Why Holly Warlick Should Get Another Year

(cross-posted from Rocky Top Talk)

As I write this, it is the morning after the Alabama loss … the morning after the Lady Vols set yet two more negative records: most SEC losses ever, and losing to Bama for the first time ever in the regular season. The team appears to be imploding, and no one can stop it, least of all Head Coach Holly Warlick. This is becoming, or has already become, the worst Lady Vol season since before the Summitt era.

And yet, even now, I firmly believe Holly Warlick should be back next year as head coach. Here is why.

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Same Old Bobby?

If you follow UofL football, or college football in general, you know that this past Wednesday was National Signing Day — the day when high school players make their commitments final to their chosen colleges by signing a Letter of Intent.

As a rule, I dislike all the hype put into recruiting, especially the over-the-top attention paid to some 17-year-olds simply because they can do skillful things with a ball. I tend to agree with Mike Wilbon of PTI:

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Are We Really Shooting Worse?

Lots of people are saying this is one of the worst-shooting teams of recent memory. I know it seems that way, especially last weekend – but let’s look at some data and not trust our lying eyes.

So, using the great site Sports Reference, I pulled down game stats for the past five seasons. I then did some analysis.

First, I ran out FG% by game for the past five years, and did some graphs to see if I could see trends. The game-by-game graphs were too volatile, so I added four-game rolling trendlines. That seemed to show that this team was under earlier teams – but then I realized that our FG% was only part of the equation.

If you are a bad-shooting team, but your opponents shoot WORSE, isn’t that the stat that really matters?

So, I went back and added a rolling cumulative percentage, game by game, for both us and our opponents. THEN, I did a column showing the cumulative game-by-game difference.

Here are the results, both through 18 games and through the end of the year, showing both our FG% and the difference with our opponents:

2010-2011 — 47.7% through 18 (up 8.7%), finish 45.3% (up 5.9%)

2011-2012 — 43.2% through 18 (up 6.7%), finish 42.2% (up 3.8%)

2012-2013 — 45.4% through 18 (up 5.8%), finish 45.6% (up 6.1%)

2013-2014 — 47.1% through 18 (up 7.6%), finish 47.1% (up 7.5%) 

2014-2015 — 42.7% through 18 (up 5.7%), —

So, no matter how you look at it, this year’s FG% is lower through 18 games than any of the previous teams, AND their margin against their opponents is smaller as well.

Note, of course, that if you subtract the margin from our FG%, you can see our opponents are also shooting lower than any year except 2011-2012. So, this year’s defense is usually giving us a margin of safety. But not always.

Let’s hope that the offensive numbers go up at least a little, and that our defense continues to be strong. I’ll post updates on these stats as the season goes along.

Can A Loss Be A Win?

My wife and I traveled to a funeral on Saturday, and listened to the game on the way back to Louisville from Dayton. We were able to pick up the game at halftime, and listened to the end. And while I was disappointed in the loss, I have to say:

Outside of the score, this was a win for Louisville.

Yes, I know, that’s at best an oxymoron, and at worst one of those “moral victories” claims. But seriously, this game is going to produce more dividends down the road, I think, than if one of the two shots at the end had actually gone in and we had won.

Chris Jones continued his upward trajectory as a point guard. Terry Rozier was, once again, amazing. The 5 position finally showed some signs of life. All good things, all positives we can celebrate.

But you see, we have a HOF coach, and he is going to use this as a teaching-tool-slash-club-to-beat-you-with for probably the next three months. As in,

“See what happens when you don’t play defense?”
“See why you need to get stronger, Mango?”
“See what happens, Trezl, when you disappear?”
“See what happens, bench players, when we get nothing from you?”
“See what happens, everyone, when you lose focus and let a team back into the game?”

I’m going to predict that this team is going to make a deep run in March, and when they do, they are going to reference this loss. They are going to learn from it, over and over again. Because as a person who works in adult learning in my career, there’s a truism that definitely applies:

Adults learn more from failure than from success.

Reflections on Louisville-Kentucky

It’s the return of the Monday Morning Quarterback series, and what better way to start than by looking back at the 20th Anniversary Edition of the Governor’s Cup (and yes, we know how to spell “Governor”). Let’s get to it!

Negatives

Most of these have been talked to death, but we need to be thorough.

Kentucky’s mistakes. This is one of the two most obvious negatives from the game. If Kentucky catches that screen pass and reels off a big gainer, it would have changed the tenor of the game and perhaps led to a touchdown. If they convert more third downs, obviously they not only have a chance to score more, they keep Bridgewater and Company off the field. I’m sure they’re going to watch the tape and be sick all over again.

Louisville’s passing. For some reason, the UofL offense just couldn’t get into a rhythm, especially in the first half. Teddy had a decent game, but certainly not the video-game-Teddy we were expecting. Is it possible that UK’s defense was better than we thought? Perhaps. I think the real reason, though, was the scheme — more than one person noted that Kentucky came out with an unbalanced scheme that the Cards and their staff hadn’t seen on tape and weren’t prepared for. Kudos to Stoops and Co for coming up with it — it made a difference in the first half. Then in the second, Louisville obviously decided to rely on the run game, so the passing was not as important. Still, it was disconcerting to see the AFROS and Teddy not light up the scoreboard like we are used to.

Louisville’s poise. This hasn’t been talked about, so maybe I’m way off here, but it seemed to me that in their first away game, the Louisville team was thrown off by the Commonwealth crowd. (Well, since the game wasn’t sold out, “crowd” may be an overstatement.) You’re supposed to be a veteran team, you’re supposed to know how to tune out the noise — so why did it look like you weren’t on your A game?

Going deep. I understand the need to get vertical in order to stretch the defense and stop them putting everyone close. Got that. But it sure seemed to me like Watson dialed up the deep ball too often. It felt like we were trying to get it all in a rush, rather than taking what was available in the short and medium game. Normal Teddy is completely capable of picking a defense apart; Long-Ball Teddy is cool, but the third or fourth time you see it miss, you wonder why we’re wasting downs on it.

Positives

Kentucky’s preparation. It was obvious that this is not the “same old Kentucky.” They were prepared, they were disciplined, they didn’t give up, they came to play. I wasn’t sure about Stoops when he was hired — how much does a famous football last name get you? — but I think they’ve got it going in Lexington, and if they can recruit a few more high-end players, they can make some noise. Stoops and Co seem to know how to coach them up. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this year’s team pull some upsets along the way.

Louisville’s running game. After last week, everyone was wailing about the lack of run production of the Cards. Well Hello, Running Game! It was nice to see the offense decide in the second half to establish the run, and then drive the ball down the field through good blocking and good running. Great to see Perry be the workhorse he was before the injury. Good to see Dyer and Dom get their licks in too. And did you know this was Louisville’s first 200-yard rushing game since … last year’s game against Kentucky? In other words, this was a needed turn of events. It wasn’t the Fun and Gun, but it was a needed addition to the offense going forward.

The win. It’s cliche to say so, but when your highly-touted offense is sputtering some, and the opposing team looks better than you thought, and you’re on the road, to be able to make adjustments at the half, then tighten the chinstrap and just grind out a win says a lot about the determination of the team. Louisville did not look as good as we expected, Kentucky looked better than we expected, yet the Cards still got the win. We’re all picky, picky, picky, but the poll voters just saw the victory and the score, and kept us about where we were last week.

This season, we need to pay attention to what Coach Strong said last year — enjoy the wins. People (including me) are all atwitter about Teddy’s Heisman run and the possibility of an undefeated season and the National Championship and which bowl will we play in and …

Just stop it. Dial down the hype, dial down the pickiness, and let’s just enjoy the fact that the Cards are 3-and-0, ranked in the Top Ten, and looking like a really good football team. Throw down some beers, throw up some Ls, and let’s enjoy this fun season.

Kentucky Got Petrinoed

Yes folks, it’s a new verb: “Petrinoed.” It’s what happens when you play a team coached by Bobby Petrino, and you’re not ready for it. You get Petrinoed.

What are the signs that you are being, or have been, Petrinoed?

  • An opening drive that is scripted from start to finish, moves the ball with certainty, and almost always scores.
  • A passing attack with pinpoint accuracy that makes your defenders look two steps slow, and that moves the ball consistently.
  • Play calling of a variety and complexity that leaves your defense and your coaching staff shell-shocked.
  • The feeling of being run over by an unstoppable force — and you ain’t no immovable object.

Watching WKU on Saturday was like watching UofL when Petrino was there: amazingly efficient offense, clockwork play execution, and enough defense to get the job done. The opening drive was all I needed to see; it was obvious from that point forward that Kentucky was going to lose.

Of course, the Wildcats brought their own set of issues to the table. Once again, the defense looked uncoached. I don’t think that’s the case, but as one coach noted, they regressed under pressure. I’ll say they regressed — all the way back to last year.

And the offense was hampered by their choice of starting quarterback. Perhaps he looked the best in practice. Perhaps his shortcomings weren’t obvious until game time. But boy, they sure were obvious on the field Saturday. When they put in Maxwell Smith, that so-called Air Raid progressed from sputtering biplane to at least a Cessna.

And what of Bobby P? I’m still not convinced he has changed; let’s see him stay at WKU for more than one season, and not lie every time his lips move. But as everyone admits, he’s a hell of a coach. And he said all the right things after the win on Saturday. If they go to Knoxville and knock off the rebuilding Vols, he will move right to the top of every AD’s list. Let’s see how he handles that.

I’m already looking forward to the WKU-UT game on Saturday. Let’s see if the Vols wind up Petrinoed as well.

Hypocrisy at Texas A&M

Johnny Football is in the news again. But this time, as Paul Harvey used to say, there’s the rest of the story.

Johnny Manziel, the Heisman-winning quarterback at Texas A&M, is accused of signing memorabilia for cash, which is clearly against NCAA rules. Allegedly, the NCAA is looking into the accusations, and could decide to suspend Manziel from playing in the coming season.

The NCAA rules are clear, and if Manziel actually did sign items for payment, he knew he was breaking the rules. What strikes me about this story, though, is the blatant hypocrisy exhibited by Texas A&M. From one of many news stories reporting on this:

The value of Manziel is clear in the memorabilia and appearance market: Independent merchandiser Aggieland Outfitters recently auctioned off six helmets signed by Manziel and Texas A&M’s other Heisman Trophy winner, John David Crow, for $81,000. Texas A&M’s booster organization, the 12th Man Foundation, sold a table for six, where Manziel and Crow will sit at the team’s Kickoff Dinner later this month, for $20,000. (emphasis added)

So — it’s against the rules for a college football player to make money off his abilities while in school, but it’s perfectly okay for the school to make even more money off the player? The school can grab 20 large ones from some sap of a fan, but Manziel gets busted for signing his name?

Manziel may wind up punished in some way by the NCAA. If that happens, I hope they go after the school and the booster organization as well. And if they don’t, I hope Manziel sues them over the double standard, and brings the hypocrisy into the open. It’s time for this double standard to end.

Are Coaches Responsible for Their Players’ Actions?

So today we learn that Urban Myer has suspended one of his players for three games following an alleged assault on a woman at a nightclub. Interestingly, the woman decided not to press charges, and the video evidence is relatively inconclusive. Even more interestingly, Myer’s decision came after the case was dropped by the police.

So why did Myer issue the suspension anyway? And is there a larger issue here?

Let’s answer the second question first: yes, there is a larger issue here. That issue is the question of whether or not coaches are responsible for their players’ actions. And the background to THAT question is Florida, and Aaron Hernandez.

Urban Myer led his Florida teams to two national championships, and was one of the most celebrated coaches in the country during his tenure there. Yet, his players were also known for getting into trouble off the field. The championships overshadowed the troubles, for the most part. But now, with the Aaron Hernandez murder case in the news, people are asking about the place of the Florida football team in the story.

Myer has been accused, rightly or wrongly, of putting play on the field above behavior off the field. People are drawing a line between the seemingly lax environment of those Florida teams and Aaron Hernandez continuing, it seems, to get into trouble after he left Florida.

I think that Myer issued the suspension for one of two reasons. The cynical reason is that he is covering his (bases) after the Hernandez story by being tough on the next Ohio State player to get out of line. “See, I’m paying attention! Look how tough I was on this guy! You can’t stick that stuff on me!”

The less cynical reason may be that Myer actually IS paying attention, and has come to realize that he is actually doing his young men a disservice by being a poor disciplinarian. He is missing his opportunities to make a difference in their lives, and even to possibly change them to the point that their life path changes. I HOPE that is the case here. But the truth is, none of us know unless we are in that locker room and can observe the day-to-day workings of that team. For it is in the everyday interactions and discussions and decisions that the environment is built.

Which leads to the title question: are coaches responsible for their players’ actions? The answer, of course, is No. These are individuals, and each individual player is responsible for the choices they make and the actions they take.

HOWEVER — and it’s a big However — coaches ARE reponsible for the environment they create, the attitudes they foster, and the concepts they convey. If they emphasize entitlement, the “you are special because you are here” idea, and the “do what you want as long as we win” approach, then the players will also adopt that attitude and that approach to life.

Myer is not responsible, in any way, for Hernandez’s actions, and it is unfair to put that on him. Myer and all other coaches, though, are responsible for the life lessons they teach and the attitudes toward other humans they embody. If Myer created an environment of entitlement and “anything goes as long as we are winning” at Florida — or if he was so focused on winning that he didn’t pay attention to anything else — then he does bear responsibility for that. And if he realizes that he is going down the same path at Ohio State, and has decided to change that path, then good for him.

Whistling in the Dark about UK

I think most Louisville fans are whistling in the dark about UK basketball next year.
You keep hear them talking about “they’re too young” and “they don’t have leadership” and “too many egos.” And I think it’s wishful thinking.

If that talent gels, they will be a tough out, and we know it. And remember, they only need to gel by March. They could lose every game through December, half the ones in January and February, and still make a run through the SECtourney, reach the Dance, and take it all. And if they start to figure it out before then, that only increases their odds.

On the other hand, if the parts don’t mesh, if they start bickering, if the pressure gets too them, and if Hubris is met by Nemesis, then they could also put at least the first few nails in the coffin of One and Done. Which, frankly, I hope they do. I am not nearly as down on Kentucky (the school and athletic department) as some on this board, but I am absolutely against the 1&D rule. If Kentucky imploding again could cause that rule to go away, then here’s hoping they go 0-30.