College Football: 12 Coaches We'd Love to Break Down Film With
Breaking down film is one of the most time-consuming parts of a coach's job, because college football is more like a brutal chess match than any other familiar game in the world.
For every "perfect" defensive play, there is a perfect offensive counterstrike that renders it null. The same is true for any "perfect" offensive play. It takes time to formulate a plan that will succeed against some of the greatest teams in the country.
On rare occasion, one team will appear to know the future and have an answer for every play that the opponent calls. Two examples that immediately come to mind are 2012 Mississippi State (against Auburn) and the 2007 New England Patriots (at least against the Jets).
The major difference between those two incidents was that Mississippi State's advantage was simply due to Auburn's use of highly predictable signals. New England simply cheated, and it wasn't even secretive.
Film analysis is one of the most important facets of football strategy, and many coaches have ridden successful film sessions to great heights on the field.
Out of all of the coaches in FBS football, here are the 12 that we'd love to join during a film breakdown, with the No. 1 coach being the one we'd most like to accompany in the film room.
12. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M Aggies
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Kevin Sumlin led Texas A&M to an 11-win season in their inaugural SEC year in 2012. The reason he comes in so low on this list is Johnny Manziel.
Sumlin put together a great team, and the defense definitely should not be overlooked. However, Manziel has a talent to carry plays out to 10 and 15 seconds, which is far more than most defenses prepare for.
On the other hand, it doesn't matter how much you do from the quarterback position if your coach doesn't understand the enemy well enough to contain him. Sumlin's ability to put the Aggies in position to win is astounding.
A&M averaged 44.5 points per game (fourth nationally) while allowing only 21.8 points per game (26th nationally) against some of the top teams in the country.
The Aggies didn't win all their games with offense, either. In the Cotton Bowl, they allowed Oklahoma to score only 13 points. In fact, the Aggies held more than half of their opponents to fewer than 21 points each through last season.
While Manziel may have orchestrated the greatest freshman season in college football history, that doesn't mean that Sumlin wasn't a genius in the film room.
11. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State Seminoles
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Jimbo Fisher is coming off of one of the best seasons in recent Florida State history, and only two games stood between him and a possible national championship.
The Seminoles looked past NC State, and the Wolfpack made Florida State pay dearly for that mistake. The other loss was to Florida on rivalry weekend.
Fisher's scoring defense ranked sixth in the nation at the end of 2012, and his offense ranked 10th. That top-10 combo lands him squarely on this list.
Fisher may take the Seminoles to a national title sooner rather than later. Florida State is certainly in good position to crack the playoffs with a little improvement.
Fisher's ability to make other teams look almost powerless against him is a great reason to want to join him in the breakdown room. He certainly breaks down his opponents with regularity.
10. Dabo Swinney, Clemson Tigers
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Dabo Swinney commands another top-notch ACC squad. The Clemson Tigers have recently risen back to the top of the ACC, and they have battled Florida State for the de facto title over the past two seasons.
Before that, Clemson was contending with Virginia Tech for the ACC's Orange Bowl berth. Before that, the Tigers took on Georgia Tech in the conference title game.
Clemson has had an off-and-on relationship with the ACC title game, but under Swinney, it's been more on than off. Swinney has figured out how to get his team motivated to win.
All he has to do now is get his recruiting in line with his coaching, and he's sitting on a potential national champion. His offense ranked sixth at the end of 2012, and his defense ranked 48th.
It would be fun to sit through a film analysis with him for two reasons:
1. His offense is great, and it proves that he knows what he's doing.
2. To see how he will adjust his defense while he waits for recruiting to catch up to his genius.
Swinney isn't going to win national titles with the 46th-place defense, but he's on his way up the food chain. Watching firsthand how he does it would be a lasting memory.
9. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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Brian Kelly took Notre Dame to the national championship in his third season, and the Irish are heading into 2013 hoping that 2012 wasn't a fluke. Regardless of what happens in the near future, the Irish earned their perfect 2012 season.
Kelly didn't overwhelm many opponents, but he absolutely overwhelmed Landry Jones and the Oklahoma Sooners. Notre Dame came out of that road game with a dominating 30-13 victory.
Kelly's ability to coach the team past so much self-induced adversity was eye-opening. Sit in his war room for a session? Yes, please.
Kelly could take the Irish all the way in the next five seasons, and watching him build the program from ground zero is too good to pass up.
8. David Shaw, Stanford Cardinal
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David Shaw took Stanford to the Fiesta Bowl in his first season. Of course, he had Andrew Luck under center making almost all of the on-field adjustments.
When his second season kicked off, people wondered (or at least the team thought people wondered) if Shaw was really that good, or if Luck was the real reason for Stanford's success.
Shaw answered that with a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl win in 2012 with no Luck at all. (If there was any luck, it was against Notre Dame, and it definitely wasn't good luck.)
Shaw runs one of the two Pac-12 teams that could contend for the top of the nation's strongest conference as early as 2013 (the other is Oregon.) That won't happen, of course, but a fan can dream, right?
Shaw's defense finished 11th in the country in 2012, and that included holding the mighty Oregon Ducks to a scant 14 points. (Oregon averaged 49.6 points per game last season.)
Shaw proved that he's the reason that Stanford is successful. Yes, the Cardinal miss Luck, but they don't need him. Even in the rebuilding year of 2012, they won the Rose Bowl.
Imagine what Shaw will do with more experience under center and more experience analyzing video. He has to make the short list for coaches to watch tape with.
7. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina Gamecocks
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Steve Spurrier was successful at Florida, but his accomplishments are overshadowed a bit by the combined hype of Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow after Spurrier's departure.
Spurrier doesn't let that bother him while he sets records at South Carolina. The Gamecocks are playing at an elite level under his tutelage, and they show zero signs of slowing down.
They'll lose players to the NFL or graduation, and Spurrier will turn around and land a Jadeveon Clowney or Marcus Lattimore. Spurrier doesn't concern himself with who's leaving as much as he concerns himself with who's coming and which team he's playing each week.
The Gamecocks finished 13th in scoring defense and 44th in scoring offense in 2012, and Spurrier had them looking unbeatable at times throughout the year.
Lattimore, Spurrier's star running back, went down with knee injuries in both of the past two seasons. Spurrier adjusted his plan and marched on toward the postseason without missing a beat.
Spurrier would be an awesome coach to watch break film down. He's done it successfully at two different SEC schools. If not for Nick Saban, Spurrier might be the best coach in the SEC.
If you take Saban's recruits off the Alabama roster and split them evenly among the other top-tier schools, South Carolina starts to look like a serious national contender.
Spurrier is one of the most obvious selections for this list, and only a few coaches stand between him and the top. In fact, most of them are standing between him and the top of his own conference.
6. Will Muschamp, Florida Gators
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Will Muschamp did something nobody expected in 2012: He raised Florida as high as BCS No. 2 during the regular season. The Gators were definitely on the rise after Muschamp began fixing the program that Urban Meyer reportedly broke, but No. 2 wasn't even on Gators fans' radar for the 2012 season.
Muschamp is off to a terrifyingly hot start at Florida. He posted the nation's No. 5 defense last season, and he came incredibly close to playing in the national championship game against Alabama. (It could have happened if Notre Dame lost to USC, but not if Alabama lost to Georgia.)
Muschamp has the uncanny ability to tear teams up by stuffing the opposing rushing attack and capitalizing on the ensuing confusion. He knows what plays the enemy will run, and he puts massive bodies in the way.
He took the Gators to the Sugar Bowl with the nation's 118th-ranked passing attack. Take a second to read that sentence a second time, and think about what that means. Florida loses a lot of its defense to the draft this spring, but the Gators can afford to lose those players if the offense steps up even 20 or 30 positions.
Breaking down game tape with Muschamp would be a great learning experience. Anyone who can take the country's 118th-best anything to the Sugar Bowl is an expert in his field.
5. Urban Meyer, Ohio State Buckeyes
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Urban Meyer's departure from Florida aside, he's on track to be one of the greatest coaches in history. He's already off to a frighteningly great start at Ohio State. (He currently has a winning percentage of 100 with the Buckeyes after only one season.)
Meyer boasts a career win percentage well over 80, and he's not going to stop now. If any Big Ten team is going to knock the SEC off its current pedestal, Ohio State is it.
If you follow the previous link, you can see a lot of his second-year stats. If they tell us anything, it's that Ohio State's offense is about to get good. If that fact tells us one thing, it's that he can break tape down with the finest coaches in history.
To consistently be among the elite in your second year, you have to be able to analyze your opponents. Having a great offense is more than just having speed and talent. It's about having the ability to beat your specific opponents.
No one strategy will allow you to beat every defense out there, unless you're calling the "get open" play every time the ball is snapped. If you're calling backyard plays in college football, you're not going to succeed as long as Meyer has.
Meyer will eventually end his career among the best in history. Right now, he's one of the best active coaches. If you don't want to join him for a film-breakdown session, you've got to have the Buckeye hate of a Michigan fan.
4. Bill Snyder, Kansas State Wildcats
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Bill Snyder leads a team that doesn't have the history of a Florida, Ohio State, Stanford or Alabama. He has become a white wizard of college football by working magic with the Kansas State Wildcats.
He finished no more than two games short of a shot at the national title in both 2011 and 2012. He has taken a while to get Kansas State up to the elite level it currently enjoys, but he's at a major recruiting disadvantage.
He's up against the traditional powers in the Big 12, and the SEC is currently the stronger conference. That disadvantage only serves to highlight his strengths, which are the very things that got him on this list.
If he's recruiting less-talented players than many other teams, then he's clearly a great coach. He can develop players with the best of them. Also, this means that he's excellent in the film room.
Those are the only two factors that can produce as much success as he's had with the Wildcats. Motivation can win you a game or three as the season wears on, but to consistently (even if slowly) rise toward the top of a power conference, motivation will not get you there.
Snyder is a brilliant coach who has found a way to win at an improbable school. The Wildcats are miles away from the bottom of the barrel, and they have Snyder's analytical ability to thank.
Whether it's on the recruiting trail or in the film room, Snyder is worth spending some quality time with. He's got to be Mr. Miyagi in the film room, and nobody could say no to watching Mr. Miyagi analyze anything.
3. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss Rebels
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Hugh Freeze orchestrated a monster turnaround at Arkansas State. As a result, he was given a shot in the SEC by the Ole Miss Rebels. He responded with an equally impressive 180 at Ole Miss.
No, Ole Miss didn't win 10 games in his first season, but the Rebels were up against infinitely tougher competition than Arkansas State. The Rebels hail from the SEC West. That's the same division in which the past four national champions reside.
Freeze is possibly the best hire Ole Miss has ever made. While it will take some time for him to prove that, his ability to add five wins through nothing but coaching absolutely gives his fanbase high hopes for the near future.
He did most of it by rearranging players and coaching them up. The rest was accomplished through film analysis and game-planning. He's a master, and it's only a matter of time before you hear his name alongside those of Les Miles, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban.
Heck, he's mentioned right around all three of them in this piece.
2. Les Miles, LSU Tigers
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Les Miles is a mad scientist on the football field. He's got one of the country's most memorable personalities, and he's more than memorable on the football field.
If he has one weakness, it's his clock-management "skills." He blew the win against Clemson in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl, and he's had articles written about his other failures in the time-management category.
If you put a pin in that for some other piece that's sure to be written in the future, you're left with Miles' ability to coach a football team. He is hands down one of the best coaches in the nation.
He has kept LSU near the top of the SEC West regardless of how many players he loses to the NFL, graduation, jail, injury or suspension.
Miles knows how to analyze a video, and he almost rode it to a win against the Tide in 2012. Alabama mounted a stunning comeback courtesy of Miles' prevent defense at the end of the game, but the Tigers basically dominated the Tide with the exception of the last minute of each half.
Miles' ability to disassemble game tape is astonishing, and it really should have led him to more victories than it has over the past few seasons.
If he can take a seminar on clock management and another on the prevent defense (and its complete ineffectiveness against anything but a Hail Mary), then he will be leading the Tigers to plenty of national championships in the near future.
Take the opportunity to watch game tape with him now. If he doesn't strengthen his weaknesses, he may not last more than four more years at LSU.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama Crimson Tide
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Nick Saban has a 68-13 record at Alabama, and six of those losses came in 2007. In his national championship seasons, Saban has a record of 39-2 with no more than one loss in any one of those seasons.
Saban is a master at almost everything he does. While he seems to show a propensity for losing a game to a spread offense the first time he sees it (Urban Meyer's Florida, Kevin Sumlin's Texas A&M, etc.), he also has a reputation for not losing to a team a second time in a row.
LSU was the lone exception to the not-losing-two rule, which is one reason that Les Miles is on this list. Texas A&M has the opportunity to become only the second team to beat Saban twice at Alabama, but that won't happen until September.
Saban has mastered recruiting, player development, coaching, motivation and film analysis. The process of analyzing game tape is the one thing that Saban doesn't extensively cover in his book, and that's why joining him in the film room would be so delightful. It would be a glimpse into the most heavily guarded aspect of his coaching.
Anything else, you can learn from his book (in theory; please don't go apply for an NCAA coaching job just because you read Saban's book.)
He has taken the SEC, college football and college football history by storm simply by coaching his schemes and players to perfection for short periods of time (individual plays).
In fact, that's one of the reasons that Texas A&M beat Alabama last year. The Aggies were notorious for taking plays far beyond "normal" time limits, and their offensive line made that possible.
Now that Saban has a year of game tape, the 2013 edition of the Tide vs. Aggies game should provide the final proof that Saban is the master of the film room. So far, he may or may not be the master, but he's won three of the past four national championships off his breakdowns.
A day with Saban in a film room? Anyone would love to be there with any recording device that Alabama would allow.