Friday, September 23, 2005

Football Wonk - Away Debuts

The other day I posted a comment at Heisman Pundit about how I thought Kentucky might give Florida a closer game than the experts think (the cookie didn't stay, so it shows up as anonymous). One of the things that got me thinking was the fact that it was the first road game for the Gators under Urban Meyer. Point: head coaches have routines, and when a team travels the team is actually under the head coach's control more than home games. When a team gets a new coach, that team hasn't experienced the routine and control of the new head coach before. So it's a new experience. I don't think it means Florida loses, but it might mean Florida ahs more to think about or experience before the game than they would at home, or if they'd been making rad trips under a particular coach several times before.

So I took a look at how other coaches have done in their road debuts. I looked at road debuts and road SEC debuts for the last 4 coaches at each school (to get a big enough sample). I took the last 4 at each school in the SEC because obviously some schools have better traditions than others, and the schools with coaches who lose a lot tend to replace the coach with more frequency. I.E., going back 4 coaches at Kentucky doesn't take too long, but Tennessee will go back to the 60's.

The results:

In road debuts (whether playing SEC foes or not) for the 48 selected coaches, they went 16-29.
In road SEC debuts, they went 17-26.

The number discrepancy is due to the fact that Arkansas and USC weren't SEC members for a few of the coaches.

I think this might say something. The SEC teams have a pretty good history out of conference, so a winning percentage that low might say something. I think the sample is big enough to get beyond the possibility that some coaches opened with cupcakes, while others opened with pretty strong opponents. And some great coaches lost their openers (Saban, Stallings, Dye), while less renowned coaches have won openers (DuBose, Zook, Brad Scott).

It looks from the numbers that road openers are a little more of a problem for SEC teams than might be expected. So look out for Meyer's Gators tomorrow and Les Miles's Tigers.

Also, some interesting facts on road SEC debuts for coaches:
Mark Richt's debut was the Tennessee game won on the last play (P-44 Haynes) after UT scored on a long screen.
Houston Nutt didn't lose on the road until Clint Stoerner's unfortunate fumble.
I counted Danny Ford's Arkansas SEC road opener as a loss (43-3 against Alabama), though it's technically a win due to forfeit.
I counted Fulmer's SEC road debut as a win, though that win against UGA was as an interim coach. He actually lost his road debut as a permanent coach (against UF). Galen Hall had a similar circumstance at Florida, but won both road debuts as interim and permanent coach.
I didn't count this year's Arizona State game as a road debut for Les Miles, due to circumstances and the fact that it was supposed to be a home game.
SEC schools typically do a good job of breaking in the coach at home before throwing him into the fire on the road. Most schools have scheduled 2 or 3 (sometimes even 4) home games before travelling, like Meyer and Miles.