The end of each college football season means that there are a stunning number of coaching changes. Guys are fired because they don’t meet expectations, and the dominoes start to fall as people move up to better jobs, coordinators become coaches, and so on. Typically, nearly a fifth of jobs change coaches every year. That’s a lot of change for handicappers to stay on top of – new coaches bring new philosophies, new schemes, and new coordinators, and they recruit different types of players.
You can’t truly evaluate a coach until you have seen him play several games. Handicappers don’t want to wait that long, though – they could be leaving profit on the table. That means you need to be ready to make an educated guess about how well a coach is going to do by the time they are ready to kick off for the first time. Here are five things college football handicappers can look at between when the coach is hired and their first game to assess how the coach might start his career at the new school:
Experience with school – A guy will probably make a smoother transition if he is taking over the top job at a school he is familiar with. If he is a current coordinator moving up to the big job then the transition should be reasonably smooth because he knows the players, the administration and the challenges of working with the fans and boosters. If a player isn’t with the school but was in the past as a player or an assistant then he will probably have an easier job adjusting and being accepted because he knows the traditions, and the school knows him. Nothing can make it harder for a coach to do what he needs to do than being perceived as an outsider – just ask Rich Rodriguez.
Recruit retention – College football teams are only as good as the players they get, so you can get a good sense about the shape of the program after the transition based on the first recruiting class the coach signs. By the time the coaching changes are made signing day is drawing near and the classes are largely recruited. If a new guy loses a lot of recruits that the previous staff had signed then it’s a sign that either the new staff isn’t organized or there are going to be a lot of changes. You want to look at the losses, and you want to assess the quality of the recruits that the staff does add. If the new recruits are of a high quality then the coaching is selling their vision. If there are few recruits or if the recruits aren’t really of the caliber that usually comes to the school then there could be issues.
Retention of players – The first big job a college football coach has to do when he arrives is make sure he keeps the star players already on the team. If a new guy loses several stars to transfers then there are going to be growing pains – he won’t have those players, and the transfers will take a big hit on the confidence of the rest of the players.
Returning starters – The more starters a guy brings back the better off he is. Returning starters can make a coach look really good in his first year – better than his skill might warrant. Charlie Weis is a perfect example of that – he looked great early on with Brady Quinn and the rest of the team that Ty Willingham recruited, but was increasingly unimpressive when the program became his own.
Changes in approach – The more radical the changes in approach a coach is bringing to the offensive and defensive approaches the more growing pains there are likely to be. If a coach is changing from pro style offense to a spread, for example, then the early games aren’t going to be pretty – he won’t have the type of players he needs, and those he has won’t be familiar with the offense and the demands of it.
Spring game – The spring game can be a valuable source of information. The results won’t mean anything of course. What you do want to pay attention to, though, are things like the intensity of the play, how many mistakes were being made, whether the players were being allowed to play or if the game was more of just a practice, and so on. As a sports bettor, you don’t want to be too blinded by any hype that comes out of the spring, but it will give you a sense of whether things are moving in the right direction or not.
Mood of players – This is something we can do now that you couldn’t do even a few years ago. If you are really concerned about how a transition is going the best source of information is from the players. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook you can now get a much better sense of how things really are than ever before. As a college football handicapper, if you really want to know what is going on with a team check out the social networking done by the bigger name players. It’s amazing how honest and helpful the athletes can be within even knowing it.