Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Ted Roof file is a fun read

Fist things first

I don't think there's any way to spin Roof's tenure as the Duke head coach as anything other than disaster. I'd agree with ex-ACC beat man Andy Bitter that we shouldn't read too much into it when evaluating his potential as Auburn's defensive coordinator, but not for the reason Bitter puts forth, namely that Duke is "a hopeless situation." It's not a great situation, certainly, but the right coach can at least make headway: See Spurrier, Cutcliffe, etc. 6-45 ain't much headway.

I think the safer assumption is this one: sometimes, there are guys who can be fantastically successful defensive coordinators who for one reason or another just don't have whatever intangible thing you need in your DNA to become a winning head coach.

WAIT! Disregard that last statement. That has nothing to do with it. What I mean to say is that hiring a prominent defensive coordinator as a head coach is the surest path to wild long-term success. Just ask Syracuse!

WAIT! Disregard that last statement as well. The point is that Duke really was a hopeless case, no one will ever win there ever, and you shouldn't try to divine anything from Roof's tenure as head coach there other than that, especially anything about how well other defensive coordinators might perform as head coach. Especially that.

In all seriousness, though, I can't see how what Roof does as a head coach, particularly at Duke--perhaps the single toughest place to recruit in any BCS conference--tells us anything about his potential as a DC Auburn. If anything, it might be a positive, since head coaching experience is still a plus in an assistant, and Roof did manage to recruit enough players to Duke that Cutcliffe had something to work with when he arrived. His record as a head coach just means you shouldn't hire Roof to be a head coach.

The Tech years

After spending most of his early career coaching linebackers (with a one-year stint as Western Carolina's DC), Roof ascended to Georgia Tech's defensive coordinator's chair in 1999. And that first year honestly wasn't so great--the Jackets finished 100th in total defense, 93rd scoring. The following season saw dramatic improvement, however--the Jackets jumped to 70th in total D, based almost entirely off of the 12th-ranked rush defense in the country. This helped make up for a dead-last pass defense, though it's fair to attribute some of that raw yardage to how stingy the rush defense was and that Tech opponents were frequently playing from behind thanks to Joe Hamilton's offense; efficiency-wise, Tech was 86th. And all that passing didn't help opponents get on the scoreboard that often anyway as Tech finished 21st in scoring defense.

2001 saw another huge jump up the total defense rankings for Tech, all the way to 32nd. The pass defense surged to 53rd while the rush D held mostly steady, as did the scoring D. After 2001, you'll recall, George O'Leary tried and failed to leave for Notre Dame and Roof moved onto Duke, where he spent a single year as their defensive coordinator. It ended up being a pretty freaking good year: Duke went from 113th in total defense to 65th, from--get this-- 113th in rushing defense to 28th.

If you're keeping track, that's three consecutive seasons in which Roof's defenses didn't just get better, they got dramatically better. That he occasionally struggled putting together a statistically competent pass defense would be more troubling if Auburn played in the Big 12, but when the most dangerous aerial assault on your 2009 conference schedule appears to be a newly Stafford-less Georgia, that's not much of a worry.

Besides, it's not Auburn's pass defense that needs the help--those guys finished 10th in the country per-play. It's the 72nd-ranked rush defense that needs the attention, and judging by Roof's track record here, not many people would be more qualified to provide it.

The Minnesota revival

I know this is going to sound strange, but even saying "Minnesota had the worst defense in the country in 2007"--which they did--somehow understates the soul-crushing vortex of suck that was the Gopher D under Roof's predecessor Everett Withers. The 2007 Gopher defense was the worst BCS-conference defense this decade--check the midseason table here--and very nearly became the worst defense of the decade in all of college football, falling less than a yard short of 2002 Eastern Michigan's "achievement." Consider: the 518.7 yards given up by Minnesota per-game in 2007 was a full 36 yards worse than the worst defense of 2008, at North Texas. And it's not even like the Gophers suffered from accidentally putting Oregon and Texas Tech on the schedule--their nonconference opposition consisted of two MAC teams, I-AA North Dakota State (who just happened to rip off 585 yards of total offense), and Florida Atlantic. In short, Roof didn't just inherit a bad defense when he arrived at Minnesota. He inherited the worst defense imaginable.

No matter. As before, Roof engineered a dramatic overnight improvement. The Gophers surged to 80th in total defense, with Roof's customary eye-popping improvement in rush D--from 114th in 2007 to 69th this year. Pass D? 115th to 94th, still a sizable jump. The Gophers chopped a full 1.1 yards off their per-play average, the biggest improvement of any team ranked 100th or lower in 2007, and better than the turnaround Bo Pelini engineered at Nebraska.

That this sort of thing has happened over and over again on Roof's watch isn't coincidence. It won't happen at Auburn, because Auburn doesn't have nearly so much room for these kinds of improvements and because it's just not going to while the offense is embracing a switch to the Malzahn no-huddle. But Roof knows what he's doing. There's not really any question about that.

Other stuff

If the stats won't convince you, maybe that Tubby reportedly considered Roof for the job that eventually went to Rhoads will. Tubby, as we all know, knew a thing or two about hiring successful defensive coordinators.

And while I don't think it's nearly as important as the schematic chops illustrated above, it's worth asking how well Roof will recruit. The Duke info is useless; it's Duke. But even there, Roof found a few keepers. And it's awfully hard to see him being a detriment to Auburn's recruiting when he's relatively young (45), by all accounts plenty energetic, and hails from (and has recruited) Georgia. It's not a concern, and may even be another positive to add to his resume.

Bottom line

Sure, Chizik is a defensive-minded head coach and has an impeccable record as a defensive coordinator. But a fat lot of good that did him at Iowa St. His defenses a) blew b) got increasingly worse during his tenure. If that's any indication, he couldn't afford to hire any old defensive coordinator (like, say, ISU choice Wayne Bolt), especially after installing an offense that puts as much pressure on its own defense as Malzahn's does. Maybe, maybe, if Chizik takes a greater role in Auburn's D than he the Cyclones' and he'd hired an OC who was interested in chewing clock, he could get away with a lesser hire. But as a partner to Malzahn? No way.

Fortunately, he hasn't made a lesser hire. By virtually every single bit of evidence we have on Roof as a defensive coordinator, Chizik has made yet another outstanding one. It's onwards and upwards once again, folks.

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