this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
dave brandon creates the future
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.
"In the world of branding, you build what's called brand equity"
-Dave Brandon, Michigan Athletic Director, 2010-2014
I'm pretty mad about Dave Brandon on the internet, but in real life social cues prevent you from ranting for two thousand words at a time; mostly they argue for nodding silence. I kept the wild-eyed revolutionary on the internet. So it was crazy how Brandon angst followed me around.
One day during my ACL rehab, I was doing my various stretching things when one of the therapists came in steamed. He started relating to one of his buddies that he'd been booted from his position with Michigan football in favor of a kid who had literally just graduated from college, because that kid would worship Brandon as a god.
When we bought our house, one of the seemingly infinite signing ceremony things involved a conversation with someone who had been an assistant with a nonrevenue sport. My job came up, she had never heard of MGoBlog, she proceeded to sigh and say that the department was really something and then… not that any more.
A woman who Brandon tried to get fired from the alumni association because she had the temerity to disagree with him. Her friendship with Jamie Morris was demonstration enough that she "had no character."
One day, two staffers sent home for insufficiently ironed khakis, and then berated because their blazers were "from JC Penney."
Report after report that the regents couldn't stand him and he had a year, tops, left. For three years.
And of course, email after email in my inbox, all from the same insulting man prone to exclamation points and misused ellipses.
As a kid I was really good at memorizing things and had no friends. A large part of why, I would find out in retrospect, is that I was an annoying person. I was convinced I was the smartest person in the room, something that was often true for a given definition of smartest that stopped once the tests were turned in. It was never true when it came to interacting with something other than a piece of paper.
My attempt to be an adult centers around that fact: I'm an idiot when it comes to a lot of things. Faltering progress has been made. I hired Tom VanHaaren back in the day when he was just a guy with an idea to use social media to get information about recruits (this was controversial at the time). Tom proceeded to get his own bat signal. To this day he gets requests from people on the internet to hold him.
Tom's prose was rough at the time, prone to sentence after sentence with the same structure. A lot of adverbs. (I measure my progress as a writer by how many adverbs I edit out of my own stuff.) Twelve year old me would have been too annoying about it to deal. But by the time I made that decision I had realized that there were a lot of skills. zTalking to people you don't know and making them come out of that experience feeling like something good had just happened was emphatically not one I possessed. Tom is now at ESPN because of that skill.
Everyone has peaks and valleys in their intelligences, which is why I can do this for a job and still get pwned by Tom Dienhart whenever I try to act like an Actual Journalist.
That is how a guy can be in charge of three different things and still be an idiot: Dave Brandon's skill is for creating personal leverage for Dave Brandon. And there end the skills. There is that sub-genre of successful person that achieves seemingly without any reason to. They are nature's bullshitters. Charlie Weis is their treasurer. Dave Brandon is their king.
[After THE JUMP: a sordid history and the lessons learned: none]
all these people would have fit in Yost [Patrick Barron]
After a near-fiasco with the ice at Soldier Field that caused Michigan and Michigan State to drop the puck at 9:40 PM Eastern, scattered pockets of people and eighty thousand empty seats took in an ugly hockey game marred by ice closer to a dirt road than a smooth sheet.
And with that Michigan's participation in outdoor college hockey should be over, with a single exception.
Yeah, there's no much you can do if your opponent decides to move one of their home games, as Ohio State did a couple years back for a slightly better-attended outing in Cleveland's baseball stadium. There's no much you can do if the GLI is outside in conjunction with the Winter Classic. But Michigan can look at this fiasco of an event and choose to never do it again.
The lone exception should be occasional reprises of The Cold War and Big Chill*. Both were great events featuring packed houses, and will be again if they are sufficiently rare. What's sufficiently rare? I'd say one game at Spartan Stadium or Michigan Stadium every four years. You can tell each recruiting class that if you stay for four years you will play a packed outdoor game, and you are doing it rarely enough that the "packed" part of that proposition is likely to remain true.
Other than that, let's drop it. Outdoor hockey is
- COLD. Obviously.
- BAD HOCKEY. Strange lighting and bad ice make these games hard to watch. Pucks bounce over sticks. Skill's importance is muted in favor of luck.
- LITERALLY HARD TO WATCH. You're far away and the sightlines make no sense. (Any modern NHL building goes up as vertically as possible; most football stadiums are much less steeply pitched.)
Those are not fixable. Taking two teams from Michigan and having them play in Illinois is, but I'm just over it. I would rather watch an outdoor game on TV these days because the environment is the definition of antiseptic and I'll have a much better grasp on what's going on if I don't have to squint from a half-mile away.
I mean, it was cool. It will remain cool if it's rare enough. Remember when the television people were trying to expand the NCAA tournament to 128 teams because they're willing to wreck anything if they can point to a bigger number in the spreadsheet they're responsible for? College hockey is in the process of doing this to outdoor games. Outdoor games should be magnificent events. These days they're too often ghost towns full of monuments to hubris instead of people.
Meanwhile, even the watered-down modern-day Yost is one of the best environments college sports has to offer. Taking a game out of there to play in front of approximately as many people outdoors is the definition of madness. We can be done with that; we fired that guy.
*[they should drop the Big Chill nomenclature and just go with Cold War [roman numeral], in my opinion]
— The Michigan Daily (@michigandaily) September 22, 2014
COKEAGGEDDON. Well, it happened, and they quickly ran out of tickets, and the athletic department said that shouldn't have happened like a robot programmed to impersonate a human, and now it's over. The robot bit:
Coke is a great partner of ours and had purchased a limited block of tickets for the Minnesota game for a Coke retail activation aimed at Michigan students.
What I would give for an athletic department that responded to things like this without resorting to the nonsense phrase "retail activation." The program was "pulled immediately" after the Union had already run out, ie, not pulled. There's the silver lining: Michigan tickets are still worth more than two dollars.
As per usual when these things happen, the cover-up is worse than the crime. The pattern: Michigan does something stupid or embarrassing or annoying or all three. People laugh or complain about it. Michigan releases a mendacious statement that blames someone else for the screw up, wonders why everyone is making a big deal about it, and says it was never their intent for stupid/embarrassing/annoying thing to happen. Two months later, repeat the process.
The list is getting long: running out of water after banning outside bottles because terrorists, Allstate field goal nets, enormous macaroni sculpture, seat cushions, sky-writing over Spartan Stadium, telling people they got a discount on their hockey season tickets when really they moved a Michigan State game to Chicago, and Cokeaggeddon. Nobody apologized for "In The Big House," but they damn well should have.
I would prefer an athletic department that knew enough about how thing were going to look to a persnickety fanbase to not have issues like this on the regular. I would even more strongly prefer a department that didn't go "nuh-uh" when people called them on their crap.
Backhanded compliment battle royal. Man are people saying some things about Hoke these days that they mean to be nice but come off not so nice. Mark Dantonio:
Dantonio on turmoil in Ann Arbor: "I don't think there's a bad football coach out there. ...I have a lot of respect for Brady."
— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) September 23, 2014
Dantonio followed that up by responding "I have empathy for people" when some reporter asked him if he had empathy for what's going on at Michigan. If our athletic department is going to be a robot can it be a Dantonio-style killer robot at least?
I HAVE EMPATHY FOR PEOPLE
/hail of gunfire
And then Dennis Norfleet was getting his coach's back when this came out and got on the internet the wrong way:
"In life, he's a good coach," Norfleet on Hoke
— Max Cohen (@MaxACohen) September 23, 2014
I know he didn't mean it like that but it's hard not to read it like that, you know?
Shades of the late RR period. Old pissed-off alums are coming out of the woodwork to yell on the talk radio. Former Bo QB Michael Taylor is up:
"Michigan football is not going in the right direction," said Taylor, who played for UM from 1987-89. "The leadership is bad. There are many more issues on and off the field than I care to talk about. It's sad." …
"What we've become is a propaganda football team, telling people how great we are when we're mediocre," he said.
Taylor has had an axe to grind for a while, FWIW. Hard to disagree with the last bit even so.
While Taylor's naplam job was widely reported the News is the only outlet I've seen that noted anything about Jon Jansen's immediately subsequent appearance. Jansen is on some sort of former players' committee, and says this about Taylor's complaint that players are being told to buy tickets if they want anything more than two per season (as in two tickets, total):
"It may not be the answer they're looking for, but we have started the process of getting a policy together for how many tickets you can get, how you get them, sideline passes," Jansen said. "That's the biggest thing — guys want to be able to come back."
IIRC, Taylor's beef with Brandon started when he further restricted tickets for former lettermen. It's not about "getting a policy" together. There is a policy. As per usual it prefers nickel and diming everyone to creating long-term allies.
More bloviation. Get ready for two and a half months of HARBAUGH HARBAUGH HARBAUGH posts that don't have much of anything behind them. PFT takes the lead:
…the speculation has been ongoing regarding the future of 49ers coach (and former Michigan quarterback) Jim Harbaugh for a while. Mired in a contractual impasse that has been tabled until after the season, any college or program now knows that Harbaugh is in play for a jump to a new job come 2015. With the 49ers already mired in a disappointing, stressful year, that jump could be more likely.
This gets everyone hot and bothered while not having a single quote or even a single assertion that a hot source told him something. Throw it on the bloviation pile. And reinforce the floor under that pile. It's about to get stressed.
The cycle is intact. Football team is bad at football. People say football team is bad at football. People say maybe football team would be better at football if this coach who seems to have a lot of bad football teams was no longer the coach. Media incessantly hammers coach and players at every media opportunity about The Critics, leading to people Taking A Stand Against The Critics and articles describing that event. Dennis Norfleet just did so.
If anyone thinks the massive public criticism being hurled at Brady Hoke on a now daily basis doesn't make its way into the ears of Michigan's players from time to time, then Dennis Norfleet has a message for you.
And they're pretty pissed about it.
Okay. I don't expect this conversation to go any other way, because Hoke has his team behind him and they would run through the proverbial wall for him, etc. I just don't see why anyone should care. It's all talk. Weren't we all like "I'm done with talk, show me" this offseason? We have been shown some things. Now there is talk about how bad the team is, and if you are mad at people talking about how bad Michigan football is currently I don't know what to tell you.
This is just not realistic:
"Even if we lose. If we lose, if you're a Michigan fan you're supposed to be with us 100 percent to pick us up. We need our fans just as much as we need a win. So, yes, it hurts. It hurts a lot."
It is impossible to control the emotional impulses of large groups of people, and fans are in this for themselves. They like the players, they want the players to succeed, they generally refrain from harsh personal criticism of the players. They are there to feel something, however, and when the only thing they feel is certainty Michigan is not going to make up yet another double-digit deficit they're going to talk about replacing the coach. Because that is the logical thing to do if your goals for a football team involve having a nice time with it.
That's the fundamental disconnect between fans and players and we can stop talking like any of these people have to have the same motivations. Or not, I suppose, because journalists are in this for themselves.
We're confusing to computers. Michigan has outgained every opponent en route to a 2-2 record with two blowout losses. The play-based ranking systems are having a bit of a conniption fit as a result:
— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) September 22, 2014
Computer rankings after four weeks are never accurate but drive systems do take a lot more data than the final score into account and should be a bit more reliable as a result. It's just that sometimes not taking the final score into account particularly heavily is… unwise. Connelly on that:
On a per-play basis (in a system that counts turnovers simply as non-successes until drive data is factored in after seven weeks), they are good enough to rank 19th in the country, just one spot behind a team that beat them by 31 points and 11 spots ahead of a team that beat them by 16. But in ways similar to 2011 Texas A&M and 2011 Notre Dame, they're figuring out ways to make their failures count double, and it seems they (and their fans) know the failures are coming before they happen.
Seven of the next eight conference games are winnable, and eight are losable. We'll see if Hoke can figure out how to turn promise into reality, or if, like Texas A&M in 2011, it will take a new coach and a new quarterback to translate decent stats into good results.
He notes three teams with similar profiles to Michigan to date: 2011 versions of Notre Dame and Texas A&M and 2012 Michigan State.
Connelly and Brian Fremeau combine their ratings for something called F+ that is considerably more skeptical but still insufficiently so from the human observer's viewpoint. F+ has Michigan 32nd. Connelly used that to metric to project the Big Ten race and came up with this amazing possibility:
|Record||West Winner||East Winner|
There is a one in four chance that your Big Ten West winner is .500 in the conference. I think we can all agree that this annus miserabilis will be totally worth it if that happens.
As far as Michigan goes, he ran a bunch of simulations with his numbers and came out with an approximately 60% chance Michigan goes 4-4 in the league and 20% chances they go 5-3 or 6-2. Again, early season computer numbers so take lightly—suffice it to say computers are not feeling real good about Hoke's job prospects.
The wounded. Minnesota's Mitch Leidner still questionable for Saturday, "all indications" that Michigan will get the Gopher backup who completed one pass against SJSU. Maxxxxxxxx Williams is also doubtful with something or other. Against that Michigan puts up Jarrod Wilson and Raymon Taylor, who dressed but did not play against Utah, Delano Hill, who left before halftime with a boo boo, and an obviously still gimpy Devin Funchess. Funchess FWIW:
"I got a little dinged up, I had to make sure everything was OK, and I just had to fight through it," Funchess said Tuesday. "I knew it was painful (that day), and it'll (probably) be painful the rest of the season.
"You're never going to go through a season and stay 100 percent (the whole way) ... I'm healthy enough to play."
Sort of. His effort on blocks is not so good.
We found out why the first Michigan State hockey series was "TBA" yesterday, when it was announced that the two teams would play an outdoor game in Chicago. There are about 50,000 reasons that's a questionable decision—as in the number of people who won't be at this who would if it was on either campus.
Michigan is due to get two home games against State this year, Michigan and MSU have a contract to play at the Joe annually, and the other MSU game is still ominously "TBA":
I just called the ticket office, and they said they were told that the January 30th game is at the Joe.
I, like a lot of season ticket holders, have already renewed my season tickets, and now I am informed that a game against Michigan's biggest rival is going to be in Chicago. This is how you lose people forever, Dave Brandon. But I'm sure the one-time benefit from playing in Chicago is more important than not making your season ticket holders feel like saps. Clueless. This athletic department is clueless.
As caught by an alert Joshua Henschke on twitter, the latest MDen catalog strongly implies that Michigan will wear alternate uniforms for the Penn State game:
I'm not surprised, I guess. I had just forgotten about the possibility of such a thing and was disappointed to remember we do this now.
I'm sure this will be sold as a throwback to some fictional time in the past when Michigan wore stripey numbers under coach Pterodactyl The Second and won the Big Ten thanks to their velociraptor riders, because Authenticity™.
UPDATE: actually looks like an MGoUser was first to wonder.