Thursday, November 08, 2007

Football: Where is your head at now?

Well, it's the week after, and quite frankly I don't feel or see much letdown in the frustration from Tech fans. The poor performance on national tv against VaTech seems to have done some lasting damage to the clarity of this program's future. I received emails from Tech fans young and old. You have all seen the comments here on the 'Blog. I've gotten personal notes from Tech buddies of mine, and this is more than just a 24-hour-rule level of frustration. Chan Gailey lost a lot of his voting base last week, and I don't think most of it is just frustration from losing. This would not be a good time to have Coach Gailey on the ballot in Georgia.

I hate to open this can of worms, but we all know there has always been a serious divide amongst Tech faithful when it comes to Coach Gailey. It existed from day one. There is a group that have always supported him based on "Chan Gailey the man" along with winning just enough along the way. There is another group that never liked him and never will no matter how much he wins.

Then there's the swing vote in the middle. Right now, straw polls indicate that this voter block is more negative than at any time during the Chan Gailey era. Why is that? Well, part of the reason is that this Chan Gailey team came into the season with the highest hopes of any during his tenure. The program he has built had "his best team" (in coach's words) this season. The starting line-up abounds with upperclassmen. Expectations were never higher for a Gailey-coached team after playing for the conference title last year. With 17 returning starters and his best recruiting class coming in, the bar was set high. So it certainly confounds and confuses people as to how we could be 2-4 in the ACC, needing to beat UNC and Duke to finish with a .500 conference record. But as the saying goes - it is what it is.

So now that the "change the coach crowd" is puffing out their chest again, let's take stock and talk honestly about some pro's and cons of Coach Gailey.

He has never had a losing season, either overall or in the conference. That is a mark of consistency and Georgia Tech has the current longest streak of non-losing ACC seasons in the conference. We won the coastal division in 2006 and played for the ACC title.

He has not had that "breakthrough" season that stands out among the rest because it ends in some kind of glorious triumph. Certainly 2006 stands out above the rest as we won the coastal division and played for the ACC title in Jax. It was the one 7+ win season so far. However, when you lose the final three games of the season (by 3 pts each), it just leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. It's ironic, our rivals had a terrible year by their standards last season but ended the season with three strong wins and went into the off-season really optimistic. The only optimism Tech fans left with was the misguided belief that our offensive outburst with Taylor Bennett throwing to Calvin Johnson against a terrible WV defense was somehow repeatable in 2007. It wasn't.

Coach Gailey has clearly designed fantastic running offenses at GT. We are consistently one of the best running teams in the ACC since his arrival. Tony Hollings was leading the nation in rushing before his career ending injury. PJ Daniels, a former walk-on, led the ACC in rushing. Tashard Choice last year led the ACC in rushing, and is inline to do so again, even with significant injury time. Coach Gailey and his staff clearly know how to design running scheme's that take advantage of the skill set of the offensive line. They clearly know how to incorporate the fullback and Tight Ends and scheme blocking into a successful running game. In addition, they have shown this season the ability to deal with injury adversity in personnel on the O-line, still producing another strong running game. It is also starting to pay off in terms of attracting higher level backs with more God-given ability (witness J.Dwyer and R.Jones)

The polar opposite of this is the passing game. To say that the Georgia Tech passing game has struggled during the Chan Gailey era would be putting it kindly. Now, anyone who reads this site knows I am not one to pile on and bash. However, I am one to deal with facts. My friend Bryan did some interesting digging into the facts about our passing game during the Gailey era, and the results are certainly eye-opening. Maybe we will dig into those details in a later post, but here are the highlights.

When you combine all stats from ACC teams since 2002 to 2007 current, you will see that:

(2002 - 2007 combined)
1. GT is 12th out of 12 ACC teams in completion % at 50.3% (including VT, Miami, BC stats in those years prior to being added to ACC)

2. GT is 11th out of 12 ACC teams in yards per passing attempt at 6.1 (Duke is last). By the way, Duke is passing the ball way better this season and could pass us if we keep our current pace.

3. GT is 11th out of 12 teams in total interceptions thrown at 84 (FSU is last).

4. GT is 12th out of 12 teams in % of passes resulting in INTs (3.88%). So while FSU has more INT's, they also chucked the ball more often. Had they thrown it the same number of times as GT, we would have been 12th out of 12 in the previous category as well. Now, what is fascinating about the INT stats is that part of the rational for the low completion percentage is a low risk passing game to help control the ball and limit turnovers. Yet, it turns out we are basically the worst ACC team over a 5 year span in terms of throwing INT's, even with a limited passing game. As Bryan put it - turns out we have a low reward / high risk passing game.

5. When looking at other ACC team's combined 5+ years worth of passing stats, you will find that the ACC has not been a very good passing league (no surprise). However, maybe you would be a bit suprised to find out how bad. The median ranking for ACC passing teams in 2006 was #80 in the nation, and only two teams were better than the 61st best passing team in the nation (BC at #25 and FSU #29). The rest ranged from 25 to 104, with GT coming in at #91. There have been a few good teams during a few of the previous years (Philip Rivers at NCST for example). But mostly the ACC has had terrible passing offenses, and GT has been at the bottom of the bad. Now, here's an interesting point Bryan also made in his note to me - could this be the #1 reason why GT defenses under Jon Tenuta have looked like world-beaters? We are always stout against the run, and since there have been no great passing teams in the ACC, it has allowed us to win a lot of games. Well, Matt Ryan showed what a good passer could do this year. Sean Glennon showed what a good passer could do this year. Even that freshman kid at Maryland showed what a good decision maker could do against our D this year. The passing offenses in the ACC are getting better slowly. How are we going to adjust?

I have gotten off topic a bit, but I think it's worth discussing. Let's get back to the pro/con debat.

GT has gone to bowl games every season under Chan Gailey and we are now at 10 straight.

Too many of the bowls have been west coast lower tier bowls. In addition, Tech has lost the mantle of winningest bowl record in the nation since Coach Gailey's arrival.

Coach Gailey seems to make good staffing decisions based on how things are working. Bringing in Charles Kelly certainly seems to have been the right move for special teams. Making Giff Smith the recruiting coordinator has certainly brought new life and excitement to the year-around recruiting season for Tech fans. It was a brilliant move. Hiring Jon Tenuta cannot be argued. There is a solid list of staffing decisions and most of the changes to his staff have worked out for the better. It is way too early to judge Coach Bond so he gets a pass.

Coach Gailey makes changes too slowly. Did he wait too long to replace our previous recruiting coordinator? Did he wait too long to make a change in special teams? Did he wait too long to give up the offensive playcalling duties? While you could argue that he was too slow to make changes or even that his original staffing decisions were flawed, it's clear that he seems to make the right decisions once he decides they need to be made.

You cannot question what Coach Gailey stands for. It is clear that his intent is to take boys and turn them into high character men. He is a man of strong faith, which I admire. He recruits kids with high character to begin with. From an ethical, moral and representative perspective, as CEO of the football team, he does an outstanding job. He is the right guy for Georgia Tech in so many of those ways that matter off-the-field and in areas that cannot be measured by wins and losses or statistics.

He's not a dynamic coach who fires up fans and talks tough. Coach comes off a bit "folksy" when interviewed with that southern drawl and slow talking manner. Combine that with the coach-speak and some fans just have a hard time lining up behind the guy. For some reason it's a lot easier to get behind those young, lean hard-talking head coaches.

Another problem for some is that he just won't place any additional emphasis on the UGAg game over others. Some people just want him to say how important it is to beat these guys (then do it). Interestingly, Coach Gailey was in a fairly contentious interview on 790thezone last week where they asked him about beating UGAg. He basically said that it wasn't any more important than any other game on the schedule and talked about how the "upcoming" VaTech game was pretty important. He said it mattered to a lot of families, but that it didn't carry more importance than others. If it were me, I would have said exactly what Coach Gailey said, but in reverse - "There isn't another game that is more important than the UGAg game". Same definition, but the vast majority of fans would read it in a better light.

Also, ironically, I happened to record on FOX Sports the 1991 GT/UGAg game (Flash Classics), which would be Bobby Ross's last as our head coach. They showed an interview with him in which he said this prior to the UGAg game:

"It's a big game for us for a lot of reasons. You know, we'd like to end the season with 5 consecutive wins. We'd like to go out of here with three consecutive wins over the University of Georgia. We'd like to end 8-4. But I think if you put all those things aside, still the most important thing are the braggers rights. You know, just for the state of Georgia. I think this is a little bit of a reputation on the line as far as ACC and SEC, and we like to think that ACC football is as good as SEC football."

There was a little more pop in Coach Ross's statement. Of course after beating them two times in a row, it's easier to talk like this as opposed to have never beaten them in 6 years as the head coach.

Coach Gailey and his staff are outstanding talent evaluators. This is different than good recruiters. It is clear that this staff has a very strong ability to recognize talent, develop it and put it in a position to succeed on the field. There are players upon players that have been "no stars" that have turned into stars, or players that switched positions, only to blossom. This staff does an outstanding job in this area. Combine that with the clearly improved recruiting and you have the makings of a bright future.

Talent recognition is fine if you can win more games at some point, and you can be competitive when it matters the most (like on a Thursday night national tv game). Wins are the ultimate tonic but playing competitively in every game sure makes the losses a little easier to take and gives you a little bit more confidence in the program.

I think I've babbled on long enough. I still like Coach Gailey but I did expect more out of this season. The chances are very good that the program will take a dip next year as we lose a lot of upperclassmen, so to me - this was the year. The schedule was very favorable. You had lots of experience, talent and depth. This year could have been everything last year almost was............. and more.

Will Coach Gailey head up the 2008 edition of the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets?......... Who knows. I'm sure a lot depends on what happens in the next 3 games (and hopefully 4 games). Dan Radakovich did not provide a strong endorsement of Coach Gailey when they were quoted about CBS Sportsline rumor and him getting fired.

As to best to worse case scenarios for Coach Gailey, my honest opinion is that he needs to beat both Duke and UGAg to have any semblence of good will going into the off-season. Lose to Duke and it's all over. The mutiny will start. Lose to UGAg again and it will be hard to put lipstick on that pig. If we're going to win out - GREAT!!!! However, from my perspective, losing to UNC is the only real scenario that still nets out some good-will at the end of the year.

When the season is over, we'll see what happens. Was Dennis Dodd right? Will Coach Gailey be gone? Did Coach Gailey read the writing on the wall when he went looking for an NFL job earlier this year? Did Patrick Nix read the writing on the wall and decide to jump ship before it happened? Does Dan Radakovich want to get "his guy" in there? These are all questions that are clearly in play and we'll just have to wait until January to find out the answers.

Regardless of all this - I still support this team 100%. I still cheer for them. It's a great group with some interesting leaders and personalities........... and make no mistake - while you may not support our coach - they do. These players made life decisions to be led by Coach Chan Gailey and regardless of personal agendas - that should be respected. Losing stinks, but Coach Gailey down to the 5th string water boy work their tails off figuring out ways to win.