You know who decides games? (Hint: It's not the coach)

Just a quick follow up to Grady's post.

Sports are emotional. We get that. But the blaming that came out during the game thread, in the postgame thread, and on other sites is perhaps my least favorite thing about sports. I think it's just because I always try to be a forward-thinking guy. While blaming someone for an outcome accomplishes little, asking questions about what we can learn from it holds great promise.

But if you still find yourself in the camp that's inclined to blame the coach for last night's collapse, I offer the following analysis from the state's best beat reporter who actually, you know, saw the game:

Blaming this loss on coaching is missing the point. That would be clearer if you had been able to see it. This wasn’t a situation in which a team with a big lead was told to slow it down, milk the clock, play not-to-lose. Quite the contrary. Sure, WSU coach Ken Bone wanted the Cougars to be patient offensively – all game long – and with good reason. Stanford isn’t a very good defensive team. Good shots, easy looks, open lanes, they all would present themselves if WSU took its time. And those opportunities were there in both halves.

But as the game tightened up, so did the Cougars. DeAngelo Casto said it perfectly in the hallway near the locker room after the game: "The offense we were running, I mean, I don’t think the offense changed, we changed as a team. We tried to just shoot (jumpers) a lot."

As I said in the postgame thread, I just generally think a coach's impact on any individual game is overstated. I mean, the players are the ones who decided when and how they were going to shoot, the players are the ones who missed the shots, and the players are the ones who screwed up the defensive assignment on the final possession.

Case in point: Ken Bone has emphasized getting to the line all year long, to the point where we're the 18th-best team in the country at doing so. Did Bone just suddenly tell his guys to stop driving and shoot jumpers? More likely, they just decided they were going to do what they were going to do as Bone watched helplessly from the sideline.

To further underscore my point, if you don't believe Grippi and want to continue to hang on to the idea Bone slowed the game down in the second half with the lead, there's this:

FIRST HALF      Poss: 32   SECOND HALF  Poss: 31

OFF
DEF  
OFF
DEF
Efficiency 100.3
54.7   Efficiency 78.5
131.9
EFG% 51.8%
38.1%   EFG% 40.7%
76.3%
OR% 14.3%
17.6%   OR% 28.6%
22.2%
TO% 15.2%
33.4%   TO% 18.8%
18.8%
FTRoff 14.3%
28.6%   FTRoff 11.1%
84.2%

 

One fewer possession in the second half is so small so as to be insignificant. This game was just slow all around -- even as we ran out to the big lead in the first half.

Sometimes you can credit a coach for drawing up a singular brilliant play, or for making a tactical change at just the right time, but you'll almost never be able to convince me that a team won or lost a game based solely on a move that a coach did -- or did not -- make. The most brilliantly designed game plan only works if the players execute. (What's that thing Jim Walden and a lot of coaches like to say?)

Now, you could make the argument that the players' lack of execution is a reflection of the coach, who should have had them better prepared or practiced or something. I think that can be a fair criticism, as I'm as tired as you of youth being continually trotted out as an excuse. However, when a team executes as well as this one does for 20-minute stretches, it tells me they're prepared and that the coaching is getting through. When they follow that up with terrible stretches, it tells me they're not mentally tough enough yet to stick with the plan. And I think that's what we saw last night.

Look, there are plenty of ways this game could have turned out differently. As Grady mentioned, if the offense had been merely average in the second half, as it was in the first half, the defense was good enough -- on the whole -- to win this game. The flip side was also true -- if our defense had been merely average in the second half, the offense wouldn't have mattered. And I just don't think you can pin that on the coach.

I'm not saying Bone's perfect, or that he made all the right moves last night. He himself has admitted mistakes this season, which are to be expected from a coach in his first year in the program with a bunch of guys who are still finding their way individually. But it's a little bit silly to not at least consider the fact that this team has only been as good as it's been because of Bone's coaching. Whenever I try to picture these guys playing Bennett ball, I shudder.

Even so, if you still are inclined to say that Bone should have been able to make this team just two points better last night, I ask you to consider the close win over LSU in Seattle, the close win against Arizona in Tucson, the should-have-been win over Oregon at home, and the close win over Stanford the first time. I don't necessarily believe this, but if you want to lay last night's loss at his feet, don't you have to do the same for those victories as well?

I know we're all tired of hearing that this team is young. I'm as frustrated as you are by the fact that the same inconsistencies show up week after week. But if you expect something dramatically different from this team at this point in the season than what they've shown up until now, you're probably just fooling yourself.

The good news? They've proven to be incredibly resilient all year. And it wouldn't surprise me in the least if we beat Cal tomorrow.

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