chance of bowl: 13.6%
Tomorrow at 8 PM Adidas and Michigan and Notre Dame will have an under-the-lights unveiling of the uniforms both will wear when the first night game in Michigan Stadium history goes down. That's odd: marketing 101 is "when you have bad news, release it on Friday at 5 PM." Michigan is treating their great unveiling like they're firing their coach for massive NCAA violations.
On the other hand, maybe it's not so odd. Yesterday the M-Den momentarily posted what looked like the official thing:
If that's what you're deploying, 8 PM isn't late enough. Broadcast the announcement from the Chinese factory where they'll be made at 4 AM Eastern.
The M-Den twitter feed later posted a three-part item expressing regret for the "mistake" that obviously failed to address whether or not those were the real McCoy. They likely are. Tom pointed out the close-up teaser image has the exact same M the mistakenly posted jersey does. If they're different, they're not much different.
Tomorrow we'll enter the ranks of schools that dress up like clowns for a little bit of money from a shoe company. Notre Dame will as well. I'll make some sarcastic comments, privately think anyone I see wearing one of the jerseys is a total sellout, and move on. This September we'll watch Clownz Faceoff 2011 and life will go on. It's not really a big deal. Everyone does it, and traditionalists sigh, and recruits say they're excited.
So why does this make me want to buy a shotgun, rocking chair, and lifetime supply of lawn fertilizer?
Well, there was a way to do this that would not give people hives. It did not require the assistance of a crack team of uniform designers, and it didn't have stripes conjured from one of their fever-dreams.
The numbers on the helmets (and the different wing pattern on them), block Ms on the socks and shoulders, and overall retro stylings of the mid-60s (like gray face-masks) would have provided a distinctive, historically accurate look. (Doctor Saturday pointed out that it would have been a look from an era when Michigan and Notre Dame were in one of their periodic snits, but whatever.)
It wouldn't have been much different. It would have been cool, though:
It would have been a genuine callback to another era of Michigan football. They could have brought out some former players, celebrated a Rose Bowl win, whatever. If they're going to do that in the Franken-uniforms they'll have to bring out a nighmarish assemblage of Horace Prettyman's arms and shoulders stapled to Bill Yearby's torso and head; the lower body will be a cyborg entity from 2211 that shoots postgame celebration laserz. The legs will stop at the knees because bony undead horror robots of 2211 come hovering or they don't come at all.
This bothers me because it makes it obvious that honoring the program's past doesn't crack the top several reasons they'll put the stripes on this fall, falling behind at least "money," "making Adidas happy," and "allowing Dave Brandon to 'create the future'." My money teat is easy to milk, but not that easy. I won't put on a Big Chill shirt with an Arby's logo on it and I'm not buying whatever that is above.
This makes me an old man but it also strikes me how stupid the corporate culture Dave Brandon comes from is. At a consumer-facing, mid-sized, publicly-traded corporation it's all about three months from now when you report your numbers and the stock price goes up or down and you're a hero or an idiot. Once companies go public they slowly lose the distinctive characteristics that made them successful in the first place and become a collection of generic suits*. The suits get paid exorbitant amounts of money to trade long-term goodwill for numbers that will allow another set of suits to increase the exorbitant amount of money they are getting paid.
The best example of how this doesn't have to happen is privately-owned Chik-Fil-A, which is still closed every Sunday for religious reasons and is so loved by Southerners that when the corporation bought the naming rights to the Peach Bowl it was generally regarded as an improvement. These are correlated factors.
These days a lot of tech companies are remaining private longer than they would have in the past—Facebook is the best example—in order to avoid the relentless make-your-numbers effect of being a public company. It seems like Michigan is announcing its IPO Friday night.
*[Once you get to the behemoth side of the scale you can maintain identity via monopoly: Google and Apple are distinctive entities that appear to have ethoses (ethii?) other than making money hand over fist; they can probably have these because they are making money hand over fist.]
(HT on the 60s uniform picks to "cutter," denizen of Michigan messageboards everywhere.)
latter via @lukezim
Well, that was anticlimactic. One day you're all lawyerin' up with Gene Marsh and the next you're calling up Rich Rodriguez for that sweet CBS College Sports hookup. That's life as a warden: one day the cop cars roll up and there's just one way out.
More anticlimactic yet was Waiting For Dohrmann, the end result of which was one (anonymous) awesome story about Tressel rigging a camp raffle and a few more violation-type things that may or may not end up part of a very long document issued by the NCAA. The Dispatch story about Terrelle Pryor's eternal test drive seems more damaging at the moment. That came with strong rumors that Pryor is done at Ohio State as the result of an honest-to-God investigation; the Dohrmann piece is just talking to a couple of unreliable-seeming dudes who may go Ray Small on us once it becomes clear to them that they're going to have to follow Herbstreit out of town. As far as camel-incapacitating things go this was not the anvil promised by Tressel's sudden resignation. It was barely a straw.
So either there's more coming or Ohio State knows that the cats being loosed willy-nilly all over yonder and back can be sourced better than SI can put together on short notice. That's not a huge leap. At this point we have statements from six OSU athletes—Robert Rose (new in the SI article), Ray Small, Antonio Pittman, Maurice Clarett, Mark Titus, Marco Cooper—that hookups on everything from tats to cars were widespread dating back to 2002. Pryor's had at least a half-dozen loaner cars and drove up to a team meeting yesterday in this baby:
Note the temporary tag on the back. Terrelle Pryor is the biggest dodged bullet in the history of the concept.
The picture painted by sketch tattoo artist, discontented former players, random humor-writing walk-ons, and, you know, evidence collected by a federal investigation and a billion public records requests makes—wait. We've done this already. I've used the phrase "beggars belief," and since then we've had the Titus thing and the Small thing and the Pryor car thing expanded and the car guy says he's talked to OSU compliance more than 50 times and, yes, Dohrmann talked to a couple of sketch guys who indicted another three dozen or so Buckeyes. We passed the point where it was obvious Ohio State had come to define "lack of institutional control" about a month ago.
All the steady trickle of information that's come out since has done is confirm what Michigan fans knew in the deepest, most deranged bits of their conspiratorial hearts. All that stuff that the goofiest winged-helmet-baseball-cap wearing fanboi said was the rotten core of the Buckeye empire in various all-caps posts on your favorite message board is… like… true. Close enough, anyway. If it's not yet, accurate-to-date Buckeye insider types rumble about "much more."
But Ohio State's date with the NCAA is months away, possibly longer as they attempt to compile the ever-expanding pile of doom into a coherent narrative. Tressel's done now.
And what is he? Last summer I went on the Bucknuts podcast and grudgingly admitted Tressel was top five coach who had halted the parade of embarrassments OSU suffered under Cooper (Ken-yon Rambo's 0.0 GPA, losses to Michigan, etc). I'd been taken in like everyone other than the tinfoil hat wearers of the internet. He's not that.
He's not a paragon of virtue, either. The most annoying meme in the aftermath is about how Jim Tressel is a saintly man who made a "mistake" and the world is worse off now that he's not a football coach and will not be helping young men from rough and tumble backgrounds meet eligible young boosters:
Jim Tressel’s departure at Ohio State is a sad loss of a man with character. College athletics needs more men like Tressel among its ranks. Sadly, the atmosphere is not conducive for good men lasting too long.
With some notable exceptions, Ohio State fans on the internet have turned into Tammy Faye Baker.
click for slightly big
Tressel did not make "a" "mistake". He has spent the last 15 years of his life cultivating a studied ignorance of obvious NCAA violations. He may be a nice, Christ-fearing dude—not like anyone has flogged the Bible to shield himself from criticism—but he can still do that as a civilian. The fact that he texts psalms to former quarterbacks ("Get yours"—Tressel 3:16*) doesn't mean a series of choices spanning more than a decade is a mistake. He's not even trying to play by the rules everyone else signed up for.
So spare us the hymnal, cooler-poopers. Jim Tressel
is was a football coach, not a social worker. As he did this he turned boys into men like every football coach does. This just makes him a football coach. He's also a hypocrite and liar who lived up to the "Senator" nickname in the end, his moral rectitude just a cover.
He got what was coming in the end, and now a comically inept Ohio State administration—TWO GAMES!—is going to get theirs. We have not seen the last of the gun in the desk drawer in Columbus.
The Importance Of The Stuff In The Dohrmann Article
While you'd have to be a Vest true believer to believe the accusations leveled in it are false, without a federal trail of evidence the track record of such things actually resulting in boot to the face is not great.
To me the most important bit about the SI article is the accusation about Pryor—love you, big guy xoxo—raiding the equipment closet for rad epic loot. That's something trackable. Not tracking it: failing to monitor. Tracking it and not being like "hey, Pryor, why do you need sixteen sets of shoulder pads": some other variety of major violation. Complicit equipment managers are a relatively common source of major violations.
Meanwhile, if the NCAA can't get Rose or Small or someone on the record it won't matter how obvious it is the entire Ohio State starting lineup should be suspended since there's no evidence other than "jeez, duh."
A Strong Contender For Animated GIF Of Forever
Via "The Monarch."
Why Tressel had to go, and why it was obvious, in the words of Mike Riley:
"Jim's deal is a lesson," Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said last month. "Anything that comes up, you've just got to give it to compliance right now. In our world today, you think it's not going to be found out eventually?"
Our world today, indeed. Ohio State discovered Tressel's knowledge of the tattoo parlor case in January only by digging up e-mail correspondence from April 2010.
"I tell our players all the time," Riley said. "As soon as you start going down the wrong track and you start doing something wrong, the clock starts ticking until the day you get caught, because it's going to happen."
If he wasn't fired the above would not be true and the entire rickety structure of NCAA compliance—built on self-reporting—would collapse. Ohio State suspending Tressel for two games was an outrageous joke that shows you the stark difference between the way Smith and Gee handled this and how adults would have. They've botched this from the start and will reap the whirlwind for their efforts.
BONUS: Wetzel on the react to the original press conference:
The moment called for solemn acknowledgement of a mistake and the promise to the university that the truth would be gathered. Instead it was a pseudo pep rally. My phone was flooded with calls and texts from administrators at other schools and conferences who couldn’t believe what they’d just witnessed.
Meanwhile, you can't throw a rock without hitting a Buckeye player excommunicating another Buckeye player for outing the program shenanigans. Tyler Moeller is the latest, this time taking shots at Mark Titus for stating the obvious. Can't wait to see the reaction to Robert Rose now. How many ex-Buckeyes have to state that many in the program are on the take before the others give up the ghost?
And, God, Pryor… I maintain an almost total ban on badmouthing specific kids as bad people but it's impossible to talk about Ohio State football without remarking on the fact that Pryor is a sociopath and this was obvious from the start:
Pryor showed that he felt entitled when he met questions from those who attended his collegiate announcement by scoffing, “Whether I was a bad kid or not, you‘re all still here.”
Not even the Touch of Tressel can redeem him. The car! He shows up anywhere in that car! He's not even a well-written villain—it's like he's a foil for Jackie Chan. Twitter search his handle for schadenfreude? Twitter search his handle for schadenfreude.
Former players react as in an ambivalent fashion. Wojo says this opens the door for Michigan, which yeah. It's almost reassuring that you can rely on David Mayo to come up with the stupidest possible take. Mets Maize has a cat + Keanu Reeves picture via serendipitous Google Image Search. Also words. Genuinely Sarcastic has the full dossier of Tressel's funny business, and he posted it Friday(!). BWS was hoping for more.
*[I know this is not a psalm. TIA.]
There's a David Foster Wallace story from Oblivion in which a main character has an incredibly talented sphincter. He becomes renowned for pooping out beautiful works of art and it's all very confusing and revolting and weird and sad because that's the overall thrust of Oblivion. It's called "The Suffering Channel." You should check it out if you've always wanted to read a 90-page story about poop art*.
What I am saying to you is this: Brady Hoke is not entirely dissimilar from the talented Brint Moltke. The man poops magic. In this he is the exact opposite of the star-crossed Rich Rodriguez. Because we are (largely) not clinically depressed people trying to grapple with 9/11 we can leave out the existential dread. The man poops magic. Yay!
When Hoke took the job he brought some dudes with him and no one was that impressed since no one had ever heard of them, and then he asked Greg Mattison if he'd like to come back to college a year after he'd flirted with Florida and his defensive backs coach was going to be hired away. If you listen to Peter King, they really liked the defensive backs coach and didn't necessarily love the idea that their DC would constantly be flirting with a return to college. So they said "okay, you should probably go" instead of backing up the dump truck of money at his house. So now Michigan has a veteran defensive coordinator Urban Meyer says is "the best recruiter in the country" who can say "you == Ray Lewis."
When Hoke took the job Michigan State had barely had to fight for the top player in the state the past couple years because his coach had him ready to pick Michigan State a year before he signed. The guys responsible for that are no longer at those high schools and four of the top five players in the state are either from Cass Tech, best friends with the guys from Cass Tech, or Michigan fans. Michigan got all those guys.
When Hoke took the job Ohio State was the omnipresent Big Ten Death Star, scandal free since the arrival of Darth Tressel and merrily blowing Michigan's seasons to bits. There was no reason to believe it would change until Tressel entered his JoePa phase about ten years from now, which is when Hoke would be getting ready to retire himself. Then a lawyer inadvertently sent a photon torpedo down the exhaust hatch.
So. When Brady Hoke was hired I put up "We Are ND" which wait why link when you can embed:
This was both an opportunity to post "We Are ND" again and an editorial commentary on hiring an old guy with an indifferent career record instead of a young one who can plausibly be declared up and coming. At the time I thought Hoke was good to beat OSU maybe three times in a ten year career and then would give way to the next guy because he'd be 65 by then, and while this would be an improvement on the last decade there are several Southeast Asian prisons that would qualify as an improvement on the last decade vis a vis OSU.
A few months after Hoke's hire the two low-probability events above have transpired. Michigan's ceiling in this brave new world is now unknown. Or more unknown than "probably not as good as Ohio State," which wasn't exactly an axiom in the first place.
It's likely Ohio State will be searching for a new head coach soon, and the addition of Mattison not only promises defenses better than not only the Rodriguez-GERG debacles but those of the last half-decade of the Carr era when punt-and-strangle became punt-and-strangle-the-DC. Even if Tressel manages to survive he will take a heavy hit from the NCAA. His reputation is already in tatters. Michigan State's renaissance will be brief and quickly ended if in-state recruiting continues on the path it has this year, and Michigan already has the top guy in 2013 whispering in his classmates' ears about where they should go.
Meanwhile, Hoke has done a tremendous job to not screw it up. This is not a backhanded compliment. Not screwing it up is really hard. Greg Robinson: QED. Hoke knew and acquired Mattison; even if the Ravens weren't fighting hard having the temerity to ask or the knowledge he could get him is something. He has not lost any of the in-state locks to Penn State or Ohio State or Notre Dame or Michigan State and along the way he flipped two of the three guys Michigan State fans were banking on and probably the third if he can get his grades up. A wave of media and program adulation was waiting for anyone who could say "hi, I'm not Rich Rodriguez"; Hoke has turned large sections of Southeastern Michigan into lovesick tweens by saying "you're not Rich Rodriguez either!" He hasn't blown his layups, which is more than Michigan's head coach has been able to say for a while.
The prognosis now is much better than it was in January. Hoke will be able to shovel early missteps onto Rodriguez's grave—already the tallest mountain east of the Rockies—and ride out the awkward transition from the spread, at which point he'll have a roster full of guys who are qualified, a career record worlds better than Rodriguez's, and a talent advantage over his division opponents. From there it's a matter of grabbing that goddamn win over Ohio State and seeing what happens. It's hard for me to think we'll be as good as spread terror du jour in any particular year, but let's whine about that bridge when we get to it.
right: Will Moeller/Daily
Nine months ago Michigan fans were suspicious of both of their West Virginia coaching heists. Today one is sitting next to Billy Packer and Jason Whitlock in a suit; the other is a season away from establishing himself for the long haul. Both undertook program-changing measures after a disappointing start, but only one successfully delegated his way to success.
You know who is who. Rich Rodriguez:
- fired Scott Shafer after one year as defensive coordinator,
- hired retread Greg Robinson, and
- forced him to run a 3-3-5-ish defense that incorporated the 3-4 and 4-3 with freshmen everywhere.
He got the sad firing box.
- literally fired or replaced every one of his assistants,
- hired two up-and-comers from smaller schools, and
- all but abandoned the 1-3-1 defense that was his trademark at West Virginia.
If he can wring the expected improvement out of his 46% freshman usage he'll have Michigan's basketball team in the Big Ten title picture for the first time since Fisher was run out of town.
Both coaches tweaked their specialty offense for different players. Rodriguez coaxed an NCAA-average performance out of true freshman Tate Forcier by relying on his scrambling ability in the pocket and using him as a decoy in the run game. (Or at least trying to—Tate had a bad habit of keeping the ball when his read said hand off.) He improved the offense further with sophomore-who-would-have-been-redshirt-freshman-if-Michigan-had-any-options Denard Robinson. Even the Robinson offense wasn't going back to the old Pat White well. Without a Slaton to put oomph in the read and with defenses far more prepared to deal with it these days, he implemented a rushing game that revolved around the quarterback instead of using him as a "gotcha" thunderbolt. He used the QB rushing staples to implement a terrifying play-action game that often saw receivers open by ten yards.
Terrible defense put Michigan in long-field situations (Michigan led the country in TD drives of more than 85 yards), there was no field goal kicking, and the inexperienced Robinson was a turnover machine. The thing was a bit rickety. It was erratic. It put too much load on Robinson's shoulders. It was also incredibly young and promised infinity when Robinson was old enough to cut out the turnovers. It finished #2 in FEI, which you know because I say it every ten seconds.
Beilein lost his only two upperclassmen from the immensely disappointing 2009 team and returned a collection of role players and youth. He had to know his best player was a point guard who couldn't shoot to save his life. He still had a perimeter four and a spread-the-court offense, but he implemented a ton of ball screens that gave defenses a choice between open threes from guys who shoot at a 38% clip or getting pick-and-rolled to death by Morris and Jordan Morgan. Morgan shot 63% as a result and Michigan vastly exceeded expectations.
This lived up to their rep. Both were regarded as innovators. "Genius" is definitely not a word you want to throw around when you're talking about coaches but their peers seemed to regard Beilein and Rodriguez as people you want to talk to. Beilein doesn't talk but gets the most votes when his peers are asked to judge solely on coaching acumen; Rodriguez does, so he pops up at Oklahoma and his coaches get snapped up two seconds after they're let go. Carr's coaching tree is Brady Hoke and Scot Loeffler, end of story. It's tough to throw a rock in college football without hitting someone inspired by or directly associated with Rodriguez.
But he's not here because he couldn't let go. Of all the numbers associated with his tenure at Michigan this is by far the most damning:
It's the 37 next to Syracuse in the FEI defense ratings. That is a schedule-adjusted, I-AA-ignoring measure of defensive competency featuring Scott Shafer and absolutely no talent a few spots off the defenses of Michigan State and Wisconsin. Last year (Shafer's first) they were 72nd, the year before that 80th when Greg Robinson was the head coach and functional DC.
Maybe that wasn't possible here what with Never Forget…
…and all that. But we do know Shafer, a very good MAC coordinator who Harbaugh picked up and then made Syracuse better than anyone thought possible very quickly, is a good coach. And we know he was undermined and pushed out. Evidence suggests Greg Robinson is a terrible coach but he was undermined, too, and instead of a vaguely worse defense than two BCS teams coupled with Denard Robinson—good for 8-4 at least—we got something that was literally the worst ever in various categories.
Beilein had already scrapped the 1-3-1 before the total program reboot and was rewarded with an uptick in his Kenpom numbers from 67th to 53rd. It's a lot harder to tell who's responsible for what, but Beilein seemingly felt everything was insufficient and blew it all to hell. He still teaches the 1-3-1 but only uses it on occasion; he's left the defense mostly to his assistants. His reward: 35th nationally this year. That's better than his previous three years at Michigan. It's better than he ever did at West Virginia, because he knew what he didn't know.
Rodriguez's problem was never his selection of defensive coordinators, it was his refusal to trust them to do their jobs. The thing about Hoke is this: he does. At SDSU he hired Rocky Long to run a 3-3-5; Rocky Long ran a 3-3-5, and it was pretty good, and now he's the head coach. He hired Al Borges to run a passing-oriented West Coast offense; Borges ran a passing-oriented West Coast offense that wasn't quite as good as Michigan's in FEI's eyes but was still top 20. If he "gets" anything it's that he's a former defensive lineman with a narrowly defined set of assets that does not include being a genius of any variety—he's never been a coordinator. So he's hired two guys with very long, very successful resumes to do that stuff for him. That's an upgrade over Rodriguez, who had one—himself. It's an upgrade over Carr, who had zero*.
When I am trying to be cheerful in the face of Hoke's indifferent record I think about the vagaries of MAC budgets and what Hoke did the instant he escaped them. Mattison is the third excellent hire Hoke's made. That's a trend, one that suggests he, too, knows what he doesn't know. Since I'm a Michigan fan I'm bracing for a fatal flaw, but at least it won't be the same one that sunk Rich Rodriguez.
*[Ron English masterminded The Horror and does not count. Before his elevation at Michigan he had never been a coordinator. After he left he led the weak unit on the last Kragthorpe Louisville team and has started the slow process of dying at EMU. The only thing he's proven is that he can yell at several future NFL stars effectively.]
Title disclaimer: hate on Donald Rumsfeld all you want—just not here—but the bit about known knowns and known unknowns and unknown unknowns is a useful bit of language. Not intended to endorse or unendorse anything about Rumsfeld. Disclaimers uber alles.
Michigan's ground game stopped being effective in 1995.
I'm not sure if Jon Chait was reacting to the latest MANBALL quote from Brady Hoke or not, but when an article titled "You Can't Go Home Again" pops up the day after Michigan's new head coach says this:
"Once we get the power play down, then we'll go to the next phase. You know, because we're gonna run the power play."…
"We don't have a lot of fullbacks." Hopkins works out well at FB "for a lot of the old 49ers stuff" with split backs. Hoke wants fullbacks to block so hard they "come in at about 6-3, and leave the program at 6-1." …
It's hard to think otherwise. Of course, even ESPN folk have picked up on Hoke's love affair with the word "toughness"—the article could have been spurred by anything Hoke's said over the last three months. There are consistent reports that Hoke makes condescending comments about the spread at alumni events. Manball? Manball.
Some people love this. In my mind they all look like this…
yes, that's the Beckmann aficionado
…and could be coaching Purdue. I would not want to get in a conversation with any of these people because they would have very strong opinions about things they know nothing about. They would repeat inane aphorisms as if those were the final word on any subject, and they would regard any dispute as evidence of a diseased mind. I have talked to these people on the radio some. It's not fun. I close my eyes and imagine the exact dimensions and color of their mustaches. They are boringly consistent.
My hope is Hoke is a brilliant, innocent-as-snow delegator or a con man. He's got a quarterback who was an All-American as a true sophomore last year because of his legs. He's got an offensive coordinator whose track record suggests he prefers to air it out and that things get desperately bad when MANBALL advocates push him away from his mad bombing ways. He's got a set of running backs best described as underwhelming, a center who can teleport his way into tough reach blocks, and a guard who can block Manti Te'o twenty yards downfield. If the offseason could be spent fixing whatever it is that causes Robinson to turn the ball over willy-nilly, Michigan's offense would be insane. According to statistical things it already is.
Switching to an actual pro-style offense would be doing exactly what Michigan did last year when it installed the 3-3-5 despite the total unsuitability of its personnel for the scheme. It would be exactly as stupid. It can't be as bad statistically because instead of true freshman two star Ray Vinopal backed up by a duck, next to a walk on, and vaguely in front of more freshmen you have ten returning starters and Denard Robinson, but it would be just as dumb. If Hoke's bravado about being a bunch of tough bastards who love grinding out four yards on a power play is true I'm worried for the immediate and long term future of the program in the same way I was when hiring Greg Robinson caused me to dig out a picture of Tweek.
On the other hand, Beckmann aficionados love that stuff, and so do the newspapers that are no longer read by anyone other than Beckmann aficionados. English has developed lingo to distinguish words meant to be true from words meant to produce inoffensive newspaper blather: the latter is coachspeak. Rich Rodriguez was beyond awful at coachspeak. Hoke is a grand master. When IBM develops "Jim" and challenges Hoke to a duel, Watson-style, Hoke will destroy his opponent so badly smoke will come out of its nonexistent ears like that robot asked to rhyme something with "orange" in a story I read when I was eight. Hoke will lament Jim's lack of toughness.
This is a real skill the last three years have shown is way more important than you'd think. It's a relief when every press conference is Hoke being gently tickled on the belly and fed peeled grapes, and telling everyone you're establishing a mindset of toughness is fine. It's something that will help the program in the long run.
As long as you don't believe yourself. It won't help as much as winning a crapton of games, and even if the defense gets vastly better the best way to do that next year is to have an offense that puts up points, and the best way to do that is to very gently shift the offense towards your long term vision while still keeping Denard in the Heisman race.
This isn't 2008, when Michigan was screwed no matter what offense they put in. Getting Michigan's offense to go from explosive but inconsistent to world-destroying is a matter of getting a kicker, finding a good running back, working on Denard's reads and accuracy, and leaving everything else the hell alone. Michigan can't reasonably do that because they've got new coaches, but how hard is it to run a QB lead draw and follow that with QB Lead Oh Noes? The secret of Michigan's 2010 offense is that the zone read was hardly used. The other secret is it was a power running offense, one more effective than anything Michigan's run in at least the last decade and probably a lot longer.
Michigan YPC Career Leaders Since 1949 (min: 100 carries)
Michigan YPC, Team, Since 2001
Borges should install his passing game immediately and Michigan should start running power schemes more frequently—power did feature occasionally last year—if they want to, but lining up under center to hand it off to Vincent Smith isn't going to be any better of an idea in 2011 than it was in 2010.
You can run a "pro-style" offense, but run it from the shotgun and run downhill using Denard Robinson as one of three primary tailbacks. You can't get rid of the scare quotes because he's Denard Robinson. If you do run a no-scare-quotes pro-style offense he's not Denard Robinson anymore. He's the guy handing off and you're walking back into the days where Michigan averaged less than four yards per carry and ran 65% of the time.
I think Borges knows this, but Hoke's coachspeak is going to make this the most terrifying spring game of all time.
I don't actually have many memories of the Fab Five on the court. I remember being utterly heartsick when Webber called that timeout. That moment is undoubtedly the genesis of my obsession with rules that suck and should be changed*. I remember hating that technical when the ref could have just ignored it and left Webber to figure it out himself.
I also remember a black t-shirt I had commemorating the '92 Final Four, but incompletely. I know Cincinnati was on the shirt. I had to look up the other two teams, look up that Michigan beat the Bearcats in the semi before losing to Duke, look up the fact that Michigan was just a six seed. I remember the shirt being embroidered, because that's what happened in 1992 when you wanted something fancy. It was scratchy. I loved it.
I've got the heartsick and the shirt; everything else has melted away. When Wolverine Historian posted one of their games against Illinois I watched it and was stunned by… well, everything. A stone-cold packed Crisler full of people losing their minds. The helter-skelter nature of the game on both ends. Michigan—Michigan!—having a bunch of defiant, ruckus-raising black guys Jim Nantz remains terrified of to this day.
That is not the equilibrium state of Michigan basketball. That does not come from Earth. It comes from a planet with a green sun and marshmallow donkeys.
Later I remember loathing Chris Webber. Years and years had passed and Webber was on a very good Sacramento Kings team playing the Lakers in the conference finals. Sacramento had just gotten legendarily boned in game six. I remember watching game seven smugly, thinking Webber was born to fail in the moment of truth as he clanged threes and the Kings evaporated.
Anyone with a soul roots against the Lakers for the same reason they root against the Yankees. Sacramento had just suffered through a game that Tim Donaughy could point to years later as an example of a fix only to have obsessives like Bill Simmons say "tell me something I don't know." My loathing for Webber overcame all.
Some years later Webber was a trade-deadline acquisition for the Pistons during the period when the Billups/Prince/Hamilton/McDyess core still had my full attention. I was unhappy with it but dealt. I watched Chris Webber play basketball again. By that point he had suffered a variety of injuries that left him barely able to jump. He was useless defensively, an old man devoid of the thunderous athleticism that I assumed must have been part and parcel of why he was so good in college, the #1 pick in the draft, etc. By all rights he should have been out of the league already. Like Shawn Kemp, basically.
The reason he wasn't was his passing. Someone who paid more attention to the NBA than I did or wasn't 14 the last time he saw Webber play much already knew this. I didn't. I knew Chris Webber, though. I knew he was a liar and a choker and not very smart and just a general all-around jerk who wouldn't even apologize. I knew the Fab Five was just a bunch of guys who played schoolyard basketball because they were so outrageously better than everyone they could get away with it.
I knew Chris Webber until I watched him play. He dropped passes in spaces that didn't exist until he saw them. He hit cutters that didn't know they were open until the ball was in their hands. He was brilliant despite having the athleticism of Artie Lang. He was incredible fun. Despite myself I really liked watching Chris Webber play basketball, and now I don't think I know one thing about him.
To say Michigan has done a 180 in re: the cultural alignment of their basketball team understates things despite that being axiomatically impossible. The old ringleader just called black guys at Duke "Uncle Toms"; the new one is from Chesterton, Indiana, and once knew 62 digits of pi. After Michigan completed its season sweep of MSU the most desperate, laughable assertion I came across from some guy on an MSU message board was that Michigan had "thugs" on its team, an accusation that would have been uncomfortable during the Fab Five era and literally true when Ellerbe was running things into the ground.
Webber's been banned and feels repudiated and people feel free to demand an apology from him before he even thinks about setting foot in Crisler again, so I get why he doesn't feel like he owes anyone anything. If he wouldn't talk to Jalen Rose for his documentary, it's hard to believe he'll actually "tell his side soon" as he hoped on twitter.
This is immensely disappointing to me. I don't hate him any more and don't care about apologies, don't care about the crater he is often blamed for no matter how little input he had on hiring Ellerbe**. I'd just like to know every last detail of what happened.
Because I don't understand Jalen Rose, don't understand Webber, don't understand the lady in the gas station on the South Side of Chicago I asked directions of who responded "I don't know about any damn directions." I do understand the visceral thrill of those bald heads and black socks, but only vicariously, like a kid from Troy buying an NWA cassette. I can't say why I thought Jim Nantz's obviously racist distaste for the Fab Five was obviously racist, but I had a Nantz-like reaction to that lady in Chicago. I understand why my fiancée continually mishears Duke's mascot as the "white devils" and simultaneously have less than zero sympathy for Robert Traylor and would want to punch him in the face if I ever met him and he was tied to a rock and he had no idea who I was and I could definitely run away before he got loose.
Webber's redemption never happened with him or Taylor or Bullock, and while Bullock was from some suburb in Maryland and cannot be redeemed—seriously, he can die in a fire for all I care—maybe if Chris Webber said something brutally honest it would help me be less confused and sad about Michigan basketball in the 90s, and maybe a bunch of other things of greater significance.
It bothers me that Michigan's response to the NCAA scandal was to go from culturally black enough to have Ice Cube in your documentary to Duke Lite, but goddammit I also wanted some directions. I want Chris Webber to gently untie this Gordian knot in an hour-long interview on national television. When he's done the pieces will assemble themselves into a butterfly with big ears and a huge assist rate. This is the least he can do for 13-year-old me and my embroidered Final Four t-shirt. Thanks in advance.
- Timeouts in basketball. There should be one, period, like in hockey.
- The NHL rule where flipping the puck into the stands from your own zone is a penalty. It should be handled like icing, which is what the NCAA does.
- Hockey offsides is brutal. Widen the line to reduce whistles.
**[Tom Goss, not Ed Martin, is the man who killed Michigan basketball.]