July 15, 2008

Does defense really win championships?

Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships.



Offense-minded coaches have won more national titles in the BCS era (1998 to present) than their defensive counterparts. The count: 7-4.

Knowing that, it's no wonder 65 percent (42 of 66) of the "Big Six" coaches have a background on offense.

The conferences that are tilted most heavily toward coaches with offensive bents are the Big 12 and Pac-10. The Big 12 features nine coaches with an offensive background (75 percent); the Pac-10 has eight (80 percent). In fact, five of the six "Big Six" conferences have more head coaches with offensive backgrounds than defensive backgrounds.

"I don't think just because a guy has an offensive background that he is any more prepared to be a head coach," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden says. "But I think a lot of the money people, who may or may not have an influence over an athletic director's decision (in hiring a coach), like the excitement that a head coach who has a background on offense brings."

The only league that features more coaches with defensive backgrounds than offensive backgrounds is the Big East, 5-3 (63 percent).

So, why the preference for offense when it comes to coaches? Several coaches I talked to noted that defense-minded coaches tend to be more businesslike, serious and intense. There just isn't as much "sizzle" to them. That doesn't help image-conscious athletic directors who are trying to "win" a news conference, sell tickets and generate excitement around their program.

"Some of it is a trend," Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton says. "Scoring points is sexy. The media is responsible for some of it, talking about points being scored and how it happened instead of talking about the defensive side of the ball and critical stops."

Think of Alabama's Nick Saban, Virginia's Al Groh, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Iowa State's Gene Chizik, Miami's Randy Shannon and Kentucky's Rich Brooks, among other defense-minded coaches. What image pops in your head when you think of those guys? Rough, tough maybe even dour and a little mean.

Like it or not, perception matters more than reality. And the perception is defense-minded coaches are glum guys who want to play conservative on offense and win with defense and field position. Yawn.

How is an A.D. supposed to sell that? Conversely, if an A.D. can introduce a new coach who has a glitzy resume that includes offensive pyrotechnics, the fan base will be energized and the media generally will rubber-stamp the hire as a "success." Bottom line: It's easier to sell winning with a high-powered offense than it is with a stingy defense.

National title winners in the BCS era:
Coach Team, year Offense/Defense
Bobby Bowden Florida State, 1999 Offense
Mack Brown Texas, 2005 Offense
Larry Coker Miami, 2001 Offense
Phillip Fulmer Tennessee, 1998 Offense
Urban Meyer Florida, 2006 Offense
Les Miles LSU, 2007 Offense
Jim Tressel Ohio State, 2002 Offense
Pete Carroll USC, 2003, '04 Defense
Nick Saban LSU, 2003 Defense
Bob Stoops Oklahoma 2000 Defense
Now, think of offense-minded coaches such as Texas Tech's Mike Leach, UCLA's Rick Neuheisel, Clemson's Tommy Bowden, Purdue's Joe Tiller, Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Texas' Mack Brown. You likely have visions of a vivacious personality, a guy whose teams you'd be excited to pay to watch because it would be fun and exciting.

"I just think it's a case where people want to score points," says UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, one of the nation's hottest coaching commodities. "That's what puts people in the seats."

A quick look at coach hirings at "Big Six" schools in recent seasons favors offense-minded coaches. Among the 11 "Big Six" schools that changed coaches this offseason, only one school tabbed a defense-minded coach: Nebraska with Bo Pelini.

It was a banner year for defensive coaches to get coaching jobs after the 2006 season, when five of the 12 openings went to defense-minded guys: Saban (Alabama), Butch Davis (North Carolina), Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), Chizik (Iowa State) and Shannon (Miami).

Only three "Big Six" jobs opened after the 2005 season, with one going to a defense-minded coach: Wisconsin's Bret Bielema.

Even though offense-minded coaches are the norm, don't forget that some of this era's most iconic coaches are defensive guys: Saban, Carroll and Bob Stoops. And there are many quality defensive coordinators who are primed to one day be coaches.

"No doubt, a lot of the best coaches out there are defensive guys," Hamilton says. "But you have to win no matter what background you come from."


Here is a "Big Six" conference breakdown of coaches with offensive and defensive backgrounds:

Offense (7): Bobby Bowden, Florida State; Tommy Bowden, Clemson; David Cutcliffe, Duke; Ralph Friedgen, Maryland; Jeff Jagodzinski, Boston College; Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech; Tom O'Brien, N.C. State

Defense (5): Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech; Butch Davis, North Carolina; Jim Grobe, Wake Forest; Al Groh, Virginia; Randy Shannon, Miami

Offense (3): Brian Kelly, Cincinnati; Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville; Bill Stewart, West Virginia

Defense (5): Randy Edsall, Connecticut; Jim Leavitt, USF; Greg Robinson, Syracuse; Greg Schiano, Rutgers; Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh

Despite the head coaching profession being dominated by offensive minds, there are many defensive coordinators who are ready to make the move to head coach. And don't be shocked if former head coaches such as Ted Roof (Minnesota defensive coordinator), Dan McCarney (Florida assistant head coach/defense) and Nick Holt (USC defensive coordinator) get another shot to be head coaches. Here are some defensive coordinators primed to be coaches:
Coach Team
Nick Aliotti Oregon
Steve Brown Kentucky
Ron English Louisville
Luke Fickell Ohio State
Bob Gregory California
Willie Martinez Georgia
Will Muschamp Texas
Pat Narduzzi Michigan State
Tyrone Nix Ole Miss
Paul Rhoads Auburn
Scott Shafer Michigan
Brock Spack Purdue
Mark Stoops Arizona
Charlie Strong Florida
Jon Tenuta * Notre Dame
Brent Venables Oklahoma
DeWayne Walker UCLA
NOTE: *--Tenuta is the assistant head coach/defense.
Offense (7): Tim Brewster, Minnesota; Kirk Ferentz, Iowa; Bill Lynch, Indiana; Joe Paterno, Penn State; Rich Rodriguez, Michigan; Joe Tiller, Purdue; Jim Tressel, Ohio State

Defense (4): Bret Bielema, Wisconsin; Mark Dantonio, Michigan State; Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern; Ron Zook, Illinois

BIG 12
Offense (9): Art Briles, Baylor; Mack Brown, Texas; Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State; Dan Hawkins, Colorado; Mike Leach, Texas Tech; Mark Mangino, Kansas; Gary Pinkel, Missouri ; Ron Prince, Kansas State; Mike Sherman, Texas A&M

Defense (3): Gene Chizik, Iowa State; Bo Pelini, Nebraska; Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Offense (8): Mike Bellotti, Oregon; Dennis Erickson, Arizona State; Jim Harbaugh, Stanford; Rick Neuheisel, UCLA; Mike Riley, Oregon State; Jeff Tedford, California; Tyrone Willingham, Washington; Paul Wulff, Washington State

Defense (2): Pete Carroll, USC; Mike Stoops, Arizona

Offense (8): Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State; Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee; Urban Meyer, Florida; Les Miles, LSU; Houston Nutt, Ole Miss; Bobby Petrino, Arkansas; Mark Richt, Georgia; Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Defense (4): Rich Brooks, Kentucky; Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt; Nick Saban, Alabama; Tommy Tuberville, Auburn

Offense (1): Charlie Weis, Notre Dame

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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