Bryan Fuller / MGoBlog
Tropes about white basketball players – specifically smaller white players – are an inextricable part of basketball discourse, particularly at the college level. Take Aaron Craft, a very good (but inherently limited) player in his own right, who was incessantly inflated by platitudes about toughness, grittiness, the will to win, and all of those tired concepts that fail to explain the eminently explainable.* There’s something about that tiny white guy with immaculate hair, one who was the hometown hero of Everytown U.S.A., the Prom King of Everytown High, that kid who you look at and feel compelled to suggest a better hobby – chess maybe? – but that kid can ball, he really can, even though you know there’s no way in hell he’s going to make it to the NBA because look at him.
*For example, Aaron Craft was a great defender because of his amazing technique and lateral quickness. He was a very good player because of that tenacious defense. He wasn’t capable of somehow lugging the Ohio State offense to solid efficiency mark as a senior because of his leadership abilities once he was thrust into a feature role with players who weren’t as good as the ones he’d played with before. In the end, Craft’s offensive skill-set was lacking and no amount of “intangibles” would fix that.
Spike Albrecht fits that trope so well. His story is well-chronicled: he went to prep school in hopes of netting an elusive D-I scholarship offer, eventually managed to find one because of an amazing confluence of opportunity and luck, and played well on the big stage. He’s little – particularly relative to other basketball players – plays point guard, and if you’d like to play the “white basketball” word association game, you’ll find plenty of appropriate adjectives: scrappy (sure), heady (fine), feisty (yeah), dependable (why not). Spike Albrecht is just a blue-collar guy who heads to the court 9-to-5 every week, Monday-through-Friday, hard hat on his head and lunchpail in hand because he’s a company man and no sir, he doesn’t need the double overtime, he’s just here for the love of the game. He’s even from Indiana, if you want to throw Hoosiers in there, go right ahead. His given name – Michael – wasn’t enough, he’s “Spike” because, evidently, he wouldn’t ever take off his baseball spikes as a kid.
You have to talk about that magical first half in Atlanta when you talk about Spike. He assured that, with every time he appeared in a game, for the rest of his life, someone would mention the one half he lived a basketball fever dream and became somewhat of a legend. It’s almost comical. Trey Burke, the consensus National Player of the Year, has to exit the game with early foul trouble and his backup – the guy that the announcers barely research for their pregame notes – checks in, just to hold steady and “Oh God, just please keep the game close until Trey gets back, Spike, please.” Louisville runs a vicious trapping press defense and Michigan’s backup point guard is a true freshman that looks like he was plucked right out of the makeshift student section behind the Michigan basket.
That’s it right there. That’s every suburban kid in every flyover state who rubs his hands together to keep them warm, who navigates the patches of ice in the driveway, who dribbles that ball outside, by himself, as he counts 5, 4, 3, 2… and throws the ball at the hoop as he yells 1. Spike was the unheralded recruit who managed to find his way to a major program, managed to find his way onto the floor at the freakin’ Georgia Dome, and just decided to go for it* instead of simply “managing” the game.
*The behind-the-back pull-up three in Russ Smith’s face (Russ Smith was probably the best defender in college hoops that year) was Spike’s ultimate I’m-playing-out-of-my-mind-let’s-test-if-this-is-a-dream-lol-yep-it-is moment in that entire sequence.
The story ended and the plucky underdog who came out of nowhere to play the game of his life eventually lost the Big Game. He didn’t even get the girl afterwards either (she’s dating another athlete now).
Let's go right to the hot subject shall we?
(FWIW I doubt we'll get Old Butthead out of Arkansas)
Fun Times in Cleveland: If you're in a certain radius of Cleveland you're probably seeing this ad I made last week linking to a January 12 MGoEvent. That's because the Cleveland Alumni Association is having Brian, myself, John U. Bacon, and former player Thom Darden at the Winking Lizard in Bedford to talk football and hoops, then watch the college football NC game. You get zero points for pointing out one of those speakers isn't likely to be as interesting as the rest.
CC: We probably don't need to keep labeling things with the "Coaching Change" tag, since it's pretty on-topic. Then again, it's useful so I guess keep it up. Also useful: all the reader content on candidates. Eye of the Tiger keeps ranking the top 12, which is as good a starting spot as any. He also continued his CC roundups with the fringe guys, getting only as far as Bob Stitt before getting into the jokes (Schiano, Chryst, Butthead, and Lane Kiffin). ReadYourGuard (a guy who played with Harbaugh by the way) recapped the firing process from Concussionaganza to today.
|But what if Mullen is actually just like his old boss except fiercely ethical, and we get another 10-year war before Urban assaults a Clemson player? Did you think of that? [AP via NBC]|
The other guy who's been providing consistent content on coach candidates is alum96, who went through the Football Outsiders stats on Dan Mullen, comparing him to Kevin Sumlin's star last year and suggesting the MSU (NTMSU) success comes from schedules with very few comparable teams:
12.5 months ago Mullen was sporting a 4-6 record with 2 games to go in year FIVE of his regime. Those 4 wins were over baby seals Alcorn State, Troy, Bowling Green,and soon to be 2-10 Kentucky. He did beat 3-9 Arkansas and won the Egg Bowl over 8-5 Ole Miss to finish off the year 6-6 before the bowl. So his regular season included 1 win of note...in year 5. Bret Bielema has done better in year 2 of his regime at Arkansas IMO in terms of upsets.
Miss State seemed to play a lot of really awful teams (which they beat) and a lot of really good conference teams (which they almost always lost to). The gist of the concern here is it may take Mullen four years to build a winner, by which time Michigan will have found enough reasons to run him out of town like we did the last two dudes.
I don't think it will take so long. Brady Hoke has left a team in relatively good shape; in the years to come we'll be talking about the devastating 2015 class (which fell apart because Hoke didn't win in 2013 and 2014), quarterback, and the safety and defensive line depth charts, the latter of which is another losing-related thing. As for the offensive talent, these guys were actually kinda good at running zone by the end of the season; you can absolutely teach them to do that in a spread offense. Also offensive line starts happen to be one of the better predictors of offensive success, and Michigan returns a ton of them in 2015 and 2016.
Shane Morris would probably fare better in a spread because the decisions are way easier, his legs are good enough to be something defenses have to account for, and his arm is more than adequate to be scary downfield. Malzone's talents are best used in a passing spread.
Etc. CLord on the karmic relevance of OSU maybe missing the playoffs for JT Barrett's injury. Basketball stats so far. Best and Worst. Inside the Box Score. Coach Schiano muses about stuff while waiting for the splosions.
[Jump for, well, more CC]
PULL THE STRINGS. There was another round of echo-chamber Carrspiracy stuff on the various message boards over the past couple days. No idea why, unless Brian Griese expressing his opinion that he wouldn't go after Harbaugh is reason to envision Carr as a puppet master cackling behind the scenes. For the nth time, Carr is a civilian who only talks to the athletic department when they call him up. That is not frequently.
And then there's this, via Craig Ross by way of Sam Webb:
“I am not involved in the coaching search in any direct way,” Carr said. “However, I have been asked my opinion. My opinion was Jim Harbaugh would be my number one choice.”
We've confirmed with a few different sources that any animosities between former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr and Harbaugh have been mended, and very recently. Carr's influence at this point is unknown, but it's believed he had a hand in the hiring of Brady Hoke during the last coaching search, and there's been a history of a tenuous relationship between the two since Harbaugh's comments about Michigan football and academics when he coached at Stanford. This is mostly important in the idea that there's no doubt Harbaugh will be Michigan's top target when the job opens up, and it's looking more and more like it will be a full group effort with all the oars rowing in the same direction. That makes this likely coaching search different than the last two already.
Even that bit about "having a hand" in the last search conflicts with my information, in which Carr was asked if he thought Brady was a good dude and said yes because everyone says yes to that question.
Carr is not interested in machinations. Michigan might be better off if he was—if he was inclined to call his guys up and get them to toe the line. But that's not who he is, for better or worse. I look forward to my next item pointlessly begging the internet to stop it with the Carrmason stuff. Y'all should get a pool going. I've got two hours ago.
TIMEFRAMES. Hackett met with the players yesterday and told them they'd have a new coach within a month:
"He wasn't overly specific," one person said. "But he mentioned that in all likelihood the whole situation will be resolved before the players return from their Christmas break."
That would be the start of the new semester on January 4th, a timeline long enough to resolve the Harbaugh issue. Or it could happen any time before that.
HARBAUGH HARBAUGH HARBAUGH. Zero clarity. Sam threw some cold water on the idea($), citing a couple of sources who think it's going to be tougher than they previously thought. His best guess is still Harbaugh, FWIW. Those are gentlemen who have talked to Harbaugh directly, so I would take that seriously. Gregg Henson, who's been beating the ITSHAPPENING.gif drum harder than anyone for a solid month now, is also walking his position back a bit.
On the other hand, Rivals is emitting the kind of ambiguously encouraging bits that have little information content—they're enough to get people in frenzy mode but laden with plausible deniability. There was poll on their board about what people would do in the event of a Harbaugh hire; it was heavy on the wink-wink with "but it's still a coinflip" attached. That link above is to a "you're gonna like Jim Hackett!" tweet. I mean… cumong, man.
If Harbaugh doesn't end up at M a ton of people are going to be pissed at them and they'll blame the people who are praising them to the heavens now, just like they strenuously denied that Harbaugh and Brandon had a problem working together until the instant Brandon left.
But that's none of my business.
The upshot here: Sam's hearing stuff that we don't want to hear, Henson is still pretty gung ho but hearing some things that give him pause, and Rivals is on the optimistic side. 247 has not ventured anything($) resembling a "probably" or "probably not," which is where I'm at, too: at this point it feels like Harbaugh's yes or no is about which neurons fire in his brain at the critical moment.
Meanwhile, Wojo details why things might go better this time:
Interim athletic director Jim Hackett knows it can't be cursory, which was the case four years ago. Dave Brandon didn't want to play the wooing game and cede control. But now Michigan football sits at another dangerous juncture, and while Harbaugh isn't the only prime candidate, he's the first and best one, an instant infusion of energy and credibility. And I doubt he'd use his alma mater simply to get a better deal elsewhere. I think he'd tell Michigan if he weren't interested, and he hasn't done that yet.
Wojo's "sense" is that Michigan would pay in the Urban Meyer range, which is kind of close to the Godfather offer reports.
STOOPS STOOPS STOOPS. Also zero clarity, with plenty of people saying there's no way and plenty of other people saying that this might be a point at which a mutual separation from Oklahoma makes sense.
I personally doubt it's feasible because of the Florida search, but as I mentioned in the comments of the Mullen PIH "Jeremy Foley is not good at his job" is a reasonable explanation for a lot of Florida's actions over the last five years, so it is possible that they just overlooked the possibility. Also, Stoops has a game this weekend and may be evaluating his situation more closely afterward.
Stoops's justifiably pissy reaction to the "ARE U JOB X" question sticks out, though. Chatter is just chatter.
ON THE RADAR. A group of guys appear to be filling out the B list:
- JIM MORA, UCLA. Sam Webb broached his name in an article, and now Cowherd's chattering about a secret Michigan candidate who is thankfully not Greg Schiano. Cowherd is based in LA and would have more reason to know about a guy in LA; I've also gotten a little chatter to that effect. Former M OL Courtney Morgan is on Mora's staff, so he could be a point of contact. Sam also points out that Mora and Mike DeBord were on the same Seahawks staff($) five or so years ago.
- KYLE WHITTINGHAM, UTAH. Wittingham's well-known to the Michigan brass after multiple encounters with him in the recent past and has a solid resume. Poachability is a bit of an issue, and Utah had a rough transition to the Pac-12, but he's a solid option Sam says is getting some chatter from the West.
- DAN MULLEN, MSU. Sam says that "surprisingly enough," Mullen is getting attention. That this would be surprising bothers me, but there it is.
- STEVE ADDAZIO, BC. I hate this idea but it has enough chatter that someone somewhere clearly has him on the list. Again, Addazio is 55 and is coming off consecutive seven-win seasons at BC; he was the disastrous follow-up to Mullen as Florida OC. He makes no sense unless Mullen is off the table.
- Butch Jones is seemingly also a person of interest, but with Tennessee preparing to give him an extension after a 6-6 year when he's got four years left on his contract it looks like the Vols are trying to block interest before it gets started. Carr also pumped up Art Briles to Craig Ross when they talked, which is pretty interesting. Unfortunately you have to figure that if Briles wanted to leave Waco he'd be the guy at Texas right now.
OKAY THEN. Someone asked Teryl Austin about the Michigan job, and this is an actual-denial denial:
But Austin says he has no interest in pursuing the Wolverines' head coaching position, which opened after the firing of Brady Hoke earlier this week.
"No," he said. "I'm interested in this (Lions) job."
Michigan going after someone in his first successful season as a coordinator (and second overall) was a monster longshot anyway.
SORRY, THAT'S NOT ALL OF US. Local New Orleans reporter on the Sean Payton loves hotdogs thing:
— Fletcher Mackel (@FletcherMackel) December 4, 2014
Rivals broadened their hot board in response… by adding Mike Tomlin and Josh McDaniels.
|Head Coach, Mississippi State|
|OC/QB @ Florida||2005-08|
|QB @ Utah||2003-04|
|QB @ BGSU||2001-02|
|GA @ ND||1999-00|
|TE at Ursinus (PA) in 1992/93|
These again. We're skipping Harbaugh because it's not like you need to be told about Harbaugh. In the event M does hire him, he'll get one.
These are in approximate order of personal preference.
Nationally, Dan Mullen is regarded as the best available-ish college head coach in the market this year. This admiration has not extended to all corners of the Michigan fanbase for… reasons. Foremost amongst them are:
"He's a one-year wonder." (Who won two national championships at Florida as the primary play-caller and has built MSU into a contender in the toughest division in the country.)
"He's not a cultural fit." (He's from Pennsylvania and GA'd at ND. Hell, he coached at Columbia.)
"He runs the spread." (You have just slashed out 80% of plausible options. Also, Chris Leak was as mobile as a plant.)
"He's never won for real for real." (At the Indiana of the SEC.)
Mississippi State's winning percentage before Dan Mullen arrived was… not good. In the decade before his arrivals this was their power conference peer group:
Bulldog futility goes further back than that; you have to go back to the 50s before you find a MSU head coach capable of consistently keeping the Bulldogs above .500. His winning percentage of 60.5% is in the WVU-Miami-Utah-Iowa range and is virtually unprecedented. It's also better than Michigan's over the same time frame. At Mississippi State.
Reasons for hiring or not hiring a coach are not made in a vacuum, so if you'd like to make one of these arguments you have to bring along a guy who has a better resume than Dan Mullen. Gary Patterson? Sure! I'm totally down with Gary Patterson if you can crowbar him out of TCU, but you can't. Given the hires Nebraska and Florida just made I don't think anyone who could-might-kinda be available is. That leaves Dan Mullen and…
Seriously, I don't know. Mullen is the default college head coach choice. Fortunately, he seems like a pretty good one.
[After THE JUMP: the anti-Borges at QB, overblown oversigning concerns, and CEO stuff.]
Slidin' in your DMs like... Via Ace:
Oh, no reason. Wolverine Historian with a two-part Harbaugh tribute:
Hire this man. I would seriously give Ryan Van Bergen a job in the athletic department today:
"In my opinion, and this is going to upset some people, there have been times last three, four years, the environment has been almost toxic with the negativity surrounding the program," Van Bergen said.
"Everything about Michigan poises it for success. The things that obviously are contributing to our recent misfortunes have nothing to do with if we're able to recruit and our facilities. There is blame to be shared among everybody — players, coaching, administration and fans. Everybody who supports the Michigan program needs to evaluate how they're doing it. If they're being negative about it, change that."
Van Bergen has credibility as a guy who's been under all three of the recent regimes, was willing to tell it how it was when Hoke was there, had a superior senior year under Hoke, and will be honest about the issues facing the program even if they're inconvenient.
One less way we can differentiate ourselves from Ohio. This is potentially lame:
Michigan student-athletes at public universities would not be allowed to unionize under state collective bargaining laws if a bill introduced Tuesday in the Michigan House of Representatives becomes law.
House Bill 6074 would require all student-athletes be classified as “students” and keep them from becoming employees of universities. Because the student-athletes could not be classified as public employees, they would not be entitled to representation or collective bargaining rights under state law.
I'm not sure if that's the way the law-type thing works. Seems like work is work and a legislature can't wave a wand and declare it not so, but I'm just a common sense type guy, not a law-talkin' one. The guy who sponsored this legislation has the usual mish-mash of non-sequiturs—most college athletes don't go pro in their chosen sport—and false dichotomies—is college about getting an education or making money—in its defense, and I dislike him.
Well, yeah. Fred Jackson in the aftermath:
"I expected a decision to be made today, but I didn't know which way it was going, one way or the other, I had no idea," Jackson said reporters. "I didn't really expect it. I know we didn't play as well as people would like to see us play. I also understand that it's all about winning and losing.
"We didn't win enough games."
Ah, Fred. In four sentences he says 1) he had no idea, 2) he didn't expect it, and 3) they didn't win enough games. Truly a closing statement worthy of a man with sixteen different beverages on his desk, telling you that every back he ever coached was Adrian Peterson on top of a surly dinosaur.
Engineers in the marching band, you say? I am subscribing to your newsletter.
Nooooooo. David Jones has an entertaining article on the enormous, ridiculous Land Grant trophy, which is just getting to the age where its ridiculousness is a real asset instead of a detriment. Jones details its origin story…
When Hoffman picked up the shiny new Land Grant Trophy from a local Lansing sporting goods shop in 1993, he realized it wasn't quite what he'd pictured:
"I thought, 'My God, that's big.' I'll take the blame for it being so big and heavy," said Hoffman when reached on Tuesday in Cleveland where he's in semi-retirement.
The shop owner, whose name escapes Hoffman 21 years later, had taken all of the specifications and come up with something like a paneled rec room from the 1970s with knickknacks and photos attached to it – a Nittany Lion figurine mailed by Thalman, a Sparty gladiator statuette, a generic gold football player tacked on top, photos of Old Main and MSU's counterpart building – all built into a boxy wooden structure. And it had these decks and levels built onto it, like a committee kept deciding to add more stuff.
…and then suggests the thing might not be long for this world:
Alas, I come to you today with a heavy heart. Because I've been informed by powers greater than I that the end may be near for the LGT. For many of us, we'll feel as if an old friend is moving away. A particularly ugly old friend. It's going to be like comedians saying goodbye to Dan Quayle.
But Penn State officials have, as officials like to say today, "reached out" to Michigan State officials about the future viability of the LGT, "moving forward." When you have a traveling trophy, it's probably best that it can be transported in something other than the bed of a semi-tractor trailer.
To which I say fie. The Land Grant trophy may be the ugly duckling of the trophy world, but it has a charm the "Freedom Trophy" lacks. Keep it.
I know problems. You have problems. Interesting Tim Kawakami article on the dysfunction in the 49ers front office, which is far from all Harbaugh:
York doesn’t like talking to the local media (but Harbaugh’s camp is sure York loves secretly talking to the national media and I can’t disagree with Harbaugh’s camp on that).
Baalke despises almost all media–Baalke really doesn’t like most people, period. He’s a pure scout, cold, clipped, anti-social and often angry.
That works tremendously in the film room or out on the road scouting (Baalke probably is on the road more than any GM in the NFL), but maybe not so well when personalities and philosophies have to be managed.
Oh, and you might’ve heard that Harbaugh is volatile and occasionally crazed. That Harbaugh actually likes it better when things are rattled and people are on edge, all the better to find out what his associates are made of.
Well, Harbaugh has found out exactly what York and Baalke are made of. And they’ve made their decision on him.
Good luck with that, guys.
Etc.: Player react twitter roundup. Almost all about how Hoke was a great dude without any shots at the decision or fanbase. Timely M Heritage article about dudes against football back in the day. Orson goes to Tallahassee. At least Hoke recruited really well. Tinder trolling is now a thing.
Meta: New interim column name is interim. Rhymes with "talkin' points" if you have a heavy Midwest accent. Hakn means to nag in Yiddish, literally to bang on […a pot or teakettle]. The reference.
Every touch is a little bit of magic. [Fuller]
Early last month Brian forwarded me a reader question about the relative experience of Michigan's players, and asked for a lot of research:
What has been the average age and game experience of each of the teams’ skill groups over the course of the season for each of Hoke’s years coaching here?
I’d love to see a table or graph that showed age/game experience by skill group by year of tenure for all the skill groups. Just data.
Everyone says – players aren’t developing. I’m not sure whether it’s true or a function of getting better but younger less experienced guys on the field.
My impression Defense is improving – and that’s where Hoke started recruiting (if memory serves) – those are some of his third year guys now (still juniors and RS Sophs) – getting better all the time. Offense – a year behind defense from age/experience. Mostly Sophs and RS Fresh. If that pattern is right and holds, a defense of 4th and 3rd year guys next year and an offense of 3rd and second year guys should continue to improve the product. No?
Off the cuff, we were plotting out age progression of Hoke's recruiting classes back in 2012 (when most of the 2013 class was signed) and concluding that 2015 was the probable germination point. I think a big part of why Hoke was let go was Michigan doesn't at all seem on track for that to happen. As Hackett mentioned in his press conference, the 2015 team should be one of the most experienced we've fielded in memory across the board (provided there's no mass exodus, which is hardly a guarantee).
Yay for Good News! How Good's Our GNews?
To get a real answer I really think we'd need other teams to compare it with, and that's way too much work. Also not all positions are created equal and relative experience does not say how quality the experienced players are: the 2003 and 2005 teams were nearly identical, but the 2003 was one of the best under Lloyd while the latter we thought of at the time as painful. Deciding which positions mature at what rate and have which effect of outcome is beyond the scope of this study. But I found two ways to approximate an answer:
1) Long ago I started keeping a spreadsheet of players, going back to the mid-'90s, with what years they were on the roster, when they left, and why. With some updating that was able to produce a list of how many scholarship players Michigan had available each year back to '97, broken up by year-in-program and eligibility and whatnot. By that count Michigan has the oldest team in 2015 in the post-championship era, with 85 accumulated years (average at UM for 1997-2014 is 68) since high school on offense and 83 (average is 61) on defense.
2) I scoured the Bentley team history pages (the links at the right on that page), for how many starts each player had. This turned out to be quite the rabbit hole, hence why it took me so long to produce a response. After fixing a bazillion duplicates and spelling errors and whatnots (like for example they have the Gordons mixed up), I had a list of starts by season of every Michigan player going back to 1994, which I've put on Google Docs for your perusal.
There's some other good tabs at that link if you like exploration.
[Money chart and more after the jump]