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January 21, 2011

Kragthorpe vs. Kragthorpe: A Closer Look at LSU's New Offensive Coordinator

Steve Kragthorpe is LSU's new Offensive Coordinator so naturally LSU fans are both elated and worried.  The fans that are excited are focused on Kragthorpe's record as head coach of Tulsa.  The fans that are worried are focused on his record as Louisville's head coach.

When Kragthorpe took over as Tulsa's head coach, the Golden Hurricanes had won just two games over the previous two seasons.  In 2003, his first year at Tulsa, the turnaround was so dramatic that Kragthorpe was named the WAC coach of the year, a semifinalist for the Eddie Robinson national coach of the year award, 3rd place for the AP national coach of the year, finalist for the Paul "Bear" Bryant coach of the year award, and finalist for the Bobby Dodd coach of the year award.  In Kragthorpe's first year as head coach Tulsa won more games in a single season than that had won in the previous 12 seasons.  Kragthorpe only stayed at Tulsa for four years but in that four years Tulsa made it to three bowls.  This is probably a big reason why less than 48 hours after Bobby Petrino announced he was leaving Louisville to coach the Atlanta Falcons, Louisville hired Kragthorpe as its new head coach.  The quick and untimely exit from Tulsa may explain why Tulsa decided not to consider Kragthorpe for its current vacancy at head coach.  (Link to Steve Kragthorpe bio on the University of Tulsa website)

At Louisville Kragthorpe inherited a team that was used to winning.  The Louisville fans had every reason to expect that success to continue.  After his first season as the Cardinals head coach, Kragthorpe's official bio on the Louisville website boasted that he was "Known as one of the best offensive minds in the country, Kragthorpe's teams have scored 30 or more points 29 times, 40 points on 10 occasions and 50 points three times." And while those numbers should brighten even the most skeptical Tiger fan's day, it must be noted in his short stint as Louisville's head coach, his Cardinal teams amassed a 15-21 record.  His first season record of 6-6 was his best season as Louisville's head coach.  To skeptical/worried LSU fans this story sounds kind of like this story about a former LSU OC that was fairly successful as Louisiana Tech's head coach and then no so successful as BYU's head coach.  (Gary Crowton?)  If the analysis only went this deep, and trust me it does in some circles, then the debate could polarize Tiger Nation possibly to the end of another 11+ win season. Fortunately,  you, smart fan, are not satisfied with this superficial "Tulsa Kragthorpe vs. Louisville Kragthorpe" analysis and hopefully I will not disappoint your need for further analysis.

First, allow me to point out the obvious:  Steve Kragthorpe has not been named LSU's new head coach but rather LSU's Offensive Coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Second:  let's not lose sight of the fact that Kragthorpe walks into a situation in which the defense and special teams play was strong enough to post an 11-2 season despite a very bleak passing game.  Kragthorpe need to only focus on improving quarterback play/the passing game while maintaining a solid running game.  Outstanding players and coaches are already in place.  Some of the fans at LSU may be tough to win over but, the task of turning around LSU's offense ought to be one of the easier tasks faced by any coach in the country this coming season.  

Gary Crowton's type of spread offense never mixed well with Les Miles' type of ground and pound offense and that is why LSU's offense struggled to find a consistent identity and consistent success.  So the big question is "How does Steve Kragthorpe's style of offense mix with Les Miles' offensive preferences?"  The simple answer to that is "Kragthorpe's establish the run  pro style offense is much like what coach Miles seems to prefer."  In fact, if the offense should not produce this season I will go ahead and provide the mantra for the gloom and doom Tiger fans: "This offense is plain vanilla and just too darn predictable!"  While some of you are committing the mantra to memory, let me tell the majority of Tiger fans that I believe Kragthorpe's offense is going to show us vast improvement and I think the facts will support my belief.

Here are the basic offensive facts of Tulsa and Louisville while Steve Kragthorpe was head coach:
(I know tagging Kragthorpe with these stats is like tagging Miles with the offensive stats of LSU during both Jimbo Fisher's time as LSU's OC and Gary Crowton's time as LSU's OC.  So there is a bit of a flaw in using these stats to judge Kragthorpe. But hey, fans are already using the Tulsa and Louisville records to judge Kragthorpe's potential success. So maybe I am just facilitating a bit more informed debate. By the way, when Kragthorpe was an offensive coordinator for Texas A&M (1998-2000), the Aggies won a Big 12 championship.)  
OK, now for the Tulsa and Louisville offensive stats (gather from Tulsa official website for 2003 and for 2004-2009):

Tulsa Offense 2003-2006:
2003 -  averaged 196.1 yards passing /191.7 yards rushing/ 30.8 points per game
2004 -  averaged 206.7 yards passing/ 168.4 yards rushing/28.8 points per game
2005 -  averaged 246.0 yards passing/166.0 yards rushing/33.1 points per game
2006 -  averaged 232.8 yards passing/162.1 yards rushing/27.7 points per game

Louisville Offense 2007-2009:
2007 - averaged 355.5 yards passing/146.1 yards rushing/35.2 points per game
2008 - averaged 225.2 yards passing/164.5 yards rushing/24.7 points per game
2009 - averaged 226.1 yards passing/125.2 yards rushing/18.1 points per game

Before you gloom and doom Tigers fans start focusing on the 2009 statistics be aware that in 2010 Kragthorpe had to resign from a position as wide receivers coach at Texas A&M to take care of his wife and sons after his wife had to have heart surgery to alleviate complications from multiple sclerosis. While I am discounting the 2009 Louisville stats based on the assumption that Cynthia Kragthorpe's physical problems had to be a distraction for her husband, let me just point out that Louisville competes with both Big 10 schools like Ohio State and SEC schools like Kentucky and Tennessee for recruits in the region and Louisville has not always been a place where football reigns supreme. With all those provisos/disclaimers/extenuating circumstances out of the way, let's examine the facts.
  1. Notice the passing averages at both Tulsa and UL.  What jumps out at me is that Kragthorpe's offenses have averaged more than 200 yards passing a game every year except one. In 2003, Kragthorpe's first Tulsa offense averaged a close to 200, 196.1 yards passing a game.  Remember what LSU lacked this season?  If Kragthorpe's LSU offenses can average the kind of passing yards per game that his Tulsa and UL teams have averaged, then LSU's offense will be much more well rounded.
  2. Look at the points scored by Kragthorpe's offenses. In five of the last seven years Kragthorpe coached offenses scored around 30 points.  In 3 of those 5 years Kragthorpe offenses averaged better than 30 points a game.  Is there anyone that doubt that a Chavis coached LSU defense cannot hold most teams to less than 30 points a game?
  3. And finally, look at the rushing yards per game.  If you throw out the highest and lowest years, you find that Kragthorpe's offenses average somewhere between 146 and 168 yards per game rushing. Admittedly, that would be a lower than what can be expected from LSU's talent rich running back crew but, the point is that Kragthorpe will have running backs like Spencer Ware, Mike Ford, Alfred Blue, Jakhari Gore, and Kenny Hilliard to carry the ball at LSU.  Uril Parrish, a talented 1069 yard running back in 2004 that played for Tulsa was talented but I have to believe that the LSU backs and Les Miles preference for a strong rushing attack may bump up Kragthorpe's per game expected rushing average.
I think that one other factor may be key to Kragthorpe's success as LSU's offensive coordinator.  Kragthorpe was reportedly stunned when the University of Tulsa told him that he would not be considered for the head coaching position currently vacant at that university.  This coach has something to prove.  He has to prove that he is the coach that took Tulsa from the cellar to the stars and not the coach that did the opposite with Louisville.

On a separate note:  I wonder what's up with TCU offensive coordinator, Justin Fuente.  He finished 2nd for the OC opening at Clemson and though it was widely reported that he was Miles first interview for the LSU OC position, it is not clear that he was even a player for the LSU position.  Fuente is just 34 years old and has a pretty good situation at TCU.  He may just be looking around to see if the grass is greener or could be a weak interviewer or simply just not be the right fit for LSU or Clemson.  Rivals ranked Fuente as a top 5 offensive coach this year and I figured he had the inside track with LSU.  I would love to know what the whole story is with Fuente.  


Red Stick said...

You overlook who the OC was at Tulsa, Your analysis with numbers and stats does not apply here. The real OC is Todd Graham who is now the new head coach of Pittsburg. Graham has a gift at OC and head coach

Royce said...

@Red Stick. Did you not see the disclaimer that Bob put in quotes before he went into the stats?

Anonymous said...

@Red Stick - Krag will have a staff under him as talented as Todd Graham.
Hey fella and you didn't read carefully - Bob had a whole paragraph about SK stats as HC at Tulsa and UL not being all that. Still it is the most recent info we have. Probably the best stuff we can look at to make our guesses.

Anonymous said...

Bob, this is a decent write-up, but you make a ton of assumptions and excuse his horrible offensive season at UL (2009, when he took over OC duties) based on pure speculation of his wife's health at that time. Quite convenient for your point.

Furthermore, to correct another comment earlier, Graham was a DC not an OC. Actually, Charlie Stubbs was Kragthorpe's OC at Tulsa all 4 years and his first year (best offensively) at UL. Once Stubbs left, the offenses continually got worse, which should tell you something about Kragthorpe more than anything.

Also, the offense at A&M in 1998 when they won the Big XII was utterly horrible and ranked 90th in total offense at 312 ypg (LSU average 341 ypg this season at #86). As his offenses got better the team record got worse at A&M.

I think it's wait and see with him though, but I don't have high hopes for the offense under him given his history.

Dan said...

@Red Stick... Todd Graham is a defensive guy... and his tenure at Tulsa started AFTER Kragthorpe left (he was the head coach of Rice, previously).

His OC at Tulsa was Charlie Stubbs, who is now the HC of Nicholls State.

Anonymous said...

O E of little faith..Les Miles think that he will do the job for our LSU tigers football team.. why cant you let it go at that...That Kragthore want to coach for LSU,and Les..And Les Miles want Kragthore to coach the 2011 LSU tigers football team, is really all that we need to know.
Geaux tigers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the information on Kragthorpe coaching offense stats..That is quiet interesting..I
Guest the feeling I have over that is that the LSU new Offense Coordinator has a world of experience.That can only help.
Les Miles is trying to make the LSU offense better..So I have nothing but respect towards him.

Anonymous said...

Les Miles is not a three yards an a clod of dust coach.As some people said..He is a coach looking for balance, and down field passing.
Something a lot of LSU fans seem to not understand.
I do not know why?

Anonymous said...

Good write up on this coach. As one comment said, Les Miles is looking for balance, as well as opportunities to take chances. With a balance between run/pass, Les can dial up many trick/zany plays as possible. I actually like this, and this keeps the games very entertaining. Geaux Tigers.

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