Fred Jackson has been a fixture at Michigan going back not one but two undefeated seasons. He arrived in 1992 to join Gary Moeller's staff. Since then, including a two-season stint as Lloyd Carr's first offensive coordinator, Jackson coached (and showered superfluous praise upon) over 100 running backs.
This site has correctly pointed out numerous flaws in the RBs over the last few seasons. It's difficult to diagnose what's coaching and what's just a certain back's ability. Every time we run into Vincent Smith, which is often, either Brian or I have pestered him about why nobody else can block like he could, and Vince just smiles and says "it's hard." Jackson himself has said that vision and ability are nature, blocking is a mentality, and the most he can really do is teach them whom to block.
|Best Backs of the Jackson Era|
|*Powers had another 1,945 yds at
5.07 YPA prior to Jackson's arrival
His results are mixed; Jackson coached four of the top ten leading rushers in school history (and his guys blocked for a fifth). On the other hand only two of his guys—Wheatley and Biakubutuka—cracked 5 yards per carry for their careers, a feat accomplished by nine of the guys coached by Jackson's predecessor Tirrell Burton.
What isn't hard to find is effusive praise about Jackson as a person and as a coach, from his former wards to high school coaches across Michigan. Like the coaches of Canham's era, Fred is a permanent fixture of the Michigan Athletic Department, a relationship that goes back to when Fred was Rick Leach's quarterbacks coach in high school.
The thing that really kept Jackson here through the tenure of four coaches was his ability to recruit the state of Michigan. There was a time when Michigan barely had to work to get homegrown kids, when Michigan Replay was the best access most local coaches had to any college football program, and the local press ignored anyone else. Today the in-state rival is on a roll, and there are as many Saban/Perles/Duffy/Dantonio guys in the state's coaching ranks as there are Michigan dudes. While Michigan's mainstream beat has four Rosenbergs trying to make a name for themselves at the expense of the program for every Angelique, the Spartans own an army of slappies. The current generation of recruits were born after the peak of Carr, and can only remember a few crazy 4-point wins over Notre Dame as great Michigan moments.
Michigan has veritably owned Michigan regardless.
This month, Jackson retired, the position he held for 23 years going to one of his first acolytes at Michigan. I choose not to let such a career pass quietly. I also choose not to review his career statistically, or at least not by utter performance. Rather, I'd like to chart our way through this long career in simple carries. Full data is here.
The bar graphs after the jump don't tell a story; they're there help jog the stories of so many storied running backs and fullbacks to come through here since I was 12.
[After the jump, a review of the backs in the Time of Jackson and the carry distribution between them from game to game.]
You don't need to be told that much about Tyrone Wheatley's origin story. If you're a pup, here you go:
Wheatley's career rushing average is second only to Denard Robinson at Michigan.
After that, Wheatley was a first round pick of the Raiders who had a decade-long NFL career during which he morphed from the fastest damn guy you've ever seen to a reliable pounder. A couple years after he retired he went into coaching, first at his high school alma mater, then as a running backs coach at an increasingly prestigious series of institutions: Ohio Northern, Eastern Michigan, Syracuse, and then the Bills. When Doug Marrone opted out of his Bills contract, Wheatley was on the open market and came home.
Here is the most spectacularly short coaching bio in history:
Tyrone Wheatley, a former NFL running back, will enter his second season as an assistant coach with the Buffalo Bills in 2014 and continues to oversee the team’s running backs.
Good job, good effort, Bills.
I have no idea if Wheatley's a good coach. I mean, he probably is, but it is hard to tell anything from stats. Football Outsiders has some running back stats in which the Bills two main backs fare poorly, but they're undrafted 33-year-old journeymanFred Jackson (not that Fred Jackson) and sixth-rounder Anthony Dixon operating behind an offensive line that FO's stats don't like much either.
His tenure at Syracuse seems relatively successful:
- In 2010, Wheatley arrives. Returning starter Delone Carter is coming off a season in which he barely cracked a thousand yards at 4.3 a pop; his final season sees his YPC jump a full yard.
- In 2011, senior Antwon Bailey ascends to the top job with grim results.
- In 2012, juniors Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley both have excellent production, collectively rushing for almost 2,000 yards at 5.2 a pop.
How much of that is due to tailback talent versus tailback coaching is hard to figure out, and then there's the whole blocking business that's important. I can just barely use stats to say a DBs coach is pretty good—with running backs it's hopeless. One year tenures at small schools aren't going to tell us much of anything, either.
Unfortunately, Tyrone Wheatley's kid is also named Tyrone Wheatley so attempts to track down anything about the elder's recruiting are swamped by articles about the younger. (Fortunately, the younger Wheatley is a four-star recruit with offers from the likes of Alabama who is now expected to end up at Michigan.)
Wheatley after his last game at 'Cuse, a Pinstripe Bowl win over WVU:
Also, an article on Wheatley's move to Syracuse:
So, is Syracuse home?
"Syracuse is a great opportunity...Michigan is home."
Wheatley’s ultimate dream is running his own team, but doesn't plan on Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon calling his number soon, or ever.
"Sometimes, as a human being, you have to know your limitations,” Wheatley said. “I've played in the Big House, and I know what it would take to run a program in the Big House. That is too much of a monster for me."
That's a sort of humility uncommon in coaches, though the reason Dave Brandon didn't call his number wasn't so much about Wheatley. He's also got a unique perspective on loyalty:
"Some coaches forget that they played,” Wheatley said. “When one of my players walks into the room, I can generally guess what's wrong--I've been down that road. Not just about X's and O's, it's about caring about the person. One of the great things Gary Moeller did for me is caring about me as a person. Can't get to the football player without getting to the person."
Wheatley is also intensely loyal to the idea of tradition.
"When I become a head coach, that's it, I plan on retiring there," he said. …
"I want to see 15, 20 graduating classes,” he said. “I want my players, who have fertilized that field with their blood, sweat, and tears, to come back and know they always have a place at the school, and that I'm going to be there."
That passion bodes well for the recruiting trail for as long as Michigan can hold on to Wheatley.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
RB coaches are often recruiters first because tailback is a spot where you've either got it or you don't. Wheatley promises to bring buckets of that as a famous program alum with a deep-seated passion for Michigan; he's also focused on being a head coach someday and the best way to get there is to kill it at Michigan. He's almost certainly going to be lights-out wherever they deploy him. The bet here is in-state and in the New York area.
As a coach… I don't think anyone could tell you. He's got all the experience you could want there, at least, and his quick rise to the NFL and then Michigan is encouraging. Yeah, his name helps. It's not everything. There are a number of other ex-Michigan guys who wanted to coach who didn't catch on so quickly.
And there is a coaching aspect. Michigan's seen a lot of wrong holes chosen and pass pickups airballed of late. Hopefully Michigan's backs will start improving at Michigan instead of after they leave now. For example: Mike Cox, Fitz Toussaint, Thomas Rawls.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE COACHING STAFF
We're in the home stretch here with everyone save Jimmie Dougherty and Roy Manning confirmed. Tolbert has just been officially anointed; we should hear about the other two guys in the near future here.
|OC||Tim Drevno||lock||DC||DJ Durkin||lock|
|QB||Jim Harbaugh||lock||DL||Greg Mattison||lock|
|WR||Jedd Fisch||lock||DB||Greg Jackson||lock|
|TE||Jimmie Dougherty||probable||ST||John Baxter||lock|
S&C: Kevin Tolbert.
If either of the unconfirmed guys gets knocked out it'll be for a subject matter expert. In Dougherty's case he might get passed over for a guy with more TE/OL experience; in Manning's that would be for a CBs coach.
So yesterday was the first time we really got to try out my brother's new double-TV basement setup. The plan was to watch all of the football for 14 straight hours, but once the Wisconsin game ended the kinderfolk had taken over TV2 and put on the movie that the current generation of kinderfolk cannot stop watching: Frozen. During one lengthy halftime, we acquiesced to a volume swap, and soon enough here's this room full of men in MSU and Alabama and Michigan gear intently watching a (double-) princess flick.
|This won the internet' in December. By Red_Lee|
From what I've managed to piece together of the plot from 30+ partial viewings, there's a snowy kingdom with a rich shipping and ice manufacturing industrial base that comes to be ruled by a princess with magical ice powers. As a kid she shoots her sister with it. Later the sister gets engaged to a prince she doesn't bother to scout, and as a result ice princess accidentally locks her country in a polar vortex. Ice princess then runs off, sings "eff it all" and builds ice castles until her sister shows up, at which point she shoots her sister again. So now she has to come back and make things right, which leads to her shooting her sister a third time, and this slowly turns sis into an ice statue. Then ice princess hugs the statue and cries, and everything suddenly goes back to summer because all along she had the ability to de-ice everything by loving something other than herself.
Message received, Disney. Now that Michigan's leadership is actually focusing on the realm instead of the realm's perception of its leadership, it turns out our wealthy little Nordic fantasy land doesn't have to be a barren, frozen waste-tundra after all.
Bronxblue gave the whole coaching search his Best and Worst treatment. Like the rest of us, he found the whole thing refreshingly sensical, like Michigan was acknowledging factors that created bad decisions in the past, and was approaching the pursuit of Harbaugh and Plan B with a zeal for deliberation and responsibility that Dave Brandon put into presenting himself as deliberate and responsible.
He also got into the meta of reporting on this process. As a rule of thumb, the more a media person is saying "trust ME" instead of "trust THIS INFORMATION" the less you should believe him.
[After the jump, a long discussion of the running game next year, and a moment of zen you don't want to miss]
The highlight of the pre-season, right here:
At the link LSA Superstar broke down every rep from the above, though the times seem off. I don't know why De'Veon Smith wasn't in them at all. There's one where Ross is going against Samuelson with Ty Isaac the RB, and…
REP 15 @ 1:43
O: D. Samuelson (OL)
D: J. Ross III (LB)
T: T. Isaac (RB)
Ross pops into Samuelson, who is slow to react. Ross is in control but HOLY SHIT Isaac squares and totally buries Ross with a shoulder shiver. Isaac is running with extreme power here - Ross didn't have a chance.
That happens at 1:16 actually. Takeaways from a single drill that the offense is supposed to win: Samuelson is still a ways away from figuring (that's totally expected), Ross is what he is (smart, great at anticipating, still smallish), and whoa Ty Isaac; I'm not 100% sure the outcome would have been different if you replaced Ross with Pipkins there.
|Guessing we'll be doing a lot of RB rating this season as Michigan tries to settle on which of the four backs is more effective. [Fuller]|
FYI yes it's Isaac; Smith wears #4 and for some reason that could be "don't injure the starter" he doesn't appear in the drill. By the way his nickname is "Honey Badger" now.
Speaking of rating rushers. Hero of the diaries MCalibur graced us with 2,800 words to create a metric for rating rushers—RBs/QBs/FBs/etc.—by mixing the touchdown rate and fumble rate with adjusted yards per attempt. I was particularly impressed by how he elegantly challenged the longstanding arbitrary assumption that 20 yards was a "big" play by showing the standard deviation on runs is 7.5 and the average run is about 4 yards, so a "big" play can be defined as one that goes beyond the standard deviation, i.e. 12 yards or more should be the standard for a breakaway run.
The result is something like a passer rating for RBs, and a chart with the contributing factors broken out. Unfortunately scheme and opponent and skill around the player etc. have a major influence: Toussaint's 68% went-forward rate is probably 15% his fault. Ameer Abdullah's fumble rate and low TD rate appeared to damage him, but how much of that is on Nebraska being so bend-don't-break and then trying to Abdullah their way across the 50 yard line before letting Tommy pass?
So it's not ready to enter the pantheon of stats yet, but it's still a remarkable example of what people will accomplish when you give them free stats to work with.
Speaking of tons of fascinating and useful data, for free… MCalibur mentioned cfbstats as his resource but I'm guessing he downloaded his data awhile ago, since going there now just sends you to data hoarding company Marty now works for.
The good news is last time I mentioned that in this space a reader offered to help us scrub NCAA data and reproduce that, and Mathlete jumped on the project, and there's now a very long email chain that I'm CC'ed on but has gotten way beyond my comprehension that should sometime in the coming months result in a comprehensive stats page on this site, with all of our base data available to download for free. Finally there will be a place you can go on the internet to get free, sane football stats (other than FO) that treat sacks as passing plays and tempo as something that exists. It also converts "ATH"s to positions, and will classify an Arizona "SB" as a running back and a Northwestern "SB" as a tight end. That place will be here. #ilovemyreaders!
There's a thread on the board about other changes that are coming to the site this season, what you'd like to see.
Etc. Ace is tracking the blowout tour of Italy. Lanyard Program is cutting back on the programs. Get your off-topic topics out of your system by tomorrow. Remember the Hindenberg and the other thing like it wallpaper. A more elegant wallpaper.
[Jump for the best of the board]
With the least amount of fanfare to ever accompany a 5-star athlete to Michigan, Ty Isaac committed here a few weeks ago. Where does Ty fit in among the RBs on the roster, in a zone running offense? What's the chances he has to redshirt his year? Are we, you know, rooting for this? What effect does this have on the RBs Michigan's pursuing for the 2015 class? Can he block a safety blitz? Can anyone?
BiSB: Well, any time you have someone transfer, that's going to hurt overall depth, but they still have...
...wait, really? TO Michigan? And this is permitted?
|We are way too good of a photoshopping community to get this few transfers.|
If what John Infante and others have said is true, it seems unlikely Isaac will be eligible this season. Maybe the NCAA will try to show how SUPER DUPER FLEXIBLE AND PRO-STUDENT WE ARE YOU GUYS given the ongoing legal troubles and grant a waiver where they normally wouldn't, though this is the NCAA so who wants odds. But that works out just fine; Michigan retroactively took a five star back for the '14 class. And because neither DeVeon Smith nor Derrick Green redshirted (and neither destroyed the planet as a freshman), having now taken a running back last year is currently a good plan. Take THAT, space-time continuum.
I'm going to disagree with what Brian said shortly after Isaac committed; I think his game film looks really good. We're used to seeing recruiting tape against high schoolers, so you expect a certain amount of physical dominance and sending-home-of-competition-to-acquire-shinebox. And normally they are actual highlights, not every touch. But for a true freshman against real college competition, he showed flashes of the stuff you like to see from a freshman for whom you have high hopes: he broke tackles, found extra yardage, fell forward, and showed good speed for his size. He also caught the ball well out of the backfield, which is something Michigan hasn't had in a back over 5'8" in quite some time. If any Michigan back looked like that last year, we would have all been much pleased. Okay, okay, that's probably not the best standard to use. But you get my point.
I think he's a great fit for an inside/outsize zone running scheme, because he's definitely a one-cut-and-go back but still a downhill guy. It's hard to know whether he's better suited than Green or Smith, largely because those two spent last year in a "run toward that pile of angry dudes" rushing scheme. Bottom line is that regardless of what happens with Damien Harris or Mikey Weber or Jacques Patrick, the running back depth chart looks pretty good for '15 and '16. We can worry about '17 later.
[jump. And run. And other superhuman abilities!]
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE THREE *YARDS* AND A CLOUD OF DUST
Rating: 4 of 5. Yeah, I said it.
|FEATURE BACK||Yr.||SHORT YARDAGE||Yr.||3RD DOWN||YR.|
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||Sr.*||Derrick Green||Fr.||Justice Hayes||So.*|
|De'Veon Smith||Fr.||Thomas Rawls||Jr.||Fitzgerald Toussaint||Sr.*|
|Drake Johnson||Fr.*||De'Veon Smith||Fr.||Drake Johnson||Fr.*|
The Man Comes Around
"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer that could approach six yards a carry." –Albert Camus
Toussaint rehabbed with a vengeance, and went into spring camp with a vengeance, and hopes to confront the Big Ten in superhero outfit and big guns this fall. His coaches have taken notice. Borges:
"Fitz has got fire in his eyes. I see no signs of any injury ... He is very hungry.
"One thing about running backs, it's not like the lines. You get to see them cut, even if it's not live or not with pads on. His stop and go ability looks to be right back where it was."
Fullback Joe Kerridge looks like a cross between a refrigerator and a bear (more on this in the Tight End And Friends section) and says Toussaint outworked even him over the summer:
"He busted his butt to get back before the start of camp. It seemed like every time I went in this summer to lift or do conditioning, Fitz was already there and he would still be there after I left."
When fall camp launched, the immediate and consistent buzz was that Toussaint was back to his old self—his old-old self. Tellingly, the coaches didn't dance around the topic like they do on most every other personnel battle. First he was back, then he was playing very well, then he was leading, and then it was his job, full stop.
So… what now?
[after THE JUMP: Yeah, what now? Freshmen are large men. A replacement for Vincent Smith, and veterans trying to hold off the youngsters.]