Friday, November 02, 2012

Evaluating Coaching: Identifying the Inputs and Outputs

Note: this post ended up being way too long.  If you want to get to the point, just skip down to the section on recruiting.

So we're back to bickering over a coach at NC State, this time (again?) it's football coach Tom O'Brien.  One of the must frustrating aspects about these debates, if one can call them that, is that people argue past each other over issues that shouldn't matter.  Which I why I wanted to list out things that I hear people argue about, and give my thoughts on whether or not a coach should be held to them.  The idea being that many factors are inputs into the program.  They may well have great effect on how successful the program is.  But we only should care about the outputs - the results the program generates (obviously some outputs may be inputs themselves to other outputs).  And obviously some outputs are more important that others.

Primary Outputs

1. Winning - This has to be one of the primary factors when evaluating a coach.  How much does the program win?  Now what level of success is expected may be judged against expectations, but you have to win.  At NC State, this probably means (in my opinion, judging from our past) consistent trips to bowl games, with an expectation to win most of them.  Hopefully to good bowl games.  Every now and then, the pieces should fall into place that send us to a high tier bowl game (see 2002/03).

We can debate what level of winning should be expected from our program, but no one can debate that it matters.

2. Ethics - Cheating, whether literally in the game, or off the field academically, cannot be tolerated.  Compliance rules must be adhered to.  A focus on good citizenship must be maintained.  Game decisions should adhere to the common understanding of sportsmanship.

Secondary Outputs

1. Entertainment value - This one drives me nuts.  This was particularly contentious in the debate over he-who-shall-not-be-named (HWSNBN).  Many fans found HWSNBN's approach to offense unbearable.  But at times, State succeeded, indeed improving under the change in offense (and with the addition of a key assistant), to the best of HWSNBN's tenure.  I thought it was ridiculous to find in the way the team played a reason to can the coach.  If the program is producing enough of the primary outputs, entertainment value should not be considered.  We've never had the luxury of risking a winning coach on another coach who may win satisfactorily and also has the team playing in an exciting fashion.  When Sidney Lowe replaced HWSNBN, he promised a style much more along the lines of what the average fan wanted, but couldn't produce the wins.  Even with all that said, if the program is at the margin in primary output, considering secondary outputs may come into play.  All else being equal, I'd like to see a more entertaining style of play than not.  But above all, I want to see wins.  Are we seeing this come into play with Tom O'Brien?  I don't know.  I do hear a lot about how we look in games, but unless we're all agreed on whether the primary outputs are sufficient, why are we discussing secondary outputs?

2. Coach's charisma/personality - This is similar to entertainment value, but at NC State, we love to have a coach that represents our passion.  Ever since the high-water mark in this regard in Jim Valvano, coaches in the major sports have fell under a long shadow.  While I think we largely appreciated the caretaker role Les Robinson filled while guiding us through the wilderness, going from him to the vanilla HWSNBN was almost a slap in the face.  O'Brien suffers from many of the same problems, but has bolstered his appeal with the fans by defending the integrity of the university as a whole from attacks, most notably from UNC interim head coach Everett Wthers.  Still, this seems even less important than the style of play on the field, and it seems hard to imagine getting to the point where this should be a deciding factor in retaining a coach.


1. Recruiting - Ok, I admit that I've buried the lede.  Seriously, I probably should have just posted, "Don't evaluate a coach for recruiting.  Evaluate a coach for whether he wins.  Recruiting is just an input!" and saved a lot of time.  Kudos to the two of you who got this far.  But this is the most important point.  People keep complaining about O'Brien's recruiting, bringing it up as a reason unto itself to not retain him.  To which I emphatically respond: WHAT MATTERS IS WINNING (WITH CLASS).  Yes, recruiting obviously matters a great deal as to whether you win.  But whether you win is what's important!  If you can't make the argument to fire a coach based on the outputs of the program, then you have no argument!  None!  O'Brien's protest that "staaahs" don't matter will be borne out in whether we win or lose.  This is an election season, so the analogy is obvious: this is just like deciding the president based on polling conducted before the election!

2. Everything else you could possibly think of - It's either an input or it's not.  Either way, it's not a part of the discussion.

Discussion point - Facilities: input or output?