MSU shouldn't have spent the offseason eating donuts maybe
UFR coming tomorrow; I tried downloading a big file that didn't get down in timely fashion.
It's grim. You know it's grim. The "Michigan 2008 = Notre Dame 2007" equation that Michigan fans—and this blog—scoffed at in the offseason appears to be nearing QED MFer status. A smart person just emailed me something that suggests death would be a more pleasurable alternative than the six games that loom over the next month and a half. The sky hangs low and ominous, all slate-gray clouds and distant rumbles and the sweaty prickle of unnatural humidity.
So, obviously, blame must be assigned! Assign blame, media! ASSIGN BLAME
Think West Virginia would return the buyout and take back Rich Rodriguez?
No. Of course, this guy's big idea…
Clearly, before this debacle reached a 2-4 boiling point, with the rugged part of the schedule yet unplayed, Rodriguez and his staff should have installed a second offense.
…worked out great last year when Charlie Weis installed the spread option for a single game against Georgia Tech instead of indicating that his offensive linemen might want to block someone. He says "Saturday's game almost isn't worth reviewing," and it's clear he didn't: Michigan did sort of install a second offense, deploying a Moundros-fronted I on several occasions and running isos up the gut. Unless he thinks a new offense is magically going to make Steven Threet a junior or Nick Sheridan physically capable of running a Division I offense, this is complaining just to complain.
Meanwhile, Mike Rosenberg continues proving that he's lost his mind over Rich Rodriguez. After doing the usual disclaimer bit ("Rich Rodriguez may yet restore Michigan to Big Ten supremacy") in an attempt to ward off the obvious riposte—SIX GAMES—he goes into the usual array of misrepresentations designed to cast Rodriguez in as unflattering a light as possible.
Here's one of many:
“We’ll adapt. I like winning too much not to adapt a little bit to our personnel.”
Has there been any sign that he will adapt?
Rodriguez says that every spread offense is different, but his scheme looks exactly like the one he ran at West Virginia, even though his players don’t fit the scheme.
Yes, exactly like the West Virginia spread:
- WVU, 2007: 26% pass, 74% run.
- Michigan, 2008: 46% pass, 54% run.
This only looks "exactly like the West Virginia" spread if you have literally no memory for play proportions and sequencing.
I won't belabor you further with the column; it's a pastiche of the usual unrealistic complaints like "Rodriguez ran off Mallett!" that remain as wrong as they were when Rosenberg brought them up earlier this year and I fisked it. I only bring it up to highlight the weirdest criticism leveled at Rodriguez this season: leaving a semblance of Lloyd Carr and Mike Debord's pro-style offense would have been an improvement.
This is preposterous in the following ways:
Last year the Michigan offense was bad. Injuries had something to do with it, sure, but Mallett played less than half the year, and the other half of the year they had a senior Chad Henne. Mike Hart played about nine games. The #1 pick in the NFL draft was the left tackle, and Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington were standout wide receivers.
With all these advantages, Michigan finished 68th in total offense, 10th in the Big Ten. Can you imagine what the offense would look like with freshmen everywhere and nothing resembling a competent quarterback? Yes, you can, it looks like last year's Wisconsin game minus the 97-yard Manningham touchdown. Or last year's Ohio State game. This isn't exactly the Greatest Show On Turf we're ditching.
You cannot make a good offense out of these parts. The best quarterback was a freshman so shaky in camp that a guy who would look out of place on most I-AA teams got the starting nod; he has been wildly inaccurate downfield and is charting horribly in UFR. This would not improve in a different offense. Different offenses do not make it easier to throw accurate passes, especially when the screens have been problematic.
There is one returning OL starter and six plausible starters, one of whom (Schilling) seemed destined for a career as anything other than a backup before massive attrition forced them into the starting lineup. The tailbacks are freshmen, injured, or fumblers. The wideouts are probably the worst crop since… uh… Michigan started throwing?
Meanwhile, Cory Zirbel, Carlos Brown, Mark Huyge, Mark Ortmann, Carson Butler, Martavious Odoms, Junior Hemingway, Steven Threet and Greg Mathews have all missed time with injury or stupidity (Butler's punch; whoever decided Sheridan was a plausible starter). A walk-on saw time at left tackle.
Nobody on the team even knows the Carr offense. Your skill position starters are five freshmen (Odoms, McGuffie, Threet, Koger, Stonum) and a junior.
…except the linemen, who are pretty much doing the same thing anyway. There are slight differences between Michigan's zone stretch this year and its zone stretch a year ago; their main problem is not being unable to understand the scheme but being unable to execute it because they are bad at football.
To be fair, you wouldn't know this if you watched the game on Saturday and then spat out a 600-word column about it without putting in the time review the tape or learn about football.
Rodriguez hasn't run a pro-style offense in two decades. How is he supposed to teach something he doesn't know very well? How is he supposed to run an offense completely divorced from his own? What is the point of hiring Rich Rodriguez?
So you've got one of two options here:
- Decide to run an offense you have zero experience with that finished just above 70th with an enormous slate of NFL talent in the vague hope you make a crappy December bowl game if it's even an improvement, which it probably won't be, or…
- Get on with the process of building your program.
Here's door #1: Auburn decided to bring in a spread guru, implement half his offense, and force him to call a lot of dumb plays he didn't want to. The result? Fired offensive coordinator with sad box and sad beard:
Meanwhile, Auburn blogs are considering whether or not Tuberville should get a sad box, too. This is the Great Solution proposed by Michigan newspaper columnists.
I pick door #2, as should everyone except evangelicals who think the world is ending before next fall.
With Vandy no longer undefeated, that seems a small risk.
(HT to Ron Cook at the PPG)
10/11/2008 – Michigan 10, Toledo 13 – 2-4, 1-1 Big Ten
Not to turn this column into a running diary about Douchebags of Michigan Stadium, but after Kicking Competency Lopata went a long way towards being just KC again I attempted to bolt from the stadium as fast as possible. I got caught in the inevitable traffic jam a dozen or so rows up from my seats. A couple rows above me, a middle-aged man stood on a bench and booed and booed.
He was angry. I was angry.
I stooped to pick up whatever flingable bit of detritus I could find, seized upon an empty water bottle, and chucked it at the booer. I missed,* lightly damaging an older man a row behind him. But I did get his attention. And the old guy looked like he was on The Other Side, so eff him.
At this point a shouting match ensued. Shouting matches are never like they are on TV—laced with penetrating logical deductions that leave the yelled-at victim incapable of response—so I mostly just told him to shut up like 10 times consecutively.
At some point he actually said "if this bothers you that much there must be something wrong with you," at which point my irony sensors exploded. It was sort of like this minus the laughter:
He did shut up, though, or at least direct his anger somewhere other than the field.
Anywhere large groups of Michigan fans interact has fallen into civil war, with people like this on one side…
Listen, I just wanted to vent. I have supported this team this year.
I supported them when Utah won, I supported them when Illinois blew us out of the frickin stadium.
This, I cannot support. I am absolutely disgusted with this.
In my opinion, Calvin Mcgee, Rich Rodriguez, and even Mike Barwis, yup, that's right, Mike Barwis, can go back to West Virginia where they came from.
…and bottle-chucking hippies on the other. That email hit my inbox yesterday around noon; I got a few others like that. You can check the increasingly annoying comments here, where virtually every thread descends into a flamewar within five posts.
And I don't get it. If you read this blog and think I will be at all sympathetic to the idea we should get rid of our extremely successful coach after one year (and hire who? and recruit who?) you have reading comprehension issues. If you use the words "unacceptable"—not actually in this email but man have I see that particular word everywhere in the past few days—and "disgusted" because Michigan's confused, young, and physically inadequate offense can't cobble together drives no matter who they go up against, do you realize that the core community of this blog, including the author, kind of loathes you? I am not on your side.
Sports suck sometimes, especially when you care so much about something you control not at all. I assure you that every Michigan fan was angry on Saturday, and every one had second thoughts about this New Era thing. Some of them chose to swallow that anger, and some chose to give it to someone else. What's the adult thing to do? What would those people in hats have done in 1935?
They would have sucked it up. So suck it up, you pansies. It hurts. Act like a man about it.**
Go do something else. This makes you mad. People say Hinterland is pretty good and it's only twenty bucks. Go play that. Go ride a bike. Or hike into the woods and look at the chipmunk-bears. Build 60-foot sculptures out of balsa wood and your shattered hopes. Just get off the goddamn internet.
Come back in fits and spurts and keep whatever connection you want to have with the program but don't hit that post button when the vein on your forehead is sticking out. It's not that important.
And what does "unacceptable" even mean, anyway? Okay, you do not accept the Toledo loss. And now…? You will inform the internet of this? I see. Congratulations. Go away.
*(Yes, I threw the bottle at Tacopants. If I was one of those guys calling for Threet's execution this would be the height of irony.)
**(Women, in my experience, do not have these issues.)
- There are also two camps about the defense: 1) they only gave up 6 points (really nine if you count the chip-shot FG Toledo missed) and that should obviously be good enough to beat Toledo. 2) That one guy caught 20 balls and they had something like 350 yards of offense. I lean towards two; the only reason Toledo didn't score more was Zoltan's munificence and some of their own incompetence. Though they figured out how to defend some of the play action rollout stuff late, it shouldn't take 5.5 games to come up with a response to the quarterback exiting the pocket. Too many opposing teams have been able to remove Michigan's defensive line from the game by leaving in blockers or hitting short passes or rolling the pocket, and Michigan's insistence on leaving in a thousand crappy linebackers against spread formations is maddening.
Scott Shafer was supposed to be an aggressive man-to-man guy, but Michigan this year has seen a ton of zone and a ton of three-man rushes. WTF?
- Also, on a late third and one Michigan had a three-man line in the game. Toledo ran and made it easily. WTF?
- The playcalling made a lot more sense once Threet's injury was revealed. Also Threet's horrible first few passes, though the endzone pick six wasn't inaccurate. If Nick Sheridan was in for reasons other than "starter incapacitated" even my enforced patience was going to be tried.
- No, this offense would not be any better if it was lining up under center every play and running isos. Banish this from your mind. When you have freshmen at quarterback and most of the skill positions and a line with something like 6 even quasi-reasonable options and the lone senior on the two-deep is the third-string tight end, you are going to be awful no matter what offensive philosophy you adopt. There are like two and a half good players on offense.
And what would that buy Michigan? A Motor City Bowl invite? I'd like to keep the bowl streak—not going to happen—but if the choice is between a crappy December bowl and some increased chance Michigan is great in 2010, I'll take the latter.
- I think that "pre-hab" stuff is well debunked.
- Cissoko seemed to do well, though it was tough to tell with all the zone.
9/4/2008 – Michigan 20, Illinois 45 – 2-3, 1-1 Big Ten
Any attempt to list the full dossier of Michigan errors over the past few weeks would provoke a cascade of emotions from the reader starting with rage and ending with full-bore ennui. Along the way we'd touch grim sarcasm, depression, contempt, fatalism, resignation, dread, and a whole host of other things that in no way relate to happiness.
So let's skip it and just say there have been a lot.
It seemed like youthful nerves or inexperience in the first couple games. Against Notre Dame it seemed like the usual screwing over by Angry Michigan Ball-Oiling God. And, hey, we beat Wisconsin and the negative events therein were supplanted in our minds by the Thompson return and the unlikely Threet gallop and so on.
All of it could have been unfortunate randomness. The true abilities of Michigan's team would be unleashed as soon as they stopped turning the ball over every ten seconds or busting coverages that left, say, a guy running wide open downfield on fourth and ten. If they don't put themselves in a 21-0 hole against Notre Dame, if they just complete those bubble screens, if they don't suck on this play or that play &c &c &c.
As more evidence piled up it became harder and harder to justify the vague hope Michigan was a competent team stuck in Charlie Weis's body (it's like Innerspace except there's no machine to shrink you), but we endured. We are fans. Until such time as you declare EVERYTHING TO BE BROKEN because THIS IS THE WORST TEAM EVER and EVERYONE MUST BE FIRED NOW NOW NOW, people strive to find whatever hope they can. And also: how can kick returners just flat dropping the ball be a replicable event? Seriously. I want to know this.
But now it's pretty hard to come to any conclusion other than "they just suck." The last straw on my pet camel's back was Steven Threet dropping back to pass with Michigan down 45-20. Untouched, he cocked his arm to throw and fumbled backwards for the fifth time in approximately four games of play. This, like Ryan Mallett's mystifying inability to receive a snap, is now an event that will happen on a depressingly regular basis. There are similar events scheduled all over the field—especially in the secondary, where someone (Charles Stewart) has miraculously supplanted Stevie Brown as the whipping safety du jour.
We've passed the point where these things could be random chance. It's just a bad team. This revelation will probably be met with "duh" from everyone who's not a Michigan fan, what with skill positions that usually read junior, freshman, freshman, freshman, freshman, freshman and a coaching transition and, oh, I don't know, the nation's 110th best turnover margin. But, hey, we beat Wisconsin and for sports fans even lead balloons float when filled with hope.
My balloon is now filled with a sticky gray-green substance that smells like sewage and glows when the moon is gibbous. Saturday's event was tough to watch. While the long term outlook isn't affected much by the pratfalls to date, it's still no fun to watch 25-point beatings. Sadly, I just want to fast forward to 2010.
- I think Juice Williams may have the greatest ball fakes I've ever seen live. You know that thing where the cameraman follows someone who ends up not having the ball and freaks out when this becomes clear? I did that on like half of Illinois' runs. It was really annoying when I'd be watching the running back get tackled for no gain only for Williams to have the ball and run for a first down.
- Missing Hemingway and Stonum was a big deal, since it's obvious why Savoy can't get off the bench. Apparently the TV guys criticized the coaching on his long-bomb drop; I think the more plausible explanation is that a redshirt junior who hasn't seen any time is probably not very good.
- Holy Lord did Michigan get jacked on at least three different pass interference calls. Greg Mathews was obviously hit early on an unsuccessful third down conversion. Illinois got bailed out on third down by a PI call on a ball yards behind the receiver. Donovan Warren got shoved not once but twice on a downfield jump ball and drew no flag. The first two either ended Michigan or extended Illinois drives. The latter set up a third and two instead of a second and seventeen; the next play was the dagger Williams scramble.
- Michigan again used that goofy formation where Greg Mathews is 1) split out and 2) covered up by a receiver outside of him. They ran twice for minimal yardage. WTF?
- Despite Odoms' fumble he should definitely keep the return job. He consistently broke through the first wave of defenders and acquired Michigan excellent field position. The fumble just appeared to be a guy putting his helmet on the ball, which usually can't be helped.
- Perhaps the most disturbing event on the day was Illinois dominating the Michigan offensive line. The Illini had been shredded by all previous opponents. The offensive line is going to be an anchor around this team's neck for the remainder of the year.
9/6/2008 – Michigan 16, Miami (Not That Miami) 6 – 1-1
Could you maybe throw it at the receivers? No? Well, I tried.
Michigan fans have had a lot of ominous signs presented to them in the first two weeks of the season. There is a walk-on at quarterback. When Mark Ortmann was injured last week, a walk-on replaced him at left tackle. At one point during last week’s game the skill players went like this: sophomore, freshman, freshman, freshman, freshman. Steve Brown is reminding folks of the sucky version of Ryan Mundy. There has been much to fret over.
But nothing has struck fear in me like what occurred late in the fourth quarter of yesterday’s ten-point win over a MAC team: the students burst into a chorus of “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine.”
On the one hand, get it in while you can, kids. On the other: you have got to be kidding me. Why stop there? Let’s rush the damn field.
Game two was a virtual replay of game one minus some opponent competence, and does little to reassure that Michigan isn’t going to struggle its way towards a rinky-dink bowl that won’t actually be in Shreveport but might as well be.
Outside of two Actual Touchdown Drives, the offense was more of the same minus even one downfield completion. The defense was pretty good but Miami’s receivers did them a whole host of favors; it does not look as dominant as it needs to be given the Yakety Sax on the other side of the ball.
Which, like, okay. It kind of sucks that this season is going to be rough but given the cards Rodriguez was dealt it’s understandable. If this was Carr and the future stretched out like tapioca pudding, I would understand it and perhaps participate. But it’s not.
The discontent from some quarters is as obvious as it is petulant. When Michigan got the ball back after their second touchdown drive, the case for Lloydball could not have been more obvious. Every pass you throw is an invitation to disaster. You’re up two scores with around 6-7 minutes left in the game. Your defense has given up six points. You can’t lose unless you do something disastrously stupid, which happens to be your offense’s speciality.
So you do the obvious, boring thing: run-run-run-punt. And then some guy in the stands turns to me and says “not even one pass?” and I die a little bit inside because this man has no idea about game theory and no patience for a transition and was probably one of those guys posting spleen on the internet you may have run across if you’re a glutton for punishment or it’s kind of your job.
That’s an extreme example of a guy who seemed to seize an opportunity to sarcastically grumble about TINYFMF*, but I see lesser examples criticizing Rodriguez for “not adapting his offense” or “sacrificing this season” and all that, and I just think “what are you supposed to do when not even Tacopants can catch any pass thrown more than ten yards downfield?” There is no offense you can adapt to when your quarterbacks are slow white guys who can’t throw and your offensive line is a patchwork melange of who-dats, freshmen, and walk-ons.
Everyone’s permitted their immediate “#&$*!” when Steven Threet launches a pass into the troposphere or McGuffie is swarmed in the backfield or Steve Brown demonstrates his mastery of non-Euclidean geometry. Outside of that your best course of action is patience, tolerance, and whiskey.
*(This Is Not Your Father’s Michigan Football)
Bullets of crank:
- I just want to note this for the record: you can’t find a Michigan blog out there that has leveled anything resembling criticism of the new regime. Meanwhile, there are plenty of You Shouldn’t Extrapolate But HA HA HA columns in the newspapers. This will be ignored in two years when papers are filled with stories about how Rodriguez is triumphant over the eBays, message blogs, internets, and assorted other insane rabble.
- The students started a wave when Michigan was up four points in the third quarter. This is unacceptable. Waves require at least a two-score lead. We need some senior leadership in the stands, too.
- Also unacceptable: the RAWK MUSIC backing to the highlights shown at the end of the third quarter. What is this, Michigan State? After the band takes the field, the only music in the stadium comes from them. Someone find the guy who made that decision and put him in stocks on the diag.
- WHERE IS MY CRANBERRY JUICE?
- I’ll be the last man on earth to say it: Donovan Warren’s audition for the punt return job should be over. He’s not good at it, he’s too valuable to risk, and he refuses to make a fair catch. Boubacar Cissoko had some promising kickoff returns; let him have a crack.
- Michigan’s problems with underneath coverage continued; the little dreads guy on Miami must have caught 4 or 5 little hitch routes that he managed to turn upfield because a late-arriving linebacker—usually Thompson—did not tackle immediately.
- I’m worried about Troy Woolfolk, who the coaches seem deathly afraid to put on the field. I’m dying for a 4-2-5 nickel package against these spread teams.
- I LOLed at the Miami coach’s clock management. Actually, that’s not true. Despite the fact that it was helping Michigan win I was livid because for some reason clock malfeasance drives me crazy, but: Miami was running, huddling, and watching the clock wind down when they were down two scores with six minutes left, and they didn’t even use all their timeouts on Michigan’s final run-run-run-punt drive. What a maroon.
- Who’s excited for the worst Michigan-Notre Dame game ever?
8/30/2008 – Michigan 23, Utah 25 – 0-1
Every rational thought in your head suggests that the whole walk-on or freshman-the-coaches-are-panicked-about at quarterback, the line of baling wire and the occasional confused chicken, and freshmen everywhere at the skill positions will combine to yield an offense worthy of Yakety Sax, but until you actual see the damn thing in action you can hold out hope it will be otherwise.
We have seen it in action. It could have gone better. At least we have an incredibly direct metaphor all around us:
This program is under construction with a completion date around 2010. This is going to be a tough year. If you’re prone to hysterics you should do everyone a favor, watch something else, and annoy everyone on the Project Runway message boards with your all-caps posts. Get over it.
If you’d told me the final score before the game I would have been disappointed but not particularly surprised and wouldn’t have budged much from the preseason prediction. Unfortunately, a raft of unusual events obscured a much grimmer picture, especially in the first half. That was a near-worst case scenario. The offense was as bad as everyone feared; the defense was far worse than anyone expected in the first half. Without the latter unit’s second-half turnaround, I would be halfway to the Yukon and my new life as a gold prospector this morning. As it is, I think a bowl game is unlikely since it will probably require a 7-5 record.
But I’m here and we can talk about the game some. The best part was the warmups, and I mean that only somewhat sarcastically. Seeing the 100-some men in winged helmets go “HOO HOO HOO” whilst pivoting was a weird kind of thrill, as was the Barwis-led Circle of Death. This is not your father’s Michigan football, (TINYFMF) etc.
The second best part was Rodriguez’s inability to cope with the idea his team sucked. I also mean that only somewhat sarcastically. TINYFMF was best displayed on Michigan’s last play of the first half, when Nick Sheridan dropped back on third and long and lofted a ball on an ICBM trajectory. Everyone in the stadium knew it would be intercepted the moment it left his hand.
Lloyd Carr would have called a fullback dive and punted. Michigan would probably have escaped the first half with a manageable five-point deficit, and the defense and special teams excellence in the second half would have been enough to pull it out. The entirety of halftime that “22” for Utah rankled. That touchdown looked completely decisive.
So maybe that was a stupid call. Having your walk-on hurl a ball skyward is asking for it. But I vastly prefer the expectation your player can come through in an important situation to the fear he won’t. That tendency is probably going to hurt this year, when expecting any quarterback to do anything except soil himself is a bad bet, but when Michigan is good they’ll go through each series with a mind to score points; they should blow the doors off opponents who can’t cope. Carr’s formula was a recipe for 9-3, 9-3, 9-3, 9-3. Rodriguez will go through more swings based on how much talent he has at his disposal. Eventually, this will be a good thing.
There’s not much more to say: they kind of suck. I don’t know who any of them are. I hope they get better.
- Boy, did I hate the 4-3 Michigan started out in during the first half. That’s a guarantee of zone coverage or a hideous mismatch between first-time starters at linebacker and slot receivers. For the most part it was the former, which the first-time starters at linebacker were terrible at, and Michigan got shredded on a wide array of routes designed test the weakest part of the Michigan defense. It failed.
- Do you ever get the feeling people are prepared to criticize in a particular way even if reality conflicts with them? I’ve seen a lot of rabble rabble about “Rodriguez needs to adapt the offense to his players” in the aftermath of a game in which Michigan threw 60% of the time.
- I bet you could have gotten good odds on “boy, I wish Rodriguez had run more” as a common complaint before the game. That was perhaps the most disturbing development, as it speaks to a total lack of faith in the offensive line.
- Stevie Brown was victimized repeatedly, giving up the 50-yard pass on third and twenty that led to Utah’s first touchdown. I think he was responsible for the coverage on the score right before the half. He did jump another endzone route and bat the ball to Ezeh.
- Feagin? I mean… he couldn’t have been worse.
- The holding and pass interference penalties should be set aside in a description of Utah mistakes, as Michigan forced those errors out of the Utes with a torrent of pressure and wild hopeful downfield jump balls. One of these will serve Michigan in good stead for the rest of the season.
- This would be the point during a game coached by Carr where I would bemoan the zone-tipping, ineffective 4-3 Shafer came out in for the first half; this is considerably more difficult when you have scarcely less information about the football team than the actual coaches do. I’m not sure how you’re supposed to get a grip on whether your defense can handle a spread offense in its base set when you’re going up against that in practice every day. Or how you’re supposed to figure out what you can do on offense when everyone’s a freshman and even the folks who aren’t played in a totally different system.
If ever a coaching staff could be forgiven for flailing about with the wrong players, it was Saturday. The halftime adjustments were encouraging.
In less than a week, Michigan will run under the banner a team directed by Rich Rodriguez and the Bo Schembechler era will finally, permanently belong to the past.
It’s a change that most Michigan fans feel was too long coming after the tribulations in recent years: losses to Ohio State, Rose Bowls that end the wrong way, national embarrassment and the infamous picture that will stand as one half of the Carr era denouement:
It lived in the past and now it is of the past and it can stay there, to be memorialized in song and commemorative DVD. Amen.
But this is the other half of the Carr era denouement.
This picture makes me happy.
Over the past three years on this blog I’ve chronicled my endless frustration with Michigan football; I’ve also chronicled just how important it is to me. Carr is at least partially responsible for both these things. It has been a deeply schizophrenic existence, and the Citrus Bowl was everything about that existence wrapped into one three-hour summary.
You can check the UFR after most games for an explanation of the first. The second has something to do with Carr’s tireless scorn for those who deserved it, primarily the money-changers cramming into the temple of the game, his obvious devotion to his players, his desire to read things more stimulating than a playbook.
This latter item about reading is weird and useless—who cares if the football coach knows who Keats is?—but it’s also indisputably true. Former Daily sportswriter J Brady McCullough indirectly touches on it in his excellent article on the changeover:
“I’m studying up on it,” Rodriguez says. “Reading books. I got 500 books sent to me. I got four or five of the same book, ‘Bo’s Lasting Lessons,’ and it gave me some perspective on things.”
Rodriguez has realized Michigan is unique. Fans and former players who want their football coach to spend his time reading?
Yes. When I was editing Hail to the Victors 2008, space requirements forced me to cut down Craig Ross’s article about his experience at a Scot Loeffler quarterbacks meeting, and when I had to cut a small but telling paragraph about Lloyd Carr it lingered with me. This is it:
After a few minutes Carr appeared. He was relaxed and fresh, even though it was mid-evening and he had worked for the entire day. We chatted for a few moments about a book, The Long Walk, the story of a WWII prisoner of war who escaped from a Gulag and then trekked across Siberia, through the Gobi desert and then through the Himalayas to India.
I didn’t want to cut it but it was either that or something directly relevant to Ross’s odyssey so out it went. I wanted people to see it, to get the little glimpse into how odd Lloyd Carr—football coach, friend of Russell Crowe, strident Democrat—is. He reads books! About things! This is important.
There is something to the sometimes annoying “Michigan Man” thing. There is a mindset, an attitude, some characteristics that are shared by enough people that they characterize a program and a fanbase. (The annoying part is when people pretend all these things are positive.) Carr was of this and in more than a decade came to define some of it. Kipling and Into Thin Air and The Long Walk were part of the fabric of the program.
Few outside of Michigan fandom understood this or anything about Carr. How could they? Opposing fans took the opportunity provided by Carr’s cantankerousness at press conferences and one inopportune photo after a loss against Oregon to label him classless. Neutrals just thought he was a crab, because they experienced him as a crab. A month after the Bo memorial service at which Carr spoke, I found myself in a conversation with Orson Swindle of EDSBS fame. At some point I forwarded the video (part one; part two) of Carr’s speech to him. The response: “It's enthralling, actually. Lloyd is downright eloquent.”
The surprise was evident.
It was November when they memorialized Bo but it was nice enough out, I thought, and I thought the thing to wear was a suit so I did but I left the coat at home and this was fine for a while. But when the sun started setting the warmth leached out of the air and people kept talking and it was cold. And I wrapped my arms around myself as Bo’s son talked and kept talking and God bless him, I know he just lost his father but it’s cold and I’ve been here for hours. And he kept going.
So I’m cold and in a suit and my mind is wandering back to what Carr said to wrap up his speech. I recorded it with my MP3 player but old obscure-brand MP3 players being what they are and having no external mic the recording was nigh useless and when I discovered this later I was a little shattered but still posted the nigh useless thing on the blog.
Carr said this: “Bo will be remembered as the Michigan Man.”
No, not quite, I don’t think. Not “the.”
I’m happy that the empire of the fallen has finished its long slide into the sea. I’m happy it’s been replaced with something young and vivacious and very likely successful. But on Saturday something that lived for forty years sees the last shovelful of dirt on its grave, and I wish it hadn’t come to this.
People wish for a lot of things, though, and entropy always tells them to go to hell.