This is clearly not part of the 2011 football preview, except it is. It was not possible to write this year's "The Story" without closing the door on the Rodriguez era. Thus this.
I meant to, but never got around to, writing one of the Rich Rodriguez obituaries that sprouted across the Michigan blogosphere in the aftermath of his firing. At the time I was busy panicking about Les Miles, the lack of Jim Harbaugh, and the possibility someone with as thin a resume as Brady Hoke would get hired.
By the time I'd stopped railing about The Process and the hire it begat, Rodriguez's corpse was cool. People were already complaining about how I wouldn't let the last three years go. So I dropped it. They say things happen for a reason, though, and usually say so at press conferences.
A couple months later I was at show at the Magic Stick. We had no knowledge of any of the bands that were playing; we'd been encouraged to see the headliner by a friend of the MGoWife. Whatever talent the headliner had was overwhelmed by the impression she was the worst person ever*, but the second opener was this quirky trio from Ypsi called Lightning Love. Lightning Love is a twee indie band whose drummer (now) looks like he was acquired from the Megadeth surplus store. Most of their songs are about being a miserable discontented loser surrounded by people just like you**. MGoWife adored them, bought the album and all that, and eventually I came to think of one of their songs as The Ballad of Rich Rodriguez.
This is it. Yes, you're going to have to do this obit multimedia style:
Lightning Love - Friends
Thirty Josh Grobans agree this is more in the spirit of the Rodriguez era than Josh Groban songs. And that's hugely depressing, isn't it?
It's his kid that kills me. Scattered amongst shots of Rodriguez emoting like a mofo are pictures of his son Rhett doing the same. At this point he must wonder why the universe hates his dad. Three years ago Rodriguez was promising his son as a member of the class of 2017. A few months ago this was happening after the Illinois game…
…a few months later it was this…
…and some heretofore innocuous sports photographer got a terrifying glimpse into life as a paparazzi.
The universe's capper:
The universe has watched your gladiatorial antics, Rich Rodriguez, and it is not impressed. Thumbs down.
In retrospect the downed thumbs were inevitable. I mean… the Groban thing. Come on. It was always something. It was Groban or another fake controversy about how people need to "get a life" or his inability to "get it" about rivals. Rodriguez wasn't subsumed by the overwhelming Michigan-ness of Michigan. He either failed to understand the need to throw himself at the shoes of the Great Tradition or just couldn't be anyone other than the guy who grew up in the "holler" and married someone my mother would certainly refer to as "that woman." You know how mothers do.
So the legacy program and local media rejected the organ transplant. The program started throwing t-cells at Rodriguez on day one. Rodriguez chipped in with stormy sideline antics and pouting. When he swore it was weakness; when he choked up it was weakness.
All of that was unambiguously negative for a football coach, but an offshoot of that was having your kid with you in a genuinely touching way. For a human this is the definition of low expectations. You publicly express your affection for your son. You are not a grim military object; you are capable of squeezing emotions other than rage out of your gray heart. Congratulations for not being a one-dimensional character straight out of American Beauty.
But I can't recall ever seeing the kind of father and son shots Rhett and Rich Rodriguez feature in before. Coaches aren't humans. They are walking soundbites wrapped in great swirling cloaks of mythology. Rap on one of their chests. You will get a hollow clang and a statement about senior leadership. Kick sand in one of their faces. You will get a lecture from Peter the Great. Peter the Great will be confused and incensed that he cannot sentence you to hang. Tell one his aunt has been dismembered by bikers on PCP and you will get a statement about senior leadership. Seniors don't do PCP and rip aunts limb from limb, because they have leadership.
Rodriguez was human. He was just this guy. He wasn't supernatural or metallic. If you rapped his chest he would probably get a little weepy. He did not seem like a great leader of men, or a colossus astride anything, or even a dude fully in control of his shit. He, like most of us, was doing okay but sometimes—too often—he was not. When Michigan instituted "The Team The Team The Team" as its official pregame hype theme it drove the point home: there is God, and there is man, and Rich Rodriguez is not God.
There was no clearer evidence of that than his answer to a question posed days before the Wisconsin game. Michigan was 7-3 but a teetering 7-3. The question was something about "how he projected the third season at Michigan." A coach would have blustered something about senior leadership. Rodriguez told it like it was, and though it was already kinda over this seems like the moment when Rodriguez accepted his fate:
"I thought we'd be further ahead.
"I thought a lot of things when I got here."
*[The chorus of every song was functionally "I'm sorry I don't care about you or any of the things you care about, except I'm not sorry."]
**[Or they've been arranged for marimba by a Michigan State fan… which… wow, internet. Vast and deep are your reaches.]
I like me some stats, boy howdy, but there's a few things I'm not sure about. One is applying Pythagorean wins to football. For those of you who don't know the name of Data's brother, some smart baseball types realized that baseball teams pretty much try to score runs all the time. This means you can predict future performance better with run differential than record.
It works in basketball, too, because basketball teams pretty much try to score baskets all the time. A team leading may try to suck a possession or two out of the game by stalling late, but that effect is extremely minor. It works in hockey because hockey teams pretty much try to score goals all the time. A team leading late will take fewer risks but that effect is minor, too. Futz with the exponents and it's cool.
You can do this for football as well, but Lloyd/Tresselball observers can tell you that football teams do not try to score points all the time. This is because football has more state—primarily the line of scrimmage—than the other sports, and that state is simultaneously applicable to offense and defense. There is never any reason to not score in baseball or basketball. In football trying to score is riskier than running three isos up the middle and punting in a way that missing a jumper is not. Because of this, lots of personnel turnover, and wildly varying schedules, I don't think raw Pythagorean wins is a particularly useful predictive device. It does correlate some. I just don't like it. I acknowledge this is a Murray Chass sort of criticism.
I bring it up because BHGP has a long post featuring Pythagorean wins that eventually kind of discards the concept by way of praising Northwestern for consistently exceeding expectations. There's a table I'll post a bit later showing eight years of Big Ten performance versus expectations followed up by this:
The fact that most teams have such consistent "luck," when coupled with the fact that close wins and losses appear to be the strongest factor in where a team appears on the list, means this list may not be a measure of "luck," per se, but rather the simple ability to win close games. Since such ability is presumably based in large part on things like on-field experience, efficient playcalling, and clock management, the list could be considered a measure of a coach's in-game ability. Is it any wonder that the conference's biggest late-game buffoon and a geriatric who doesn't even wear a headset sit at the bottom of the list? …
It's also a credit to Pat Fitzgerald and the late Randy Walker at Northwestern. Even in its worst years, jNWU has outperformed its pythagorean expectations. In every year included in this study, Northwestern had a positive overall pythagorean margin, and in all but one the LOLcats had a positive margin in conference play.
There is an objection to this based on stock-picking monkeys.
Seriously. In 1999, a six-year-old female monkey named Raven threw darts at a selection of tech stocks that subsequently returned 213 percent. This was a bubble environment but even in that context her performance was impressive—22nd amongst thousands of funds. If you had 64 monkeys do that every year half of them would be discovered to be frauds by not beating the market, but you would expect at the end of that eight year period there would be one very lucky monkey who beat the market for eight consecutive years.
Any normally distributed set of data is going to have a lucky monkey and Ron Zook. I present a lucky monkey and Ron Zook:
Wins – Pythagorean expectation, 2002-2010
|Rank||Team||Ov +/-||Conf +/-|
Except… that is not a normally distributed lucky monkey. In conference (which is a more interesting number to me because nonconference schedules are so unbalanced), Northwestern accounts for nearly 70% of the deviation from perfectly Pythagorean records by itself. Lloydball advocates Michigan, OSU, and Wisconsin follow in order, and BHGP points out that Michigan State would be the second luckiest monkey if only the Dantonio era—more MANBALL—was considered. There seems to be something non-monkey there.
But I'm uncertain if that's good or bad if you're a fan. Does this mean manball is good at closing out games, as BHGP suggests the chart shows? It's a possibility. The other possibility (24-21 vs SDSU, 10-7 vs Utah, falling behind by 14 in the Orange Bowl before suddenly remembering David Terrell exists, etc.) is that Lloydball-type play shuts off the offense once it gets a narrow lead or until it falls behind significantly, thus leading to a lot of tight games generally slanted towards wins.
The most haunting stat from the Carr era is this: Carr was actually more likely to win a game if he entered the fourth quarter with a narrow deficit than a narrow lead. Since the point of football is to win more games, period, not more games than you were expected to based on the final score, the excellence of your coaching is bound up with your record. Exceeding expectations as Ohio State means your manball is working (until you get into a championship game). Doing so as Michigan, but never beating Ohio State, means something different.
There's too much weird stuff tied up in scoring points in football to draw many conclusions from a look at just margins. Primarily this comes down to wanting to score, which is a complicated decision based largely on your faith in the defense. This is hard when your defense is good-ish (Michigan) but not when it's terrible (Northwestern) or awesome (Ohio State). OSU and Northwestern rarely make the wrong decisions because theirs are obvious. Michigan (and Iowa, and Penn State) fans are haunted by the the decisions that turned out wrong.
BONUS GUESS ON NORTHWESTERN: Why would the Wildcats consistently exceed expectations? Guess: they feature in games with lots of points. Their spread has been as consistently effective as their secondary has been flailing, so a lot of Northwestern games feature large scores. If NW is consistently winning 42-35 that will look different to the formula than OSU grinding out 17-10 wins.
BONUS LOCALLY RELEVANT SECTION: FWIW, only one Michigan team shows up at the margins. If you think about it you'll probably figure it out:
Of course, using the full schedule allows for statistical variance based on strength of non-conference scheduling. If we look solely at Big Ten play, as close to a level playing field as we can get, Sparty still wins. It's just not 2010 Sparty:
Rank Team Py +/- 1 2008 Michigan State +2.16 2 2004 Northwestern +1.77 3 2010 Michigan State +1.69 4 2004 Michigan +1.63 5 2009 Northwestern +1.53
That 2008 Spartan squad went 9-4 (6-2) despite a total margin of victory of +28 and an in-conference margin of -7. In fact, 2008 Michigan State was one of just five teams since 2002 to post a winning record in the Big Ten despite being outscored in conference play.
The 2004 team that went to the Rose Bowl despite deploying a freshman quarterback thanks to things like nailcoeds.exe outperformed Pythagorean expectation significantly. You might be all like "a HA!" because the next year Michigan slumped to 7-5 in 2005, but they went 11-2 the year after that—there's just so much noise.
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.