Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Two teams, two coaches, similar results

Getting back to the "underachiever" meme, the more I think about it, the more I see great similarities between the 2004 and 2006 LSU football teams.
  • Both were immensely talented. The 2004 teams probably had a more talented secondary and defensive line, but the 2006 team had a more polished offense and better linebackers.
  • Both had very unfavorable road schedules. The 2004 team played Auburn on the road early, Georgia and Florida in mid-season, and Arkansas late.
  • Both teams lost close defensive struggles to Auburn in games with questionable officiating at critical times. In 2004, Ronnie Prude was called for a penalty on a missed Auburn extra point, giving Auburn a second chance in the waning seconds. Auburn ended up winning by one point, and no other person in the history of football has been called for the particular penalty called on Prude, a personal foul for jumping and landing on his own player. In 2006, Jessie Daniels was called for pass interference, negating a critical interception on a pass that never reached the receiver while no call was made on an Auburn defensive back who interfered with Early Doucet on a fourth down pass that also did not reach the receiver.
  • Both teams were convincingly defeated by an Eastern Division opponent in a poorly played game in which the team did not really show up to play. In 2004, we lost to Georgia 45-16. In 2006, we lost to Florida 23-10.
  • Both teams ended the season strong with 6 straight regular season wins, but got one of those wins in a late come-from-behind win over a lesser opponent. In 2004, we needed late scores to beat Troy 24-20. In 2006, we needed a late touchdown and overtime to beat Ole Miss.
The primary differences between the two team?
  • The 2004 team was coached by Nick Saban, who had one eye looking to the NFL, while the 2006 team was coached by Les Miles.
  • The 2006 team dominated their bowl game against Notre Dame while the 2004 team struggled in the Cap One against Iowa before finally losing on a last-second Hail Mary, despite a heroic comeback orchestrated by Jamarcus Russell. JR, incidentally, was relegated to 3rd string before the bowl game, and only played because Marcus Randall and Matt Flynn were so ineffective.
The other difference between the two teams is that following the two seasons, Nick Saban was rewarded with a fat NFL contract following his 2004 season while Les Miles was accused of being an underachiever following his 2006 season.

Which of course begs the question, why is Les Miles being treated so much differently than Les Miles over similar seasons? Well, for one, Saban gets credit for having the 2003 national championship team. Rightly so. Miles and his supporters can't respond to criticism by saying, "I won that national championship, didn't I?"

That's definitely one explanation, but I think there is another factor feeding this media chatter. I think that the sports media is trying to create the story, and the story is that Nick Saban is trying to overtake the program he himself was so instrumental in developing. The drama improves if you get people thinking that Les Miles has not been a good steward of that program.

This is not unusual. In theory, media reports stories to the public according to what the public wants. In actuality, the media is quite adept at engineering the public's attitudes and interests. In general, a self-interested media will then engineer the public's perception in order to maximize its own sales or viewership. This is hardly limited to sports media, as Fox News has virtually made this into a science.

In sports, you see it on ESPN all the time. Ever notice that SportsCenter's coverage of hockey has gone down precipitously since ESPN stopped broadcasting NHL games? Ever notice the SportsCenter's coverage of NASCAR has increased substantially since ESPN got a NASCAR broadcast contract? Did you notice how much SportsCenter hyped the Danica Patrick story when ESPN an IRL contract? ESPN knows that SportsCenter doesn't just report sports news; it creates sports buzz, and ESPN takes advantage of that to promote the stories that help ESPN make more money.

I think there is an element of that same principle at work here. The Finebaums and Mandels of the world know that this sort of provocation increase readership and listenership by focusing the attention on them. They take advantage of that.

1 comment:

uberschuck said...

Les Miles gets no respect from the media.