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Why The Comparison Isn't Valid, Part II: Gary Pinkel

I typed this post up on Monday evening, with the intention of posting it on Thursday.  With the change in circumstances we saw yesterday, it's no longer intended as an argument against retaining Ron Prince, but rather a preemptive -- or maybe not so preemptive, if you listened to the Ball State/NIU game tonight -- strike against those who believe we acted too hastily in moving on from Ron Prince.

As noted, this is Part II of a series.  Depending on the strength of the backlash against the decision not to retain Prince, I may add more parts to this series.  For now, you can check out Part I if you missed the previous installment.

Two weeks ago, I published a post addressing an argument in support of Ron Prince and his coaching staff that I've read on various K-State message boards and heard occasionally in person. Essentially, some fans have noted that Mark Mangino at KU and Gary Pinkel at Missouri were on the hot seat with their fans after three seasons, but were given more time. With that extra time, the two coaches produced breakthrough seasons for their schools last year, and are having varying degrees of success this season. In Part I, I addressed the situation Mangino faced in Lawrence prior to his arrival, and what he did there in his first three seasons. Today, we address the situation Pinkel faced when he arrived in Columbia, and what he did in his first three seasons.  Hit the jump to see the analysis.

MU record prior to Gary Pinkel taking over (conference record in parentheses)
1999: 4-7 (1-7)
2000: 3-8 (2-6)

MU records in Gary Pinkel's first three seasons (conference record in parentheses)
2001: 4-7 (3-5)
2002: 5-7 (2-6)
2003: 8-5 (4-4)

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

K-State record in Ron Prince's first three seasons (conference record in parentheses)
2006: 7-6 (4-4)
2007: 5-7 (3-5)
2008: 4-5 (1-4)
*As I noted in Part I, the numbers for Prince's 2008 season are necessarily incomplete. Given the trend we've seen, I'm guessing most of the stats are not going to improve much.

In this comparison, there's a little more separation between the state of Mizzou's program the two years prior to Pinkel's arrival and K-State's program the two years prior to Prince's arrival. Also, if you look two years further back, you'll notice Mizzou was a combined 15-9 (10-6 Big 12) in 1997 and 1998. Not bad numbers, but still not in the neighborhood of K-State combined 22-6 (13-4 Big 12) tally in 2002 and 2003. Just by raw record and accomplishments - K-State won the Big 12 title and, necessarily, the North in 2003 - it is clear that Mizzou's program was in much worse shape when Pinkel took over than K-State's was when Prince was hired.

Of course, while the won-loss record is generally a reflection of the statistical accomplishments of each team, the numbers give a little life to what led to the final ledger.

MU statistical categories, 1999-2003
Total Offense
1999: 79th (338 yards/game)
2000: 71st (351 yards/game)
2001: 91st (340 yards/game)
2002: 45th (386 yards/game)
2003: 36th (404 yards/game)

Total Defense
1999: 44th (350 yards/game)
2000: 60th (367 yards/game)
2001: 77th (399 yards/game)
2002: 107th (450 yards/game)
2003: 64th (381 yards/game)

K-State statistical categories, 2004-2008
Total Offense
2004: 68th (363 yards/game)
2005: 83rd (339 yards/game)
2006: 85th (315 yards/game)
2007: 40th (418 yards/game)
2008: 27th (418 yards/game)

Total Defense
2004: 43rd (349 yards/game)
2005: 45th (359 yards/game)
2006: 70th (345 yards/game)
2007: 69th (400 yards/game)
2008: 108th (445 yards/game)
*Again, the 2008 numbers for K-State are only current through the first nine games of the 12-game season.

Mizzou almost perfectly illustrates the expected dip in production that usually occurs when a new coach is hired, followed by the corresponding jump when that coach's system is installed (and works). Of course, the Tiger defense suffered a two-year hangover, rather than the one-year dip the offense experienced.

It is anyone's guess how our offense will end up the season, but it is safe to say this K-State defense is the worst we have seen since Stan Parrish was on the sidelines. While our final three defensive foes are ranked 86th, 76th and 109th, the final three offenses we play are ranked 6th, 20th and 71st. The offensive numbers may get a little better simply because we are up against terrible defenses, but KU is ranked 82nd and we only managed 21 points and 355 total yards against them. No guarantee there.

Either way, it's clear we've made strides offensively from what occurred in Bill Snyder's final two seasons in Manhattan. I guess the question becomes how much of that is due to having a probable NFL draft pick at quarterback, and how much is due to the coaching staff.

Finally, it's time to take a look at the average margin of defeat for the programs we're comparing. While I again admit this is an imperfect metric, it shows to me the general level of competitiveness a team displays. A team that hangs in there against its toughest competition is putting itself in position to win games. A team that loses by a lot evidences a program that is going in the wrong direction.

MU Average Margin of Defeat, 1999-2003
1999: 28.7 points/loss
2000: 20.3 points/loss
2001: 21.2 points/loss
2002: 15.3 points/loss
2003: 14 points/loss

K-State Average Margin of Defeat, 2004-2008
2004: 11.4 points/loss
2005: 16 points/loss
2006: 19 points/loss
2007: 14.9 points/loss
2008: 18.8 points/loss
*Again, it's entirely possible that 2008 number is going to get worse. Mizzou has one of the most explosive offenses in the country, and Nebraska beat us by 43 last season.

In two weeks, we've seen Prince's third squad go from losing by an average of 14 to losing by an average of nearly 19. We have not even been competitive in losses to OU and KU - second quarter against OU notwithstanding - and it shows in our average margin of defeat.

By contrast, look at Mizzou's numbers. Other than Pinkel's first season, where you'd expect some regression, he made the Tigers more competitive each season. The Tigers program went from losing by an average of four full touchdowns in Smith's penultimate year to losing by only two touchdowns, average, in Pinkel's third. For nostalgiac purposes, I'll note that the 1999 average for Mizzou included a 66-0 beatdown at the hands of the program formerly known as K-State

Conclusion: You've heard all this before, but it bears repeating. Generally, three seasons is not enough time for a coach to demonstrate his full potential. The key to getting beyond three seasons, however, is showing that you are making progress each time you put a team on the field. Over three seasons, Pinkel demonstrated that at Missouri in every category mentioned above. He improved the overall record, he improved the offense, he (eventually) improved the defense, and he made the team more competitive, even in defeat. By contrast, Prince and his staff are losing ground in the won-loss column, have made our offense a little better - with a possible first-round draft pick at QB - while absolutely decimating anything that is left of the K-State defense, and consistently have been less competitive even in defeat.

Again, retaining a coach is a risk-reward proposition. If we decide we are going to get rid of Prince after this season, we need to be certain we can get someone who is likely to be an improvement. With an inexperienced coach such as Prince, the reward for more time could be that he finds his way and the team significantly improves, as Mangino and Pinkel did. The risk is that Prince will not improve, and his decisions could cause such damage to the program that it will be a very long time before we recover. Remember, folks, no matter what, at this point we must be patient with whomever comes next, because we are in a deep, deep hole. As long as the next coach's team shows steady improvement, I will be more than happy to wait for whatever success may come.