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“Well, everybody alright? I’m good. Who wants to start?”
You have a couple of players who are new to the position in Brandon Watson and Ross Douglas, though Ross Douglas has played it before. How are they adjusting to that change?
“They’re doing well. It’s a whole different deal for everybody. It’s a different defense, so everybody’s making a lot of adjustments but those two guys are coming along just like the rest of them.”
We’ve heard it said that you’ve played a lot more press coverage than they’re used to. How have they adjusted and how much work is that?
“It’s a lot of work. It’s a new total concept for the defense, for these guys who haven’t played- for Jourdan [Lewis] two or three years, for Blake [Countess] four years- so it is a new concept. It’s a whole new technique they’re learning so it’s taking time but they’re working their butts off. They’re working extremely hard at it and in time we’re going to get it done.”
Press was something they tried last year and did a little bit of it and struggled with it. Are you guys totally committed to it?
“Well, that’s coach Durkin’s defense, yes. So yes, we are totally, 100 % committed. We’ve just got to find the guys who catch on the fastest and handle the technique the best.”
Most cornerbacks are really excited about the chance to do that. Has that been the case here?
“Absolutely for us, and in recruiting they’re very excited to hear we’re aggressive on the outside and they want to see and hear what they’d have to do, so I think it will help us in that respect as far as getting some other corners in here.”
Can you talk about Lewis and Countess in particular and their ability to do that?
“Yeah, Blake’s an extremely hard worker. He’s very focused. Jourdan’s a natural at it. He’s probably our most natural corner for what we’re asking him to do. He does it pretty good but he’s still got some things to get better at because of the fact that it’s something they haven’t done all the time as far as last season goes. But those two are definitely, as far as technique-sound and even athletically and mentally, more experienced in that way.”
[After THE JUMP: Skills needed to play press, a transfer from Stanford confirmed-ish, and depth chart discussion]
What makes a guy a natural? What are the skills they need?
“For us they need great hands, great eyes, [and] great feet. [They’ve] just got to be very disciplined. And you have to have some suddenness, some quickness to you, and you have to have great hips because all those things happen like that,” /snaps. “So those are the true attributes that those kind of guys need.”
There were so few interceptions in the secondary last year. How much film did you watch of that and see if there were issues you could improve or is it all fresh?
“It’s all fresh. Absolutely all fresh. We’ve turned the page and moved on and we’re starting basically anew, and that’s how we approached it. Coaches have looked at a little bit of last year’s film but for the most part for this team, for this defense, it’s moving forward.”
Neither Jourdan or Blake are very big guys. In terms of size is that something where you think there’s an advantage to being smaller?
“I think if you get a guy like Channing Stribling and you give him Jourdan Lewis’ skill set and you give him Blake’s mental toughness, his work attitude, you’ve got one hell of a football player. Those are the things that you’ve kind of got to bob and weave around and find the right guy and the right combination.”
Will creating more turnovers be a big focus for you guys?
“It has- we’ve stressed it quite a bit. We do some turnover stations within practice and constantly talk about guys going to the ball, stripping the ball out so that’s something that is emphasized, yes.”
There was a lot of rotating last year at the cornerback position. Do you like to do that or do you want two guys getting the majority or the minutes?
“If we have four corners, five corners that can play- that are equally as good- we’d all find a way to make them play because for what we’re asking a guy to do you can wear a guy out, you can. We’re going to help guys. We’re going to give those guys some help in certain situations, certain defenses, but I would say most of the time they’re going to be up in there and they’re going to be competing up close. Yeah, I know for myself I don’t have a problem with the more the merrier, believe me, and I think coach Durkin would say the same.”
Just a few weeks in but how do you feel about the depth overall? You mentioned getting more guys in. Do you feel okay about the depth right now?
“I think we’ve got to develop some more guys. We definitely need to develop some more guys. We’ve got three for sure there- Channing, Jourdan, and Blake- and really I think you can count on them now. They’ve still got a long way to go, but we’ve got to bring a couple of the younger guys along.”
Does that open up an opportunity for Keith Washington?
“Well, there’s- and they’ve been told, the room has been told that there are going to be three guys coming in to the secondary. One coming in, a transfer from Stanford coming in [Wayne Lyons], and then a true freshman [Washington], and the other’s a safety that likes to play corner in Tyree Kinnel. They know that their back’s up against the wall and we’ve got to see how they handle it.”
How familiar are you with the kid from Stanford?
“Wayne was here over the weekend. Spent some time with him [and] watched a lot of film on him. I think he’s the right kind of body, bigger body kind of like Channing. Lot of length, and he’s a pretty good corner. [From] what I saw with Stanford he did pretty well.”
What does it take for a young guy to play that position?
“Well, certainly all the athletic things we just talked about- the eyes, the feet, the hands, the hips, all that good stuff- but more than that, too, is the mental aspect of it. You have to be mentally strong because you’re not just going out there and covering man-to-man, there’s other things you’re doing within this defense and you have to be able to handle checks and listen for checks and possibly make checks. So [there’s] the mental aspect of it as far as knowing the game of football and then the mental aspect of knowing that, ‘Hey, I’m going to get beat sometimes. These guys are good. They get paid too [Ed.(Adam)- Err, it looks like he hasn’t updated his coachspeak software since leaving the NFL]. They’re going to make catches. I’ve just got to learn to dust it off.’ So that mental part of it will be big as well.”
When you got here what were your initial impressions? Were you looking at it as more of a project or were you pleased with what you had to start with?
“Starting from fresh, watching film you only get to see so many guys play. Not all the young guys played, so I just said, ‘You know what?’ Basically this defensive staff said, ‘You know what? Let’s start anew. This depth chart means absolutely nothing. We’re throwing you guys out there and how you play and how you practice, that’s where you’re going to be.’ And that happened earlier in spring ball. The roster moved a little bit, the depth chart moved, and now it’s kind of settled. As I said earlier, we’ve got to get those guys underneath those three- Channing, Jourdan, and Blake- just got to pick up their game. B. Watson’s got to pick up his game. Terry Richardson, he’s hurt so that kind of hurts us because there’s a guy we’re counting on to compete. But yeah, we just started fresh.”
When you learned that you were going to take the job was there anyone in particular that you were excited to work with? I know Blake and Jourdan have been mentioned, but Jabrill…
“Yeah, Jabrill and JW [Jarrod Wilson] in the secondary, Delano [Hill], all those guys. And certainly with Joe [Bolden] and Desmond [Morgan] at linebacker, Ben’s [Gedeon] working his butt off, the guys up front…I was just excited to work with everybody. Just got to learn this defense and learn how to play tough and hard for sixty minutes and I think things will work out.”
Did you and Greg [Jackson] battle a little bit over who gets Jabrill?
“No, he’s in Greg’s room. He’s a safety, and the way Greg and I coach, I don’t know if you saw it on the field but I’m on the left side and he’s on the right side and so we coach equal. It’s not as if I’m the corners coach and I stay away from the safeties and he’s the safeties and has to stay away from the corners. When we’re out there we’re coaching what we see. We kind of get Jabrill equally.”
Was that the intent by Durkin or Harbaugh to have you guys be interchangeable that way or did you guys work it out between the two of you?
“Coach Durkin asked how we wanted to handle the situation and we thought and he felt that would be the best way. When we go into meetings corners go here, safeties go here, but when we’re out in the field it’s ‘You take right, I’ll take left’ or however that worked because we both know the defense, we both know the game, so we’re seeing the same things and speaking the same language.”
You guys played together, right? Does that help?
“Absolutely! Absolutely. When I first walked in here and saw him it was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ Greg and I were both very headsy players, lining people up, directing traffic, telling people where to go, and then to play two years together on a really successful defense, yeah, I think it helps. Absolutely.”
Is Peppers the kind of kid that can make these cornerbacks better?
“Yes, he absolutely is. You’d be surprised. Pepp’s a very excitable player- very excitable player- but at the same time he’s a bright player. He’s learning the defense really well, he’s lining people up, and his competitive attitude helps bring out more in everybody on that defense, not just the corners alone.”
How much of a resource has Greg Mattison been?
“Oh yeah, he’s been great in all ways. Even finding places to live, from there to talking about personnel on the football team. He’s a super guy. He’s been a good help and he’s damn good at what he does, too, so that really helps.”
The genesis of you taking this job- you called John Harbaugh to congratulate him?
“Well, I called John to wish him luck about his playoff game and then my head coach had just gotten fired from Youngstown State and he was talking to Jim about coming here and Harbs said, ‘Well, what about you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I wouldn’t mind working for a Harbaugh again’ because he was my coach when I was playing in Philly. Then one thing led to another and here I am. Glad to be here, too. It’s a great place.”
They’re both very successful but they’re different, right?
“A little bit. A little bit.”
What are the things that stand out about Jim to you?
“Oh, I just love his openness. I think he’s really fair with the players and he’s strong with them, too. It’s pretty much no nonsense, you see what you get, and that’s what all kids need. They need a firm hand to help guide them and I think he does that, and he’s certainly a good guy. And we all know he’s been very successful and knows the game of football and knows how to win.”
Did you ever hit him when you were playing?
“I think we crossed paths but I’ve never had that path cross.”
You mentioned a firm hand and starting from scratch. What do you make of the way that Jim’s come in here and kind of taken charge aggressively?
“Yeah, I think it’s good. I think it’s what the university needs, I think it’s what the kids need. You might be tired of hearing me say ‘starting anew, clean slate’ and all that stuff but that’s the approach we have to take. We are a new staff. We are expected to do things well, and he is certainly expected to do things well and that’s what we’re here to do. So we’re starting anew, and I like his agressiveness and I think that’s why he got the staff he has, the kind of guys that he has. We’re all the same kind of guys.”
That just worked? Everyone’s kind of got the same mentality?
“Working, going, moving right on forward, yes.”
You were down in Ohio not too long ago and obviously that last game of the season is a long way away right now, but have you thought about coaching in that game yet?
“The Ohio State game? Not as much as I’ve thought about the Penn State game.”
“But yeah, that’ll be exciting. Looking forward to both of those games.”
Hello: AFC Ann Arbor. We are getting a minor league soccer team that I am inordinately excited about, and tickets have just gone on sale. I already hate Oakland United FC for having both "United" and "FC" in their name. I bet their crest doesn't even have a tree. Or stripes. I do not know how these tossers deign to call themselves any sort of organization. Down with United Sporting Real FC Oakland Dinamo.
AFCAA has an eight game home schedule over the summer; in year one they're playing at Pioneer. Plenty of current and former Wolverines are on the team, and it sounds like they're importing some food carts (Mark's carts?) for games. I'll be at the home opener May 1st, stop by and say hi.
Jim Harbaugh has the best twitter feed. Tips for identifying good coaching twitter feeds:
GOOD: odd capitalization and grammar, random shoutouts to Cracker Barrel and Judge Judy
BAD: hashtags, motivational sayings, motivational sayings embedded in hashtags
Harbaugh is on the good side of the equation:
Michigan Nicknames Snake-Bubba-Jumbo-Flame-Soup-EasyEd-BigEd-BigHoss-Chunky-SirCharles-Bump & the ultimate nickname that became legendary Bo
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) March 27, 2015
Amongst many people saying "don't forget X" I declare Derek Moore the winner for reminding Harbaugh that he should not forget the legend of Tony Pape, AKA "Fat Elvis."
Spring Creaning time. A couple days after Stanford Robinson said "I'm not going anywhere" to media in the IU locker room, the university announced his transfer. Today he was followed by freshman wing Max Hoetzel.
This annual exodus has the same impetus all of Tom Crean's other annual exoduses have: someone must leave (or not show up) because Crean drastically oversigned. This year Indiana has zero seniors, a full roster, and two recruits. And they are still recruiting various players for the late period. To their credit, a lot of Indiana fans hate this.
Every coach is going to have some attrition from guys who don't work out. Few sign multiple guys in November knowing that this means someone on the current team is going to be forcibly ejected from the program as a result. And for what? For a ten seed because your incompetent self can't count or recruit a post player.
We poke at Tom Izzo around here because he's easy to poke at, but he is a legitimate coach and seemingly good dude; Crean is another level of detestable. For everybody's sake let's hope that buyout comes down enough to get rid of him soon. The Big Ten is ill-served by his presence at a basketball mecca.
I'm very disappointed in 61 of you. You guys are jerks.
should I quit blogging about Michigan and dedicate myself to UFRing episodes of "Coach"? RT for YES FAV for NO
— mgoblog (@mgoblog) March 27, 2015
Upon further review, there is not enough football in episodes of "Coach" to do this.
I guess this is official now? Or at least official-ish:
Michigan football: Legends jerseys are gone, helmet stickers are back. Imagine Bo and Canham would be pleased by both.
— John U. Bacon (@Johnubacon) March 27, 2015
I'd rather have the inverse but I'm not too bent out of shape about it. I like the clean look the decal-less helmets have and thought the legends jerseys were a good way to remind people that the Wisterts were great and Gerald Ford was an All-American. Hopefully they can do something for the retired numbers other than just put them back in mothballs.
Also semi-official? I can't remember if Wayne Lyons's transfer was already semi-official or has just become slightly more so, but the big news from Mike Zordich's press conference was Zordich accidentally letting the cat out of the bag about Lyons's imminent arrival. Except that Lyons himself said it in February and we already have a Hello post for him.
Spike was hurting. Spike Albrecht was not fully right last year:
Albrecht is wrestling with the decision whether to undergo off-season surgery on both of his ailing hips, procedures that would leave him rehabilitating for "probably four to five months, at least."
"That's a tough situation," Albrecht said. "I don't want to sit out, but I also don't want to go through another season like I went through this year, but if that's the only option and that's the best option, then I'll do it."
Apparently those surgeries have to be scheduled consecutively and involve—bleah—"shaving down an area of hip bone." A 4-5 month recovery period is likely, which would make him whole in August or September. Tough decision to weigh a lack of pain against whatever rustiness getting laid up like that would induce.
Meanwhile, Alejandro Zuniga evaluated Albrecht.
Gordon Bell, 1975. Via Dr. Sap:
Also Ufer calling a pretty spectacular Bell touchdown run against Purdue.
Etc.: Sauce Castillo. Sauce Castillo. Neeeerd baseball hits the Daily. On John Calipari. Tattoos ranked by how bad of an idea they are. Jack Miller's decision to quit football was about concussions a bit, unless it wasn't.
Can Donnal and Chatman bounce back from underwhelming freshman campaigns? [Fuller]
This edition of the recruiting mailbag—now featuring hoops, too—covers the impact of KJ Costello's commitment to Stanford, a guess at when Harbaugh will land his first commitment, and some discussion of next season's basketball rotation.
Assuming Costello stays out West how big an impact does that have on all these other offers out there? Didn’t seem like too long ago we were hoping for Costello and a bunch of other guys to visit together? Would be great to have a West Coast Tentpole (it’s a thing I think), especially at QB, in the class to link up the offers (and optimism) with commitments.
Tx as always for your time.
Michigan's forays into California are always going to feature a lot of misses; they'll keep at it because the hits make it well worth the effort. Landing a whole group of Golden State prospects was always a longshot at best; even before Costello went off the board, receiver Theo Howard—who described Michigan as his "dream school" after receiving an offer—pledged to Oregon, and it looks like receiver Dylan Crawford could follow in Costello's footsteps.
Jim Harbaugh has already experienced some success recruiting the state, however. Getting five-star OLB Caleb Kelly to foot the bill for an unofficial visit was impressive, and Kelly's mentioned a desire to return for an official visit, which would be a great sign for Michigan's chances. Four-star OLB Camilo Eifler will take an unofficial days after the spring game. Four-star S CJ Pollard said he'd take an official visit as soon as he received his offer. Four-star TE Devin Asiasi is a good bet to take an official, as well. Several others at least have moderate interest; if I had to guess, I'd say Michigan gets at least one California prospect in the class.
That'd be a huge step in the right direction. Seth was kind enough to dig into his database when I asked him about California recruiting under previous coaches. The disparity between Lloyd Carr and the last two coaching staffs is huge:
Carr: Tom Brady, Russell Shaw (transfer), Patrick McCall, DeWayne Patmon, Justin Fargas, Hayden Epstein, Courtney Morgan, Charles Drake, Zach Kaufman, Calvin Bell, Tyler Ecker, Spencer Brinton (transfer), Matt Gutierrez, Leon Hall, Keston Cheathem, Morgan Trent, Eugene Germany, Jason Forcier, Chris Richards, Johnny Sears, Jonas Mouton, Zion Babb, Avery Horn, Donovan Warren, Michael Williams
Rodriguez (1): Tate. Unless you count Burzynski.
Hoke (2): Mags and Wile
Carr averaged about two California recruits a year, and he landed his fair share of big-time recruits, like Brady, Fargas, Mouton, and Warren. As Seth points out, a lot of those guys were from power programs, like Matt Gutierrez at Concord De La Salle—a connection forged back when Carr was the defensive coordinator and Michigan landed a wide receiver from DLS by the name of Amani Toomer. Reestablishing a strong rapport with California's top schools will pay off, even if it's more so in future classes than 2016.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the mailbag, which includes maybe the greatest reader email I've ever received.]
Just read about the busy visitor weekend, should we be holding our breath at all?
There hasn't been a prospect pointed out as an imminent commit watch candidate that I know about, but I think Harbaugh breaks through with his first 2016 commit sooner rather than later. Brady Hoke, who hit the recruiting trail with similar aplomb, if not the same national name recognition, got the initial commitment for his first full class (2012) on April 12th. With a ton of visitors on campus this weekend and next, Harbaugh should be able to best that, even if there isn't a blindingly obvious candidate at the moment.
@AceAnbender (1/2) how do you dictate the minutes for next years hoops team? Beilein has always had a short bench but next yrs team could be
— Andrew Wink (@andrewwink) March 27, 2015
— Andrew Wink (@andrewwink) March 27, 2015
Unless a team has Kentucky talent, I'm not sure a nine- or ten-man rotation is optimal, and while Michigan does return a lot of depth next season I believe it's far more likely a player or two drops out of the rotation. Brian's already tried to piece together a minutes distribution and it's tough to find roles for everyone, especially if Caris LeVert returns.
At Michigan, Beilein's rotations have usually gone seven deep, or eight if there's a viable third center (Horford or, in last season's context, Bielfeldt) around, and those tightened up as the season went along. With so many options, I think a lot of guys see the floor early in the season as Beilein gets a sense of what he has and tinkers with different lineup combinations, but by the time Big Ten season rolls around he'll have set a shorter rotation. If that means MAAR or Chatman or Robinson doesn't see much time in 2015-16, that shouldn't be a huge issue—they all have plenty of eligibility left and more minutes will open up in 2016-17.
While enormous improvement from sophomore guards has become pretty standard around here, forwards seem to be a little less predictable. What kind of progress should we expect to see next year from Chatman and Donnal, two of the bigger disappointments of this season?
For both Chatman and Donnal, getting more consistent with their shooting is paramount, and Beilein's track record provides plenty of optimism in that regard. With a year of strength training, it's also reasonable to expect progress on defense and the boards—especially for Chatman, who's got the wingspan and instincts to be M's best rebounding four. Donnal really has work to do there, as he was consistently overwhelmed by true post players, and usually had to resort to hacking—he had easily the worst foul rate on the team—to prevent easy buckets; he had a hard time preventing bigs from establishing position.
I'm more optimistic about Chatman's prospects than Donnal's, if for no other reason than Chatman not having the benefit of a redshirt year heading into last season. Based on Michigan's depth on the wings, however, there's a decent chance Donnal ends up with more playing time, barring a DJ Wilson breakout. (I'm by no means ruling out a DJ Wilson breakout.)
I somewhat doubt either is an integral part of the rotation next year—I certainly don't expect either to start—but the transition for bigger players to the college game can be a rough one; both are capable of taking a big leap. Chatman's got great length and shows flashes of top-notch skill, often with his passing. Donnal could change how the offense operates if he's able to hone his three-point shot and at least tread water on defense. We'll see.
I've been trying to outline UM's best case scenario for 2015-2016, stop me if I get too unrealistic.
A healthy Derrick Walton takes a delayed sophomore leap to become an all B1G performer, accompanied in the backcourt by a returned Caris LeVert, who uses a NPOY campaign to solidify himself as a top 3 draft pick. Jaylen Brown commits to UM and joins Zak Irvin and Ricky Doyle in a vicious, athletic frontcourt.
Hip surgery revitalizes Spike Albrecht, and he leads a Kentucky-style, 5-man substitution 8 minutes into each game featuring MAAR at SG, who takes home B1G DPOY despite averaging just 16 mpg in B1G play. Kam Chatman's proverbial light turns all the way on, and he is joined in the 2nd unit frontcourt by Aubrey Dawkins(58% 3pt) and DJ Wilson(4.7 BPG)
Mark Donnal, Duncan Robinson, and Austin Hatch all take immense leaps forward, but can't sniff the rotation due to the talent on the rest of the roster. However, as Michigan participates in so many blowouts, these 3, plus Dakich and Lonergan, lead the team in minutes played.
During the course of the B1G season, Michigan goes into Kohl Center and hits 14/14 threes, intentionally putting every single one off the backboard. With his MSU squad down 28 at Crisler, Izzo deliberately injures his own players with a cricket bat to provide him with talking points at the post-game press conference.
During the NCAA tournament, Spike get's Kate's number.
After the undefeated season, Beilein takes the team on a barnstorming tour against US and global basketball powers. Opposing squad members often ask for autographs before the game or during timeouts. The world is shocked when the US National team manages to tie the game with 5 minutes left in the 2nd quarter.
Once the team's place in history is cemented, Beilein reveals himself as an ambassador for a superior race of mild-mannered extraterrestrials, scouting lightly-recruited Earth for entry into his planet's utopia. Earth commits, and the entire human race plus our cultural landmarks are transported across the stars to a new and better life.
During the journey, the unmanned ship carrying Value City Arena is plunged into the sun.
Did I miss anything?
But do they beat the US National Team?
Your recruiting tactics are pretty creative. What went into tracking down a recruit's girlfriend?
"Yeah, I'm not going to take any recruiting questions. Not allowed to talk about recruiting, unfortunately."
Talk about what you have with Jake Butt and how he's doing.
"Jake, he's doing well. He's a very well-rounded player, brings a lot to the table. Really excited about him. He's getting a lot better and doing a lot to improve the detail of his game throughout his whole game."
How involved has Khalid Hill been able to be?
"He's been very involved mentally in what we're doing and getting stronger and getting prepared to come back at some point. Not sure when that's going to be, but from a mental standpoint he'll be very much ready to go when that does happen."
Ian Bunting – what's he got to do to get on the field this year?
"Just keep growing. He's gotten a lot better. He's the guy who's probably improved the most as spring's gone on here. I've been very pleased with him. Just like all the other guys he brings a tremendous work ethic when he comes out there and just grinds. He goes out there for the entirety of practice and the focus is always on getting better. I really love that about him. So he's really coming along, just has to get better at everything just like everybody else does."
There's not much of an age gap between you and the players. What's it like being just five or six years older than some of them?
"Uh, I don't know. It's fun. They're fun to be around."
Is it like a big brother relationship that you have with some of them or do you hope that it gets to that?
"Uh, No. I don't know. I just feel like their coach. Last year I was with guys who were much older than me and I didn't feel like I was their little brother, So I don't know. They're fun to be around, though. Feel like we have a good professional relationship as far as coaching and I feel there is good mutual respect there, I hope, and I really like being around them."
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest]> When Jim was hired there was talk of turning this into Tight End University. What's your vision a couple of weeks into this with the group of tight ends you've got right now?
"I really like them. We have a lot of versatile guy's that bring a lot of different things to the table; guys who are big, guys who are fast. They all can catch. They all can block and are getting better at blocking and I kind of envision all those guys coming along and then getting more guys so we have an army of big, tall, fast guys that will present problems for linebackers and safeties on other teams."
What are you taking from the time that you worked in the NFL back to the college game, and how are you applying it there?
"Really everything. I was kind of trained over the last few years in terms of different scheme and ways to approach the game so I would say that's kind of everything. Not a very fun answer."
What are you learning from this collection of experienced coaches here so far?
"Yeah, that's awesome. It's a really good group to be a part of. Guys came from all over and they're all tremendous teachers and tremendous leaders so being able to see different ways of answering the same questions is really what I've enjoyed. You can get very set in your ways in terms of this is how you answer this problem or this is the adjustment you make and you realize there's a lot more than one way to go about doing things, and I think from a personal level everyone has really benefited from having an open mind and adapting and finding new ways to do things and then you carry that with you the rest of your career."
You've worked for a few different personalities of coaches in coach Riley and then John Harbaugh in and now Jim. What are the differences in the interactions and what you're gathering from him?
"From my dad? I don't think it's really different. There's different small things, ways he approaches different problems, but he and my uncle are the same guy. There's certain small things where one might go left and one might go right on certain issues but eventually they end up in the same place in terms of what they want and how they want to approach the team and the game of football, so I don't think there's as big a difference as people believe."
What made you decide it was time to stop working for your uncle and start working for your dad?
"I was really excited to be around him. This is a tremendous place, a really special place to be, and there was a chance to be here from the get-go as it turned around and something really special started. I've never been a part of something from the ground up, I guess: I got to Oregon State and they were a good program and to Baltimore when they were really a strong franchise, so to get here as we're – I don't want to say rebuilding – starting something fresh and new, there's something special about being there from the beginning rather than coming in when the team's attitude is already set."
Did you always have aspirations of coaching and going into the family business per se?
"I always thought about it but I didn't know for sure until I was in the middle of high school-ish."
Any other career aspirations before that besides coaching?
"Yeah, I wanted to be a CIA agent or an FBI agent, which I would've been terrible at. Just awful. This was much better for me, I think."
How much did you hear about Michigan growing up?
"All the time. Nonstop."
What kind of stories? What kind of indoctrination did you get?
"Just told that it was the best at everything and all the great players and just over the years the great games and watching them with my dad and stuff, so just kind of a constant – not really over-the-top, but being told what a special place this was and really I see it now so I get it. I get why he always told me all that stuff because I’m feeling it now and being around all the people and Ann Arbor, you really get a sense [for] why my dad felt that way.”
Personally, what’s it been like to be able to work with your dad?
“It’s been a blast. I’ve really- I don’t know, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been fun.”
Going back to some of those guys you learned about growing up, now you’re on the offensive staff with Ty Wheatley. Talk about your impressions of Ty and coach Drevno and the staff.
“Tyrone’s awesome. He’s a hilarious guy. Really fun to be around and knows so, so much. He really brings a great perspective having played the position of running back, but not just having played it; he played it in tons of different offenses and he knows from a player’s perspective when we say things and we teach things in the meeting room or on the field a lot of times he can catch things, catch problems before they occur because he’s so easily able to process things from their perspective. So in every way he’s been outstanding to be around and as a coach and you can tell the guys respect him.”
Can you talk about the Michigan legend tag that he also has?
“Yeah, it’s great when people, midwest kids, are coming here on a visit and they’ve heard their dad talk about Tyrone or maybe they remember him, that’s a cool thing. And then seeing guy who played here or grew up here, see that they’re coming back, that really gives the sense that there must be something to this place if guys want to return.”
Did you have a chance to coach with your dad on the 49ers? Was that an option and you went with your uncle instead?
“The timing of it, I really wanted to stay in Baltimore. I was really happy there and I liked my role quite a bit and I wanted to stay there for a little bit longer with Gary Kubiak.”
How excited are you to at some point play Nebraska and go against your old colleague Mike Riley?
“Uh…I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about that.”
Since you are still relatively new to having a position to coach how much experimenting are you doing versus having a tried-and-true method?
“I wouldn’t say I’m really experimenting. That’s a good question, though. I’m not experimenting, though.”
Did you ever feel like a celebrity kid when you were growing up?
Why not? I mean, people know the Harbaugh name and know your dad.
“Mmhmm. Yeah, I mean, he was the celebrity. I was the celebrity’s kid, yes. I don’t know. I guess so. I wasn’t like Macaulay Culkin or something.”
“Yeah, I was his kid so I did feel like that. I like to keep a low profile, so I don’t particularly enjoy being in the spotlight. You guys all make me super nervous.”
The fact that you’re a young guy and not specifically talking about recruiting, do you bring a different approach? Obviously there’s a lot of photoshopping going on, so do you bring a different sort of focus and attack?
“I mean, I certainly probably think about things through a lens- I see the world through a lens that’s closer to that of the guys we…I said I wasn’t going to talk about recruiting…than those people, so I think that’s helpful sometimes, or even from our own player’s perspectives it’s much different than the rest of the staff so just like it’s great to have people from different schemes- people from west coast scheme and this scheme and that scheme- all together from an offensive perspective I think it’s probably good just from an overall staff chemistry perspective. I’m kind of the young guy, but I get the short end of the stick on a lot of votes and stuff because I am also the youngest guy. I live with it, though.”
Do you think you could get Greg Mattison to do a photoshop?
“Yeah. Oh, he’s a wizard with the computer.”
Are you the youngest FBS assistant? You’re among the youngest.
“I don’t know. That’s your guy’s job.”
Yesterday, I posted the eight teams you should root for the most in this year’s Sweet 16. With games starting tonight, here’s the next eight. As a reminder, the top eight teams you should root for, in order, are Wichita State, Oklahoma, Arizona, Gonzaga, North Carolina State, Utah, Xavier, and Notre Dame.
Caution: hot takes.
9. North Carolina
“I have horrible taste in blazers blah blah blah”
I really don’t know what to say about this North Carolina team. I don’t like it, I don’t dislike it; I don’t think they’ve been particularly impressive, but on the other hand, they haven’t exactly been underwhelming either. As a team, they can’t shoot worth a lick, but the Heels feature a seemingly endless army of tall, variably athletic guys with overlapping skill sets. Recruiting guru approval only carried Carolina so far – there’s ridiculous Thad Matta-like consternation over the state of the program in recent years. Marcus Paige, the Heels’ go-to guy and only reliable shooter, hasn’t fulfilled All-American promise, and the rest of the team is still very young.
It’s perfectly fair to say that UNC acquitted themselves well this year despite failing to meet some of the loftiest annual expectations of any program in the country. Being among college basketball loyalty has its pluses and minuses: UNC has the facilities, financial resources, and recruiting cachet to remain forever stocked with talent – though this group seems starkly lacking in that there’s not a surefire NBA player in the whole bunch – but there’s the looming expectation that they have to remain extremely competitive in the ACC and must contend for Final Fours and National Championships.
Carolina finished 24-11 and fifth in the league, and although they managed a surprise run to the ACC Tournament final (where they lost to Notre Dame), they weren’t in the hunt for the regular season conference crown and were swept by their hated rival Duke, who has the future lottery picks and number one seed that Carolina envies. It’s tough.
Still, it’s not easy to feel bad for them. They’re still a four-seed and their front line of bouncy junior center Brice Johnson, burly sophomore power forward Kennedy Meeks (who is battling a knee injury), and lanky freshman swingman Justin Jackson will provide an interesting matchup against Wisconsin, though I think the Badgers have an advantage in each individual matchup. UNC isn’t a realistic Final Four contender – they’d need to beat Wisconsin and Arizona, a tall task for a teams that are far more well-rounded than UNC is.
Whatever. They’re nine.
The Monstars Kentucky
Karl-Anthony Towns is a national treasure and my goodness that young man can play some basketball.
[30 for 30 voice]
What if I told you, that in college basketball’s greatest bastion, in an era of increasing selfishness and commercialization, there was a group of young men who put aside their egos and banded together to play basketball The Right Way, with tenacious defense, egalitarian offense, and a desire to win, first and foremost, without any thought of personal gain.
That’s Kentucky. I’m not sure if they’re better than the Anthony Davis – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Cats back in 2012 (who received the top overall seed and romped to a national title), but this iteration of Cal’s Wildcats are four games away from the first undefeated season in almost 40 years. They have future NBA stars – Karl-Anthony Towns, in addition to being a funny and kinda weird dude, should be the top overall pick in my opinion, and junior (junior!) center Willie Cauley-Stein projects to be a plus-plus defender and rim protector at the next level. On average, they play about 23 minutes per regulation game, because they’re backed up by more freakishly huge, athletic, and imposing big guys.
Because it’s Kentucky – home to college basketball’s answer to Alabama and Florida State’s football fanbases – and because the team is guided by John Calipari, a shameless self-promoter who inspires precious little confidence in he and his program’s ethical legitimacy, for reasons both fair and unfair, people don’t like Kentucky. That’s fine. That’s why I have them way down at #9.
BUT LOOK AT THE PLAYERS. The rotation is just stupidly deep and talented: UK’s two best guards (arguably, but in my opinion) are Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker, and they each come off the bench behind the Harrison twins, who were top ten prospects two years ago. Trey Lyles is 6’10 and slightly miscast as a small forward – he does play some power forward – but any offensive speed bumps are rendered inconsequential by Kentucky’s otherworldly defense. This team is insanely fun to watch and if these guys were coached by almost anyone else, they’d be celebrated.
It’s Kentucky and it’s Coach Cal though, so a legitimately fun and possibly historical outfit is side-eyed with suspicion. Instead of focusing on the negatives, let’s focus on the positives: these guys all came in with insane high school accolades and they eventually fit together as a team and fulfill whatever hokey platitudes about teamwork you’d like to throw out there. And they’re so damn good.
That’s my case for bumping up UK from the cellar of these rankings. I’ll be completely honest, the fanbase is spoiled rotten and Cal rubs me the wrong way too (even if I think exploiting the one-and-done loophole is good business and admirable in its own way). If they go undefeated, we’ll have to revisit this, but they’re a buzzsaw and we don’t get to watch teams play at this level in college basketball very often.
This is the second result for “Bo Ryan incredulous” on Google image search.
“But Alex, they’re in the Big Ten too! Conference camaraderie, right?” “You said yourself that this wasn’t a typical Wisconsin team in that they’re actually fun to watch on offense!” “I’d rather these guys win than say, Michigan State.” “I actually don’t mind Wisconsin.”
You know what, straw men? You’re wrong. Despite everything, it’s still Wisconsin – the Trohl Center; Bo Ryan’s ceaseless badgering (hah) of the refs; defense that borders on dirty until one of their generic white dudes sticks his foot under yours on a jump shot and then, you know what, it’s just straight up dirty; it’s Josh Gasser’s bank shot in Crisler, it’s Ben Brust’s heave in Madison, it’s everything that’s regressive and problematic about college hoops! (I actually don’t believe that last part, but I was on a roll).
I’ve never been a huge participant in the Great Conference Wars of college athletics, to be quite honest. I think that the SEC hivemind that stumps for their hated rivals in out-of-conference football games is absurdly warped and stupid. I think that, you know what, even if there’s tangible benefits to a team winning, I just might not like that team. That’s it. Wisconsin’s current team isn’t all that bad – Bronson Koenig has been an awesome surprise, Frank Kaminsky is obviously the dude, and Nigel Hayes is talented and endearing. But this Wisconsin team carries the ghost of all of their predecessors and the less enjoyable things that come with them. More than anything though, I don’t like Wisconsin because they’re good. It’s not really that much more complicated than that.
* * *
I do find myself in a quandary however. After each Badger win, this CBS guy Jon Rothstein tweets, verbatim, “Death. Taxes. Bo Ryan.” While I do enjoy that Bo Ryan is juxtaposed with each of those horrible things, it’s tired and roundly mocked on Twitter after Wisconsin victories. If Rothstein’s right though, what happens if we topple the great undead tax collector? Death and taxes would be vanquished forever!
Now, that sounds good, but let’s pause for a minute. If the unholy triumvirate of death, taxes, and Bo Ryan were to be defeated, we’d have immortality, 100% of our earnings, and no more Wisconsin in the tournament. Immortality sounds great, but it really would probably be the shittiest thing ever; taxes are an unfortunate necessity and our civilization would collapse completely without them. So, yeah, we need Bo Ryan to keep winning. And if Wisconsin manages to hoist the first national championship trophy in a decade-and-a-half for the Big Ten, so help me, I’m gonna stick another needle in my Bucky Badger voodoo doll.
This riff probably didn’t make any sense, and I’m sorry for that. Go Heels.
12. West Virginia
♫ Country Roads, take me home ♫
Since WVU is probably going to play Kentucky’s game and, in the process, try to debase the beauty of the game of basketball as much as they possibly can, I’m not really a fan. Perhaps I’m too aestheticist, but for the love of all that’s good and pure about hoops, I can’t stand West Virginia’s brand of basketball. Play physical defense and dare the ref to give you five fouls; run offense that can most generously be described as “rudimentary” and just chase offensive rebounds; and, really, play the most extreme form of defense possible – the Mountaineers are first nationally in forcing turnovers and worst nationally in allowing free throws. Get a steal or hack the shit out of someone. It’s ugly. It’s not fun. It’s West Virginia hoops! Bob Huggins just told his team to run Beilein’s offense when he got there because he didn’t want to install his own. I’m not a fan of Huggins, but that’s not really here nor there.
And, really, since they’re almost definitely going to lose to Kentucky, it’s not worth our time to discuss them much further.
Life’s not fair.
Firstly, UCLA probably should not have made the tournament in the first place. They were rewarded for testing themselves with a murderer’s row of a schedule, but only tallied one truly great win – over Utah at home. Colorado State and Temple, for example, probably should have gotten in ahead of the Bruins, and that UCLA missed out on playing one of the First Four games in Dayton was a complete joke. Their wins in the tournament don’t validate their inclusion – the committee had to work with the data available at the time and made the incorrect choice.
Beyond that though, UCLA was the beneficiary of the biggest officiating controversy of the tournament thus far. They led SMU comfortably in the 6 / 11 game in the Round of 64 before falling apart in the second half and the Mustangs led the Bruins by seven points with a minute and a half there. In all fairness, SMU completely collapsed down the stretch, but the game winning “three” – screenshotted above – came as a result of an incredibly dubious goaltending call. SMU’s Yanick Moreira went up for the rebound on a ball that was clearly off the mark by about a foot. The Mustangs bungled the subsequent possession and wound up losing by one, 60-59.
UCLA then dispatched 14-seed UAB easily in the Round of 32, setting up a rematch of the infamous “Adam Morrison crying” game with Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen.
They’re the worst team left in the field, per Kenpom, and quite frankly, they shouldn’t be here because of multiple reasons. Sorry, UCLA, but we’re going to hold that against you. Hopefully the Bulldogs exact Morrison’s revenge.
NO. THIS IS WRONG. NO. NOOOOOOOOOOO.
I was on the floor of the Georgia Dome for Michigan’s tragic defeat in the National Championship two years ago so it should really go without saying that I absolutely, unequivocally hate Louisville for that. That block was clean, dammit. The happiness in the picture above inversely correlated with my misery that fateful April night and I probably won’t be able to stop wondering what could have been if a few more possessions had gone our way.
That said, there’s more to hate about Louisville! I mentioned West Virginia’s brutish style above and Louisville is much of the same, except they have the recruiting ability to aspire to be something greater than that. Right now, Louisville might actually surpass the Mountaineers as the ugliest team left in the tournament – their offense is a mess without any spacing and each game of theirs seems to devolve into a 1980’s Big East bar fight. Montrezl Harrell is an exciting player who can dunk about as well as anybody in college basketball, but even he falls in love with terrible mid-range or three-point shots. Chris Jones, the most baffling and frustrating player on the team was kicked off the squad about a month ago.
On top of that, Rick Pitino’s often a grating figure – consider this wholly unnecessary attack towards a college kid in a press conference in response to a wholly reasonable question -- Papa John’s pizza sucks, and Louisville is and forever will be the little brother to Kentucky. Between their style and the championship game two years ago, watching Louisville’s been excruciating on more than one level. The Cards were fortunate to receive a lifeboat from the ACC after the dissolution of the Big East (and a brief purgatorial stay in the American Conference) and, unfortunately, between Pitino and conference relevance, Louisville doesn’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon.
Between the loss two years ago, Louisville’s brand of bully-ball, and Rick Pitino, it’s easy not to like Louisville.
15. Michigan State
January February IZZO April May June July August September October November December
Chances are, as a Michigan fan, you probably don’t like Michigan State. It’s alright – I don’t either (although I should note that there are plenty of amazing MSU fans that I interact with on Twitter on a regular basis. I know some of y’all are reading this so just know that it’s nothing personal – strictly business). And, to be quite frank, Michigan State’s success is bad for business, as far as Michigan’s concerned.
Predictably, the national media focused on East Lansing and fawned over Tom Izzo like he was the reincarnation of Dr. James Naismith himself – and the worst part is, you can’t really argue. Michigan State has become one of the premier programs in college basketball because of the Spartans’ success in March. It’s hard to admit, but it’s true. And it makes it even easier to resent them and pull hard against them, no matter the opponent.
As for the whole “Big Ten solidarity” thing: again, IT’S BAD FOR MICHIGAN IF MICHIGAN STATE MAKES A FINAL FOUR OR WINS A NATIONAL TITLE. Beilein and Izzo will be locked in some head-to-head recruiting battles over the next few cycles; highly-touted prospects will come down to a choice between Michigan and Michigan State. It’s not good for Michigan if MSU continues their surprise run through this NCAA Tournament, not even close.
And, of course, a lot of things really go without saying, but hey, why not go through one of them anyways. Let’s consider Michigan State’s fabled “Little Sister” chant as, well, somewhat microcosmic, a clever commentary on what happens when the hegemonic gaze is refocused back at the one who gazes… hah no, it’s just a terribly uncreative, reactionary chant that reeks of misogyny and an inferiority complex. “It’s an isolated thing,” you say. Not when the whole student section chants it. Way to go, guys. Hearing that at Crisler after they punked us at our own place made my blood boil. State absolutely hates us and they’re under our skin, definitely, especially considering their recent run of football dominance.
Of course, there are plenty of great Spartan fans out there, and for them, I wish nothing but the best – save for a humbling loss at the hands of my Oklahoma Sooners. And for all the recent sports success in East Lansing, it’s only natural to become anxious – when will something go wrong? Not this year, as State exceeded every expectation and made the Sweet Sixteen… so let’s just hope they won’t go any further.
Duke’s last. It’s a principle thing.