Rich Rodriguez has had little opportunity to prove himself at Michigan, as is usually the case a month after your hiring, but he obviously has a few things down. Score-O is not one of them:
Working a crowd, however, is. Rodriguez and most of the staff traded their box seats for spots in the student section to watch Michigan demolish WMU 6-1. The rewards were an incessant stream of "Rich Rod-ri-guez" cheers, one second-intermission "Beat the Buckeyes" (no pressure), and an extended "We Want Pryor." Excitement hung in the air. In January.
Then there is this from new S&C demon Mike Barwis:
For a certain sort of Michigan football fan this is the equivalent of shooting heroin into your eyeballs. Barwis appears to have missed an opportunity to be a professional wrestler: he's got an unparalleled gravelly voice, a catchphrase and finishing move ("the bottom line"), and enough muscle to cave in the side of a Pinto. (Another member of the staff also missed his calling inside the squared circle.) He's also a diplomat and a gentleman judging from his responses to questions about Michigan's existing system and Ryan Mundy.
Reading between the lines on the Mundy response yields this: Mundy was a great kid and a dedicated worker but had no idea what he was in for despite going through four years in Michigan's system. He got his ass kicked, improved, but never quite caught up to the guys Barwis got as freshmen.
Reading between the lines about Michigan's current system: lol, 1970.
Jim Carty flagged down Steve Morrison, who coached with new defensive coordinator Steve Shafer at Western Michigan:
Q: What's Michigan getting here in Scott Shafer?
Morrison: The thing that jumps to my mind is passion. He has so much energy. And it's genuine. He has the ability to inspire people. He's a passionate guy who gives 110 percent. He's fun to be around and fun to work with, that's for sure.
Michigan was old and backwards and clunky and staid in 2007; now they are not. Youth is the order of the day on and off the field. QB coach Rod Smith is 35*. WR coach Tony Dews is 34. OL coach Greg Frey is 35. Secondary coach Tony Gibson is 37. LB coach Jay Hopson is 40. DL coach Bruce Tall is 48. OC Calvin Magee is 44. DC Scott Shafer is 41. At the collegiate level coaching is the domain of old men, but only Carr holdover Fred Jackson (57) cracks 50; most of the current staff isn't anywhere near it. They haven't won anything, and they're looking to be Rodriguez someday. They have nothing but the future.
The total makeover in the program's attitude happened overnight -- on New Year's Eve, it appears -- and many are still getting used to the idea. There is fretting about our long string of NFL QBs coming to an end, the lack of internal hires on Rodriguez's staff, the immediate future of a program that counts 7-5 as an end-of-the-world type of season, the continuation of a tradition unbroken over 40 years.
These are all valid concerns. They are also the sort of talk that would cause Mike Barwis to eat your soul and crap it out as a little doll to follow you around, berating you about how you could lift that car if you weren't such an irredeemable knob.
*(Some ages approximate, as I can't find DOBs for many of these guys and am going by college graduation years; they might be off but by no more than a year or two.)
For a long time it seemed like Michigan was three-quarters of the way up a cliff, looking down. "Hang on" was the mantra of the day, be it to old methods or fourth-quarter leads or Michigan's place in the assemblage of climbers. Rich Rodriguez seems the type to look up, grab Ohio State's leg and throw them down into the mucky-muck, and get ten points for climbing The Wall -- that's worth a five-second bonus for the Eliminator, Kyle.
And it's about damn time.
Robinson didn't play his junior year because of a transfer and is the teammate of Texas commit DeSean Hales, who makes kids in Texas 5A look like befuddled D-class New York kids trying to tackle Mike Hart, so he was under the radar until recently. He's a low four-star to Rivals who was down to Wake Forest and BC before Michigan called him with an offer. Amongst a sea of Hales highlights there is a nice Robinson touchdown run at the end of this clip reel. He's #7:
Robinson seems a terrific fit for the Rodriguez spread, which Klein Oak also runs. You can see he's playing QB in the clips above, but he spends some of his time as a slot receiver and running back. Amongst all the OMG Hales stuff he digs out a wounded duck in this game recap. (There's also an interview with him.)
And this might be surprising given the recruiting ratings and the clips above, but it was Robinson, not Hales, who took home the Klein Area Player of the Year Award:
When we featured Klein Oak wideout DeShaun Hales on the cover of our 2007 high school football preview section, we suggested that the University of Texas signee would be one of the brightest stars in district 16-5A.
Little did we know, Hales would end up having competition to be called the best player on his own roster. But that is how it turned out.
The Klein Sun has named Klein Oak quarterback Terrence Robinson as our 2007 Player of the Year, among the four schools that we primarily cover: Oak, Forest, Collins and Klein.
"Any award is a big award, so to win the Klein Sun Player of the Year, I have really been blessed," Robinson said. "I put in a lot of hard work, and never gave up on the season."
After transferring to Klein Oak from Spring HS and having to sit out all of 2006, Robinson led the 2007 Panthers to a 10-2 overall record, a top district seed in the Division II Class 5A playoffs, and a post-season victory over College Park. Unfortunately, his dreams of leading the Panthers towards a state championship were cut short in a second-round loss to Leander.
"We were extremely motivated and confident coming into the year," said Robinson, who rushed for a district-leading 1,672 yards and 20 touchdowns. "So any time you lose and don't reach your goals, you always leave believing that there was something you could have done better."
This Houston Chronicle article says he's leaning to Wake Forest, but it was written before Michigan got involved.
FL QB Justin Feagin is a dual-threat QB/athlete who was believed to be leaning towards WVU before Rodriguez departed; Michigan is now taking up the chase. Though he had a dynamite year, finishing third in Florida's Mr. Football voting, it was at a very small school and the recruiting sites are down on him. Rivals only gives him two stars. He might fit in with a potential Pryor commit, as his ranking isn't going to scare anyone and he could move to a number of different positions. Miami's actually recruiting him as a corner.
Sunshine Preps has video for perusal.
PA WR Vaughn Carraway has been a fixture around these parts since very early in the recruiting year; Carraway got an early offer and has listed Michigan as his leader since. The staff turnover might do something to disrupt that, but as of December his top three schools were Michigan, Pitt, and... West Virginia. He still plans a trip later this month; he just visited Pitt.
Oh, and That Pryor Guy. The above-linked articles are MOTS for anyone who's followed this kid's story: likely choosing between Michigan and Ohio State, made of light, like Michael Vick without severe emotional issues. This one says in the subhed that Pryor's "first choice seems to be Michigan" but doesn't follow that up with anything substantive other than this...
Michigan is believed to be his top choice, considering that former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez recently was given the Wolverines' job. Pryor wants to play in a spread offense similar to the one Rodriguez employed with Pat White and the Mountaineers.
...and that's phrased in a highly speculative manner. The Wolverine's Josh Helmholdt in the Free Press:
What are Michigan's chances of landing him? I've been down there with him and, at this point, you can't really put an accurate chance on whether he will sign with Michigan because he's got to take an official visit up to Michigan yet. That is going to be key. I get a sense that he is really, really excited about the opportunity at Michigan. He's told me as much. ... I have very strong confidence after talking with him, after talking with other recruits down there that spoke with him, that he is going to make a decision between Ohio State and Michigan.
Duane Long of Bucknuts.com:
Duane Long, recruiting analyst for Bucknuts.com, also followed the race for Pryor closely, and he believes OSU will ultimately prevail.
"Until one of my contacts tells me he's not going to be coming this way, I'm of the opinion he's going to be a Buckeye," Long said.
"Fans had better buckle themselves in," he added. "There's no chance he makes a decision before signing day, but I still think that decision will be Ohio State."
Ohio State insiders remain uniformly confident, but it seems most impartial observers guess it will be Michigan, with an emphasis on "guess." This will be a tense three weeks.
"Scheme is overrated, I've always believed that," Shafer said. "What's not overrated is getting your kids to play with great effort, great attitude and great enthusiasm. Those are things we can control on a daily basis, and that will be my primary goal. ... The philosophy of our defense is attack-oriented, attack and react. We want to be a defense this is multiple, that is always putting pressure and forcing the hand of the offense. We want to be a penetrating defense.
"If you're going to (ask) what our objectives are? The one thing we want to do is stop the run, force them to throw the ball on first down, create negative plays on first down ... and get ourselves in position to force them to throw the ball. Get them one-dimensional. We don't want to be a defense that sits back. We want to be a defense that creates turnovers and scores touchdowns. Lead the conference in sacks, interceptions and defensive scores. That's how it's always been everywhere I've coached and how it will be at Michigan."
Hey... this guy is going to run an aggressive, in-your-face defense, just like every defensive coordinator ever. I suppose there is a difference here in that Shafer has the numbers to back it up: always better against the run, tons of sacks, strong evidence his corners should wear asbestos pads.
Scott Shafer, late of Stanford, is the new defensive coordinator. Coaching assignments on the D-side of the ball as follows:
Rodriguez has designated defensive coaching assignments as follows: Scott Shafer (defensive coordinator), Tony Gibson (assistant head coach/secondary), Jay Hopson (linebackers) and Bruce Tall (defensive line).
Informative update coming.
Update: Shafer's name didn't ring a bell until I saw Western Michigan on his bio. Then I was like "heyyyy... I know that guy!" Check it:
[New Stanford coach Jim] Harbaugh had never spoken to Scott Shafer when he pulled up last year's NCAA statistics on the Web. But he knew what he was looking for. Harbaugh wanted to lure a coordinator from one of the top-rated defenses.
There, at No. 11, was Harbaugh's man.
Last year, Shafer's defense at Western Michigan was ranked 11th overall, sixth against the run and first in sacks and interceptions.
When Shafer arrived two years earlier, the Mid-American Conference school was much like Stanford is now - coming off a one-win season and ranked at the bottom of nearly all defensive statistics.
"Every program he has been involved with has been a rebuild," Harbaugh said. "I just felt like you don't have to know a guy to hire him. You spend 365 days with him, you're going to be best friends after a year."
Shafer's the guy Harbaugh hired on eHarmony! I wonder if Rodriguez has met him. Presumably the answer is yes.
Anyway, Shafer's got an extensive track record as a DC. Prior to his hiring at Stanford he was Western's DC in '05 and '06, Illinois' DB coach in '04 (yikes!), and Northern Illinois' defensive coordinator from '00 to '03, and spent four years as NIU's DBs coach before that.
Statistics and whatnot:
(Caveats: the "previously" column is not available for NIU, as the NCAA's online statistics only go back to 2000. Sacks were not tracked before 2006. Also please note that Schafer's 2005 was skewed by a 5 OT game against Ball State. (Not to excuse said D for sucking pretty hard.) Also keep in mind that MAC teams usually play at least a couple games against way more talented foes and rarely end up particularly high in the rankings.)
Amongst a sea of rather modest returns one thing stands out: holy crap does this guy like to blitz. A year after leading WMU to the most sacks in the country, he took Stanford from 111th to 11th. Other trends: the rush defense is usually better than the pass defense, sometimes significantly, and the defenses usually improve as he stays on. I guess. It's hard to tell. While his first years at Western and Stanford were abysmal, you can't blame him given the even more abysmal results his predecessor left him, and Western's turnaround in year two is impressive.
The NIU record may tell us more, as the Huskies were decent (5-6) the year before his ascension and remained decent after. His results there are decent to good given the talent level available and NIU's regularly murderous non-conference schedule: BCS teams most of the time with a rare gimme in the days before you could get away with a I-AA team every freakin' year. It's worth noting that Shafer's final year at NIU was their apex, the 10-2 season where they beat Maryland and Alabama to open the year. Maryland would finish 10-3 and sport the #27 scoring offense (#28 in yardage); NIU held them to 13 points. Alabama was much crappier at 4-9 but NIU held them to 16 points, fewer than any team save LSU and Oklahoma. Those two would meet in the (sorta) national championship game at year's end.
Yeah, NIU got shredded in losses to Toledo (with Bruce Gradkowski, so understandable) and Bowling Green (with Josh Harris and Urban Meyer -- this was the year the MAC was really freakin' good), but those teams would finish #19 and #3, respectively, in total offense.
So... I dunno. kind of a flier on a guy who put in an impressive reclamation job at Western and had a decent run at NIU, but not exactly Jon Tenuta. Bonuses: he's from Ohio, has a ton of experience in the Midwest, and he's almost unbelievably young (41) for a guy who's been DC at three different schools. Also, one of his kids is named "Wolfgang." Also also, as you can see above, he kind of looks like a Bond villain. Also also also, Jim Harbaugh's gotta be pissed.
From deep within the bowels of the Michigan athletic department comes this critical piece of knowledge. I hesitate to report this in case winged-helmet-clad ninjas burst into my home and riddle me with throwing stars, but I do what I must...
Rich Rodriguez is playing Score-O at the hockey game against Western tonight.
WOTS is he has or will practice sometime today. I don't know if he'll be wearing a hat or not; my spies are looking into it.