With the end of Michigan's 2008 season upon us, we should all take some time to remember those most affected by this season's travails and its unceremonious end: the seniors who had to struggle through two consecutive down years, the fans, many of whom had to experience a true rebuilding year for the first time in their lives and will not be able to book a trip to San Antonio or Orlando for a bowl game, and even the typical college football fan, whose self-inflicted trauma watching ND/UM 2008 was akin to walking in on one's mother in bed with Mr. Belding dressed up like Ronald McDonald – unspeakably disturbing, yet still strangely familiar. These victims, though, will have their stories written, and all will have some sense of closure as a result.
One group that people will forget, though, are the ones most affected by the end of this most depressing of Michigan seasons, those whose hearts sank as that last Zoltan punt sailed through the cold Columbus air – ESPN and Drew Sharp. Throughout this year, while Maize and Blue fans across America tried to make sense of it all, they were there to hammer home the same talking points, the same reactionary dribble, the same “Oh my gawd” hyperbole that filled 3-minute spots on Sportscenter and College Gameday and led to a million drunken arguments in bars across America. Yet with the end of the season upon us, no one has spoken about the dark winter that lay before them, the months of yearning for a new pariah to pillar and new storylines to regurgitate like a group of friends who took part in the Ipecac challenge.
So, as a loyal reader and first-time poster here at MgoBlog, I feel that it is my duty to tell their story, or at least one that I imagine would take place in the weeks and months ahead.
Chris Fowler: I would like to welcome you all to today's meeting. I know that you all arrive with a heavy heart after Saturday's game, but rest assured that this meeting will help bring both closure for you as well as some direction on how to refocus your creative urges now that Michigan's season is over. I do want to apologize for the lack of food at today's meeting – Justin Boren stopped by to get my opinion on values in today's collegiate athletics and walked out with two of the pizzas after scarfing down the other four-
Kirk Herbstreit: Sorry to interrupt you Chris, but I just received a confirmed report that Zoltan Mesko is going to transfer to Ohio State next year, but he will first travel on the next space mission to Mars so that he can both practice punting in a completely new atmosphere, but also help in Earth's colonization of that alien-infested planet.
CF: Thanks Kirk. Since your sources are always spot-on, I just hope that Coach Mil- I mean Rodriguez can somehow find a way to fill the massive hole this transfer leaves behind.
Now back to the issue at hand. I know many of you deeply are concerned about what the end of this season will mean for you going forward. Yes, many of you can still pontificate on how great the Big 12 is provided they only play against other Big 12 teams, how the ACC is still filled with a lot of scrappy teams that can win on any Saturday, and how Florida is clearly the best team in America because they ran the score up on a bunch of teams that have a combined conference record of 16-15, but that still leaves at least 5 minutes/5,000 words that need to be filled every week. And with Michigan no longer playing, the question on everyone's mind is “What do we do next?”
Drew Sharp: Well, the advantage I have is that my employer, the Free Press, is so hard-up for column fillers that they'll let me basically write whatever I want provided that it drives some traffic to its site and antagonize its readership. Hell, UM could have gone undefeated this season, RR could have healed a blind child by simply placing his hand over the child's eyes, and strength and conditioning coach Barwis could have physically torn down and rebuilt Crisler Auditorium with one hand tied behind his back and I could still have written about how this season was a waste because UM paid Rodriguez's buyout. God my job is easy.
Lou Holtz: I know what you mean, Drew. Since I won a national championship back in the 80s and look and sound like Burgess Meredith from Rocky, I'm basically allowed to say whatever I want on television without any repercussions, no matter how crazy it may actually be. I mean, I compared a first-year football coach to a facist dictator who killed millions of people, and the only thing that happened was they took away my Metamucil for a day. So I know how it feels, Drew, to be abov- Drew? Hey, where did Drew go?
KH: He must have walked out...There's a note on his chair. It says “Off to shoot a segment for Jim Rome is Burning.” Huh, that's still on the air? Who knew?
LH: Well, anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that the higher-ups at ESPN couldn't care less about the substance of my rants, provided that I mention how horrible UM is this year and never, EVER point out that my old team Notre Dame was just beaten by Syracuse.
Beano Cook: What! (choking on a piece of roast beef) Notre Dame lost yesterday?!? Was Ron Powlus unavailable at QB because he was saving a bus full of schoolchildren from falling off a cliff? That has to be the reason. This loss is going to be a big hit to Powlus's chances at a 16th-straight Heisman Trophy. Well, sometimes it's just not your year.
CF: Okay people, we're getting a little off-track here. What we need to do is figure out a new storyline that will keep UM in the news while we should ostensibly be talking about teams that still have games to play. Now, we already drove the buyout “controversy” into the ground, and that has been paid up for months. We had something with Rodriguez's “get a life” quote until the damn Internet allowed people to see the whole statement in context and not the 2-second sound bite we blasted.
KH: Well, how about I look deeply into the camera and opine the fall of Michigan from the nation's elite and how I fully expect them to be back? I'm a former Buckeye and a TV heartthrob, so that gives me words extra gravitas.
CF: That works once or twice Kirk, but we don't want to go to that well too often. Plus, that really isn't a story – it's just a way to fill 30 seconds while Corso is fumbling through his costume chest.
Lee Corso: (Looking up from under the desk) I heard my name...
CF: Nothing, Lee. Go back to looking for that Alabama elephant... Speaking of elephants, maybe we are looking at this the wrong way. I mean, there are other 800-pound elephants in the room here, like Tennessee and Nebraska's continued mediocrity, Notre Dame's struggles under Charlie Weiss, just how bad the Pac-10 is after USC...
LC and Mark May: No!!!!!!!
MM: The focus has to stay on Michigan and, more generally, just how bad the Big 10 is! Sure, Penn State has a victory over the potential champion of the Pac-10 in Oregon State, but people must never forget that OSU lost to USC on the road without their best player 35-3. Repeat with me Chris – the Big 10 sucks, and every team in that conference would lose to the 10th-best high school team in Florida, Texas, or California. Got it.
Pat Forde: Yeah. Everyone needs to stay consistently on point with the message that the Big 10 is the worst conference in Amer-- hey, who's that? She's cute.
CF: Oh, that's one of our interns. She's a freshman at Uconn and wants to be a television producer. Figured she could shadow us during this meeting to see how the show comes together.
PF: Hey, do you think she'd like to be one of my Dashettes? I always need pictures of attractive women to make my columns look longer and take away from the fact that my knowledge of college football begins and ends with the weekend sports section of USA Today.
CF: Maybe later, Pat. Come on people! We need a new narrative. There has to be a storyline that we haven't driven into dust yet. The attrition? Sam McGuffie is potentially transferring back to somewhere in Texas, and we could always make it less about a kid being homesick and more about Rodriguez's lack of ethics or soul.
KH: Nah. We've already done that with Mallet and Boren, and it didn't seem to resonate with the viewers because they are used to seeing players leave when a new regime takes over. Plus, McGuffie may still come back after he spends some time with his family.
Brad Nessler: (poking his head from the doorway) Hey, wasn't McGuffie a youtube sensation?
Everyone in the room: Drink! (everyone takes a shot of coffee except Holtz, who yells out “Listen Mirer, you're gonna eat lightnin' and you're gonna crap thunder!”)
KH: Maybe we should just focus on other teams in college football. This was a down year for the Wolverines, but the fact remains that they have been one of the most consistent teams in the history of organized sport. They were playing a billion first-year players, were trying to install a completely new offensive system, and had to deal with a million distractions ranging from whiny fans to overzealous reporters. We are talking about 17 and 18-year-old kids here, and in spite of it all they were still within a handful of plays of finishing with a .500 record and going to a bowl game. Maybe we should reserve judgment on Rodriguez and his staff, as well as the future of this team, until we see how next year's team fares and how solid the recruiting class is both this year and in 2010. We've given the kid glove treatment to lots of teams before, whether they be USC, Notre Dame, Florida, Florida State, etc. What do you say?
Bill Simmons: Hey guys. I know I'm not part of this meeting, but I was stumbling around the offices looking for my old copy of Karate Kid and couldn't help overhearing your conundrum. I know how hard it is to keep coming up with fresh ideas about the same topic – heck, I've been writing about Boston sports for almost 15 years now, and I've only had 5 legitimately unique column formats in that timeframe. In this instance, I would suggest you guys not focus on the now or the future, but instead focus on the past. You guys know how I always talk about how great the NBA was in the 70s and 80s, especially Larry Bird?
Everyone: Yeah. (Except Beano Cook, who is desperately scanning through the “P” portion in the index of Notre Dame's 2008 media guide).
BS: Well, the reason I do that is because most of my readers weren't alive back then, and those that do were only little kids like myself. They either have an extremely murky memory of that time in sports, or none at all. Thus, whenever I talk about how pure the game was back then, how unstoppable the players were, and how the game is so inferior now than when Magic, Dr. J., Larry, and McHale played, my readers gobble that up because they don't know any better. Plus, by throwing in some pop culture references about shows and movies like White Shadow and Hoosiers, I bring up cherished (or non-existent) memories that add extra weight to my somewhat-true claims.
What you guys need to do is stop focusing on how bad this team was in the current context, but compare it to seasons' past. Not just 5 or 6 years ago, but decades. Talk about how today's team could never match up with earlier teams, and harp on the fact that the game was played so much better back in the 70s and 80s. Go on and on about Bo, about how defense wins championships and how this spread offense may work for teams like Purdue or Utah, but how teams like Michigan are selling their souls by ushering in any type of change. Since good football movies are less common than ones about basketball, you may have to use allusions to Varsity Blues and Rudy to make your point, but I have faith that you guys can figure that out. So from now until the beginning of next season, spend a few minutes every day talking about how this season was so tumultuous because UM turned its back on tradition and, more importantly, are playing the game worse than in years past. Plus, by condemning how UM plays, you also effectively condemn college football in general, which will help to fill even more air time as you argue amongst each other whether that statement is even true.
Oh yeah, and if nothing else fails talk about how UM would be undefeated if either Rajon Rondo or Terrelle Pryor played quarterback.
CF: Okay everyone, that's what I wanted to hear! So everybody knows the new storyline – Michigan football struggled this year because they turned their back on tradition and, more generally, the game is worse today than it was years ago.
KH: And don't forget, uncorroborated reports and rumors passed off as sage opinions, especially as they pertain to Rodriguez's comings or goings, are always a gold mine.
PF: And don't forget blogs from MSU, WVU, and OSU fans. You couldn't make up some of the stuff people say in there even if you did 5 lines of coke off the body of that intern over there...
DS: (Rushing back into the room, a faint trail of smug wafting behind him) What did I miss?
KH: Nothing much Drew. Just keep doing what you are doing.
DS: Great! Hey, while I was doing another guest spot on Jim Rome is Burning, on Monday thru Friday at 4:30 PM ET, I just thought about how my next column is going to focus on how Rich Rodriguez doesn't understand the history of UM, how Bo is turning over in his grave right now, and how I vastly underrated Carr's greatness as a coach now that he has retired. It's great, since I don't believe a single word I write but everyone spends hours posting in the comments section about how crazy I am. New Alexa traffic record here I come!
CF: This was a great meeting. Now everyone go home and start writing/talking about UM again. And don't afraid to expand on what we've talked about here today. The goal is to keep knocking UM down until they inevitably rise again, at which point we can trumpet their return with nary a mention of what we say now. Okay, any questions?
LC: Not so fast my frie.... Ah, nevermind. I forgot what I was going to say. I'm just going to put on this Boomer Sooner's hat and make another Gameday commercial.
KF: That's fine Lee. I'll see you in five minutes. Now, if there is nothing else...
Chris Spielman: (busting through wall) MINOR RAGE NO MATCH FOR SPIELMAN SMASH!
There were many things missing this season of Michigan Football in 2008. Maybe not all at once, but they were missing. The details have been drilled upon ad nauseum on this and other sites. From consistency to talent, from speed to fundamentals, from execution to skill. Yes this has been a season of holes and the inability to fill them.
One of the most defining absences of the season has been harped on in many ways, by many factions. The media and fans jumped on the ‘captains for each game’ theory of the coach. No captaincy voting until the season ends. And as a result, or maybe some strange almost concocted by-product, leadership, seemed to be lacking, if not non-existent.
So many times during the season, many of us seemed to be thinking, if only we had a leader in the lockerroom. Someone to call a players-only meeting to right the ship. It never happened. At times the team looked like a rudderless ship being tossed around by the waves of a storm. And make no mistake, this season was a storm, a perfect storm, if you will. It was a perfect storm of transition, inexperience, injuries and lack of leadership. (No, not coaching leadership).
The final crushing wave of that storm hit Saturday in Columbus, as the disciplined, talented, and upperclass-laden Buckeyes did what others had done this season, but with a much more resounding wallup than the Wolverines had faced all year. As the cold winds of November blustered over the boys in blue after the final whistle sounded, and the inevitable questions of what happened and what will happen in the future came again and again. The first piece of the puzzle, one of the most important pieces of a championship building foundation, was laid in the lockerroom of the beaten abd battered Wolverines.
A leader was born. A tough, undaunted leader that leads by example. A leader that has one of the most important qualities that all leaders MUST have. HEART! A leader doesn’t have to bark obscenities or be the loudest in the room. A leader has to have heart and be willing to lay it all on the line every play, every game.
Brandon Minor has been the first to emerge as one of those leaders.
“You can’t really blame Rich Rod because everybody on the team did not buy in like they’re supposed to. We have a couple of guys not going hard,” he said. “We’ll correct that most definitely. That ain’t going to happen on my watch as a senior.”
Someone has finally stepped up and is willing to take responsibility for this team from the inside. This is what Rich Rodriguez has been talking about when he refers to building a program. He wasn’t knocking Lloyd Carr or the Michigan Tradition. He knew in the Spring there was no foundation for this team. He knew there needed to be leadership from the inside that could rally the troops when the inexperience and immaturity of 18 and 19-year old kids showed in the heat of battle. Rodriguez knew he needed a leader on the sideline to keep the players in the game when things went badly, to right the ship.
That lack of leadership was all to often exposed as the team admittedly ‘relaxed’ when it got a lead or didn’t know how to come together when things started to unravel. Maybe, just maybe, Brandon Minor will be the start of that internal leadership. His comments after the game, after the worst loss to OSU since Dr. Strange Hayes put 50 on Michigan, weren’t sadness, or lamenting about what could have been. They were about the future, about what WILL happen in Ann Arbor.
Let 2009 start today. Minor is the first leader and there will be more and with Rich’s first recruiting class, more will come. Let’s look to the bright future with endless possibilities for this team and this storied program. Let it begin today! Those Who Stay Will Be Champions.
No seriously, where are you? RR hating seems to be greatly exaggerated by a lot of posters on message boards who undertake to defend him and the program. I haven't seen a whole lot of RR hating on this site or others outside of a few trolls and misguided Michigan fans who are dismissed with extreme prejudice by the majority, which is as it should be. I think just about everyone is willing to give RR the benefit of the doubt* this year and expects significant improvement next year.
*Admittedly, I don't see the comments rejected from the Live Blog, which I understand include a lot of negativity.
Looking forward, though, I have no idea how good or bad Michigan will be. If this year has taught me anything its that preseason expectations are meaningless (a lesson I should have learned in 1997). 6-6 wouldn't surprise me too much but neither would 10-2. I'm skeptical and hopeful at the same time and I don't see that as a contradiction in this instance.
I think it would be a mistake to turn expectation of future success into an article of faith (see ND fans circa one year ago). All that 3-9 means is that we weren't a very good team this year. It doesn't mean we'll be bad next year but 8-10 wins is far from guaranteed.
For the time being, I'm content to chalk this season up to an unfortunate confluence of attrition, growing pains under a new coach and bad luck. RR has a track record of success and a history of making big leaps between the his first and second years with other programs. His recruiting has been acceptable by Michigan standards, which are extremely high. These factors, combined with the flashes of competitiveness that this year's team showed with so many young players playing significant roles are irrefutable evidence that we could be in store for great things under RR. Unless, of course, we aren't, which would be unfortunate but well within the parameters of possible.
I've been a Michigan fan for over thirty years now. I was originally born and raised in Ohio (2 hrs from dreaded Columbus) but now live in West Virginia (now 20 minutes from Morgantown). So you can imagine all the heckling, jeers, anti-Michigan/Rich Rod jokes, comments or anything negative about my beloved blue that I get. I have to be careful every time I travel to Morgantown in my Michigan hat and shirt. It's funy how people want to blame me or associate me with Rodriguez leaving WVU the way he did.
In saying this, I have never witnessed such a downtrodden team in all the years I've watched Michigan football. I do remember the years when Earl Bruce seemed to own us but not on the consistency that Tressel does now. However, that being said I WILL NEVER GIVE UP ON THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN!!!! This by far has been one of the worst years but that's ok, I believe in the university, I believe in program, I believe in the prestige that is Michigan football. Michigan is bigger than the one man who has come in and radically changed the culture. Am I a big fan of Rich Rod? No, I'm not but I do believe he is a very good coach who has the ability to return Michigan to it's former prominence and dominance. Am I going to bash the current coaching staff and players for this seasons dismal failures? No, a new coaching staff with a radically different mindset and approach to the game will cause bumps in the road. I will admit, I did not expect a 3-9 season. I was one of the more optimistic people thinking Michigan would finish somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-4 or 7-5 for the season. I thought we had enough returning talent to overcome some of the learning curves his new system would entail. Being a former player and coach, I can definitely see that the defense played well in spurts but not nearly to the potential that they were capable of. I know some of the blame can go to the offensive struggles but not all can be attributed to them. Remember, this is year one in the transition period for Michigan. Next year I will personally set the bar higher because my expectations realize there will be a lot of returning talent especially at the skill positions. Quarterback again will be a concern because I think Forcier will be the eventual starter if he still comes to Michigan.
I will always remain a Michigan Wolverine fan regardless the record, regardless the sport. My love for the University runs much deeper(and I'm not even a student or alum!). I've only been to one football game in my lifetime but that was enough. I got to experience the "Big House" and I loved every minute of it. I got to soak in all the tradition, all the fanfare, for one day I was in awe. I envy those of you who live there and go to games on a regular basis.
I'm just a University of Michigan fan.
As we aall lick our wouds over what might have been in the horseshoe...(was that the closest 42-7 game I have ever seen?) you're killing me Odoms.....I wanted to get swomething off my chest before "this guy" starts to rear his head the next couple of weeks. This guy is "no reasoning non sensical head to head guy" The Big 12 is a mess with
okl blowing out Tech last night. They have a 3 way tie that needs to be broken. Each team has beat the other so each team needs to be examined to make a decision in this idiotic system. Arguments can be submitted for all 3 teams, but if in the end as I think it should be and
okl is selected we are sure to hear from "Tex beat Okl head to head end of story" the same arguments were made in 01 with Miami vs FSU which were incorrect. A football season has many factors that all need to be considered..out of conf schedule, home and away, how they looked, when they played, injuries and yes an important factor is head to head but not the only 1. Tex beating Okl on a neutral field is a huge feather in their argument cap, just please shoot down anyone that uses this simplistic approach.. If they do then this is the perfect season to get them in the unsolvable circular loop that is the Big 12. Ok then Tech beat Texas so they should go........
A friend of mine sent me the following message Saturday: "Hell I would
My response to him:
Rodriguez IS the answer for the team. CARR left him with basically nothing. And when RR instituted his system and work ethic some of the folks didn't buy into it and left, good riddance we don't want quitters around here anyway. That's on them (the quitters). I believe in RR. His track record is good. This season was bad, but Carr left him with basically nothing. Give the man a chance. Abandoning ship now would be even worse than staying with a mediocre guy for a few years, which RR is not mediocre. Are you really worried about the program or your insecurity over defending it like a true fan?
Even Carr would have had a losing season with this rag tag bunch of players and mostly by the doing of his own recruiting strategy. Let RR get a full class through the system, ie: 4 years. Then judge the guy. If there isn't any improvement, then can the guy and search out the next Michigan messiah.
Until then, asking for RR's job now is reactionary at best and ignorant at worst... Feel free to jump back on the bandwagon after RR is a success and tell everyone you "knew he had it in him, he just needed some time." And that "you can't believe that some people were calling for his job after only a few months."
Those of us with faith will be wondering where you were during these dark times, but will welcome you back with no conditions to show you what an ignorant, reactionary, short-sighted, fool you had been all along.
This year was heart-breaking to say the least. I, like many, held the bowl streak in the highest regard. Even though that has now become a part of the past, the streak is still ours. We still have the winningest program in the history of Div I football. We can still claim legends like, Harmon, Schembechler, Yost, Crisler, Oosterban, and Eisenhower, etc. There is plenty to be proud of!
I don't know if RR is the next great, but I have more faith in him than I would have had in Ferentz, Schiano, or Hoke. We all knew there would be some growing pains, however everyone seems to have forgotten what we were realistically left with and their own tempered expectations for the season. This was a real possibility. It was given lip service by some, but disregarded by most. Now everyone seems to be completely surprised that Michigan is this bad and no-one saw it coming.
In closing take your hate-filled, fire RR vitriol and re-channel it into something constructive for the holiday season. We all know that everyone could use some dedicated compassion this holiday season. Join us again late next summer and feel free not to post your hate until we've won three or four of the first five games and it's more ironic than insightful.