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Why the Comparison Isn't Valid, Part I: Mark Mangino

Some K-State fans, despite all statistical and visual evidence to the contrary, continue to unqualifiedly support Ron Prince and believe that he will get the K-State football program turned around from its current moribund condition. Oftentimes, these fans point to other schools, reminding us that they stuck with their coaches for longer than three years, and that such patience is now paying dividends. This series of posts is a look into the numbers behind these superficial arguments, to determine whether Prince really is doing as good of a job as the other two coaches did in their first three years.

This week, we'll look at what Mark Mangino has done at the University of Kansas. Hit the jump to see the analysis.

KU record prior to Mark Mangino taking over (conference records in parentheses)
2000: 4-7 (2-6)
2001: 3-8 (1-7)

KU records in Mark Mangino's first three seasons (conference records in parentheses)
2002: 2-10 (0-8)
2003: 6-7 (3-5)
2004: 4-7 (2-6)

K-State record two years prior to Ron Prince taking over (conference records in parentheses)
2004: 4-7 (2-6)
2005: 5-6 (2-6)

K-State record in Prince's first three seasons (conference records in parentheses)
2006: 7-6 (4-4)
2007: 5-7 (3-5)
2008: 4-3 (1-2)

From the records two years prior to their hiring, it would appear that both Mangino and Prince took over relatively equivalent football teams. However, looking back only another two years would demonstrate how incredibly wrong that notion would be. In 1998 and 1999, KU amassed records of 4-7 (1-7 Big 12) and 5-7 (3-5). In 2002 and 2003, K-State rolled to 11-2 (6-2) and 11-4 (7-2) records and a Big 12 championship in 2003.

While Mangino's record his first three years, by itself, doesn't seem to indicate any dramatic improvement, other than the bowl year in 2003, we must remember that a 6-7 mark in 2003 was the school's best season since 1995. By contrast, Prince's best season to date, the 7-6 campaign in 2006, was an improvement over Bill Snyder's last two years, but was eclipsed (dwarfed?) by the program's recent records in 2002 and 2003.

What's more, Prince has not had a team put together anything resembling the 2006 season since. Last season, the team fell apart to end with a 5-7 record, and through seven games in 2008 we stand only 4-3. Remember, that 4-3 record has been assembled against the easiest part of our schedule, while we get three ranked teams in our final five regular-season games.

Of course, it's not just the overall record that can demonstrate improvement, so we need to look behind the wins and losses to find out whether Prince is making measurable progress that would justify his retention. Again, due to the context of this post, we will be comparing his measurables to those of Mangino in his first three seasons at KU.

KU Statistical Categories rank, 2000-04
Total Offense
2000: 77th (341 yards per game)
2001: 113th (269 yards per game)
2002: 105th (316 yards per game)
2003: 29th (421 yards per game)
2004: 100th (314 yards per game)

Total Defense
2000: 80th (400 yards per game)
2001: 91st (427 yards per game)
2002: 112th (427 yards per game)
2003: 85th (412 yards per game)
2004: 41st (345 yards per game)

K-State Statistical Categories rank, 2004-2008
Total Offense
2004: 68th (363 yards per game)
2005: 83rd (339 yards per game)
2006: 85th (315 yards per game)
2007: 40th (418 yards per game)
2008: 34th (408 yards per game)

Total Defense
2004: 43rd (349 yards per game)
2005: 45th (359 yards per game)
2006: 70th (345 yards per game)
2007: 69th (400 yards per game)
2008: 105th (429 yards per game)
*Here again note that the 2008 statistics are for an incomplete season. Unfortunately, that probably means both the offensive and defensive numbers will get worse, as some of these statistics were compiled against the likes of North Texas and Montana State, and only Big 12 teams remain on the schedule.

This statistical comparison gives life to some of the most obvious differences between what Mangino did at KU and what Prince has been doing at K-State. An astute critic of my position would note that Mangino's offense regressed from 29th in the country in 2003 to 100th in 2004. Certainly a significant and troubling drop, but the mere fact that Mangino lifted an offense that had previously been ranked 77th and 113th to 29th is a significant accomplishment in itself. Also, a one-year decline in offensive output, without other significant problems, would not be reason enough to put a coach on the hot seat. That is borne out by the KU defensive numbers from these years. Obviously, there was significant deterioration in Mangino's first year, but every year after that, significant progress was made. One could argue that his second defense was only about as good as Terry Allen's last two defenses, but the improvement to the No. 41 ranking in 2004 makes that a pretty weak argument.

Now contrast that with K-State. The Wildcat offense fell apart in 2005 after the departure of Darren Sproles, and it didn't recover in 2006, when we primarily started Josh Freeman as a true freshman quarterback. Probably expected, and a part of building for the future that should be expected of any young coach. The improvement in both 2007 and possibly 2008 suggests that Prince at least sort of knows what he's doing as an offensive coach, and has a good offensive coordinator in Dave Brock. However, I'm not sure that the final numbers in 2008 will represent an improvement over 2007. We play two very tough defenses in our last five games, OU and KU, and our numbers against teams like Texas Tech and Colorado suggest that even the Mizzou and Nebraska defenses should match up with us fairly well. Time will tell, but I would not be surprised at all if our final offensive numbers end up painting a picture of regression from last year.

Of course, defensive numbers have been the most troubling concern in the Prince era. Even in the bad years of 2004 and 2005, Bill Snyder's club managed to field a top 50 defense. Granted, that was a horrible regression from the previous few years, but it still represented a unit that was competent. Since Prince arrived in Manhattan, we have seen nothing but putrid numbers on the defensive side of the ball. The numbers are so bad, in fact, that I don't think I even need to amplify them; rankings of 70th, 69th, and 105th speak for themselves.

Now, let's turn to one more statistical measure to determine whether Prince is making progress in Manhattan, as compared to Mangino's first three years down the river. Here, we will look at the team's average margin of defeat for the two years prior to the current coaches' arrivals, and for each coach's first three seasons. While I admit that this doesn't tell the whole story, it is an interesting statistic to me because it demonstrates how competitive a developing team is against its best competition. Obviously, we would all prefer fewer losses to the good teams, but when you're in rebuilding mode, sometimes you have to look for any signs of progress, and having a team that fights it out to the finish against the best teams is a sign of progress.

KU Average Margin of Defeat, 2000-04
2000: 24.6 points per loss
2001: 30.75 points per loss
2002: 28.9 points per loss
2003: 19 points per loss
2004: 8.6 points per loss

K-State Average Margin of Defeat, 2004-08
2004: 11.4 points per loss
2005: 16 points per loss
2006: 19 points per loss
2007: 14.9 points per loss
2008: 14 points per loss

Prince's numbers in this category, by themselves, don't look all that bad, particularly as compared to Snyder's last two teams. Still, in the Prince era, we are losing games by an average of two touchdowns, and even in his best year, 2007, we lost by nearly three touchdowns. This category is where the comparison to Mangino is most significant. In each of his first three seasons, Mangino made his team significantly more competitive, even in defeat. Prince has improved, but not by much, and has never had his team playing its competition to a single-digit average spread in losses.

Conclusion: Merely stating that Ron Prince should get four or five years to show what he can do in Manhattan because Mark Mangino was given the same amount of time to show what he could do in Lawrence is making a false comparison. A coach who can show that his program is consistently improving should be given more time to demonstrate continued improvement. On the other hand, a coach who shows continued regression over time can be a dangerous thing for a program. A first-year regression from the prior coach's numbers can be expected, as the new coach adjusts to his players, and vice versa. However, regression over several years should make the administration and fans of any team wary, because such continued regression can leave a program in a significant hole moving forward. While we as K-State fans should let the 2008 season play out before making any final judgments on Prince, we should also be extremely wary that arguing that he should be given more time merely because Mangino was could be a very risky proposition.  Keeping an unproven coach around is a risk-reward proposition: it could allow a young coach who is learning to make significant improvement, or it may lead to a disastrous decline in the program.  Thus, while keeping Prince around a few more years may give him a chance to learn and improve as a coach, the statistical evidence seems to indicate the latter scenario described above is more likely.

Coming soon: Why the Comparison Isn't Valid, Part II