The Awkward Divide of Pragmatism and Purism

I like the look of this, for what that's worth.

The purists are always the last ones to fall. That's by design; someone has to stay committed to an art form, or a political belief, or something else that requires people to feel strongly, strong enough to vociferously support, to enlist others, to cajole outsiders, at the margins and in extreme cases to die. We don't deal with extreme cases here, but the common threads are the same. Purists break boundaries, question common knowledge, topple empires, destroy civilizations. Purists are also often wrong.

Mind you, we need purists. Without them, there would be no innovation, no advancement. Without LaVell Edwards, there is no Hal Mumme. Without Hal Mumme, there is no Mike Leach, and without Leach, Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen don't exist, football gets set back another 20 years from where it is now and we're still talking about how awesome the one-back system is, if that even happens.

The flipside, of course, is pure pragmatism.

A slight digression. It's not exactly a well-kept secret that I watch soccer, and it's not exactly a well-kept secret in English soccer there stands a relatively purist team and purist coach in Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. Pass, create beautiful movement, score fantastic goals, dominate possession and the scoreboard. Get three points, rinse, lather, repeat. When it works, it works fantastically - Barcelona and Pep Guardiola do it better than anyone at this point in time - and when it doesn't, it stalls. Somewhere, it stalls (for Arsenal, it stalls approximately 18 yards from goal). On the other hand, you have a team like Stoke City; Tony Pulis regularly has the squad playing what can only be construed as functional football. Get the ball, haul up the field, try and draw fouls or crosses or corners, get the ball into the box, score. Anything else is largely accidental. Pulis is currently fielding the most successful Stoke team in a generation, if you care to take the hands off your eyes while watching them play. Alternatively, you can take the Jose Mourinho approach to success, which looks like the Pulis path generally speaking but drives purists nuts for an entirely different set of reasons.

The right answer is success. How you get there depends on your worldview; if you're a purist, you do your thing harder and better until it works. There is no other way. Pragmatists, meanwhile, do what works. For struggling pragmatists, that answer roughly translates as what that successful guy over there is doing. Derek Dooley, at his core, is a pragmatist, or at least close enough to it on the scale. This isn't a good or bad thing, but it is a thing, and it's probably an important thing for us. Justin Wilcox is likely a pragmatist as well; I'm unsure if all defensive coaches are pragmatists or purists by nature, but I tend to learn toward pragmatist. That leaves Jim Chaney.

At this point, we know enough of the Jim Chaney coaching legacy to know that he has spread roots and some pro-style roots. The presence of two key developmental traits seems to serve as evidence of pragmatism, whether or not you subscribe to the theory that some types of college offenses can't survive at the next level. What we're seeing is an amalgamation of those two concepts with an emphasis toward the pass, tempered based on personnel and skill sets. That screams pragmatism.

We see Nick Saban and Les Miles obtaining success with dominant defenses and a run-first offense. That's what they've done, and while there are likely purist components it's a pragmatic approach. And it works. Lordy, does it work. It's easy for us to point at that and go "this works, we need to do this!", but there are other ways. 

I - being the relative purist that I am - want to see us succeed with the passing game. We have Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter for a reason, and it's not so Bray can play-fake and Hunter can block on screens. I'd also like to think that we've spent most of the season and most of our games passing on a majority of our plays. That hasn't been the case; it's been split dead down the middle. I wasn't expecting that, but it makes sense; against Montana and Buffalo, we had the game well in hand so passing was unnecessary. Against LSU and Alabama, we had Matt Simms so passing was painful for all involved. I don't know what the balance will be like against MTSU. I'd like to hope that we give Justin Worley plenty of opportunities to get his confidence level up, that at the end of the game the combined QB rating is above 100, and - be still my heart - maybe above 125. I'd like to hope for these things, but hoping doesn't make them so.

Passing 75 times a game might result in success beyond our wildest dreams, but there are no wildest dreams this Saturday, only realities of varying degree. November football is the land of pragmatists, where tape of the game and medical kinds are plenty and everyone gets to limp toward the finish line. So it is, and so it will be.

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