I want to start this off by talking about Barry Odom for a moment. Any first time head coach is going to make some mistakes, and if you gave Barry a dose of truth serum and asked him to list his mistakes at Mizzou, the hiring of his staff would probably be up at the top of his list. And that’s okay! The first time you do something is rarely great and learning on the job at the FBS level — and the SEC to boot — is impossibly difficult.
But as good as Odom was at identifying player talent, he was inversely scattershot at identifying coaching talent and crafting a staff. That’s why we had “Chris Wilson: Defensive Line Coach” for less than three months. It’s why he hired a good friend to run a specific defense then throw said friend under the bus when it didn’t work and quietly demote/remove him in less than two years. It’s why he hired Greg Brown (editor’s note: WHO?), a gentleman who has been a coach for 39 years and worked for 21 different teams. And it’s why he took a flyer on a journeyman defensive coordinator named David Gibbs to improve the team’s turnover potential.
David Gibbs is a smart man. I certainly can’t claim any of his day-to-day intelligence, sure, but in terms of football tactics and motivating young men, I’m sure he would outclass just about anyone outside of the coaching circle and probably a good chunk of that fraternity as well. Which is why it drives me absolutely bonkers when he claims that he can create more turnovers with his defensive strategy. Sure you can coach a player to be in the right position to make a play, yes, but the ability to force a fumble does not equal a recovered fumble. And the ability to catch a pass that’s being defended is a random act as well; if intercepting the ball was a coachable skill, then every defender in the secondary would do it every time they were in the vicinity of the ball and not tip it or swat it away. David Gibbs and everyone else on the coaching staff has forgotten more football than I will ever know and I recognize the expertise...but I still think the Gibbs philosophy is wrong, especially when looking at the defenses he’s been a part of.
Read his bio on the school’s website. His approach to creating more turnovers is reviewed extensively, with the word “turnover” used NINE times. Clearly, it’s the thing he pitches to potential hires and the thing he wants to be known for. And I am here to cry, “MALARKEY”. What I want to do today is take a look at every defense he’s been a part and look at his impact on the turnovers of those defenses. This will involve both college and pros, and because he’s been doing this for a long time, I need to go way back in time. The indomitable Sports-Reference.com will be my lexicon for the college game; the NFL keeps great records of raw metrics on its own. To give Gibbs some credit, I’ll count interceptions and fumbles...even though, as a defensive backs coach, we’re really looking at interceptions...but because I’m nice I’ll give him credit for both.
We’ll start at his first gig as a member of the coaching staff, kansas, and go in chronological order as we review the turnover total for the five years before he showed up and then the years he was coaching. Why? Because I know I’m right, dammit, and I want to prove that I’m right!
Kansas Jayhawks - Defensive Backs Coach
- 1990: 8 interceptions
- 1991: 10 interceptions
- 1992: 16 interceptions
- 1993: 8 interceptions
- 1994: 8 interceptions
- 1995: 15 interceptions (<- Gibbs starts here)
- 1996: 12 interceptions
- Average before Gibbs: 10
- Average with Gibbs: 13.5
Unfortunately forced fumble data is not easily found for the 1990s so we’ll just have to settle on interceptions. And, to start, it looks like Coach Gibbs does have an impact on turnovers, at least for the Jayhawks. Before he showed up, Kansas was averaging 10 interceptions per year and over his two years as a DBs coach the average jumped to 13.5. Good for him, bad for my theory. But then he follows head coach Glen Mason to Minnesota.
Minnesota Golden Gophers - Defensive Coordinator
- 1992: 7 interceptions
- 1993: 18 interceptions
- 1994: 11 interceptions
- 1995: 10 interceptions
- 1996: 12 interceptions
- 1997: 9 interceptions [<- Gibbs starts here]
- 1998: 12 interceptions
- 1999: 8 interceptions
- 2000: 6 interceptions
- Average before Gibbs: 11.6
- Average with Gibbs: 8.75
Aha. See? Before Coach Gibbs took over, the Gophers had a 5-year average of 11.6 interceptions and then Gibbs’ 4-year average shrunk to 8.75, with 1998 being the best year of his tenure. Sure, the Gophers were rebuilding during this time, but they also stunk for that 5-year stretch before he got there and were still cracking double digits on the interception total in four of those years. But after the 2000 season ended, Gibbs jumped to the NFL and coached for the Denver Broncos.
Denver Broncos - Defensive Backs Coach
- 1996: 32 turnovers - 23 interceptions (4th), 9 fumble recoveries* (26th)
- 1997: 31 turnovers - 18 interceptions (8th), 13 fumble recoveries (12th)
- 1998: 30 turnovers - 19 interceptions (10th), 11 fumble recoveries (15th)
- 1999: 26 turnovers - 15 interceptions (20th), 11 fumble recoveries (18th)
- 2000: 44 turnovers - 27 interceptions (2nd), 17 fumble recoveries (4th)
- 2001: 37 turnovers - 22 interceptions (6th), 15 fumble recoveries (6th) [<- Gibbs starts here]
- 2002: 22 turnovers - 9 interceptions (last), 13 fumble recoveries (12th)
- 2003: 20 turnovers - 9 interceptions (last), 11 fumble recoveries (19th)
- 2004: 20 turnovers - 12 interceptions (27th), 8 fumble recoveries (28th)
- Average before Gibbs: 32.6
- Average with Gibbs: 24.75
*quick side note: the NFL starts tracking forced fumbles in 2001. In fairness. the sample size of these years I didn’t add it but will do so for every data set after
An 8.1 decrease in turnover average! Not great! Regression every year including two years where the Broncos were the worst team at intercepting the ball while fumble recoveries regressed every year. For a guy making his name on increasing turnovers, the Broncos data set is one he probably avoids. After his time in Denver, he had a one year stop on The Plains with Tommy Tubberville.
Auburn Tigers - Defensive Coordinator
- 2000: 17 turnovers (16 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery)*
- 2001: 15 turnovers (15 interceptions, 0 fumble recoveries)
- 2002: 22 turnovers (21 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery)
- 2003: 11 turnovers (11 interceptions, 0 fumble recoveries)
- 2004: 17 turnovers (16 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery)
- 2005: 9 turnovers (8 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery) [<- Gibbs starts here]
- Average before Gibbs: 16.4
- Average with Gibbs: 9
*just in case its not obvious to you, I’m skeptical of the fumble numbers here, but at least they are consistent (forced fumbles started to be tracked in ‘05)
One year isn’t much time for influence, sure, but it’s yet another instance of Gibbs taking over and the defensive turnovers regressing. But what about his stint as DBs coach with the Chiefs?
Kansas City Chiefs - Defensive Backs Coach
- 2001: 26 turnovers - 13 interceptions (25th), 13 fumble recoveries/23 forced (21st)
- 2002: 31 turnovers - 18 interceptions (12th), 13 fumble recoveries/19 forced (27th)
- 2003: 37 turnovers - 25 interceptions (3rd), 12 fumble recoveries/21 forced (25th)
- 2004: 20 turnovers - 13 interceptions (24th), 7 fumble recoveries/23 forced (17th)
- 2005: 31 turnovers - 16 interceptions (14th), 15 fumble recoveries/33 forced (2nd)
- 2006: 30 turnovers - 15 interceptions (20th), 15 fumble recoveries/29 forced (4th) [<- Gibbs starts here]
- 2007: 22 turnovers - 14 interceptions (23rd), 8 fumble recoveries/14 forced (22nd)
- 2008: 29 turnovers - 13 interceptions (17th), 16 fumble recoveries/20 forced (8th)
- Average before Gibbs: 29
- Average with Gibbs: 27
Two fewer turnovers per year on average isn’t much but considering the Chiefs were churning out 30+ turnover season per year before he got there and then only matched that once isn’t ideal.
Houston Texans - Defensive Backs
- 2004: 30 turnovers - 22 interceptions (5th), 8 fumble recoveries/22 forced (18th)
- 2005: 16 turnovers - 7 interceptions (31st), 9 fumble recoveries/24 forced (17th)
- 2006: 22 turnovers - 11 interceptions (28th), 11 fumble recoveries/15 forced (27th)
- 2007: 25 turnovers - 11 interceptions (30th), 14 fumble recoveries/18 forced (12th)
- 2008: 22 turnovers - 12 interceptions (21st), 10 fumble recoveries/15 forced (14th)
- 2009: 27 turnovers - 14 interceptions (20th), 13 fumble recoveries/13 forced (22nd) [<- Gibbs starts here]
- 2010: 18 turnovers - 13 interceptions (23rd), 5 fumble recoveries/11 forced (27th)
- Average before Gibbs: 23
- Average with Gibbs: 22.5
Feast or famine with the Texans! The average was basically the same before Gibbs got there and during his tenure. But 27 turnovers followed up by 18 the next really highlights the randomness that turnovers are capitalized on.
Houston Cougars - Defensive Coordinator
- 2008: 14 turnovers - 13 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery/13 forced
- 2009: 11 turnovers - 11 interceptions, 0 fumble recoveries/10 forced
- 2010: 18 turnovers - 13 interceptions, 5 fumble recoveries/9 forced
- 2011: 31 turnovers - 21 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries/13 forced
- 2012: 19 turnovers - 19 interceptions, 0 fumble recoveries/3 forced
- 2013: 43 turnovers - 25 interceptions, 18 fumble recoveries/14 forced [<- Gibbs starts here]
- 2014: 30 turnovers - 19 interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries/14 forced
- Average before Gibbs: 18.6
- Average with Gibbs: 36.5
His stint with the Cougars is where Gibbs started making the distinction of “I will make your defense better at turnovers”. And you can see why: 43 turnovers in the first year, 30 in the second, doubling the average the Cougars experienced in the five years before he got there. That 2013 season, by the way, was insane: the Cougars recovered 63% of all fumbles (50% is the national average), 31% of the passes they defended were interceptions (22% is the national average), and 11% of their opponents’ passes defensed were interceptions (again, 22% is the average). That is EXTREME random turnover luck. And there was regression in 2014 across the board; if it was a coachable skill you’d see those numbers stay mostly the same, not 13 fewer in a single year.
Texas Tech Red Raiders - Defensive Coordinator
- 2010: 15 turnovers - 15 interceptions, 0 fumble recoveries/6 forced
- 2011: 14 turnovers - 5 interceptions, 9 fumble recoveries/16 forced
- 2012: 9 turnovers - 8 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery/2 forced
- 2013: 11 turnovers - 8 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries/15 forced
- 2014: 7 turnovers - 6 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery/9 forced
- 2015: 19 turnovers - 15 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries/13 forced [<- Gibbs starts here]
- 2016: 17 turnovers - 5 interceptions, 8 fumble recoveries/9 forced
- 2017: 29 turnovers - 14 interceptions, 15 fumble recoveries/16 forced
- 2018: 18 turnovers - 12 interceptions, 6 fumble recoveries/9 forced
- Average before Gibbs: 11.2
- Average with Gibbs: 20.75
Before Gibbs got to Lubbock, the Red Raiders were just awful at generating turnovers, easily the worst turnover defense he inherited (besides his first stop at kU). In his first year, he got the Raiders back to a national average level of turnovers and had a huge jump in 2017 thanks to a huge jump in forced fumbles and in fumble recovery luck. Once again, after a hug jump in a single year, the follow year regressed to the median, which is typically how college teams work with turnovers.
Missouri Tigers - Cornerbacks
- 2014: 25 turnovers - 12 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries/19 forced
- 2015: 13 turnovers - 9 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries/10 forced
- 2016: 19 turnovers - 15 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries/7 forced
- 2017: 17 turnovers - 12 interceptions, 5 fumble recoveries/6 forced
- 2018: 16 turnovers - 10 interceptions, 6 fumble recoveries/7 forced
- 2019: 14 turnovers - 8 interceptions, 6 fumble recoveries/6 forced [<- Gibbs starts here]
- Average before Gibbs: 18
- Average with Gibbs: 14
And now we get to his current gig. In one year, Gibbs failed to get the Tigers to the national average, barely edging out the disaster 2015 season. What’s worse is that, of the eight interceptions the 2019 defense had, a whopping SIX were done by linebackers: Cale Garrett (3), Nick Bolton (2), and Cameron Wilkins (1) out-intercepted the entire Tiger secondary (Ronnell Perkins had 2).
In the past two years Gibbs’ claim has been accurate: he has improved two teams’ ability to cause a turnover. That relied on incredible luck at Houston and a historically bad defense at Tech. But, yes, he did improve both teams’ turnovers.
Being a defensive coordinator tied to a fast-paced spread team sucks: if you’re going to experience 4-5 more possessions on average per game because your offense goes so fast then you’re going to give up more yards in return because of the possessions and fatigue of being on the field so often. So you might as well “break serve” and stop the offense by separating them from the ball instead of hoping to force a punt. But trying to rip the ball out of a runner’s hands and trying to confuse quarterbacks does not equate to recovering a turnover. It definitely creates more opportunities, but in the long run, your fumble recovery rate will hover around 50% and - at some point - your interception ratio will shrink as well; if this exercise does anything, I hope it showed how 5+ years of turnovers can have any team regress to the mean, regardless of coach.
What’s more, last year Gibbs was paired with a moderate-tempo offense. He wasn’t calling the plays, sure, but hiring him means he has his unit (in this case, the secondary) focus on ripping the ball out and playing for an interception; it would have made more sense to just have an experienced secondary play to merely stop the ball carrier. And given the number of pass interference penalties called on the secondary, I can imagine you all would also like the secondary to just play to limit the yards after catch (or merely tip the ball away).
I don’t know what Gibbs will do this year or in the following years, but with the inexperience in the secondary this year, it would be great if his “I can improve your turnover output” claim comes true.