I did not make this headline up
a more pleasant item to lead the blog
When I write a thing of that length that I figure will stand as one of the things people think about when they think about MGoBlog, I like to talk about the aftermath.
WHY. A number of protests were lodged about why I wouldn't just leave the past in the past and move on. There are multiple reasons that post needed to happen.
- I needed an elucidation of the argument I couldn't quite make when I was on with Dan Dakich in the aftermath of the email article. The way in which Brandon screwed up so hard with Morris was a natural result of the way he approached every petty problem he met previously, an indication that he was a terrible leader for reasons both private and public.
- This is a space that tries to document what happens to Michigan. I got the same complaints about my Rich Rodriguez obit. We mostly look backwards here, talking about what has happened. Not having a summary of the Brandon era would have been a glaring omission. I do these for players annually, usually in the magazine. Hoke will get a (much less incendiary) recap as well.
- Never forget. For this to not happen again we must identify the problem and remain vigilant against its recurrence. Those who forget history, etc.
Now that I've said my piece we can move on. Harbaugh excelsior.
WHY NOW. A variant on the previous bullet:
Brian's post has no new information or even new feelings or analysis of information he compiled. It doesn't even have information or ideas new to his own previous posts on this blog. Why did he do this? I'm genuinely curious. It's like a political post mortem in The New Republic or Investor's Business Daily against a vanquished foe, but an untimely one. Has the piece been on his desktop for the last several months awaiting completion? Was he waiting for additional DB shoes to drop that would need inclusion? Was it an incredible stream-of-consciouness thing that just kinda poured out of him over a few very intense hours? I don't know, but I'd like to. Brian?
I will say that it is very clearly grave dancing, but it's Baryshnikov or Shakira cutting the rug, or dirt or whatever (apologies to dance fans if these examples are crap, but you get the picture).
Brandon was canned during football season, when time for a 5k word piece was not available. Then we had the coaching search, which sucked up all available oxygen—I barely thought about this piece until Harbaugh was in the boat. After that was the recruiting sprint to Signing Day. All of these things took precedence; now that we're past all that it was time.
FWIW, the piece was assembled in bursts, with a slim majority of it coming together in the last couple days.
On calling someone a piece of shit human being. Some protests about that phrasing. This seems like different borders for a term. Complaints about it tended to invoke physical violence against innocents, ISIS, Boko Haram, assertions verging on Godwin and occasionally directly invoking it. I would file such things under "evil," "monstrous," etc. Being a shitty person doesn't rise to that level.
I did get a very long, well-argued email from a walk-on who had been around for a portion of the Brandon era asking me to separate out my critiques of the man from critiques of the athletic director. It cited a number of positive personal interactions with Brandon, and it's true that the one group of people universally in his corner are student-athletes. John U Bacon invited me to present a guest lecture to one of his classes this fall; as fate would have it that date landed about ten days after the Morris incident. Bacon's class was split about down the middle between athletes and regular students, and when I expressed my opinion about Brandon bluntly I got equally blunt pushback from a couple of the athletes.
I appreciate that point of view. I reject it all the same. Brandon was clearly not an asshole to all people. That does not excuse the careers he shattered for little or no reason or the condescension to people trying to talk to him politely. I still can't get over the guy taking shots at some emailer's marriage when he was being painfully polite whilst trying to explain why Brandon had caused him an issue by telling his wife to find a new team. It doesn't excuse the relentless strip-mining of Michigan's primary asset, fan goodwill, in order to make the spreadsheet numbers go in the right direction. It doesn't excuse the constant litany of untruths culminating in a five-day firestorm based on the fact that Brandon's first reaction to any crisis was to lie.
I believe his interactions with the student-athletes were genuine and positive. I don't judge people based on how they treat their most favored class of person. Nixon had a dog, after all.
On giving money to Mott. There's a parable about this.
On cancer kid. It's easy to be nice to kids with cancer, especially when you trumpet it from the mountain. It's standard practice to be open to Make-a-Wish; not doing so results in major backlash and Brandon's not a literal psychopath. When these arguments are made I always think of the Chris Rock bit about how you're not SUPPOSED to go to jail, you low-expectations-havin' mofo.
On the civility of the previous bullet point. Not very civil, I agree. I did weigh that, but I felt that pulling punches in any way here was 1) not going to be credible and 2) did a disservice to the lesson learned. I often write swears in first drafts that get edited out later, sometimes to my regret. There is something about the well-placed expletive that gets a point across in a way I cannot seem to replicate with less naughty language, and this was a full-auto post.
On the shittiness of those emails. From user Evenyoubrutus:
What convinced me of how clueless he really was was his email that said "I suggest you find a new team to support." This was clear proof that he was still trying to sell pizzas instead of honoring the tradition of Michigan Football. Yes, if you don't like Domino's, try Pizza Hut. But I don't have over two decades of memories of sitting down at Domino's with my dad since I was a fucking CHILD eating the pizza, and memorobilia of Domino's items and memories in my house, and I don't dream of sharing the same experiences eating Domino's with my young boys, or memories of watching Domino's win championships and feeling some of the happiest moments of my life because Domino's! "Find a new team to support" Okay. Ass.
On things I missed. Inevitably there were going to be issues and problems with the Brandon era I missed, even in a post pushing 5k words. A selection:
- BursleyHall82 reminds us that it was only a sustained campaign from MVictors that finally got Brandon to relent and allow Willis Ward to be honored and his story told.
- I did not mention "The Process" via which Rodriguez was fired. That two-day dog and pony show was a quintessential example of doing something ostentatious to look impressive instead of just getting it over with quickly. Hackett fired Hoke and announced it in about 10 minutes, because he is not concerned with looking impressive. (Hackett occasionally dresses like Seinfeld's dad because he gets things done instead of picking out clothes.)
- JeepinBen points out I didn't mention the press blitz after the Morris incident or the infamous "my personality is to the best of my ability and I have to fix that" statement. That was triply odious: Brandon hired a PR firm only after he'd burned the house down and then spent Michigan's money trying to prop himself up instead of repairing the damage he'd done. Add in the content of said blitz and you've got a triple. Oh, and he invoked his family as a shield. Home run.
- I missed the giant Brandontron next to the stadium.
- And of course whenever I bring it up more people add their stories to the list, including this gentleman who was dismayed because the athletic department tried to charge the hospital a licensing fee for sick babies in winged helmets.
- There are many, many stories of people in the department being treated shabbily from Jon Falk on down. I didn't mention most of them because I hear most of them indirectly. Bacon's upcoming book on all this should shed a lot of light in this department; he reports that he has never seen people more eager to talk to him.
On revenues as a measuring stick. A common defense of Brandon is to point at the budget. I've repeatedly stated why I don't buy that argument but I've never stated it as eloquently as Blue Durham did in a comment on the post:
Increased revenues from sources like the Big Ten Channel can't be attributed to anything that he had done, and others, like Brian refers to, like the sale of water or the hoped-for rental of seat cushions(!), bring in little but have a great, negative impact in PR. So where is Brandon's biggest contribution in increasing revenues?
As far as I can tell, it was by increasing ticket prices. But all that did was to sell off an asset built up by preceding ADs, the waiting list and goodwill of fans, alumni, and students. When I was an undergraduate and graduate student at UM in the 1980's, everyone knew that the AD could have easily charged more for tickets.
But I think this was part of a policy to try to treat current students as future donors, and for the alumni, as a way to stay connected to the University in order to have more generous donors. Obviously this worked given all of the alumni events that occur every fall that revolve around a home football game.
All Brandon did was sell this asset off, to the University's detriment. This is akin to a kid selling is father's car and taking credit for all of the money he made doing it without taking into account the value of the car.
The damage he wrought in that department will be felt for years, or at least until HARBAUGH
On solutions. User Njia protests that the post was an unconstructive bombing. Guilty as charged. I'll put together something about the direction to go in an effort to rebuild ground zero.
The unedited post is available as an e-book for 50 bucks. To buy one, just go to this video of Rick Astley singing "Never Gonna Give You Up."
And now let's never talk about… that again.
Mailbag: Late Game Threes, Basketball And Football Recruiting Reassurances, The Poisoned Chalice Of Access
Go for three against MSU?
Frustrated after the end of the MSU basketball game. Simple question...if you have the ball down 2 points, with the chance to take the last shot, wouldn't you give yourself a better chance to win the game by running the clock down and taking the best three point shot you can get within the last five seconds?
Simplistically, Let's say it has a 35% chance to go in, and that your win % if it goes in is 100%. The other option is go to go for a two point shot with time left on the clock. What are your odds of winning with that strategy? Much worse, right? I'm no math major, but to me the odds go like this:
- generously, a 50% chance of making the shot, which then...
- gives your opponent a possession to win. Call it 50/50 that they take advantage.
- even if they don't, all you get is overtime, which lets call another 50/50 shot.
Maybe you can run the numbers, but it seems like your win % is something like 12.5%. You need three toss ups to go your way.
I'll hang up and listen...
It's a bit more complicated than that.
- Michigan isn't just worried about what will happen if they score. They're also worried about what will happen if they don't. Michigan had 20 seconds left when Bielfeldt tipped the ball in. If that had gone the the other way they had an opportunity to force a turnover or get another bite at the apple in the event MSU did not knock down both free throws. Even an 80% shooter like Denzel Valentine gives you a shot at the game about a third of the time.
- Michigan's tying basket was a off an offensive rebound. Off a two, yes, but even if it was a three the ensuing putback is still worth two.
- Your chance at a putback is greater if you aren't shooting a jumper. In the NBA, shots within 6 feet get rebounded at a 37% rate; threes at just a 26% rate. (Threes are still better than long twos at 21%.) Albrecht's shot was a weird floater, one that saw Branden Dawson checking Bielfeldt at the FT line in an attempt to prevent a three—the nature of that shot greatly aided the subsequent putback.
- Your chances of an OREB are zero if you wait for a three at the buzzer.
- Last second threes are generally bad shots because the opponent is maniacally focused on the three-point line. Albrecht's three to bring Michigan within striking distance was a good example of the phenomenon. To get any sort of look he had to take the shot a few feet behind the arc. See also:
Given all that the decision is far less clear. I'd be totally on-board with an open look that came out of the context of the offense. I would prefer it to any non-gimme two. But waiting for a do-or-die three is not good eats.
I don't have a problem with the way regulation ended. In that situation the imperative is to have a good offensive possession, hopefully quickly, and Albrecht's quick take got a decent shot that put Michigan in position for an OREB without bleeding much time.
[After the JUMP: talking people off various recruiting related ledges]
Paging Dr. Stalin
getting our glares on
Will there be a roster purge a la Charlie Strong or can we expect Harbaugh to try and retain almost everyone?
I'm not a fan of purges; part of a leader's job is to gain buy-in, but they do happen. Some attrition will certainly happen, but I'd like to not dig a huge roster hole we're digging out of for 3+ seasons.
Strong's purge is not likely to repeat if only because that kind of massive roster depletion is just about unprecedented. Strong walked into a combination of bad timing (two guys suspended for sexual assault) and no discipline after the Mack Brown decline had truly festered. Strong read guys the riot act…
Sources said all of the players in question were told that Strong was watching them closely dating back to February, when they were part of a group pulled aside and told that their attitude and/or behavior had to change.
As part of that conversation, players were told they’d be subject to more random drug tests, sources said.
…and they did not respond. That led to a lot of guys out the door.
Michigan has already experienced one of these, as Kyle Bosch was brought into a meeting with Harbaugh and told there would be some conditions on his continued membership:
“I was at school all day, getting ready,” Bosch told Sporting News on Tuesday morning. “Then I met with Coach Harbaugh and I didn’t expect the transfer. That was not my original intent when I went up there yesterday. … This was very untimely. If it was my intention to transfer, I would have done that a long time ago.”
Bosch said his meeting with Harbaugh produced two options: stay with the program with stipulations (he did not say what they were) or transfer.
The kind of things Bosch dealt with over the past year are best left unspecified, but if he didn't want to meet the law laid down by Harbaugh it's best that he find somewhere else to be.
Bosch is an exception. Hoke was very good at getting guys who work hard and go after their schoolwork, thus the APR and extremely low transfer rate. That rate is about to pick up for a lot of reasons (remember that even before the season ended Hoke mentioned two OL were headed out), but the departures won't rise to the level of a purge or leave Michigan alarmingly short-handed this September.
You can tell this is the case just by the recruiting numbers. Michigan has room for a class of 12 right now. Without epic departures that isn't going to get past 20, and a roster that only has to add 15 or 16 players is not in dire straights.
This staff versus previous staff.
Hi, I'm your DL coach. [Eric Upchurch]
Since the site has been 90% devoted to the assistant coaching rumors or hires for the past several days I wanted to throw a question at you.
The natural reaction in the wake of hiring Harbaugh and turning the page on the previous regime is to look at everything through rose colored glasses. At least until the first game we lose, people will mostly think he can do no wrong and every person he hires or recruits is a great fit.
If we take a step back, how do you feel the staff construction we will have next year compares to our reaction to the staffs that Rodriguez or Hoke hired in their first seasons? Do you see any areas that make you scratch your head or long for someone else?
There's no comparison. Hoke and Rodriguez both imported the large majority of their existing coaches and held on to Fred Jackson. Those coaches had experienced success—sort of in Hoke's case—in a specific context at a lower level of competition. Rodriguez fatally did not bring Jeff Casteel along; Hoke imported Greg Mattison and brought Al Borges with him.
- Is an in-demand OC/QB coach.
- Hired an in-demand DC.
- Kept Greg Mattison as a position coach.
- Hired the guy who built the Stanford ass-kicking machine.
- Hired Ty Wheatley in the recruiting-heavy RB slot.
- Hired an ex-NFL OC and successful college OC as a WR coach.
- Hired a special teams coordinator who has 15 years of crazy success.
Nobody on this staff is going to wander over to San Jose State after they're done at Michigan, and most of them have experienced impressive amounts of success outside of the Harbaugh context. With limited exceptions that latter was not true of anybody on either of the previous two staffs other than Greg Mattison.
If there's anything with this staff that makes me pause it's the still-hypothetical Dougherty hire. He's only had one year of TEs, and with the importance of those guys in the Harbauffense it seems like you'd want a guy with a long track record there, possibly with some OL coaching mixed in to help out Drevno. OC/OL is a lot on one plate.
But we don't know if that's actually going to come to fruition—given the timing here it's possible that Fisch swooped in on his spot. The last thing we heard about Dougherty was a Football Scoop report from three days ago—unreliable to start and increasingly so as we get further out without any confirmation. I'm beginning to think that's not happening.
[After the JUMP: search postmortem, these are my readers.]
I've been conspicuously absent the past few days. I will not be covering the basketball game this afternoon, nor the game on Tuesday, and I'll be working in a limited capacity for the rest of this month.
Allow me to explain.
Over the past few weeks, my health has taken a turn for the worse. The diagnosis of gluten intolerance I received over the summer hasn't been the be-all, end-all answer I'd hoped; there is more going on, and right now I don't know what. I've been dropping weight at a rather alarming rate. I covered the Syracuse game on Tuesday while weighing 115 pounds. (I'm a hair under 5'11", and haven’t weighed this little since middle school.) My brother drove me to and from the game, because I didn't feel comfortable getting behind the wheel of a car—not the first time he’s done that over the last month, unfortunately.
That's the bad news. I'm very limited physically right now, to the point that covering games in person is not a feasible option, even though there's no part of my job I enjoy more than settling into my spot (or leaping out of it) on press row at Crisler.
The good news is I have no shortage of support. My physician came into the office on a scheduled day off to see me on short notice on Wednesday afternoon, and as soon as I left he was on the phone with specialists at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital; I'll be in and out of appointments at St. Joe’s this week to begin anew the process of determining what, exactly, is going on with my body. As far as doctors go, I'm in very good hands.
The same can be said for my support system at home and at work. My parents and my brother are doing everything within their power to ensure that I'm comfortable, supported, and in good spirits; other than going to appointments, I barely have to leave the townhouse I share with my brother unless I'm up to it—they are taking care of me. I have friends near and far checking in on me, providing moral support or much-needed distraction; those often go hand-in-hand.
Brian, as he has been throughout my time at MGoBlog, has been remarkably supportive, especially when considering I've often had to bail out of work on short notice, and it's not like this is a large operation in which one employee's absence can go unnoticed. He's allowing me to scale back how much I'm working this month, which I hope will be all that's necessary before I'm able to return to writing at full strength, even if it takes longer for my body to reach that point. I've been able to do so time and again the last four years. Very little can stop me from doing what I love: writing.
For their part, the people in the sports information department for Michigan Basketball—especially the SID par excellence, Tom Wywrot—have been extremely flexible and understanding during this time, and I cannot thank them enough for it.
Same goes for fellow MGoBlog writers Seth Fisher, Alex Cook, and Bryan Mac, who've covered my ass on more than one occasion* when I’ve been unable to write, as well as our photographers, Bryan Fuller and Eric Upchurch, who've been extremely generous in offering their support. Thank you, as well, to MGoRightHandMan Dave Nasternak, who filmed high school games this fall when I didn't feel up to it, drove me to games when I did, and even stopped by the studio last weekend to give me a loaf of gluten-free bread after a podcast recording. I’m so lucky to be able to work with you all, and I don't get to convey my appreciation enough.
If I haven't responded to your emails, phone calls, messages, or tweets in recent days, I hope this serves as a reasonable explanation. I'll get to them when I can, if they truly require a response—these last few days have been spent in near constant communication with doctors and my family so we can get this figured out as soon as possible.
If I've been an asshole to you recently, as I know I have been with a few of you (including some who were beyond undeserving), I apologize. This has been a very stressful time. That’s not an excuse for taking it out on others.
If I told you I'd make plans with you, grab a drink, be in touch, or the like, I must apologize as well; right now, my life is on hold. Trust me when I say that I'd like to see or hear from you soon, but my big mouth occasionally promises more than I can provide, and that's been the case more than usual lately.
I turn 27 tomorrow. I've been dealing with strange health issues that have affected my everyday life since I was 17, when I'd often shoot awake at night in a cold sweat thinking my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I've been able to get through school and largely work around my health problems for a decade. Now is the time I must put my health first and foremost. Diagnoses of de Quervain’s thyroiditis, depression, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and most recently gluten intolerance haven't fully addressed what's happening; this time around I'm determined to search until the true answer is presented.
I'm confident, with the remarkable support I have, that I'll get to the bottom of this. If there's a place to be sick, it's Ann Arbor, where it's hard to walk around the block without bumping into someone at the top of their chosen field. I still plan to write while the search continues, just not quite as much as I have in the past. I hope you’ll bear with me in the interim. If you’re looking for a way to support me, I hope you'll consider donating to MGoBlog. Brian is paying me full-time for work I don't fully have the capacity to do at the moment, and I don't plan on going anywhere. Supporting the site is the most direct way to support me both now and for the long haul.
Thanks for your understanding.
Now let's get Jim Harbaugh to Ann Arbor.
[ED: Hey guys! Ace is looking for a few good questions for a basketball season preview mailbag. Hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Meta-response about yesterday's post.
[ED: I normally hack out praise from these emails in an effort to be as concise as possible but it was not possible to do so here without making bronx sound like a jerk.]
I've been trying to think of a better way to ask this, but I can't so I'll just come out with it:
What is/was your goal with reporting about the Brandon emails?
Man, yeah, that comes across as condescending. Let me try to explain.
I'm not saying they shouldn't be given their due. and I respect the hell out of you and Ace putting in the effort to figure out their veracity; count me in the camp of people who doubted WD's initial post due to the inconsistencies in his story. Following through on the story and backing it up with multiple sources is the type of reporting you don't expect to see from a "fan" site, and yet you guys did better work than I've seen in a long time from more established media members in the community. Heck, it's basically you guys and the Daily kicking ass in that department.
But once the dust settles, how do you see this information positively or negatively affecting the program going forward? I've made my feelings known about Brandon and how, frankly, this really shouldn't accelerate his removal (I mean, if his handling of Gibbons, Morris, ticket prices, attendance, stadium experience, alumni relations, coaching snafus, losing, etc. doesn't do him in but bitchy emails do I'll be a bit disappointed in the administration for needing something so trivial to move them to action), but I honestly want to know your take. Do you think the fan's role in the turmoil surrounding the program, now being given a wider public forum by your site than in the past, will ultimately hurt its recovery going forward?
For example, you mentioned in your podcast that fans' habits can be broken quickly and it can take a generation to get them back. You and Ace seem to think that Brandon and Hoke coming back would lead to an exodus, but are you worried that the level of vitriol displayed by the fans already shows the pivot point already happened, and that everything from this point on is just piling on and driving even more fans away? Personally, I'm less and less excited to follow this team even this year because it is just a clown show made worse by the negative tone so many fans seem to hold toward it. My Facebook feed is full of people linking to articles calling for Hoke an co. to be booted (many to mgoblog), and lots of them were moderately-sane fans before the last couple of years. I'm not saying you and the site are to blame for any of it; you are just reporting and commenting on the shit show being trotted out every week. But do you think we'll look back in a couple of years and wonder if too much gas was thrown on the fire?
And again, I'm conflicted even asking this, because you guys have a duty to ferret out these idiots and bring them to the public's eye, and you do a great job at capturing the Michigan zeitgeist effectively. But there's just such a toxic culture around the program, and I wonder even if they get some homerun hires (which I'm a bit dubious about), if some of this damage will linger.
Anyway, feel free to respond however you want; if part of this makes its way into a mailbag or something then by all means out me and respond how you wish. I'm fine with it. I honestly just want to know.
I made a decision to let the original Have A Happy Life email stand—in fact I made a decision to re-instate it after one of the mods pulled it 200 comments deep—and from there things proceeded inexorably to yesterday's post.
I let it stand because I thought it was true.
[After THE JUMP: a full run-down of the decision to run with this story and evaluation about whether this was in error.]