WWU students use math to pick top college coaches

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 26, 2014 

Who is the best coach in Division-I college sports? If you polled the population of the United States, you'd no doubt hear names like Pat Summit, Bear Bryant and Mike Krzyzewski a few times, but there would be a wide variety of answers.

Two teams from Western Washington University set out to determine who the best coaches in the history of Division-I College Sports were in an international competition held by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP) from Feb. 7-10.

WWU students Sarah Bond, Claire Skelton and Ben Hansen formed one team, and Jesse Atkins, Steven Watanabe and Sam Pollard formed the other team. Over the course of the four days they would compile data and come up with equations to determine which coach stood above the rest.

"They phrased the question so you didn't have to pick the best coach overall, so we chose to do the best coach in four sports," Bond said in a phone interview.

Bond's team decided to use the number of years a coach was with a school, the coach's winning percentage in their career, and how they improved the program over their first five years. They chose only to survey football, women's basketball, men's basketball and baseball.

"We thought about things like number of national championships, but each sport has such different ways of determining that, so we didn't include it," Bond said. "We also didn't include if the coach had been involved in a controversy."

For the first 24 hours of the competition the teams compiled data into computer spreadsheets. They took most of their info from online databases, but it was harder to find statistics for some sports. For football and men's basketball, most stats were already compiled and easy to find online.

"We needed year-by-year statistics, so that was hard to find for sports like baseball and women's basketball," Bond said. "We had to pull stats from individual school's websites."

The team only slept for a few short hours between the start of the competition at 5 p.m. Feb. 7 and the end at 10 a.m. Feb. 10 and compiled thousands of columns and rows of data. After the problem of compiling the data, they ran into another issue - when they ran the calculations on men's basketball, it output some names that didn't make sense.

"We had to go back and find the problem with our data so that we got names that made sense," Bond said. "We were relying on Wikipedia pages to see if their reputation matched what our model showed."

After they had completed the competition, the WWU Math Department Chair, Tjalling Ypma, sent both teams' results into COMAP for judgment. When the results came back, both teams had placed in the top 10 percent of all schools around the globe.

The seven schools named Most Outstanding were China's Chongqing University, University of International Business and Economics, Southeast University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Southwest University for Nationalities, College of Information Science and Engineering; Northeastern University, and North Carolina's NC School of Science and Mathematics.

Bond's team determined that the five best coaches in college football history were Nebraska's Tom Osborne, Arkansas' Hugo Bezdak, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Oklahoma's Barry Switzer and USC's Pete Carroll. In men's basketball the top five were Kansas' Adolph Rupp, North Carolina's Dean Smith, North Carolina's Roy Williams, Gonzaga's Mark Few, and Lefty Driesell, who coached at Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State.

Their top five in women's basketball were Tennessee's Pat Summitt, Georgia's Andy Landers, Stanford's Tara VanDerveer, North Carolina State's Kay Yow and Penn State's Rene Portland. For baseball, the top five coaches were Florida State's Mike Martin, Jim Morris, who coached at Miami and Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech's Danny Hall, Louisiana State's Skip Bertman and Minnesota's John Anderson.

Some of the coaches surprised Bond and her team, due to some of the controversies that have surrounded them.

"It was funny that Pete Carroll was in our top five because of some previous events," she said. "None of us really followed women's basketball, so it was interesting looking at stats because Pat Summitt has been there so long. It was a fun experience. I don't know that I'd do it again though, it was a really long weekend."

Reach Alex Peterson at alex.peterson@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2285.

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service