Now that Mississippi State has been pointlessly scouted to death, Michigan fans have set to finding fans of every team Al Borges ever coordinated. Maize 'n' Brew put Cal up first despite the fact that Borges's tenure there consisted of a single star-crossed year; this is the view from the plains.
So, Al Borges. I won't bury the lede: after watching him for four years at Auburn, I don't think he's a particularly good fit for Michigan's current personnel, Denard Robinson most especially. He is as advertised: a veteran, pro-style, pass-first West Coast disciple. But there's a reason he's that veteran, namely that he's a whip-smart, clever, above-all solid offensive coordinator.
He might not be a Malzahn or Kelly-style miracle worker, but I can assure you he's not a Jeff Mullen or Steve Addazio or Patrick Nix, either. (No, I wouldn't expect the return of the Avalanche anytime soon.) Given the right tools to work with and a quality defense on the other side of the ball, there's no reason Borges couldn't be the coordinator for a championship-caliber Big Ten team.
Auburn fans would argue he proved that in 2004; it's a testament to how dominant that offense was (and how wretched it had been the year before*) that even after his final two teams finished 76th and 97th in total yardage, he remains universally respected and admired among the Tiger fanbase. Yeah, a well-trained sugar glider [ed: ?] could have turned Campbell, Williams, Brown, Marcus McNeill, etc. into a competent offense, but that 25th-place finish in total offense you mentioned doesn't come close to doing that unit justice. They finished fifth in yards-per-play, first in yards per-pass attempt (at 10.0 a pop), second in passing efficiency, all against an SEC schedule and all with Tuberville's Carr-like insistence on downshifting into clock-killing mode as soon as the lead hit two scores. (Which it did a lot that year.)
Before that year Campbell had been a head case who'd already gone through three coordinators in three seasons. Borges got his head on straight, deployed the two-headed monster of Williams and Brown to maximum efficiency, and even added in the occasional gimmick play to good effect. It really was a terrific coaching job, and a lot of Auburn fans will tell you his 2005 effort -- in which Auburn finished 24th in yards per-play and scored 27 or more points 9 times, despite replacing Campbell with Brandon Cox and and not discovering a running back until Kenny Irons emerged at midseason -- was even better. (They're exaggerating, but it was still awfully nice.)
So what happened after that? Certainly Tuberville's conservatism and the lack of help from the world's most mediocre set of position coaches (the same ones who eventually got Tony Franklin fired midseason) didn't help, but the principal problem IMHO was the collapse of the passing game. Cox's myasthenia gravis—a debilitating muscle disease—seriously reduced his effectiveness, a series of recruiting busts meant that there were no replacements for the two departed NFL receivers on the outside, and the loss of McNeill opened up huge problems in pass protection. For a coordinator who set up his running game with the threat of an efficient passing game (even in 2005, Cox threw 44 times against Ga. Tech, 40 times against LSU, 33 times vs. Wisconsin, huge numbers for a Tuberville team), this was DEATH.
So how much blame does Borges finally share for the downturn? Not that much; the lack of player development from the position coaches, Tubby's handcuffing, and plain old bad luck in Cox's downturn hurt more than anything Borges did. Nevertheless, he does share some blame for things getting as rocky as they got, there's some lessons for Michigan's expectations for Borges here:
- He needs the talent. Obviously, the array of tools at Borges' disposal in '06 and '07 wasn't nearly what it was in '04 and '05, but the cupboard wasn't as bare as to totally excuse the off-the-cliff plummet Auburn experienced. It may be fair to say that Borges is well-equipped to maximize a talent advantage over lesser opponents -- his success with a very talented SDSU offense by MWC standards this year would seem to be more evidence -- but isn't as effective "coaching up" lesser weapons. In the long term this is probably a good thing.
- He's not going to recruit that talent himself. Can't speak for what he's done at SDSU or his previous stops, but virtually any skill position player who truly shone at Auburn -- during his tenure or after -- was either recruited under his predecessors or after he'd departed.
- He's not super-flexible. Borges' schemes didn't change a whole lot as Cox's effectiveness decreased and his receiving corps began sucking. It was still the same array of mostly off-tackle and iso runs, play-action passes (yes, waggles!), and occasional pro-style passing concepts. They just stopped working. Borges made some offseason comments to the effect that Auburn would do more to get the running backs and tight ends involved in the passing game (as they had been in 2004), but that never really seemed to develop.
To that same point, Borges did precious little work at Auburn with a "dual-threat" quarterback, but what little he did wouldn't be very encouraging where Denard is concerned. That work came with Kodi Burns, who came to Auburn as a true freshman in 2007. Cox began that season completely out of sorts and Burns was brought off the bench in Weeks 2-4 to stop the bleeding. It didn't seem like Borges had made much of an effort to teach Burns the offense or develop a functional package to put his running skills to use; Burns seemed to mostly just take the snap and run around. A true freshman Kodi Burns might not have been able to do much more than that, but it still just didn't seem like Borges had much of an idea about what to do with him at that stage. Obviously Robinson is miles and miles ahead of where Burns was (or ever got to) as a quarterback, but maybe it's something to keep in mind all the same.
Again, none of that is to say Borges can't succeed at Michigan ... but the current situation just isn't in his wheelhouse. Based on the last half of 2005 (when Cox, Irons, and the AU receivers were at the height of their powers) and what he's done at SDSU this season with the Lindley-Hillman-senior wideouts package, I'd say the prototypical Borges offense is one with an accurate (and not necessarily strong-armed) pocket passer, big NFL-type receivers on the outside to stretch the field, and a single stud running back as a home run threat out of the backfield. It seems like aside from Darryl Stonum, Michigan doesn't have any of those things.
What's ironic, says Alanis, is that Michigan used to have those things in bunches. Give Borges Henne, Hart, Long, and Manningham/Arrington, and you're going to have one of the best offenses in the country, hands-down. And maybe he can work some magic with Denard (or Gardner), and Hopkins, and Stonum/Miller/Jackson/whoever. But I can't shake the feeling that Borges is the right guy in the right place at the wrong time.
*[Since you asked, sort of, and because it shows how deeply, deeply flawed Tuberville's understanding of offense is, in 2003 Auburn used co-offensive coordinators: quarterbacks coach Steve Ensminger and offensive line coach Hugh Nall. Tuberville asked them to operate the identical scheme run by Bobby Petrino in 2002, but with a twist: he would ask them for either a running play or a passing play as the situation demanded, and then Nall would make the playcall if Tubby had requested a running play, and Ensminger the playcall in the event of a pass. (I don't think this has been officially confirmed, but it's a matter of general understanding amongst Auburn fans.) And that is how you take Campbell, Williams, Brown, and like four other NFL players and wind up with a lousy offense. Nall wound up as a trucking company executive when he left Auburn; Ensminger's next job was as an assistant coach with a local high school.]
Jerry walked back what pessimism existed in the above—there but under the "this guy is pretty good" bit—in a brief addendum:
So I read back over what I wrote yesterday and it's too far on the negative side, I think. I don't mean to imply Borges can't/won't succeed at Michigan, I'm just worried it's going to take a couple of seasons for
1. Hoke and Co. to recruit the missing pieces for the offense (especially a load-carrying RB)
2. Borges to coach up the pieces he's got, like (hopefully) Gardner.
Given the state of the defense, I wonder if he'd really be given the necessary slack to survive a Rodriguez-like transition period. But Mattison ought to help. If he's Hoke's Malzahn, there's no question Borges can be his Ted Roof.
I think Borges will be all but forced to adapt when there turn out to be things that work with Denard and things that don't. In the Cox case above criticisms about not adapting to the situation might overlook the fact that there's no adaptation that turns suck into not suck. See Michigan's 2008 offense—when you don't have anything you can adapt all you want and you're still going to be hilariously bad.
our coordinators have the exact same hair. no nonsense hair.
no one will ever say their hair is the best part of them.
This seemed like a far-fetched rumor when it started buzzing but lo, it is true:
Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is expected to go the University of Michigan as their new defensive coordinator, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation.
No deal has been formally reached, though.
He would likely be replaced in Baltimore by secondary coach Chuck Pagano.
UPDATE: Mattison has taken the job and Pagano has replaced him.
I“We’re excited for our defense and for Chuck, and we’re happy for Greg Mattison,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I will talk more about it tomorrow when we formally announced Chuck as our new coordinator in a press conference.”
Mattison is the best possible hire of all rumored names, a veteran with a history of excellent defenses in both college and the NFL. He coordinated Michigan's stout '95 and '96 defenses and can probably take some credit for the national championship-winning '97 edition. After leaving Michigan, Mattison was Notre Dame's DC for a few seasons, then moved on to be co-DC at Florida with Charlie Strong. He's been with the Ravens the last three years.
This isn't exactly hiring Gus Malzahn—Chizik was a great DC himself before becoming a head coach—but it's the closest possible thing, an indication that Michigan is no longer skimping on assistant salaries. When the above-linked article finishes "Mattison has been successful with the Ravens, so this is a bit of a surprise," you know you're dropping some coin.
Hope meter: incremented.
Also, there's an official release on much of the rest of the staff:
Hoke Announces Seven Staff Appointments
ANN ARBOR – University of Michigan head coach Brady Hoke announced today (Tuesday, Jan. 18) the hiring of seven staff members to his Wolverine coaching and support staff. Hoke named six of the nine assistant coaching positions and the appointment of his strength and conditioning coach.
Six members of the San Diego State staff joined Hoke in Ann Arbor. Al Borges will coordinate the offense and work with the quarterbacks, Dan Ferrigno will coordinate the special teams and coach the tight ends, Darrell Funk will coach the offensive line, Jeff Hecklinski mentors the wide receivers and Mark Smith has been appointed linebackers coach. Aaron Wellman also joined the Wolverines’ staff as the strength and conditioning coach.
Hoke rehired long time Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson to the same position on the staff. Jackson will begin his 20th season as a member of the Wolverine coaching staff in 2011.
All but Ferrigno were already known, and Ferrigno was suspected. Borges is listed as QB/OC so that probably means Loeffler won't return—and that's how Michigan can afford an esoteric TE/ST coach.
Michigan still has two open assistant slots and holes at DB, DL, and QB. Since Hoke and Mattison both have extensive experience as DL coaches it's not 100% that QB is the spot that goes unfilled but it's probable. Bringing in another offensive coach would mean the staff had five offensive assistants and just two on D.
BONUS: Michigan's also hiring Hoke's director of operations, so this will probably be the first and last time you think about this name: Bob Lopez. May he be a thousand times more obscure than Draper and Labadie.
Sorry no Dear Diary this week -- was on a family trip through yesterday. Related: shout-out to the Michigan Ski Team -- I was that one guy at Crystal with the kickin' Fischer demos and a way of swinging my arms while carving that looks like I'm shtupping a donkey (thanks, cock-ass Winter Walden instructor in 1991).
Instead, I give you three new columns to the instant classic "Clans" breakdown by MVictors, Lew, and the Hoover Street Rag, referenced atop Tuesday's "Unverified Voracity" column. The new categories:
- Favorite Pre-Game Tradition
- Where to Watch an Away Game
- Every Michigan Fan Should Read...
Comments and suggestions for additional categories are very welcome. Chart made available on Google Docs if you want to make changes yourself (note them in the comments).
Enjoy. Update 6:30 p.m. songs now available too.
|Clan||Favorite Pre-Game Tradition||Where to Watch an Away Game||Every Michigan Fan Should Read...|
|Bo Clan (15%)||We barbecued these same ribs back in '73, an' I tell ya the stadium looks different and some o' th' buildings, but this spot hasn't changed a damn bit.||At home, with EVERYBODY over. This is the couch where we watch MICHIGAN football. Later in the year the wife makes chili.||Those Who Stay, by Curt Stephenson|
|The Rebellion (9%)||Beer Pong or 'U Honk We Drink' on the porch of a State St flophouse.||In the basement (because too emotional to watch with everyone upstairs) with laptops on their knees for Live-Blogging.||The Decimated Defense, by Misopogon|
|Corduroy Jacket w/ Patch Clan (1%)||Kerrytown Farmer's Market - it's so nice and peaceful downtown when all those football fans are at the game, isn't it?||Oh there's a game today? Are we good this year? How 'bout we take a walk in the Arb instead -- it's so lovely when the leaves change.||Fired Magic: Detroit's Pewabic Pottery Treasures, by Marcy Heller Fisher|
|In Rod We Trusted (5%)||Standing atop the little garden outcropping at Blimpy Burger and trying to engage the sadly misinformed Cotton Pickers waiting in line in an RR versus Carr debate.||At the Bo Clan guy's house, trying to convince everybody that THIS win over Notre Dame is going to be the start of something special. As RR becomes less defensible late in the year, take an increasing interest in the chili.||Denard: The Happening, by mdoc, or The Big Rodriguez, by Brian Cook|
|Lloyd Loyalists (20%)||The Broken Egg - we've been meeting here for breakfast every year since senior year, which was [1997+/- 3 years].||Local sports bar. Pray a member of the Rebellion comes in so you can kick his ass.||The Obscene Diaries of a Michigan Fan, by Craig Ross|
|Cotton Pickin’ Blues (45%)||The Golf Course.||At the home of the guy with the big TV sometimes if there's only going to be a few people over, but otherwise at home to facilitate that 3rd quarter nap.||If These Walls Could Talk: Michigan Football Stories from the Big House, by Jon Falk and Dan Ewald|
|Fierce Pragmatists (1%)||Dragging Misopogal to a different tailgate every week in the bare hopes of finding another Fierce Pragmatist, as opposed to the millions of Rebels and Rod-Trusters who think they're Fierce Pragmatists||Refreshing on the iPhone while stuck in Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur/Wife's Stupid Cousin's wedding.||Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace|
|The Second Estate (1.5%)||Giving the kids the insider passes so they can do the field tour during warmups, while you hold court in the important people rooms where everybody can see that you're an important person.||
The TV room of the cottage on Walloon Lake or Lake Charlevoix
|Bo's Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership, by Bo Schembechler and John U. Bacon|
|The Decatur Clan (2.5%)||Covering yourself in maize and walking down Hoover with the throngs all the way to the stadium, then turning back up to State St. and doing it all over again.||In West Lafayette, or East Lansing, or Columbus, or Evanston, or wherever the Wolverines may travel - probably next to Lloyd Brady.||100 Things Michigan Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, by Angelique Chengelis|
And with hats a-tippin' to the folks below, here's the music (after the leapin'):
Most of the questions in my inbox I don't have an answer to, but does that ever stop sportswriters? No.
1. With all the Hoke love from ex-players & everyone else for that matter, how could Bill Martin have misread the whole "Michigan Man" situation when he hired RichRod? He had to get some sort of vibe about supporting a MI Man & not an outsider. Did he ignore this, or was he ignorant of it?
Bill Martin seems like an affable sort of guy, but an affable sort of guy who wasn't actually on the football team and really likes sailing. I bet he was taken aback by the way Rodriguez's tenure developed. I think most people were surprised the vehemence with which Rodriguez was denounced once he started losing games.
But I'm not sure it really mattered, since at the time there were no Michigan Man options that were even vaguely plausible. Hoke—the sole Carr assistant to have a head coaching job at the time—was idling at 7-6 in his fifth year at Ball State. DeBord had failed miserably at CMU. Ron English was in charge of the defense that made The Horror and Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game possible. Harbaugh was still unproven.
Even if Martin could anticipate a negative reaction from the Carr clan, it's not like there was anything he could do about it without producing a backlash 10 times as massive as this year's Hoke doubt.
2. With all the shouts of failure to hire a BIG name coach, looking at the hires of the last few years from "elite" schools: USC - Kiffin, Miami - Temple's coach, Florida - Tx D Coordinator, Florida St. - Jimbo Fisher, Notre Dame - Kelly, Tennessee - Dooley; big name coaches from big name schools rarely switch jobs within the college ranks - the last BIG name coach to do so would have to be RichRod - food for thought.
I guess that depends on your definition of the word "big." It's true that most jobs on the Michigan/Oklahoma/Florida/ND level are terminal destinations. But Stanford isn't, especially when the guy at Stanford is a famous Michigan alum. Harbaugh should have been poachable, and maybe he was but for the NFL. We'll never know. Meanwhile, there is a list of guys who are acquirable who may not be "big" names but seem like as good of any idea as possible when you switch coaches.
As for that list above:
- Fisher was a hot OC at LSU that was imported to be HC in waiting/by proxy in the same sort of transition that saw Bielema and Chip Kelly smoothly ascend to the throne and experience fairly quick success. (Bielema took a little while to get going.)
- Muschamp is an archetypical hot coordinator.
- Brian Kelly qualified as a big name in the mold of Urban Meyer after championship runs at two different schools experiencing their greatest success.
- Kiffin was the last act of an idiot and was met with the same sort of love at USC he was after his departure from Knoxville.
- Dooley was a last second desperation hire after Kiffin left that was like hiring Hoke in 2007.
I'd say the first three are good ideas, the fourth a bad idea, and the fifth the sort of thing that happens when your head coach leaves in early January. In Tennessee's case they were left in the lurch involuntarily. Michigan did it to themselves.
At least Dooley provides a hopeful example. Despite being in shambles in mid-January they recovered decently enough in recruiting and outperformed expectations down the stretch. Sometimes guys catch fire with more resources and a fortunate recruit—or existing player—and that can quickly erase their uninspiring previous record. One year after Tennessee's Maple Street Annual asked me to write a piece about how to cope with a 3-9 crater, there is palpable optimism in Knoxville.
In the presser introducing Hoke as HC, Dave Brandon mentioned that he was a "data guy," and that the data showed that when you bring in a HC w/no ties to the area and/or university, it usually doesn't work. However, a look at the top programs in recent college football history show important counterexamples:
- Urban Meyer, Florida: no ties
- Mack Brown, Texas: asst coach Iowa State 1 year, OC Iowa State 2 years (1980-81), OC Oklahoma 1 year (1984)
- Nick Saban, LSU: no ties
- Les Miles, LSU: no ties
- Pete Carroll, USC: OC U. of Pacific, 1 year (1983)
Did these guys have assistants on staff who had ties? What was the key to their success in winning over the respective fan bases?
Winning games? Those guys save Carroll and Meyer all came from BCS programs they had significantly outperforming their historical baseline, and Meyer had just turned Utah into the #2 team in the country after making Bowling Green a terrifying MAC opponent. And then they won immediately. Saban was 12-2 in year two. Miles lost six games in his first three years. The first time Mack Brown won fewer than nine games at Texas was this year. Meyer won the national title in year two.
Before any of these guys could be hated they were loved, and Rodriguez probably could have managed that trick if he hadn't presided over the worst three year stretch since Harry Kipke*.
If there's a common thread between these coaches it's recruiting, where all were monsters. You knew that's what you were getting with Brown, suspected it with Saban and Miles, and hoped for with Carroll.
*[I have your back, MVictors]
So, I've accepted the fact that we have Hoke and Borges (mostly). The offensive personnel is obviously geared toward a zone read option type of offense with athletic lineman, lots of slot ninjas and a running quarterback.
Two actual questions for you:
1 - How is this line at pass protection? Do the techniques change much between zone-read option spread teams and pro-style teams? I know Kerrigan, Liuget and Watt were blowing up our plays quite a bit, but I'm hopeful the assignments and techniques would not be very different. Now, Iso-blocks on runs plays....argh.
It was difficult to tell since teams spent most of the year deathly afraid of losing gap responsibility and letting Robinson slip into the secondary. Many opponents seemed content to let Denard sit and survey. In one on one matchups the line did very well against Iowa, Michigan State, and Penn State but not so well against Purdue (ie: Kerrigan) and Wisconsin. The numbers were consistently 1) low in amplitude and 2) good in percentage. The line wasn't asked to do a whole lot. They usually did it well.
It was a mixed bag, but they were starting a redshirt freshman and an injury-laden platoon at the tackles. I don't think there's much of a difference in pass protection between the two offenses in terms of technique, but pro-style attacks usually put a greater premium on five- and seven-step drops.
A bigger concern than this being an awkward transition is how much of the good pass protection last year was an illusion wrought by Robinson and the scheme.
2 - Thinking about a pro-style offense that employs slots and would fit fairly well.... What about the Patriots offense? Slot guys, undersized receivers and running backs....Obviously Tom never runs, but they could incorporate the single-wing QB runs and ISQD's pretty easily as well as roll-out run-pass option plays....Am I dreaming here? Is there any way with the Michigan connections over there that Borges/Hoke could go in this offseason pick Belichick and Brady's brains and/or outright steal some of that offense all together? What about the Eagles offense? It seems this would be a pretty good recruiting pitch - "You know Tom Brady? The Patriots? That team that crushes people all the time? Yeah - we're running their offense."
The Patriots may be pros but they don't really run a pro-style offense anymore thanks to Brady. Unfortunately for Michigan's immediate future, the things that make Brady one of the greatest QBs of all time—pinpoint accuracy and I'm-from-the-future coverage reads—are the things Robinson has in shortest supply.
Long term I'm down with what seems to be Borges's preference for a pass-slanted West Coast offense, which is a system that works and works well when you've got the right guy at the helm. One positive about returning to something resembling the old offense is that college football's tilt towards spread systems has made pocket guys more available, and Michigan's reputation was enough to lure Ryan Mallett north despite that not being the best idea in the world for him personally.
The Clans. This is an awesome post that you must rush to read right now drop everything. Look:
You want to know where you fit. Everyone does. Everyone thinks they're a fierce pragmatist. Seriously, check the comments.
Mike Hart is the master. If Mike Hart is serious about going into coaching after his NFL career is done and eventually returning to Michigan, he's already got the bit about expertly defusing tricky questions down pat. Via a recent radio appearance:
"I think that any Michigan man that would've came in would be hard to be mad at because I think people have been complaining so bad these last three years that – 'Hey, we want a Michigan guy here. We need a Michigan guy. Rich-Rod doesn't respect the traditions.' (For) guys that have been saying those things, Coach Hoke was the perfect hire because he brings back that Michigan legacy."
I eagerly await the day he's cut. No offense, Mr. Hart, it's just… you know.
and the hoke-footed balloonMan whistles far and wee
Needs moar tremendous.
Not much of substance, but I'm not a big fan of the Vick comparison. When Vick got to the NFL he was shepherded in a run-heavy, simple system that wasn't very good. It takes time, and while Denard will progress I think it'll take more than a year. There will be a larger post on this later.
Calling Brandon a liar. Is what LSU's doing:
"He was offered more than 4 million to become the Michigan coach," LSU Board of Supervisors member Stanley Jacobs said Friday. "When he said no, they came back and offered him more. And he said no again."
Miles is apparently set to sign an extension that does not raise his salary. It'll be interesting to see what happens to the buyout. Miles has made a lot of money already but seemed to be lacking in job security early this year when LSU was surviving by the skin of its teeth. He may not have leveraged the Michigan job into more money, but he may have leveraged it into making it very difficult to get rid of him if LSU fails to live up to expectations next year, which is totally going to happen because LSU fans are expecting a national title.
I can see Miles doing this because he's 57—a primary reason he should never have been considered for the job in the first place—and knows this is his last head coaching job at a premiere school. He's probably eyeing retirement in the not too distant future and would like to make sure he chooses the "when."
As for the Michigan side of things, I'm not sure what to believe. It would be stupid for Brandon to waste time playing footsie with Miles when he had no intention of tabling a serious offer, but it would be stupid to table a serious offer. So I guess it doesn't matter. The LSU guys think this game of semantics is silly:
"Well, if Hoke was his first choice, he could've signed him up prior to ever talking to Les or Harbaugh," LSU chancellor Mike Martin said. "Don't you think?"
One way or the other, they're right.
You are heartfelt but uninformed, LSU chancellor. Brandon, meanwhile, set to compounding his arrogant father-knows-best press conference by putting this out later in the day:
"I got inundated with advice," he admits on WDFN-AM 1130. "A lot of people with very good hearts, and who care a lot, and with a lot of passion, came at me with their point of view. And I respect that, and I certainly tried to show them a courteous reply whenever I could because those passionate people are what make Michigan football special.
"However, most of them are very uninformed, and in most cases, they were recommending people they had never met. Or been in the same room with. Or ever had a conversation with. And interviewing a candidate for an important job like this is about sitting down and talking about specific issues, and getting to know them at a completely different level than blogs and statistics and images that, in many cases, are shaped by PR more than reality. [ed: the noise you heard was my irony meter exploding.]
"So, I didn't pay a lot of attention to those recommendations – even though they came from people with good hearts, they just weren't all that helpful."
This falls in line with Brandon's comments during the press conference that "all that glitters is not gold" when it comes to some coaches and that "the hype or the PR doesn't match the real person." To me, that came off really, really poorly. I was pretty sure everyone was in the same boat—I especially liked the bit at the end that signaled the program's return to barely tolerating its fans—but apparently not. The Wolverine Blog says to give credit to Brandon for "putting himself on the line," which he's certainly done by making his decision on explicitly faith-based grounds. I'm not so much with the crediting bit.
One, attempting to paint the internet's problem with Brady Hoke as a matter of "statistics" is… well, the main statistics people have problems with are "record: 47-50" and "age: 52," neither of which is a particularly advanced metric.
Two: does this relate in any way to Brandon's passive-aggressive comments about Jim Harbaugh when Rodriguez was fired? It doesn't seem very leader-y to take shots at the people you interviewed and didn't hire. It implies everyone other than Brady Hoke is not fit to coach Michigan, and attempts to dismiss an awful lot of evidence that suggests Hoke is kind of a desperate hire by saying "you have not sat across the room from this man."
It's not reassuring to envision Brandon's interview process. Braves and Birds blows up this line of reasoning from Brandon real good; suffice it to say that Brady Hoke would have to be vastly worse than expected to sink to the level of Brandon's performance over the last two months. It looks like we'll have tangible evidence of that in two weeks.
EXPLICIT SECTION: Here's the tedious section in which I explain this is not a criticism of Brady Hoke but the athletic director that hired him at a terrible time for not particularly good reasons and told anyone who said words to that effect that they were "uninformed."
I expect Hoke will have enough success at Michigan to stick around a while; when he retires whether he was a good idea is likely to be a matter of heated and interminable debate. I hope I am wrong and am willing to give Hoke the proverbial "chance." I hope that Dave Brandon sets the world record for smug pats on the back when Hoke retires. For the record.
BONUS: Expect to read this disclaimer dozens of times!
1/14/2011 – Michigan 3, Ferris State 2 – 14-6-4, 11-4-1 CCHA
1/15/2011 – Michigan 6, Ferris State 1 – 15-6-4, 12-4-1 CCHA
It's hard to get any emotional mileage from a game you saw on Comcast Local in a bar. The audio was trying to ignore Joe Buck calling an NFL game, the picture quality was 70s-vintage, and the camera was placed so close to the ice that not getting seasick was the main goal. Also it was a blowout.
Friday night, on the other hand, Michigan fell behind 2-0 and looked like they had let whatever momentum they'd gathered towards the back half of 2010 slip away. Commence well-practiced emo time.
Over the next four periods later they outscored a decent Ferris State team 8-0 en route to locking up a home-and-home sweep that sees them top the league* for the first time in over a year. Their goal differential is the best in the league. They're knocking on the door of a #1 seed in the tournament. And it's all a bit mystifying how.
At midseason it seemed like this team was just another middle of the road bunch that would make the tournament but didn't seem like much of a threat to do anything once there, as has been the MO for most Michigan teams since Red's great asskickers of the late 90s. It still kind of seems like that, but something else is creeping in: doubt.
I have the paradigm of a great Michigan team in my head. It has a 5'8" guy who could stickhandle through the Red Army. It has another guy who is a scoring machine thanks to the midget. It has a great craggy mountain of a defenseman who is impenetrable and another defenseman who is a completely insane goal pirate and therefore my favorite player on the team. It has Jed Ortmeyer, who is also my favorite player, and a goalie that everyone is secretly suspicious of.
This edition has some of those pieces, but lacks the magic midget, the mountain, and the swashbuckling nut. The midget is a loss keenly felt by everyone who sees Lindsay Sparks do something surprisingly dangerous and remembers Hensick/Cammalleri/Comrie et al. But the defensemen… in the defensemen may lie the secret of Michigan's success. Specifically, John Merrill.
Merrill came to Michigan with a ton of hype, surviving as the one member of Michigan's incredibly awesome 2010 recruiting class that arrived on campus with his draft status close to intact. That hype still fell far short of Jack Johnson's, and Merrill hasn't spun past an opposition forward on a routine breakout or murdered three guys on a single shift yet. His dad does not dance during the second intermission, not that anyone would notice if he did these days.
Despite that, Jon Merrill is a about ten times better than Jack Johnson was as a freshman. Johnson was insane even for my tastes. As a freshman he racked up an incredible 149 penalty minutes, most of them due to insane aggression. When it came to penalties Johnson was Tristin Llewellyn on speed, and that extended to the rest of his game. When he wasn't doing something ridiculous, he was doing something ridiculous.
Jon Merrill has four penalty minutes this year. Four! He plays all the time, against the top line, and has as many penalty minutes as Shawn Hunwick. That kind of brilliance only becomes apparent over time. Merrill takes tough situations and handles them elegantly in ways that his senior defense partner doesn't always. (Langlais had a rough first period on Friday.) He's emblematic of the entire corps, which consists of Merrill and Burlon and Langlais and Pateryn not making the sort of mistakes that made my veins throb in years past, or at least not many.
Michigan has always been the hare of college hockey, a high-tempo, high-variance team that racks up goals and penalty minutes. Their assets have always been obvious—that guy who can shoot the puck through a donkey, that first round draft pick. This is not a vintage Michigan team, but what it lacks in JMFJ thunder it may make up for with subtler qualities.
*[By winning percentage. Michigan is a point back of Notre Dame but has two games in hand—with conference wins worth three Michigan actually has a somewhat significant lead. Also if you're down here the next sentence says something about goal differential, by which I mean conference goal differential. Miami is better all things considered.]
Non-Bullets Of Well, Now
Though it's not that different. Michigan's ninth in GPG this year, just a tiny pip behind Miami and North Dakota. Most of the other big scorers are Air Force or locked in the insular (and usually not very good) ECAC, leaving just two teams—BC and Notre Dame—significantly outscoring them. Who knew?
Enter the Moffie. Man, Lee Moffie can sneak them in from the point, can't he? Twice in two games this weekend to go with a couple from his freshman year. If he could just play some defense he'd be in business.
Caveat: in a game earlier this season Moffie was a turnover machine and was subsequently benched for a good long time. He nosed himself ahead of Mac Bennett when Kevin Clare rotated in on Saturday but is liable to collapse.
This years Rolfe Memorial Who-Dat Senior. Will be no surprise, but it's Scooter Vaughn, who scored Saturday to reclaim his spot as the third leading goalscorer on the team behind only Hagelin and Wohlberg.
Pairwise watching, still in vague mode. Michigan moved up one spot to sixth with their sweep. You are now rooting for the Bulldogs to destroy the rest of their schedule; at 11-10-4 they're actually pretty good (11-7-3) when not playing Michigan and if they can nose their way into the top 25 in RPI Michigan's Pairwise comparisons will get a major bump. Ferris is currently 28th.
How bizarre. Michigan hosted a fascinating recruiting visitor on the Michigan State weekend: Max Domi. Yes, that Domi. The younger guy is a highly skilled forward who would be a top pick in the OHL draft if his dad wasn't worried about OHL kids seeing the name on his back and wanting to make a name for themselves. They're making seemingly sincere college noises, but as always with these things it's hard to tell if the interest is real or if it's just posturing for the draft.
Domi's still a couple years from college, FWIW, and won't help fill in the two or three blanks at forward in next years class.
Also bizarre. Miami has the sixth-best goal differential in the country—Michigan is eighth—but finds itself 18th in RPI and outside of the tourney in PWR. Their record isn't very pretty so they must be obliterating teams in their wins and losing narrowly in losses.
Kicking yourself. Michigan's non-wins this year include a tie after being up 4-0 on Mercyhurst, blowing two third period leads against UNH, and two losses in OT. OTOH, they scored with under a minute left to send one of those games to OT and got a tie out of Ferris State via the same Houdini act.
Comment over/under. Twelve, in marked contrast to anything about football these days.