I have been an infrequent commenter but daily (often hourly) reader of MGoBlog since before Lloyd retired . (I was sold that Brian correctly told us, on Tuesday before the OSU game, that LC would retire on the forthcoming Monday morning, based on inside info he had. No one in the media had said that previously. It came to pass. I put my full faith and confidence in Brian at that point.)
I am in my 40s with kids, so I am not in a position to let the ups and downs of a college football team dictate my daily mood. If the team does horribly, I can't go around for a few minutes, much less days, acting all sullen. My daughters and wife expect me to be Daddy, not Angry-Against-Everything-Cuz-I'm-A-Michigan-Fan-Guy I actually want to be.
I lay this out as necessary background. I have reserved all judgment to this point. I have in fact defended RR from non-Michigan fans, who have bought into the media that has somehow painted RR as a bad guy. I knew patience is the most important thing to have as the management of a football team (see: Daniel Snyder). This season, even after 5-0, I knew we were facing losses against Sparty and Hawkeye Nation, so I told myself, do not make judgments until after the three-game PSU / U of I / PU stretch. Do not rush to a conclusion yet.
Had a mind change Saturday night. It hasn't gone away since, and now I'm crystal-clear about the future.
I hereby officially declare, as a multidecade U of M fan paying extremely close attention to all circumstances: It is time to replace RR and throw a ton of money at Jim Harbaugh.
It has been complained that people have ranted this weekend about changing coaches without a reasoned basis. I respectfully submit the facts are indisputable.
1. RR's teams are not Big Ten tough. The offense with smaller backs, smaller/fleeter O-line, etc. works great again mediocre and bad teams -- see, ND, UConn, Any MAC Team, Any FCS Team, etc. Against brawny Big Ten teams (meaning, not IU), no so much. While the style of offense has done well for some lesser-ran Big Ten teams to get spotty success (pretty much, Purdue with Drew Breeze and Northwestern), it's my conclusion this offense is not going to produce a consistent winner. But my comment about not being "Big Ten" tough is not limited to the defense. For that we turn to...
2. No excuses for this lack of defense. RR has been coach for 3 years, has had 2 1/2 of his own recruiting classes. The lack of talent in the front 7 is squarely on RR's shoulders, period. Big-name defensive recruits are pretty much not touching us there. There is really nothing in the pipeline, in terms of the underclassmen or incoming classes, that screams massive improvement is on the way. I can give a slight pass to RR for the DBs -- with five 4- or 5-star guys who might have been on this team, but aren't -- and clearly the extreme youth movement there MIGHT, in 2 or 3 years, produce something resembling competency. But, given the lack of Big Ten fight in the front seven, and the lack of hope I have there, the current situation squarely is RR's fault.
3. We aren't getting media love. This might not seem like a big thing, but enough people nationally and locally in the media seem to like dumping on RR -- this ultimately is somewhat like how folks in the Middle East view the USA, it kind of doesn't matter what reality is, it just matters what you hear over, and over, and over, that's all the people believe. This problem will generally serve to disintegrate national support and, thus, recruiting for our program. Ask Notre Dame about that. (BTW, I see sooooo many OSU decals on cars, and on sweatshirts, these days compared to 4-5 years ago -- and I live in Metro DC area. This isn't an accident. Public view of our program is NOT where is used to be a few years ago; the Bball problems clearly contributed to that of course.)
4. Harbaugh!!!! Dude, like, we are STARING at the obvious answer. If he wants to go to the NFL, so be it -- his bro is there, and obviously Jim was one reception away from the super bowl and might fancy another shot at it. But there have been enough indirect sources saying his heart is still in UM, and having been a Bo disciple, I don't question where his heart is. Stanford is no UM: he can't recruit like he wants too -- too many academic restrictions. Still he gets Top 20 classes there. But no way he can out-recruit Oregon or USC at Stanford, just nooo way. So I would guess, he won't be at Stanford long-term, he probably will be looking for the NFL or a B(C)S school where he can get top-notch talent. (I am on record predicting the USC job will open this winter. I could see him there, working with Pat Haden.)
What sells me is, Harbaugh's teams ARE TOUGH. Both on O and D. Did you watch that UCLA game? They smashed the Bruins in the face and laughed about it. They didn't have the athletic talent to stop Oregon, but then again, no one might this year. Otherwise, they are just one royally tough football team -- gee, just like Bo used to field!!!!
We have an obvious solution staring at us. Ask yourself this, if this Spring RR is coaching us and Jim Harbaugh is at another B(C)S school, HOW WILL YOU FEEL? My point exactly. (If he's in the NFL, well, nothing to be done about that.)
I'm all in. I don't need to see more. I know what is coming the last month of the season, so I don't need to say something like "barring a miracle" because there won't be any miracle. I am fully satisfied with the realization that...
The RR experiment has come to its end, and Dave Brandon needs to get Jim to COME HOME. Period.
Rich Rodriguez became head coach at Michigan on December 17, 2007. National signing day in 2008 was February 6th. The first recruiting class and roster/recruit evaluation period that Coach Rodriguez had was all of one game and 2 and a half months. [Ed-M: I put current starters in bold, regular contributors in itals].
Defensive recruits in that first class were:
- Cissoko - got in lots of trouble, now gone
- Demens - got in some trouble, now starting and possibly good
- Fitzgerald - behind Roh on the depth chart, possibly a career backup
- Floyd - starting but ideally would not be
- Taylor Hill - transferred immediately
- Martin - beast
- Brandon Smith - transferred
- Marcus Witherspoon - didn't make it to campus, went to Rutgers, washed out
I tend to look at this class as a bit of a lost class due to the coaching transition. Most players committed to Michigan for Carr, stayed despite the change even though they didn't know the new staff much (and that new staff didn't know them well either), and some left for whatever reason.
2009 - First Full Rodriguez Class
- Isaiah Bell - possible career backup
- Will Campbell - now on offense
- Vlad - transferred
- Cam Gordon - starting safety/spur, redshirt freshman, former wide receiver
- Thomas Gordon - sometime starter, sometime back up at spur, plays regularly, redshirt freshman
- Brandin Hawthorne - special teams
- Mike Jones - backup linebacker, true sophomore, regular backup snaps before season ending injury
- LaLota - transferred
- Roh - pre-Beast on the line, a bit lost as pass defending linebacker
- Justin Turner - transferred
- Witty - never qualified
Another class of mixed results, some guys playing regularly, even starting, others non-factors thus far, and a couple of guys who are no longer on the team.
- Ash - redshirting (long-term project)
- Avery - former high school quarterback playing regularly as a nickelback
- Black - regular in the defensive end rotation
- Cullen Christian - regular in the cornerback rotation
- Dorsey - we know how that ended
- Josh Furman - redshirting
- Carvin - starter at spur/safety when healthy
- Kinard - did not qualify, may be in 2011 class
- Paskorz - redshirting
- M-Rob - recently moved to linebacker, saw snaps v. PSU
- Davion Rogers - left school (academic)
- Jake Ryan -redshirting
- Talbott (DB) - in the regular cornerback rotation
- Talbott (DT) - redshirting
- Ray Vinopal - played sparingly before starting last week
- Ken Wilkins - redshirting
Now let's look at the guys who are playing on this year's defense:
Roh - prebeast Fitzgerald - backup Van Bergen - solid Big10 player Watson - career back up Martin - beast Patterson/Sagesse/Banks - average guys, probably wouldn't start or even play on good defenses Washington - switched to defense last week Black - true freshman Demens - new starter, doing ok, not much playing experience Ezeh - average at best starter now backing up Mouton - talented but inconsistent
Here's where it gets really bad: Gordons - redshirt freshmen Avery, M-Rob, Carvin, Cullen, Talbott, Vinopal - all true freshmen Grit Kovacs - redshirt sophomore former walk on Rogers - senior career back up at wide out and corner Floyd - redshirt sophomore, ok, probably not ready to be a starter
What does it mean? Seven true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen play regularly on defense, most of them in the secondary. The veterans (which I define as guys older than redshirt sophomores) total nine guys, about six of whom wouldn't be playing on a good defense. The defense is bad. This was likely to be the case even if Woolfolk's ankle hadn't blow'd up real good in fall camp. This may have even been the case if Donovan Warren had stayed.
What's the point? The players on the defense that are attributable to Coach Rodriguez and staff are primarily true and redshirt freshmen. I don't have some great metric or link that details the benefit of age and experience on defense but I think we can all agree that relying so heavily on first- and second-year players is a recipe for disaster. It's also one that we would be seeing even if nobody had transferred out or failed to qualify in the Rodriguez era.
Rodriguez Defenses at WVU (database at cfbstats.com only goes back to 2004)
2004: 339 ypg, 36th nationally, 20 ppg, 3.6 ypc, 107 opponent passer rating, 20 turnovers forced
2005: 311 ypg, 15th nationally, 17ppg, 2.9 ypc, 116 opponent passer rating, 21 turnovers forced
2006: 336 ypg, 62nd nationally, 17ppg, 3ypc, 125 opponent passer rating, 16 turnovers forced
2007: 302 ypg, 7th nationally, 18ppg, 3 ypc, 114 opponent passer rating, 24 turnovers forced
Michigan D 2010: 440 ypg, 106th nationally, 30ppg, 4 ypc, 141 opponent passer rating, 9 turnovers forced
So what's my point?
1. Expectations before the season were for a below-average defense even with a healthy Woolfolk. Then he got hurt, Jones got hurt, Demens may have missed the first half of the season due to off-field issues, now Martin is dinged and there is a parade of freshmen in the secondary. For those who are in the Penn State was the final straw camp, what changed in those three-ish hours from the previous 2 months of the season?
2. Coach Rodriguez has a resume that suggests he can build good defenses. At this point he has 2 and a half recruiting classes at Michigan. They won't be any good on defense if they have to rely on this many first and second year players. If you want to focus on the talent that was here when Coach Rodriguez took over, check out Misopogon's Decimated Defense series: http://mgoblog.com/diaries/decimated-defense and http://mgoblog.com/diaries/decimated-defense-part-ii-statisticating [Ed-M: and more recent followups where I said this year would suck, and then said this year does suck because half of the guys who were on the team when I said it would suck have either left, got injured, or just plain suck].
Nobody is happy with these results. Few people want to hear or have the patience to continue to hear, "its early," "they're young," "give him time." But this is simply the truth of the situation at this time. Look at the offense: mostly made up of guys who have been starting/playing significant snaps for all three years of the Rodriguez Era. They are putting up over 500 yards and over 30 points per game, and that's still with two sophomore quarterbacks. I still believe that Rodriguez will be great here but it will take until next year for the defense to be anyware close to average and 2012 for the defense to be above average, because by then he should be operating with mostly upperclassmen on D.
I'm creating this diary to dispel some of the myths that people are trying to believe in hopes of keeping Coach Rodriguez around. If you support keeping him, that is fine, I respect your opinion, but after a careful viewing of the Penn State debacle, my personal opinion is that this team needs to head in a different direction if it can get the right coach.
The Offensive Argument
The theory holds that Rich Rodriguez has come into Michigan and in three years has built an offensive juggernaut that rivals the likes of Oregon or Boise State in terms of scoring offense. On defense he has had some bad luck with attrition and injuries, but that if we give him the necessary time and let him build a defense that is even remotely capable, he will have an unstoppable team given how great the offense is. There are two glaring flaws with this argument.
Flaw #1: The Offense is Not THAT Good
Our offensive production has been overhyped on this blog by an obsession with one statistic: Yards Per Game. Right now, I believe we are ranked #4 in the country in YPG. On this statistic alone rests the entire "offensive" argument. The vital fact that is being forgotten is that in any sport, you cannot gauge a team, or even its offense, on one statistic alone. Take for example, Michigan's ranking in the following statistical categories:
Points per game: 20th
Time of Possession: 92nd
Third Down Conversions: 61st
Red Zone Efficiency: 51st
These statistics were not cherry-picked from a group of low ranking stats. Instead, I chose four random stats that I feel are extremely important in terms of offensive performance. In light of these statistics, it is clear that our offense is not some unstoppable force. It is good. But it isn't the "we score like our hair is on fire every time we touch the ball" machine that some on this board make it out to be. Not even close.
Flaw #2: The Lack of Hope of Defensive Improvement
This one baffles me. The next part of the argument goes that if we give Rich Rodriguez time, he will build a competent defense to match our amazing offense (see Flaw #1 on that point). However, I wonder what gives people the inclination that he will do this. There seems to be no basis for believing that he is the type of coach that will do this. It is clear that he puts very little emphasis on defense, he has recruited bad apples time and time again on that side of the ball, either players who leave the program or don't end up being good anyway. They have not developed the talent that they have had and mediocre players have decided to try for the NFL instead of staying, even though there was a chance they'd go un-drafted) and did.
The track record says that there is no likely foreseeable scenario where Rich Rodriguez builds a suitable defense to match up in the Big Ten.
Perhaps you draw a different conclusion from these facts. My conclusion is that the University of Michigan football program needs to go in a different direction. After three years, a good offense and an atrocious defense just aren't good enough, especially with no expected improvement within the next two years. The record against almost all opponents is terrible and the program has literally become irrelevant.
Starting over and bringing in someone else (perhaps someone closer to the program) is the much better long term solution.
I've been mostly successful this season at keeping my editorial voice out of the weekly wallpapers. However, this week poses several challenges in the "making fun of the opponent" category: a team with a Native American nickname and a program with no discernible traditions. Combine that with my utter disgust after Saturday's game and this is what you get. Actually, I had already finalized the concept for this Illinois wallpaper BEFORE the Penn State game and the original title was "They Be Illin'" but now it is me and you, fellow Michigan fan, who are doin' the illin'. I've changed the title to reflect how I feel at this point in the season; I was so disappointed after the loss at Happy Valley that I almost posted a completely blank wallpaper with the vow to continue posting blank wallpapers until the next win but, after three consecutive losses, designing these wallpapers is the one thing that helps me to move on emotionally (like art therapy).
That said, I haven't completely abandoned hope that this team can meet my original pre-season expectation of 7 wins and I'm firmly in the "let's wait until the last game is played before we cry for firings and lynchings and the like" camp. Here's to hoping that by late on Saturday afternoon we will all have moved on from illin' to celebratin' 6 wins and bowl eligibility.
I had several versions of this wallpaper bouncing around my head last week: everything from tackle twill letters on a retro track jacket to a blinged-out gold chain with diamond-encrusted letters ala Run DMC. I like where this ended up much better; the hoodie and lettering feel appropriately distressed and it gave me a very natural way to turn the last "I" into an apostrophe.
The image below is a preview only. You can get this week's widescreen, 4:3, iPad and mobile wallpapers at The Art. The Art. The Art!.
All of the 2010 Schedule Wallpapers
[FA Edit: Bumped ahead of coaching kerfluffle due to value.]
So for the past few weeks, we all have noticed the abysmal performances by our defense. There has been lots of ideas tossed around, from GERG being a Defensive Jenius to poor coaching to bad luck/loss of concentration on a few critical plays. One thing that has struck me has been the absolutely atrocious tackling, namely our inability to make one.
Time and again, we have the ball player wrapped up, and then 3 yards later they have picked up the 1st down on 3rd and forever. I thought it was about time to look at tackling, both who is making/missing them and why.
About the analysis:
1. I regarded made tackles as anytime a player made contact with the ballcarrier and that ballcarrier ended up down by contact using solid tackling technique. I did not look at technique of made tackles, as after 1/2 of tape review most of the tackles that were made were of good technique.
2. I classified OOB as out-of-bounds tackles, which could have been a solid tackle out of bounds or a bump out (couldn't find a reasonable way to quantify the difference so they are tackles, but not quite).
3. I designated missed tackles as failing to make a tackle in space, taking an extremely bad angle on a tackle that should have been made, or simply just getting the hit but not bringing down the ballcarrier.
4. Bad Form takes into account any missed tackle that used any of the following:
- Head on the upfield side
- Arm/Jersey tackling
- Any hit at or above the numbers
- Getting "shook" in open field due to not breaking down or overpursuit.
The difference here is missed tackles in my mind sometimes come from being literally overpowered or stiff-armed, not a technique avenue. If the UM defender made the hit with the head on the right side and attempted to wrap up but the ballcarrier just slipped through, I counted this as a missed tackle only.
I reviewed the "every defensive snap" from the MSU and Iowa games and the results are as follows:
|MSU||Total Plays||57||4 TDs|
|Player||Tackles||OOB||Missed Tackles||Bad Form|
So. MSU only, we cant tackle at all.
|Made tackles||OOB||Missed Tackles||Bad Form|
Totals 33 7 18 11
|Plays||Missed Tackles/Bad Form||Missed Tackles/Play||Missed Tackles by Bad Form/Play|
Versus our Offense:
|Tackles||Missed/Bad Form||Missed Tackle/PLay||Missed Tackle from Bad Form/Play|
The numbers in this case really demonstrate how bad we actually are at tackling, and that it is a technique thing.
Solid to great defenses, while they might miss tackles, don't do so using bad technique.
Upon watching again, specifically focusing on tackling, the difference between our D and a Big Ten D is that ours seems to lack that killer instict, getting the ballcarrier to the ground regardless. We don't attack downhill, and we consistently have the head of our tacklers on the wrong side to impede forward progress. This could also be a good reason that we haven't seen a ton of fumbles this year as well, as the most common cause of a fumble is a good ol' helmet on the ball.
While the issue might stem from second-guessing assignments and being a half-second late to the hole, the number of times we went high and behind the ballcarrier in these games its simply shocking. Technique is something you can coach, and something you can keep coaching week in and week out.
Rich Rodriguez's defenders generally point to Kirk Ferentz and Barry Alvarez as examples of coaches who were given bad situations, struggled enormously at first, but then were able to right their ships and become highly successful. If we only give Rich Rod enough time, the argument goes, he will surely do the same thing. CRex's recent diary includes a helpful chart comparing the initial records for the first three seasons of various Big Ten coaches. Once again, Alvarez and Ferentz are the only ultimately successful coaches on the list who did about as badly as Rich Rod in their first three years.
If you look more closely at their performances, the comparisons break down. Both Ferentz and Alvarez struggled greatly through their first three seasons, but they took huge leaps forward in year four, something that it doesn't look like Michigan will be capable of under Rodriguez.
Wisconsin under Alvarez
I was a kid in the late 1980s. I remember Wisconsin at the time as an absolutely atrocious team, one of the two worst in the Big Ten (along with Northwestern). They hired Alvarez in 1990, as indicated in bold on the chart below.
In short, Wisconsin struggled for three years, with gradual improvement, then won Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships in year four. They did slide back a bit, with a losing season in 1995, then ramped up in the Ron Dayne years and have been a very good, occasionally great Big Ten program ever since.
Iowa Under Ferentz
Ferentz inherited the Iowa program in a very similar situation to what Rich Rod had at Michigan. He replaced a beloved coach (Hayden Fry) who had done very well but slipped a bit toward the end of his career. If anything, Fry had fallen further than Lloyd Carr did, posting a very bad final season before Ferentz took over in 1999.
The pattern is strikingly similar. Rock bottom start, gradual improvement, then Big Ten champs in year four. In Ferentz's case, Iowa was 8-0 in the Big Ten in 2002. They didn't play OSU, and their only losses were to Iowa State and to USC's first juggernaut team in the Orange Bowl.
So what does it mean?
I confess that I don't know the details about the circumstances at either Iowa or Wisconsin leading up to the hiring of these coaches. If anyone did follow these programs very closely, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on what their situations were like at the time. But I think it's safe to assume that neither Alvarez nor Ferentz inherited much talent. Iowa was in decline prior to hiring Ferentz, and Wisconsin was terrible prior to hiring Alvarez. Yet these coaches, working with much more difficult recruiting situations than at Michigan, were able to turn their teams into Big Ten champs by year four. Does anyone think Michigan will be close to winning the Big Ten next year?
Can you name any highly successful coach who was unable to build his team into a winner by year four? That's not a rhetorical question. I haven't heard any names mentioned. The usual story is huge success in year two. That's what we see in virtually all the most successful coaches from the last decade: Tressell, Stoops, Carroll, Meyer, Brown, Saban. Am I missing anyone?
It's true, none of those coaches began in as bad a situation as Rich Rod did at Michigan. But Barry Alvarez and Kirk Ferentz did. Highly successful coaches seem to have a very swift upward trajectory when taking over a program. Even if you put them in the absolute worst situation possible, they manage to turn things around amazingly fast. Maybe Rich Rodriguez is an exception to that rule. If he is, he is a rare exception indeed.