A Closer Look With Mark Miller: Statistics Affecting Decisions

And we are down to only one Stark County team, the Massillon Tigers, still playing football. Under brutal weather conditions at Parma Friday night, the Tigers eliminated our other Stark County team, the Lake Blue Streaks. Congrats to Lake on a fabulous season and good luck to the Tigers as they play Akron Hoban at Akron University this Friday. The winner comes to Canton to play the first game of the state championship series on Thursday night.
Do you ever wonder what makes coaches decide to defer when they win the coin toss? It was easier when I played. The visiting team captain called heads or tails for the coin flip before the game (that is still the case) and they only had three choices (now they have 4) – receive the ball, kick the ball to the other team or defend a goal, in which case the other team almost always chose to take the ball. I never remember a team choosing to kick the ball and the only time you might defend a goal is if the wind was
very strong and you wanted the wind at your back to start the game. Almost always the winner of the coin toss chose to receive. As a quarterback, winning the coin toss was a big deal because I wanted the ball first.
Now another choice is available, to defer their choice to the second half which almost always means they will kick off to start the game and receive to start the second half. But why defer? Some coaches want the ball to start the second half so no matter what the score is at halftime, they can strategize with their teams to start the second half with a score. Some coaches are willing to give up the ball to start the game in favor of having the wind at the beginning and the ball to start the second half – 2 good reason on windy days. Some others have a very strong defense and want them on the field first to stop the opponent, make them punt and take over the ball in hopefully great field position.
Others, I believe just defer because it is popular and everyone is doing it. If I have a strong offense, I want them on the field first. Last I checked the team with the most points wins so it is logical that the more possessions you have on offense, the more chances you have to score points and win the game. But I am a QB, I want the ball, I want to score first, I want to score lots of points.
Analytics are all the rave these days. It started in major league baseball and has taken over many NFL organizations. Now it is used in college and high school football as well. But it doesn’t always work and many times doesn’t even make sense – ex. Cleveland Browns. Yes, you can play the percentages but as HOF coaches Tony Dungy and Bill Cowher said, analytics are just one arrow in the quiver of decision- making for a coach. You also have to use logic, an understanding of your team – their health, the flow of the game, the mental outlook in the huddle, etc. to make decisions on the field.
I always wonder how a coach feels about deferring when they kick off and the other teams proceeds down the field and scores a TD to start the game when they could have had their offense on the field first. Oh well, coaches would drive themselves crazy second-guessing themselves during a game. Just do what you believe in and make it work!

Mark Miller