The Absolute Worst Coaching Decision Ever

Let's just get right to it. The worst strategic coaching decision in the history of sports was made today. No exaggeration. No joke.

Harvard defeated Yale 14-10 on Saturday because Yale coach Tom Williams did the unthinkable. Yale was leading 10-7 with 2:40 left and had fourth-and-22 from its own 25-yard line. Yale decided to fake the punt, didn't get the first down, and Harvard drove 40 yards for the winning touchdown.

Read the above paragraph again. Take a moment.

Honestly, when I first heard about this, I didn't believe it. I must have misunderstood. Or something had to be amiss. This couldn't have actually happened. Maybe Yale was trailing 10-7. Maybe I was just being told some sort of joke, but it really wasn't a good one because as gullible as I am, no one would ever even believe this ridiculous a story for a second.

But it's actually true. Here is the play by play.

I'll just give one quote from Williams because it's pointless to even dissect all the moronic things he said. If a coach attempted a field goal on the last play of the game when his team was down by four points, would you really want to hear an explanation? This is just as stupid. When something is so irrational, there's no point examining every point of the utter nonsense.

From Williams, courtesy of the Hartford Courant: "We were going to play to win the football game. We weren't going to play scared. We were going to keep our foot on the pedal. So if you're looking for someone to blame, blame this guy right here."

Some quick points:

1) It seems that Herm Edwards' "You Play to Win the Game" tirade has become a common refrain for coaches when trying to justify "aggressive" decisions. Here's the problem with that:

A) That speech had nothing to do with taking a chance or trying to finish off an opponent. It was simply Edwards' response to a question regarding whether he was worried his team would lose focus and motivation after it had had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

B) Even if it did pertain to being aggressive, that obviously isn't always the right decision. You can't simply justify stupid risks by offering cliches like "We were playing to win the game" and "We didn't want to take our foot off the pedal" as your explanation. Of course you were. That's why everyone laughs at that press conference. He was stating the obvious. Punting on fourth-and-22 when you're leading with 2:40 left isn't playing scared.

C) Herm Edwards was an idiot.

2)People will likely compare this decision with the one Bill Belichick made against the Colts. Just stop right now. The Patriots needed two yards. Yale needed 22.

3) This happened in a Harvard-Yale game? Yikes.

Anyway, I said in my opening that this was the worst strategic decision in the history of sports. I googled those exact words and found this great article from ESPN.com. In my opinion, the only decisions that even approach this one were No. 1 (John McNamara keeping Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series for sentimental reasons rather than taking him out for a defensive replacement.) and No. 4. (Giants offensive coordinator Bob Gibson calls a handoff with the Giants leading 17-12 with 20 seconds left and the Eagles are out of timeouts. Instead of kneeling on the ball, Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik fumbled his handoff to Larry Csonka and the Eagles won when Herm Edwards - Herm!!! -- recovered the fumble and took it in for the winning score.)

Here is why the decision at Yale was even worse on the stupidity scale. (By the way, I feel like this has been reduced to a discussion of whether it's a worse idea to run as fast as you can headfirst into a brick wall or run into a beehive and see if you can avoid getting stung for 30 seconds. Sigh.)

The moment the Yale decision was made, it was extremely likely that it would cost the team the game.

Failing to take Buckner out for defense and calling a running play instead of taking a knee were absolutely moronic decisions. No argument. And in the case of Buckner, it was an epic blunder in the biggest game of the season...a mistake so bad that it ended up contributing to the Red Sox blowing the World Series. That said, both of those decisions in all likelihood didn't figure to actually have any impact. And that's why Tom Williams' decision was worse.

(I may have to change my name to Norwood Buckner Williams now.)


  1. Yeah, it was bad, but I just don't think the Harvard-Yale game is big enough to merit a name change. And what about Les Myles conceding LSU's game to Ole Miss by having them spike the ball as the last half second expired? signed, Myles McNamara

  2. Hey - it was a poor decision. Possibly moronic. And I'm not defending it.

    But before we all congratulate ourselves on being smarter than a Division II-A football coach, even if it is Yale, or for that matter an NFL coach, a couple of quick thoughts.

    First, I saw this play a couple of times. It was a well-planned play, with three blockers. It was a surprise, apparently to Tim Murphy and the Haardvarks as well. It took a seriously great play by a Harvard defender to cut through the block to make the stop. I'm not sure you count on that, even in the Ivy League; the plays and the play-calling are generally better than the players. In other words, this should have worked for thirty or forty yards. It didn't because of a blown block. That happens.

    Second, though Yale's punter was apparently tops in the Ivy league who was having a great day, the Yale defense was tiring and, apparently, hurting as well. They've done that in the second half all season. Harvard was rolling. I'm not sure the coach trusted his defense as much as his offense. Is that his fault? Maybe - but that's a call you make based on personnel and the tenor of the bench, which we can't know.

    If the odds of converting a fourth down with a well-called surprised play were greater than the odds of preventing Harvard from scoring, then you call it.

  3. Of course it was a surprise. Things that make absolutely no sense can often surprise.

    Fine, the defense was tiring. But the score wasn't exactly 64-63. Harvard had seven points the entire game.

    And yes, if the odds of converting the fake punt were better than the the opposition scoring, you do it. Of course, I'd like to see the conversion rate of fake punts on 4th-and-22. I can say with absolute certainty that in 20-plus years of watching football, I have NEVER seen a team intentionally fake a punt needing 20 yards or more. (Not to mention the absolutely moronic idea of trying it on your own 25 yard line holding a lead with 2:40 left.)

    It's the worst decision ever.

    And if I had been the punter on Yale, I would have told the coach there is no way in hell I'm faking it. If he wanted to kick me off the team after I booted the ball down the field, so be it.