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Kiffin to USC: Cover Band?

2010 February 19
by Brian Goff

On CollegeFootball Talk/NBC Sports, Keith Arnold makes a funny observation:

If the goal of hiring a Carroll disciple was the goal, then the search party found what they wanted. But make no mistake, a Beatles cover band isn’t the Beatles.

Maybe in college ball, at an upper tier college program like USC, it is. The Kiffin hire screams “let’s keep-the-system-going” as Arnold’s Beatles allusion highlights. If he can recruit and stay off probation (big ifs), he will be successful.

Performance outcomes in sports reflect a combination of player recruitment/attainment, systems (“technology”), and managerial customizing of these inputs — adjustments (game-to-game, season-to-season, player-to-player). My working idea is that players always matter but the relative importance of the other two factors differs between college and pro with system being relatively more important for college programs. This is my explanation for why coaches making the college-pro switch often struggle regardless of the direction of the move. Many of them try to impose their managerial template from the other level.

Steven Spurrier’s success at Florida hinged on a system. He recruited good players, coached them (especially QBs) up for his system, and won big. That recipe didn’t work so well with the Redskins. Player abilities are too close. Other coaches are customizing their players/strategies too much. Bill Belichik’s success in New England reflects a high degree of customization across players, games, and seasons, not merely some attachment to a particular offensive or defensive strategy. Of course, all of this is conjecture and a big simplification, but with some creativity, conjecture that could be put to a test.

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