Author's note: This was originally written as a response to a board question on why Notre Dame has such success recruiting, even when a Brontosaurus is running the show. If you read it there already, congratulations.
My grandpa's favorite joke (like he would slide it in whenever he could) was whenever someone mentioned Shakespeare, he'd say "you mean Bill Shakespeare, the quarterback at Notre Dame?" Yes, the Domers had a QB named William Shakespeare back in the day.
In that day, however, that was probably the least exotic name on the ND squad, at least according to the sensibilities of what constituted a majority of Americans. Back then, an Irish name was treated by many Americans with a similar contempt that is shown today for some African language-inspired names for blacks.
Even a generation later, in Detroit, and other big cities, it was common for the Jewish boys like my father and the Catholic (mostly Irish, Italian and Polish) kids to be living in the same neighborhoods. However, each group generally segregated themselves, and had distinct sets of stereotypes.
The Catholics, it was said, were the rough-and-tumble guys. They're the ones who'd as soon knock you down as speak to you. They were the toughs. They were the bigs.
These are all century+old stereotypes, of course. But they were powerful, well-known stereotypes that persisted well into my parents' generation, a time when being Catholic still meant being not mainstream.
It's hard to imagine today, but Catholics, and Irish Catholics in particular, were in much the same position then as African Americans are today, i.e. they had the presidency, but they were still somewhat marginalized, still the victims of prejudice from holdouts of different times.
Teenagers of any persuasion are known identity seekers. As such, they tend to latch on to stereotypes, even going so far as to transform themselves to meet them. If society said a Catholic boy at a boarding school in LaPorte, Ind., was going to be a tough guy (according to one such fella*), that kid would make himself a tough guy.
Football loves tough guys.
Being a football tough guy is something you can learn. Not everyone with athletic prowess can play, or chooses to play football. Mentality is a big part of the game. As with any sport, early commitment to the game is a big part of success.
On the day Jack Kennedy was sworn into office, it was Catholic boys who were filling the rosters of college football programs well beyond their statistical population footprint. It was Catholic boys who were being told when they were teens that toughness was their ticket out.
It was during that period, from my grandpa's childhood through my father's, that Notre Dame built itself into a premier program. For all that time, its lifeblood was these Catholic boys. At a time when many Catholic Americans had few ways out of a predestined life in the working class, playing football for Notre Dame was the pinnacle of many of these boys' dreams.
Thus, the school at South Bend for two generations had a direct pipeline of premier football tough guys all across the United States.
The ND national recruiting model later became modern recruiting. But by nature of getting there first, ND still has the inside track on many traditional high school football programs which themselves were built on the backs of Catholic boys. The halls of St. Thomas Aquinas et al. all across the country are filled with photos of star alumni in their golden domes. ND is as much an institution in these schools as the fight song.
They no longer have the automatic draw, especially as Catholics in this country have, for the most part, completed their transition from margins to mainstream, meaning some oncologist of our generation might have, in a different time, made a fine defensive tackle for Notre Dame.
Today, it's African Americans still in transition from the margins to the mainstream, still fighting vestigial and institutionalized disadvantages, and thus more open in their teenage years to the kind of commitment needed to succeed in sports. And likewise, college football programs around the country have benefited from filling their rosters with today's tough kids, who learn life's tough lessons early in Pahokee and show up to play football with a hardness few kids in Birmingham could ever imagine.
And likewise, schools ideally situated to bring these kids in are today's rising powers. Meanwhile, the traditional powers maintain their institutional advantages for bringing in the creme de la creme.
College football will prosper in talent so long as American teenagers feed themselves to it. The only thing that changes is which teens decide to take that plunge. As our society continues its slow march of integration, the faces of those teens and the name on the back of the jersey will likewise change. But if that name be Hernandez, Williams, Mienkewitz, O'Malley, Dimatello, Klausen, Levine, or as Anglo-Saxon as William Shakespeare, he's still, essentially, the same boy.
*Chief Justice John G. Roberts, who once thought playing for Notre Dame was about as high as any man could go.
This is not a rant or a rave about the state of the program just some ramblings on the WVU game.
Friday I suffered through the offensive slugfest that was Pitt vs. West Virginia. I think I watched to simply gain some sort of confidence for our offense next year. Instead I came away less than impressed. I believe WV finished with about 300 total yards and 15 points. I saw many of the same plays that Michigan "tried" to run. Noel Devine and Pat White both RRod system guys couldn't get anything going. The offense was full of short yard dink and dunk plays with the occasional QB scramble for his life that netted a nice gain and if I remember correctly 1 td. I guess my point well I really don't have one I suppose. Did anyone else watch this game? Any impressions for next season. Take it easy on me I'm a long time listner first time caller here. Just looking for some opinions. I'm not bailing out on my team or anything but I would like to get some feedback on what I saw from the WVU offense.
Still must admit it's nice to see notre dame getting blown out.
Well, the family has been fed and is out the door and things are starting to get quiet, so I thought I'd start thinking about Michigan Football - 2009.
Just like heading into this season of uncertainty, there seems like there is a wide chasm of opinions regarding what can be expected from the Wolverines gridders next season. I don't think anyone expects them to be in the national championship game, but I also don't think they will be the 10th best team in the Big 10 next year, despite what Eric Lacy predicted in the DetNews this week.
Most observers that I've read feel that 6-6 is reasonable progress next year. However, as one poster aptly stated, when you've got Eastern, Western, and likely the Little Sister's of the Poor filling out your non-conference schedule, will 6 wins really be that much progress?
That's why I would think that 6-6 would be the worst Michigan fans should expect next year. The team returns every offensive starter. Although, as those funny (ha) newspaper previews usually point out with poor teams, is that a good thing? Absolutely it is. I think all Michigan fans can agree that the offense stunk this year, but I also think it did improve as the year went along. The offensive line was a sieve at the beginning of the year, but actually started opening up some holes by the end of the season. Brandon Minor became a beast this season and I'm excited to have him back next year.
We all know the quarterback play this season was absolutely atrocious. So, it can only get better, right? If Steven Threet, who now would have a full year in the system is the starter, you figure it would have to be incrementally better. And if one of the freshmen can come in and beat Threet out, then you'd have to think that it could be even better than that.
As others have pointed out, there may be 2 new offensive line starters (Omameh and Barnum seem to be the names most mentioned). All the skill guys are back, plus T-Rob and Junior Hemingway, who were waylayed by injuries.
Will the offense make us forget about Henne, Hart and Company? No, but I don't see why the offense can't improve dramatically - more times where they played like the 2nd half against Wisconsin and 1st half against Illinois and less times like they played in the 1st half against Wisconsin and all game versus Toledo.
The defense is a different story. They were supposed to keep us in games this year while the offense meshed. Needless to say, that theory didn't quite work out. There were lots of theories - including being on the field too much, too much inexperience at key spots (safety and linebacker being the main two), overrated talent, and just plain bad coaching. The defense ended up being, statistically, one of the worst (if not the worst) in Michigan history. I don't think anyone expected that. And even with the loss of 3 very good senior linemen, I don't see why this unit can't be much improved next year.
Let's flash back to 1997 - the defense was coming off a meh 1996 season, but it had an excellent pass rusher (Glen Steele) and an excellent corner (what was his name, #2, I think) coming back and that defense ended up being pretty good. Assuming that Brandon Graham returns (may be a big assumption, but all I've read seems to indicate he's leaning on coming back) and that Donovan Warren plays like he did late in the season rather than early in the season, we have 2 pretty nice building blocks for next year's defense. I don't want to compare them to the 1997 defense (oh wait, I think I already did), but this defense should be better. Warren and Cissoko at the corners; Mike Martin, Brandon Graham, Van Bergen, and maybe big Will Campbell up front; Obi and Mouton at linebacker, with maybe JB Fitzgerald. The position of concern continues to be safety. I liked Mike Williams when he played this year, and I'm praying that Brandon Smith is a beast - assuming he beats out Stevie Brown.
As mentioned, assuming that Bill Martin schedules some directional school for our last open non-conference date (rather than say, Boise State or BYU), we'd have all four non-conference games at home with a slate of WMU, EMU, Other Directional School and Notre Dame. No offense to WMU, who is a very good MAC team and will have their solid QB back, but Michigan has a realistic shot to be 4-0 in those non-conference games, at worst, 3-1. ND will be better, but hey, they weren't very good this year and I think most Michigan fans thought that we played pretty well against them this year, if it wasn't for all of them dang turnovers.
The conference schedule has Indiana, Purdue, Penn State and Ohio State at home. I don't think it's crazy to think that they beat Indiana and Purdue. They could lose to both Penn State and Ohio State, but hey, those teams lose quite a bit of talent. PSU loses 3 off of it's O-line and some defensive stalwarts. If C. Wells leaves the Bucks for less money in the NFL, that really hurts them. Their offense really revolves around him and would put a lot more pressure on Pryor without Wells back there. Their defense loses 2 good linebackers and their best corner. Clearly they'll still have more talent back than Michigan, but is the gap as wide as it was say when MSU was beating us in basketball by 50? I don't think so. Let's say 2-2 is realistic for the home conference schedule, and 3-1 is possible.
The road conference schedule includes Michigan State, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. This could be brutal. Iowa was better than anticipated this season. You know their D always plays hard, but they found a serviceable QB in Stanzi and a very good runner in Greene. I think both return. I think that may be the most difficult of the road contests. Illinois is Illinois. They are a meh team, but hey, they blew us out this season and Juice is back. If we can contain him, we can win. If we can't, well, we won't (pretty simple eh - if we score more points than them, we can win....). Wisconsin will be who they always are - and they'll be wanting to give us payback. They are a team I like playing because their style usually keeps opponents in the game. It's certainly a toss up. Lastly, the Sparties. They should be pretty good next year, but they will be breaking in a new QB and a new RB. Ringer was that offense this year, and I'm not sure they have anyone on their current roster who can replace him. That means likely a freshman RB (Baker?) and an inexperienced QB. Hmmm. The road record could be anywhere from 0-4 to 3-1. I think we lose to Iowa for sure, but the other 3 are toss ups. They are all on the road, so 1-3 is very possible, but 2-2 is not unrealistic.
Thus, in my "worst case" scenario, I think we'd be 3-1 non-conference, 2-2 home conference and 1-3 road conference. That's 6-6 (hell, we lost to Toledo this year, so worst case could be 0-12!). Best case: 4-0; 3-1; 2-2. That's 9-3.
So, I've done nothing here, other than waste space and come up with a range that everyone else basically has. Very good. Nice job. Thanks for reading. Sorry you can't get this time in your life back to do something more productive.
Well, time to focus on hockey and basketball now. Will the baseball team be any good this year? What about softball? I need something positive to root for this season. GO BLUE!
Couldn’t figure out if this was a diary or forum post. My line of demarcation has always been newsy items and specific/tangible observations for the forum, and long-view/personal/philosophical type items for diary. This is mostly specific observations but still felt more diary, so away we go...
When John Beilein took over, I would say that he stressed three things in no particular order: 1) shooting 2) conditioning 3) installing his offensive system. I believe he introduced his 1-3-1 defense but I do not think it became a point of emphasis for some time since they didn’t run it with any frequency last season (to my recollection) until ½ way into the big 10 season. Which makes sense because when the players’ heads are swimming with the offense, you’re at cross purposes trying to install an equally complex defense.
You can teach shooting and practice shooting but in the end, some guys are good shooters and some are never going to be better than o.k. Last night’s broadcast noted that M was prob the worst perimeter shooting team in the Big 10 last season. That’s like RR’s offense with Sheridan at the helm, almost impossible to be competitive offensively in many games if that 3 isn’t falling. The Wolves won’t be a good shooting team this year, but they aren’t going to be the worst shooting team in the Big 10 either.
JB got a couple of shooters in his freshman class that will have their ups and downs this year, but who a) seem to recognize good shots in this offense and will take them when there b) will prob shoot around 35% on the season from deep (respectable in a volume shooting system IMO) (c) are capable of getting hot and notching some 3/4 or 4/6 nights with some daggers, performances that are often the difference in tight conference games. Sims won’t be taking many threes after after hoisting around 150 and hitting less than 30% last season. Manny’s percentage may rise slightly on fewer attempts, and Grady’s looks like it will raise appreciably on about the same attempts. The one guy who could be a liability in this equation compared with last season is Wright, whose streaky shooting as a role player last season was tolerable, but who needs more consistency playing as a starter whose primary offensive weapon is the 3. He’ll be shooting around 5 a night and he has to hit better than 30% clip he’s at now.
How M shoots the 3, esp on the road in the Big 10, is prob going to be the diff between M as a bubble team or a 4th or 5th place finish in the Big 10, and tourney spot. If they can manage to be pretty good, I think they’re in.
On to the good news. Nothing has jumped out at me this year more than the team conditioning. Some of this observation is prob attributable to the fact that these guys are physically a year more mature, and they’re much more confident in every area which makes it possible to play faster. But I am impressed. Take Sims for example. A high flyer by no means, he took that Wright back door against UCLA after playing a lot of minutes in the second half and crammed the ball quickly without a dribble. That does not happen last year. He’s finishing with a lot more dunks this year and getting to oops he wouldn’t have last year. He’s also getting his hands on more rebounds.
As a team there is perpetual motion on offense. Guards are pushing the ball and people are running with them even when they don’t have numbers. As pointed out last night, transition defense has been exceptional. Then there is the 1-3-1 which requires quick close outs on shooters and close downs on post entries. M is executing all the way through the shot clock and all the way through the game. There have been breakdowns but almost exclusively due to good offensive movement and not a lack of rotations. They’re getting more steals and contesting more shots.
Rebounding. M is going to lose the rebounding battle this year, esp in the Big 10. Our center rotation is 6'10 (Gibson) 6'7 (Sims), and PF rotation goes 6'5 (Wright) 6'5 (Shep). JB expects to lose the rebounding battle and will try to compensate stylistically. But here’s the thing. I said above that 3 pt shooting will determine bubble or tourney, as where prior to the season I would have said 3 pt shooting will be the margin between bubble and NIT seeding, because M is going to get smoked on the Big 10 ball boards. I still think M will have a decided disadvantage, so where is the diff? It’s the way M is competing for rebounds, which goes back to conditioning. Along with having Manny at the 3.
As was (again) pointed out last night, having Manny at the 3 as opposed to the point puts him in position to hit the defensive glass where he is an above average rebounder for his position, and where he can even out-battle PFs and Cs from time to time. When a ball comes off the rim, Gibson and Sims are often surrounded by larger players and without a body on anyone thanks to the 1-3-1. Yet they are able to get up and battle, and both have shown marked improvement on their second jump. That second jump gives them a shot at the board or at least keeping the ball alive, and by that time our guards are getting down into the paint and fighting to dig balls out. Point is, M will still be on the wrong end of a lot of raw rebounding numbers, but in late game situations where an opponent is battling to grab the lead or visa versa, I feel good that our rebounding will hold up well enough to generate the possessions we need and/or keep them from imposing their will on the offensive glass for killer junk hoops and multiple shot possesions.
As far as installing the offense, I don’t know enough about how JB’s offense is supposed to look when fully operational other than that 3s rain down like fire. Or rain. I guess rain rains down far more frequently than fire, so you could say that the 3s rained down like fire last year.
But I do know this, the players clearly aren’t over-thinking out there any more. The perimeter passes are more decisive and with a purpose. They can actually look for open back door passes. The ball handling is a hell of a lot stronger, esp among the trio of Merritt, Lee and Grady. The players seem to have a better feel for what’s a good shot. What Kendall Gill may perceive as a bad shot may be a fine shot in JB’s system that just didn’t fall. Missing a shot is one thing, but if you miss a shot and in the back or your head are also wondering if it was a good shot or a bad one, that messes with your next one.
So, back to the prediction of M falling somewhere between bubble team, and solily in as the Big 10's 4th or 5th finisher. What is this based on, besides the above? Schedule. I believe M has shown enough this year to prove that they’ll beat the teams they should, with an exception of one or two, they’ll at least split in even-up games, and that they’ll steal one or two that they shouldn’t.
Last year they went 10-22 with Ls to West Kentuck, Haaaavad, Central, Minni twice, NU, and PSU. If M goes 6-1 in those games, you’re at 16-16. In 15 games against Butler, GU, BC, Duke, UCLA, Wisky, MSU, IU, Purdue and OSU, games in which UM was the decisive dog to one degree or another, they went 1-14. In more or less “toss up” games vs. IL and Iowa, they split. This year you move IU into the should win column and OSU into the toss-ups, providing another 2-3 wins and pushing the record up to say 19 Ws, bubble territory with a win over then #4 UCLA already on the resume. This year sub Duke #1 for Butler, Maryland for BC, Conn for GU, and keep Duke #2 for Duke. Keep the MSU, Purdue and Wiskey. Out of those 10 games in which M should be the decided dog, can they pull out 2? 3? If yea, in. If na, out.
How’s that for analysis? They need to shoot “pretty good.” Moving on.
1. Where and how will LLP fit in? M has a nice rotation going at the moment, and LLP
hasn’t played a game in over a year, plus this is his first year in JB’s systems (though he did get practice burn last year). Best case scenario is that he basically swallows Merritt and C.J. Lee’s combined minutes and provides they type of upgrade his talent and guru rankings suggest. Worst case is that he swallows Merritt and Lee’s minutes and presses too hard on offense (too many missed shots and TOs) , and doesn’t have the quicks to operate as the baseline defender in the 1-3-1, meaning he can only play with Grady on the floor.
2. What’s going to happen with Sims’ offense? I’ve watched about 3.5 games this season,
and seen approx 2 post entry passes to Sims. I think JB needs to make a concerted effort to call some plays for him on box, at least 2-3 per half. This is for a variety of reasons.
First, I think he’ll be relatively effective with those touches. As previously noted, he seems to have more lift this season. His first 2 years when he got entry passes in post position, he often got stuffed or had his shot altered because he’s a short PF and not a great leaper. This year I think he’s stronger/quicker too and will get more clean looks. Second, when he’s not involved in the offense, he takes a couple (at least) ill advised shots a half where the ball gets in his hands and he gives in an “Eff it, I haven’t shot in awhile, here goes.” Those almost never go in. Third, he also is getting a couple of open looks from 12-15 per half which he absolutely should shoot, and will hit more of if he’s had the ball in his hands more..
Finally, future recruiting. During JB’s tenure there are going to many good-to-great big men in the state of MI. They will all have a solid interest in M. Almost none of them will be high-post shooter/distributors. God bless the Pittsnoggles of the world, but if you’re looking to do serious damage, it’s a lot easier with a couple of 6'9-6'11 (ahem) “athletic” (wink, nod) bigs who can erase some of those rebounding problems and who can prevent teams like Duke from having their way with you in the paint. The price for reeling in many of those guys will be making a credible offer of post touches. Which, incidently, I do not think = death in JB’s offense. If Sims is forced to finish his career as an aimless rebounder/finisher, its not the best advertisement.
2a. Will Sims come off the bench all season? Like it or not, I think Sims has proven to be a
guy whose overall game rises and falls relative to his offensive confidence. He needs to be involved and get some shots to play his best. He also should be involved and get some shots because he’s a solid offensive player. Bringing him in off the bench has been a master-stroke by JB IMO. The first team offense is more unfettered without him, and I think it helps establish the offensive rhythm. They haven’t been killed (yet) with Wright at PF. When Sims comes in guys can look for him more comfortably because they’ve already established themselves to some degree, and Sims’ psyche should be uncluttered because he is playing a scoring role off the bench. I love it. But will JB get forced out of it at any point?
3. How are the freshman? To date, Stu and Novak appear to be JB specials. Good outside
shooters with high (esp Stu) ceilings in that dept, but not just pure shooters. Both have shown the ability to handle the ball well and make decisions beyond their years. Facing Duke’s ball pressure as a nice test. To date they aren’t complete liabilities on defense. Jury is out on Cronin due to his hip. I nearly feel out of bed last night when Tim McCormick listed running well amongst his attributes. Are you kidding? He looked like a 7 foot GI Joe figure with invisible hands moving the legs to simulate running.
Is that the hip or something more? On the plus side, he is 7 feet and showed the ability to do some of the things a 7 footer should do, abet while playing against a team that went about 5'9, 5'10, 6'0, 6'3, 6'8. My first though was “my god, they aren’t burning a red shirt year are they?” (IMO, I don’t think they did). But after awhile I changed my mind. Not because of anything in particular that he did, but because I’d trade the option of having Cronin available to steal 8 minutes in a big 10 game where our bigs are in foul trouble, for the opportunity to witness all of the 2012-2013 Ben Cronin experience. If JB can’t reload Ben Cronin by 2012 there are bigger fish to fry.
4. Will teams “figure out” the 1-3-1? Every defense gives up something that they have to
overcome. If you’re in man-to-man you give up match-ups. If you’re in zone there are various weak spots to mine. I would agree that you have a certain advantage over some teams with an exotic zone where they have one practice or less to prepare for it. But I would disagree that through practice and familiarity that the zone can be “figured out.” Dookie V posited that the Blue Devils “figured out” the 1-3-1 with the skip pass. They did? Yes, they did skip it and get some wide open looks, but those looks are only good if you can cash them in. Duke didn’t do much damage there. They did kill M on the offensive glass, and when they skipped it and flashed an active 7-footer or freak athlete into the lane who made the initial catch with C.J. Lee on his back.
Teams will make hay against the zone when they can flash bigs in the post, and those guys catch and finish before the rotation gets there (or can finish over the rotation). If UM remains vigilant in their rotations on the perimeter and down low they will continue to minimize the wide open looks and easy lay-ups. If teams are hitting mostly contested threes and baseline shots out of a double team, and if teams can continually crush M on the offensive glass, bully for them. But its not figuring out the zone.
5. Will Manny earn Big 10 POY? Manny has a shitload of flaws, but he’s a player most
people love (and probably over value slightly) because of the multitude of tools he brings to the table. He’s not a great defender, but he is an very active defender who can make things happen on that end. He’s a superb rebounder for his size. He’s not a great ball handler or assist guy, but he can take the ball end-to-end and finish or make a pass that brings you out of your seat. He’s an overrated finisher in the half court, but great at creating contact in the lane and converting Fts. He turns it over too often still and isn’t a great outside shooter, but good enough that the defender needs to show his J some respect.
I’m not sure where the kid’s ceiling is as a player, but POY is clearly within his range. He’s got the requisite preseason hype which he’s played up to. He’s the face of a team which looks resurgent and has a legit chance to dance for the first time in a decade. Put that next to an 18-7-4 stat line (he’s at 22-7.8-4.4 right now) in the Big 10 where the face of the conference is.....???..... (does Brian Butch still have eligibility?) and you’ve got a POY.
5a. Where does Manny need improvement to be full deserving of that honor? Voters aren’t
that interested in things like turnovers, offensive fouls committed, and 3 pt shooting percentages. From what I have seen so far, Manny has cut down on his out-of-control tos (though much of that is likely due to his move off the ball) but still tries to squeeze in some passes he shouldn’t, and throws away the occasional ball when he over-penetrates. I’m really not concerned with his tos actually. He has also shown flashes of brilliance with his court vision, I’ve been very impressed with most of his passes in traffic. I would like to see him tighten his decision making and passing on the break. For a guy like Manny, the second a doubt creeps in his head over whether to pass or shoot on the break, he should just put his head down and go for the layup and try to draw contact.
Manny’s rebounding is way up, also due to position switch, but wouldn’t be possible if he weren’t an awesome rebounder with an unteachable nose for the ball. His conditioning is superb, and the team responds to him as a leader. He recognizes his limitations as a shooter and balances them against his need to shoot threes in this offense. He makes enough and if he ever shoot 40% on a consistent basis look out.
Here is where I would like to see Manny grow as a player. He has the first step and handle to beat his man off the dribble with regularity. But if he wants to be a great Big 10 player and have a shot to make an NBA rotation, he has to improve what he does once he’s past the first wave. As stated, I see both growth and potential in his passing off the dribble. And when he draws contact, he’s a terrific FT shooter. But too often he is slightly out of control going into the lane. He commits a lot of offensive fouls, and a lot of the calls he does get are borderline. He doesn’t finish often enough when he’s not fouled (though he’ll often tip in his own miss) and when he is fouled. If he could finish at the rim with more consistency, and develop a reliable floater and/or pull up J, he would really be cooking with gas.
I doubt we’ll see those things materialize in-season, but are layers he could add for next year. If there is one.
Since the season has ended, many Michigan fans have been playing the what-if game. Retrospect, hindsight, reflection on past failures and successes: these are the cherished and sacred rites of any sports fan when his team is in its offseason. And God knows there is no longer offseason than that of a college football team not going bowling (side note—it’s kinda hard to conceive of 10 months before we see Michigan play another game) Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of Michigan related ruminations, including: What if Bo were still alive? What if Les Miles were our coach? What if Ryan Mallett had stayed? Etc. Many Michigan fans are wondering what we could have done to avoid the worst season in 129 years of Wolverine football. You know the conversation because you’ve probably had it. And I don’t wish to rehash it, because, as a wise man once quoted an even wiser monkey, ‘It’s in the past.’
But, when the past does come up, there is one assertion universally agreed upon by all Michigan fans and that is this: Mike DeBord as U-M Head Coach=DEATH.
I bring it up only because I still read it and hear it, even today, and frankly, it bothers me. I might get crucified for this but here goes: I believe Mike DeBord would have been a fine choice for Michigan’s head coach. Now don’t click away just yet! I’ve got reasons dammit!
Part I: Theory on College Football Coaches
I’d first like to introduce the Mad Magician’s Theory of College Football Coaching Models. According to research performed in my secret lab on Death Mountain, there are two primary modes of operation for a college football head coach:
Type 1 is the Hands-On Head Coach. This coach is the man with the headphones on the ears and play sheet in hand, in constant communication with his coaches in the box and his players on the field during games. He calls plays on one side of the ball. He's a gameplanner, a schemer. He employs a distinct style of play often referred to as '(Insert last name)-ball.' Examples of Type 1 are Jim Tressel, Steve Spurrier, Rich Rodriguez, and, I think, Pete Carroll (defense).
Type 2 is the Program CEO. This is the Head Coach who oversees the entire operation of the team but delegates certain responsibilities, mainly play calling and game planning, to his assistants. In the end, however, there's no doubt he’s the boss. He manages the games, runs practices, screams at referees, and is the Closer when it comes to recruiting. Lloyd Carr was classic Type 2. The players all respected and even feared Lloyd because his judgment was always final. The Type 2 Head Coach is the face of the program, and his demeanor sets the tone for his players, coaches, and fans. Mack Brown is another example.
Sub-type: Type 2 (ret.) was the predecessor of the modern Type 2 but is now, obviously, retired. Type 2 (ret.) was a Tyrant. A General. Sometimes even considered God. Examples include Bear Bryant, Bo Schembechler, and Woody Hayes. Type 2 (ret.) has gone the way of the days when men had names like Bear, Bo, and Woody. Their time ended ca. 1989 AD.
There are two other types of head coaches:
Type 3 is, sadly, soon to be extinct. Type 3 is a conflicted, raging egomaniac who cannot decide if he’s a Type 1 or a Type 2. It probably doesn’t matter, but it is compelling to watch him flounder in helpless despair as he seeks a true identity. Type 3 loves to show off his Super Bowl rings, the last relic of former associated glory.
Type 4 is also known as The School Mascot. There are only two Type 4s: Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden. Coooommmee to Pennn Shhhhhtaaate!
Part II: A History Lesson
It’s 1995 and Gary Moeller has just been forced to resign. Lloyd Carr is not a very popular guy in Ann Arbor. As Defensive Coordinator he has been designated the new scapegoat for a four loss season. Really, he is the Mike DeBord of the early nineties. He is not Michigan fans’ first, second, or even third choice to take over the program. But desperate times…
I recall that Lloyd once said, 'The best move I made as Head Coach was firing myself as Defensive Coordinator.' Because, you see, sometimes a guy may not be the best coordinator, but he's got the moxie, the cajones, the brains to be a good Type 2 head coach. He may not be a great schemer, but the good ones have a feel for players, are adept at recruiting and developing talent, know to hire the best assistants, and foster a winning environment. He understands how every aspect of a winning college football program should operate. This was the case with Lloyd Carr, a Michigan assistant since 1980.
Part III: The Case for DeBord
Now let’s consider the supposed DEATH alternative universe where Mike DeBord has been named Michigan’s Head Coach. I beg you to open your eyes and look about you. See? It’s not so bad. Because Head Coach DeBord’s first move would have been the same as Lloyd’s, that is, he would have fired himself and ceded Offensive Coordinator duties to Scot Loeffler, widely considered one of the bright young coaching minds in the country. My guess is Loeffler would have committed U-M’s offense to a more diverse, aerial/spread attack like the one we saw in the bowl game last year. I refer to this scheme fondly as the Indianapolis Colts offense. And those 41 points hung on the Gators in Florida? Mike DeBord/Scot Loeffler’s gameplan. So the guy wasn’t a total hack.
I graduated in 2006 and I was good friends with several guys on the team. Mike DeBord, aka DeBo, was universally beloved by the players. I can say quite certainly that they would have loved to play for him in the same way they loved to play for Lloyd.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Mike DeBord a few times, and he had the kind of personality you'd want in your Head Coach. Unlike most football coaches, he seemed a genuinely nice guy. Funny too. I heard him tell a story about how his best friend was coaching with the Vikings. Randy Moss came to practice with his shoes untied, looked down at the laces, and said, 'Sorry coach, I can't go today' and walked away. 'That's why I'm coaching in college,' said DeBord, who now coaches in the NFL. Such is life.
But I’m not here to say Mike DeBord should have been Head Coach because he was a nice guy. Hell, I’m not saying he should have been Head Coach period. Remember, my premise is I don’t believe Mike DeBord=DEATH. You see, I think Mike DeBord would have been a capable Type 2 college football head coach. One of the key components of being a Head Coach is being a respectable Face of the Program, someone who carries himself with class, treats others with respect, wins and loses with dignity, and demands the same of his players. I think Michigan fans would have loved DeBord in this respect. And getting the fans and the players on your side, well, that’s half the battle.
Now I also know that DeBord's one stint as a Head Coach with CMU was a failure. No question. But DeBord felt at that time, similar to Rodriguez with WVU albeit on a smaller scale, that the school was not committed to providing the necessary resources to build the program. That’s not something I can judge one way or the other because I don't really know enough about CMU. But I don’t believe his CMU experience means he would have failed as head coach for U-M.
Michigan is not the toughest place to win.* The pieces for success are built-in. A monkey could reel in annual top 15 recruiting classes. And I’m a big believer in what John Wooden once said, when asked who were the best coaches: ‘The ones with the best players.’ Talent is 99% of the battle, and U-M with DeBord or RichRod or the monkey or anybody would have continued its talent advantage in at least ¾ of their games every year.
I also believe that as a continuation of the Schembechler line of coaches, DeBord would have gained national credibility immediately. He may not have been the sexiest pick, but it doesn’t make him the worst. With Loeffler at OC, English at DC and all the inherited assistants, I don't believe Michigan would have ceased to be a national power with Mike DeBord as head coach.
Now, I don't want to make it seem as though I'm mad DeBord wasn't named head coach. I'm not one of the Rodriguez haters--quite the opposite; in fact, lately I have become more militant in my belief in the progressive football values espoused by the WLA. I think the long-term ceiling for success under Rodriguez is higher than it would have been under DeBord. Michigan is Rodriguez's program now, and I for one am behind him 100%. This article is not meant to have anything to do with Rich Rodriguez. I love Rich and think he’ll bring more success to Michigan.
But it bothered me last year, and bothers me still, to see DeBord so universally denounced as a potential U-M Head Coach. Michigan fans, you would have liked this guy. Just think of Lloyd Carr, Defensive Coordinator. Maybe this has just been a really long way of saying that lousy assistants can make capable head coaches. But anyway, thanks for reading, and as always, GO BLUE-- The Mad Magician
*=you can make it tough, however, if you bring in a new offensive system, new coaches, etc. But that's cool, too, it'll just take a few years. Rodriguez will find it very easy to win at Michigan in the near future.
Most of you may not know that I live in Arizona. I recently [ed note: not that recently anymore!] got the chance to see one of the final football games of the regular season for Michigan defensive end commit Craig Roh and offensive line target Taylor Lewan, teammates at Chaparral High. Chaparral beat Lewan's former team Cactus Shadows 45-28. Their team is 9-1, and they both have a lot to do with their team's success.
Craig Roh is a defensive end, four star recruit, and Michigan commit. Throughout the entire game he played strong, and didn't seem fatigued. The P.A. regularly announced his name for tackles and big plays. He was very vocal on the sidelines, focused on the team rather than himself.
He told me that was one of the things that drew him to Michigan, "They treat everyone like family, whether you're a freshman or not. I really like that each player gets treated the same, and with respect."
He also really likes the tradition of Michigan football, and has already started to build friendships with other players. "I've talked with Anthony Lalota a little bit," said Roh, "and I actually have Mike Martin's phone number, so we talk too, which has been good to get to know my future teammates."
We went on to talk about his excitement to get up to Ann Arbor this summer, where is his main focus will be building strength and putting on weight. When I asked him whether or not he was trying to convince his teammate, and friend to join him at Michigan, he looked back at Taylor down the field, and said "yeah, I want him to come to Michigan; I want him to be there with me."
While the recruiting process has slowed for Roh after his commitment, it's picked up for Taylor Lewan. Lewan, a recent convert to offensive tackle, stands 6' 7", 272 pounds and runs a 4.72 40. Before his senior season, he was relatively unknown, but now he's one of the hottest offensive line prospects in the country, a newly-minted four-star recruit and possessor of over 20 offers. Oklahoma State and Missouri are the latest BCS schools to add themselves to that list.
I had the privilege of talking with Taylor and his father Dave. They both seem to be taking the process for a ride, and are excited about Taylor's success. The elder Lewan was an athlete at Minnesota, and lived in the Detroit area earlier in his life. He told me "I'm not being biased at all, this is Taylor's time, and he's going to make the decision."
They both told me about Taylor's favorite player: former Michigan left tackle and current Miami Dolphin Jake Long. Dave told me that every Sunday, “Taylor watches the Dolphin games, and actually rewinds every offensive play to see what Jake was doing, and his technique.” Lewan draws comparisons to the first pick in the 2008 NFL draft. Taylor plays left tackle, wears the number 77, is one of the smartest players on and off the field, and has based his game on strength. Coming out of high school, Long was a recent convert to offensive line rated about where Lewan is.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Lewan since he was relatively new to the position, but he showed why colleges across the country are after him. He stands taller than most of the players on the field, and lacks the usual spare tire around his waist. He's solid muscle, and has a good frame to build on.
Then he strapped on his helmet, and showed me his best Jake Long impersonation. He plays with harnessed anger and emotion, and more importantly plays snap to whistle on every play. The play that stuck out was when he drove a defensive end all the way past the right hash mark, and would've kept going had the whistle not blown. His dad told me that Taylor thought he had a poor game, but that type of play is pretty normal for his son. "If you watch his highlight film,” he said, “there's a play where Taylor drives a kid 30 yards down the field, and actually out of the camera shot."
He told me he actually prefers playing in the cold, which is refreshing to hear from a warm climate player.
Coach Dews has been in contact with Lewan regularly, and has made a great impression on him. "I really like how Coach Dews treats me, and when we talk, I feel like he's my friend," said Lewan. Taylor seems to have a great head on his shoulders, and the right support system in his family. He's looking for the right opportunity, and wants to play. Roh and Lewan were both recently invited to play in the Under Armour All American Game. They drill together after practice, and credit each other for their success.”There’s no way that I would be where I’m at right now without Craig, he’s pushed me, and I’ve pushed him to where we are today,” said Taylor. Lewan told me that he will be taking one of his visits to Michigan. He originally planned to do so this weekend, but Chapparal has a playoff game and he has to reschedule. He currently plans to visit December 6th.
Michigan has some good competition for this highly touted recruit, but I can confidently say he will be a household name where ever he goes. Both he and his family spoke highly of Michigan, and had some great things to say about the coaching staff as well. We'll have to wait and see how this plays out, and there will be a lot of teams watching his every move.