WOTS is that yesterday's post on potential defensive coordinators is for naught and we are most likely looking at an internal hire: Jay Hopson, the linebackers coach and former Southern Miss defensive coordinator.
When it looked like Hopson was destined for the DC job last year I scoured Sunday Morning Quarterback for any information the internet's most prominent Southern Miss fan had provided on his defensive coordinator and assembled the results in "Jay Hopson Dissected." I also fired off an email to Matt Hinton himself, asking him for a take. By the time I got a reply Hopson was in, but as the linebackers coach, and the reply was no longer relevant.
Now it is, and I present to you Hinton's take on Hopson. Warning: it is not puppy dog tails. I'll let this stand on its own; further commentary in a separate post. Before we get to the nitty gritty, an update from Hinton:
Re: Hopson, I should add to that e-mail that over the last couple years I've come to really appreciate the talent on USM's killer defenses in 1999-2000, including Adalius Thomas and Patrick Surtain. The defenses immediately following those were anchored by a couple all-American linebackers, Rod Davis and Michael Boley, and a few other very good players. Hopson didn't have anyone of that caliber from 2005-07.
So, again, meh performance in the doldrum years of a coach heading out to pasture.
Hopson would make a lot more sense as a position coach at Michigan, as some of your commenters have noted. He’s young and didn’t distinguish himself in the job – his defenses occasionally looked good against some of the weaker teams in Conference USA, but I wouldn’t even read into the high finishes within the conference (first in scoring defense all three years of Hopson’s tenure, first or second all three years in almost every other relevant category) because USM is the only school in the league that still pretends to play a little defense, and certainly the only one that still played like it expected to win games with it. This year the “Nasty Bunch,” as the D was known in fatter times, allowed 24 points to Marshall, 34 to Central Florida, 29 to Memphis, 30 to UTEP and 31 in the disgraceful loss to Rice, the last game being the reason the entire staff is searching for work right now (though, to be as fair as possible about such a disaster, offensive turnovers were far more responsible).
It’s not fair to look at the outcomes against Tennessee, Florida, Virginia Tech, NC State and the like because of the talent deficit USM faces against those teams, although Southern Miss had a short stretch of better-than-respectable (if inconsistent) defensive success against much bigger schools in the late nineties, and the fact that we tasted the blood of annual top 10 national units in those years may have led to some unfair expectations towards the defense in the last few years - those teams had Adalius Thomas and Patrick Surtain, two future Pro Bowlers, and though there's been some excellent individual talent since, Hopson hasn’t even coached a player who’s landed a regular NFL roster spot (though current linebacker Gerald McRath will certainly change that in the next couple years). Again, though, USM has not consistently played well against C-USA offenses with comparable or lesser talent since well before Hopson was on board, and though his overall numbers were slightly worse than his predecessors’, he was just status quo. It’s putting it kindly to say his defenses in Hattiesburg were mediocre. Generally I’ll always associate him with underachieving teams, even if the defense was still always better than the wretched offense.
Michigan fans will not like this, but Hopson’s defenses seemed to suffer from complete paralysis, mental and physical, against offenses that require more discipline than baseline reading and reacting. The team is rarely on TV, and never against any quality opponent, so I don’t get to watch them week to week, but the few times USM has been on a midweek game the last three years have ranged from frustrating to embarrassing. I remember seething through a loss at Tulsa in 2006 because the Hurricane ran a dinky spread offense with no hint of a deep threat whatsoever, and Southern never adjusted to, looked prepared for or even aware of the existence of the possibility that Tulsa would keep running the same junior-high-basic read option play. Take this play from the 2006 C-USA Championship loss to Houston as a very extreme example of a trend against any kind of option – it’s not great quality, but watch the reaction of the safeties, #6 (walked up here like an OLB) and #15:
They react like they have never conceived of a very simple, old-fashioned triple option play. That game is another good example of the consistent failure to adjust, and to be content to sit in zones without much blitzing and refusal to put pressure on the dinky horizontal passing game teams like Houston run, instead letting them run for miles of yards after catch. This year, the loss to Cincinnati in the bowl appeared to be more of a talent issue (the speed that that happened is also disturbing, as USM owned Cincinnati in C-USA less than five years ago), because Ben Mauk had to make a lot of plays under pressure, but after some early problems he carved the Eagles up pretty easily. Boise State in September came out firing and doing whatever it wanted offensively from the first gun. Basically, I always felt Hopson’s defense were put on their heels easily, accepted trying to bend and not break and rarely tried to force offenses out of their comfort zone. But this could be more of a talent issue than I realize; USM has been very lean in the secondary and really struggled in man-to-man coverage when it wasn’t playing too soft. It’s hard to make the translation to Michigan’s players.
Schematically, USM’s base has always been a 4-3, but it’s also always shown a lot of variability – prior to Hopson, it was regularly in “organized chaos” mode, with two down linemen, sometimes one down lineman on passing downs, people hopping around and shifting irregularly before the snap and blitzes coming from god knows where. His units were very, very conservative by this standard. They were also regularly in the nickel, simply as a result of playing a lot of spread offenses in-conference. Most of the time, as you noted earlier from a previous post of mine, this was a three-down look, technically a 3-3-5 because one of the outside linebackers was a DB, but closer to a 3-4 in actuality – unlike the stack West Virginia ran under Rodriguez, which is an eight-man front with one safety deep and two up like linebackers (I think of it as a 3-5), Hopson’s 3-3-5 generally kept two safeties deep. It was much less effective against the run, but that apparently was the tradeoff he felt was necessary to protect the secondary. The numbers show a stronger pass rush than I remember in 2005 or 2007, but again, I only saw USM in person or on TV a handful of times in any of those years.
According to a very plausible though not at all confirmed first draft of Tommy Tuberville's exit from the Plains on Bleacher Report, Rane (rather than the much-loathed busybody Bobby Lowder, who notoriously orchestrated the JetGate scandal of 2003) is also the booster who set the dominoes in motion after the Iron Bowl.
I've seen this post pop up on a message board or two, but on the good Doctor's site? Say it ain't so.
First of all, that kooky conspiracy theory is obviously wrong to anyone who's read the contract. The key passage:
The night Alabama drilled Auburn 36-0, a prominent Auburn booster (not the usual bank-owning one but one who sells pressure-treated wood and wears a yellow hat) made a phone call. This may have been a $5.1 million phone call.
Since he knows most of the SEC coaches on a first-name basis and shoots ads with many of them, he has their personal private phone numbers. So he calls Houston Nutt over in Mississippi and asks what it might take to have Houston change his address again to Auburn.
Supposedly this triggers a "non-interference clause" in Tuberville's contract, puts Auburn on the hook for a lot of money, and precipitates the Jimmy Sexton-engineered firing/hiring double play. Except this theory relies on a rogue booster making an unauthorized phone call to Houston Nutt and the clause in Tuberville's contract reads like so:
Unless notice has been given by Coach to Auburn of his termination of this Agreement, neither the President nor the Athletic Director of Auburn or any person or entity acting at or under their express authority shall discuss or negotiate directly or indirectly Auburn's prospective employment of any other person as Head Football Coach of Auburn without notice to Coach.
IE: unless someone actually in the Auburn athletic department signed off on this call, this clause has not been violated. Rane is a trustee, but he is not the President, AD, or someone working at or under their authority, and certainly not their express authority. The theory is full of crap from the word go.
Which should be no surprise because it's post on the Bleacher Report, where absolutely anyone can post absolutely anything. This feels like a curmudgeonly complaint more suited to an elderly guy wearing a hat that says "press," I know, but I've seen this from time to time on message boards and other blogs: idiot writes something idiotic on the Bleacher Report, someone takes it more seriously than they should under the assumption that whoever posted it is some sort of professional or, you know, writer. (The mere fact that people can't immediately tell the difference between the dreck on the Bleacher Report and your average MSM columnist is perhaps the most damning criticism you can offer of MSM columnists.)
The Bleacher Report is an amorphous shifting population of people, all of whom seem incapable of dressing themselves. This differs from blogs, because Dr. Saturday is Dr. Saturday and EDSBS is EDSBS and MGoBlog is MGoBlog. Blogs build credibility over time. The Bleacher Report gets it from some nice software, I guess.
That doesn't mean anything on it is worth paying attention to. This hot rumor's source is this guy…
Larry lives with his wife, son and Pug [sic] (Baccardi [sic] the Wonder Dog)... [sic] He's a moderator at WWW.rollcrimsontide.com [sic] and a member of the rowdy bunch [sic] at [email protected] [sic], [sic](where the motto is "Wear [sic] a Cup [sic]"). He served several terms as a director in the Red Elephant Club and loves to meet with the Crimson Tide coaches and administrators. His Bama years were from 1976 to 1981 during the back to back National Championship [sic] years!
…who is not only a diehard Alabama fan but one who thinks [email protected] is, like, a coherent thing you can say. And has named his dog "Baccardi [sic] the Wonder Dog." And hasn't even read Tuberville's contract. And got this theory from emails and message boards. Under no circumstances should this man be taken seriously.
With the freedom that comes on a platform where anyone can post anything comes the chore of wading through the crap, of discerning good content from bad. Here's a primary heuristic: ignore the Bleacher Report.
Scott Shafer on his resignation/dismissal:
The two coaches had differing philosophies from the start as Shafer believed in a base 4-3 defense and Michigan began the season with that before morphing into Rodriguez's traditional 3-3-5 format late in the season.
"That’s kind of the reason the decision was made," Shafer said about their differences. "It's one of those deals throughout the whole deal (we debated.) We came up with that decision that it was time to go our own ways. It just didn't fit as simple as that is. I wish Michigan all the success in the future."
On the surface this seems like an indication Rodriguez desires the 3-3-5 to be Michigan's base set, but there's a possibility he wasn't speaking directly to that particular formation. If we had a transcript of the interview we would know; we do not.
One thing is clear. We did this:
That, as mentioned previously, is Tony Franklin's sad fugee face after his midseason canning. Franklin was brought in as Auburn's offensive coordinator to run a system none of his assistants ran—though surely they must have been more familiar with the 4-3 than Auburn assistants were with Franklin's Air-Raid-based spread—failed to get buy-in, suffered through an abysmal season, and were shuffled off after a brief period of time. That was a failure of management on Tommy Tuberville's part and it's a failure on Rich Rodriguez's part. Rodriguez will get an opportunity to try again; Tuberville was not so lucky.
Yesterday the internet rumor mill (and the above-linked article) were suggesting linebackers coach and former Southern Miss DC Jay Hopson would be promoted internally. My inbox also contains some Hopson chatter, though nothing definitive. That rumor has recently been downgraded from "near certainty"; it remains a strong possibility.
Picking Hopson makes some degree of sense. He was a grad assistant at Tulane when Rodriguez was the offensive coordinator there and seems to have fit in well after his first year; at Southern Miss he started moving towards the 3-3-5 towards the end of his term, albeit irregularly. If cohesion and the 3-3-5 are the top priorities he's the best choice outside of nabbing Jeff Casteel, who probably would have left WVU already if he was going to.
Outside of those guys, it's a bunch of gentlemen who haven't run a 3-3-5, because no one really runs the 3-3-5, and how well will that work out, etc.
If it's Hopson you are—read "I am"—in luck, because last year when Hopson was rumored to be the next defensive coordinator I analyzed him, complete with the two posts SMQ (now Dr. Saturday) had made about Hopson. The general upshot:
Hopson, if hired, would be a wildcard. He has some experience, some knowledge of/affinity for the stack, some success, and some decided meh going on in the doldrum days of a coach heading for pasture. Judgment is withheld.
This is no slam dunk, unfortunately.
I also pinged Mr. Hinton via email; by the time he responded Hopson was in but as the linebackers coach and the response no longer seemed relevant. I'll post it later today. It's interesting, if not particularly encouraging.
On said wacky defense.
Some people will criticize anything Rodriguez does at this point, so watch out for this outstanding hypocrisy sure to be unleashed if it is, in fact, Hopson or Casteel: the same people who are claiming the golden age of the spread has passed and it's all downhill now will dismiss the 3-3-5 as a defense that can't work in the Big Ten and cite the complete lack of "big time programs" running it as proof it's a guaranteed failure. The thought that maybe Rodriguez's desire to be innovative and unusual extends to the defensive side of the ball and may serve him well will not cross this sort of person's mind.
As far as my opinion: eh, whatever. The 3-3-5 has been pretty good at West Virginia the last few years and obviously can work as a base defense when, you know, you don't install it the week of a game with players who don't really know what they're doing. (Again: we Franklined it this season. Or maybe Weised it?) I tend to dismiss any and all "scheme X can't work in conference Y" arguments. I am a little concerned a flip to the 3-3-5 will be another painful transition in a year we kind of need to show improvement lest the banshees come out in force, but if that's what he wants to run that's what he wants to run.
Now watch all this be moot when Rodriguez hires your standard 4-3 defensive coordinator.
That crazy quote. It's hard for this not to seem sarcastic:
"Bottom line is, I take full responsibility for the demise of the Michigan program," Shafer, 41, said by phone Tuesday afternoon. "I accept all the responsibility."
Um… all of the responsibility? Surely some of it falls on the country's 109th-ranked offense or the gentlemen who fumbled the ball so often Michigan ended up 105th in turnover margin, Mr. Shafer.
Commenters seem sure that Shafer was genuinely attempting to take as much heat as he could. Shafer did bluntly state he had been outcoached after the Illinois game; maybe he's just prone to self-immolating quotes.
Whatever it is, it must seriously suck to be him right now. Earlier this year he joked with the media that his wife was none too pleased with the constant moving; this will be another year with the U-Haul, and very probably a step down the coaching ladder. All this after two years in which he went from Western Michigan to Stanford to Michigan. He must be crushed.
Recruiting fallout. I didn't get the impression that Shafer was heavily involved with a lot of recruits, but one he had a serious relationship with was Cass Tech safety Thomas Gordon, who posted something to his Facebook account saying he would open up his recruitment. There's a Scout article up on it, too, though a premium one.
This appears to be an immediate reaction that should settle down. Tom VanHaaren confirmed with someone close to Gordon's situation that he has not decommitted and as long as Michigan continues to assure him he's wanted he should remain a member of the class.
No one else has made noises like the Shafer departure seriously affects them, though it's early yet and we may get wind of someone who is displeased. As of yet: no change.
As you can probably tell by the USSR themed title, this is Wolverine Liberation Army joint. Go time is 8PM.
In no particular order:
Jeff Casteel, West Virginia DC. Casteel passed up the opportunity to follow Rodriguez to Ann Arbor last fall, but maybe a year of life under Bill Stewart—and the job security that goes along with that—might have changed his mind.
Many will be skeptical of the 3-3-5, but West Virginia finished 8th and 9th in scoring defense the past two years, though yardage was considerably worse (35th) this year. I also note that the recruiting class has an ton of safety/OLB types (Jones, Hawthorne, Gordon, Emilien, Bell, maybe the other Gordon) that are 4-5 spots on the field in the 3-3-5.
Corwin Brown, Notre Dame DC. Brown is a Michigan alum that Charlie Weis chose to be his defensive coordinator; before that he was an NFL DBs coach. In Brown's time at ND he's killed Chicago recruiting and racked up kind of eh results on the field. This year ND was 38th in total defense, 43rd in scoring. They were 65th in yardage in Brown's first season, but given the crater that was Notre Dame's offense it's hard to pass any judgments.
Brown's a high risk, high upside kind of guy. He'd be a dynamite recruiter if his returns from ND are any indication, but he's only been a DC for two years and hasn't exactly torn it up. More damningly, the defenses Notre Dame has run against Michigan the last two years haven't made any sense: ND sits back in a cover-two shell and lets running backs race up and down the field against them even with Ryan Mallett and Steven Threet the opposing quarterbacks. I guess it made sense this year once Notre Dame raced out to that lead. In 2007? Not so much.
Also, ND brought in TAH-NOO-TAH this offseason to be the "linebackers coach," but it seemed like co-coordinatorship at best. How in control of ND's D was he? Also also, he reportedly dissed Michigan when recruiting some kid, though he later denied he said such a thing.
Also also also: he has a giant umwellyouknow.
John Chavis, former Tennessee DC. Currently unemployed, Chavis was Tennessee's defensive coordinator since 1995. A pissed off Johnny Majors took a shot at Fulmer by praising Chavis:
“Frankly, I think (defensive coordinator) John Chavis has saved his job for 10 years.”
So there's that. In the twilight of the Fulmer era Tennessee was wildly variable on D: 4th in yardage last year, 70th in 2007, 50th in 2006.
Chavis is old and kind of looks like Gittleson so probably won't be a bang-up recruiter but the guy knows his way around a defense.
Paul Rhoads, former Auburn DC. For fans of irony this is choice A1, as Rhoads was Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator in 2007 when the Panthers held a mostly Pat-White-less West Virginia team to nine points and precipitated the string of events that ended with Rodriguez taking the Michigan job.
Auburn's defense was 27th in yardage and 15th in scoring this year despite taking the field opposite and offense that was the functional equivalent of Michigan's. That chaos butterfly of a Pitt defense was fifth in yardage and (somehow) 42nd in scoring. Wikipedia on Rhoads' Panther career:
In 2000, Rhoads was hired as the defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Panthers by Walt Harris. In his first season, Rhoads was credited with improving the team's defense to their best performance since 1980. In 2001, his defensive unit ranked among the nation's top 30 in five different categories at season's end. Additionally, Pitt finished with 38 quarterback sacks. In 2002, the Panthers defense ranked among the nation's top 25 in an impressive seven different categories. In 2004, Pitt ranked ninth nationally with 17 interceptions and Rhoads was kept on staff by new head coach Dave Wannstedt. That decision proved wise as by then end of the 2005 season, Pitt was ranked second nationally in pass defense (yielding just 152.82 yards per game) and sixth in pass efficiency defense with a 99.36 rating. In 2006, Sporting News named Rhoads the Big East's best defensive coordinator. In 2007, Rhoads' defense was among the nation's leaders in various categories, finishing fifth nationally in total defense (allowing just 297.7 yards per games) and third nationally in pass defense (allowing just 167.3 yards per game). While the team finished 5–7, they ended on a high note by holding then-#2 ranked rival West Virginia to a season-low nine points in a 13-9 victory in the Backyard Brawl, limiting the Mountaineers high-powered offense to 183 yards (292 yards below their average).
Even setting aside the irony, Rhoads appears to be a good choice. He has eight years of DC experience, most of which is impressive. He's a guy Rodriguez has gone up against a half-dozen times, so there's some familiarity between the two coaches. He's young enough (41) to be an energetic, motivated recruiter. A guy like Tommy Tuberville surveyed the nation after losing Will Muschamp and picked him out, and Tuberville can find himself some defensive coordinators.
Hell… what about Tommy Tuberville, former Auburn head coach? Tuberville may want to sit on the sidelines for a while or whatever, but the parade of defensive coordinators that worked their way through Auburn never seemed to have much impact on the fortunes of the D. Tuberville was a DC for one year at Texas A&M before getting the Ole Miss job.
Eh, this one's pretty far-fetched.
Vance Bedford, Florida DBs coach. You know Vance from his two stints as Michigan's DB coach; those sandwiched an up-and-down career as Oklahoma State's defensive coordinator. This year he's vastly improved a previously porous Florida secondary.
But… no. Bedford's last stint as a DC ended in ignominy and controversy after he called Okie State fans "roaches" and then wouldn't back away from it. We all know how that sort of comment would play in this media environment. Also he wasn't a good DC; as long as Rhoads and Chavis are out there there's no reason to go back to a guy who didn't do well in a coordinator role before.
The Orgeron. Come on. You know you want him.
Chris Spielman. I'm kidding. Okay, I'm half-kidding.
So, who do I like?
Of the listed: Rhoads. He's got a good track record and could revive Michigan's Pittsburgh-area recruiting. After that, probably Corwin Brown, actually, for recruiting/piss off ND/Michigan alum issues.
That postseason chat promised is happening at 8PM tonight; the WLA has organized and various eminences from the Michigan blogosphere will participate. Be there or be square. It'll be running both here and the WLA.