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Published: Thursday, 10/11/2007

Master Coaches qualified to vote on college football

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The logic behind the whole deal is so simple.

If you need an educated opinion on a heart problem, you go find a cardiologist with a lot of valve jobs on his resume.

If you want the best advice on a complex plumbing issue, you go find the guy whose toolbox looks like it's been banging around in the back of a truck for 30 some years.

Apply that line of thinking to the endlessly debated college football poll system, and you get the Master Coaches poll. It is a collection of former coaches who pool their information and compile what they think should be recognized as the best poll in the land.

"I don't know that there is a perfect way to do this, but I gotta believe that this poll is the most accurate of the bunch," former Ohio State coach John Cooper said. "We know the teams, the coaches and the players, and we get out to see the games. And we share information so everybody is well informed."

Cooper, who was 192-84-6 in 24 seasons with the Buckeyes, Arizona State and Tulsa, said he voted in the active coaches poll, now known as the USA Today Poll, throughout his career, and knew little about most of the teams he was voting for.

"I rated teams I never saw play. Did that for 24 years when I was a head coach," Cooper said. "Active coaches don't have the time, and they don't really have the opportunity to see anyone other than the teams they play. I think most active coaches would respect our poll, because we've all been in the game."

The 17 poll members in the Master Coaches Survey attend assigned games each week, and receive DVDs of the other games involving the country's top teams. They pool information and explain their votes on a weekly conference call, and do a lot of informal networking throughout the week.

"One thing that separates our poll from the others is that we have access to all the games, we talk a lot about the different teams, and in just about every case, somebody in our group has seen every top 30 team play," Cooper said. "Some of those people involved in other polls don't even go to games."

The Master Coaches poll was started two years ago by Andy Curtin, an attorney and former sports agent based in Atlanta. Curtin said that he felt Auburn got short-changed in the 2004 Bowl Championship Series alignment, so he sought a better way to determine college football's national pecking order.

"I think a lot of mistakes have been made, and the reason coaches make mistakes in their poll is they have no time to watch these games or research the teams. A lot of them make no bones about it - somebody else fills out the ballot for them," Curtin said.

"And the writers in that poll, there is a limit on what they can see and still do their jobs. I thought we could fix this if we had someone with the expertise and the time do the voting, and these retired coaches are ideal in that role."

Legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler was part of the original group of Master Coaches. Curtin said that shortly before Schembechler's death last year, Bo told the group that either the Big Ten was very overrated, or Ohio State and Michigan had little or no competition until they played each other at the season's end.

Don Nehlen, the former coach at West Virginia and Bowling Green, said the pollsters have had to adjust their analysis each week due to the large number of upsets this season.

"No team is safe this year," said Nehlen, who went 202-128-8 in 30 seasons. "We have seen more early-season upsets than ever before. I think you can attribute that to the growing parity in college football."

Ohio State, currently second in the Master Coaches poll, has benefited from that rash of upsets, moving up in all the polls as other teams dropped.

"I watch Ohio State play, and I keep saying, gosh they haven't played anybody yet. But they are a solid team with a great defense that just keeps on winning," Cooper said.

"Are they the second or third-best team in the country right now? I don't know. But they should be favored in all their remaining games. There's three or four teams on that schedule that could beat them, but they'll be favored."

Curtin said the goal is to have the Master Coaches poll included in the BCS formula, with an eye on improving the way the BCS works.

"If they put our guys in, I would hope they take everyone else out and let the Master Coaches handle it," Curtin said. "This is so important to the schools involved, and I don't think any of the current head coaches would mind having these guys do it. Their expertise speaks for itself."

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.



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