Saturday, July 18, 2009

History Suggests More Will Leave

I posted earlier about Michigan’s own illustrious history of both returning player and recruiting class attrition, and the impact it can have on a football team’s depth chart. When players leave a football team, it can thin depth chart in dramatic ways that are not immediately evident. After Rich Rodriguez conducted 2008 post-season interviews with all of the Michigan football players to make sure they were really on board and “All in for Michigan”, several players still decided to part ways with the Wolverine football program including wide receiver Toney Clemons, and offensive lineman Dann O’Neill and Kurt Wermers.

I guess this is the part in the movie where Wolverine fans everywhere are supposed to be frozen in terror at what must surely be the systematic destruction of the entire football program from within.

There’s only one minor problem with all of this flailing about in uncontrolled panic.

It’s not news.

That football players end up leaving when a new regime takes over should surprise no one. It doesn’t happen universally with all coaching changes. But we know that player departures have been a common occurrence in Rich Rodriguez’s coaching past - and at far more worrying rates that what the media is currently observing at Michigan.

Players leave college football teams for all sorts of reasons. Many times these athletes leave because they don’t see eye-to-eye with the head coach and his staff. Other times players leave for reasons that have nothing to do with the head coach at all. Injuries, academics and personal issues can all lead to similar outcomes.

It might be interesting to look at the player defections that occurred when Rich Rodriguez first arrived at West Virginia in 2001 when he took over the reigns from long-standing Mountaineer head coach Don Nehlen.

It might very well surprise that unimpeachable squad of sports journalists at ESPN to know that there was a lot of player attrition at West Virginia during Rich Rodriguez’s tenure there. I carefully reviewed West Virginia’s complete football rosters between 2000 and 2007. Normally such rosters are posted around the August time frame shortly before the college football season begins. These fall rosters included incoming freshmen players (new recruits). In West Virginia’s case there were a very high quantity of players on these historical rosters, which no doubt included a good number of walk-on players (non-scholarship). I also analyzed the West Virginia depth charts during Nehlen-Rodriguez regime between 2000-2007 to consider key players on the two deep (first and second team offense and defense). I took into consideration graduating seniors each year, and made sure to capture those players with remaining eligibility. By comparing player names on back-to-back annual August football team rosters, one can fairly easily deduce which players left the football team each year. I did not factor in those player defections that may have taken place between 2007 and 2008 after Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia to coach at Michigan. All of this took a good amount of time to work through. I totaled up the numbers, and came up with some pretty shocking results.

It would require an incredible amount of time that I don’t have (and access to a lot of hidden or expensive information) to determine the exact dates when players left the WVU football team under Rodriguez, or to determine their individual reasons for doing so. The numbers below indicate the quantity of players that left.

This is not an indictment against Rich Rodriguez nor against any of the players who left the team while he was head coach. It’s simply an estimated tally.

Here are the totals of player departures by season, by class, and taking into consideration graduating seniors (Player Departures with Eligibility).

If we assumed that 50% of these players left the WVU team each year for reasons other than hating the head coach and his ways, i.e. personal issues, family issues, want to concentrate on academics, health issues, debilitating football injury, doesn’t want to play football anymore, wants to move closer to home, then the remaining 50% still seems like a rather high number (to me at any rate).

Again, these numbers take into consideration freshman recruits and walk-ons for each year.

Rich Rodriguez 2001-2007

YearFr.So.Jr.Sr.Total Player DeparturesPlayer Departures with EligibilityTotal WVU Roster Count% Roster Attrition

Below I add some more detail as to quantity of player defections by position group. It’s interesting to look at this chart and then consider which position group might have struggled most with the workout regimen of Mike Barwis. It would appear that offensive lineman, linebackers, receivers and secondary position players dropped off the team most frequently during this period of time:

Rich Rodriguez 2001-2007


I submit two more detailed examples of the above analysis.


West Virginia finished 7-5-0 and won the Music City Bowl game vs. Mississippi 49-38.
There were 14 graduating seniors in 2000. Players with eligibility (Freshman, Sophomores, Juniors) from 2000 who were not on the 2001 team roster are shown below. We see 32 players departing the West Virginia roster (46 if we include the 14 seniors). Apparently 12 of these 32 had scholarships. The remainder may have been walk-ons. Some detail of the Nehlen players from the 2000 season that were not found on the 2001 Rodriguez team roster:


NamePosPos GrpClassComments
Aaron CochranRBRBSo
Adam LangLBLBFr
Anthony NolenCBSECFr
Anthony WilsonCBSECFr
Brian HummerDTDLSo
Colin TuckerRBRBSo
Cortez McNeilDEDLJr
Jamien HarveyLBLBSo2nd Team LB
Jared HostetlerQBQBFrNephew of NFL QB Jeff Hostetler and former WVU QB.
Jay GarrettLBLBSo
Jeremy ShermanGOLJr2nd Team OG
Jerome TaylorGOLSo
JeVon IknerWRWRSo
Joe ScritchfieldCBSECFr
Jon ShafferKSTFr
Jonathan BrittonWRWRFr
Josh KellyCOLSo2nd Team C
Josh TetrickLBLBFr
Justin JohnsonGOLFr
Kevin RookerCBSECFr
Michael VernilloRBRBFr
Nathan WaltersLBLBFr
Rondrick SmithGOLSo2nd Team OG
Scott McBrienQBQBFr2nd Team QB. Transferred to Maryland.
Sean BertonTETESo1st Team TE. Transferred to NC State. Not happy with the new coach?
Shannon WashingtonDEDLJr2nd Team DT
Shaun PiperLBLBSo
Steve TerleskyTETESo
Terrance MartinDEDLJr
Todd MosbyLBLBFr
William PerryDTDLSo2nd Team NT
Yulkeith BrownCBSECFr

West Virginia will finish 3-8-0 in Rodriguez’s inaugural season. The Mountaineers will be coming off their worst college football season results since the 2-9-0 record in 1978 under then coach Frank Cignetti. More veteran players (26) with remaining eligibility decide to hit the road:


NamePosPos GrpClassComments
Adam CantoniRBRBFr
Bo GrahamWRWRFr
Bobby WoodsWRWRFr
Brian CholpDTDLSo
Caleb CooperTETEJr1st Team TE
Cecil HagwoodDEDLFr2nd Team DE
Chad LavenderLBLBSo
Chris KnapperWRWRJr
Danny EmbrickQBQBFr2nd Team QB
Derek JonesWRWRFr
Greg MittleiderTOLSo2nd Team OT
Harold LeathWRWRFr
Isaac IrbyWRWRSo
James WoodruffCBSECJr2nd Team CB
Jason ParmerGOLSo
Jeremy WilliamsKSTFr
Josh RomeoWRWRFr
Justin WilliamsCOLFr2nd Team C
Marlon BurnetteWRWRFr
Matt AmeriDEDLFr
O'Rondai CoxCBSECJr
Pat MorrisonCBSECFr
Quentin SwainLBLBSo
Robert SpencerCBSECJr
Sedrick LewisDTDLJr2nd Team DT
Tim FrostTOLJr1st Team OT

And on and on it goes.

Again, I will not pretend to know why these players left the football team. Whether they hated Rich Rodriguez or Barwis or simply had better plans for themselves and their lives, I cannot say. Don't know. I simply find it interesting to see this number of player drop offs year-to-year and have begun to ask myself what this means for Michigan football. This does provide some new perspective for Michigan fans as to just what in the hell Rich Rodriguez means when he says things like “when we get our numbers back up” in terms of the future Michigan football rosters.

Some Conclusions
All I can say is “wow”. I didn’t expect to find this. I admit that I might be “missing something” in my analysis. Like the whole eligibility deal. A kid could be listed as a junior on some college football roster, but have sophomore eligibility, etc. There could be errors there. But this doesn’t explain why players obviously and completely “disappeared” from one season to the next.That can only be explained by players leaving the team. And a lot of them clearly did.

Again, without conducting thorough player interviews it’s difficult to tell why these players left. It would however not be surprising to find out that a significant number of players from the Nehlen era left the WVU football team either due to Rodriguez’s coaching methods or style, or to his hellish conditioning boot camp under Drill Sergeant Barwis. Or both. Furthermore, the player attrition did not cease or level off once Rodriguez’s program became more firmly accepted and established at West Virginia. It is clear that even new WVU recruits and walk-ons departed the program early.

A Word About Rodriguez’s Coaching Style
Much has already been written about Rodriguez methods to motivate his football players. Rodriguez is confrontational, demands perfection, and swears like a trucker during football practice. For some WVU players, this would have been a dramatic change to the Don Nehlen’s coaching style. For some players the change must have been extremely upsetting, particularly those on the receiving end of such tirades. Players that screwed up in practice were chewed up and torn down in front of everybody. No exceptions. No favoritism.

Is this tactic effective to achieve desired results on the gridiron? There are different schools of thought on coaching style and discipline. Some players really respond well to the less confrontational, but still demanding, approach of Jim Tressel, Pete Carroll, Steve Spurrier and Tom Osborne, as examples.. Other football players excel under the fear of totalitarian retribution akin to the leadership of Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes and Rich Rodriguez -the “Three yards and cloud of profanity” approach.

I’ll close with a quote from a former starting linebacker at West Virginia 2001-2004, Scott Gyorko, who was quoted in this Freep article back in December 2007:
After enduring a rough season, Rodriguez is less abrasive yet still firm. With time, he has gained a better understanding of his players and vice versa.

"When he first got here, he was really strict and wanted things his own way," WVU sophomore linebacker Scott Gyorko said. "Now, he's more laid-back and is settling down. He's different on and off the field. Off the field, he's really approachable and is nice. On the field, he's a head coach and he wants things done his way and he's going to have his way."

Rodriguez hears the comments about him being more relaxed and chuckles. According to him, the change comes from how his players are performing.

"One reason I'm so-called mellow is because we're doing what I want," Rodriguez said. "Sometimes, it's not bad when you have an edge when you're trying to get something going. I tell our kids, 'The only time we get on you is when you screw up. If you don't make as many mental mistakes, we won't yell at you.' They understand us more as people and we understand them better as people. It's like a family. The more you're around each other, the more you understand and love each other."
I suspect things will change at Michigan when the team performance improves. However, given past data, it would be a mistake to assume that football player departures at Michigan will decline under new head coach Rich Rodriguez.


Anonymous said...

Nice post, and great to have you back!

koby said...

Very interesting article but wanted to point out one thing about your discussion of attrition by position: you failed to take into account the number of players at a particular spot. For example, a team generally carries 3 QBs and 15 OLs. If one OL leaves, percentage wise, its not as big a deal as if a QB leaves.

Other than that, keep up the interesting research.

Markusr2007 said...

Hi Koby,
Thanks for you post.
I thought I did account for this in the second graph down. You're right that I neglected to put in % of players lost from total at that position. But it surprised me to see that RR "lost" an estimated 8 QBs and over 29 offensive linemen during his time at WVU.

Don Giles said...

Sorry, but the whole presumption is based on meaningless statistics. Since there can only be 85 scholarship players on the roster, during RR period at WVU the number of walk-ons ranged from 30 to 50. Of course there was a high turnover! This is where the turnover was at WVU and this is where it will be at Michigan. RR has stated he would like to have 125-130 players on the roster, by adding walk-ons, which means he would like to have 40-45 walk-ons, most of whom will leave before they become sophomores,let alone seniors.

Voice of Reason said...

Nice work, great effort. For me in looking for the significance of the numbers, it would seem that the value of early departures would only be significant if they're scholarship players.

Walk-ons can come and go for any reason. Or should I assume these were all scholarship players?

Markusr2007 said...

The numbers I worked through reflect defections of both scholarship and walk on players.

I don't know WVU's rosters as well as I know Michigan's over the last 5 to 6 years. I don't know exactly who at WVU was a walk-on and who was on scholarship. I have a good idea, but it's not going to be precise. This research could be done (perhaps should have been done), it just requires some more time to do.

However, I disagree that the loss of walk-ons is irrelevant in this discussion. I don't think it should be heavily weighted, but it shouldn't be discarded outright either. RR believes that walk ons play a vital role on the team, not just in practice, but in special teams and in the depth chart. It would need it's own investigation, but I suspect that whereas RR would flush out between 15 to 25 walkons every year at WVU, Michigan historically would hang on to the same few walkon players for a series of years.

In other words, I don't think you could "go through the motions" as a walkon under RR.

The other thing I thought about is commitment. Are walkons less committed than scholarship players. Some walkons know they have a low probability of playing time but practice and participate anyway. Other walkons work hard to earn a scholarship (a carrot). We know some scholarship players are committed, while others couldn't be bothered to pull their weight.

It's gray. Not black and white.

Trent said...

I too think the addition of the walk-ons is what is making the numbers look so crazy. I agree shedding walk-ons shouldn't be totally ignored, but it should be given much less weight (both because they are more likely to quit and they are typically not as important to the team). I think someone who is dead last on the depth chart at his position is much more likely to decide the time and work isn't worth it, maybe they should concentrate on academics, whatever.

I appreciate the work you put into this. I think what would really put these numbers into perspective is to see the same analysis of several teams. Maybe we'd discover these numbers aren't terribly unusual. Though as a Michigan fan I wouldn't mind if numbers were a little high if it's only because the softies are scared of Barwis.

Anonymous said...

One question. Is that a West Virginia mock turtle nect under his jacket?

jabberwock said...

One question. Is that a West Virginia mock turtle nect under his jacket?

and a Mountaineer hat on his head.

You're brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I even impress myself sometimes...