Lead Running Back Performance: Calvin Magee vs. Fred Jackson

Markusr2007Correspondent IJune 30, 2009



In the previous post, I highlighted some of the past coaching experience of Michigan’s current quarterback coach, Rod Smith. I wanted to explore this a little bit because the quarterback position is by far the most important on the field offensively and Michigan has a lot of youth at that position. Coaching up these kids requires experience, patience and a lot of knowledge.

Now I wish to take a closer look at the achievements of Michigan’s offensive coordinator, Calvin Magee, as well.

Both Magee and Smith previously held assistant coaching jobs under South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt, but were not coaches at SFU at the same time.

While Magee’s role is today offensive coordinator for the Michigan Wolverines, we need to bear in mind that for most of his career Magee's main expertise appears to have been coaching running backs and as running game coordinator at South Florida and West Virginia.

I took a brief look at Magee’s years as running backs coach and running game coordinator at both schools and found some interesting statistics about the players he coached during this period. I then wondered what that past experience might mean for Michigan’s leading ground gainer from last year, Brandon Minor, as well the future stable of Michigan running backs.

In addition, I wanted to consider Magee’s experience of coaching team leading rushers and compare that success with the past achievements of Michigan’s current running backs coach, Fred Jackson.


Year zero at South Florida: The Running of the Bulls
When Magee became the running backs coach for Jim Leavitt at South Florida in 1997, the program was in its very infancy. It must have been interesting to join a brand new college football program and be part of the team of architects that would build it brand new from the ground up. Magee coordinated the running game for South Florida for four years under then offensive coordinator Michael Canales, and as such Magee played a very important role is establishing SFU’s winning football foundation.

Magee’s first year on the job was a tough one, however. South Florida’s first ever quarterback was former South Carolina Gamecock recruit Chad Barnhardt. Canales had South Florida running a spread offense from the very beginning. It was a very young team that would finished 5-6.  Leavitt said of the first season, "This should be the worst team you ever see here at South Florida. We only have two seniors, everyone's back." The first and best tailback on the Bulls team in 1997 was Rafael Williams. Williams played running back for SFU for four years under Magee's direction, and was the leading rusher for the team three of those four years. In 1999 Dyral McMillan was the team's leading rusher.

Under Magee’s instruction, South Florida’s first running backs were good enough to be quite dangerous. They achieved high yards per carry (5.2 average ypc over four years), which is a common characteristic of more run-centric, spread option teams. It’s also what one might expect to see anyway versus competition the likes of Kentucky Weslyan, Citadel, Western Kentucky, and Cumberland! The other stat that jumps off the page is the 1999 season, when Magee coached Bulls tailback Dyral McMillan, the first ever 1,000 yard rusher for SFU with nine touchdowns. Interestingly, McMillan’s millennial rushing statistics that year coincided with the first starting dual-threat quarterback in SFU history, freshman Marquel Blackwell.br />table.tableizer-table {border: 1px solid #CCC; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 10px;} .tableizer-table td {padding: 4px; margin: 3px; border: 1px solid #ccc;}
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NameYearSchoolClassRush AttYardsYds/CarryTDsRecord
Rafael Williams1997South FloridaFr.1397295.275-6-0
Rafael Williams1998South FloridaSo.985866.068-3-0
Dyral McMillan1999South FloridaSr.18110175.697-4-0
Rafael Williams2000South FloridaSr.1677044.247-4-0
Total


58530365.22627-17-0


In 2001 Magee left South Florida to join Rich Rodriguez’s new staff at West Virginia to coordinate the Mountaineer running game and serve as an offensive coordinator. Unlike the first year at SFU, Magee inherited a talented crew of bite-sized and lightning-fast tailbacks to work with including senior Cooper Rego (5'9", 190 pounds) and sophomores Avon Cobourne (5'9", 190 pounds) and Quincy Wilson (5'10", 210 pounds) from outgoing head coach Don Nehlen.

Unfortunately, 2001 was West Virginia’s own "Year of Infinite Suffering" as the team tried in vain to overcome a slew of offensive turnovers (19 interceptions) from the quarterbacks (Lewis, Jones and Marshall), an inexperienced offensive line (only 1 returning starter from 2000 bowl team), and a veteran defense trying to understand just what the hell new defensive coordinator Todd Graham (future Tulsa head coach!) was trying to do with the linebackers. The Mountaineers finished a disappointing 3-8 on the season. Yet, despite the embarrassing losing season, Magee did a good job maintaining production with the running game. The Mountaineers' best tailback, Avon Cobourne, rushed for 1,298 yards (4.9 ypc) and nine touchdowns. This was marked improvement Cobourne over his 2000 numbers (893 yards at 4.5 ypc).

In 2002, Rodriguez and Magee agreed to adjust their strategy. The quarterback position would now be occupied by a barely seasoned sophomore named Rasheed Marshall (played five games in 2000). The tailback spot remained in great shape, however. Cooper Rego had graduated, but Cobourne and Quincy Wilson returned and a star freshman Jason Colson would join the fray as well. Clearly, Rodriguez had had quite enough of the ridiculous interceptions from the year prior. Balanced attack be damned! Rodriguez and Magee would focus on taking greater advantage of a slightly more experienced and improved offensive line, and a quicker, more mobile quarterback (Marshall). The results turnaround in 2002 was staggering. Cobourne alone rushed for 1,710 yards (5.1 ypc) and 17 TDs! This meant, of course, that approximately every 20th carry, Mr. Cobourne would cue the Mountaineer marching band and proceed to perform a nice little jig with friends in the opponents end zone. Perhaps more surprising was that Magee coached Quincy Wilson to contribute as well with a shocking 901 yards (6.4 ypc) and six TDs!

Magee was a very successful running game and offensive coordinator at West Virginia. The team's record as well as the statistics of the lead running backs under his charge prove this:
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NameYearSchoolClassRush AttYardsYds/CarryTDsRecord
Avon Cobourne2001West VirginiaJr.26712984.993-8-0
Avon Cobourne2002*West VirginiaSr.33517105.1179-4-0
Quincy Wilson2002*West VirginiaJr.1409016.469-4-0
Quincy Wilson2003West VirginiaSr.28213804.9128-5-0
KayJay Harris2004West VirginiaSr.1659595.8108-4-0
Steve Slaton2005West VirginiaFr.20511285.51711-1-0
Steve Slaton2006West VirginiaSo.24817447.01611-2-0
Steve Slaton2007West VirginiaJr.19813356.71411-2-0
Total


1840104555.710171-30



Looking at the aggregate statistics of team leading rushers at SFU and WVU, Calvin Magee’s instruction of running backs under his charge lead us into familiar territory:

About 19 rushing attempts per game and about 5.7 yards per carry.

See below:

NameYearSchoolClassRush AttYardsYds/CarryTDsRecord
Rafael Williams1997South FloridaFr.1397295.275-6-0
Rafael Williams1998South FloridaSo.985866.068-3-0
Dyral McMillan1999South FloridaSr.18110175.697-4-0
Rafael Williams2000South FloridaSr.1677044.247-4-0
Avon Cobourne2001West VirginiaJr.26712984.993-8-0
Avon Cobourne2002West VirginiaSr.33517105.1179-4-0
Quincy Wilson2002West VirginiaJr.1409016.469-4-0
Quincy Wilson2003West VirginiaSr.28213804.9128-5-0
KayJay Harris2004West VirginiaSr.1659595.8108-4-0
Steve Slaton2005West VirginiaFr.20511285.51711-1-0
Steve Slaton2006West VirginiaSo.24817447.01611-2-0
Steve Slaton2007West VirginiaJr.19813356.71411-2-0




2425134915.612793-38

* = In 2002, West Virginia had two tailback rushers with over 900 yards.

Comparing Calvin Magee with Fred Jackson

Fred Jackson began his coaching career at Michigan in 1994 under then head coach Gary Moeller. Jackson's responsibility was coaching running backs for the Wolverines. Just like Magee, Jackson had some pretty awesome material to work with in Tyrone Wheatley.

So how does Magee's work compare to what Michigan fans have observed from Fred Jackson? The answer is that Michigan running backs have historically performed extremely well under Jackson too. A great many Michigan fans I speak with rave about Mike Hart this and Mike Hart that. I understand. He's in everyone's short term memory. I realize that Mike Hart's numbers probably lie about how mentally and physically tough he was on the field. But Jackson did a great job coaching explosiveness and vision with not only Mike Hart, but especially Chris Perry, Anthony Thomas, and Tim Biakabatuka. Their stats bear this fact out for all to see:r />table.tableizer-table {border: 1px solid #CCC; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 10px;} .tableizer-table td {padding: 4px; margin: 3px; border: 1px solid #ccc;}
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YearRunning BackAttemptsYardsYPCTDsRecord
2009?




2008Brandon Minor1035335.293-9
2007Mike Hart26513615.1149-4
2006Mike Hart31815624.91411-2-0
2005Mike Hart1506624.447-5-0
2004Mike Hart28214555.299-3-0
2003Chris Perry33816745.01810-3-0
2002Chris Perry26711104.21410-3-0
2001BJ Askew1999024.5108-4-0
2000Anthony Thomas31917335.4189-3-0
1999Anthony Thomas30112974.31710-2-0
1998Clarence Williams1466465.4010-3-0
1997Chris Howard1999384.7712-0-0
1996Clarence Williams2028374.128-4-0
1995Tim Biakabatuka30318186.0129-4-0
1994Tyrone Wheatley21011445.4128-4-0
Total
3602176724.9160133-53


So who has been the better running backs coach, Magee or Jackson?

In my view, Jackson is still coaching away and has many more career coaching stats to pad this fall with the likes of Minor and Carlos Brown. But comparing the aggregate lead back stats of the two coaching during their long careers, this is what I’ve found:br />table.tableizer-table {border: 1px solid #CCC; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 10px;} .tableizer-table td {padding: 4px; margin: 3px; border: 1px solid #ccc;}
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Running Backs CoachYearsSchoolsAtt/GameYrds/GameYPCWinning Pct
Calvin Magee12South Florida, West Virginia191035.60.710
Fred Jackson15Michigan19944.90.707


Jackson has coached many more players into the NFL draft compared to Magee. Magee’s work with reduced running back talent versus much easier competition has yielded predictably better yards per carry and winning percentage during his career coaching ball carriers than Jackson. Interestingly, the average number of carries per game is identical at 19 for both coaches.

So what does this mean? To me it says that the Michigan Wolverines offense, particularly the running game, is in very competent hands with Magee and Jackson. These too have a tremendous level of successful coaching experience and knowledge combined, which is very encouraging for the future of the Michigan program.
Both have done a good job of focused improved production from their running backs.

Frankly, I am surprised that more top-rated high school running back recruits don't make Michigan a first consideration for their football career at the next level.