further adventures in Jed York being unsuited for his position
"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]
I met Teddy after he'd had a double lung transplant. I only have one fuzzy memory of this being a thing that impacted my senses directly. We probably watched an Amaker-era game against Illinois at his apartment; I remember Teddy lugging around a canister of oxygen, like he was a 90-year-old smoker. He was not. He had cystic fibrosis.
The thing I do remember vividly is Dave's inability to shut up and solemnly take in an Amaker-era game against Illinois, which… yeah. First terrifying indicator of mortality in a kid who was barely 20 or annoyance at someone talking during a basketball game, and I remember one of these things clearly, the other dimly. I even think Michigan was way ahead for most of the game.
After that, Teddy got better, mostly. When they do a transplant they have to shut off sections of your immune system, so every once in a while I'd hear that Teddy had been in the hospital for a week fighting off something or other that would have been a couple of days of mucus for someone with an immune system at full capacity. You hear those things and have a tremor, and then you file it away because the first intermission is ending.
We went to the Joe once for a Michigan hockey game. I met his brother, a maniac extrovert, and drove home his car because it was something with three letters like Geo or Ion or something and apparently cars with really short names also come with front-wheel drive and bicycle tires. Teddy didn't feel comfortable driving that thing home, so I did it. Guys in the back seat yelled at me to do things other than I was doing, because only Teddy and I knew the special terror of trying to maneuver that thing through anything other than a velodrome. When we got home, haggard and spent, I drove my Jeep home from his apartment and rolled my eyes at myself.
Events like that eventually solidified a picture of Teddy in my head: he was one of life's Donnys.
He had a hangdog way of saying "no" that stretched and depressed that single syllable, which he usually deployed after someone took a shot at him. His friends called him "ladylungs." He was a sweet, calm person who was stepped on by his friends for humor value. Many groups end up with a version of this person. A Donny.
Teddy died Sunday.
Apparently, lung transplants just up and get rejected even after you've had them for years. I know this now. I've read all the relevant wikipedia articles. I didn't then, but when he went into the hospital six weeks ago I heard he wasn't coming out until he'd had a second transplant. That combined with a second fact—there was one place that had done a second transplant in the US—to paint a clear picture. He was on and off lists, got pneumonia, was heavily sedated as his lungs once again betrayed him, and finally there was no way out.
Like the rest of my interaction with his disease, it happened away from me. I was insulated and relied on second-hand reports. I don't know if that's good or bad. The funeral will be a shock.
I had a phase a few months ago where I thought boxing was really interesting all of a sudden. I didn't really know why then. I just watched some boxing, and found it interesting.
I think I figured it out thanks to two images from the recent Pacquiao-Marquez fight. The first is this shot of Filipinos reacting to the Marquez knockout:
Twitter blew up with GIFs immediately after the knockout so I'd already seen what happened but this shot and the accompanying article made me feel like an idiot for forgetting about boxing and not finding some way to watch the fight.
And then I noticed Marquez had a beer's name on his genitals. Maybe you have just done this as well. When it happened to me the photograph reconfigured itself into a splash of corporate logos covering literally every available surface in the shot save the ref and the boxers' skin itself—and anyone who had a passing familiarity with the idea of boxers in the mid-aughts knows that Golden Palace made even that a billboard for a time.
Marquez is still there, damaged. A guy in a suit is craning his neck to see Pacquaio. A ringside photographer in red is too shocked to do his job even though that would also consist of looking at what has happened. Rows further back every mouth is agape. The sea of logos recedes again. A real, archipelago-crushing thing is still there.
I understand my temporary boxing fascination better today. Eventually it comes down to two men in a ring. Despite the legendary loathsomeness of everything surrounding those two guys, they can overcome it. Judging outrages are at least evidence that what happened inside the ring was worthy of getting mad about, and people get mad and fume about the things that are so deranged and greedy about this thing they love and then they sulk for a bit and then go on and get on with it because sometimes it's worth it anyway, and when else has anyone in the background of those pictures felt like that?
The core of the thing is still there, whether it's boxing or football. Before there were hundreds of thousands of people who were obsessed with men running into each other, they still ran into each other. The answer to "why?" is always "tribalism" or "I don't know, some people are strange." They didn't have much motivation. Life was short and could have been spent in a mine, I guess.
Anthony left, Teddy right
Here is the thing that caused me to combine Teddy's obituary with an already-developing post on trying to focus on the core of the sporting activity that has made said activity a worldwide thing people do or watch.
We went to open skate at Yost one day with some other people. At Yost, I discovered that ice skating is not quite entirely unlike rollerblading. Since I can do the latter, that was unfortunate. While I had the ability to stay upright, it was only just. Never in the history of gliding has there been a less elegant demonstration of it. There have been uncontrolled bathtubs sent down ski hills who made a better show of it. I was not good.
Teddy was, and this was a shock to me. I don't know. I must of assumed he'd spent the 20 years before the transplant in a bubble. He had evidently spent many of them on skates, and here was the second shock: placed in an environment of comfort and advantage, Teddy was no Donny. He was a dick, in that way you are to your friends. People must think that way about me outside the context in which I am worse than an unguided bathtub. I smiled tightly, and took it, and filed that one away nice and clear.
I related this story on Sunday and found that Anthony, who'd played on various teams with him for the last few years, had stories about misconducts Teddy had acquired—plural. And that the normally serene, "no"-deploying Teddy would on occasion (just on occasion) curse blue streaks at refs. He remained fundamentally Teddy, so the fact that he of all people was the one to acquire misconduct was a never-live-it-down-type situation.
Anthony told us that late, when Teddy's lungs had started going, he remembers a phase in which he couldn't get to pucks he used to—his game was always speed—and how he was downhearted after the game, apologizing to the team for something grim and outside of his control.
That's the thing, though. When we take something as plainly artificial as putting metal on your feet to skate around a perfectly manicured ice sheet so we can put a rubber disk in the right place, things are or are not. Ambiguities are ruthlessly hewed away and people do or do not. And it is unfair that when college kid under extreme duress does something bad that there is a hot flash of anger and wonderment that anyone could be such a holistic-complete-total failure, just like it was unfair that Teddy blamed himself for his lungs. When I heard that I thought about Marquez, and Manny Pacquiao, and if Pacquiao would had the same inevitable/bizarre reaction when he came to.
It is real no matter how many barnacles attach themselves. The thing does this to you. Watch or play and it transforms you. I'll avail myself of that for as long as I can.
I mean, I just realized every interaction in this post is about sports. I heard Teddy was in the hospital as I walked to Yost. And when Anthony asked a heavily-sedated Teddy if he was going to listen to the hockey game Friday, Teddy's eyes un-rolled and got real big and he solemnly shook his head "no" and I laughed when I heard that because I saw that South Park too and I knew what that "no" sounded like even if his lungs wouldn't let him speak.
You can't throw a rock today without hitting a piece on Joe Paterno, and I'll add my bit. I've read a half-dozen of them and feel myself drawn to the portions that focus on his ignoble demise at the hands of a long-overdue grand jury investigation into Jerry Sandusky. The ones that skip it entirely, as many PSU-based POVs do, or attempt to put it "in perspective" seem to be succumbing to the same disease that felled everyone when Nixon died and people scrambled for good things to say about him other than "he's dead."
Paterno is not Nixon, obviously. Nixon is the most obvious public funeral held in which ill things were not spoken of the dead due to social taboo, rather than reason. I dislike that natural impulse to whitewash. When Christopher Hitchens died I spent a lot of time reading his withering obituaries just to watch him stick the knife in and twist. If that makes me ruthless, okay.
I just can't get over how it all came crashing down. Not only did Paterno and the culture he created shelter Sandusky, Paterno did not seem to feel remorse for half a second. Maybe this is just an addled old man speaking but it is appalling that this came out of his mouth at the impromptu pep rally at his home in the immediate aftermath of the grand jury's testimony:
The kids that were victims or whatever they want to say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them. Tough life, when people do certain things to you. Anyway, you’ve been great. Everything’s great, all right.
Virtually the entire media edited Paterno's statement into a less awful version because their sense of propriety could not grasp the words that had actually come out of his mouth. This was Joe Paterno. He couldn't have said that. He shouldn't have said anything. He should have been in his house crying to his wife, finally realizing the monstrous consequences of his inaction.
Instead he seemed to think of himself as a victim. A lot of people find ways to blame themselves for massive tragedies they are not responsible for. Paterno was oblivious to his role to the end. Maybe that's forgivable to some people who look at the donations and the football coaching and the Great Experiment. Not me. I have great respect for Chris Grovich of Black Shoe Diaries but I can't read this…
Behind Joe Paterno's Beaver Stadium statue are the words, "Educator, Coach, Humanitarian." They really could have been arranged in any order.
…without inserting "child rape enabler" in any order. That phrase overwhelms the rest. If he did lead a program that strove to prove it was capable of operating at a higher plane that just makes it worse. He was held up—he held himself up—as a man who could achieve success on and off the field in a way that others could not.
Maybe any one of us would have done the same thing if confronted by the terrible truth about a long-time friend. Maybe 90% of people would not have had the courage to blow up a reputation so carefully crafted over such a long period. Maybe Joe Paterno was just being human.
That's not enough when you have a statue. Paterno wasn't supposed to be human, he was supposed to be Joe Paterno. He wasn't and now he never was. He had over a decade to do something about Sandusky and did not. That is no mistake, or misjudgment, or error. It is immensely sad, but in the end Paterno failed his charge more spectacularly than a man who dared less would have. You can call him Icarus if you want; I'm not inclined to give him that benefit of the doubt. The costs were not worth the attempt.
The statue is Joe Paterno now. The man is dead. Hopefully the idea behind the statue can help people be better than the man turned out to be.
[Editor's note: Orson and I both go for the statue conceit. We've seen people crying or overturning news vans in its vicinity it every 30 seconds over the past few months, so maybe not a huge surprise.]
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.]