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Positive college football coaching effect: Urban Meyer

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What exactly happened in 2010?

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

I may be cheating a little bit here by including Urban Meyer in the Heroes category. In the seven-year survey period he had six seasons, and one of them was crappy. Two more weren’t special in any way. And his first year at Ohio State was a bit of an oddity: an undefeated season that ALL of the advanced stats measures of team quality (S&P+, F/+, Sagarin’s Predictor) agreed wasn’t as strong as advertised. But an undefeated season is pretty special at the FBS level, no matter what the level of competition.I chose to include him here because this is an article about the best football coaches in the country and, other than that 2010 Florida team, Meyer has never done anything in his career to suggest he doesn’t belong right near the top of that list.

I think it is probably fair to say if the data went back far enough for my analysis to extend back a few more years Meyer would have racked up a couple of very impressive positive coaching effect seasons while he was with Utah. Which brings me to the one big outlier: so what happened in 2010 anyway?

The simple statistical answer is that the offense went from being elite (as it had been from 2006-2009) to middling in 2010 and the defense slopped from elite (where it had ranked in 2006, 2008 & 2009) to merely very good. As for why those things happened, I think a combination of factors were at play.

The first was that Meyer’s most trusted and outstanding offensive coach, OC/QB coach Dan Mullen, left Florida following the 2008 season to take the head coaching job at Mississippi State. Meyer met Mullen at Notre Dame when Meyer was coaching WRs and Mullen was a graduate assistant. He had been with Meyer since Bowling Green. I recall that in Tim Tebow’s senior year (2009), the Florida offense, while still pretty efficient, was both less explosive and a lot less creative.  But Tebow was a senior and Meyer and new OC Steve Addazio rode Tebow’s arm and legs (mainly his legs, it seemed like) to a 13-1 record and #3 final ranking, culminating with a blow-out victory of a Brian Kelly-less Cincy team in the Sugar Bowl.

Following the 2009 season the Gators had nine players drafted by the NFL, including six in the first two rounds. That was a large loss of proven talent for the coaching staff to replace and it appears that the replacements weren’t really up to the task, at least not immediately. It is also probably fair to say that Addazio, while a really good offensive line coach, wasn’t the offensive coordinator that Mullen was.  The impact of losing Tebow as a field leader, passer and (by 2009 anyway) primary ball carrier shouldn’t be undersold either.

Finally, it seemed like Meyer was just plain burned out by the job in his final season in Gainesville. He had shown signs of health problems following the 2009 regular season, including being admitted to the hospital because of chest pains and dehydration. The issue was apparently serious enough that Meyer took a short leave of absence from his coaching duties following the Sugar bowl. There was even some discussion of retirement. Ultimately, he came back for the 2010 season. Perhaps he shouldn’t have.

Prognosis: Meyer will be back to chasing BCS titles, this time in Columbus, fairly soon.