favorite a high percentage of the time. Buckeye fans should begin incorporating nitroglycerin pills into their game day routines for the foreseeable future…

Seven Point Contests

For the very first time, Tressel does not lead in the frequency of close games. That honor instead goes to his fellow Big Ten coach, Lloyd Carr. Nearly half of Lloyd's games come down to 7 points or less (.4646). Mike Bellotti follows on his heels with a .4479 mark and Willingham has almost 44% (.4362) of his gridiron battles turn into a tight match.

Where is Tressel?

Have no fear, he comes in 4th, with his teams either winning or losing by 7 points or less 41.36% of the time.

On the opposite end of the scale are Bob Stoops (.1923), Bob Pruett (.2151), and once again, Steve Spurrier (.2337). Rounding out the top five are Bobby Bowden (.2407) and Bill Snyder (.2559).

So who would you most like your coach to be in a close game – and who should fans pray they do not see pacing the sidelines of their team? Walt Harris statistically suffers the most, emerging victorious less than half of the time (.4444). Barnett (.4896), John L. Smith (.5098), and Mack Brown (.5154) join him in the rear of the pack. At the top of the heap are Bob Pruett (.9), Mike Bellotti (.7674), Joe Paterno (.688), and Philip Fulmer (.6622). Tressel falls just out of the top 5, edged by Lloyd Carr .6522 to .6484.

Contests of Fourteen Points or Less

Notre Dame fans have the most blood pressure medication to look forward to with Tyrone Willingham being involved in games of 14 points or less an amazing 66% of the time his team takes the field. Rick Neuheisel has 64.58% of his games decided by less than two touchdowns and two point-after conversions, Carr 60.61%, Bellotti 59.38%, and Tressel 58.64% are all up there as well.

Not surprisingly offensive whiz kids seem to trail when it comes to the frequency of close games. Spurrier had the fewest (.3533). Pruett (35.48%), Bill Snyder (.3929), Bobby Bowden (.4167), and Bob Stoops (.4231) join them at the bottom.

Contests of 14+ Points

Though his numbers may improve now that Willingham has the talent of Notre Dame to exploit, up to this point, Tyrone has had the fewest games decided by 14 points or less (.3404). Rick Neuheisel (.3542), Lloyd Carr (.3939), Mike Bellotti (.4063), and Jim Tressel (.4136) finish in lock step.

For the most blowouts, simply invert the list from the previous category. Steve Spurrier's penchant to humiliate his opponents nearly 65% (.6467) of the time may have been part of the reason his fellow SEC coaches shed few tears when he departed for the NFL. Pruett and Marshall drive opposition into the ground nearly as frequently (.6452), while Snyder (.6071), Bowden (.5833), and Stoops (.5769) also are no cupcakes to play.

So who wins and who loses in these blowouts? Being at the top of this list could be good or bad. It might mean that Jim Tressel and Lloyd Carr do not have the ability to distance themselves from their opponents, but it could also mean just the opposite; maybe their opponents have not been able to escape these two coaches' tenacious teams and blow them out like they do others. Maybe Spurrier was involved in a great many blowouts, but were all of those wins or did more than a few involve games like the 1995 Bowl season where Nebraska utterly humiliated the Gators?

Bob Stoops looms above the crowd with a 100% ratio of wins to losses when a game is decided by more than 14 points. He sits at an eye-popping 30-0. Bob Pruett (.9) and Lloyd Carr (.89874) find themselves near the top along with Philip Fulmer (.8857) and Bobby Bowden (.8690). An honorable mention goes to Jim Tressel who is 9-0 while at Ohio State.

Of the group, only Bobby Bowden and Jim Tressel have found themselves in multiple rebuilding situations. In fact, it might be argued that none of the other men have ever had to scratch and claw their way to the top. Stoops took over an OU team with plenty of talent but just little discipline. Bob Pruett took over the reigns at Marshall from Jim Donnan when Jim left for Georgia. Lloyd Carr (and Gary Moeller for that matter) rode in on the heels of success left by Bo Schembechler. Philip Fulmer found himself atop Rocky Top when Johnny Majors could not win enough games. Like OU, the talent was there already.

Meanwhile, Ron Turner (.25), Mack Brown (.3422), Gary Barnett (.4237), Tommy Tuberville (.5), and Walt Harris (.5455) have all eaten more than their share of humble pie. It might be worthy of noting that this is not necessarily indicative of their coaching skills. Each of these men has rebuilt a football program and all but Harris have rebuilt at least two. Considering the shape of Illinois, North Carolina, Northwestern, Ole Miss, Auburn, and Pittsburgh when these coaches walked through the door – it is no surprise their career numbers have suffered in games with large margins.

Career Winning Percentages

Who wins most often?

Pruett (.8602), Stoops (.8269), Philip Fulmer (.8008), Steve Spurrier (.7772), and Bobby Bowden (.7731) comprise the top five. Other notables are Paterno at #6 (.7688), Carr at #7 (.7677), and Tressel at #8 (.7136).

Who has stopped for a cup of coffee in the top 25 but (at least up to this point) has rarely stayed for long?

Ron Turner (.465), Gary Barnett (.5), Walt Harris (.5070), Mike Price (.5155), and Tom O'Brien (.5634) find themselves on the losing end of final scores much too frequently. Again though, look at where these men have been and it will explain much. Illinois, Northwestern, Pitt, Washington State, and Boston College have all had more than their share of unhappy times. That these men have been able to win at all in such places speaks highly of their abilities.

Conclusions:

Teachers and Pupils

First off, if you have never appreciated just how much a coach imprints their stamp upon their pupils/assistants, then take a moment to review the numbers above. Jim Tressel was an apprentice of Earle Bruce, who was an apprentice to Woody Hayes. Gary Barnett was an apprentice to Bill McCartney, a former apprentice to Bo Schembechler – who was an apprentice to Woody Hayes. Lloyd Carr was an apprentice to Bo Schembechler – who was…you get the picture. Of the top 4 coaches whose teams play the most close games (and who have been in the final top 25 coaches poll in 2001 or 2002), 3 of those 4 can trace their coaching tree directly to Woody Hayes.

Meanwhile, Steve Spurrier has started a tree of his own. Steve's teams routinely blew out opponents. It should come as no shocker that Bob Stoops, a Spurrier protégé and the Gators Defensive Coordinator in from 1996 until 1998, would have the lowest number of close games. What probably may not be widely recognized is that Bob Pruett is a Spurrier pupil as well. Before coming to the Thundering Herd, he served as the Defensive Coordinator in 1994 and 1995 for the Florida Gators.

Hope you get Bowden or Bob Stoops in a close game

They are eminently beatable in such a contest. Perhaps it is the way they manage the game, perhaps it is the way their offense is structured. When the game gets tight, their teams are as human as Superman weighted down with a Kryptonite necklace.

Earle Bruce reincarnated?

It might surprise people to find out that Michigan and Ohio State are once again linked. Bruce and Carr not only share their coaching roots, but they also find themselves sharing an eerily similar record through their first 8 seasons at their respective schools. From 1979-1986, Earle Bruce was 75-22 at Ohio State. Carr's record for the Wolverines stands at 76-23.

Now the question is whether or not their fates will suffer the ultimate similarity. There have been quiet rumblings about Carr during the past season. 2003 will either quiet them or bring them to a boil. Lloyd's teams have managed only 1 outright conference title while sharing 2 others. He has lost 3 of his last 5 games to Ohio State, and he is 1-2 in the last 3 Notre Dame-Michigan meetings. Carr really needs to have a fine season to keep the wolves (or wolverines – take your choice) from circling his front porch.

Tressel and Close Games

So what does all of this prove?

It is difficult to say really.

Statistically, it simply indicates that Jim Tressel is in more close games than your average head coach. He leads this group in the frequency of 3 points contests and is in or near the top 5 in 7 and 14-point match-ups as well.

He wins more than his fair share of these games. Though a career 3-point record of 54% is nothing to brag about, the .625 mark he has once he his program is established would put him the top 10. His winning mark in 7-point games is sixth, and his winning percentage in games separated by 14 points or less is eighth.

Why so many?

Besides the possible explanations offered in the previous article, there are perhaps a few more worth noting.

First, remember that Jim Tressel has often had fewer resources than his fellow D-IA coaches. Scholarship limits at the D-IAA level are significantly lower; there are only 63 players on full grants. The impact of this is that even the good coaches find themselves strapped for manpower. Where you can carry almost 4 players per position on the field at Ohio State, Michigan, etc. – coaches only have 3 in Division I-AA. If injuries strike and the starting quarterback goes down, it may mean disaster. If a team loses 3 or 4 offensive or defensive linemen in the course a season, depth begins to be severely impacted.

Less resources means that not only can the top programs not stockpile the players, but it means that others can actually offer them scholarships to play for the opposition. This leads to more parity, and parity leads to…more upset losses and more close shaves for the favored teams.

Therefore, at the level where Jim Tressel has spent the majority of his career, it could be convincingly argued it might be more difficult to maintain a place at the top of the heap. Maybe it is easier to get there, but staying on top and continually winning close games is more about coaching and organizational abilities than the ability to simply stockpile talent.

Second, notice that Tressel teams just hang around and hang around and hang around. They are rarely blown out. This might give most a minor stroke, but I believe not only does it not bother Tressel but that sometimes it is intentional. Even in games where he has been a huge underdog, he has found a way for his team to stick with the opponent more times than not. This is a brilliant piece of strategy on his part. By hanging with the favorite, his teams gain confidence through the contest and by the fourth quarter believe they can win. Frequently they do. The result is not only great drama, but a legacy of teams that never quit.

Finally (as mentioned above), the apple does not fall far from the tree… Tressel, Carr, Barnett, etc. get their penchant for close games honestly. They learned it while cutting their teeth as young assistants.

Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, and Two to Watch

With Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden dueling for the all-time record for wins, there do not seem to be many on the landscape behind them with a legitimate shot at hitting the 300 victories mark. Spurrier has left for the professional ranks, and Lou Holtz is near retirement. Fulmer and Brown could conceivably make runs, but they would have to coach until they made Paterno look like a spring chicken.

The only two men out there right now who look able to make a run at Bowden and Paterno are the Youngstown boys… Jim Tressel and Bob Stoops. Bob has fewer victories (43), but he will be only 43 this fall. Tressel may be older (50), but he is also closer to the mark with 156 victories.

Will they stay at their respective schools long enough to reach such a lofty goal?

At this point, it is difficult to say. They might end up leaving early like Bo and Osborne. They might end up hearing the siren call of the professional game (though I would hope not) like Steve Spurrier. They might even end up in some unforeseen tragedy like Bo Rein or Knute Rockne.

Here is one person though that hopes both of these men stay in the college game and provide fans with thrills for at least the next two decades – and maybe longer. College football honestly needs them because it needs legends. They have a shot; will they pick up the gauntlet?

E-mail Charles at buckeye1992@hotmail.com


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