Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Defending Billy Napier

I'm going to swim against the current a bit here and try to explain why I don't think Billy Napier should be thrown to the wolves. That's not a particularly bold defense, I know, but this also isn't a contrarian post for the sake of being contrarian. (As an aside, I can't stand those kinds of posts, don't make a case unless you're being sincere.)

Let me start with the irrational stuff that I can't defend with numbers but more with the experience bought with each soul-crushing Clemson loss I endure. I like having the youngest offensive coordinator in the ACC. I like walking up to a fan from another team and saying, "Our offensive attack just torched your team and, oh by the way, our offensive coordinator is 30 years old." I like that Clemson and Swinney have the guts to hire a 30 year old in a league dominated by experience-laden coordinators. There's something brash and brassy about that, and it contributes just a hint to the swagger in my Clemson fandom. I largely like how Napier carries himself with the media, there's less of the Bowden-esque tendency (too often shared by Swinney) to frame disappointments as resulting from events beyond his control, there's a measure of accountability in his words.

But it doesn't stop here, there are actual areas of his job performance that I like, too. He has demonstrated, not always but reasonably often, the ability to identify weaknesses in an opposing team and develop a concerted plan of attack at the start of the game to exploit those weaknesses. It isn't always spectacularly successful, but it can put points on the board. He also seems capable of stockpiling a pool of plays often consisting of slight tweaks to existing designs that he judiciously and sometimes appropriately sprinkles into his play calling. On occasion, he strings together series of plays in-game that in retrospect seem inspired.

There are of course counter-arguments, good counter-arguments, to the above (for example, given a playbook and an infinite number of offensive series a moderately trained monkey will seem inspired over the course of 6-7 plays at least once or twice) and then there are counters to the counter-arguments (for example, there is still some question over how often Dabo overrides Napier during the course of a game). But these belabor the real point: Napier has shortcomings. In my mind, they are as follows: 1) while he has designed some reasonably effective plays, it doesn't balance the shit variants he also develops and employs in a game. He needs an playcall editor to blow up his more ridiculous notions, preferably this would involve a cannon of some kind. 2) He falls in love with the passing game far too often. 3) Finally, and this is the most problematic, he cannot identify quickly enough, and thus cannot counter the adjustments made by opposing defenses.

The third point above can be overcome with years of experience, but forgiveness for this defect is not granted in BCS-caliber conferences. Therein lies the conundrum, while I think Billy Napier has a future coordinating offenses in the NCAA, he is not a boy-genius that can think circles around men twice his age. He requires what 99% of all coordinators require: experience forged in the leagues at the fringes of the BCS or during dedicated study at the feet of a master playcaller. Laugh at the imagery, but this is still very much a "trade" in the classical sense.

Billy Napier is not a fool and I am not a fool. If this season goes south quickly, and with a looming loss at UNC on Saturday this could happen much sooner than I'd like to entertain, someone will take a fall. Maybe its Swinney, but more probably Swinney is forced into deciding who takes the fall. And Napier is the fall guy Swinney built into his agreement to take the reins, the guy who was set up the second the university "busted the budget" (note the quotations, they didn't really bust the budget) to sign Kevin Steele. Napier will in all likelihood be vanquished to the fringes. In that event I sincerely hope is he finds his experience, and he takes Jeff Scott with him.

1 comment:

  1. Young Dumbo and his buddy Napier are overwhelmed. An illiterate foreigner could read his plays.


A blog about all Clemson Tiger University sports--football, basketball, baseball, along with the occasional South Carolina coot bashing.