Football Coaches Are Terrible at Game Management. Why?

While the below got a lot of press north of the border, since the U.S. doesn't have much of a CFL fan base, you might not have heard about the below.

I'll set the stage. There's 1:14 left to go in the game. The Ottawa Redblacks (you're supposed to style it REDBLACKS, but that's absurd and I won't) lead the Calgary Stampeders 16-12 with 1:14 left to play. Ottawa faced 3rd-and-5 from their own 6. I'll pause here to remind you that the Canadian game only has three downs. This is normally a punting situation.

Except the coach of the Redblacks, Rick Campbell, had a decision to make.

He could punt it away from his own end zone, or he could order his punter to take a safety, cut the lead down to 16-14, and punt (well, kick off) from the 25 rather than 6.

Punters conceding a safety in that situation is more common in the CFL than it is in the United States. The reason is that the goal posts are on the goal line rather than the end line in the CFL (think the old days of U.S. football). So even if with a solid punt, the opposition is already in instant field goal territory.

Was it the right thing to do here? Well, let's break it down.

Essentially, Campbell traded 2 points for 19 yards.

He also traded his defense needing to stop a touchdown to needing to stop a field goal.

As previously elucidated, Calgary doesn't need to get to the Ottawa 19 to have a shot at a field goal. They only need to get to the 45 or so.

I'll cut to the chase. If the decision to take the safety there instead of punting seems mind-bogglingly stupid, it's because it is.

The yardage trade-off not make sense. Let's assume a 40-yard kick and no return; from the 6, that would leave the ball at the Ottawa 46, so 46 yards to go to score a touchdown and win. From the 25 (let's tack on 20 more kick yards, since kickoffs travel farther than punts, that puts the ball at Calgary's own 25, and about 40 yards to get into field goal range; midfield in the CFL is the 55.


As an offense gets close to the end zone, there's less field a defense needs to defend. It's for good reason a touchdown is worth 6 and a field goal only 3.

Did I mention Ottawa hadn't surrendered a touchdown all game? That their defense was playing well?

That Calgary has one of the best kickers in the CFL, Rene Paredes, who had already hit 4 field goals?

That Calgary had no timeouts left?

I'll say this about Campbell's decision: if it had somehow worked, it certainly wouldn't have made big news anywhere, and I probably wouldn't have the foresight to write this column.

But of course, it would've been a bad decision regardless of the outcome, and yes: it didn't work.

Calgary's return man returned the kickoff 25 yards to his own 50. Six players later, Paredes nailed the 31-yarder to win the game for the Stamps, 17-16.

There are some game management and clock management decisions that are counterintuitive, but correct. This decision was both counterintuitive and incorrect.

Yet, Campbell is a Grey Cup-winning coach, and he is far from alone in making terrible decisions at the highest levels of the game.

So why?

Dear reader, I have only a theory.

That theory is this: coaches spend little or (more likely) no time thinking about or learning about game or clock management.

They got to where they are as coaches with X's and O's.

They are brilliant with X's and O's, oftentimes.

Sure, X's and O's are situational too, but no amount of blocking scheme genius to tell you whether to punt here, go for it there, try for a two-point conversion here, onside kick there.

So you get champion coaches punting in the situation like the one above.

It's ridiculous, and a damn shame of a blind spot.

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