I've now done three (one, two, three) CC candidate roundups. In each, I profiled 4 legitimate and 1 not-so-legitimate candidates. Now I rank the 12 legitimate ones according to how desirable a candidate they are, but with close calls determined by plausibility. (As you'll notice, some candidates are more plausible than others.) In other words, if I were Hackett, I'd just go down this list--maybe skipping the pipe dreams, but more likely just putting out feelers and politely backing off if the answer is "thanks but no thanks."
So what makes an ideal coaching candidate for Michigan in 2015? The demonstrated ability to coach + the demonstrated ability to win QUICKLY with a roster like ours + the likely ability to manage the uniquenesses of a "blue blood" program and its vested interests. That last bit really shouldn't matter as much as it does, but it undoubtedly does. And not just at Michigan: at Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama, USC and Tenessee too. Programs that feel the weight of history require coaches who can not only win but simultaneously embody and transcend tradition. Bo would be a perfect example, but there are others from more recent history, coaches who took the reins of once mighty "blue bloods" fallen on hard times and brought them back to glory. Bob Stoops, Pete Carroll, etc.
The Michigan job is further complicated by the fact that, like Notre Dame, we pride ourselves on academics and high integrity. Ideally we do not want to cut corners in our push (back) to the top. This is admirable, but it does make the job of finding the right person harder, as some of the best coaches out there are inveterate corner cutters. A Bob Stoops still makes the cut, but Pete Carroll? Not sure.
But enough about all that. Here's my ranked list of previously profiled CC candidates:
1. Jim Harbaugh
CASE: Harbaugh is the best available coach (to the unknowable degree that he is available) and the candidate who best “gets” what makes Michigan unique and special. Also shares Schlissel’s views on the academics/athletics balance.
LIKELIHOOD HE COMES IF OFFERED: 40%. It’s possible, maybe even more than possible, but he’s also going to have NFL options, and coaches with NFL options don’t often switch to college.
2. Gary Patterson
CASE: The best not available coach who's name nevertheless keeps coming up in every CC discussion at every major school. Patterson's long-term success at TCU speaks for itself—there’s a reason, after all, why his name keeps coming up. Unfortunately, it may not be worth the bandwidth to email an offer, because he’s not coming.
LIKELIHOOD HE COMES IF OFFERED: 1%. Anything's possible, but some things are so implausible that they might as well not be. In other words, he’s not coming.
3. John Harbaugh
CASE: Like little brother Jim, but less abrasive. Has won Super Bowl and grew up in Ann Arbor. Good NFL coaches (hell, even pretty good NFL coaches) tend to do well in college.
LIKELIHOOD HE COMES IF OFFERED: 10%. A neat idea, but hard to see “John Harbaugh, Michigan Football Coach” becoming reality. After all, unlike little brother Jim, he’s not being pushed out of his NFL gig for clash-of-personality reasons.
4. Les Miles
CASE: Big-time winner at LSU, and clearly a very good football coach. Former letterman and assistant coach under Bo too. Also the guy we maybe should have hired in 2007. However, is on the old side now and hiring Miles might exacerbate rather than heal our factional wounds.
LIKELIHOOD HE COMES IF OFFERED: 99%. He’s been non-obliquely hinting at it lately, and straight up told John U. Bacon in Three and Out that he was ready in 2007. If we want him, he’s coming.
5. Bret Bielema
CASE: Like most people, I thought this was crazytalk the first time I encountered it. But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. Would be able to take this roster and make it competitive right away. And as has been said, Bielema wins with a brand of football that roughly corresponds to what Hoke and Brandon wanted to re-establish but couldn't. On the other hand, his teams at Wisconsin were mostly of the “almost-but-not-quite-great” variety. That sounds pretty good from where we are right now, but could wear thin after some time.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 33%. There is a solid speculative case for why he’d be interested, but it’s airy speculation (i.e. there are no sources or rumors, just logic). Astronomical buyout might render this dead in the water.
6. Dan Mullen
CASE: Has won more games at Mississippi State than previously thought possible. Is also a disciple of Urban Meyer, who wins a lot of games for our rival school. That said, he hasn’t really won that much at Mississippi State, (it took Mullen 6 years to reach 10 wins), and may favor recruiting practices we'd prefer to avoid.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 33%. He’s got to realize that his stock will never be higher, and at the least, should use that to renegotiate his current contract. But may be comfortable where he is, or at least in the SEC. You'd think Florida was a sure thing, but apparently it's not. May wait to see if the LSU job opens.
7. Todd Graham
CASE: Wins a lot. Runs modern offense, but is a defensive guy. Modern offense plus good defense = WANT. At the same time, “cultural fit” might be an issue here (or not). Also, Graham is pretty mercenary in his approach to jobs, and would easily bolt after one year if he felt it was in his interests to do so.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 20%. He’s a good coach and would probably be interested in any gig that pays more/has a bigger spotlight, but Graham-to-Michigan doesn’t seem like an intuitive match for either party--especially after his old boss' bad experience here.
8. Jim McElwain
CASE: Like Nussmeier but with experience/success as a head coach. Like Bielema, could plausibly take what we have and make it work. But also not a thrilling (potential) hire.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED:
50% 20%. McElwain will have options, but Michigan (and the salary we could pay) would be at or near the top something he'd look at. Would we offer? Depends on that $7.5m buyout. Also rumored to be a he appears to be the top Florida target.
9. Tom Herman
CASE: Really good OC at Ohio State. Urban Meyer coaching tree. Can recruit Ohio! However, lack of experience as HC means on-the-job learning, and we’re probably not in the mood for more of that.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 80%. I’d put it higher, but there’s always the chance he wouldn’t want to face his mentor every year in THE rivalry game. Or maybe that’s not an issue? In any event, I see him moving to a Tulsa or Cincinnati before making the big jump. But of all the coordinator-level candidates, Herman is the one I have the most faith in.
10. Paul Chryst
CASE: A low-transition-cost, ultra-safe idea. Who knows--could be a Dantonio-type? May, however, be another Hoke.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 99%. Can’t see him saying no. We’re pretty far down the list if we’re offering, though.
11. Bob Stitt
CASE: A true innovator on offense. Long-term success at FCS level. But lack of even mid-major experience likely a dealbreaker
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 99%. Can’t see him saying no, but he's not a serious candidate for HC. Now, if we're talking OC, then we're really talking. Yes please!
12. Greg Schiano
CASE: We prefer not to win or sell season tickets.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 99%. Welcome to my nightmare.
Duke brings its collection of highly-touted freshmen to Madison, WI (source)
*I had my wisdom teeth pulled on Friday, so getting this together took longer than expected. Apologies. – Alex
Table of Contents
Major ACC – Big Ten Challenge storylines
Game previews: Tuesday
Game previews: Wednesday
Nebraska and Rutgers bring home wins
Tom Crean’s seat might be getting warmer
Holiday hoops recap – Part I
Holiday hoops recap – Part II
Holiday hoops recap – Part III
1. Major ACC – Big Ten Challenge storylines
As usual, the annual competition between the Big Ten and the ACC brings some of the most intriguing non-conference fixtures on the college basketball schedule. Unlike early-season tournaments or games at one-off neutral site venues, these will be played on campus – intersectional matchups between some of the most talented and prestigious teams in all of college hoops. As an added bonus, it provides 14 more data-points in the comparative analysis of conference strength.
The headliner of this slate of games is one of the best college basketball games of the year, on paper: two top five teams—Duke, led by possibly the best pro prospect in the country (Jahlil Okafor) travels to face Wisconsin, a veteran team coming off of a Final Four bid. Okafor, a mammoth center with precocious skill and coordination, matches up against Preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky, a versatile inside-out scoring five. Duke’s Justice Winslow meets Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker – both will likely be future NBA players, both are athletic, long wings who can score, defend, and rebound. Senior point guards Quinn Cook and Traevon Jackson form an intriguing matchup. This game – televised Wednesday at 9:30 E.T. on ESPN – is simply a must-watch.
With 14 games total, there are plenty more compelling matchups: Ohio State’s young squad faces its first real trip with a trip just south to face a vaunted Louisville team; Michigan welcomes an unusually inexperienced Syracuse team to Ann Arbor and will look to crack its characteristic 2-3 zone; Illinois and Miami – both undefeated – have a chance to enhance their upstart status; in a matchup of former conference foes, Virginia – and their unaesthetic brand of basketball – heads to Maryland (who will unfortunately be without the injured Dez Wells); Iowa has an opportunity to steal an upset at North Carolina; and Michigan State rekindles a football rivalry with Notre Dame – now a basketball member in the ACC.
This is one of the best short stretches of college basketball in terms of unique, high-level matchups, with the added element of conference camaraderie thrown in. Other leagues have since replicated the ACC – Big Ten Challenge, but this is still one of college basketball’s marquee events.
[AFTER THE JUMP: ACC—B1G analysis, recapping holiday tournaments]
SIX GAMES IN
I thought it might be a nice time to stop and look at a few basketball statistics now that we are starting to get into the season in earnest. Granted, these are non-conference games and what we will be able to get out of some of the numbers right now might be limited, but it seemed like six games was a decent enough checkpoint in the season.
One of the things which gets floated around from time to time here is the extremely good record of John Beilein once the points per possession number gets about about 1.10 or so. It is interesting then, that it has only been below that once, and that game was the very close loss to Villanova. Indeed, right now the average PPP number for Michigan is 1.22. One that I personally like as an efficiency measure is assist / turnover ratio – the season average to date is 1.95 and the only time it has been below 1.00 is also the loss to Villanova.
The comprehensive table of current averages on various stats is below:
One thing that is striking to me is that, so far anyway, these numbers aren’t terribly different than many of last season’s averages. For example, last season’s eFG% overall average was 55.95% and right now it is 55.18%. The offensive rebounding percentage last season averaged 28.74%, and so far this year, it is 29.53% - a slight increase. Of course, this is not a true comparison in that you have different personnel responsible for these performances, but it seems to speak to the maturity of Beilein’s philosophy as practiced here.
There are also the Four Factors to consider. Here is what those look like after six games - naturally, we are in blue and the opponent's corresponding statistic is red:
I don’t know that you can draw many strong conclusions, but the differences between the Villanova performance and the other five games are apparent. The one that I found amusing – and something that I didn’t think much about while watching the game – is the freakishly high FTR against Oregon. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen 63.04% there, but 29 FT attempts against only 46 FGs attempted is pretty amazing as a single-game stat, I think.
Anyway, here’s how it looks so far.
As everyone knows, in 1973 Michigan stormed back and scored 10 points in the 4th Q to tie Ohio 10-10, with Michigan QB Dennis Franklin getting hurt with 2 minutes left in the game. Twice in the last 2 minutes, Michigan’s field goal kicker missed the winning kick, but obviously had more scoring chances and ended the game the “stronger side.” According to Wiki, even Woody Hayes admitted his team wouldn’t go to the Rose Bowl.
Two years prior, the Big Ten abolished the “no repeat” rule, which if in effect in ’73, would have prevented Ohio State from going back to the Rose Bowl since they had gone the year before. All signs pointed to Michigan going, yet Ohio State was chosen by the Big Ten AD Committee, purportedly because Franklin was hurt, and since the Big Ten has lost the last 4 Rose Bowls, the committee thought Ohio State had the better chance to win.
Bo was furious about this decision, and remained so until his death. It was so controversial that documentaries and HBO specials were made about it.
JT Barrett went down on Saturday, and now throughout the airwaves we hear pundits voice the same issue – whether Ohio State should be downgraded for the first ever playoffs because they are weaker now without their QB.
I went to school when Bo was still coach. I saw the man up close many times. Never a more intense human being had I ever seen, even when just walking by on the way to lunch. If Bo were alive today, while he would feel bad for the kid’s injury, I would bet my bottom dollar deep down, with his competitive fire, he would have one thought in mind: schadenfreude. Dennis Franklin busted his ass all season long to keep Michigan undefeated and bring Michigan back to earn not only a tie, but a chance to win against Ohio State before he went down. Where were thoughts for Dennis Franklin by the AD committee in 1973? They chose against him.
For Dennis Franklin and for Bo, I will be rooting against the Buckeyes this Saturday, and against their selection come selection show.
Am I alone? Will I get negged for not showing more compassion? I’m tired of the trust fund attitude of too many Michigan faithful who’ve lost the intensity and competitive fire that should naturally come when you’ve lost to your arch-rival 11 out of 12 years. Hoke was the perfect embodiment of this softness – pathetically apologizing to Dantonio after getting pounded by State over a harmless stake gag. Would Bo have apologized? Not in a million years, and I’d bet he would’ve considered firing Hoke on the spot after that apology.
Let’s hope our next coach isn’t a nice guy, but a competitive mother effer who brings even half the intensity Bo brought with him, and demands excellence not only in comportment and execution, but in the level of competitiveness Michigan once had.
Let's get to it. I was traveling most of Sunday, so this is going up a bit late.
Worst: Tapping Out
I know I'm just a guy who writes a couple of paragraphs interspersed with animated gifs a week about Michigan football, but man was this a tiring season. The on-field play was bad enough, but then you have everything with Hoke, Brandon, player injuries, Shane Morris's concussion, Frank Clark's domestic violence situation, and everything else that turned what should have just been a bad season into a clown show. It's a testament to the coaches and players that they remained as upbeat and non-homicidal as they did, but I would love nothing more than for next season to be overwhelmingly boring. I know some people have knocked Brian for not keeping up with the UFRs and the like, but if I had to watch replays of this season intensely and try to tease out meaning going forward, I'd never leave my room or bathe.
Worst: A Very Brady Holiday Game
It's already been said, but this season epitomized the Brady Hoke experience at Michigan. The game could not have started worse, with Gardner throwing a headless turkey of a pass that was intercepted by OSU, and the Buckeyes quickly capitalized with a TD. The next drive featured two huge sacks by OSU's stud line, and it felt like the rout was on. But then Michigan held tough, scored on a couple of long drives, and would have entered the half with the lead had (sigh) they not given up an all too-familiar end-of-the-half TD run to Barrett. Still, for over a half Michigan looked like they could hang with one of the best teams in the country, seemingly playing up to the talent on the recruiting trail if not on the field. Of course, the fact "keeping up with OSU for part of a game" qualifies as a positive sign for UM is pretty damning praise. But whatever, the Game felt like a game for the second year in a row despite the trajectory of the club coming in.
But every Michigan fan has seen this movie a million times, and there's a reason Hoke has been various hot seats since midway through 2012. His teams seem capable in spurts, but against elite teams they fall apart amid a cloud of janky offenses, overwhelmed/non-adaptive defenses, and the types of mental errors and coaching mistakes that you just don't see with other top programs. Outside of one completion to Devin Funchess, Michigan's offense plugged along but never really exploded; it's a testament to their determination and heart that they scored 28 points, but they needed drives of 7, 15(!), 12, and 9 plays to do it, and none were shorter than 75 yards. On one hand, that was the most consistent offensive performance the Wolverines have shown against a team with a pulse all season, but it also highlighted how uncreative/un-explosive the team has been all year.
The defense did what it could, forcing OSU to punt 4 times, which feels like some type of record, but it also gave up nearly 500 yards and struggled to deal with yet another mobile QB, as Barrett ran for 2 TDs and threw for another before breaking his ankle. Michigan had trouble getting pressure all day, failing to record a sack and only really threatening a handful of times. OSU converted on 7 of 13 3rd downs, and... you know, it just wasn't good. On paper they played well enough, but Michigan's long drives kept OSU's offense off the field as much as Michigan's play did, and they still dropped 35 points on 9 meaningful drives, and with a chance to boot OSU off the field on 4th-and-1 down 7, Michigan gave up a nearly-untouched Ezekiel Elliott 44-yard TD run that effectively ended the game.
On one hand, it was an entertaining game for one of the few times all year, and Michigan played with the passion, cohesiveness, and efficiency great teams display against other top programs. Watching this game, it looked for long stretches like two national-caliber teams out there, trading shots in a meaningful rivalry game. And then reality set in and Michigan reverted to the team we've seen for years now, one incapable of just keeping pace, of playing the type of fundamentally-sound, "big boy" football its coaches expound upon every week and claim they see every day in practice. Michigan played like an overmatched underdog holding close, like a more historically-relevant Indiana or Illinois, and not the team a decreasingly-number of diehards claim are a "rival" to OSU.
Hoke should be and probably is gone, and I'll get to my feelings about the likely successors. These last two weeks showcase the best and worst of his tenure as a head coach, and the fact that means two semi-competitive losses is the perfect summation as to why they should be his last at UM.
Best: Why Can't They Make the Whole Season Out of OSU's Defense?
To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, if Michigan is only capable of playing this way offensively when they line up against OSU, they might as well just schedule the Buckeyes 12 times. Devin Gardner did throw the interception, and it was his fumble on a sack that OSU returned for a defensive TD following Elliott's TD run, but he also threw the ball as well as he has in weeks, completing over 2/3's of his passes for 233 yards and 2 TDs, and spread out the receptions to 9 different players, 10 if you include the throwback pass he caught from Drake Johnson on a pretty brilliant playcall that helped Michigan tie the game at 21 in the 3rd. It wasn't anywhere close to his record-breaking performance from last year, but Gardner acquitted himself well enough in his final game as a Wolverine, and it was a bit poetic that his last completion of his career was a great little throw and catch to Canteen for Michigan's last TD. Of course, the fact it was in a game Michigan wound up losing by 14 takes a bit of luster off the rose, but this is the "happy thoughts" part of this diary.
Drake Johnson had his 3rd really solid performance in 4 games, scoring 2 TDs and would have likely finished with 100 yards had he not been injured in the 3rd quarter. What he does isn't necessarily flashy and I'm not sure if he could hold up to every-down back-type carries for a season, but his one-cut-and-go style meshes well enough with the playcalling, and outside of Green in spurts I'm not sure there has been another back this year who has shown Johnson's consistency these past 4-5 games. In this game, nobody other than Gardner had more than 3 carries, and Norfleet's 10 yards were the most non-QB yards on the ground amongst Hayes, Smith, and Kerridge. Once Johnson went down, so did the rest of the rushing offense.
According to the internet I am to believe that Devin Funchess GAF this game because he caught 7 balls for over 108 yards (only the second time sigh he's done so all year), but it also felt like one of the few times this year Michigan hasn't been afraid to throw downfield a bit and challenge defensive backs. The offensive line gave up 5 sacks, but they tended to come in bunches and, overall, Gardner was able to survey the field and find open receivers reasonably well, especially when the pocket moved with him and bought him some time with his legs. If this is Funchess's last game (and barring some crazy ju-ju by the next head coach or a poor draft report, it is), at least it felt like he had some chances to make plays and fulfill a bit of the promise expected before this broken season took place.
I'd like to say this portends some hope for next year, with only Gardner and (probably) Funchess gone, but I'm not going to fall for that fool's gold again quite yet. Whoever takes over next year will find an offense capable of playing a couple of different ways, and even though a big part of me wishes we could have seen a healthy Devin Gardner is a spread-style offense behind an improving line, Morris and co., there's enough talent and ability at the QB position to make me think a repeat of 2008 ThreetSheridanDamnit isn't in the cards.
Good(?): Good Many Cooks in the Backfield
Coming into the season, one of the key questions around these parts was whether or not Michigan had anyone who could matriculate the ball forward without (a) fumbling, (b) exploding, or (c) not following that up with three carries going backwards. Transfer Ty Isaac was going to be redshirt, but after a disastrous 2013 people expected the slew of highly-rated freshmen to mature into competent rushers, especially if the offensive line made some positive strides. For most of the year, it looked like Green was figuring out how to be a semi-effective rusher in college, while Smith would do his phonebooth runs where he fell forward for a couple of yards. Nobody was going to mistake it for past efforts by Hart or Perry, but it was consistently mediocre, which counts as a "win" in my book.
Then Green went down and Smith stumbled getting the lion's share, while guys like Hayes and Norfleet provided change-of-pace but still felt like misshaped pieces in the offensive scheme. All wasn't "lost" because this is 2014 Michigan, so not having a semi-competent rushing attack is WAYYYYYYY down the list of concerns, but given the improved play by the offensive line it was a bit sad it wasn't being put to better effect. And then Drake Johnson had a good day against IU on Homecoming and we all kinda said "good for him" and figured that was it. Two weeks later he was held in check by Northwestern, but that game was played on the M00N and DeVeon Smith had his best game in a Michigan uniform. Since then, Johnson has played really well, and at some point the sample size and opponent arguments disappear and you can begin to (cautiously) get excited about him coming back next year and competing with Green, Isaac, and Smith for meaningful carries.
Johnson isn't as dynamic as Smith or Green can be, and while Isaac looked good at USC during his freshman year who knows what effect the year away from the game will be, especially if he is learning yet another offense that may or may not be similar to the ones he's been exposed to the past 2 years. I do think next year will feature a healthy dose of real Drake Johnson hype, especially if Michigan sticks with a similar blocking and running scheme, as his point-and-shoot running style works really well with zone blocking that was most effective this year. Green was probably the "feature" back this year before he went down, and Isaac should get a good number of carries as he is eased back into the game. So that means the backfield could well be a strength for the team in 2015, which would be great considering Michigan will be breaking in a new QB who, at best, has played 2 meaningful games in his college career.
Of course, there are only so many carries to go around, so I wonder if every rusher will be back next year, but that's a discussion for another day. It still remains a positive uptick for the Michigan rushing offense to put up solid efforts for the better part of the month, and credit should go to the backs and the offensive line for making that a reality.
Worst: Missing Frank Clark
I didn't want to say much last week given what transpired with Clark, but with the end of the season it is hard not to look back at the games against OSU and (in particular) Maryland and not see where his absence had a significant effect on how the defense played. Clark wasn't a top-flight DE, but he was a disruptive force on a line that has lacked punch for most of Hoke's tenure, and more importantly possessed the athleticism to string out the QB-based running plays that killed Michigan against Maryland and are the bread-and-butter of OSU's offense. I don't think he would have made a difference in the overall outcome against OSU, but I absolutely believe him not being available against Maryland cost Michigan that game. Of course, I'm not condoning what happened in that hotel room and absolutely agree with Hoke's decision to dismiss him from the team, but from a football perspective him being gone hurt a Michigan team that could have at least won 6 games.
Best: Defensive Effort
I know I seemed a bit underwhelmed about the defense's performance above, but I absolutely felt like they played as best as they could given just how scary-good OSU's offense can be. Michigan didn't force a turnover or get a gift possession after a bad punt return or fumbled snap like other OSU opponents, so they deserve credit for giving up 35 points the honest way. As noted earlier, they were without Frank Clark, and while early-season J.T. Barrett might have been susceptible to weird blitzing patterns or different alignments, by this time in the season Barrett was just another Heisman trophy-caliber QB coming off the Meyer assembly line. And OSU's offense is designed to pick away at your weaknesses, like they did against MSU, like they did for stretches against PSU, and like they've done to great effect to everyone else this season save VT. So while it is clear the corners aren't as talented as we all hoped coming into the year, and the linebackers struggled at times in coverage, and the run defense benefitted immensely from missing teams like Wisconsin and Nebraska, it was still a unit that "came to play" every week, as cliche as that is, and one a different team is probably good enough to win you 9-10 games. And with only a couple of key contributors leaving (Ryan, Beyer, Taylor, Clark), it feels like a unit that the next coach should be able to meld pretty quickly.
Meh: Flightracker 2015!
If you want a full recap of the coaching search and the key players involved, check the various diaries from alum96, Eye of the Tiger, and others, along with the front-page posts by Brian and the staff. They have fantastic takes on the candidates, and I have nothing substantive to add in terms of names.
To steal a line from Brian, I don't know man. Everyone and his mom at Michigan are calling for Jim Harbaugh; the 49ers have obliged by all but packing Jim's bags for him and called for an Uber headed to the airport. Barring a run to the Super Bowl, I don't see a world in which Harbaugh is coaching in San Francisco next year, and even if they win out I could see both sides cutting ties at their highest point. And by all accounts, he's interested in coming to Michigan, with those insider-y comments like "he feels like he might do better in college" and the usual platitudes about wanting to come back to his alma mater. So the tracks are absolutely greased for Harbaugh to ride into town and save the day.
Now, I know I speak for the minority, but I'm not in love with the prospect of Harbaugh being the next head coach. This isn't because I want to be a contrarian, or because I want to start a debate. Objectively, Harbaugh is the best option for Michigan if the goal is winning quickly and (hopefully) voluminously while apeasing the most fans. He had good success in college at Stanford, and though it was brief he absolutely showed an acumen recruiting top players to a down program. He then went to the pros and had one of the most successful runs any new coach has ever experienced, winning 36 games in 3 years and going to at least the conference final every year. He's young enough to stick around, and his ties to the University are unparalleled amongst the available options. Plus, it would be fun to finally have a coach who would absolutely call Mark Dantonio out on being an a-hole and, well, we can only dream about that first post-game handshake. And yet, there remain reasons why I really, truly wish Michigan would look somewhere else for their next coach.
First off, what I dislike about Harbaugh as a head coach is what he symbolizes. Michigan got itself into this near-decade of sub-mediocrity because it doggedly holds onto the past, pulling off their best Notre Dame "echos of the past" by talking about how good they were years ago and how they just need to get back to playing football the "Michigan Way." This mentality is obviously not shared by all Michigan fans, but there is this contingent that has been chasing ghosts since Bo left, and it has colored their worldview to such an extent that anyone who doesn't subscribe to that notion of Wolverine football is shouted down for "ignoring history" or recognize true greatness. And yes, I believe Bo was a great coach for Michigan when he was there, and he absolutely helped revive a faltering program and bring them back to national prominence. But he's also a guy who has 1 more Rose Bowl win than Mark Dantonio and the same number as John Cooper, whose teams always seemed a step below elite (save for your outlier year here or there), and whose memory exceeded his accomplishments around the time Carr left and the first "outsider" was let into his Hall. Harbaugh has such a strong connection to Bo, to an era when Michigan could just be "Michigan" and that was enough to win most games, and I don't believe it is possible for Michigan, or really any program, to go back to that. So through no fault of his own, his existence feels a bit like the "break glass to stop time" emergency release that will further keep Michigan a step behind other national powers that don't seem afraid to break with tradition and the withered alumni tree.
Now, I don't think Harbaugh would try to recreate 1980's Michigan football, but at the same time what we've seen from him in college has been schemes that wouldn't be out of place decades ago. Stanford was a run-heavy outfit with a pretty basic defense that beat you by forcing you to grind down the field; it worked because Harbaugh is a good coach and his teams were smart, heady outfits that played within their limitations. But the dirty little secret about 2009/2010 in the Pac-10 is that they were pretty terrible years for the conference. Stanford and Oregon finished #4 and #3, respectively, in 2010, but the next best team was 8-5 USC coached by Lane Kiffin, and Oregon ran Stanford off the field when they played them. In 2009 Stanford got on the national map when the upset Oregon, but that wasn't a banner year for the conference either, with Oregon winning the league at 10-3 and Pete Carroll's last USC team limping to a 9-4 finish with sanctions looming. That isn't to outright dismiss Harbaugh's accomplishments because winning at Stanford is incredibly tough and his teams were trending upward, but at least some of that success should be attributed to playing some pretty weak competition, probably even weaker than what he'd see in the B1G his first year.
What we've seen nationally is that unless you have overwhelming talent, which Michigan doesn't have, the best teams employ offensive and defensive systems that attack your weaknesses dynamically and aren't afraid to fight left-handed if it makes sense. It's how OSU turned a redshirt freshman into a record-breaking QB, or how Auburn drops 600 yards on Alabama (in a losing effort, yes), or how Rich Rodriguez is playing for the Pac-12 title in his third season at Arizona. Maybe Harbaugh learned more coaching Kapernick and having to adapt to his playing style, so this could be a false concern. But at the same time, it is reasonable to wonder if the best version of Stanford is the ceiling Michigan is looking at. That might win them a bunch of games in this conference, but it will still put them behind OSU more times than not, and nationally I'm not sure that gets Michigan any closer to being nationally relevant year-by-year.
But beyond that concern of hoping for past glories, the other key reason I'm down on Michigan going for Harbaugh is that I don't think he's coming here, or that he'd stick around all that long if he did. Like I said earlier, he's had a near-unprecedented run of success while at SF, and his name is already being thrown around for spots in NY, Cleveland, Atlanta, etc. This isn't Nick Saban finishing under .500 in his two years in Miami, or Spurrier spectacularly flaming out in Washington and running back to college and its noon tee times. Harbaugh isn't likely done with the NFL, and if he has some early success at UM that siren song is only going to get louder. You may say "that's great, it means he'll win now and set Michigan back on the national map", but I could see that being a bit of a distraction and having a negative effect on recruiting. Furthermore, and this is absolutely a personal take with no basis in provable fact, but I'm not sold Harbaugh views Michigan the way other people think he views Michigan. This was the guy who took shots at the education, at the way the program was run once he was a head coach and recruiting against them, and he's not said or done anything since then to make me believe his view of Michigan has changed demonstrably. We all laugh now at Brady Hoke for saying "This is Michigan, fergodsakes" because he failed to back up his love with results on the field, but there is something to be said for a guy who wants to stay and create a legacy at your school. Harbaugh would absolutely be positive about Michigan while he is there, but I also think he'd be looking around at other opportunities when appropriate. I'm not sure if "cold-eyed focus" and cutthroat calculus are good or bad traits, but Harbaugh has them in spades.
So I guess that's why I'd love for Michigan to look at younger options, guys who would jump at the opportunity to coach at Michigan for decades and turn it into their own instead of a guy who is sorta, kinda being pushed out for political reasons in the NFL and might land back at Michigan because it is the best option at the time. The more I see and hear about guys like Herman at OSU, Frost at Oregon, or Aranda at Wisconsin the more I'd like a younger coordinator who has "apprenticed" under a top-flight coach and who seems poised to take over a program. I know people say Michigan doesn't need to take chances on coaches, but Gus Malzahn had one season of HC experience at Arkansas St. before he took over at Auburn and turned that program around immediately, and guys like Bob Stoops and Chip Kelly got their first HC chances at programs where they flourished almost immediately. Age is just a number, and getting a guy with "head coaching experience" instead of "a clue" is what led us down the Hoke wormhole. "Michigan" does a fair bit of recruiting for you, and a young guy coming in will undoubtedly keep around the pieces from the current regime that work and won't be afraid to upset the apple cart a bit where necessary. Who knows if any of these guys will turn out to be great HCs, but taking a risk on an unknown with upside sure beats out the alternative of Miles or retreads that seems to be option B if/when Harbaugh takes a hard pass.
I commend you for reading this far, so I'll end this here. I want Michigan to win, to get back to being the type of program that deserved to be called a "Leader and Best" on the football field. And maybe Harbaugh is the perfect compliment of old-world charm and new-world winning. But what I fear is that the powers in control of the decision are going into it with blinders on, and for a school that has so many innovative elements it would be depressing to see them not explore every option out there.
Best: The End
Finally, my Saturday nights/Sundays are free! I want to thank everyone who reads and comments on these diaries, and for putting up with my rants and long-winded explanations. I've enjoyed trying to bring a bit of levity to this season, and look forward to 2015 when Shane Morris and Drake Johnson ride Harbaugh mania to the Rose Bowl!
Boxscore Link: http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/m-footbl/stats/112914aaa.html
The astute reader will notice that I put the links up first this week. The reason being is that I don't expect anyone to read through what I have to say, except for my brother, Michael Thomas (YTMT.) Ohio State's Michael Thomas (NTMT) is an imposter, I tell you! I'm not even sure why I'm bothering to write this. But write I will because I had an idea two weeks ago, and I'm not letting it go to waste.
When I was a kid, I heard that Bo and Woody preferred to run the ball because when you pass the ball, three things can happen and two of them are bad. The Michigan offense of the past two years has redefined that calculus. I now believe that when you pass the ball, six things can happen and five of them are bad. Of course, you have the original two bad items, the incompletion and the interception. I've seen enough of Michigan's offense to realize that we have to add these additional bad outcomes: 1) throwing screen passes for negative yardage, 2) getting sacked, and 3) getting strip-sacked.
In case there was any doubt, Michigan drove the point home to start the game. On our first play, Drake Johnson ran for 7 yards. On the next play, Devin Gardner threw an interception. On the next drive, Michigan threw a screen pass for -5 yards, ran the ball for 15 yards, took a sack, ran for 4, and took another sack. Three good running plays and four bad passing plays. The second drive ended with yet another poor special teams play, as Jalin Marshall returned a punt 23 yards.
After the Rutgers game, someone asked the MGoBoard to sum up the season in a song. I went with Johnny Cash's version of Hurt (I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real.) While I still think that song is an apt metaphor for this season, there can be only one song that describes where we're at this weekend. I present to you, the Sunday's, "Here's Where The Story Ends," with commentary provided by yours truly. If you press play and read the following notes, you'll find they sync up like The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the MOON.
People I know, places I go
Make me feel tongue tied
I think I was aware somthing happened, but I'm not fully aware
I can see how, people look down
They're on the inside
Brady's ultimate insider, Dave Brandon resigned this season. Does he have any support left from insiders?
Here's where the story ends
The story ends with a 31-20 record at Michigan with declining win totals year after year
People I see, weary of me
Showing my good side
Yeah, you can say that again
I can see how, people look down
I'm on the outside
You will be soon (wow, this is starting to sound harsh. But don't blame me, I didn't write this song.)
Here's, where the story ends
Ooh here's, where the story ends
The story ends with your fifth year senior quarterback being outplayed by a freshman and a third string QB
It's that little souvenir, of a terrible year
The tent stake?
Which makes my eyes feel sore
Watching Michigan this season made my eyes feel sore
Oh I never should have said, the books that you read
Were all I loved you for
I'll admit, graduating 69 of 69 seniors is a good thing
It's that little souvenir, of a terrible year
The two bottles of coke?
Which makes me wonder why
And it's the memories of the shed,
In year 4, Michigan was on the wrong end of woodshed games including:
0-31 versus a mediocre Notre Dame team
10-26 versus Utah
14-30 versus Minnesota
11-35 versus Sparty
that make me turn red
No! Anything but red!
Surprise, surprise, surprise
Losses to Minnesota, Rutgers, and Maryland provided the biggest surprises of this season
Crazy I know, places I go
Make me feel so tired
Tired of the losing, tired of the miscues, tired of the turnovers, tired of losing the places you go, i.e., road games.
I can see how people look down
I'm on the outside
Here's, where the story ends
Ooh here's, where the story ends
With Michigan leading #6 Ohio State 14-7 late in the first half, Michigan punted with 15 seconds left on the play clock. Unsurprisingly, Ohio State drove down the field and scored a TD with 7 seconds left.
It's that little souvenir, of a terrible year
Which makes my eyes feel sore
The "KEEP BRADY HOKE" banner that flew over Spartan Stadium?
And who ever would've thought, the books that you brought
Were all I loved you for
Oh the devil in me said, go down to the shed
I know where I belong
But the only thing I ever really wanted to say
Was wrong, was wrong, was wrong
It's that little souvenir, of a colorful year
Which makes me smile inside
I know, it's the "Quit Drinking and Go To Bed" novelty t-shirt I bought from the MGoStore!
So I cynically, cynically say, the world is that way
Surprise, surprise, surprise, surprise, surprise
Here's, where the story ends
Ooh here's, where the story ends
With Michigan down by 14 points, Brady Hoke used his last timeout with 1:12 left to extend the game by one more play. Sorry Brady, you're now out of timeouts. The story ends. Your story. But there's always next year and another story to tell.
See you in '15.