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Rice football coaches throughout the ages
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Jonathan Sadow Offline
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Rice football coaches throughout the ages
The Sports Reference website recently has begun covering college sports in addition to pro sports results, specifically NCAA Division I FBS football and Division I men's basketball. Part of their coverage involves rating a school's team's strength each season using what they call the "Simple Rating System" (SRS). It's a variant of the so-called "Pythagorean" rating system developed by Bill James for his Baseball Abstract almost 40 years ago, adjusted for schedule strength (you can learn more about these types of ratings here). I though it would be interesting to compare the various football coaches Rice has employed over the years using SRS and see how some of the more interesting individual seasons are ranked.

Here's the list of football coaches from best to worst career SRS, along with their overall records and winning percentage at Rice. SRS is computed such that an average team has an SRS of zero. Higher positive numbers indicate better teams, while lower negative numbers indicate worse teams:

Name (Wins-Losses-Ties; Winning Percentage) SRS
Jess Neely (144-124-10, 0.556) 8.43
Jimmy Kitts (33-29-4, 0.565) 7.87
Al Conover (14-28-2, 0.357) 3.18
Phillip Arbuckle (44-23-8, 0.716) 2.60
Bo Hagan (12-27-1, 0.321) 0.19
Bill Peterson (3-7-1, 0.350) 0.05
Jack Meagher (26-26, 0.500) -0.58
Fred Goldsmith (23-31-1, 0.435) -2.84
Todd Graham (7-6, 0.538) -3.89
John Heisman (14-18-3, 0.484), -5.00
Ken Hatfield (55-78-1, 0.417) -5.34
Ray Alborn (13-53, 0.197) -5.68
Homer Rice (4-18, 0.182) -7.38
Claude Rothgeb (2-7, 0.222) -8.22
David Bailiff (57-80, 0.416) -8.50
Watson Brown (4-18, 0.182) -8.83
John Anderson (1-5-1, 0.250) -9.67
Jerry Berndt (6-27, 0.182) -11.19
Mike Bloomgren (5-20, 0.200) -14.82

If you think that Mike Bloomgren is the worst head coach in Rice football history, so far you're right, although the way he's trending he might be out of the cellar by the end of next season. Conversely, it's no real surprise that Jess Neely leads the list. It does beg the question, however; why was Bo Hagan fired even though he had a higher average SRS than the legendary John Heisman?!

It's also interesting to look at the top ten Owl seasons (out of 106 total) based on SRS:

Ordinal. Season (Wins-Losses-Ties) SRS Coach
1. 1947 (6-3-1) 20.87 Neely
2. 1953 (9-2) 19.76 Neely
3. 1949 (10-1) 19.74 Neely
4. 1946 (9-2) 17.83 Neely
5. 1917 (7-1) 17.22 Arbuckle
6. 1960 (7-4) 17.15 Neely
7. 1957 (7-4) 15.24 Neely
8. 1934 (9-1-1) 15.00 Kitts
9. 1954 (7-3) 14.38 Neely
10. 1963 (6-4) 13.41 Neely

Again, it's no surprise that Neely's teams dominate the list, with the other top two in career winning percentage, Arbuckle and Kitts, also contributing. In fact, you have to go all the way down to 20th on the list before you get to a team not coached by Neely, Arbuckle or Kitts (Al Conover's 5-5-1 squad in 1972, which rated at 8.39). Showing how Rice football has declined in the last 40 years, the highest-rated squad since 1980 is Ray Alborn's 1980 5-6 team, checking in at 31st with a 5.53 rating. The next two-highest from that group is David Bailiff's 2008 10-3 C-USA team and Texas Bowl champion in 35th with a 3.92 rating, and in 36th Ken Hatfield's 1996 7-4 WAC team with a 3.88 rating; these are the respective high ratings for each conference team.

Perhaps the most intriguing team, however, is the one at the top of list: Jess Neely's 1947 team, which despite being the highest-rated team by SRS in Rice history and which finished the season ranked 18th in the AP poll, ended with only a 6-3-1 record and a third-place finish in the SWC. What's more, although four of the seven SWC teams went to bowl games that season, Rice wasn't one of them. Conference winner SMU and runner-up Texas went, but so did fourth-place TCU (likely on the strength of its season-ending tie with then-undefeated and untied SMU, when the Mustangs scored the tying touchdown with seconds left only to have Doak Walker miss the game-winning extra-point try) and fifth-place Arkansas (which beat SEC champ Ole Miss in nonconference play).

Let's now look at the flip side: what were the ten worst seasons out of 106 in Rice football history by SRS? I've listed these going from less worse to worst worse:

Ordinal. Season (Wins-Losses-Ties) SRS Coach
97. 2016 (3-9) -13.67 Bailiff
98. 1927 (2-6-1) -14.28 Heisman
99. 2007 (3-9) -14.59 Bailiff
100. 2005 (1-10) -15.03 Hatfield
101. 1929 (2-7) -15.19 Meagher
102. 1943 (3-7) -15.78 Neely
103. 2009 (2-10) -16.33 Bailiff
104. 1983 (1-10) -17.21 Alborn
105. 2017 (1-11) -18.37 Bailiff
106. 2018 (2-11) -19.18 Bloomgren

For those of you who thought that Rice football had hit bottom in 2017 and 2018, you're right (so far). Recall that Rice has had three winless seasons in its history, none of which appear on this list. The two winless and untied seasons just missed: 1988 (0-11 under Berndt) is 95th, and 1982 (0-11 under Alborn) is 96th. The third one, winless but with a tie, 1968 (0-9-1 under Hagan) is 70th. You can also see the bizarre swings that have sometimes characterized Rice football. The aforementioned 2008 season, the second-best since 1980, is bookended by two of the worst seasons in Rice history. Even the greats aren't fully exempt; Jess Neely's 1943 squad makes this list along with his eight entries in the top ten (incidentally, the 2019 season comes in at 90th, so some progress is being made).

One thing that stands out in this kind of exercise is that context matters. Take the 1978 and 1979 seasons, Ray Alborn's first two at the Rice helm. The Owls put up a 3-19 mark over that span, but that's perhaps understandable inasmuch as those seasons had the two highest strengths-of-schedule as measured by SRS in Rice football history. The average of 13.81 meant that the average Owl opponent those two seasons would've ranked around 20th in Division I. Imagine playing a borderline Top 20 team every week for two consecutive seasons.... The SWC was pretty strong in football more or less from the end of World War II until the 1980s; in fact, the top 55 seasons in SoS are from Rice's tenure in the SWC. We've already seen how this affected the 1947 team. In this regard, Al Conover got the shaft worst of all; his four teams had the 12th, 15th, 16th and 31st all-time hardest schedules. It works the other way, too; David Bailiff's 2013 C-USA champion played the 98th-hardest schedule (there's something to be said for striking while the iron's hot...).

There's lots of interesting stuff to be seen looking at Rice's men's basketball history, and I'll submit a post about that soon.
03-19-2020 01:16 AM
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75src Offline
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Post: #2
RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
In 1947 Texas had Bobby Lane in his senior season as QB.
SMU had Doak Walker. Both had been teammates at Highland Park.
03-19-2020 01:28 AM
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OptimisticOwl Offline
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
Excellent info, JS.

very interesting to see that some coaches are higher than expected, others lower, especially Toad. Also interesting to see the best seasons were all 1960 and earlier.

Thanks for this.
03-19-2020 09:36 AM
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Owl 69/70/75 Online
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
Interesting compilation. I would rate Hagan much lower and Goldsmith and Hatfield higher in my personal subjective listing. I think Hagan inherited a program in decent shape and ruined it, and even worse as AD for the whole athletic department. His rating is probably helped because he inherited a much more fully-stocked cupboard than did his successors.
(This post was last modified: 03-19-2020 11:46 AM by Owl 69/70/75.)
03-19-2020 11:40 AM
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texowl2 Offline
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
I think the rankings of Hat and Fred were impacting greatly by the overall decline of the SWC and our OOC opponents, then WAC 1.0 followed by WAC 2.0. Wonder what Hat would be if 2015 was pulled from the data? Fred was impacted by 1989.

The Bottom 10 verifies what many/most of us saw with our own eyes, sadly
03-19-2020 08:57 PM
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Jonathan Sadow Offline
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
(03-19-2020 11:40 AM)Owl 69/70/75 Wrote:  Interesting compilation. I would rate Hagan much lower and Goldsmith and Hatfield higher in my personal subjective listing. I think Hagan inherited a program in decent shape and ruined it, and even worse as AD for the whole athletic department. His rating is probably helped because he inherited a much more fully-stocked cupboard than did his successors.

Yes, these numbers are based on what the coaches did, not what they should have done with what they had. I don't think the latter could ever be quantified. That's why the historical context matters. Having said that, it should be noted that, after the 1968 debacle, Hagan's teams improved to 57th (3-7, -1.65) in 1969 and 29th (5-5, 5.82) in 1970 - but I guess by then the damage had already been done. Of course, these numbers don't speak to Hagan's abilities as athletic director....

(03-19-2020 08:57 PM)texowl2 Wrote:  I think the rankings of Hat and Fred were impacting greatly by the overall decline of the SWC and our OOC opponents, then WAC 1.0 followed by WAC 2.0. Wonder what Hat would be if 2015 was pulled from the data? Fred was impacted by 1989.

The Bottom 10 verifies what many/most of us saw with our own eyes, sadly

Your wish is my command.... Before 2005 (which is the season I presume you meant), Hatfield's average was -4.46, which pulls him ahead of Heisman but otherwise doesn't get him very close to anyone higher on the list. Hatfield started out well; his average after his first six seasons was -1.79, but his teams slumped badly in the second half of his tenure with five of his six worst teams being in that span. Goldsmith was impacted more by his 1991 team (4-7, -5.62) than his 1989 team (2-8-1, -4.93).
03-20-2020 05:20 PM
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
(03-19-2020 09:36 AM)OptimisticOwl Wrote:  Excellent info, JS.

very interesting to see that some coaches are higher than expected, others lower, especially Toad. Also interesting to see the best seasons were all 1960 and earlier.

Thanks for this.

It would be hard to overstate how much our success (such as it is) in the last two decades has depended on the weakness of our opponents. '
03-20-2020 06:23 PM
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owl at the moon Offline
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Rice football coaches throughout the ages
I would be interested to see the ranking of each coach’s BEST season.

Ultimately, all of us are remembered for our greatest successes.
03-20-2020 08:23 PM
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texowl2 Offline
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
(03-20-2020 05:20 PM)Jonathan Sadow Wrote:  
(03-19-2020 11:40 AM)Owl 69/70/75 Wrote:  Interesting compilation. I would rate Hagan much lower and Goldsmith and Hatfield higher in my personal subjective listing. I think Hagan inherited a program in decent shape and ruined it, and even worse as AD for the whole athletic department. His rating is probably helped because he inherited a much more fully-stocked cupboard than did his successors.

Yes, these numbers are based on what the coaches did, not what they should have done with what they had. I don't think the latter could ever be quantified. That's why the historical context matters. Having said that, it should be noted that, after the 1968 debacle, Hagan's teams improved to 57th (3-7, -1.65) in 1969 and 29th (5-5, 5.82) in 1970 - but I guess by then the damage had already been done. Of course, these numbers don't speak to Hagan's abilities as athletic director....

(03-19-2020 08:57 PM)texowl2 Wrote:  I think the rankings of Hat and Fred were impacting greatly by the overall decline of the SWC and our OOC opponents, then WAC 1.0 followed by WAC 2.0. Wonder what Hat would be if 2015 was pulled from the data? Fred was impacted by 1989.

The Bottom 10 verifies what many/most of us saw with our own eyes, sadly

Your wish is my command.... Before 2005 (which is the season I presume you meant), Hatfield's average was -4.46, which pulls him ahead of Heisman but otherwise doesn't get him very close to anyone higher on the list. Hatfield started out well; his average after his first six seasons was -1.79, but his teams slumped badly in the second half of his tenure with five of his six worst teams being in that span. Goldsmith was impacted more by his 1991 team (4-7, -5.62) than his 1989 team (2-8-1, -4.93).

Thanks-does this give any weight to scores as Fred's and Hat's teams generally didn't have some of the recent horrific losses to teams that Jess would have dismissed?

A fantastic read is the Junction Boys and one of the eye opening discussions therein is the big advantage over TAMU that Jess Neely and Rice had!!!!!!!!!!!! How far things have fallen-sigh....
03-20-2020 09:49 PM
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
Remember that from the late 50s to the late 60s, Rice-aTm was at HRS every year. Most years it was Homecoming. There is a caption in a Campanile, from 1966-67 IIRC, "It's unusual to be the visiting team at Homecoming." That should really give an idea of how far things have fallen.
03-20-2020 09:53 PM
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Jonathan Sadow Offline
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
(03-20-2020 08:23 PM)owl at the moon Wrote:  I would be interested to see the ranking of each coach’s BEST season.

Ultimately, all of us are remembered for our greatest successes.

You can see Neely's, Kitts's, and Arbuckle's best seasons in the original post. It's trivial to determine Anderson's, Rothgeb's, Peterson's, and Graham's best seasons, inasmuch as they each coached only one season. As for the rest:

Name Year (Wins-Losses-Ties, SRS)
John Heisman 1924 (4-4, 0.61)
Jack Meagher 1932 (7-3, 7.76) [just 0.01 ahead of his 6-4 1931 team]
Bo Hagan 1970 (5-5, 5.82)
Al Conover 1972 (5-5-1, 8.39)
Homer Rice 1976 (3-8, -6.11)
Ray Alborn 1980 (5-6, 5.53)
Watson Brown 1985 (3-8, -6.59)
Jerry Berndt 1986 (4-7, -10.24)
Fred Goldsmith 1990 (5-6, 0.50)
Ken Hatfield 1996 (7-4, 3.88)
David Bailiff 2008 (10-3, 3.92)
Mike Bloomgren 2019 (3-9, -10.46)

(03-20-2020 09:49 PM)texowl2 Wrote:  
(03-20-2020 05:20 PM)Jonathan Sadow Wrote:  
(03-19-2020 08:57 PM)texowl2 Wrote:  I think the rankings of Hat and Fred were impacting greatly by the overall decline of the SWC and our OOC opponents, then WAC 1.0 followed by WAC 2.0. Wonder what Hat would be if 2015 was pulled from the data? Fred was impacted by 1989.

The Bottom 10 verifies what many/most of us saw with our own eyes, sadly

Your wish is my command.... Before 2005 (which is the season I presume you meant), Hatfield's average was -4.46, which pulls him ahead of Heisman but otherwise doesn't get him very close to anyone higher on the list. Hatfield started out well; his average after his first six seasons was -1.79, but his teams slumped badly in the second half of his tenure with five of his six worst teams being in that span. Goldsmith was impacted more by his 1991 team (4-7, -5.62) than his 1989 team (2-8-1, -4.93).

Thanks-does this give any weight to scores as Fred's and Hat's teams generally didn't have some of the recent horrific losses to teams that Jess would have dismissed?

There's a link in the original post to a Wikipedia article as to how these kinds of ratings are calculated in general. These are calculated from point totals for the entire season, not individual games. I suppose one could create a performance rating like I've done for with Kenneth Massey's ratings, but right now I don't feel like doing it for the 1,124 football games Rice has played all-time....
03-21-2020 06:29 PM
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
Can your magical number-crunching create results for the offenses and defenses?

We've had years with strong defenses and strong offenses, but combining both at the same time seemed to be beyond our grasp.
03-22-2020 10:12 PM
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
(03-20-2020 08:23 PM)owl at the moon Wrote:  I would be interested to see the ranking of each coach’s BEST season.

Ultimately, all of us are remembered for our greatest successes.

Not Owls, but who do you remember if I mention "Stagger Lee"?
03-22-2020 10:31 PM
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
(03-22-2020 10:31 PM)Grungy Wrote:  
(03-20-2020 08:23 PM)owl at the moon Wrote:  I would be interested to see the ranking of each coach’s BEST season.

Ultimately, all of us are remembered for our greatest successes.

Not Owls, but who do you remember if I mention "Stagger Lee"?

Jerry Glanville.

Ranks up there with BOB
03-23-2020 10:53 AM
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texowl2 Offline
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
Stagger was awful. I was going there to see that game and Continental was late, so I made it for the second half. Still scalpers outside. Still think the dumbest play of all time was courtesy of that genius, Pete Carroll. Brady may have six rings, but that one, Atlanta forgetting that passing the ball is not the key to using up the clock and a KC D-Lineman lining up offsides in the AFC champs game has a lot to do with three of them
03-23-2020 07:09 PM
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Jonathan Sadow Offline
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
(03-22-2020 10:12 PM)Grungy Wrote:  Can your magical number-crunching create results for the offenses and defenses?

We've had years with strong defenses and strong offenses, but combining both at the same time seemed to be beyond our grasp.

Sort of - the Sports Reference website has pages for each Division I school which list a total SRS for each season the school has played football. There are also season listings the gave the rating for each school in Division I (going back 150 seasons!) that list an offensive and defensive SRS for the school. However, that's only on the season listing, not the individual team listing. To get the offensive and defensive SRSs for Rice, one would have to go through all 106 season listings individually to extract those numbers, which is a bit more effort than I'm willing to go through. Given the way SRS is calculated, you probably could get a reasonable guess by looking at the points scored or points yielded per game in a given season.

For what it's worth, the -0.48 Defensive SRS that Rice compiled in 2019 ranked 72nd in Division I and is the highest since the -0.24 compiled in 2014. Unfortunately, the -9.98 Offensive SRS only ranked 123rd, but at least it was better than 2018's -11.13.
03-23-2020 07:18 PM
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RE: Rice football coaches throughout the ages
(03-23-2020 07:18 PM)Jonathan Sadow Wrote:  
(03-22-2020 10:12 PM)Grungy Wrote:  Can your magical number-crunching create results for the offenses and defenses?

We've had years with strong defenses and strong offenses, but combining both at the same time seemed to be beyond our grasp.

Sort of - the Sports Reference website has pages for each Division I school which list a total SRS for each season the school has played football. There are also season listings the gave the rating for each school in Division I (going back 150 seasons!) that list an offensive and defensive SRS for the school. However, that's only on the season listing, not the individual team listing. To get the offensive and defensive SRSs for Rice, one would have to go through all 106 season listings individually to extract those numbers, which is a bit more effort than I'm willing to go through. Given the way SRS is calculated, you probably could get a reasonable guess by looking at the points scored or points yielded per game in a given season.

For what it's worth, the -0.48 Defensive SRS that Rice compiled in 2019 ranked 72nd in Division I and is the highest since the -0.24 compiled in 2014. Unfortunately, the -9.98 Offensive SRS only ranked 123rd, but at least it was better than 2018's -11.13.

I went back and looked at all the OSRS (Offensive SRS) for Rice over the last 50 years (1970-2019).

Best OSRS
2008: 10.87, SOS: -3.54 (89th/120)
1976: 5.41, SOS: 7.89 (19th/137)
1972: 5.23, SOS: 10.20 (8th/127)
1985: 4.22, SOS: 5.77 (14th/110)
2006: 3.99, SOS: -1.35 (76th/119)
1997: 3.01, SOS: -3.57 (85th/112)
1996: 2.19, SOS: 1.06 (66th/111)
1971: 1.46, SOS: 5.78 (35th/128)
1980: 1.30, SOS: 8.44 (17th/138)
1981: 1.16, SOS: 7.82 (9th/137)
2007: 1.16, SOS: -5.75 (106th/120)

So, 11/50 seasons over 1.00, 4/50 over 4.00, 3/50 over 5.00 and 1/50 over 6.00.

Man, I was really, really good. Best unheard of Rice WR EVER. 05-stirthepot
(This post was last modified: 03-24-2020 07:07 PM by ruowls.)
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