McAlister Musings: Forget about being close, just win

Statistics are through January 13, 2014

- The Citadel’s record: 4-14, 0-3 SoCon
– SoCon rank in offensive efficiency (through three games): 3rd
– SoCon rank in defensive efficiency (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in free throw shooting (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in 3-point shooting percentage (through three games) 1st

Yes, the offensive statistics through three league games aren’t bad at all. The Citadel has shot the ball well in its last three games, and fared well on the offensive glass. The Bulldogs also committed fewer turnovers in those three games (though still too many).

However, The Citadel still managed to lose all three of those games, blowing double-digit second-half leads in two of them. For a team that desperately needs a win (or two, or three, or four), it was rather dispiriting.

In those two losses (at home against Chattanooga and on the road versus Wofford), the Bulldogs basically let one player on each team dominate them inside and on the boards. Both UTC’s Z. Mason and Wofford’s Lee Skinner had what amounted to career nights against The Citadel, combining for 17 offensive rebounds and 19 made 2-point field goals (on 31 attempts).

Because of that, the Bulldogs are currently last in league play in defensive rebounding percentage. The Citadel is also last in the SoCon in forcing turnovers. The Bulldogs have given their opponents so many “extra” chances to score that even solid perimeter defending hasn’t been enough.

In the “bad luck” category: The Citadel has done a good job keeping its SoCon opponents off the foul line (ranking 4th in the league in that category). However, those opponents are shooting 77.1% from the charity stripe, the highest percentage against any team in the league.

In the “not bad luck” category: The Bulldogs picked a bad time to go into a free throw shooting slump. No team has shot worse from the foul line than the Bulldogs in league action.

This comes after The Citadel did a fine job shooting free throws during the non-conference slate. However, the Bulldogs have not gone to the foul line enough all season as it is.

The Citadel is shooting slightly less than one free throw attempt for every field goal try (33%). The national average for FTA/FGA is 41%.

Of course, three games don’t reflect the entirety of the season, and the Bulldogs struggled mightily out of conference. The Citadel has as many losses to non-D1s as it does victories over D-1s, having lost to West Alabama and beaten Presbyterian.

For the season, The Citadel is in the bottom 50 nationally in offensive turnover rate, FTA/FGA, two-point field goal percentage, steals rate (offense), defensive rebounding percentage, steals rate (defense), and defensive turnover rate. Thanks to all those issues, the Bulldogs also rank in the bottom 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

In the Kenpom ratings, The Citadel is currently ranked 339th out of 351 Division I teams.

On the plus side, The Citadel has done a good job beyond the arc, both on offense and defense.

The Bulldogs’ tendency to throw the ball away on a semi-regular basis has been a problem for the past three seasons, as has the defensive issues. I will say that the defending has improved this season, at least on opponents’ initial shots. However, the inability to control the defensive glass has crushed The Citadel.

On his postgame radio show after the loss to Wofford, Chuck Driesell said of his team that “we’re getting close”.

With all due respect to Driesell, I don’t think he can say that. Not right now, anyway.

The goal for this season can’t be to have a record like last year (8-22) or the year before (6-24). This isn’t about trying to eke out a couple of victories or break a losing streak.

Getting close, in the context of this season, is putting together consecutive wins, and building on that — winning four out of six, seven out of ten, etc. Falling short in SoCon games isn’t getting the program to where it needs to be.

Because make no mistake, the Southern Conference is not good this year. It wasn’t very good last year either, but in 2013-14 the league has been dreadful.

There is no reason The Citadel can’t win a bunch of SoCon games, and the next couple of weeks will present the Bulldogs multiple opportunities to bounce back from their bad start in conference play.

On Thursday, The Citadel travels to Greensboro to face the Spartans. UNCG isn’t that bad, relative to the rest of the league, but this is a chance for the Bulldogs to win a road game.

UNCG actually has a turnover rate that is worse than The Citadel’s. Now, the Bulldogs haven’t proven capable of forcing many TOs all season, but this will be one game in which they have a shot at improving on that statistical category. If they can do so, they can win the game.

On Saturday, The Citadel hosts Furman, and then plays Appalachian State at McAlister Field House the following Thursday. I think the Bulldogs should win both contests. Not “can win”, but “should win”. Furman isn’t any better than The Citadel, and Appalachian State has arguably been worse so far this season.

In other words, the Bulldogs ought to win at least two of their next three games. If they don’t, it will be a disappointment.

After the loss to Elon, the sixth straight for the Bulldogs, Chuck Driesell had this to say:

You look at the stats and you think we could have won this game. But we were playing a good team on their home court. We kept our composure, but a couple of breaks didn’t go our way. But more guys are stepping up; everybody’s starting to come around.

I hope so. There would be nothing better than some positive news from the hardwood. Good basketball makes for a shorter winter.

Otherwise, Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow at McAlister Field House once again.

Secret memo to Mike Houston, The Citadel’s new football coach

NOTE: TOP SECRET. DISTRIBUTE MEMO ON NEED-TO-KNOW BASIS ONLY.

To: Mike Houston

From: A concerned alum

Re: Football at The Citadel

Hello there, coach. Congratulations on being named head football coach at The Citadel. I trust you and your family will enjoy Charleston.

Now, there are some important things you need to know in order to succeed in your new position. That’s why this memo is a big secret. We want to make sure our enemies don’t have a firm grasp on your plan of attack, which is going to be aggressive, with a lot of energy.

Let’s get right to the discussion.

- Some of our alums were impressed with your youthful enthusiasm at the Thursday press conference. There were multiple queries asking if you were, in fact, the youngest coach in program history.

Of course, Coach Houston, you’re not. Most of The Citadel’s coaches were actually younger than you when they were hired, even though you’re only 42. All but five, in fact.

However, four of those five older coaches are the most recent hires at The Citadel (Powers/Johnson/Zernhelt/Higgins). Given that recent trend, it’s not surprising that people think you’re really young for the job.

As an aside, you might be interested to know that The Citadel’s first two head football coaches were both only 22 years old when they got the job. One of them, Syd Smith, later played major league baseball.

I don’t think you’re a candidate for MLB when your coaching career is over, but perhaps you can emulate The Citadel’s second coach, Ralph Foster, in wearing a snazzy hat. If not, perhaps your offensive coordinator could wear it. He definitely needs an upgrade in the headgear department.

- Speaking of that offensive coordinator, I was glad to see you’re bringing Brent Thompson on board. It would have been tough for The Citadel to announce it wanted to hire a coach who ran the option, then hire a defensive-oriented coach whose option-running OC didn’t come along with him.

I’ve heard good things about Thompson (and your offensive line coach, Ron Boyd). Thompson’s explanation of the origination of his triple option offense was interesting:

I’ve probably taken the most from Navy and Georgia Southern. And I’ve worked with  coaches at Army and with Ashley Ingram at Navy, so I steal some things from there. And I try to gather as much film on Georgia Southern as [I] can.

Ingram, of course, was one of the three finalists for the job that you eventually got.

Having said that, you should know that a few alums are a little worried about your staff. Not only have you never coached at the D-1 level, the same is true for all of the assistants you’re bringing along from Lenoir-Rhyne (with the notable exception of Thompson).

Of course, you haven’t finalized your staff yet, and there are some positive rumors about potential assistants still to be added. Fans will be waiting on those hires with considerable interest (you may have noticed, they’re interested in just about everything related to the football program).

- There is a little bit of angst that surrounds the football program. You will probably pick up on this sooner rather than later. As to why it exists, it’s simple: The Citadel has not had consecutive winning seasons on the gridiron since the 1991-92 campaigns, the longest such stretch in school history.

There are a lot of alums who are ready to win again. Some of them can be a bit melodramatic about this. “I want one more SoCon title before I die,” they’ll proclaim.

- I was glad to hear you talk about the importance of retention. Among other things, you told the assembled media on Thursday that you want to field “older teams…guys who have been with us for three or four years.”

The reference to “older teams” (and the redshirting subtext) made me think of Jim Grobe and how he approached his recruiting/scholarship management at Wake Forest. Grobe won an ACC title at Wake Forest with that philosophy.

Your response to a question about transfers was excellent. “The institution does not lend itself to a lot of transfers,” you said. Indeed, it doesn’t.

- I can appreciate your comments that recruiting at Lenoir-Rhyne is not completely dissimilar to recruiting at The Citadel. However, a word of warning. Making comparisons to The Citadel can be tricky. Very tricky.

That’s why it’s important you get up to speed as quickly as possible about the institution that is now your employer. Learn as much about The Citadel as you possibly can. It’s not quite the same as the service academies, or small private schools, or anything else for that matter.

This statement you made was a good start:

You’ve got to understand exactly what The Citadel is. I’m excited about embracing the core values of The Citadel and recruiting student-athletes [who] fit the institution.

At The Citadel, you have to recruit prospective cadets who can play football. That’s the only way you can go about it. Recruiting from a football-first perspective is problematic, if not impossible.

- To be honest, coach, there is no way you are ever going to understand everything about the military college — and that’s okay. I don’t have a full grasp on the place myself, and I’m an old goat who graduated from the school.

You mentioned that a good friend of yours played football at The Citadel when Charlie Taaffe was the coach. People like that can help you start figuring things out. Talk to them early and often.

Also try to make a point of reaching out to younger alums, including former football players. I suspect you were going to do that anyway, but it’s critical to build some bridges in that area.

- The military component of the school is kind of important. It is, after all, a military college.

The key thing for you to remember is this: work with the system, not against it. Coaches who learn this, and who emphasize to their players the importance of conforming and being part of the system, tend to be successful. Coaches who fight the system every step of the way are never successful.

- It’s important to develop a positive relationship with the corps of cadets. An active and engaged corps can be a tremendous weapon for you on football Saturdays. Be sure to make a “stump speech” at the mess hall on a regular basis.

However, ultimately you aren’t responsible for the activities of the general student body. For the most part, when it comes to corps issues, let others sweat the details, at least in your first year.

- Coach Houston, we need to talk about the uniforms…

The Citadel has a contract with adidas which began last season. You might be surprised to know that before a home game against Furman, the team had to change jerseys because the SoCon officiating crew deemed them illegal.

That’s the kind of thing that might drive a coach crazy. Instead of concentrating on game preparation, the team got mired in Unigate.

Then there is the constantly revolving door of helmet logos. After a rare bout of consistency in this department, for unexplained reasons The Citadel changed its helmet design yet again for the season finale at Clemson.

Coach, I’m sure you would be puzzled at the team debuting a new design at the end of the year — and in a road game to boot. It made no sense.

However, it was just the latest in The Citadel’s tortured football uniform history. More than four years after I first wrote about it, there has been no effort to develop a standard. For a school as beholden to tradition as The Citadel, this is amazing (and infuriating).

Now, you may not be able to stop the latest helmet tweak, but you can probably make sure the jerseys feature the appropriate colors of light blue and white. Navy blue should not be a predominant color. Neither should red, or silver, or gray.

There is one other very important thing you need to fix.

Make sure the correct name of the school is on the jersey. Tell the administration you won’t lead the team out on to the field unless “THE CITADEL” is on the front of the jerseys (not “Citadel”). I can’t emphasize how critical this is to your future success.

Imagine if, during your playing career at Mars Hill, you had to wear jerseys that only read “Mars” across the front. You would be disappointed, because it wouldn’t be the name of your school (though the association with Otis Sistrunk’s alma mater might have amused a few people).

If you put the “The” back on the jerseys, coach, you will go a long way to satisfying the alumni sports blogger demographic. I know you want to keep that faction happy.

Congrats again on your appointment, Coach Houston. In your remarks to the press, it became apparent the job at The Citadel was one that had been of interest to you even before this year.

You clearly wanted the position, and think you can be successful in this role. I enjoyed watching the press conference (and subsequent interviews) and seeing your intensity, passion, and confidence.

The Citadel is a very unusual place, often difficult, occasionally intimidating, and at times frustrating. It’s also a very special place, one that engenders uncommon loyalty.

Embrace the challenge. We’re with you all the way.

Bill James’ Hall of Fame predictions from 1994

A baseball Hall of Fame post, because I haven’t written about baseball in a while, and that needs to change…

In 1994, Bill James published a book called The Politics of Glory (the title was later changed to Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?). It is, in my opinion, the best book ever written about baseball’s Hall of Fame.

I was rereading it the other day and came across his list of predictions for future Hall of Famers. James wrote:

I could give you long lists of totals for active players, but they all change every year. History suggests that there are probably now about 30 or 40 players in the major leagues who will eventually be in the Hall of Fame, but it will be at least 70 years until we have a firm total, and in that time the Veterans Committee could be abolished and reinstituted several times. Here’s the way I see the BBWAA votes for the next quarter of a century. I wouldn’t even try to guess what the Veterans Committee will do (other than they’ll have to elect Bunning and Fox).

James then made a list for the years 1995 to 2019, picking two players to be enshrined each year.

First, James was correct on several of the points he made in the above paragraph. Jim Bunning and Nellie Fox were both indeed elected by the Veterans Committee, and the VC has changed in multiple ways over the past twenty years.

Here is how James saw things going forward. Players actually enshrined in Cooperstown are in bold.

1995 — Mike Schmidt, Jim Rice
1996 — Don Sutton, Pete Rose
1997 — Steve Garvey, Phil Niekro
1998 — Gary Carter, Al Oliver
1999 — Nolan Ryan, George Brett
2000 — Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk
2001 — Andre Dawson, Dave Winfield
2002 — Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith
2003 — Dave Parker, Jim Kaat
2004 — Dennis Eckersley, Ted Simmons
2005 — Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken Jr.
2006 — Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor
2007 — Tony Gwynn, Roger Clemens
2008 — Kirby Puckett, Dale Murphy
2009 — Jack Morris, Lee Smith
2010 — Tim Raines, Ryne Sandberg
2011 — Barry Bonds, Joe Carter
2012 — Brett Butler, David Cone
2013 — Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker
2014 — Goose Gossage, Don Mattingly
2015 — Jack McDowell, Greg Maddux
2016 — Fred McGriff, Dwight Gooden
2017 — Frank Thomas, Ruben Sierra
2018 — Ken Griffey Jr., Roberto Alomar
2019 — Jeff Bagwell, Juan Gonzalez

Of course, James had no idea when the careers of most of these players would end, so the years themselves were pure guesses. Some of the players retired earlier than he had anticipated (like Puckett, Alomar, and Sandberg), while others hung on longer than expected (Rickey Henderson).

The PEDs debate/debacle also wasn’t an issue (at least, in terms of mainstream knowledge) in 1994; otherwise, his choices of Bonds and Clemens would be right on target. Pete Rose’s exclusion from the Hall needs no explanation.

All in all, though, it’s not a bad projection at all.

Let’s review the cases of some of those listed who have not been elected:

- Steve Garvey: James doesn’t seem to have actually favored Garvey’s candidacy, despite this projection (James rated Garvey the 31st-best first baseman of all time in the New Historical Baseball Abstract, released in 2001). Garvey would remain on the ballot for the full 15 years without ever coming close to election (peaking at 42.6% of the vote).

When James wrote The Politics of Glory, Garvey’s public “clean” image had largely dissipated due to some well-chronicled personal issues. Garvey was at one time an extremely popular player; without those off-the-field foibles, I suspect he would have come much closer to election and probably would have been a serious contender to gain election via the Veterans Committee. I could see arguments for/against him developing along lines similar to what we have seen with the candidacy of Jack Morris.

- Al Oliver: I’m not sure why James picked Oliver for this list. Oliver was only on the BBWAA ballot once, in 1991, and dropped off after only getting 4.3% of the vote.

Having said that, Oliver was a really good player. He could flat-out rake, leading the league in doubles twice and RBI once while compiling over 2700 career hits (.303 career batting average). In votes by two recent iterations of the Veterans Committee (2008 and 2010), Oliver has received some support (but not a lot) for enshrinement.

- Dave Parker, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy: These three guys stayed on the BBWAA ballot for 15 years, but none of them ever got as much as 30% of the vote.

I think all three stand a decent chance of future enshrinement by some version of the Veterans Committee, particularly Kaat (who won 283 games and has had a significant career in the broadcast booth). I have always supported Murphy’s candidacy, though most of the BBWAA voters certainly didn’t agree with me. Parker had some peaks and valleys in his career, but no matter what will always have the 1979 All-Star game.

- Ted Simmons: In 1994, Simmons appeared on the BBWAA ballot for the first time — and the last, as he received only 3.7% of the vote.

In the Historical Abstract, James rates Simmons as the 10th-best catcher in baseball history, though by this point Simmons will have been passed by Ivan Rodriguez. I’m guessing that Simmons will be elected some day; that day, however, may be in the distant future.

- Brett Butler, David Cone, Joe Carter, Jack McDowell, Ruben Sierra: You’ve got to give James a little credit for listing Cone, even if he didn’t wind up a Hall of Famer. Entering the 1994 season, Cone was in the middle of a nice career (95-65, 3.14 ERA), but projecting the then 30-year-old Cone as a Cooperstown candidate might have been a stretch. Of course, in 1994 Cone proceeded to win the AL Cy Young Award. He would win 99 games after James published the book.

Brett Butler and Joe Carter are good examples of well-known players who had long, successful careers that didn’t quite rise to Hall of Fame quality. Carter was very prominent at the time The Politics of Glory was released, thanks to his walk-off homer to win the 1993 World Series.

As I mentioned, David Cone won the 1994 Cy Young Award. Jack McDowell had won the award the previous year, winning 22 games.

McDowell was 27 years old. He would only win 46 more games for the rest of his career, and was finished as a major league pitcher by the age of 33.

Ruben Sierra was the AL MVP runner-up in 1989, when he was 23 years old. That turned out to be his career year. Sierra played for nine different clubs between 1994 and 2006, his last season in MLB.

- Lou Whitaker: In 2001, Lou Whitaker debuted on the BBWAA ballot. He received only 2.9% of the vote.

Whitaker’s one-and-done BBWAA vote has been scrutinized (and criticized) for the past decade. Bill James rated Whitaker the 13th-best second baseman of all time, ahead of Hall of Famers Billy Herman, Nellie Fox, Joe Gordon, Bobby Doerr, Tony Lazzeri, Johnny Evers, Red Schoendienst, Bill Mazeroski, and Bid McPhee. (Two other second basemen rated behind Whitaker, Miller Huggins and Bucky Harris, are in the Hall for their managerial careers.)

All of the Hall of Fame second basemen named in the preceding paragraph were Veterans Committee selections. I suspect that Whitaker will ultimately join them as a VC pick.

Of the 12 second basemen James rated ahead of Whitaker, all but two are in the Hall. Craig Biggio is one of them, and he will probably be elected this year. The other, Bobby Grich, would be a worthy choice for the Hall as well.

- Dwight Gooden: From 1984 through 1993: 154-81, 3.04 ERA, 2128 1/3 IP, 1.169 WHIP

From 1994 until his career ended in 2000: 40-31, 4.99 ERA, 672 1/2 IP, 1.532 WHIP

What might have been…

- Juan Gonzalez: He actually won two MVP awards after James’ projection. Gonzalez lasted for all of two BBWAA ballots, which arguably was one more appearance on the ballot than he deserved. Igor only had 781 plate appearances in the majors after his age 31 season.

Then there are the players James didn’t list who are now serious Hall of Fame candidates (or who have been elected). Here are a few of them:

- Bert Blyleven: James only mentioned Blyleven once in The Politics of Glory, and even that was only in passing. In the Historical Abstract, however, he rated Blyleven the 39th-best pitcher in baseball history (as of 2000, the year he rated pitchers). That is basically right on the border of the Hall of Fame.

Only one pitcher rated ahead of Blyleven (Carl Mays) is not in the Hall, and there are many behind him who have been enshrined. Some of the guys rated lower than Blyleven should not have been elected, honestly, but quite a few of them are deserving. In other words, Blyleven is definitely not out of place as a Hall of Famer, a conclusion James had already reached.

- Craig Biggio: James initially rated Biggio the 5th-best second baseman of all time in the Historical Abstract, which he later acknowledged was probably a mistake. Still, there is no doubt that James is on board with Biggio’s Hall of Fame case (calling him “the greatest underappreciated player of my lifetime”).

James had no way of knowing in 1994 that Biggio still had over 2000 games to play in his career. Through the 1993 campaign, Biggio had played in exactly 800 games, having converted from a catcher to a second baseman in 1992. His career OPS+ following the 1993 season was 113. His OPS+ when his career finally ended? 112.

I think it’s interesting that Bill James listed Biggio’s Houston teammate, Jeff Bagwell, in his Hall of Fame projections despite Bagwell having only played three MLB seasons at the time.

- Tom Glavine: It’s a little surprising that Glavine didn’t get the nod from James. As I mentioned above, at the time of the publication of The Politics of Glory, David Cone was 95-65. Glavine was 95-66, with three consecutive top-3 Cy Young Award finishes (including winning the award in 1991). Glavine did have a significantly higher career ERA through the 1993 season (3.53 to Cone’s 3.14). Cone was three years older than Glavine, though.

In closing, let me quote Bill James one more time:

…the effect of [Hall of Fame] discussion is to create confusion, and in general this is how the Hall of Fame argument progresses: cacophony, leading to confusion.

It’s been 20 years since James’ book made order out of some of that confusion. Given the current controversies surrounding the process, however, the topic remains one of bewilderment…

A few quick thoughts on The Citadel’s search for a new head football coach

Maybe I should have waited to post my review of The Citadel’s 2013 football season. Less than 24 hours after I posted it, Kevin Higgins resigned as head coach.

After all, timing is everything…

The difference between the opportunity at Wake Forest and the one two years ago was a matter of timing, Higgins said…

…Larry Leckonby last week offered Higgins an extension through the 2015 season, but that was not enough to sway him from taking the Wake Forest job.

“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Leckonby said of Higgins’ decision. “We talked last week about his future here, about a contract extension. We met (Monday morning) and I gave it one last try to see if we could keep him here. We wish him all the best and look for success out of Wake Forest in the ACC.”

To be honest, I think there is just a hint of Kabuki theater about the whole “offered an extension he didn’t accept” thing, but I could be wrong about that. It doesn’t really matter, though. The bottom line is that Kevin Higgins is leaving, and The Citadel has to find a suitable replacement.

Larry Leckonby had this to say:

My phones have been inundated with folks who are interested or have someone they think is interested in the job. I think it’s the flip side of the situation nine years ago. We’re going to have to turn folks away.

That sentiment was echoed in a tweet sent out by Scott Roussel, operator of FootballScoop.com:

So, so many guys reaching out about the Citadel job. Great location. No idea what direction they go; but plenty of quality interest.

It is undoubtedly true that the job at The Citadel is more attractive now than it was nine years ago, when Higgins accepted the position. That is to his credit.

However, any candidates out there interested in the job because of the “great location” better know that being head football coach at The Citadel isn’t a retirement gig. Lowering one’s golf handicap is not a primary or secondary goal.

When asked if he would hire a triple-option coach, Leckonby said that he would “make that determination in the next couple of days and go from there.”

I hope he decides not to limit candidates to those who would employ an option offense. I say that despite being someone who believes that running some form of the “triple option” is probably the way to go for a school like The Citadel.

However, I don’t want to see the pool of candidates substantially reduced by a restriction like that. There may be someone interested in the position who might have other ideas about on-field concepts that could work at The Citadel, and the school should listen.

Offensive philosophy is just one of many issues on the table for the job at the military college. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be a consideration. It definitely should be.

However, if it turns out the best candidate happens to prefer running out of the I-formation or something, then The Citadel should hire him anyway.

Leckonby said he will use an “advisory committee” but will handle “most” of the task of hiring a new coach himself. He expects to present a group of finalists and a recommendation to school president Lt. Gen. John Rosa.

For some, the process of making the hire is perhaps almost as important as the hire itself. It is open to question whether or not Rosa will simply “rubber stamp” Larry Leckonby’s recommendation, or if the school president will be more involved in making the final decision. That is something to watch.

I’ll be a little curious to see if the advisory committee is a somewhat formal group, with a listed set of members, or if Leckonby will simply run things by some trusted friends/colleagues. It’s also possible that some members of the committee will be tasked with what Leckonby referred to Monday as “cultivating” candidates.

“The first three people I talked to today, all of whom I respect, said the same thing: Make sure you don’t move too fast,” Leckonby said. “Don’t rush forward to get a coach because of recruiting; make sure you get the right fit for The Citadel.

“So I don’t think we’ll set a time frame on it. But at the same time, you don’t want to lose a full recruiting year because of it.”

Fair enough. I agree that getting the right coach is more important than one recruiting year. That recruiting year is important, though.

The next few weeks are going to be fascinating. They will also be very important to the future of The Citadel’s football program, and for the department of athletics as a whole.

Leckonby said on Monday that he would handle most of the heavy lifting himself, “for better or worse”. It has to be for the better, Mr. Leckonby. It has to be for the better…

A brief review of The Citadel’s 2013 football season

Edit: less than 24 hours after I posted this, Kevin Higgins resigned as head coach of The Citadel to take an assistant coaching position at Wake Forest. Obviously that makes part of the review a bit dated, but I’m leaving the post unchanged from when it went up. 

In my preview of The Citadel’s 2013 football campaign, I wrote the following:

…this could be a season of what-ifs rather than the big-win campaign that is the hope for Bulldog supporters. As always when it comes to the gridiron, the margin for error at The Citadel is small. To illustrate this, think of the task the team faces this year from what might be called the most negative point of view:

- The Citadel will play four opponents that are either FBS or transitioning to FBS (and thus will have more scholarship players). Three of those games will be on the road.

- The Citadel will play two other opponents that defeated the Bulldogs last season by a combined score of 66-17. Both of those teams return most of their key players.

- One opponent hasn’t lost to the Bulldogs during Kevin Higgins’ tenure as head coach of The Citadel, while another has beaten The Citadel four times in the last five meetings.

- Of the remaining four opponents, last season The Citadel trailed one of them midway through the third quarter; was in a one-point game late in the third quarter to another; barely held off a late rally from a third; and was tied at halftime with the fourth.

I guess I could say I told you so, except I really can’t. I thought the Bulldogs would be a little better than they were, despite the seemingly difficult schedule. I was hoping that The Citadel would contend for the league title and/or a playoff berth.

That didn’t happen. It didn’t come close to happening, either.

The Bulldogs’ disappointing season was all the more frustrating by the way the season played out in the Southern Conference. The league wasn’t nearly as good as expected.

Appalachian State proved to be eminently beatable, and Georgia Southern was certainly no well-oiled machine. Wofford finished 5-6.

It was all there for The Citadel, ready for the taking…and the Bulldogs finished with a losing record.

Entering 2013 there were concerns about the defense, particularly the D’s ability to stop the run. How did the defense fare?

Comparing 2012 and 2013 (league contests only, per game average):

2012 points allowed: 26.75
2013 points allowed: 23.25

2012 total yards allowed: 395
2013 total yards allowed: 362.38

2012 rush yards allowed: 237.13
2013 rush yards allowed: 178.75

2012 pass yards allowed: 157.88
2013 pass yards allowed: 183.63

These numbers show some improvement from 2012 to 2013, which might surprise a few people. On a per-play basis, the defense improved from 5.75 yards per play (2012) to 5.47 (2013), though the yards allowed per pass attempt increased (from 6.5 in 2012 to 7.2 in 2013).

The Citadel forced twelve turnovers in league play this season, similar to 2012 (eleven). The Bulldogs recovered five fumbles in 2013, which matched 2012’s total.

The defense was credited with 28 passes defensed in eight conference games in 2013. Exactly 25% of those (seven) resulted in interceptions. That is slightly above the national average for defensed passes; basically, the Bulldogs intercepted one more pass in league play than would have been expected. That isn’t insignificant, especially if you think of the “extra” pick as, say, Mitchell Jeter’s grab in the Appalachian State game.

In all, The Citadel had breakups/interceptions on 13.7% of opponents’ passes in 2013 SoCon action. That was a slight improvement on 2012 (12.4%).

Ideally, the Bulldogs would have a higher percentage of passes defensed than 13.7%, though to be honest I suspect the benchmark for excellence in this area varies depending on defensive concepts. For example, Tulane tied for the national lead in FBS this past season in passes defended, with 84 in 12 games. The Green Wave had a breakup/pick rate of 20.7%.

However, Michigan State’s defense was arguably the most highly regarded in the entire country this year, and the Spartans’ PD rate was 14.4%. That didn’t stop MSU’s Darqueze Dennard from winning the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back.

- Incidentally, Dennard was a “two-star” recruit from Dry Branch, Georgia.

The comparative per-game statistics in league play for The Citadel’s offense aren’t as positive.

2012 points: 29.75
2013 points: 24.25

2012 total yards: 382.5
2013 total yards: 350.25

2012 rush yards: 299.5
2013 rush yards: 256.63

2012 pass yards: 83.0
2013 pass yards: 93.63

The Bulldogs averaged just over six yards per play in 2012, but that number fell to 5.4 y/p in 2013. Rushing yards per play declined from 5.8 to 5.1.

While The Citadel’s passing yardage increased by over ten yards per SoCon game, that was due to an increased number of attempts (more than three per contest). The Bulldogs’ yards per pass attempt actually declined, from 7.2 (2012) to 6.4 (2013).

The Citadel threw the ball on 18.3% of its 2012 plays. That percentage increased to 22.6% in 2013.

It won’t surprise anyone reading this that in terms of total offense, The Citadel’s numbers were worse at the start of the conference season than at the end. The Bulldogs struggled out of the gate, averaging 314 yards per contest in their first three SoCon games, but by the end of the campaign seemed to have mostly put things together (404 yards per contest in the three final conference matchups).

The spring practice/preseason concentration on diversifying the offense backfired. It’s as simple as that.

The Citadel’s offense suffered a dropoff in “red zone” efficiency in 2013. When The Bulldogs advanced inside the opponents’ 20-yard line in 2012, they scored a touchdown 69% of the time. This past season, The Citadel scored TDs on only 60% of its trips inside the 20.

(Note: red zone numbers are for all games, not just Southern Conference matchups. All the other statistics I’ve mentioned above are for league games only.)

I think if the offense had performed at its 2012 levels in 2013, the Bulldogs would have finished no worse than 6-6 and probably should have been 7-5 (and maybe even 8-4). However, instead of finishing 5-3 in SoCon play (as it did in 2012), The Citadel was 4-4. That doesn’t even account for the embarrassing loss to Charleston Southern in the season opener.

The game against the Buccaneers probably didn’t help the Bulldogs’ confidence for the start of the league campaign, and so after five games The Citadel was 1-4 and the hopes and aspirations for 2013 were just about kaput. Breaking down the remaining seven games, the Bulldogs essentially performed up to preseason expectations (2-2 against App/GSU/UTC/Sam, wins over Elon and VMI, a loss to Clemson).

It was that early-season boondoggle that did in the Bulldogs. Furman played very well over the second half of 2013, but wasn’t nearly as good when the season began. The Citadel should have won that game, particularly given the Paladins’ QB issues at the time.

Against Wofford, the Bulldogs didn’t score an offensive touchdown. We all know what happened against Charleston Southern.

When Phil Kornblut asked Kevin Higgins to describe the season (prior to the game against Clemson), the coach was candid:

It was disappointing, for sure. We had much higher expectations than that. We played a lot of close football games throughout the season, [but] that’s not an excuse. We were hoping to finish a couple of those games off, but didn’t…the one positive was our guys kept fighting [and] never gave up.

Higgins is expected to still be the coach next season, and I’m okay with that. However, there are some Bulldog supporters who think a change should have been made, and I don’t think it’s ridiculous to feel that way.

There is a lot of frustration in the fan base with the struggles of the football program over the last two decades, and Kevin Higgins has now been the coach for nine seasons. He took over a program that could be reasonably described as unstable. That should be kept in mind when evaluating his time at the school. However, some aspects of his record are, well, not so good:

- He has only had a winning record twice in nine campaigns
– He has not defeated Wofford in nine seasons
– His record against Furman is 3-6
– His two losses to Charleston Southern rank among the worst in school history

That said, there are some things Higgins can’t control.

It’s not his fault the band isn’t allowed to play more often. Higgins isn’t responsible for the maddening videoboard/loudspeaker/music choices. He’s not the reason The Citadel’s video streaming setup never seems to work. He didn’t make the ludicrous (and potentially damaging) decision to play a road game at Charleston Southern next year.

I mention those things (among other issues) only because sometimes the team’s performance gets lumped in with all the other stuff that people complain about when it comes to the football program and the department of athletics in general. There is a fair amount of unease among The Citadel’s faithful fans, but a lot of it is not related to actual gridiron activity.

I am not certain what Higgins’ contract status is; there seems to be some confusion on that subject. Normally I am not a fan of retaining a coach who has just one remaining year on his contract, but I am willing to make an exception in this case (and again, I’m not sure he’s got only one year left anyway).

One reason I am amenable to giving Higgins a little more rope is that next year will be transitory in many respects, particularly with regards to the Southern Conference itself. I’m more than a little curious to see how things “play out” with the change in league membership.

Another factor is something Higgins mentioned to Phil Kornblut. This year’s team really did keep fighting. It certainly didn’t quit. I’ve said this before, but that is to the players’ credit, and it’s also a positive when discussing the coaching staff. Higgins didn’t “lose” the team in circumstances which were possibly conducive to doing just that. That’s a mark in his favor.

Next year’s slate is going to be a difficult one. It will probably be tougher than this year’s was supposed to be.

I’ll be ready for spring football, though. I may be already…

The “unofficial” 2014 SoCon football schedule

Last week the Southern Conference accidentally “leaked” the provisional 2014 composite league football schedule. It has since been removed from the conference website, but here is a .pdf of the document as it (briefly) appeared online:

2014 provisional SoCon football schedule

There are a few things on the provisional schedule that have already been changed. For example, Chattanooga will no longer be hosting Georgia State on September 6. Instead, the Mocs will open their 2014 season at Central Michigan on Thursday, August 28 and will play their home opener against Jacksonville State (apparently on September 6, essentially replacing the Georgia State game).

Not included on the provisional schedule, but announced earlier this year, is a 9/20 meeting between the Paladins and South Carolina State, to be played in Orangeburg. That will be a rematch of the first-round 2013 playoff game won by Furman, of course.

There is also a little confusion about Furman’s opponent on 10/25. Some reports suggest the Paladins will play Chattanooga on that date, but this schedule lists Samford as Furman’s homecoming opponent.

Other “holes” in the provisional schedule include the following:

- The opponent for VMI on 10/18 (a non-league matchup) is unknown. Edit 1/7/14: VMI will play Gardner-Webb on that date, in Lexington.

- Wofford will presumably add at least one more game to its schedule (if not two). As of right now, the Terriers only have four listed home games (including a non-conference game vs. Jacksonville). I’m guessing that Wofford will play another OOC matchup in Spartanburg on either 9/20 or 9/27.

- Western Carolina also will be adding another game or two to its slate. From what I understand, Brevard will almost certainly be an early-season home opponent for the Catamounts.

- Samford has reportedly bought its way out of its game at Southeastern Louisiana, which had been tentatively scheduled for 9/13. SU may want to play a home game on that date instead.

While there are still additions and changes to be made to various schedules, I suspect that the actual league games are more or less official (though the uncertainty about Furman’s home opponent on 10/25 does give one pause). Each team will play seven conference games in both 2014 and 2015, as the league waits for East Tennessee State to restart its football program.

Ultimately, this is just throwing out a little football news to talk about in the middle of December. Nothing wrong with that.

A brief look at the Knight Commission’s NCAA Division I athletic and academic spending database

On December 4, the Knight Commission unveiled a database comparing spending on academics and athletics at NCAA Division I institutions. You can access the database here: Link

The database covers the years 2005 through 2011 (and adjusts for inflation).

I wouldn’t want to make a definitive statement based on these numbers, in part because…well, I’ll let the Commission explain:

Comparisons between institutions are possible, but some institutions interpret the NCAA financial reporting rules slightly differently despite efforts by the NCAA staff working with the National Association of College and University Business Officers to standardize the definitions and reporting. NCAA legislation requires that the financial reports be subject to agreed-upon procedures conducted by a “qualified independent accountant who is not a staff member of the institution.” Each institution’s president or chancellor is required to certify the financial report before it is submitted to the NCAA.

It’s good to have this kind of information available, however.

(Note: all the schools in the database are public colleges and universities. Private school numbers are, uh, private.)

I put together a couple of spreadsheets of my own, based on this data. The first is a listing of state-supported schools that play football at the FCS level, and includes academic spending per student, athletic spending on a per-athlete basis, and coaching salaries. Link

The other spreadsheet lists state-supported D-1 schools that don’t play varsity football. Link

Some observations, mostly from The Citadel’s perspective…

- Among FCS public schools, The Citadel was one of only two schools to have had spending on a per-athlete basis decline from 2005 to 2011, falling 11%. The only other one of the 80 schools listed to have shown a decline in spending on a per-athlete basis was Morgan State (-6%). FCS schools collectively increased per-athlete spending by 47% from 2005-11.

Note: two other schools (Missouri State and Idaho State) also had declines in this category, but those numbers were clearly based on certain accounting irregularities — for instance, Missouri State’s listed spending per athlete in 2005 was over $3.5 million. Thus, I am not counting them as schools with reduced per-athlete spending.

(Other categories also had occasional obvious outliers, and there are also schools for which the database has incomplete information.)

Other schools of interest in the category of per-athlete spending include (all percentages are increases):

South Carolina State (125%)
Georgia State (116%)
James Madison (109%)
Appalachian State (90%)
North Dakota State (88%)
William and Mary (82%)
Coastal Carolina (71%)
Old Dominion (59%)
UT-Chattanooga (56%)
Georgia Southern (31%)
VMI (26%)
Western Carolina (21%)

- Among non-football Division I schools, VCU leads in increased per-athlete spending (up 178% from 2005 to 2011). Also worth mentioning (all increases):

UNC-Greensboro (63%)
College of Charleston (62%)
UNC-Wilmington (56%)
Charlotte (53%)
UNC-Asheville (44%)
Winthrop (41%)
East Tennessee State (39%)

There are a couple of things worth pointing out here. One is that because the most recent update is from 2011, obviously the move of some schools from FCS to FBS football doesn’t show in these numbers (not to mention Charlotte, which started playing football in 2013).

Also, increased spending doesn’t indicate the amount of total spending. Old Dominion spent over $67,000 per athlete in FY 2011, while Mississippi Valley State spent about $50K less on average.

The Citadel spent $31K per athlete in 2011, just behind Appalachian State ($33K) and Georgia Southern ($32K), and ahead of VMI ($26K). Coastal Carolina spent $47K per athlete; Morgan State, $36K; and South Carolina State, also $36K.

Among non-football schools, College of Charleston spent $35K per athlete in 2011; UNC-Greensboro, $51K; East Tennessee State, $54K; and Winthrop, $42K.

- SEC schools spent on average $160K per athlete in 2011 (up 65%).

The amount of money expended for coach’s salaries at The Citadel increased 68% from 2005 to 2011 (total for 2011: $2.4 million).

- Other FCS schools of interest (total amount expended on coach’s salaries in 2011, percentage increase from 2005-11):

Old Dominion ($5.1 million, 114.34%)
Delaware ($4.6 million, 58.18%)
James Madison ($4.5 million, 31.57%)
William and Mary ($3.7 million, 50.83%)
Georgia State ($3.6 million, 203.56%)
Coastal Carolina ($3.5 million, 93.51%)
Appalachian State ($3.3 million, 78.47%)
North Dakota State ($3.3 million, 88.19%)
UT-Chattanooga ($2.7 million, 26.75%)
Georgia Southern ($2.6 million, 45.42%)
South Carolina State ($2.4 million, 148.21%)
Western Carolina ($2.4 million, 148.21%)
VMI ($2.4 million, 148.21%)
Mississippi Valley State ($942K, 101.23%)

- Some of the non-football schools (total amount expended on coach’s salaries in 2011, percentage increase from 2005-11):

Charlotte ($3.8 million, 57.02%)
George Mason ($3.5 million, 71.26%)
VCU ($3.4 million, 97.46%)
UNC-Wilmington ($2.6 million, 47.77%)
College of Charleston ($2.5 million, 37.64%)
East Tennessee State ($2.3 million, 82.04%)
Winthrop ($2.0 million, 56.24%)
UNC-Greensboro ($2.0 million, 46.77%)
UNC-Asheville ($1.0 million, 36.79%)
Maryland-Eastern Shore ($695K, 5.98%)

However, The Citadel’s increase in coach’s salaries per athlete over the 2005-11 time period was only 1%, despite the jump in overall allocated funds for coaches. In contrast, the FCS average for coach’s salaries per athlete was 51%.

To address football specifically, The Citadel has increased its football spending on a per-athlete basis by 22.5% from 2007 to 2011 (the database did not have 2005-06 numbers for the school). That is in line with the FCS median average over the same time frame (20.9%). In terms of raw numbers, The Citadel spent more money per athlete in 2011 ($53,807) than the FCS median ($36,134).

If you take out scholarship expense considerations, however, The Citadel’s increase in football spending on a per-athlete basis from 2007-11 was only 2%; the FCS median was 14%. That may be telling, though the difference if you only account for scholarship players is not quite as large (7% to 16%, with The Citadel spending more than the FCS median by almost $5K per player).

Football coaching salaries on a per-scholarship player basis were higher for The Citadel than the FCS median. In 2011, the school averaged $13,243 in coach’s salary per scholly player, an increase of 68% from 2005. The FCS average over the same time period was an increase of 42%, with a median per scholarship player of $10,366 in coaching salaries.

Debt service numbers:

In 2011, The Citadel paid $2.2 million in principal/interest on athletic facilities. This was, to say the least, a whole lot more than the FCS median (which was just over $200K).

The total outstanding debt for athletic facilities in 2011 at The Citadel was $17.7 million. That is ten times the FCS median.

$17.7 million seems like a lot (actually, it is a lot). On the other hand, it pales in comparison to Appalachian State’s $49.4 million in athletic facilities debt. A few other schools in this category:

Coastal Carolina ($7.8 million)
William and Mary ($12.0 million)
Jacksonville State ($27.8 million)
James Madison ($48.6 million)
South Carolina State ($455K)
UT-Chattanooga ($1.9 million)
Old Dominion ($49.6 million)
Delaware ($17.0 million)
VMI ($0)
Western Carolina ($7.6 million)

The total outstanding debt for all facilities at The Citadel in 2011 (presumably including those designated for athletics) was $48.8 million, which was actually a decline of over $8 million from 2009.

What do all these stats mean? That’s hard to say. There are caveats on top of caveats.

I’ve written about expenses before in various contexts, but I’m still not sure how to evaluate some of these numbers. What can I say, I’m an unfrozen caveman blogger. All of these statistics frighten and confuse me.

I think that perhaps the takeaway from The Citadel’s point of view may be comparing the numbers of fellow public schools with what isn’t listed in the database — namely, the spending by private institutions. It is increasingly clear that the military college has to act as a private school does in terms of fundraising and recruiting.

The Citadel is always going to be much smaller than most other public universities (in terms of undergraduate enrollment, etc.). While I think that is a good thing, it provides unique challenges for the school as a whole and the department of athletics in particular.

Duty, honor, and respect are priceless concepts — but there are still bills to pay.

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