Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Colorado is kind of like Shoney's, I guess

Really, all that needs to be known about Mike MacIntyre is that he spent a year working at Shoney's right out of college and ended up as a Division I football coach, which ... ummm ... I don't really know what that means, but it probably offers some hope for all the employees of Shoney's who strive to one day get paid millions of dollars to take over crappy football programs.

And speaking of crappy football programs:
Mike MacIntyre turned around the San Jose State football program in short order and will be asked to do the same at the University of Colorado.

On Monday, MacIntyre signed a five-year deal to coach the Buffaloes. He will make $2 million a season. MacIntyre inherits a program that's had seven straight losing seasons, including a 1-11 record this year under Jon Embree that was the worst in the 123-year history of the program. 

Backing up a little, I wrote the other day that Western Kentucky was probably the worst program in the country when Willie Taggart took over given the 20 straight losses and general Sun Belt-ness and whatnot. San Jose State definitely wasn't that bad when MacIntyre got there but had gone 2-10 the year before and 25-35 overall under Dick Tomey, who had a 16-24 record in the WAC (which is the WAC).

MacIntyre (who had been Duke's D-coordinator after a couple NFL secondary jobs) took that hot mess and went from 1-11 in 2010 to 5-7 in 2011 to 10-2 (and 8-1 in the WAC) this year, which lolwut? If Utah State hadn't run the conference table, that 8-1 record would have been good for SJSU's first championship-type thing of any kind since 1991 (1991!). I know. Remember when Stanford was definitely headed for 7-5 after needed a fourth-quarter field goal to beat San Jose State 20-17 way back on the opening Friday night of the year? Not so much; in hindsight, that game said a lot more about San Jose State's progress than it did about Stanford's anything.

This is the part where I attempt to allocate credit for said progress (based on data and stuff) to determine whether it was actually related more to mad coaching skillz or general cyclical-ness of the universe or something else entirely. To the numbers (especially the defensive ones)!

Probably not coincidentally, San Jose State's defensive numbers coincide almost linearly with San Jose State's records over the last three years. The defense might have been worst in the country in Tomey's last year (109th in both yardage and scoring) and was similarly pathetic in MacIntyre's first year (117th and 105th), then improved to just regularly bad in 2010 (93rd and 86th) before becoming legitimately good this year (28th and 25th). Pretty much every relevant number was the second-best one in the WAC behind Utah State's. Offensively, the improvement was similar but built pretty much entirely around the passing game, with David Fales coming out of nowhere this year to finish second nationally in pass efficiency and 11th in yards. So progress: There was a lot.

And that's good since Colorado ... I mean ... holy hell.
And the problem wasn't really the lack of wins; the problem was that Colorado was terrible at literally everything to the extent that only a handful of games all year were even vaguely competitive, and one of those was a loss to an FCS team. The rest were just flat-out embarrassing: Oregon led 56-0 at the half, USC led 40-3 after three quarters, Fresno State (Fresno State!) led 55-7 at the half, Stanford led 45-0 after three quarters, etc. Colorado's average Pac-12 game this year was a 48-17 loss, and the only win required a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback against a Washington State team that was similarly awful and ended the year with one conference win.

Some more numbers: Colorado finished the season 116th in total offense, 116th in scoring offense, 108th in rushing offense, 118th in pass efficiency, 118th in total defense, 120th in scoring defense, 115th in rushing defense, 120th in pass-efficiency defense, 119th in turnover margin ... yeah. So Colorado was basically the worst BCS-conference team in literally every relevant statistical category. That is amazing.
Hence 1-11 this year and 4-20 in Jon Embree's two years as coach. And the Embree era was just sort of a continuation of the trajectory of the Dan Hawkins' era, when Colorado went from a pretty good program to a .500 one to a crappy one (probably in part due to the awkwardness at the end of the Gary Barnett era and the accompanying recruiting restrictions put in place afterward). Upshot: Colorado hasn't finished above .500 since 2005 and has been getting progressively worse ever since.

So yeah: Some serious rebuilding (like reassemble-after-a-freaking-earthquake-level rebuilding) is necessary. There's no way Colorado is close to being a good (read: winning) program right now based on the complete lack of talent that became more and more evident with every hilariously pathetic Pac-12 loss. I wrote this when Embree was mercifully let go:
The good news: There's nowhere to go but up. Seriously. The bad news: Having nowhere to go but up means the program currently is at rock bottom ... (but) I'm not that old and can still remember when Kordell Stewart was awesome and Rashaan Salaam was winning the Heisman and Colorado was regularly finishing in the top 10. The Gary Barnett era had some, um, uncomfortableness but was pretty respectable on the field, at least kinda/sorta maintaining some of Bill McCartney's awesomeness; since then, Colorado has regressed from "meh" to "ugh" to "gack." But based on tradition and facilities and alumni support and all that infrastructure-type stuff, there's no reason Colorado shouldn't be at least competitive in the Pac-12.
That's all true except the facilities part; I was thinking specifically of Folsom Field, which was renovated a couple years ago, but wasn't really taking into account the lack of a viable practice facility and other Oregon-esque palaces. That's undoubtedly somewhat of a hindrance in recruiting. An appropriate quote from Rick Neuheisel back when he left Colorado:
"Colorado has everything that money can't buy."
That's what I was trying to say. I've been to Colorado (the university and not just the state), and facilities aside, recruiting to Colorado shouldn't be that hard. Winning (at least some) at Colorado shouldn't be that hard, either.

The caveat (other than the total lack of talent, of course) is the division: Oregon is elite, Stanford is very good, Washington is good, Oregon State is typically good-ish, Cal is probably headed back toward comparable good-ish-ness and Washington State just hired Mike Leach a year ago. The caveat to the caveat: Chip Kelly could be gone by the time I'm done writing this sentence, Stanford has to start gravitating toward the historical mean at some point and none of the other aforementioned programs are consistently at a level that a normal version of Colorado shouldn't be at. The long-term ceiling in the Pac-12 North for both Colorado and Cal is located somewhere significantly higher than the ceiling that's located at "third place in the division" right now.

Actually getting to that ceiling would require a lot of things going right, obviously, and whether MacIntyre is the kind of guy who can make that many things go right is unknown. The San Jose State data seems sufficient for a positive hypothesis, at least, and that's more relevant data than Butch Jones would've provided after taking over two already-pretty-good programs and keeping them pretty good. But being better for Colorado than Butch Jones would've been isn't the goal going forward; the goal is actually getting Colorado back to competitiveness and then back to something better than competitiveness (basically just reversing the last 10 years of yuck). Doable? Yes. Likely? Depends entirely on whether MacIntyre is what his head coaching data indicates he is or whether he's closer to Dan Hawkins and/or Jon Embree.


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