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All aboard Gene’s Scream Machine

2009. Not dull.

This has truly been a coaster-ride of a season. Auburn spent the first five weeks climbing slowly, slowly, with numerous mechanical clicks, and whirs, and fairly violent jerkings, and slowings, all the way to the Rocky Top of the season. Then it plunged downward, almost as if we’d lost any contact with the coaster-tracks at all—down, down into the depths of Death Valley.

Auburn is climbing again: but it is unclear whether Auburn is clambering toward another real high point, or cresting a smaller climb, ready to dive again. A season like this makes perspective nearly impossible. All you can do is clutch the safety bar and hope not to scream like a baby.

The last few weeks have seen crazy variations in evaluations of Auburn’s coaching staff.

Coach Gus is a Mad Genius. Coach Gus is a Bumbling Idiot.

Roof’s reputation fell in noisily, but it did not have as far to fall as Gus’.

This raises an interesting question: when is it safe to evaluate a coaching staff, not just on a particular game plan (that maybe is something that can be evaluated game-to-game) but on their ability to coach, full stop? Are coaches best evaluated on a game, on a subset of a season of games, on a season, or on more than a season?

It seems if we are going to say that recruiting is an evaluable function of coaching, then we have to wait to evaluate a coach until the coach is playing players not only coached by him, but also recruited by him. That would mean that a coach is going to be properly evaluated only after a few years, two or three at least.

But that is complicated: What if, even before fielding a team of his recruits, the coach has shown that he cannot coach? What if players cannot execute assignments, play without discipline, play without passion? If enough of that sort of thing happens, then we may believe we can condemn a coach even if he isn’t playing his recruits.

But that, too, is complicated: Can a coach always be expected to motivate players chosen by and coached by someone else? Can a failure to get the required buy-in from someone else’s players itself show that the coach cannot get that from his own players?

And there are other sorts of complications. For example, imagine that an offensive coordinator conceptualizes his offense not just in space but also in time. What I mean is that the OC, as almost all OCs do to some extent, is not just calling a play to convert a particular down-and-distance, but that he is also calling a play to set up something he believes likely to work, if appropriately prefaced by other plays, later in the game? Does it make sense to condemn, say, two failures to convert third-and-short, if the point of the play called is not just the conversion, but also the setting up of a pass out of the formation later in the game? Is it worth gambling a conversion against a later, hoped-for touchdown? What if a defensive coordinator chooses to play a player less talented but also less likely to make disastrous errors? Is it worth giving up some third down conversion to your opponent in the hopes of keeping the opponent from huge scoring plays?

As fans, we no longer seem very wiling to find out, to allow coaches to coach for tomorrow. We want results now, even if getting them endangers our chances of better results tomorrow. But is that really a sensible attitude?

Imagine that you want to know the average speed of a car over an hour of driving time. But imagine that instead of waiting for the hour to pass, you either record the speed of the car at one early moment, or average its speed over ten minutes. Neither of these is going to give you the answer you want. You have to let the car drive for an hour. True, the nearer you get to the end of the hour, the more likely it becomes that the answer will fall in a narrowing range. But to get the answer you need to wait the hour.

It seems to me that answers to the questions of our coaching staff will require us to wait for more than one part of a season. And given that our players have, on the whole, shown signs of being coached effectively (Zachery and Adams, anyone?); and given that, so far, recruiting seems to be going well, it is going to take more than one whole season. I suspect that even our game-to-game evaluations of the staff are often the result of our inability to perceive all that the coaches are seeing, thinking. I’m not predicting that in a couple of seasons our evaluation of thm will be positive. I’m saying that it is clearly too early to properly evaluate them.

Now… changing topics. Kind of.

On Saturday, Chris Todd looked almost like the player he’d been the first five weeks. Is his shoulder injured isn’t it? I have no idea. I think it was injured. But maybe the extent or duration of the injury was not as bad as I feared. Whatever else may be true of him physically, psychologically Todd was terrific. He threw the ball decisively and without fear or hesitation. He forced some throws, but his receivers, Zachery in particular, rewarded him with fine plays on the ball. If Auburn can saunter by Furman mostly on second-stringers, and if McCallebb can come back at full speed, Auburn ought to be able to give Georgia a ball game. Maybe even beat them.

What changed between LSU and Mississippi? Todd’s shoulder? Todd’s head? Zachery’s gumption? Coleman’s wrist? Carter’s knee? Gus’ play sheet? All of these?

Not all good things that are lost are lost forever, I guess.

Sometimes good things do come to those who wait.

Dr. Jolley is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Auburn University. He works in the theory of judgment, the history of 20th-century philosophy, metaphilosophy and philosophical psychology. He also likes football and was recently profiled by The New York Times. His book “The Concept ‘Horse’ Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations” was published in 2007.  “Leisure with Dignity,” his column for TWER, runs bi-monthly to monthly. Write to him at [email protected].

About Dean Jolley

Dr. Jolley is currently Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Auburn University. He works in the theory of judgment, the history of 20th-century philosophy, metaphilosophy and philosophical psychology. He also likes football. His book, "The Concept 'Horse' Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations" was recently published in Ashgate's Wittgensteinian Studies Series. "Leisure with Dignity," his column for TWER, will run bimonthly to monthly. Write to him at [email protected]

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