Ron English: running out the clock
The difference between playing to win and playing not to lose may seem narrow, but it’s hardly a trivial matter. It’s a question of perspective, but it frames every decision a coach makes.
A coach who’s playing to win is aggressive throughout the game, not just at the end when his team is down two scores.
A coach who’s playing to win seizes every chance to move him closer to that goal.
A coach who’s playing to win recognizes when things aren’t working and quickly makes a change.1
A coach who’s playing to win recognizes when things are working, and presses his advantage…hard.2
On the other hand…
A coach who’s playing not to lose follows the conventional wisdom rather than taking a chance and risking embarassment.
A coach who’s playing not to lose fears the bad more than he wants the good.
A coach who’s playing not to lose comes out of halftime with the lead and fails to make good adjustments because hey! he’s ahead.3
So, I invited you to watch this short clip from Ron English’s press conference this afternoon, and decide for yourself whether he’s playing to win, or playing not to lose.
In case it’s not clear, I asked English to comment on the decision to run out the clock at the end of the first half rather than try for a quick score. In six of EMU’s 10 games this year, they’ve had the ball at the end of the first quarter, and every time they’ve simply run out the clock. Whether down (33-9 to Purdue, 24-14 to Ohio, 21-10 to Toledo), tied (13-13 to Ball State), or up (7-3 over Michigan State, 14-10 over Central Michigan), Ron English consistently chooses to let the clock run out without making an offensive play. His fear of an interception (and then what? If the opposing coach thinks like him, they’ll just run out the clock anyway!) so far outweighs any desire he might have to put points on the board that he won’t even try.
Admittedly, the 12 seconds EMU wasted today wasn’t much, but it was enough for a couple of plays. They could have first tried either a screen pass to the outside (I know, I know, “Ken Karcher doesn’t know what a screen pass is.”), or a Hail Mary. The clock stops if a player goes out of bounds or on an incomplete pass, and they did have a timeout remaining.4 If it got them into field goal range, they could have taken that — as it turned out, 3 points more would have sent the game into overtime! — or otherwise, could have chucked a Hail Mary. It might not have worked, it might have amounted to nothing — but running out the clock gives you a certainty of nothing!
Although it may seem like a small thing, I think his comment here about his approach to the end of the half speaks volumes about his philosophy as a coach. Rather than playing to win, Ron English is playing not to lose, and for me, when you adopt that sort of approach, you’ve already lost.
This comment is all you really need to know about Ron English as a head coach. Instead of playing to win, he’d rather run out the clock and play not to lose.
As for Ron English’s future at EMU…
- If you’re trying to come from behind at the end of the game, you usually want a good passing game. In the first half Benz completed 7 of 9 passes with one touchdown and one interception. By the end of the second half, Gillett had also completed three passes, thrown one touchdown, and thrown one interception, but it took him 17 attempts. Pop quiz: 1) Is it better to complete more of your passes or fewer? 2) Which is more, 78% or 41%? [↩]
- Hint: If Tyler Benz played for the whole first half, and had you up 14-10 at halftime, why would you bench him in the second half in favor of Alex Gillett. “I though he gave us the best chance to win.” Really? If you really thought that, why didn’t you have some courage in your conviction and start him? [↩]
- EMU went to halftime tied with Ball State (13-13) and ahead of Illinois State (14-10), Michigan State (7-3), Army (28-17), and Central Michigan (14-10). Obviously they held on to beat Army, but lost the other four games by 11, 17, 16, and 3. [↩]
- As Mike Valenti said, “Timeouts aren’t like rollover minutes.” There is no benefit to not using a timeout at the end of the half. [↩]