"I love it that Ivy League coaches are coming to our camp and Big Ten coaches are coming to our camp. South Florida is coming. We've got about 70 schools that are coming to our camp."
This post didn't finish at all like I had started it. I had meant it to be a cold and calculating analysis of next season, with a prediction for next year based on the evidence available. It ended up anything but. I can't help but think that it may end up in a category of tripe from this season labelled "overly sentimental piffle." And yes, it's a little tongue-in-cheek, but only a little. Many people had realized this already, but I, to my discredit, hadn't. I'm posting it anyway, just in case I happen to be right about anything. It's not like being "wrong again" for like the 8th time about this season is going to damage my ego. Just a fair warning, it's a bit lengthy so if you are planning on reading the whole thing you may want to cancel that 1:30 budget meeting in advance.
A Disappointment to Ha-Oh-Ma-ER
So, by this time the collective shock/grief/horror/weal/woe of this season have been discussed. Just a little bit. It's got many of us asking "What is to be done?" and perhaps more importantly "Who is to blame?" Recently I have been realizing whose fault it is. It's mine.
At the beginning of the season I was more pessimistic than anyone else I knew. My reasoning was simple: we would have approximately zero quarterbacks. By September, however, my friends had convicned me- and more importantly I had convinced myself- that this could not, would not happen. It would not happen to us because We Were Michigan. A few days before the season I wrote that we would lose 4 games this year, with an allowance for a 5 loss season if we lost to Notre Dame. And at that time, I even thought I was being objective. How deluded I was!
Even as the season progressed I continued to delude myself as many did, still found us ways to lose only 5, then only 6, and then for that one brief moment 5-7 looked possible. I, like many others, read each UFR with partucular facination, wondered about the personnel, the playcalling, the effect of the Van Allen belts on football trajectories, the relative humidity. The funny thing about it all was that instead of accepting reality, my disbelief mounted.
How could we be so bad? Certainly there was a tangible reason. It was the quarterbacks, the coach, the weather, a curse. Whatever it was, though, we could certainly change it if we found it. Eventually, as we became increasingly desperate, we scrambled around searching for lost deities that we maybe had offended sometime in our lives. That green porcellan goldfish that I -I mean my roommate- threw onto the cafeteria roof of South Quad couldn't have been a god that we had offended....right? What had happened? It was at that point that I thought of something else I heard in college:
It's Not Those Pants That Make Your Ass Look Big, It's Your Ass That Makes Your Ass Look Big
It was simple. We stunk. There were no two ways around it, and there wasn't anything more to say about it. We had spent all this time trying on different pairs of pants while all the time not focusing on what was wrong. And I think we can be forgiven- for most of us this hasn't happened in our lifetimes. (I don't think the Harbaugh broken-arm season really counts).
And now what do I see? People predicting 9-3 for next year! They are, they are! I actually think they can't help it, like I couldn't help predeicting only 4 losses this year. Take a step back and ask yourself this: take a team, an anonymous team, an unknown team, and let me tell you something about them. This team doesn't have a quarterback that has started more than 8 games in his college career. It has two sophomores, one a walk-on, and a true freshman. Yes, the freshman is talented, and yes, it appears he was Made for the Spread- he's also 18. The offensive line will consist of first and second year starters, except maybe one of the tackles, a third year starter possibly playing out of position. The backs are strong but coming off of an injury-filled year. The receivers are all young and fumble like crazy. And that's the good part. The defense will be losing 4 starters on the defensive line, one of whom is the best player on the team, and a starting corner. Without knowing more would you guess that would be a good team?
Thinking that, my prediction would be at best 6-6. I would be thrilled with 6-6. And I can hear it already:
Pessimist! you say.
Not a true fan!
OK, OK, you say, that's hardly a surprise at this point that we stink- and we're all going to have to sqaure with that some day. But we'll be Back next year, right?
I know all the arguments for a good season. Forcier saves the team, the linemen improve dramatically, the receivers learn all the routes they are having trouble with. We will get Will Campbell, he will anchor the line, Mike Martin will be good, Ven Bergen will emerge as a playmaker, Ezeh will have some kind of religious experience during the offseason and wake up one day and say "Oh, TO the ball!" RR's teams seem to be drastically better the 2nd year.
These things are all, in fact, possible. They are individually possible. But how many of them have to come true for us to be really good next year? Most of them? All of them? I'm just going to take a flyer and say that those things won't all happen. I do think we will improve. We may improve significantly, but just think: 6-6 WOULD be a significant improvement. Then it occured to me that maybe I was right, but for the wrong reasons. In this, the strangest of seasons, the journey is emotional one, not an intellectual one. What does it say that 7-5 is a season we refer to as the Year of Infinite Pain? What is this year? The Infinite Year of Infinite Pain? The Year of 2x Infinite Pain?
So, we'll be Back, right? The simple answer is no, we won't. And that doesn't mean we will never be good again, in fact I'm quite sure that we will. But we will never be "back." That has passed. I thought I had known that already already, but I hadn't. And like I said, it was a trauma for all of us : we woke up one day and our ass was gigantic. And we can't ever -ever - go back to the way we were before. There is only one thing to do.
Give Up, You Must, That Which You Most Fear to Lose
Back to 9-3. It's just optimistic, right? This can happen and that can happen, and the offensive line will get better, Threet will have the best offseason anyone's had since Tom Brady found Giselle, boom goes the dynamite, we're 9-3. And when I say they are wrong, they call me unOptimistic, they call me a Pessimist, they say I'm not a True Fan because I don't Believe. But though I say we will be lucky to see 6-6 next year I am more optimistic than someone that says we're going to be 9-3. It's because I am further along in acceptance of this year, of this team, of this coach. It's because I've embraced the Way of the Jedi. I now accept what is, and I can move on, and I am at peace with 6-6 (or worse). For those of you still suggesting 9-3 for next season, I would humbly suggest that you are still not at peace with this season's trauma. And I don't blame you, it's hit us all hard.
This season has been nothing short of a Michigan Identity Crisis with capital letters. In fact, it is a large crisis, a huge crisis, a twelve story crisis, with express elevators, a marble entrance hall, and a neon marquee out front reading "Tonight Only: A Large Crisis." And it is so hard to let go. I have been ranting about this and that all year. They (whoever that is) don't understand, I would say, what it means to lose this kind of winning streak, this kind of bowl streak, this kind of consecutive years of non-suckage. Last year after that 3rd game of the season I kept rocking back and forth on the floor with a crooked smile, saying "At least we're not Notre Dame, we're not Notre Dame, not Notre Dame..." But whatever way you defended us, or definied this team, or whatever, that's gone now. Whatever Michigan Arrogance we had (and yes I did, and I bet you did too), it sure as hell is gone now. Or at least it should have been....
It was just such Arrogance that led me to proclaim 4 losses this year in the face of all reason. New coach, millions of new linemen, oh shit, and another new lineman, and oh, one more new lineman...no quarterbacks, no safeties except our favorites. There were so many reasons we were going to be bad, and really the only one we weren't was My Arrogance. Blinded as I was by our past superiority, I was simply unable to convince myself what was probably obvious to others. Hey, if Sports Illustrated got it right, it can't have been a secret.
I haven't forgotten that I have claimed that I was more optimisitc than those that were proclaiming we would be 9-3 next year. And I hold to it. The reason is that I have given up this season. I don't mean that I have given up ON the season, rather that I have finally let it go. I have given up being better than State, I have given up my anti-MAC superiority, I have given up being Not Notre Dame. Don't try to get your mind around losing to Toledo. You can't. And I nearly gave myself an aneurism trying- you just have to let it go. I have given up the bowl streak, the winning seasons. And it was hard- it took me 11 games. I could still fall off the wagon any second.
Think about all those seasons, think about the history. Pick your favorite season, and you will realize why it's been so hard. And then after you've thought about it, you have to let it go. I don't mean anything silly like "forget about it forever." But you have to let it be the past, because now it finally is the past.
When Life Can't Promise the Fantastic, It's Wax Nostalgic
Think about your favorite seat, favorite bit of bench to stand on, crammed in with 12 of your closest friends. Think about your favorite game. Think about all of those good players. When I was a kid in the yard I was always Jamie Morris and my younger brother was Jim Harbaugh, we made dad be Ohio State. The youngest brother was Anthony Carter, I remember he had a #1 jersey. The games I was young for are just kind of flashes: There's a flash of Tripp Welbourne (I think) getting his helmet on the ball, it pops loose, Michigan recoevers. Grbac hits Derrick Walker on a touchdown pass, but we miss the two and the game is over. But wait! Vada Murray recovers the onside kick, screen to Boles gets us close enough, Carlson wins it. I remember, and I couldn't tell you why, Yale Van Dyne running unmolested over the middle for the slowest 25 yards ever. I think that was an important play, but I couldn't really tell you. I remember Elvis to Desmond- when my friends and I used to sneak into Michigan Stadium we'd go stand on the spot where he caught the ball. And when we stood on that spot and looked up the seats were full and we could see that play. One time a big loping quarterback named Jay Riemersma caught a pass over the middle from Todd Collins and just kept going and going. A couple of plays later Hamilton makes the kick. I remember one game my cousin wouldn't get out of the way of the TV because she thought it was funny that boys cared about football so much. I promised that if she let me alone I would jump in Lake Huron once the game was over (which I did). And she got out of the way, and I watched Tim Biakabatuka run for eight million yards leaving behind only wounded Buckeyes. Lake Huron in November is brisk, by the way. I remeber how disappointed I was when Braylon fumbled against State- only to come back later and catch so many touchdown passes no one knew what to do.
I went to the Iowa game in 97 by myself because I had split season tickets and got seperated from my friends for some games. It didn't matter. That year especially everyone was friends anyway. And we all watched a crappy first half. But when that team ran onto the field for the second half of that game we knew they were going to win, you could feel it, and I bet anyone who was at that game would tell you the same thing. I may have helped a couple of guys I didn't know finish a flask of rum later that year against the scarlet and gray. I rushed the field with a friend of mine that was 6'7", and he put me on his shoulders and I saw out with a marvelous view over the sea of jubilant, yea even jubilant, people.
While I was a student at Michigan we only lost two home games. Those were the only games I was not at. (Damn you, work! )
It took us a second in the stands to realize that Alabama had missed that extra point.
I wasn't in the U.S. the 2005 and 2006 seasons because I lived in Central Asia. But I didn't miss any games- except Ball State- that tape was destroyed in transit. My parents, bless their hearts, mailed me each and every game. Then they had to mail me a VCR, yes mail me a VCR, because I discovered Central Asian VHS is a different format than North American format. Go figure. Then they malied me a converter to adapt my 220 V socket to the 110 V VCR. At first I felt badly that they had gone through all that trouble to send them to me, but then my dad called (11 hours difference) to talk to me about the Eastern Michigan game - Eastern for pity's sake - 5 weeks after it happened and I knew it meant just as much to them to send them as it did to me to receive them. We talked about every game 4-6 weeks after it happened, with my parents sworn not to reveal the results of games that hadn't "happened" yet for me.
In Russian fashion I washed down the Year of Infinite Pain with a lot of vodka. Then came 2006. In preparation for the 2006 season I watched the 2005 season in its entirety, twice. I also just happened to have a DVD of the 1986 Fiesta Bowl, which I watched 9 times. (I know, I'm a dork, but we only had 2 DVDs, Zoolander and the 1986 Fiesta Bowl. I watched Zoolander 14 times if that helps your opinion of me.) That season was so awesome, and the Kazakh Postal Service couldn't figure out why I got so many boxes. They thought I didn't like their potatoes so I was getting American potatoes from home. Yes, they asked me that. After half a season of getting games, that's what they decided. Better potatoes. Different worlds, eh? After the Ohio State game I went to the post office every day, sometimes twice. The last 4 games of the season were due to arrive. I wouldn't talk to anyone that had heard anything from the U.S. Fortunately in our village of 3000 on the West Siberian Plain that was relatively easy.
Then the box came. (Actually eventually 3 different people sent me a tape). The post office lady had gotten it into her head that whatever box this was, it was an important one, and she called me at the school I taught at. It was nearly thirty degrees below zero. I ran to the post office from school on my lunch. After school, I hitchhiked the 3 miles home to get there faster. My wife answered our door and said, "It's here, isn't it?"
As I mentioned, there were actually four games on a series of tapes. Ball State had been damaged somehow, I forget exactly what happened, but we watched two of them on a Friday, the Northwestern game and the Indiana game. By the Indiana game they already had that timer box counting down to the OSU game, which was very surreal for me because technically that game had already happened. We got through NW and Indiana. After we watched the Indiana game we knew we would have to wait one more day to watch The Game. It needed its own day. Though it would drive us crazy, we would wait until Saturday. In Kazakhstan Saturday is a work day, and I walked around the next day at school like a zombie whose brain and ass were on fire. I don't know what that means, but our village of Kazakhs certainly never knew what was wrong with me that day.
We made pizza (from scratch) in our toaster oven (it was all we had) and got out the beers we had half-frozen outside and popped in the tape. The VCR made a weird gulping noise and nothing happened. I ejected the tape. Some it stayed in the VCR- I nearly wept. But I got my wife to hold the VCR door open, and with the help of a knife and fork I carefully extracted the tape. I set it upside down on the floor, and opened the tape case with a Swiss Army Knife. With more precision than I have ever possessed, I took out all the minute parts and laid them out exactly as I had taken them out. It turned out the tape was simply twisted. I took out the spools, untwisted the tape, put the spools back in the case, wound it past the twist and put the case back together. It worked! After literally weeks of anticipation the GAME was on. We already knew about Bo, my parents had told us about that earlier without revealing the results of the game. It was still emotional, though, and even Brent Musberger couldn't ruin that part of it. And there we sat (I mostly stood, actually) in a duplex in Central Asia with homemade pizza and Kazakh beer and watched the game two+ weeks after it had happened. At halftime we made more pizza (small toaster oven). Eventually Mike Hart brought us back, and then we lost anyway, and by then, even though we lost, I knew I had just watched one of the greatest Michigan games that would ever be played.
Then after 2007, we beat a Florida team we had no business beating, and Lloyd left, and though I wished him well, I never really knew what that meant. Until now.
For you those moments may be different. It doesn't even really matter what moment it is. Those are just the snapshots that I have frozen in my mind, the moments that made me feel this team. Some of them are obscure. But if you can feel that moment, you know what I'm talking about.
May He Who Illuminated This, Illuminate Me
So there I was, just a few days ago, like Indiana Jones (but not as attractive), holding on to the edge by one glove. And there's the Grail, all those old seasons, and I can reach it. I can almost get it back. And this man in a funny hat and glasses, tells me, "Let it go." And I have to let it all go. All of that history. And he pulls me up.
Give up, you must, that which you fear most to lose.
Bless You Boys
For a lot of us, I'm sure saying 6-6 next year sounds defeatist. I mean, the reason I said we'd lose 4 this year is because I thought we'd have a "down" year. And, if I might make a gentle suggestion, I think that people who are saying 9-3 for next year have not quite let go yet. And I understand. I do, I do! And I understand now, that's it's not something we can reason out. Don't think about it too hard, you can't. You can't because All That is gone forever. That's not necessarily bad, it's just new. But for me it wasn't nearly as much of an intellectual journey as an emotional one. And we have to pass that before we can start thinking about this New Team of ours. For some of you this was easier. My excuse is I cared about past teams so much. I suppose why doesn't matter.
The Greek word "catharsis" in not necessarily a feeling of sadness. It actually refers to a cleasning or purification brought about by some deep emotional climax. It is a cleansing that allows for something new. And I would argue, that as fans, we have experienced so much this year that we cannot go on without it.
So, I think 6-6 is actually optimistic. Because I've let go of all my baggage, and all I have right now is 3-9, and that's weird. But after 3-9, 6-6 doesn't seem so bad, does it? If all you have is 3-9 even 5-7 is ok. So my 6-6 is more optimistic than your 9-3 because I'm ok with it. If you're predicting 9-3, are you really ok with 5-7? To move on, you have to be.
And, just think, this is what we wanted. I loved Carr, but he still gave me ulcers, as anyone else that's stood there yelling at the TV "Throw the damn ball downfield, will you?" will know. And we wanted someone new, a risk taker, a chance taker. And we got it.
I don't really think RR can understand our pain this year, although I do give him credit for trying. And you know what? It doesn't matter, because all of that is gone. And even just the littlest part of me was mad at him for that- and I was wrong. He's not going to really understand, and he's not supposed to. We hired from outside not so we could change him, but so that he could change us. The challenge isn't for him to understand us, the challenge is for us to let go.
No doubt someone, in fact very likely many people, think this all pedantic pointless whiny drivel. I'm quite sure some will laugh, and many will poke fun. But someone out there will have experienced this before me, and perhaps ironically, some of them are Notre Dame fans. But I don't care what you say. I choose to give up that which I feared most to lose.
So, welcome, Rich Rodriguez. I said it before, but I didn't mean it. I didn't even know that I didn't mean it. Welcome, Rich Rodriguez, to the University of Michigan, and I wish you luck with Your Team.
In case you are just coming out from the rock you live under and haven't heard, Michigan beat UCLA last night in basketball. By no means does this automatically put them in the NCAA tourny, or make them a top-25 team for that matter, but it certainly puts a hypothetical light at the end of the hypothetical tunnel that is John Beilein's unhypothetical transitional period.
Loyal readers of this blog may think back to August or possibly July, when Brian posted an email that pointed out the similarities between Beilein's situation and RichRod's, (new, 'wacky' offensive system, history of success with low-rated recruits, a bunch of young players not recruited to play his system, both from WVU etc.) and how this could be a foreshadow into the upcoming football season. And it would seem that the 2008 Michigan football season turned out to be very comparable to '07-'08 Michigan basketball campaign.
So, now that the '08-'09 basketball season has begun, only three games in the improvements have already become apparent. This isn't even close to an established Beilein team, and he already has an upset over a top-5 team.
What does it mean for '09 Michigan football? Well, statistically speaking, the two are unrelated. However, it does give us M-faithful hope. Clearly Beilein was a good coach before he came to Michigan despite a 9-win first season. And RichRod was an equally-clear good coach before he came to Michigan, despite a likely 3-win (worst in program history- DAMN!) first season. Will Michigan be a 10-win team next year? Doubtful, and I know this is premature, but it would seem Michigan will have a successful basketball season (by success I mean relative to last year), and if they do, it means that football has just as good a chance of having a good 2009 football season (And at this point, 'good' means 8-wins).
On a side note, when you consider that Alabama has 5 more wins already than last year (they could end the season with 7 or 8 more) that means Michigan is also capable of an improvement like that. Even if they win 8 next year, I'll take it.
There is 2 minuetes to go in the game and michigan is up by 3. Stu Douglass, a true freshman from Indian has just hit a huge three pointer while not facing the basket. As the teams go to commercial I have to think to myself, even if the wolverines dont end up pulling this one out of the bag, man do they have a refreshing attitude and style of basketball. They are aggresive on D. They force steals and tournovers like crazy. They need to work on their fastbreak a little bit but they certainly know what they are doing while shooting the ball. Simms Stepped up big in this game being a leader on offense and defense. Recieving a ton of praise from Dicky V. I personally dont care if he comes off the bench or starts as long as he is on the court. This is a big moral victory for the mens basketball program, even if they dont pull it it. It has been fun to watch and a great game. The Wolverines definatily dont look like an unranked team that only won 10 games last year. Quite the conterairy, thye look like an experienced team that is playing with tremendous swagger. SIMMS JUST PUNISHED THE RIM!!!!! MICHIGAN BASKETBALL IS BACK!!!
I've been thinking about this for a while.
Lots of sites have this. Over the years Brian has been running this blog, there have been some truly epic posts/moments in time to go along with it. There have been highs and lows, times both hilarious and nostalgic.
I'll try to start this off...My favorite ever posts have been:
(most of those were on the old site, by the way, here is a link to it: http://mgoblog.blogspot.com/2006/05/offseason-roundtable-2.html)
The New Math post : http://mgoblog.blogspot.com/2005/10/new-math.html
The Florida Preview/ Open Thread post (for its epic comment thread): http://mgoblog.blogspot.com/2007/12/preview-florida.html
The Northwestern 07 Game Review post (Debord throws rock!) : http://mgoblog.blogspot.com/2007/10/thirty-minutes-of-hell.html
The Mike Hart for Heisman post: http://mgoblog.blogspot.com/2007/09/lionized.html
The Game 06 Preview (when it was all that mattered): http://mgoblog.blogspot.com/2006/11/eleven-swans.html
OMG WE HIRED RODRIGUEZ! : http://mgoblog.blogspot.com/2007/12/its-peanut-butter-jelly-time.html
Obviously, you come to this site for a reason. What have your favorite posts here been?
(and I need more words to conclude this with, so....JEDDAH – Pakistan International School - English Section defeated American International School in the opening match of the My Care Under-17 Inter-School Championship at the Eskan cricket ground last week.
The championship is being organized by Western Province Cricket Association as a part of its 5-year development plan of Saudi Cricket Center.
The eight-week contest will feature eight international schools with 15 matches in total. The event is sponsored by My Care Polyclinic under its awareness program of common diseases. My Care Polyclinic will offer free medical checkups to all participating students and will organize awareness sessions with schoolchildren. Ejaz Sheikh, representative of My Care Polyclinic, formally opened the championship. During his opening speech, he declared that “Healthier Youth” is the basic theme of this competition.
The match was off to flying start as Abdullah Khurram of PISJ (ES) hit the first four on the first ball of the match. The stunning firework by both the openers, Abdullah and Hamza, led to a brisk opening stand of 105 runs.)
I came across an interesting article written by John U. Bacon and thought I'd share it for those of you who haven't yet read it. (Note: I tried to post this earlier but thought it didn't go through, so forgive me if this is a duplicate.)
After reading this article, I realized RR has done a lot with the little he's been afforded, both in his personal life, and his career in athletics. Very admirable trait! In the same light, I can only imagine what he'll be able to accomplish with what he'll get here at Michigan.
Article can be found here: http://michigantoday.umich.edu/2008/11/rodriguez.php
John U. Bacon
"As of this writing, Michigan's football season is not over—but Rich Rodriguez has already endured enough travails to fill a decade of Saturdays.
Just one year ago Rodriguez had a golden opportunity to get his second-ranked West Virginia team into the national title game. But in their last regular season game, the Mountaineers were stunned by lowly Pittsburgh, knocking them out of title contention.
A few days after that crushing defeat, Rodriguez got some good news: Michigan was on the line, prepared to propose. It was a whirlwind courtship between the most successful program in college football and the sport's fastest rising star—and consummated within a week.
You'd think the story might have ended there—but that was only the beginning. Still ahead: a seemingly endless lawsuit over a buy-out clause in Rodriguez's West Virginia contract, and the loss of ten of eleven starters from his new Michigan offense—five to graduation (four of whom were good enough to play in the NFL), two more who jumped early to the NFL and three who transferred to other schools.
"The last seven months have been the hardest of my career—hands down," he told me. "We should have been able to enjoy the honeymoon, instead of dealing with all this."
Next up: the most trying season in recent Michigan football history—one that has seen the Wolverines' blow a seven-game winning streak against Michigan State, a nine-game winning streak against Penn State, and a 24-game winning streak against the entire Mid-American Conference. Add it all up, and you have the first losing season since 1967, which will break a 33-year streak of bowl games—the longest in the sport—and Michigan's first eight-loss campaign ever.
But when you consider the long, winding road that has led Rodriguez from Grant Town, West Virginia, to Ann Arbor, this past year looks less like a roadblock than a speed bump.
Rodriguez's grandfather left Spain for the coal mines of West Virginia. Looking for a better life, the family moved to Chicago, where he was born.
His father soon became fed up with the crime and intimidation of their rough neighborhood. So one night he rented a U-Haul and a guard dog, packed the family's scant belongings in the middle of the night, and headed for tiny Grant Town, West Virginia, under cover of darkness.
"I was in the second grade," Rodriguez recalls, "and I'd never even heard of West Virginia. Man, I just hated it. But what saved me was sports. I could go outside, and bounce a ball off our roof for hours—a baseball, a basketball, even a football, it didn't matter—until my dad got a hoop and bolted it onto the roof. Looking back on it, for a family that was getting government cheese and didn't have enough money to pave our dirt driveway, that was a hell of a gift."
Rodriguez shot on that hoop every chance he had. In the winter, he'd grab the family snow shovel, pack down the snow, put his gloves on, and keep shooting. By his senior year in high school, he was the state's leading scorer.
"I knew two things: I wanted to spend my life in sports, and I wanted to do it on the biggest stage around. I wanted the pressure!"
He turned down scholarship offers to play basketball at Davidson, Marshall and Army because, he says, "I really loved football, and I wanted to play for the Mountaineers. That was always my dream. So I decided to walk on and take my chances."
As a 4.0 student in high school, he had cobbled together enough scholarship money to last one year. After that, he either had to earn a scholarship—or drop out.
When his father drove him down to the University of West Virginia, it was an adventure for both of them. Neither had ever seen the campus before. "He dropped me off with just a single hand bag—that's all I had. We left me at the stadium—on the wrong side! We didn't even know where the locker rooms were."
The assistant coach who welcomed the walk-ons didn't know Rodriguez's name. When the coach barked out the list of walk-ons, he called off "Gonzalez," thinking it was Rodriguez.
It's been a tough season for Rodriguez and U-M football, but the coach says he's faced longer odds before. (Photo: Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services.)
"Once I realized they had no idea who I was, my plan was simple: I was going to get in as many fights as I could the first week, just so they would know my name! They put me at defensive back, and I was getting in everyone's face, especially the offensive linemen, because they were all taped up and couldn't really get you. The other guys might not have liked me too much, but the coaches remembered my name!
"I played hard—every play, every practice and every game. No exceptions. I played desperate—because I was. If I didn't get a full ride by the end of the year, my college days were over."
At the end of Rodriguez's freshman year, Coach Don Nehlen offered him a full ride. He'd made it. His gamble had paid off.
Since then, Rodriguez has repeated the formula at every stop: Turn down the sure thing, bet on himself—then work to make it come true.
In his first season as Glenville State's head coach, his team posted an anemic 1-7-1 mark. "We were so bad, the crowd would literally give us a standing ovation if we got a first down," he says. "Trust me, just to keep that team together, that was the best coaching job I've ever done!"
The next year he knew he had to shake things up to get his offense going. "I started thinking about what was the toughest thing to defend when I played defensive back. To me, it was the two minute drill. Well, let's see if we can do that the whole game."
From that point on, Rodriguez's team skipped the huddle, went to a shotgun snap, spread the receivers out and started taking chances to get some points on the board—and kept it up for the entire game, every game.
It worked. Glenville State's radical offense left opponents chasing their tails and gasping for air. His revamped squad started rising up the ranks, and finally won the first of four league titles in just his fourth season. For good measure, they also won the Division II national championship.
As an offensive coordinator, Rodriguez worked the same magic for Tulane and Clemson before becoming the head coach at his alma mater in 2001—where he did it again, taking a 3-8 squad his first year and transforming them into a national contender.
Coach Rodriguez's invention, the spread offense, the very scheme that was once considered the last resort for desperate Division II teams, has now taken over the college game. You might argue it's worked too well, because many of the teams Michigan faces every year now employ Rodriguez's stratagem—and it works for them, too.
This season has tested Rodriguez in every way imaginable, on and off the field. After Michigan's 48-42 loss to Purdue left the hopes of a winning record—and with it, a bowl game—in the dust, Rodriguez faced one of the greatest challenges of his career. How do you motivate a team to keep playing hard the remaining three games of the season when you have virtually nothing to play for? It was a new problem for a Michigan coach.
When he addressed the team the night before the Minnesota game, he said, "You seniors can make a statement about your careers in the last three games, and you freshmen can make a statement about the future. Like the movie says, we need to get busy living, or get busy dying."
Instead of packing it in, the Wolverines packed a punch, dominating heavily favored Minnesota 29-6, to keep the Brown Jug, their confidence up and their hopes alive for the games—and the seasons—ahead. It's difficult to remember a Michigan team so happy to hoist the Jug.
"People say it's harder to be at the top than the bottom," he says. "But I guarantee you, anyone who says that has never been at the bottom.
"We're going to get there. It won't be tomorrow, and it won't be easy, but we're going to get there." "
Oh, UCLA, Michigan cant seem to quit you. Just when you're off the schedule, you reappear as an opponent in this pre-conference tournament. Luckily, the Bruins survived a spirited effort out of Miami Ohio last week to advance to tonight's semifinal game against Michigan.
Previously, the teams had played for six straight seasons, but that series ended last year. The first couple of years of this head to head worked out well for Michigan as they notched wins over the Bruins. Of course, those were the final two years of the Stevie Lavin era. Since BEN Howland took over, things have bee much different in this series. The Bruins won and covered each of the final four meetings, at times dominating the Michigan squad. Remarkably, as recently as 2005, Michigan was favered by seven points to win in this matchup. Since then, UCLA has played in three Final Fours. Michigan, meanwhile, uh, has not. Tonight, the Bruins are favored by 12 points.
Michigan advanced to this game with a pair of smooth wins over Michigan Tech and Northeastern. The Wolverines played good D, shot the ball reasonably well and Manny Harris showed All-American potential in those games. That was nice. Step forward and take a bow. Now, forget about it. The next two nights, the competition takes a major step up with the Bruins tonight and either Duke or Southern Illinois tomorrow.
It begs the question of not only how will Michigan perform, but what should Michigan fans' expectations be for their squad during the rest of this tournament?
A third place finish--meaning a win tomorrow night--would set the bar a little bit higher for UM this season. If they can get out of this foursome with one win, considering the other three squads are perennial tournament teams and each season rank among the best defensively in the country, it would signal a tougher Michigan squad than what they've shown in recent years. It could set them up for a run at the upper half of a pretty watered down Big 10.
Its hard to see Michigan getting by UCLA tonight. I would be happy just to see Michigan compete, give the Bruins a run for their money and cover the spread.
You have to wonder how Michigan is going to score against UCLA tonight. In the last three matchups with the Bruins, Michigan has averaged just 56.6 ppg and shot a combined 38.9% from the field. While the operation looked smooth last week, no secondary scorer emerged after Harris. The Bruins specialize in taking out the other team's best guy and making others beat them. Dont expect that scorer to emerge tonight against the stingy Bruins who have been ranked in the top-10 nationally in scoring D each year during their Final Four run. Can Harris overcome the Bruin D? Can he score 30 tonight? More importanly perhaps, is can he score the ball tonight with efficiency and help set up his teammates?
The Bruins counter with Darren Collison at point guard. Its unclear how much Harris and Collison will match up head to head, but you have two of the best guards in the country tonight. That alone will make this quality viewing. If Collison stands out over Harris, this will be a blowout. If Harris has the upper hand, then Michigan might be in the ball game the whole way through.
Overall, the jury is out on this year's UCLA team. They are not as talented and fine tuned as other Howland squads. Other than Collison and Josh Shipp, they are relying on a lot of freshmen. And, while its a great freshmen class, they looked out of sorts in their game with Miami last week. Miami is a tough team to play. They play in your shorts D and have a goofy, half court style of O, that always seems to surprise the big name out of conference foes. Collison and Shipp starred against Miami, but they needed every bit they got out of them to advance. The rest of the club, however, shot less than 40 percent against Miami. If Michigan can keep the ball out of Collison's hands, the Wolverines can probably thwart the young Bruins with their 1-3-1 defense. Of course, keeping the ball out of Collison's hands is a lot easier said than done.
Beyond the win-loss expectation, I think there is an intangible element of success or failure that hangs in the air the next two nights for the Michigan basketball program. Can they come out of these two games with their confidence intact? Even if they go 0-2, do they do it in close affairs, or, under the pressure of some of the best D they'll face all year, do they wilt and get blown out?
Lets assume they go to the consolation game and play SIU tomorrow. The Salukis are a great program coming off a down season. Despite that, Chris Lowery's crew was right up there with UCLA in most defensive categories last year. If you can score 60 or more against the Egyptian Dogs, then you are doing better than most. In a span of 24 hours, Michigan will be playing a pair of teams that have the best defensive systems in the country. For a team that has no consistent secondary scoring, it could get ugly.
Aesthetics may be as important as the actual scoreboard results for Michigan the next two nights. Last year, the team came out looking OK, but then struggled mightily against some cupcakes. The team never recovered their confidence until late February. By that point, any possible postseason berth was off the table. UCLA and then Duke/SIU can destroy this team's confidence. Would anybody be totally shocked if Michigan failed to score a combined 100 points the next two nights? Disappointed, yes. But, totally out of left field shocked? No.
The next two nights are not as much about wins and losses for Michigan. Its about can they stand up and play against some of the winningest programs of the decade? Its about can their offensive system manage enough efficiency against some of the best defenses they will face all year? Its about role players like David Merrit, who was a surprisingly steady force in the opening games last week, not being so overwhelmed by the step up in competition that his confidence does not get so shattered. If the team goes 1-1 or loses a pair of competitive games, then feel free to raise your expectations a little. If the team loses its dignity and the coaches have to spend time rebuilding their spirits, then keep your expectations down until further notice.
Enough of what I think. What about you guys? Are you interested at all in these games? What do you expect out of UM in these games? In your mind,what would be a succesful weekend for the hoops team?