Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Pulling a fast one? Why HS coaches don't trust 40-yard dash times
Carl Lewis won the 100-meter dash gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, his 9.92 the best time after the disqualification of infamous doper Ben Johnson. Now imagine, for a moment, that the race was shorter, that it was a 40-yard dash.
A masters-level coach and former president of Vancouver’s Metro Athletic Club named Jimson Lee has created this scenario, pro-rating Lewis’ 10-meter split times so he would build and reach maximum speed at a 40-yard distance. He also subtracted Lewis’ reaction time because athletes who run the 40-yard dash are timed as soon as they start running.
At this distance, Lewis still wouldn’t have won. Johnson, with a 4.21, would have beat him in this scenario, same with Usain Bolt (4.22), Asafa Powell (4.28), Tim Montgomery (4.26) and Maurice Greene (4.21), their famous record-breaking runs also adjusted by Lee for 40 yards. But that’s not all.
He also would have lost to Johnathan Gray and Corey Coleman.
Lewis may have been the world’s best sprinter, running at Olympic-record pace, but he still wasn’t fast enough to beat two high school football players. His 4.32 40-yard dash time would have been a shade slower than the 4.28 of Pearce’s Coleman and the 4.29 of Aledo’s Gray.
Oh, the 40-yard dash. It has been football’s glamour metric for speed since the ’60s, its unchanging ubiquity in high school recruiting surpassed perhaps only by its unreliability.
“I don’t believe,” SMU coach June Jones said, “any of the times.”
From 2009 to 2011, an average of 12 players ran 4.43 or faster per year at the NFL combine. Yet at Nike Sparq combines, eight high school football players ran 4.43 or faster this winter and spring. At the Sparq Opening final combine this summer, six more did the same. Several others ran in the mid- to upper 4.4s. Of course, the high school athletes aren’t the ones lying.
“These combines and camps, they time them and say you ran a 4.3,” Rivals recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. “The reason they do that is because better times get more people, more publicity for the next year.
“Ninety-nine percent of it is fabrication.”
Coleman’s 4.28 and his Sparq combine 4.32 were recorded by laser timing. Precise as it sounds, Scout recruiting analyst Brandon Huffman still doesn’t believe laser times because of sensitive sensors. Also, sometimes laser timing is only used at the finish line, and starts are still hand-timed.
Some 40s, like Gray’s 4.29, are entirely hand-timed. Aledo coach Tim Buchanan said four assistants timed him and they went with the slowest time. Cade Stone of Fort Worth Christian ran a 4.38 on a coach’s stopwatch, and coach Scott Smiley said he only believed it after Stone did it three times.
Lee said .20 to .24 seconds should be added for converting a hand-timed mark to accurate electronic timing. Other variables matter, too. Wind is not taken into account. Some players run on the track in spikes. Some run on the field in shoes.
“Sometimes,” said Smiley, “it’s barefoot.”
Jones isn’t alone in expressing disbelief and apathy with the 40. Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Kansas’ Turner Gill and Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads said they never believe recruits’ times. Whereas Stoops called the 40 a “good barometer” when “done properly, timed properly,” the others devalued its importance.
Anecdotal evidence illustrates the contrary. Coleman said he had been receiving some recruiting attention, but that interest amped up after the 4.28 he clocked as a sophomore at an Old Coach combine. He was a part-time player on Pearce’s varsity at the time.
Huffman routinely hears a similar refrain.
“It’s hilarious,” he said. “I talked to a Pac-12 coach about a player and he says he’s not fast enough. And then he runs a 4.38 and they offer him.”
In short, no one believes the accuracy of 40 times. Almost no one believes the 40 truly gauges football speed and ability. Yet…
“Don’t get me wrong,” Tuberville said. “We time them ourselves.”
That’s right. College coaches routinely time 40-yard dashes of players when they step on campus. They sometimes move players to different positions based on these new 40 times. These “correct” 40 times are usually timed by the same stopwatches ruled inaccurate when they are in the hands of high school coaches.
“You want to have something to go on,” Gill said.
Fewer top recruits, says Huffman, have been running 40s at combines. Baron Flenory, a Dallas resident and founder of premier 7-on-7 football, advises players not to run the 40 if they are already receiving major college interest.
A future without the 40, though, seems unlikely. Huffman and several high school and college coaches call it a flashy number, something that fans and recruits enjoy studying and comparing.
That belief was verified by someone you might not even expect.
At SMU’s first fall practice, a reporter asked which receivers were primed to step in for the graduated Aldrick Robinson. Jones said Keenan Holman and explained why.
Surely, he would briefly mention the way he looked on film, his standout play in practice, you know, what coaches call the real metrics of football potential, right?
Said Jones: “He’s a 4.3, a 4.4 guy.”