that is nice bonus change
Okay, last installment. For the previous installments, see: http://mgoblog.com/diaries/three-and-out-100-pagesfor the first 100 pages, and http://mgoblog.com/diaries/three-and-out-pages-100-250 for pp. 100-250. Also, you might want to check out the comments to those entries for more exposition and clarification.
It’s clear that this whole book, and this subject, reopen a lot of old wounds and dig up a lot of old debates. I’ve actually thought a little bit over the past two days about what a couple commenters said, which was that they don’t think they’ll read the book because of a handful of reasons, notably because, well, it’s in the past, and why dig up old bodies, beat dead horses, reopen old wounds? I am conflicted by that notion. In a way, I understand that line of thinking- reading this book isn’t a fun exercise after a certain point because it reminds the reader of the agony of those 3 seasons. It is not a happy tale, and today, we have a new regime, a 6-0 team, and things are looking up. At the same time, I think it’s hard to discuss the past regime, the differences between Hoke & Co. and the past regime, and, most importantly, the differences between the two transitions without revisiting the dark days of late 2007-January, 2011. But the more I read the book, I could come to appreciate the idea that rehashing all of the negativity may not be something that many wish to do. That being said, I think it will be hard going forward to discuss the RR era without reading this book, even if you doubt the “spin” put on the story contained within its pages.
Again: this book is written from the RR perspective. Bacon was following RR, his team, etc. So a grain of salt (which many have rightfully pointed out) is wise.
These are just my musings on what jumped out at me, things I found interesting (personally) and thought that those who haven’t gotten a chance to read this yet might also find interesting. I actually finished the book a couple of days ago, but haven’t had a chance to write this yet.
One thing that strikes me is that the team really seems to stick together throughout all of the negativity- the Free Press stuff, the losing, the rumors, etc. Over and over again, Bacon muses that he figures the team would quit on the staff, that, at times, they probably should quit on the staff, etc. He seems to look for cracks in the team’s drive/mission/togetherness, especially throughout 2009’s slide and in 2010 when the players themselves are fully aware of all the rumors. But if that was ever the case, he didn’t see it. Until, perhaps, the Mississsippi State bowl game, where the seniors, at least (but really more likely the whole team) were of the impression that RR was done, win-or-lose (more on that below).
The Les Miles stuff was purely for show and to appease the fanbase. He says, quote, that Les Miles would be Michigan’s head coach “over my dead body” when RR asked him about it when the rumors reached a fever pitch in late December 2010. The book doesn’t say why. I have a feeling that there are multiple reasons, and at the very least, some of the nastiest rumors must be either a.) true, or b.) believed by enough people in the Michigan community who actually have a say in things (LC, Brandon, among them) that Les was never a serious candidate.
Brandon also handled the transition infinitely better than Bill Martin from a “players leaving” standpoint. As soon as it was announced, he (DB) called a meeting with the players and asked them not to leave. Far cry from LC holding a meeting and saying “if you want to leave, I’ll sign.” DB told the players if there was a mass exodus, they’d be “crippling” the program.
Furthermore, after DB left the room, Molk, Van Bergen, and the other seniors-to-be stood up and said, essentially, “don’t leave. We’ve all come too far.” Seems everyone had learned from the 2007 debacle.
Also of note: Dave Brandon said that he’d talked to “lots of players” before making the decision to fire RR, and that his “door was always open” and had always been open. Apparently not to Denard Robinson. Denard requested an audience with Brandon multiple times between the U of M Bust dinner and the bowl game, both in Ann Arbor and after they’d all gotten to Jacksonville. Brandon never met with him during that time.
The 2010 Bust, Josh Groban, December 2010, and Senior Exit Interviews
To Bacon, this is where RR’s tenure ended. He seems to think that after the Groban debacle, RR was toast. Many people were exchanging uneasy glances as he started doing it (asking for the song to be played) saying (by their looks) please don’t do this. When the lights went up, Bacon says that even RR supporters whom he knew were, essentially, like “yeah…that was bad, and he’s done.” Also, apparently, there were rumors that Fox Sports and others were offering $50-100k for the tape. Dave Brandon told the film crew who were present that if the tape of the incident were released, they’d never have access to Michigan again.
Seniors conducted exit interviews with the A.D. (associate AD Greg Harden) in the weeks following the bust (but before the bowl game) and the conclusions the players reached was that Rich Rod was gone. The student managers told Bacon that, point blank, the seniors all “knew” RR was getting fired and, thus, “no one wanted to be here.” I’m talking about the student managers talking about what the players told them. And that trickled down from the seniors to the rest of the team. “They realized winning would bring not freedom from their burdens—as it would have earlier in the season—but an extension of them. The way things were set up, they had more incentive to lose than to win.” (P. 419). That quote is clearly Bacon’s opinion.
During this time, the coaches themselves were concerned. Rich Rod, of course, had a contract. His assistants did not. The assistants “knew that other schools might be interested in them—particularly Maryland—if Rodriguez would just entertain the offers, but he steadfastly refused.” (P. 418). Apparently, his assistants refused overtures (if there were any) as well, as Rodriguez said that none of them had approached him in the time between the tOSU game and the bowl game saying that they’d either a.) reached out to other schools, or b.) were considering offers from other schools.
On Hoke, from Dan Dufek: “He’ll be successful because we’re not going to do to him what some of those guys did to Rich,” talking about the former players, etc. (P. 428).
The school orders rings for every bowl game. They are allowed to do so and give them to all members of the coaching staff and football staff who were on the staff at the time of the bowl game. Michigan ordered Gator Bowl rings, but didn’t give them to RR and his assistants and any that RR had hired. They did give one to Scott Draper. When RR came to UM in 2008, even WVU sent him one from their Orange Bowl trip. Petty, not that important, but still…ugh.
When RR was fired, Brandon told the players that the new staff would pick its assistants and its strength staff, but that Barwis was still employed by the University. Sometime in either January or February of 2011, Florida State offered Barwis a package that would make him the highest paid strength coach in the country, a multi-year deal, and would employ all of his staff. He turned them down, as he was still coaching at Michigan and, assumedly, thought Hoke might keep him and his staff. In March, Hoke went a different direction, so Barwis opened BarwisMethods in Michigan.
Rodriguez isn’t the one who alerted the Big Ten to the punch by one of Purdue’s players (in a game not against Michigan) that got the player suspended. It was actually someone in Purdue’s own athletic department. However, after the Michigan-Purdue game in 2009, Hope pulled the stunt where he grabbed RR’s hand and brought the player (Zach Reckman)over and said “I want to introduce you to the man who got you suspended.” After that stunt, RR had a quote that I found humorous, which he blurted out after he told Rita what happened: “Bullshit! I gotta get my ass beat by a junior high school, no-class asshole?” I think JHSNCAH should be Hope’s acronym from here on out.
Justin Turner and Wingless Wolverines
So, summertime workouts are voluntary. Showing up to the first day of fall practice, however, is not. In the summer of 2010, Tate, Gallon, Austin White, and Justin Turner showed up to fall camp out of shape, after having loafed throughout the summer. Turner famously said of the S&C staff (when one of his teammates warned him): “they can’t break me.”
The team had a conditioning run, and the three who didn’t make in the time for their position group were White, Gallon and Turner. Tate made it, barely, by diving across the line. However, his landlord then called RR and told him Tate hadn’t been paying his rent. So these four gentlemen got two pieces of special punishment: no wings on their helmets until they earned them back, and a “Breakfast Club” conditioning workout.
Amazingly, RR himself did the drills with them, at least for the first part of the Breakfast Club drills. They involved a stairmaster, then lots of situps. It lasted only 45 minutes, but clearly had an impact on Turner. The workout ended at 7 am. He asked for a transfer by 2 pm.
This is mentioned on page 342. “…the contracts Michigan offered at the time did not permit (RR) to hire his first choice for many coaching positions, including defensive coordinator. In hindsight, he would probably agree that insisting on guaranteed contracts for his coordinators and cutting $100,000 out of the new weight room budget to secure Casteel- plus a multiyear contract- would have been wise, as would making recruiting an acclaimed kicker a high priority.”
RR and the NCAA
He paid most of his life savings (cash savings) on his own attorneys in the NCAA investigation (over $300k). This was to ensure that the charge that he, RR, failed to promote an environment of compliance was vigorously fought, as it wasn’t (in his mind) the University’s top priority. (I actually agree with him here: in any case where the individual employee and the company’s interests are both at stake in any lawsuit, which an NCAA investigation is, sort of, I strongly advise all of you to have your own counsel, not just the one hired by your company. Just my $.02).
Michigan ranks 5th or 6th in the Big Ten in spending on football (or at least that’s what RR thought, which surprised him). P. 397.
Barwis had a tear come to his eye after we beat Illinois last year in triple overtime. I didn’t even know that was possible.
Mike Stoops has been let go by Arizona after 7.5 years for a buyout that should be around $1.4 Mil. The Wildcats started 1-5 with there only win against Northern Arizona then lost 5 straight.
As a side plot... would RIch Rod be a fit in the pac-10? I think his offense with the right DC could be electrifying out there. I think I would be rooting for him.
Edit: Wow clearly meant Mike
Mods: I screwed up and put this on the Board. Can you move it to Diaries? Thanks.
Previously: “Three and Out: The First 100 Pages” can be found here: http://mgoblog.com/diaries/three-and-out-100-pages
Okay, guys, to recap: these are just my impressions, sort of stream-of-consciousness. Picked the book up Thursday (10/5) evening, and have been reading it. My comments in the last thread (above) I’ll try not to repeat here, other than to say that on page 100, MSC and BM tell RR to keep the $2.5m they promised him toward the buyout quiet because they hadn’t informed the Regents, and MSC tells RR and Rita, “if they find out, I’m toast.” And Martin chimes in “and so am I.” And also to point out if you want more stuff, check out that last thread, especially the times I pop up in the comments to discuss what Lloyd did when RR arrived with respect to transfers, etc., and how that all shook out.
Continuing from my last post, this thing is a soap opera. The infighting, back-biting, and divisiveness in the A.D., football community, and administration is sobering and unfortunate, and it hasn’t gotten much better as the book progresses. There is also a ton of “cover your ass” stuff that the administration did where RR seemed to take the hit, but it wasn’t necessarily always his fault. In today’s installment, much on the Freep Jihad, the NCAA, the Carr’s Camp vs. RR Camp rift, and more. . .
The 2008 Team, Denard and Tate’s Recruiting
RR and the players knew there were guys- seniors- who weren’t “all in.” RR understood this; he thought it was natural, as those were seniors and guys who had paid their dues, and then a new regime comes in, and they’re essentially starting over. RR was actually sympathetic to that.
On top of that, RR and the coaches saw what we all saw: they were incredibly young, and they could never get Threet to stop throwing off his back foot. He’d do it right in practice, but in the games, he’d get all flustered.
They were recruiting Tate during this time. They were very, very excited about Tate, as well as Big Will. They thought Tate was exactly what they needed.
Denard: they were recruiting him during this time, too. Interestingly, RR had always wanted DR as a QB, but wires crossed with Scott Shafer, who had been recruiting DR as a defensive back. (Pages 148-148). Shafer resigns, and it turns out that Shafer had wanted DR as a DB. Shafer had worked really hard to recruit Denard as a DB, but Denard was “adamant” that “I wasn’t coming to Michigan to play corner. He had already turned down Florida for the same reason and had explained as much to Shafer.”
So when Shavodrick Beaver jumped ship (right around the same time), Tony Gibson happened to be in Deerfield, FL recruiting Adrian Witty. While there, he checked in with Denard, and was surprised to learn Denard was still interested in U of M….but solely as a quarterback. Michigan then said they’d let him try QB, and Denard was ours.
The “Highest GPA in team History” thing
RR asked the academic folks what the highest GPA in school history was. They told him 2.60. The team set this as a goal, and got a 2.61.
Then, as part of the Jihad (more on that below), the Freep dug into that. It turns out that the academic people had given RR specious/not well-sourced info on the team’s best historical GPA. Rather than say this, U of M’s PR people drafted a press release where RR took the fall. RR balked at this; it wasn’t his screw-up. He had them change the release (this was one of the first times he put his foot down with the administration). They did. Then they released the earlier version, making RR the scapegoat.
The Free Press Jihad, NCAA Investigation, Compliance, etc
Well. A couple things: this whole thing, personally, really upset Rich Rod. The reason it did was because a.) they weren’t cheating, b.) there was clearly a leak and sources within the athletic department, c.) and most importantly, the idea that RR didn’t love his players, care about them, was trying to hurt them, etc. This is what tore him up. He shed tears over it a few times.
Rosenberg v. Cook: Brian Cook’s showdown with him is recalled. If you remember, Brian went after him, personally, at the press conference following the hit piece, repeatedly asking “do you know what a countable hour is?” Rosenberg and Brian were both interviewed for the book, as was Craig Ross. Rosenberg remembers it as this crazy guy barking at him in the parking lot, screaming over and over “do you know what a countable hour is?” and Rosenberg responding, “who are you?” They went back and forth like that four or five times, Rosenberg stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Michael Rosenberg. Who are you?” and Craig Ross said “that’s Brian Cook.” Also, Rosenberg refused to talk to Brian, saying that Brian was “a competitor.”
Snyder: More direct quotes where he says about RR: “I can’t stand the guy.” Also: from page 183, Larry Foote, who was friends with Snyder, asked him, “why didn’t you ask me about RR?” because Foote knew RR well, trained with Barwis, etc. Snyder’s answer, quote: “I just don’t like the guy.”
Rosenberg, personally: Was really hurt by the backlash. Broke down over the Amazon.com stuff, saying how he’d poured 3 years of his life into that book, it was his life’s work, and to have it trashed like that on Amazon got to him.
Other press vs. Rosenberg/Snyder: When Rosenberg and Snyder came in after the hit piece dropped, they had a spring in their step. This was when they went to the press conference. They were surprised to find that the other press members were at best, cold with them, and at worst, openly disgusted with the piece.
Rosenberg, as we expected, never asked any players to find out if there was “another side” to the “OMG PRACTICING TOO MUCH” story. He didn’t do it. Bacon asks him about this in the book. Rosenberg is evasive. Also blames editors, saying that stuff was edited out.
Chapter 15 deals with a lot of this. Rosenberg and Snyder asked Madej for “everything you have,” on a Friday night when they told him the story was coming out on Sunday. They said “we need Rodriguez, we need Martin, we need schedules. Tell us we’re wrong- anything you have.” Madej: “the problem is, they’ve been working on this for months, and you’ve got seven or eight hours to respond. That’s difficult.”
When the meeting ended, Madej said, “you better be sure you’re not exaggerating.” Rosenberg, “We’re covered,” replying confidently.
Judy Van Horn immediately seized on the countable vs. non-countable hours aspect, as did everyone in the A.D. This was glossed over in the original Freep piece, not even mentioned, though Rosenberg says “of COURSE we knew the difference,” etc.
Of note: Van Horn and Ann Vallano had even asked the NCAA whether stretching counts, taping, etc., and were never able to get a straight answer/interpretation of the rule. They (U of M) interpreted it like everyone else, then: that stretching didn’t count.
Also: former players say that we weren’t doing anything different, time-wise, from under LC. Things like “Torture Tuesdays,” where kids who skipped class were punished.
Also, the Freep piece really shook the players up because of the fact that there had to be sources inside the program; the continuity and togetherness was naturally shaken by this. But RR made sure no one blamed Hawthorne or Stokes, telling the team that those kids were part of the family, they'd been tricked, and that no one should be messing with them, etc. And the team didn't shun them; they understood that it was all bullshit.
Van Horn now feels like she was “snowed.” Labadie told compliance numerous times that he would bring the forms, but in the end, he was negligent, lying, or both. Van Horn brought in auditors to try to get his ass in gear. Didn’t help. That audit resulted in a finding against the football program a few weeks before the Freep piece. Coincidence? No. It’s clear someone leaked it to the Freep.
RR got fed up with all of the bullshit, and all of the drama. “They told me in the interview: You get to Michigan, and you’re gonna be surrounded by great people who are gonna support you. Really? Where are they? I want to talk to the Regents, directly, and tell them what’s going on here….People who support our program only hear about the bullshit these guys (Freep, saboteurs) are making up.” (p. 166).
Also, and again: there were leaks in the athletic department. Bacon seems to be almost certain it was Carr loyalists. There was a very strong faction in the AD that was pissed that English didn’t get the job. English himself was pissed. He refused to actually say anything to RR after we beat them, just shook his hand. RR doesn’t appreciate this. He also doesn’t appreciate apparently this James Stapleton business. Stapleton is a wealthy guy, former U of M fb player, apparently one of those guys who has a lot of pull behind the scenes. He is a regent at Eastern; a big English supporter. The rumors got so bad that he, Stapleton, sent a fax to Bill Martin, LC, and RR, basically saying “I’m not the source of the sabotage! I didn’t collaborate with Rosenberg.” Stapleton and Rosenberg are friends.
Stapleton was also close with Denise Illitch, who as early as 2009, openly referred to RR as “Dead Man Walking.” Classy, Regent. Classy. RR was very pissed that Stapleton had a sideline pass; he got it from Illitch, who was a Regent. RR was pretty convinced (as is Bacon) that Stapleton was part of this group of people who were English/Carr loyalists and were actively undermining the program.
Comes across as petulant, immature, etc. RR was hard on him, and got pissed off at him because Tate never improved, which RR thought was due to a lack of diligence. Tate never watched film (at least through 2009 season’s end) and Denard didn’t really either. RR didn’t like this. The problem was, with the Freep thing hanging over their heads, it was hard for RR and the players, because they were all scared shitless of over-practicing, over-preparing, etc. But yeah, Tate’s demeanor was an issue.
RR, LC, BM Summit in 2009
This was fascinating. Martin was either forced out after the issue with the student security guard who wouldn’t let him into MSC’s box (as many think happened; 2 days later, the University announces Martin’s retirement; it was the 2nd such incident) or it was just a coincidence (as Martin maintains). Regardless, the day after his retirement was announced, Martin went to a pre-scheduled lunch with RR and LC. It was chilly.
This was the first time Lloyd had really spoken to RR since the phone call in December 2007 when Lloyd had sold RR on coming to Michigan. I’ll reproduce the account of this conversation; ellipses are where I’ve cut things out for brevity:
After the chilly pleasantries were dispensed with, Carr sent the first volley: “Tell the people in your camp to quit attacking me in the press,” he said, as Rodriguez remembered it a couple hours later. The catalyst for this was undoubtedly Rick Leach’s public lambasting of Carr. . . for sitting with Iowa’s coaches and dignitaries—people Carr had known for years—in an Iowa stadium luxury box…”
“I don’t have a camp,” Rodriguez replied, “and whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it on their own. Rick Leach speaks for himself.”
Rodriguez ticked off all the reasons Carr shouldn’t feel threatened…What Michigan football needed now, Rodriguez said [to Carr ] was Carr’s unambiguous support. “When the Free Press came out with this story….we could have used you speaking up.”
Carr said nothing.
“You’re either all in or you’re not,” Rodriguez continued. “You’re either inside the Michigan family or you’re not.” But the closest he came to accusing Carr of anything more than silence was this: “Somebody inside the department is talking to the press and doing us harm.”
The suggestion was that, if there were moles in the department, Carr most likely knew who they were, and Rodriguez would appreciate it if Carr told them to knock it off. As Rodriguez recalled, Carr remained silent at that, too.
Alright, all, I gotta go- tailgating for the NW game. But wanted to get this out there for people to digest.
John U. Bacon's Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football is available for advanced purchase at amazon.com:
I found these interesting:
Review“Rich Rodriguez never had a chance as coach of the Michigan Wolverines. He showed up with a glowing resume and got himself eaten alive. John Bacon’s account of Rodriguez’s epic failure is a cautionary tale for anyone who doesn’t realize that being a major college football coach requires one to be part CEO, part psychologist, part carny barker, and all crazy.” —Charles P. Pierce, author of Moving The Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit Of Everything“College basketball has Season on the Brink. High school football has Friday Night Lights. Now college football has Three and Out, which takes you inside the locker room to show you what it’s really like to be a college football coach and player. If it surprised me—and it did—I’m sure it will surprise even hardcore fans. If you care about college football, you’ll want this book.” —Adam Schefter, ESPN“John U. Bacon is one of the best reporters/writers of my generation. Three and Out proves it. It’s one of the most riveting non-fiction works I've read in years, in any genre. The eyewitness details from the locker room, the sidelines, and the most powerful offices on a college campus are breathtaking. Get this book. You will thank me.” —David Shuster, Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist“John U. Bacon’s report on the weird world of college football is eye-opening, and occasionally jaw-dropping.” —George F. Will
Product DescriptionThree and Out tells the story of how college football’s most influential coach took over the nation’s most successful program, only to produce three of the worst seasons in the histories of both Rich Rodriguez and the University of Michigan. Shortly after his controversial move from West Virginia, where he had just taken his alma mater to the #1 ranking for the first time in school history, Coach Rich Rodriguez granted author and journalist John U. Bacon unrestricted access to Michigan’s program. Bacon saw it all, from the meals and the meetings, to the practices and the games, to the sidelines and the locker rooms. Nothing and no one was off limits. John U. Bacon’s Three and Out is the definitive account of a football marriage seemingly made in heaven that broke up after just three years, and lifts the lid on the best and the worst of college football.
Today, I went for a walk. I left my central campus apartment and headed south on State St., hoping that if I walked slowly enough, by the time I got to the stadium, there would be someone at the gate to take my ticket and let me in. I seriously even took my ticket along, just in case. I walked because I could not read another word or watch another video about Michigan Football (yes, when it comes to Michigan Football, you capitalize the ‘F’). I had no intention of writing anything, but as I walked, I could not fight the urge.
I walked by the ticket office, and saw a couple dozen people picking up their tickets. “Who could possibly wait until today to pick up their tickets,” I wondered. But then again, I called the ticket office in a panic when a friend’s tickets arrived in the mail and I had not yet received mine yet. I hadn’t even checked my mail yet. They were there. That day, I took out my tickets, snapped a picture on my phone and sent it to my brother, a Michigan alum living in Chicago, who wasn’t as much jealous as excited, and will be here with me as many Saturdays as work will allow this fall.
I walked by Schembechler Hall, and thought of Bo. I never met the man, and am not even old enough to have seen the games he coached live, but have read about and watched everything I can about his legend. I like to think that his handshake could have told you all you needed to know about him. Strength, confidence, a touch of brashness and a genuine human-beingness that makes you try to make up words like human-beingness. Probably what it’s like to shake the hand of a 4th generation plumber, his hands strong from wrenching the steel inner workings of his teams, who loves what he does and couldn’t give a damn if you don’t respect his craft. I thought of how many people’s lives he must have touched, how many large, grown men probably heard the news of his passing, silently walked to a room away from their wives and children, and wept. How his death deeply affected millions of people who probably never got closer to him in person than the confines of Michigan Stadium’s railings would allow. I saw what appeared to be two grandfathers with their grandsons walking to take a peek inside Schembechler Hall. I thought of how one day I hope I’m lucky enough to do the same. To pass on what is one of my greatest passions to another generation like so many have before.
As I walked, I saw a pizza delivery car pass with a Pizza House sign atop its roof, and thought of Rich Rodriguez. A couple friends and I would occasionally go to the coach’s radio show on Thursdays to drink beer, eat pizza and listen to Brandstatter and whomever the guest of the day was. There, I met Rich Rodriguez several times. While I had hot and cold feelings about him throughout his tenure, it becomes much more difficult to dislike a man when you meet him. When he turns to your table in commercial breaks, asks you about your future and jokes that he wishes he could have a beer with you. When he meets you only a couple times, you’re nothing more than another fan, and he remembers your name. When you watch him order the free pizza Pizza House provided him with to take home to his wife and kids. I thought of how, regardless of your feelings on him as a coach, you have to be so thankful that he brought Denard Robinson to this program. A young man who redefines his position, loves playing football more than anything in the world, and encapsulates humility and what you want in a student-athlete in a way that is indescribable. I literally hate that last sentence because it falls so incredibly short of capturing everything great about Denard Robinson. Ronald Bellamy’s Underachieving All Stars does the best job I’ve seen. Brian’s not too bad at it either.
I walked past the Al Glick Field House and noticed something I had not seen before. By the Southeast entrance is a stone sign with ‘2009’ engraved in it. I realized its significance. When myself and everyone reading this are long gone, it will remain. There will be a 232nd year of Michigan Football, and 332nd and on and on. The magnitude of a tradition that great and sacred filled me with pride.
I walked past the field hockey fields and thought of Charles Woodson. Strange, right? But the color and texture of the field reminded me of what used to be at Spartan stadium (yep, they get a lowercase ‘s’ in ‘stadium’) when Charles Woodson went on a solo mission into space and landed perfectly back at Cape Canaveral, with his intergalactic pigskin in tow. The man in black and white stripes who could not even contain his own amazement as he reached back and made the most deliberate first down signal for Michigan I’ve ever seen. “Neutrality be damned,” thought that referee, “that was awesome and deserved to be called like a home plate umpire who rings someone up in the bottom of the 9th of a perfect game in game seven of the World Series on a nasty curveball thrown by Cy Young striking out Babe Ruth.” Except more exciting and historic. (Boom, Fred Jacksoned.) I thought of how Charles Woodson an idol to me in my childhood. How when I recently found a journal from my elementary school days, scribbled in awful penmanship and grossly misspelled was, “My hero is Charles Woodson. He plays cornerback for the Oakland Raiders. He went to the University of Michigan. I am going to go to the University of Michigan.” I thought of Saturday afternoons when I would sit with my friends glued to ABC watching every amazing second of every game, then going out in the brisk autumn evening to throw a football around until it got dark. “I’ll be Charles Woodson,” my friend would say. “No, I will,” I’d argue back. We all wanted to play cornerback. Kids who like football do not grow up wanting to play cornerback. They want to be Joe Montana or Barry Sanders, but after 1997, they wanted to be Charles Woodson, too. When I played football in seventh grade, I was a quarterback and the smallest middle linebacker in the history of the universe, because that’s where my coaches wanted me to play. I was number 24, Sir Charles’ number for the Raiders. I wasn’t number 2 only because one of my best friends on the team had a name before mine in the alphabet and got to pick his jersey number first, that bastard. When I left middle school and they let us have our jerseys, I scribbled ‘Woodson’ on the back with a Sharpie. Obsessed probably doesn’t do it justice.
I turned right and headed down the train tracks. I thought of the men that built those tracks, and I bet they liked Michigan Football. I’ll bet they were the kind of households where if someone asked to watch a different game at halftime, the father would say, “we only watch one team in this house. Michigan.” (I’ll confess I stole that from Rudy. And if the timing of black and white TV and railroad construction and televised football don’t match up, screw you for caring.) I thought of warm apple cider spiked with a little whiskey, bratwursts sizzling and smoking on portable grills, the smell of a cigar or two, and the feeling that everything is right in the world on late chilly fall Saturdays in Ann Arbor.
I walked through the parking lot and was in awe of the pantheon that is Michigan Stadium. Or Cathedral. Or Mecca. There’s something magnificent about a building that’s awe-inspiring even when it’s completely void of its purpose and patrons. Like a church you walk around even though there’s no priest or parishioners in it (if you’re into that kind of thing), Michigan Stadium begs to be explored even when you’d be only one of one in there instead of one of 113,000. I can think of no other stadium in the world I’d rather have my favorite football team call home.
I walked as close as I could to the tunnel and saw the Rose Bowl Years painted by the player entrance and thought of Lloyd. A man who I think I’d be proud to be like as a father. A man who supports Mott’s Children’s Hospital as if every child there is his own. If you asked me who the best football coach in the country was, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say Lloyd Carr, right or wrong. Someone who pretty much anyone would love to play golf with, or just talk life. I’m upset with myself right now for waiting this long to talk about Lloyd. My attention span is waning and there are only so many analogies and adjectives left in the keys right now. Suffice it to say, I’m proud to know that Lloyd Carr was a coach for my favorite team. He’s a great man and a pillar of hope in the sometimes selfish, cold and calculated world of college football. If he ran for political office, I wouldn’t vote for him, but not because I don’t think he’d be good at it, because I think he’s above that world, and I’d want to protect him from it.
I walked a little further, and this long walk reminded me of Brady Hoke. A man who would have walked from San Diego. Yes, it’s been talked about so much by idiots like Drew Sharpe that it’s almost annoying, but I still love it. Because I believe him. Like many people, the Brady Hoke hire was scary for me. I wanted Harbaugh. I don’t resent him for going elsewhere. I kind of wanted Les Miles, but was a little leery. I did not initially want Brady Hoke. I knew who he was only because I am a college football NUT, but I wasn’t excited. Then, he had that press conference. Words can only do so much, but sometimes sincerity and emotion can make a big difference. Brady Hoke belongs at Michigan. He has already achieved his dream. Not just to coach college football, but to be the Head Coach at the University of Michigan. People will feel that. I doubt there will ever be a time when Hoke really wants to talk about how many hours he puts in, because he doesn’t care. Not talking about your new salary until after you quit your old job and move your family across the country is kind of crazy. But it’s not crazy if it’s for your dream. I think he would have accepted a 10th of what he’s earning if that’s all Michigan could have afforded. As long as he could’ve provided for his family, he would have been A-OK with that. You know that question from Office Space about what you would do if you won a million dollars ? What would Brady Hoke do if he won 100 million dollars? He would coach the University of Michigan Wolverines, I think. Also, buy lots of sausage. Maybe commision the invention of a time machine to go and convince Chris Farley never to play that Matt Foley guy. Regardless, I have faith, and maybe it’s partially blind faith, about the direction he’ll take Michigan. But that blind faith is part of what makes being a fan so great. The hope for the future success for your team and the belief, even the deep-rooted feeling of a knowledge that your team will be great again. It also is part of what makes the offseason so painstakingly long.
I walked back up Hoover and decided to write this, knowing it would get me that much closer to tomorrow. And tomorrow, I’ll walk back down State St., surrounded by tens of thousands of people who love and believe in the same thing that I do. That walk will be filled with less thoughts, mostly because I’ll just be awash in excitement and anticipation. But there’s a few vague words or feelings concepts or horribly cliché ideas that will run through my brain. Winning. Pride. Championships. Character. Tradition. Michigan Football.
P.S. In the most uplanned and awesome timing ever, we’re now 24 hours from kickoff.
This is not a thread intended to debate the merits of Rich Rodriguez as a coach at Michigan whatsoever. RR's tone in the interview suggests to me that he's gotten over having been removed as Michigan's coach, so hopefully we all have too.
This interview is interesting, because he talks about his predictions within the big ten based on his coaching experience. FWIW, he has high expectations for Michigan, but I also think picking Michigan to have any other type of season (poor or average) would not come off well at all.
I tried to embed. I hope it worked. [EDIT: please help by embedding the video; a reminder on how to do it would be nice also but not expected. thanks.]