Profiling John L. Smith in the Matrix

As I noted in my Before, During and After Petrino article right here at CFBMatrix last week, the Hogs and AD Long were really stuck between rock and hard place.  It was too late to aggressively pursue an elite FBS coach and fans still hold out hope for another BCS bowl game run.  The decision process put everything at risk; the dream of another 10+ win season, the attitude of the players, the drive of the coaching staff and the recruiting class of 2013.

In hiring Mr. Smith away from Weber State he accomplished meeting the needs of two of those 4 goals.  The attitude of the players should be very good and hopefully, the focus of the coaching staff is solid as well.  However, as it has been clearly stated every coach is on the last year of their contract.  Everything will be up for review at the end of 2012.  Most fans will say “Great!  They get to prove themselves and try to salvage their jobs through performance.”  As a motivator, initially, it is a good idea.  But if the wheels come off with  one bad loss, this could be a quickly sinking ship as everyone starts to scramble for positioning themselves for new jobs with new schools.

So the players and coaches are on board, but what about recruiting?  We know that at both Louisville and at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino relied more on player development than increasing the average talent of each recruit.  At both schools, his recruiting ranking while at each school was very close to the previous years averages.  This is especially true at Arkansas where the four years average class under BP (#27) was nearly the same as the previous four years (#29).   I know fans, you want to believe it is the talent and not the coach that made the difference.  You want a reassurance that what was lost in Petrino was minimal compared to the talent.  That is not the way it works.  One of the top classes ever for Petrino (2008) is about to come of the books at the end of this season.  And you know have a new head coach that has proven he is not a good recruiter.  The average classes for him while a head coach at Louisville and Michigan State was #48.  After he left those jobs the average class as #42 (I took out UL rankings when the went to the BE).  You couple his lack of ability to improve recruiting with the caviot that his job is good through the end of the season and you have a potential recruiting disaster in 2013.  With recruiting ranking adjusted for where the game is played responsible for picking SEC games correctly in the pre-season 6 months in advance over 80% of the time, dropping in talent levels is a losing path.

Nevertheless, folks don’t really want to think about Arkansas 2013, they want to believe that this team is an SEC West title contender and the Smith will be as good as Petrino.  Let me make one thing very clear to start.  NO ONE IN THE SEC has been as good a game coach as Petrino in the last 4 years.  In fact, there are not ten coaches in all of FBS that have proven to be as good a game coach as Petrino since 2008.  BP lost twice in 4 years to teams he out recruited and 11 times beat teams that out recruited him.  Fortunately the exact metrics and way of measurement exists for John Smith at Michigan State.

In his 4 years Coach Smith was -4 games coaching effect (-1 at home & -3 on the road) versus the +9 effect of Bobby Petrino.  He was +1 game his first year and then was -1. -2 and -2 games before being released.  Petrino never had a negative coaching effect year at Arkansas.  Smith lost 7 games to teams that he out recruited (adjusted) and won only 3 games against teams that out recruited him.  In order to go 12-0 this year, Smith and his staff have to beat 5 teams in the SEC that out recruited the Razorbacks.  Smith has never beaten another FBS school when he was the head coach that had a four year adjusted recruiting rank in the top 25.  He will face four of  those teams in 2012.  His -4 games coach effect is, on average, a -1 game in the W column per year.  For Arkansas that would make them 6-6.  To get to even 9-3, smith would have to put up the best coaching metrics of his career.

So while the players, current coaches and most fans are very happy today, I have significant concerns for the program when looking at the numbers put up by John L. Smith as the head football coach.  While any team, at any time can have that rare and unexpected break out year against the odds and trends, I find no luck in betting against the odds.  What I do expect for the Hogs in 2012 is to follow the trends established by John L. That is a recruiting class in the high twenties and a record that falls between 6-6 and 8-4 .  – Dave Bartoo

7 Responses to Profiling John L. Smith in the Matrix

  1. From a recruiting standpoint I just cannot see this temporary hiring as a positive. How does Smith and the “interim” Hog assistants walk into a recruits home and sell Arkansas to that recruit and parents when everyone knows they may not even be around in 10 months?

    • cfbmatrix says:

      As I said, rock and hard place. With really no time and no real options the only choice was status quo and make the fans/players happy. Maybe the next hire will be a big one and he can ramp up recruiting in the final 2 months before NSD. But, it is a hard sell to get a HC to want to come to Arkansas. It is so much harder to win there than other conferences.

  2. hogguy says:

    Just heard you on Bo Mattingly’s radio show so I had to get on here and see your stuff. Love this site! Awesome stats, and great articles on the ‘before after Petrino’ part. Makes me sad to think we lost him!

    HOWEVER…. it’s hard to show up in the data, but don’t you think that this coaching situation isn’t really “john l smith replacing bobby petrino” (which would give us a 7-5 record), this situation is “john l smith replaces bobby, keeps coordinators in tact (including a brother petrino), has a stellar offense of seniors who went 21-5 the last 2 years, and a team that is intimately familiar with the new assistants (who have been here since december, including the january cotton bowl game.)

    What I mean is, it’s not a 1 for 1 replacement, it’s replacing Petrino from the top of the pyramid and putting John L in his place. Is the pyramid stable enough to hold up, or does it crash, that’s the question.

    So maybe your model needs to lessen the effect of THIS coaching change, since it’s just 1 guy (a big guy, but just 1), leaving all other coordinators in place? Maybe instead of going from 7 wins vs 11 wins we split the difference and say 9-3? Maybe in this case, it’s more the system than the ceo-coach?

    I rambled too much but you get the idea…. this seems to be a unique situation (plus we get bama and lsu at HOME, so hope springs eternal!)

    love the site, and keep it up. i love those coach rankings, more! more!

    • Woohog says:

      you stole my thunder, what John L did at sparty and Louisville really doesn’t matter too much. This situation is so different that i think the matrix breaks down a little bit. John L’s #’s are based on program’s that he built, but this is a program that Petrino built. these players and coaches are all Bobby’s disciples and that includes John L. After this year, however, all bets are off. If John L is hired full time, Arkansas is through and Jeff long will have signed his pink slip which is why John L will not be retained under any circumstance. Arkansas has everything in place and we need somebody to come in and not mess it up. Does that mean we are going to beat LSU and Bama? No! But in no way does it mean we are gonna lose to A&M or SC or Auburn(who you,Dave, are completely wrong about), or MSU or UK, because Arkansas is better than those teams and John L isn’t coming up with the idea’s, he is merely saying yes or no. Which is a much easier place to be in.

  3. LS says:

    Don’t completely disagree with the logic, but seems to ignore a couple of major factors for the 2012 season. An elite 5th year senior QB, and the return of the leading rusher in the SEC in 2010 at tailback. This was probably a 9-3 type talent team that might have gone 10-2 under BP. I can see them slipping to 8-4, but there is alot of offensive talent if everyone stays healthly for them to drop to 7-5 or worse.

  4. Is it possible for you to run your matrix for all coaches outside the top-25 (based on last year) and find who would be the best hire. I’m curious to see who it says is the best coach outside the top 25 based on your numbers.

  5. Based on your matrix formula, outside of the top-25 programs (based on last year), who is the best coach Arkansas should go after?

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