The D-League as petri dish for weird basketball concepts.
"Stay tuned. There's a couple guys I'm gonna sit with here. Just guys that maybe if they're not doing all their responsibilities and doing what they need to do to be part of our football program may not be back. I hope that's not too many."
…is the same as Nick Saban's flood of suspicious medical redshirts and unexplained transfers. There's no amount of careful monosyllabic explanation that will get the point across to them so I'll dispense with the humorous talking-to-cavemen schtick and just talk:
Michigan signed a recruiting class of 22 despite having 25 openings. When Rodriguez talks about people on the team who are not meeting expectations he's referencing Kevin Grady, for whom "not meeting expectations" is a kind descriptor, and maybe a couple other people who 1) remain on the team and 2) are, according to the insider rumblings, skating the edge of grade issues. No one has left the team except Wermers, who did so of his own volition.
Michigan benefits in no way from Wermers' post-signing-day departure. In the unlikely event there are a ton of injuries on the line, Michigan will be forced to reach down to a walk-on instead of Wermers. And over the course of the next year there's some chance Wermers would have played his way up the depth chart. No one else has left the program. Any speculation as to why these people who haven't left the program would leave the program and whether it's voluntary or not is… wait, why are we talking about this again?
What we've got here is a quote. Not, you know, actions. And this quote can reasonably be interpreted to mean "there are people on the team who need to get their act together in court/academically" instead of "I am kicking losers out." This criticism is based on a willfully unflattering reading of a statement.
Meanwhile, Alabama signed a recruiting class of thousands (32, if we're being specific, with 25 being the maximum that could enroll) despite having far fewer than 25 openings and then rammed down its roster by chucking every disappointing reserve with a stubbed toe on medical scholarship, getting lucky with some armed robbery, and probably just plain cutting one kid. When Saban signed that huge class he knew with certainty that he would have to remove 10-15 players from scholarship. This was unprecedented and sketchy, and I wasn't the only person to think so. Dr. Saturday, then in his SMQB days, on the subject*:
So, with this year's incoming class, up to eleven players who have signed letters of intent to play football for Alabama will have that commitment at least temporarily deep-sixed, even if all 96-98 candidates meet their obligations. The incoming oversign is seven; if half of that number flunks out, or pulls a gun on somebody, or gets caught with a 15-year-old or something - say, four guys out of 32 - the Tide is still seven scholarships over the 85-man limit. Either existing commitments to returning players are cut, or the eligibility of a full third of the `08 class meets some untimely demise before August. The first option - breaking a commitment to an athlete who has met his requirements - is sketchy. The second option - collecting commitments from as many players as possible with the knowledge that a significant number of them have to fail before they even get to campus - is sketchy. Oversigning to this extent is not okay.
DocSat notes in an addendum that no coach in the country other than Tommy Bowden put himself in a position where his class necessitated cuts after the NCAA-mandated drop to 25; Bowden heartlessly cut cause célèbre Ray Ray McElrathbey and is now unemployed. (These are unrelated; it's just that it's pointless to criticize an unemployed coach.)
'Bama's cram-down was so efficient that it saw the Tide get down to like 83 scholarships, which has been taken by Tide coachbots to mean that there was never a problem in the first place. What it actually means is that Saban's cuts were gone through with even after the bonus armed robbery and cocaine so fast you'll freak scholarships opened up.
So these situations are analogous only if your typical dinner is lead paint chips. I think my favorite part of the complaint is this quote lifted from here and intended to be incriminating…
Alabama has every incentive to dump guys. They flat out have to. If a kid is struggling with his academic eligibility how motivated will Alabama be to help him? If a player commits a petty offense how eager will Alabama be to boot him? If Nick Saban knows that by August he has to say goodbye to six kids and it’s July and he’s only got four down, then what?
I’ll tell you what: someone gets it right in the ass.
…that explains the difference. Way to make your point there, guys. Rodriguez is sitting down with these kids in an attempt to get them on the right track towards staying in the program. He does not want them to leave; he would derive no benefit from it. Saban put himself in a situation where he was not motivated but compelled to weed out a half-dozen or more.
Though I'll admit the rhetoric here got overheated last summer, the point remains valid. Their point… is… uh… eh… Rodriguez said something their tiny lizard brains interpreted as Sabanesque.
I hereby resolve to converse solely with multicellular organisms. Play these gentlemen off, keyboard cat.
*(I certainly hope this is a temporary thing, but this post appears to be down. Here's a google cache link. SBNation wouldn't blast the SMQB archives out of existence in a fit of pique, would they?)
Update 5/12: Linked to video of FL QB Jeffery Godfrey, FL CB Tony Grimes, OH OL Christian Pace, OH S Latwan Anderson, articles on FL WR OJ Ross, FL CB TC Robinson, FL OL Torrian Wilson, MI DE Will Gholston, DC LB Javarie Johnson.
Removed LA S Ronnie Vinson (dropped M).
Here's another top 150, this from Athlete Vault. It has Jeremy Jackson(!). SoFlaFootball offers a Pahokee overview. Praise for Rod Smith. Speculation on MN OL Seantrel Henderson. Some links from Varsity Blue. OMG Lemming!
Editorial Opinion: Recruiting board lives here.
LA S Ronnie Vinson is down to a top five that doesn't include M and has gotten the axe; he was a longshot in any case.
Some defensive tackles—hurrah—a corner, a fullback vaguely committed to Washington, and—ack—a wide receiver? Sort of. Though Swigert is currently listed as a wideout, Michigan is recruiting him as a safety and he'll get moved over soon. I don't know much about any of the new guys, but here's a little on Swigert:
"I was pumped up when it [the M offer] came," Swigert said. "It surprised me. Hopefully it will lead to some more big offers."
Swigert has over a dozen offers including Colorado, Cincinnati, Pitt, Indiana and a host of MAC schools. He has no plans to select a college anytime soon.
There's also video at Scouting Ohio.
FL WR OJ Ross is claiming a Michigan offer and has M in his top three:
"Florida's interested in me," proclaimed Ross, "but they haven't offered. I have offers from Texas Tech, Arkansas and Ole Miss this spring. My top three are Arkansas, Michigan and FIU. I like Arkansas, Michigan and Florida International. I've talked to the coach from Arkansas before, he's real cool. I like coach (Rod) Smith at Michigan. FIU is the local school. Close to home and a chance to play. If Florida offers I'm very interested in them."
Ross has since picked up a Texas Tech offer and booted FIU; he plans on camping at Florida and Georgia, too. I don't think this one is going anywhere and an offer from a big school in the south will knock M out of contention.
Various Floridians Rumored To Be Ticketed Elsewhere
None of these rise to the level of a "happy trails" reference, with or without a board removal, but the whispers on several prospects have them leaning towards schools that are Not Michigan:
- GridironStuds says FL CB Tony Grimes, who recently picked up a wide array of offers, is looking to decide soon, probably for Miami.
- MGoBlog's own Tom VanHaaren reports that the vibe on FL CB Lo Wood points to Notre Dame. A decision is likely soon; without another visit from Wood it doesn't look likely to go M's way. The sudden flip from M to ND is annoying—mutter mutter Corwin Brown—but Michigan remains in strong position for Cullen Christian, Dior Mathis, and Rashad Knight and shouldn't suffer too much if Wood makes a 40-year mistake.
- FL DT Richard Ash is rumored to be leaning to Florida according to SoFlaFootball.
That SoFlaFootball article also mentions a couple other Pahokee prospects with Michigan offers:
Merrill Noel 2010 CB 5′8″ 160: While Noel is being recruited as a cornerback, look for him to be used a lot inside the box this fall for Pahokee. Noel has great speed and is a physical defender. Noel has a host of offers, the latest being Michigan, but the school to keep a close eye on is Wake Forest.
Zach Allen 2010 LB/DE/TE 6′2″ 180: Allen lines up as a defensive end during the 11-on-11 portion of the practice, where he was fairly active. Allen is lean right now, but in the future should be able to add the weight needed to play at a high level. The Alphonso Smith affect seems to be flowing through Pahokee, as Wake Forest is a school to watch for Allen.
Things You Might Already Know
Let's reiterate the bold print on a couple TomVH prospect interviews from the last week. PA LB/DE Ken Wilkins has Michigan on top of his list and is looking to decide soon:
TOM: Where does Michigan factor into all this, are they near the top, or at the top?
KEN: If I had to name a leader I would say it is Michigan. Once I go up there, if I like it I’ll pull the trigger and commit. I’m talking to my uncle about it, and I think I’ll be up there in about two weeks. I think I fit what they’re trying to do right now, and the coaches that I do know are all great. Everything about Michigan is great, and I could definitely see myself there.
And the pendulum that is CA RB Brennan Clay is swinging back towards Michigan:
TOM: What’s all this I’ve been hearing about you and Michigan?
BRENNAN: There’s been a lot lately. I really like them a lot right now.
Clay also had nice things to say about QB coach Rod Smith in an ESPN piece:
"I would say that coach Smith is one of the best recruiters in the country," running back Brennan Clay (San Diego/Scripps Ranch) said. "I look at him more as a mentor and a friend. He's one of the most down-to-earth people I've ever met. He doesn't just recruit you because of your talent, but because of what you are made of, what's in your heart as a true person."
Lead for Large Men
Michigan is maintaining its lead for FL OL Torrian Wilson:
"They're still No. 1," Wilson said. "It's a football city and everyone in the city loves Michigan and comes out to support Big Blue."
Wilson recently released a top five that didn't even have Miami, the presumed leader until Michigan stepped in, on it, and did have Stanford, which indicates how serious Wilson is about academics and, like, places that are far away. When Wilson visited I mentioned that post-visit leads often fade and that hopes should remain holstered for a couple weeks; now it's a couple weeks later and Wilson's still saying the right things. Unholster thine hopes here.
That article also has a quote on MN OL Seantrel Henderson, the #1 recruit in the country…
It was a late March visit to Michigan, though, that Henderson said he, “loved… more than any other college I've been to so far.”
…but that's recycled from Henderson's earlier trip and shouldn't be added to the moderately-sized pile of positive information we have on him. FWIW, BuckeyePlanet silverback unionfutura says point-blank that Michigan leads for Henderson, though he's right when he says that's like leading the first lap of a marathon.
DC LB Javarie Johnson appears to have a top four of Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland, and Miami. (The latter has yet to offer). So we know he loves the letter M. Thanks to this Webb article in the News, we also know Johnson has a background similar to that of PA DT Sharrif Floyd—tough. Johnson's coach:
"He lives in a tough neighborhood. Like a lot of kids, he is the first one in his family to go to college. He is going to move out of a neighborhood where most of the kids in the area have babies, do drugs, and drop out of school. He loves football so much that he's going to do everything that he needs to do to play."
Johnson visited Michigan earlier and reports back thusly:
"(The visit) went great," Johnson said, referring to his time in Ann Arbor. "Everything went great with the coaches and everybody. I met Coach Rodriguez and Coach Dews (receivers coach Tony Dews). They're good people. They offered me right before I left. The thing that stood out there was definitely the stadium. That's bigger than NFL stadiums."
If you want to read between the lines—and we do!—Johnson's quotes on Michigan State contain the word "good," not great, and there was that Dunbar assistant who mistook enthusiasm for a commitment. I have the vague impression Michigan is in pretty good shape here, but Johnson plans a June visit to Miami. That's is a long way to go without an offer, and indicates serious interest on his part. He plans on deciding over the summer, so that trip—or the lack of one—looks likely to be the determining factor.
Sidenote: odd that Illinois isn't a factor here, given their DC dominance of late.
OMG LEMMING OMG LEMMING
This blog's longstanding opinion on Tom Lemming is that he was just one guy—which made his rankings considerably flakier than lists compiled by many educated opinions—with had a huge slant towards prospects he liked for their geography, personality, or desire to go to Notre Dame. As such, it's usually ignored his rankings. No more, though! WOO LEMMING:
"It's a very good year [for the state of Michigan]. I'll probably have two players from Michigan in my top 10. (Quarterback) Devin Gardner (Inkster) is the real thing. He has an NFL body. William Gholston (Detroit Southeastern) has long arms, quick feet and a good burst. It's a good year for defensive ends and he's right there with the best of them."
Yes, the implication is top ten nationally.
But seriously folks: though I'd much rather the situation was reversed and Gardner was top ten on Rivals and (relatively) dissed by Lemming, I'll take any exuberant praise for a commit.
Elsewhere in prospect rankings of indeterminate value, Athlete Vault put out a top 150 a couple months ago I just ran across. Relevant persons (ie: players M is heavily involved with; there are a ton of targets on the list):
2. Seantrel Henderson
43. Will Gholston
50. Marvin Robinson
58. Ricardo Miller
78. Devin Gardner
104. Jeremy Jackson(!)
113. Dior Mathis
118. Torrian Wilson
FWIW. Jackson so high actually reduces my faith in the list given how negative the other sites are.
Etc.: Video of FL QB Jeffery Godfrey, who once claimed M as leader but now seems more likely to stay in-state; MI RB Austin White picks up an LSU offer; Rivals AMP on OH S Latwan Anderson, but no news; AMP on OH OL Christian Pace, who claims no favorites; fluff on Gholston.
Brennan Clay is one of the top running back prospects in the country, and happens to be the former teammate of the Wolverines' new quarterback. Clay had expressed his interest in staying out West, but that opinion has recently changed. Not only is Brennan a great football player, he's got his head on straight for his future if football doesn't work out. Take a look at the conversation we recently had.
TOM: What’s all this I’ve been hearing about you and Michigan?
BRENNAN: There’s been a lot lately. I really like them a lot right now.
TOM: Since when? I know you've always liked them, but I thought you wanted to stay out west?
BRENNAN: Yeah, I thought about it, and I don’t mind to be honest. We'll see. I’m not making any decisions until I visit at least four schools.
TOM: Is it just what Tate has been saying, or what changed your mind?
BRENNAN: Somewhat, and that I've been looking at connections for the future. I'm looking at schools that will better my future, once I graduate.
TOM: So what research did you do, or what did you see that you think Michigan could help with in your future?
BRENNAN: As of right now, I'm really considering in majoring in business, and having a minor in communications. So with Michigan, their business school is pretty darn good. I think they’re top 5 across the board.
TOM: So when kids say that academics is the most important, you really mean it?
BRENNAN: I mean what I say. Growing up, that's what was embedded in my mind, education first. That's what has gotten me this far. I think I'll stay with the plan to continue being successful
TOM: What has Tate said to you so far?
BRENNAN: Well Tate and I obviously enjoyed playing alongside each other during our high school careers. It was a great duo. We knew everything about each other. It was almost like we knew exactly what we wanted to do on the field.
TOM: So having that comfort would be a factor for you, or could be?
BRENNAN: Yea, that is something I'll miss this year, and I have the option of reuniting with him, which could be pretty insane.
TOM: Has Tate said anything about Michigan though, that has made you think twice, or that you thought was pretty special?
BRENNAN: I've been researching UM, and the biggest thing that sticks out to me about that program is the 3 senior RB's leaving this year. That's huge in my eyes, because I feel confident enough that I could possibly make a great contribution to that program as a true freshman.
TOM: Especially with already having timing down with the QB.
BRENNAN: Yes sir, but to be honest, I'm just taking it day by day and enjoying this process.
TOM: So how else has your list changed? Who else is on it?
BRENNAN: I'm considering all schools that are recruiting me. As of right now my offer list has grown. Some big ones would be Oklahoma, Georgia, both Washington schools, both Oregon schools, Arizona State, BYU, Michigan, and some others.
The offer howitzer redux. A few weeks ago FL CB Travis Williams got offered, visited, committed, and was told "hey let's talk later, okay." This caused some consternation here about whether this was, you know, cool. Conclusion: eh… it makes me feel blucky and isn't that different from Matta flat yanking a scholarship from an already-committed kid.
“In a sense, many Michigan ‘offers’ are not really firm offers but more or less strong indications of interest by Michigan. Take that for what you will, but it is how many schools are now approaching recruiting. Look at the DB who wanted to verbal to U-M last week [Travis Williams] but was told to wait.” Florida, a school that uses a similar technique in throwing around a lot of offers, had a similar situation, and they had to tell a defensive back outright that the offer he had been given was not “committable.” It appears as though the main point of contention here, then, is what an offer really means.
Shouldn’t an offer, by definition, be “committable?” Isn’t that, after all, what an offer is?
(Tim's right about Florida: a couple years ago I started getting irritated at their recruiting because they had their own offer cannon. This turned a Florida offer from a indicator of talent to an indicator of limbs. It has not hurt Florida's recruiting.)
Yes, as commonly understood an "offer" is something you can "commit" against. An offer that is not committable is more like the suggestion you'll be offered in the future if 1) your grades are good, 2) commits X and Z go elsewhere, and 3) you don't run from cops. Or get caught by them. "Are chased by" cops. You get the idea. No making cops run.
So this may be semantics. Where Ohio State—notoriously stingy, at least in football—says "you do not have an offer, come to camp" Michigan and Florida and probably a bunch of offers say "you have a conditional offer. The conditions are come to camp and be better than anyone else we have a shot to get at any particular point in time"
The problem comes when either the recruit doesn't hear "conditional" or the condition is in a tiny elven font next to the big bold OFFER. Then you get guys who sign up and then must be gently dissuaded. I'm still not a fan because the whole thing seems like it goes beyond salesmanship into the realm of misunderstandings upon which romantic comedies and bad sitcoms are based. All this is discussed further in the post, which comes highly recommended.
One further tangent from me: Rich Rodriguez's itchy offer finger has suddenly burst into prominence after a full recruiting cycle in which it wasn't nearly as apparent. The obvious conclusion to leap to is that it's hard to recruit after going 3-9 and Rodriguez is making do as best he can in an effort to prevent the recruiting dropoff that usually happens a year after you faceplant. Hopefully, this is a one-year phenomenon, then.
Reshape the hammer, then drop it. It seemed like nothing was ever going to happen in ongoing Reggie Bush investigation. Then it got combined with the OJ Mayo investigation and Robert Guillory is telling the feds about direct cash payments from Tim Floyd and people actually think there's a hammer that's going to fall:
The attorney for Louis Johnson, main source for the latest charges against Mayo, said Wednesday he thinks the NCAA "wants to do something before football season," and that "something" will include sanctions. Meanwhile, Charles Robinson, one of the two Yahoo! reporters (with Jason Cole) driving the vast majority of actual reporting in both cases from the beginning, said in an interview with the Orange County Register Tuesday that the NCAA has been extremely active -- and meticulously silent -- in gathering information, and guesses the hammer may fall before the end of the year.
…and I kind of do, too. So let' make a proactive complaint about the penalties: they're not stiff enough, and they're definitely not long-term enough. Given the widespread allegations, smoking gun photos of agents on the sideline, and federal involvement there has to be enough evidence for a lack of institutional control allegation. If that comes down, what's the penalty? Some probation? A year, even two of postseason bans? A couple scholarships gone for a few years? What's the long term here?
The NCAA should ratchet up its scholarship sanctions so they represent a long-term impact on the program. If USC gets hammered for all this, they should still be digging out in ten years. That's how long the scholarship sanctions should go: heavy at first and gradually dwindling. Viciously funny idea that wont happen: both programs lose a scholarship permanently and have to list Mayo and Bush on the roster in perpetuity.
More kickering. Add another walk-on to the fall kicker derby:
Pike High School senior kicker/punter Kristopher Pauloski has committed to Michigan as a preferred walk-on for next season, Pike coach Derek Moyers said.
Pauloski was named to The Indianapolis Star Super Team last fall as a punter with a 37.9-yard average. He also had 31 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Though the article focuses on his punting, Pauloski is being looked at primarily as a kicker. Stats from a message board post that appears to be from his coach:
Kristopher Pauloski 6-3, 185 Sr Pike HS
FGs: 5/7 long of 39
KOs: 31/46 for Touchbacks (63 yard KO avg.)
I didn't count the times we had him squib kick or onside kicks.
He is being recruited by MAC schools as well as Northwestern.
This concludes available information.
2X. Congratulations to the club lacrosse team, which stormed back from an 8-3 deficit to claim its second consecutive national title:
Softball won its regional and should host a super-regional this weekend; sorry to anyone who took my weather predictions seriously and ended up swimming home on Friday night; I blame Accuweather.
Blue people are like this, green people are like this. So Black Shoe Diaries posted this video. It's the MSU-UNC national championship game; State is in the process of getting its face crushed and a North Carolina fan asks a State fan in front of her to sit to he can see. She starts off crazy but really gets in a groove around 1:40:
Good lord. She's never been to Michigan Stadium. I can tell because she is not dead or in jail, which—given the fondness of blue-haired Michigan fans for "down in front"—she definitely would be if she'd been to Ann Arbor.
As Kurt Wermers' uncle posted on premium message boards a few days ago, the redshirt freshman guard Wermers isn't returning. (I was trying to get a second source before loosing it into the wild; in retrospect that was probably excessive caution borne of the whole he-is-he-isn't-he-is McGuffie thing. I knew the poster was Wermers' uncle from his posts during Kurt's recruiting, and he posted that the decision had already been made.)
Wermers was a middling recruit who hadn't generated any practice buzz yet. He wasn't going to be in the two-deep this year, so the impact on 2009 should be nil. Down the road it'll depend on how many others end up leaving early; some level of attrition is fine but we saw the fruits of widespread losses last year.
I wonder who this is directed at: "Stay tuned. There's a couple guys I'm gonna sit with here. Just guys that maybe if they're not doing all their responsibilities and doing what they need to do to be part of our football program may not be back. I hope that's not too many."
Um… a couple? Obviously Grady is hanging by a frayed thread and will have to plead for his place, but I'm hoping "a couple" is just PR.
Expectation, variance, and Lloyd Carr's fanatical devotion to grinding death football against lower-level opponents have been frequent topics of conversation on this blog since its inception. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell's latest piece, you can now find conversations about these concepts anywhere you look, most of them criticizing Gladwell for misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and misanthropy, or at least failing to recognize misanthropy.
The piece is about underdog strategy and cites the full-court press as an underutilized strategy that, like going for it on fourth down, is underutilized because of mass idiocy amongst coaches. Of course, there are plenty of reasons an underdog team might decide against pressing:
- Pressing is energy-intensive and could tire out your moderately useful players to the point where you have to bring in the complete gits you stash on the bench.
- Pressing brings more fouls and could force the moderately useful players to the bench, at which point out come the gits.
- A competent press requires practice time that could otherwise be spent teaching the gits to catch balls with something other than their faces.
And so on and so forth. Gladwell ignores all these drawbacks in favor of the hypothesis that everyone who's ever coached basketball as an underdog and hasn't pressed is an idiot. This is not the Romer paper, which restricted itself to the first quarter to simplify its argument and marshaled indisputable mathematics to make its point. Romer built a case; Gladwell offers up a couple anecdotes, one about some 12-year-old girls coached by an asshat, and spins it into a castle of cotton candy—airy, impressive, and ready to fall over if someone looks at it sideways.
More importantly though, Gladwell is actually right in a sense: the press (in basketball at least), is a pretty decent example of an underdog strategy. He fails to recognize that what makes it as a good underdog strategy is also what likely makes it inappropriate for Goliaths -- it is a high risk, high reward, high variance strategy. One reason it works for underdogs may have little to do with how good it is on absolute terms; the fact that there is increased variance by itself has value for underdogs because it might give the underdog a chance of actually winning. On the flipside, however, while a full-time press strategy might increase a Goliath's chance of blowing out an underdog, it also might result in them losing a game they shouldn't.
From my distant perch it appears Lloyd Carr hated variance almost as much as press conferences. 10-7 against Utah. All those grinding games against supposedly inferior foes that ended up too close for comfort. Fourth and short punts or field goals, or fake field goals that are punts that everyone sees coming. This makes perfect sense given Michigan's background and the philosophical environment Carr was brought up in.
That environment? Well, I just edited an article Dan Feldman wrote for Hail To The Victors 2009 that cited one of the more famous passages in John Bacon's Bo's Lasting Lessons, so it is fresh in my mind. In the aftermath of Michigan's 6-6 1984 season, Bo checks out a coaching clinic where a whiz-bang kid is detailing a sophisticated system and, in a moment of weakness, thinks maybe he's got to change:
“Now I have to admit—since I’m being as honest as I can be here—there was a time when I doubted if fundamentals were still enough to produce top-notch football teams,” Schembechler says in the book. “I even wondered if the game had passed me by.
“I’m thinking, Maybe you’ve got to do all those things to win these days. Maybe our approach at Michigan is just too simple to succeed in the modern era. Boy, that was an awful feeling. But after this guy finishes his slide show, someone in the audience raises his hand and asks, “If your defensive schemes are so great, then why did you team give up 400 yards a game last season?”
That question caught Schembechler’s attention. The high school coach’s answer? “We were just a poor tackling team.” That made everything very easy for Schembechler. “I walked out of that auditorium, and I knew what we were going to do: Get back to the basics! Get back to Michigan football! And I was determined that we were going to do it better than anyone else.”
This may have been brilliant in 1985, and brilliant against the poor, huddled masses that comprised Michigan's opponents at the time, but it's fundamentally a variance-hating strategy that presumes better talent. In it are the seeds of Michigan's time-honored failure against Rose Bowl foes, and its recent struggles to put away inferior competition.
When you choose to reduce variance you are usually giving up expectation, especially in football. See the Romer paper. Coaches choose to punt or kick field goals because they're "less risky"—i.e., have low variance—despite the numbers clearly showing they are also "stupid"—i.e., have low expectation.
But there's a catch. In football, actions that have low variance on the micro level can aggregate into a whole that has high variance. Take Michigan's oft-stated priority to control the clock and "keep the other team's offense off the field." You do this by engaging in a lot of long drives consisting of inside runs and short passes. When you run for three yards on two of three plays, your variance is very low. When you pass, three things can happen and two of them are bad: your variance is high.
HOWEVA, running a lot of clock and having long grinding drives reduces the number of possessions in a game, which jacks the variance up. Smart Football again:
Going extreme hurry-up to get as many plays as possible -- other than endurance, I suppose -- is a Goliath strategy: it decreases variance by increasing the number of trials. The chance of getting only heads and no tails in five coin flips is much higher than it is in a hundred -- i.e. the impact of the law of large numbers or regression to the mean. If Oklahoma has significantly more talent, better schemes, and everything else than the underdog, then the more plays it run the more likely it is to exhibit its raw dominance over the underdog; the underdog is less likely to "steal" a few good plays and get the heck out of dodge.
Every second that ticks off the clock between plays is aid and comfort to the underdog. This is where the Gladwell article truly breaks down. Pressing is a dumb strategy for underdogs because it—though high variance in the micro—is not necessarily high variance in the macro. Pressing can increase the number of possessions and thereby give the dominant team more of an opportunity to show that dominance via thunderous open-court dunks. Yes, this makes Gladwell referencing Rick Pitino's loaded, national-title-winning Kentucky team as an exemplar of an underdog wisely using a press ironic in the extreme.
When Bo was coaching the relative skill level of most opponents and the nature of the game at that point—low-sophistication passing, low-scoring—made his strategy a good one. Leading 12-6 in the fourth is an entirely different level of comfort than leading 30-24. Back in the day a turnover that sets up an easy opponent score was way more dangerous than punting one too many times. Bo's tactics were sound for his day, and for certain later days. In 1997 Michigan had a world-crushing defense that turned the tactical clock back to 1972, and Bo's philosophy worked just fine.
In other instances, it did not. Michigan fans were intimately familiar with Carr's late game strategy, which strove for low variance above all when Michigan was ahead: run, run, probably run, punt, play D. This, from an article by Vijay of IBFC in the 2007 edition of HTTV, is how well that worked:
Michigan entered 18 games over that period of time [2000-2005] with a lead smaller than ten points and went 8-10 in those games. They were under .500 when entering the fourth with a small lead! When tied or facing a similarly small deficit, Michigan was 6-1. In all games in which Michigan trailed by any margin they were 8-8. Michigan had a better chance of winning if trailing by any margin entering the fourth than they did if leading slightly.
The way Michigan approached its Goliath strategy was fundamentally broken as the Carr era waned. In the new era of modern football the Goliath strategy is clear: score, score again, score again, and score some more.
Uh… I guess. A couple other points:
- Longtime readers will find this familiar. Last year I wrote something along the same lines except with more references to Coach and this chestnut:
Lloyd Carr thought deception and trickery had their place in football, and that place was Northwestern.
The piece holds up pretty well, so if you're confused as to what I'm getting at or want more context I recommend it.
Though Dantonio and Bielema have the most boring offenses in the Big Ten, they'll be fascinating tactically over the next few years. Their clock-killing, suddenly-unusual offenses are excellent underdog systems now, but are terrible ideas for favorites who are unlikely to have killer defenses. I foresee perpetually decent but unthreatening teams for both unless Bielema is just as bad a coach as last year suggests.
Woo for 1600 words at 4PM Friday!