For the record, my alma mater will not “go bowling” again this year. I must firmly accept that 2008 was an aberration and will (more than likely) never happen again, at least not while I’m still alive.
So what happened? Well, a multitude of things can be said, but the primary one was that we lost a great coach and a great quarterback at the same time. Brady Hoke bolted for San Diego State (it must have been the beaches and not the division, because SDSU…? Really?) and probably our best QB in Nate Davis following the 2008 season. Davis is now on the practice squad with the San Francisco 49ers.
Ball State’s new coach is Stan Parrish, who was an excellent QB coach prior to becoming the Offensive Coordinator, then Head Coach. He’s good, but he doesn’t seem to be as good of a recruiter as Hoke was. It’s shown this year in particular, as the team had a lot of youth and very little in the way of results. It’s very disheartening to see just how quickly we fell down the hole after a miraculous season, which at one point had us ranked as high as #15. But that was 2008, and we just finished the 2010 with our annual rivalry game with Northern Illinois. For the record, they crushed us. It was 35-7 at the half and I just gave up and started drinking.
Two things an alumni looks at when judging coaches is how well that coach can recruit and put butts in the seats at Scheumann Stadium. Parrish has a rep for being a top-notch QB coach. He tutored Tom Brady and Brian Griese while at Michigan, and he’s a proven sort of guy. However, that being said, I’ve been disappointed with his offensive schemes this season. It seemed that most defensive coordinators knew our offense better than the skill position players, and as a result most of our plays were sniffed out at the line. But that has nothing to do with the recruiting ability of the coach, and that’s what I wanted to focus on first.
I understand that Ball State doesn’t have a rich tradition in, well, any sort really. Our basketball team gave the NCAA a scare a few years back after blowing through two of the Top 5 schools in the nation during the Maui Invitational, but since then… nothing. But regardless, with very little recruitment disadvantages in-state (outside of Notre Dame), Ball State has no reason not to be able to recruit well. Purdue, Indiana? Yeah, I don’t see them going to a bowl this year. Notre Dame? They’re so academically strict they’re strangling their own football team, plus they don’t have any conference affiliation.
The MAC is not a bad conference. It has a tradition of turning out great QB’s, possibly better than most of the “Big Six” conferences. And as the only MAC school in Indiana, they should have a stranglehold on quite a few 3 star recruits.
So where are these recruits? This is a question Coach Parrish must answer this off-season, as Parish has not had a winning season as a head coach since 1985, his final year at Marshall. The pressure is on, and given Hoke’s immediate success at SDSU (his Aztecs are 7-4 and bowl eligible), Parrish can’t afford another losing season. While it is unfair to place all the blame on Parrish, in the end the head coach is responsible for the direction of his team. And with a lackluster defense and nothing special coming in on that side of the ball, the Cardinal’s 2011 football team had better be prepared to put up a lot of points to take some of the pressure off of the defense.
Side note: Parrish, FYI… a WR who runs a 5.0 40 yard dash is NOT going to get open often. Just letting you know…
So what should Ball State do?
Well, one thought I had was to instill Bud Foster’s 4-2-5 defense which is so successful at Virginia Tech. For years Tech had to deal with losing the top recruits to both the SEC and Big East schools and still managed to throw in a top 20 defense year in and year out. The basic idea of a 4-2-5 is that the 5th safety can float up or down the field, creating confusion in route coverage for the offense. This rids the problem of having an LB on a WR or RB when they move out in motion. The 5th safety is not a true safety, though, but more of a hybrid LB/S. You know, the safety who wasn’t fast enough to be a corner or the LB who wasn’t big enough to play LB? That guy can be invaluable as the 5th coverage player. Also, having a decent front four who can pressure the QB and stop the run helps big time. So how do you anchor a 4-2-5? You go out and get the nastiest NT (nose tackle) you can find. He doesn’t have to be the biggest guy, but he sure as hell needs to be the meanest. He’s going to be your enforcer, that guy who pummels the OL who dares try to block him. He’s the guy who isn’t afraid of slapping the crap out of the OL’s helmet as he muscles past them. His job is to draw 2 to 3 man coverage on the line, forcing the LT and RT to slide out and try to pick up the DE’s solo. Then that leaves the other DT, the smart and quick guy, to watch for the screens and generally have a clear shot at blocking the middle. Any time you can make the RB change directions and go sideline to sideline gives your defense a better shot at stopping the play cold.
Why am I not coaching football, you may ask. Well, I used to be the defensive coordinator at an unnamed school out west, where I had a top 5 defense while being the defensive coordinator. It was a high school, not a college, so I understand that it’s “different” there. I also have no desire to coach again, having to deal with an egocentric head coach who couldn’t find his ass if someone handed it to him (which opposing defenses routinely did). It stopped being fun watching those kids be demoralized, especially after losing 7-3 and 7-6 on a weekly basis. So after I stopped teaching, I stopped coaching as well.
So in the end, I sincerely hope that Mr. Collins (Athletic Director at Ball State) will give Coach Parrish at least two more years, which would make it four years total as head coach. If his recruits cannot turn around Cardinal football in that time, it would be unfortunate but Coach Parrish would have to go.
Update: less than forty minutes after I wrote this, Coach Parrish was canned. The search is now on for a new coach at Ball State. Oops.