What Does "Good Coaching" Mean in College Football : The Example of Nebraska vs. Colorado and the Talent for Making Necessary Adjustments

The Colorado Buffaloes football team has a bright future under head coach Dan Hawkins and his coaching staff because they apparently understand what coaching is all about. This is exemplified by the content of the following posting at Buffs.tv which hits the nail fully on the head. It’s title is We don’t live in Lincoln:

Let’s give credit to the CU Buffaloes. In a cold game, they made the adjustments they needed to and won an offensive battle. It was a strange game because it literally took on four personalities. In the first, Nebraska attempted to run the ball. As predicted they went no where. Then the Cornhuskers adjusted to a near exclusive passing game in the second. They racked up 3 touchdowns in the second and looked ot have the Buffs on the ropes. Colorado was running nickel and dime coverages exclusively, and the Husker receivers were just sitting open in the seams. And after freshman Jimmy Smith gives up Nebraska’s fifth touchdown, I figured the Buffs were done for the day. Nebraska had adjusted and we hadn’t

At halftime apparently Ron Collins sat his defense and asked them what needed to change. They suggested going back to their base defense and Ron Collins honored that request. And that there may have been the turning point of the game. Jimmy Smith sparked the third quarter with an interception returned for a touch down. Made me think that Brown and Smith on the corners next year may be more formidable than I had originally thought. Next pass is another interception. The buffs put that one in the house too. Follow that with a blocked punt by Alonzo Barrett recovered by Jordan Dizon and that was the straw that broke Nebraska. Colorado reeled off five straight touchdowns to put this one out of reach of the Huskers.” [emphasis added by LawPundit]

One reason that the Callahan-coached Huskers went 0-17 in games after trailing at the end of the first half – and why they also lost many games in which they were leading at the outset – was that the Callahan staff had their “game plan” and was apparently unable to adjust their coaching of a game to adapt effectively to changes that the other team made, especially at the half. What this means is that NU coaches thus obviously overestimated their own abilities of planning and underestimated the abilities of opposing coaches. That is a loser’s flawed approach to coaching.

In the game against Colorado, the Huskers led 35-24 at halftime and should have won the game with sensible play and correct adjustments in the second half. However, as the posting from Buffs.tv above indicates, this was not done. Running the ball one quarter and passing the next is not an “adjustment”, it is simply one kind of game plan. Optimally, adjustments mean “real-time” adaptation to whatever the other team is doing before any real damage is done and not after the damage has been done.

A really gifted coaching staff for the Huskers would have known that Hawkins is a very good coach and could be expected to make serious adjustments to his nickel and dime defense at halftime rather than continue to be beaten by the NU passing offense. The NU coaching staff at halftime should have pondered, discussed, answered and instructed as to what the Colorado adjustments could be and how Nebraska would counteract such adjustments when they faced them, i.e. if Hawkins went to Defense A, the answer of the offense would be B, if Hawkins went to Defense C, the answer of the offense would be D, etc. But of course, none of this was done, so that two interceptions on two succeeding series of downs were totally unnecessarily inflicted upon an offense unprepared by its coaching staff for the defense they were facing.

A similar NU coaching lapse against Texas in the final quarter gave the Longhorns a win in a game that the Huskers should also never have lost, but when Texas went into the “zone read” offense in the 4th quarter, Nebraska did not immediately react and change its defense to minimize the threat that the zone read offense posed to them, so that a very fast Jamaal Charles ran off one big gainer after the other, leading to an easily avoidable Husker loss.

“Fixed system” coaches are simply not well prepared for modern football and will be beaten by coaches who are able to play any offense or any defense required to get the upper hand over their opponent – and this can change situation to situation, play to play, quarter to quarter, half to half, game to game, and season to season.