If you believe a significant portion of Missouri fans, all the blame for the Tigers’ gridiron struggles fell on one pair of skinny shoulders.
And while David Yost officially cited “personal reasons” as the source for his unexpected resignation on Monday, the voices of those fans had to play some role in the departure of Missouri’s offensive coordinator.
In some ways, Yost was always regarded with suspicion. Far more Kurt Cobain than Vince Lombardi, Yost’s wiry frame, bleach-blonde locks and surfer-dude expression defined his image. Nevermind that he coached three straight quarterbacks into the NFL or landed some of the Tigers’ most high-profile prospects on the recruiting trail. He may have proven himself a fine college football coach, but he would never fully fit the part.
Any discontent stayed minimal until this season, when Missouri sputtered to 25.8 points per game — its lowest output since 2004, ranking 82nd in the nation — and a 5-7 record.
Suddenly there was grumbling everywhere, from inside the stadium to the anonymous confines of Internet message boards. Fans who had never believed in the Tigers’ radical spread offense used the lack of production as evidence that a more traditional strategy — less bubble screens, more fullbacks and up-the-gut running — would be required in the SEC.
But most of the armchair play callers fail to grasp that a combination of other factors hurt the Tigers’ offensive output far more than any strategic missteps.
Injuries are the expected collateral damage that comes with the violence of the game. They hurt every team over the course of any season, but the 2012 Tigers were especially affected, especially on the offensive line.
It’s hard to replace two experienced senior guards (Jack Meiners and Travis Ruth), especially with a true freshman and a walk-on (Evan Boehm and Max Copeland), and not expect some drop-off in offensive production. Add in Justin Britt’s ACL tear (which forced starting center Mitch Morse out to right tackle) and Elvis Fisher’s nagging knee issues, and things get even grimmer. The Tigers played much of the season with five offensive linemen who were playing hurt, out of position or earlier in their careers than they’d ever expected, and all this as Missouri made its inaugural tour through the nation’s best conference.
One of the main reasons for the SEC’s dominance of the sport is the quality of defensive linemen its teams produce. Few teams stop massive brutes like Alabama’s Jesse Williams or ferocious pass rushers like South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney or Georgia’s Jarvis Jones. Missouri’s patchwork line had no chance, and those players dominated when their teams went up against the Tigers.
In an age where anyone can fire up an Xbox, put in Madden and instantly command an offensive juggernaut, the urge to throw out underperforming coaches is stronger than ever. Add in the ridiculous amounts of TV contract money that allow programs to pay off buyouts and more heads are rolling in the coaching profession than ever before.
It’s a strategy that science shows doesn’t work. A recent study from the University of Colorado — a school that, ironically, fired former coach Jon Embree after just two years — showed that replacing a coach resulted in only a short-term improvement for teams performing at a particularly low level. More interestingly, teams that went around .500 before replacing a coach got, on average, slightly worse the next year.
Fans and athletic directors need to take their fingers off the trigger. What coach would have had consistent success after losing three starting offensive linemen and an electrifying running back like Henry Josey? What play caller would have produced consistent results while constantly shuffling starters at the quarterback position? Considering the circumstances, what the hell was David Yost supposed to do?
Whoever replaces Yost will undoubtedly receive a warm welcome from the segment of the fan base that was eager for new blood. But if he faces the same challenges Yost did, Missouri’s offense will continue to struggle — and if Missouri’s offense continues to struggle, those same fans will be the first ones searching for someone new to blame.