The following was submitted by Benji Hadfield (@alaskutahn)
BYU – the Perception
There I was, sitting in a local sports bar watching BYU face Gonzaga in the 2015 WCC basketball tournament. I had moved to Alaska one week earlier and did not yet have TV at my house, so I found a bar, ordered some food, and sat like a fly on the wall listening to others discussing the game. The subject of BYU as an institution came up.
“You have to convert if you want to play there, right?”
“No, you just have to agree to live by their rules.”
“Oh, like you have to go to church and stuff?”
“No, but you can’t drink.”
“Not even a beer?!?”
“Wow. Wow. In College? Not even a beer?”
At this point the inquirer shook his head in disbelief and declared, “Wow. That would be hard.”
Recognizing that I was in a bar and that every patron had a drink in his hand save me alone, I didn’t think this was the best chance to testify of the many positive virtues of Brigham Young University, so for the most part I held my tongue, but pointed out that I had a connection to the school and that students there are surprisingly happy.
This is the outside perception that BYU fans can sometimes forget. As appealing as a dry campus is to the concerned LDS mother, it can be equally unappealing to two guys at a bar in Alaska who, like most of the world, view college as the time to go wild, have fun, and live it up while you’re still young.
This reality makes me wonder: if one of those guys in the bar were a blue-chip recruit and it was my job to get him to BYU, where would I start?
The 17-year-old version of me would not have been hard to convince. As a child I kept a copy of “Ty – The Ty Detmer Story” on the nightstand right next to my Book of Mormon. Earlier this year Tanner Mangum talked about growing up a BYU fan and how much the oval Y on his chest meant to him. Guys like that are awesome for BYU because to them, the idea of BYU is not a tough sell. But how often do they come around?
Recruiting – BYU by the Numbers
Earlier this year I was working on a piece comparing various aspects of the careers of Bronco Mendenhall and Kyle Whittingham (coming soon!) and came up with a formula that, in my opinion, reflects the ability of a coach to actually “coach” the game of football. I took the three most reputable recruiting sites (Rivals, 247, Scout) and compared the numbers with the three most reputable ranking sites (Sagarin, Congrove, S&P) to see what a particular coach was able to do with what he had been given.
The results were impressive. To summarize, over the course of his first 10 years at BYU, Bronco worked with the 57th best recruiting class in the country, yet his teams finished 32nd, meaning he out-performed the projections by 25 spots!
Naturally, I was curious to see if this was an anomaly so I dug a little deeper and compared the same metric with not only Kyle and Bronco, but every coach who had been with the same team for the same decade. There were 11. Among those, only Gary Patterson performed better than Bronco, finishing 31 spots ahead of projections.
Since I know you’re dying to see them, here are the numbers:
Table 1: Recruiting numbers are an average of those from Scout, Rival, and 247 from 2005-2014. Results are an average of Sagarin, Congrove, and S&P for the same time period.
This chart was fresh in my mind the day Harvey Dent’s words became true for me: You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see your coach become a Wahoo. Love him or hate him, Bronco had done something at BYU that very few people are capable of doing, and this worried me. Because of BYU’s unique atmosphere, and because of the way two guys in a bar in Alaska view BYU, the recruiting numbers aren’t likely to change anytime soon. We are who we are.
If BYU were to replace Bronco with an average coach, capable of getting out of his recruits just as much as expected (57th in the nation), BYU would descend into an independent wasteland and long for the days of the MWC. I think we all know we’re way too prideful of a fanbase to entertain such a nightmare.
Then, like a ray of hope shining across the low arctic horizon came the Twitter rumors of one Ken Niumatalolo, the man I believe to be the current frontrunner to replace Bronco. If you haven’t already, go read Vai Sikahema’s profile of Ken. It’s a good read. From it we learn that at Navy, he doesn’t worry about losing recruits to other schools; he loses them to Wal-Mart. Yes, that Wal-Mart. You see, as hard as it is to sell someone on the idea of BYU (you can’t drink here, not even a beer!), try to consider what it must be like selling someone on the idea of playing football for Navy (when you’re done people will try to kill you for at least 5 years). With all due respect for our military heroes–and a tremendous amount of respect is due–if you’re an average HS football star who didn’t grow up planning on joining the military anyway, Wal-Mart might not seem like a bad alternative.
Thinking about the challenges of Navy’s recruiting led me to compare Ken’s 8 years as Navy’s head coach with the rest of the field. Any guesses on how he fared? Spoiler alert: he blows them out of the water, just like a true American Naval hero.
Table 2: Ken is brilliant.
Working with an average incoming class that should have finished 107th in the nation, he has brought them well above and beyond expectations, finishing 60th.
Ready to be even more impressed? His current squad has a recruiting strength that should put them at 103 in the nation. As of right now (pre-bowl week) the average of the performance ranking systems has Navy at #25. Of roughly 120 FBS football teams, Ken currently has his team 78 spots higher than they should be! That alone could be the miracle that beatifies St. Niumatalolo.
Important disclaimer: before my conclusion, it’s important to recognize that comparing coaches in this manner inherently favors those who start out with a worse recruiting class. Consider the numbers alone- if you start with a squad that ranks 119 out of 120, you have 1 chance to perform worse than expected and 118 chances to perform better. Conversely, those with exceptional recruiting classes have a much higher chance of a let down, which is why I think Bob Stoops is actually the best coach in the nation. With only 10 opportunities to outperform his expectations and 109 opportunites to fail, he only underperforms by 1. That’s a pretty impressive feat. But that’s enough rational thinking for now. We’re BYU fans, so…
WHO’S READY TO GET DOWNRIGHT DELUSIONAL????
If Ken can outperform the recruiting the same way at BYU that he did at Navy (+47) and BYU can simply continue to recruit the way they currently do (57), that means that BYU will finish #10 in the nation! Keep in mind that’s just an average, so every year they finish ranked a measly #20 will be offset by another national championship, of which there are sure to be plenty during his reign at BYU.
Parting thought: consider how silly it sounds that some of you want to put a stipulation on how he coaches. Here is this miracle worker, and you have the audacity to tell him how to do his job? “Hey, football genius, we might allow you to come coach here but only if you promise to throw the ball. And make sure you throw it deep. A lot. Like 85% of the time sounds about right, because that’s worked really well for us this year, a year we were weak at running back, and because Tanner has a great arm. Yeah, so we need you to promise to run a spread offense here forever. Otherwise, no deal mmmmkay?” Forget all that, I say give the guy the keys and get out of his way. If you’re looking for a way to help, come join me as I pour the foundation for his statue just outside the southeast gate at LES.