Moneyball author hits college football circuit

I’m not a huge football fan. My passion has always been baseball. I do enjoy watching a good football game, but I’ve never gotten into college football. I always say it’s the transient nature and imperfections in the game. I’ve always found NFL football to be of a better quality. That’s just my opinion though.

This week, an article made me re-evaluate my thoughts on college football. In last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Michael Lewis, famous to baseball fans as the author of Moneyball, profiled Texas Tech Head Coach Mike Leach. Much like he did with Billy Beane in the controversial book, Lewis has found someone willing to challenge the dominant paradigm of his sport.

One passage toward the end of the article offered a telling glimpse into Lewis’ mind and his love of finding that one guy on the frontiers of change:

Leach remains on the outside; like all innovators in sports, he finds himself in an uncertain social position. He has committed a faux pas: he has suggested by his methods that there is more going on out there on the (unlevel) field of play than his competitors realize, which reflects badly on them. He steals some glory from the guy who is born with advantages and uses them to become a champion.

In his profile, entitled, “Coach Leach Goes Deep, Very Deep,” Lewis looks at Leach’s unorthodox coaching and play-calling techniques. Leach has been, in the NCAA circuit, the guy filling Billy Beane’s roles. He’s often left with some of the players the big-name football schools won’t even consider. And he’s turned these players into some of the most potent offensive lines in the history of college football.

Leach is not afraid to push the envelope of accepted football wisdom. He doesn’t believe in the old theories of establishing a running game. Rather, he has the defensive, including 300-pound linemen, running down field trying to keep up with his four receivers. As the defense scrambles to adjust, holes open up early in the game for the running moves. Why give away your running plays by lining up in a formation when a first down can be had otherwise? Leach gives the quarterback more leeway than most coaches ever allow their passers.

Texas Tech’s offense has reached the point where 56 points would be considered a bad game. They run the clock differently than any other team; they run the game differently than any other team.

Lewis’ work is fascinating to me as a relative outsider to football. It’s interesting to see the similarities between baseball and football when it comes to the “old way” of thinking. Baseball managers, GMs, writers, commentators, they’re all afraid to adjust to new ways of thinking. Just look at the Paul DePodesta debacle in Los Angeles. (DePodesta, not coincidentally, was a major player in Lewis’ book.)

It seems that football, another game that relies on intricate strategies and analysis much like baseball does, suffers the same love affair with the tried, true, and maybe a little tired methods that have worked for so long. Leach, who would never be allowed to experiment offensively at a school like Notre Dame or at the NLF level yet, has shown the football world that there’s a more imposing way to play. Of course, Leach’s constant references to pirates would not endear him to those so-called institutions of football. But that’s all a part of his character.

Lewis’ work, which could easily be the basis for a book on football coaching techniques, hints at some of the consequences of Leach’s methods. First, the quarterbacks who pass for nearly 6,000 yards in a season, basically have no feeling in their arms and rely on cortisone shot after cortisone shot.

But more interesting are the hints at the future of Leach’s players. Some of his stars, drafted by NFL teams, have fallen far short of expectations. Lewis doesn’t explore these professional failures, but it’s clear from the article why they don’t succeed. Leach’s techniques are so far out of the mainstream that stars at Texas Tech do not fit in with the dominant football paradigm. These players would do well on a Leach-inspired NFL team; they won’t do well on Bill Parcells’ team.

In the end, Lewis’ story, much like Moneyball did, offers promise for the future of the game of football, Is there a revolution in football strategies looming on the horizon or is the man using pirate metaphors to pump up his team the long ranger here? Will others join him as others have joined the long line of statistically-minded baseball executives stretching back to Branch Rickey and beyond?

I hope Lewis turns this profile into a book, and I hope you check out his article. Any open-minded fan of sports will find it a rich and complex story no matter your initial feelings toward college football.

Advertisements

1 Response to “<em>Moneyball</em> author hits college football circuit”


  1. 1 Jon December 10, 2005 at 7:46 pm

    Lewis does it again! What a fantastic article.

    While baseball is more institutionally grounded in tradition, football strategy may be just as difficult to change. One would assume that as word of Leach’s strategy and success spreads, an entire new breed of analytical football fans will follow suit and challenge traditional strategy, much like baseball’s changes in the wake of Moneyball.

    But I wonder whether football, without a strong statistical base, will enjoy the same type of rebirth. Baseball’s objective revolution had been festering for decades, even a century, on the basis of these statistics. Assuming that a sport without a similarly potent and meaningful statistical language will accomodate these changes to institutional theory and strategy may be a bit of a leap. Many baseball fans are drawn to the sport because of its uniquely meaningful statistics. Football lacks this advantage.

    But here’s hoping…!


Comments are currently closed.



RSS River Ave. Blues

  • The Rest of the AL East [2017 Season Preview] March 30, 2017
    There has been an interesting bit of parity in the AL East this decade, as every team has won the division crown in the last seven years. The Red Sox appear to be the standard-bearer, with both ZiPS and PECOTA projecting them to repeat as division champs – but both also have at least four […] The post The Rest of the AL East [2017 Season Preview] appeared fi […]
    Domenic Lanza
  • Spring Training Game Thread: Final Grapefruit League Game March 30, 2017
    This afternoon the Yankees are playing their final Grapefruit League game of the year. They still have one exhibition game remaining, tomorrow night at the brand new SunTrust Field in Atlanta, but this is the final game in Florida. Well, at least until the Yankees come back to play the first series of the regular […] The post Spring Training Game Thread: Fin […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Yankees finalize Opening Day roster; Holder, Mitchell, and Shreve make the bullpen March 30, 2017
    Earlier this morning, Joe Girardi informally announced the Yankees’ 25-man Opening Day roster. Aaron Judge will be the right fielder and Luis Severino will be the fourth starter, and the decision to option out Rob Refsnyder means Pete Kozma will be the utility infielder. Also, Girardi told Bryan Hoch that Bryan Mitchell, Jonathan Holder, and […] The post Yan […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Girardi on Aaron Judge: “He’s our right fielder” March 30, 2017
    Common sense prevails! Joe Girardi announced this morning Aaron Judge will be the Yankees’ starting right fielder this season, according to Erik Boland. “He’s our right fielder,” said Girardi. The club was reportedly considering sending Judge to Triple-A as recently as yesterday. Judge, 24, is hitting .345/.406/.569 with three homers so far this spring. He’s […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Rob Refsnyder Optioned to Triple-A March 30, 2017
    Earlier today, the Yankees announced that Rob Refsnyder had been optioned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The 26-year-old was batting just .209/.314/.349 in 43 at-bats, and was openly put on the trading block three weeks ago. There was some talk that he could have a shot at heading north in a bench role on the heels of the […] The post Rob Refsnyder Optioned to Tr […]
    Domenic Lanza
  • Passan: Yankees will use Luis Severino as fourth starter March 30, 2017
    According to Jeff Passan, right-hander Luis Severino has made the Opening Day roster and the Yankees will use him as their fourth starter. Neither Joe Girardi nor anyone with the team has announced anything yet, however. Still, all signs point in this direction. This isn’t exactly a surprise. Severino, 23, has allowed six runs in […] The post Passan: Yankees […]
    Mike Axisa
  • There are many pros and only a few cons to signing Sanchez to a long-term contract March 30, 2017
    February and March make up extension season in baseball. Most pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players hammer out their contracts for the upcoming season this time of year, and inevitably some strike long-term deals with their teams. In recent weeks Tim Anderson, Rougned Odor, Jose Ramirez (the hitter, not the pitcher), Kevin Kiermaier, and Carlos Ma […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Open Thread: March 29th Camp Notes March 29, 2017
    Your browser does not support iframes.The Yankees are officially Spring Training champions. They clinched baseball’s best record this spring with their win this afternoon. Neat. The Yankees are now 23-8-1 while the second place Cardinals are 20-8-4. Both teams have two games to play. Aaron Judge had two singles this afternoon and he even stole […] The post O […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Poll: The 2017 RAB Prospect Watch March 29, 2017
    One of our longest running features — I hesitate to call it a feature, but whatever — here at RAB is our annual Prospect Watch. We pick a prospect and track his progress throughout the season in the sidebar. Simple, right? Also kinda silly, but hey, people seem to like it, so it continues. Think […] The post Poll: The 2017 RAB Prospect Watch appeared first o […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Brian Cashman and the 2017 trade deadline [2017 Season Preview] March 29, 2017
    Welcome to another contract year for Brian Cashman. Don’t worry: Cashman has enough job security that he isn’t about to trade the farm for some short-sighted fix that harms the Yankees’ future. He’s acquitted himself quite well over the last two decades and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the job right now. It […] The post Brian Cashman and the 2017 trad […]
    Steven Tydings

Blog Stats

  • 62,328 hits

%d bloggers like this: