national champs baby
three and out
Brian has already fled the scene for whereabouts unknown, but he left behind part the second of John U. Bacon's Q&A. If you're looking for part one, click here.
8) FIRING PROCESS.
What did Dave Brandon say in his 2 hour meeting with Rich Rod the day before he was fired? Everyone including Rodriguez thought he'd be fired so why string it out like that?
Good question. Rodriguez told me that night in his home, between the two meetings, that he believed Brandon hoped that afternoon that Rodriguez would make it easy for him by conceding that things hadn’t gone as planned, it was all too much, and Rodriguez was ready to negotiate his departure. Rodriguez thought Brandon was surprised to see Rodriguez digging in his heels, asserting his eagerness to coach a fourth season, and displaying his confidence that 2011 would be the year his team would take off.
That night, Rodriguez told me he was “90-percent certain” Brandon would fire him the next day, which he did, “as expected,” as Rodriguez told his assistants after the meeting. For his part, Brandon stated at the press conference that he was still tossing the question over in his mind that very morning, though – as I wrote in the book – that seems very unlikely for such a calculating man.
So, why drag it out? Since this boils down to speculation, something I’ve tried to avoid, your guess is as good as mine. The book does point out, however, the indisputable effects the delay had on Rodriguez, his players, and the program, which don’t require speculation, namely: Rodriguez declined Maryland’s offer in December, which would have provided a safe haven for him, his coaches, and any players who might want to transfer, particularly Denard Robinson. It gave Brandon more time to set the stage for Brady Hoke, a relative unknown at the time. And, after the Gator Bowl, it made it very difficult for even Rodriguez’s most fervent supporters to defend retaining him. Whether these results were intended or not, they certainly helped pave the way for Brandon to hire Hoke, and for Hoke to succeed, with the team intact.
9) HYPOTHETICAL 2011.
Did Rich Rod ever hint at changes that would be made to his staff if he was retained for 2011?
He told me he was definitely going to make changes. With a few games to go in the 2010 season – after the Illinois game, I believe -- when it was already quite obvious the offense was working as well as the defense wasn’t, Brandon met with Rodriguez to discuss the future. He asked if Rodriguez was so loyal to his staff that he was not willing to make changes. Rodriguez replied that he was loyal to his staff, but he understood that changes needed to be made, and he was willing to make them, including replacing the entire defensive staff. Just as important, of course, would be the next step: figuring out who would replace them, starting with a new defensive coordinator.
To do so effectively, Brandon would need to offer competitive salaries and guaranteed contracts – as he’s done for Hoke’s staff -- which would have committed him to Rodriguez for probably two more years, minimum. Obviously, after the Gator Bowl, that was not going to happen.
10) DID BACON EVER GET A SENSE FOR WHAT RODRIGUEZ WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY IF HE HAD A TIME MACHINE?
It’s part of the psychology of the big-time college coach, I’ve noticed, not to look back very often, not to indulge regret, and not to admit too many mistakes. Schembechler got better at the latter over time, for example, but only so much. Most of them don’t think too much about the past unless prompted – and even then, their failings are not usually at the top of the list of things they mention. They tend to be confident and stubborn in equal measure.
Nonetheless, I think there are several things we can conclude based partly on Rodriguez’s comments, but more on his decisions since becoming Arizona’s head coach. He clearly had prepared for his first press conference -- closing with the Wildcats’ signature slogan, “Bear Down!” -- something he had failed to do before his Ann Arbor introduction. I’m sure he wishes he had phrased things differently during any number of press conferences, although he would be likely to blame the interpretation of his remarks as much as the remarks themselves.
The fact that he’s currently working much harder to get WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Castell to join him than he had in 2007 tells you something, too. (Whether or not Arizona has the resources to lure Casteel to Tucson, however, remains to be seen.) And I suspect you’ve seen the last of Rodriguez calling for an inspirational song at a football banquet.
I think it’s pretty clear both Michigan and Rodriguez have learned a lot from those three years. I suspect both parties have read the book, too, and taken away some lessons. Brady Hoke is already off and running, while working to unite the family, and if Rodriguez gets Casteel (or a similarly good fit) at Arizona, I would expect him to do very well there, too.
11) PEOPLE YOU'D LIKE TO TALK TO.
I'd like to know the list of the people he most wanted to interview for the book and what his primary question would be for each one.
I’m satisfied that we reported everything that could be reported fairly. I followed the team non-stop for three seasons, compiling 10,000 pages of notes, and writing 2,000 pages. I don’t think readers will ever get a more thorough look inside a major college football program.
No reporter gets everyone he wants to speak on the record for a book, but we came very close. Of the hundreds of people I asked to interview, only six people declined: three at West Virginia, cited above, and three at Michigan: Scott Draper, President Coleman and Coach Carr. Given the eyewitness testimonies of hundreds of others, the first five could simply deny what other witnesses have said, on the record. They have so far declined to do so.
To me, there is only one important question that hasn’t been answered: Why did Coach Carr reach out to Rich Rodriguez, recommend him to Bill Martin, then invite his players to transfer immediately after Rodriguez was hired, all in the same week? As I wrote in the book, “on its face, it seems like a simple, generous offer to look out for people he cared about – and, in fairness, that was probably part of his motive.” But it’s also true that of the dozen-plus witness I’ve talked to, all of them interpreted it as a pre-emptive vote of no-confidence for the new coach. However, until Coach Carr chooses to speak – if he does, that is – I’ll leave that answer blank.
[Errors, the Threet thing, reactions from Rosenberg and Brandon, and additional notes covered after the jump.]
The ever-loquacious John Bacon gave me 6k words on the following questions about Three and Out that seemed to touch on most of the questions provided in the comments and via email. As per usual, we'll split that into two posts, the second of which will run tomorrow. Unfortunately, the answer to "why Greg Robinson?" turns out to be "I don't know, either," but some things are just unexplainable.
The book seemed reasonably two-sided once things got to Michigan. The WV stuff is more one-sided -- just Rich's POV. Did JUB see anything that supported WV's position in those 'negotiations'/lawsuits?
As stated in the book, then-Governor Joe Manchin and former A.D. Eddie Pastilong did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. Ousted WVU president Mike Garrison entertained the idea, and I went so far as to send him several questions in the hopes of encouraging him to cooperate. We talked on the phone a couple times, and at one point he asked if I was for or against Rich Rodriguez. I told him I simply wanted to find the truth. He declined, saying he couldn’t answer the questions if he didn’t know where I stood. That seemed odd—it seems to me you either know what happened and what you think about it or you don’t—but that’s his decision.
I don’t think their silence left much out, however, because we were able to get five other central figures to speak freely, and on the record—and in each case, at considerable personal risk. Ike Morris owns an oil and gas company in Glenville, WV; Dave Alvarez is the president and CEO of a construction company in Meadowbrook, WV; Paul Astorg owns a Mercedes Benz dealership, and Matt Jones owns a handful of convenience stores, both in Parkersburg. Don Nehlen, the former West Virginia head coach, is now a spokesman for the coal industry. None of them have ever been Michigan boosters, but all have been long-time boosters for the Mountaineers, before, during and after the Rodriguez era. They are all private businessmen who depend on their reputations to be successful. They have a deep knowledge of West Virginia football politics, with close ties to all sides, and had no incentive to do anything other than throw Rodriguez under the bus and extoll West Virginia’s leadership. None of them had anything tangible to gain by speaking to me on the record, with a lot to lose. Yet they all did.
So, while I would have liked to get the above three people on the record, the people I spoke to answered every question I had, on the record, which I believe gives the reader almost everything they need to know about what happened in West Virginia.
As for the lawsuit, I assume the reader is referring to the buy-out provision in Rodriguez’s West Virginia contract. While Rodriguez maintained that the president, Matt Garrison, had promised him they’d cut it in half if he wanted to leave, which the above subjects confirmed, the contract was nonetheless legally binding. West Virginia University was well within its rights to sue for all four million, which Michigan and Rodriguez ultimately acknowledged, and paid.
2) LLOYD CARR
If JUB had to make a guess as to what caused in the great Carr switcheroo (from making first contact with RR to the continuous cold shoulder), what would it be? And does JUB think Carr informed the Freep investigation?
Before I delve into this, I’ve noticed some confusion over the timeline in some of the posts I’ve seen. Clarifying the sequence of events should clear up a lot of this.
On Monday night, December 10, 2007, Rodriguez received a call from Lloyd Carr, which marked the first direct contact Rodriguez had from someone representing Michigan. (Rodriguez was my source, and his recollection of it was consistent in a handful of accounts over a couple years.)
On Tuesday, December 11, Lloyd Carr told Bill Martin that Rodriguez would be a good candidate. This marked the first time someone within the department had made this suggestion to Martin, according to Martin himself, whose recollection of the conversation was also consistent over several interviews.
On Friday, December 14, Rodriguez met with President Coleman and Bill Martin in Toledo, and agreed on the basic tenets of a potential agreement.
On Sunday, December 16, the deal was finalized, via phone and fax.
On Monday, December 17, Rodriguez met Lloyd Carr outside the Junge Center for a brief handshake, on his way in to his first Ann Arbor press conference, where he would be named Michigan’s next coach.
After Rodriguez returned to Morgantown that day to start packing, Coach Carr met with his team a day or two later for a suddenly scheduled morning meeting, and offered to sign the transfer papers of anyone who wanted to leave. This has been corroborated by over a dozen people in the meeting room that day – both staffers and players – plus the Big Ten compliance office, Bill Martin, and Judy Van Horn, who spoke on the record about the day and its aftermath. The reporting of these events is air-tight.
It’s important to note, looking at this timeline, that all this occurred before Carr got to know Rodriguez, and before Rodriguez met with any of Carr’s assistant coaches or players. Thus, the idea that Carr offered to sign his players’ transfer forms only after he became concerned about how Rodriguez would treat his assistants and players is hard to believe. For whatever reason, before Rodriguez had met any of those people, Carr had made up his mind to help his players transfer.
Until Coach Carr speaks, I can’t say why he called the transfer meeting. (As stated before, I made repeated requests to interview him at his convenience. While he declined to respond, I have since confirmed there is no question he received my requests and made a firm decision not to reply.) But I can say that he definitely did call the transfer meeting, that it was a premeditated decision—based on Draper’s call to compliance to have the forms and personnel ready to process the anticipated flood of requests—and it occurred before Rodriguez met any of his assistants or players.
Yes, I have a theory as to why, but it’s just that. Some have suggested that it’s my job as a journalist to fill in the blank with my best guess, but I believe the opposite is true: it’s a journalist’s job not to do so. If my theory proves wrong, it would unfairly influence public opinion, and might be difficult to reverse. (I’ve seen this happen frequently during the past three years.) Until Carr decides to answer such questions, I am going to let the facts above stand, and the readers can come to their own conclusions.
Carr’s speaking on these issues might help his cause, but as we’ve seen with other subjects who were interviewed for the book, it might not. If Carr had simple, innocent answers to the questions above, it would not be hard for him to find friendly journalists in the local media happy to communicate his message, directly or indirectly, as he has done in the past. To date, he has not attempted to do so.
[CARA, Shafer, Robinson (Denard and Greg), and the emotional stability of Rodriguez post-jump.]
Michigan is 7-1 right now with four winnable games on the horizon. We have an excellent coaching staff and a team and fanbase united behind them. We have a top 5 recruiting class, yet one of the cleanest programs in the Top 25, and one of the hungriest. A victory over Ohio State this year for the first time seems at least 50% likely. The defense is young but competent, the offense scares people. We have all the Denards.
It took me three sessions to get through Three and Out, and after each one I had to repeat some variation of the above mantra to recalibrate. The book is about the program and the team from the perspective of Rodriguez, it has a hard Michigan bias and got at least one minor fact wrong,* but as an RR-era survivor I couldn't help experiencing it again as a fan. Reliving the Rod years is not a particularly enjoyable experience.
* He gives the program credit for giving Kovacs, an out-of-state player, a scholarship despite out-of-state tuition being much higher, but the AD—and I'm 99.999% sure about this—pays the same (full) cost of attendance for every student athlete. Everyone costs the maximum whether they're suburban Toledo defensive backs, underclass volleyball strikers from Algonac, or intergalactic space punters in the B-school.
What struck me most when reading Bacon's book was how important those years made this all seem. He mentions match points a lot; there were a lot of match points, and not just the football game ones. Like every article in every rag across the country that ragged on our coaches meant organizing a counter-defense. We were blogging for our very lives!
The second, and longest, of those sessions ended around page 415, or Location 8691 for you Kindle readers. Rodriguez was giving his speech at the infamous Bust, moments before the Great Groban-ing finally tipped the scales. I quote the passage:
"We all need to be ONE Michigan. One Michigan. Proud of every era. Proud of every young man, every student athlete who went through this program…
After giving a nod to Michigan tradition, he was now speaking of what his coaches were doing to turn their players into a team of Michigan Men. Now that he understood Michigan traditions, Michigan needed to extend him the respect he needed to lead the program…
The raw emotion of the speech went up a notch.
"Is this worth it?" Behind that question stood all the personal and professional costs of the past three years. "Is this worth it for your family?" he asked, getting choked up.
The answer wasn't clear-cut. It wasn't a matter of feeling sorry for yourself, he said, though the temptation was always there. It was instead seeing "the pain in the coaches' faces and worry and anxiety in your kids' faces." He wasn't speaking just of the losses but also of the personal attacks and the seemingly endless public trial he and his staff and players had been put through.
But, unequivocally, Rodriguez said, the answer was yes. Yes, it was worth it. It was worth it because the differences made in the lives of everyone attached to the program, said, and because of his unquestioning faith in the future greatness of his players and team.
And right there I had to painfully leave it for a day of work. I knew as well as you do where this was going, but without its infamous conclusion I got to ponder the content of the Bust speech and mentally fill in my own ending. In it I had him define "Michigan" and confront the idea of factions…
"If you ask me what side I'm on it's for these players, and the ideals of hard work, excellence, education, loyalty, and honesty which they embody—in a word, 'Michigan.' If you ask our own living legend, Lloyd Carr, who stood as a rock of integrity in a business that makes a mockery of it, what side he's on, it's 'Michigan.' If you ask our millions of fans and alumni what faction they're with, it'll be Michigan! Michigan! Michigan!" etc.
…and then come back to "Is it worth it," where "it" isn't just poor Rich and his staff but the players and the program. This is the thing that Hoke "gets" that Rodriguez didn't: there's nothing that can galvanize Michigan fans like talk about how great Michigan is, and the unity of the fanbase is all-important.
Of course he didn't take that tack but before he Groban-ed himself out of the job Rodriguez did give us a question worth pondering: "Was it worth it?"
Well was it? All the battles, all the interminable defenses, all the GERG and gimpy Gibsonesque defensive backing? The transfers, the divisiveness, the losing, the jihad—were these all worth it if that was the price to chip off the hubris from our program's unique idealism?
The RR years left us with a defense so bad it would literally need the Baltimore Ravens' D.C. and more than one outstanding freshman to even get to okay. It also left a team and a fanbase more united behind our program and our ideals than anytime in recent memory. We may have had to throw one of the rare good guys who can actually coach under the bus to get there, but we did get there. Other than a bit of whining last February, the mistakes made in the last transition have not been repeated, either inside Fort Schembechler or outside of it. The liars and the leaks were exposed. And these players, man. Can you remember a team more worth rooting for?
I got to the end of the book feeling more favorable toward Rodriguez than I was before, but ultimately, like Brian, still glad we've moved on from all that. But in some ways, I'm also glad he came. Because that subtext, the possibilities left unrealized at every match point, all the stuff that was on the tip of the tongue right before everything went Josh Groban, weirdly enough we got to keep all of that, and move on.
Michigan is 7-1 right now with four winnable games on the horizon. We have an excellent coaching staff and a team and fanbase united behind them. We have a top 5 recruiting class, yet one of the cleanest programs in the Top 25, and one of the hungriest. A victory over Ohio State this year for the first time seems at least 50% likely. The defense is young but competent, the offense scares people. We have all the Denards. Hoke and his staff have a lot to do with that, but a lot of that comes from what was built before them. In his own completely inelegant way, Rodriguez left a program in better shape than he found it. Perhaps that can be my last thought on him.
Strong language contained herein. Three and Out is a book about the short, tumultuous reign of Rich Rodriguez at Michigan.
[star wars text scrolling]
The week after Michigan collapsed against Illinois in 2009, they prepare to take on Purdue.
A weary Rodriguez wearily surveys his weary troops, because he has to or the media will write about other things…
[/star wars text scrolling]
The Friday night before the Purdue game, Rodriguez dug at his meal like a hungry prisoner who was sick of eating the same gray food every night. When I told him I was surprised that the guys seemed loose, like they were still having fun and staying positive, he stared at his food, paused, and said, “I don’t care.
“I don’t care anymore about trying to analyze the psychology of these guys, especially for the press. I just want them to freakin’ play. I’m sick of it.”
Sick of what?
“Everything. I’m sick of the situation I’m in. I’m sick of the crap I’ve got to deal with every week. I’m sick of people not taking responsibility.” A case could be made that all happiness is feeling like you have possibilities. When someone wins the lottery, he’s happy not because he won the lottery but because he suddenly has dozens of options he didn’t have the day before.
But the corollary is also true: All unhappiness is feeling like your options are shrinking and the world is closing in on you. That you’re trapped. Rich Rodriguez’s options were shrinking. By the time he arrived in Ann Arbor, it was clear he could not go back the way he had come. But after only twenty-one games at Michigan, it had become just as clear there would be only one way he could stay: winning football games. And fast.
Every Friday night, between the dinner and the movie, the offense and defense met separately with their coaches to go over the scouting report one last time. But this week, instead of reviewing the opponent, they reviewed a tape of their practices that week. The message was simple: The Illini didn’t beat the Wolverines. The Wolverines beat the Wolverines.
Job 1: Hold on to the damn ball. There was a reason John Heisman famously showed his players a football and said, “Gentlemen, it is better to have died a small boy than to fumble this football.”
But John Heisman never met Tate Forcier. On one play Rodriguez showed that night, Forcier held the ball like an oversized sponge and swung it around like he was washing his windows with it. Sure enough, the defense soon forced a fumble.
“High and tight, high and tight, high and tight,” Rodriguez said with relative calm. “Anything else is selfish. It shows disrespect for your teammates, and I know you’re not selfish, and I know you don’t want to disrespect your teammates.”
Here he was, going into the tenth game of the season, reviewing something they had covered on the first day of spring ball, the first day of summer practice, and just about every day since. It was pretty clear Rodriguez was tired of that, too.
But he knew it came with coaching young players, and he usually enjoyed the teaching process. But they were repeating the same lessons too often, which became especially aggravating when he had no idea how many lessons they would get.
Job 2: In the spread option offense, the quarterback has to take three steps and throw it. Not four steps. Not five steps. And no hitches, either. Three and throw. Three and throw. The timing was simple but exact—and it was everything. Any freelancing and incompletes, sacks, and interceptions soon followed.
And that’s exactly what Rodriguez saw next on the practice tape: Forcier taking three steps (an improvement), seeing his receiver open— but then hitching, which allowed the linebacker to cover the receiver. Rodriguez was calm but firm. “I’m sure I will not have to see on Monday any tape of any Michigan quarterback taking three steps and a hitch when he should be taking three steps and throwing.”
Next play, same thing, but this time Forcier threw it behind the receiver. The linebacker just missed making the interception.
“That one’s late. Why? Three and hitch instead of three and throw. I’ve been doing this for twenty years! I didn’t just wake up and come up with this thing. We have refined this over time. We know what works. We’re not guessing! Three steps and throw! THROW! You’ve got to trust the timing!”
But it was really more than that. The quarterbacks had to trust the system—and the coaches who had created it.
The flipside was just as simple: The coaches had to remember that Forcier was still a freshman. And even though Rodriguez’s quarterbacks on every team he’d coached eventually won Conference Player of the Year, not one of them did it his first season.
If the Illinois game could be reduced to Michigan’s four tries from the 1-yard line, Michigan’s season likewise boiled down to four great chances to win just one game to secure a bowl bid: Michigan State, which ended in overtime; Iowa, which ended one pass short of a winning field goal attempt; Illinois, which broke on the 1-yard line; and Purdue, which looked like an eminently winnable game. But like the fourth-and- 1 play against Illinois, the pressure mounted with each failed attempt. This was Rodriguez’s last best chance at match point.
Blow it against the Boilermakers, and the odds would only get taller against Wisconsin, and taller still against Ohio State, still in the hunt for a national title. Collars were tight in Ann Arbor.
The quarterbacks didn’t think Purdue would be a pushover, either. “They’re good, they play hard,” Sheridan said later that night in his hotel room. “Much harder than Illinois.” And then, unable to let Illinois go: “I still can’t believe we lost to those guys.”
“Don’t let ’em beat you twice,” Forcier said, as a half- joking warning they’d all heard a hundred times. “Man, we just got to win again. That’s been driving me fucking nuts. We just got to win again.”
For people complaining about spoilers, I have bad news: they fire the guy. But we won World War II, so we've got that going for us. Unless this is an alternate history and we're all Nazis, but only Michigan State fans believe that because Michigan State fans will believe anyone is a racist if it helps exonerate Will Gholston. Denard: totally racist.
Anyway, I show up briefly. A few reporters show up more extensively, and then there are the players—addressed as a group—and the new athletic director.
This guy's opinion: boy, does that hippie with the blog need a haircut. But his logic… so dashing.
Person Who Identifies Himself As Brian
(And you guys.)
So… right. There are some scattered MGoBlog references, mostly as a reading of the fan zeitgeist. "Never Forget" is referenced because "Never Forget" is always referenced all the time; The Horror is identified as The Horror, and so forth and so on. The blog's permanence relative to most message boards (and even newspapers, which put their stories behind a paywall after a while) seems to have made it the database of record when it comes to how the average fan felt at X point in time, even if the average fan here is not the average fan elsewhere. It's around. Since that's more than anything else can say, its opinion wins by default.
A couple people have asked for more detail about the point in the book where I show up in the flesh. This is after the WMU 2009 press conference, which was the first one post-Free Press story. I've had a couple days to consider the story and have come to the conclusion that it's a misleading, unethical hack job. I am steaming. I go to the press conference to liveblog it.
Afterwards—and in retrospect I can't believe this actually transpired—I go to the front of the room, where Snyder is, and repeatedly ask him if he knows what a countable hour is in an unfriendly fashion. He refuses to answer. The pattern is: I ask, he says he won't respond because I am a "competitor," I ask, he says the same thing, I incredulously ask if he will not defend his article, etc. etc. etc. This is actually broadcast (off-camera but audible) on the MGoBlue stream, which was not turned off after the presser.
I give up on Snyder and am in the process of storming out when I happen on Rosenberg in the little vestibule between the Junge proper and outside. I ask the same thing; Rosenberg responds that he does know what a countable hour is, so I start in on why that wasn't in the article and how realistic it is that a head coach at a major program had been more than doubling the NCAA's allotted maximums for years. He starts asking me my name over and over again, which I ignore in favor of further badgering. Craig Ross, watching this with a combination of bemusement and horror, eventually tells Rosenberg my name. I think this was because he wanted Rosenberg to start saying other things, but you'd have to ask him and he doesn't remember interjecting. So that's lost to history.
I had no idea this was going to be in the book until just before the thing went to print when Bacon emailed me with Rosenberg's version of the event and asked me if I had any corrections, which I did since he remembered me as some wild-eyed nut instead of a wild-eyed nut with very specific questions.
And <poof> like that, he's gone.
As for my bête noir… well now. Revelations about Rosenberg from the book:
- Countable hours was "in the story at some point" but "there were a lot of edits."
- He did not attend a single practice before writing the infamous story in which he declares it "sad" that Michigan is employing a guy to belittle its students. (I found this so implausible when I read it that I double-checked with Bacon about this; he dug up the email he had gotten from Rosenberg as proof.)
- He told multiple Michigan employees that he "hated Bill Martin" and "was going to get him run out of his job."
- He got teary when Michigan fans left nasty reviews of his book on Amazon.
Rosenberg has taken to twitter to call Bacon a "fan" and claim the book is "littered with errors," complaining that Bacon made "almost no attempt to talk to anybody who would contradict his subject's point of view."
How Rosenberg knows this is unknown. Bacon states in the book that he repeatedly tried to talk to Martin, Coleman, Carr, and Brandon but never got anywhere. Certainly Brandon's response to the book—a disingenuous "what book?" issued at the same time he's pressuring the M-Den not to carry it and Bacon has been exiled to Drew Sharp Row—indicates the sort of cooperation the AD is providing the guy.
Meanwhile, the height of irony:
When I asked Rosenberg if they had made any attempt to talk to players with different views, he replied, "Did we keep calling until we got guys to say, 'Hey, it's fine?' No, we didn't."
The difference between Bacon's book—which contains a half-dozen quotes from Rosenberg as it attempts to show both sides of the story—and the Free Press piece is stark. The [REDACTED] has the balls to complain about Bacon's approach to journalism? After the NCAA called the original article exaggerated and misleading? After they took countable hours out of the story? /head explodes
That this guy still has a job is a black mark on the Free Press. That he's still allowed to show up at press conferences is inexplicable. That he has the chutzpah to criticize someone else's journalism is totally expected, because he's just that kind of guy.
Players of all varieties
The only enjoyable parts of the book are the moments when Michigan's players come into focus. I suspect that Bacon soft-pedaled some of the Tate stuff. He comes off as a fairly likeable, if pretty weird, kid. Denard and Devin and Mark Moundros and Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin all come off well.
At least we've got that after the last few years. Michigan's players are easy to root for. They don't put MIKE VICK on their eyeblack or fracture skulls or not pay for tattoos or give quotes about how "everybody murders" to the media. They leave all that stuff to the adults.
That feeling you got at the end of the Hoke press conference when Brandon was talking and you thought "Rodriguez was a dead man even before the bowl" is a feeling most of the players had. Bacon, too, which he made more explicit than he did in the book in an appearance on the Huge show yesterday.
Brandon's drawn-out firing process does seem like an unnecessary delay of an already-made decision. The impression Bacon got was the players thought Rodriguez was done, people around the program felt Brandon was hoping for a loss in the bowl game. So cut the cord already.
We don't get much else on the current AD.
I'm impressed with the large numbers of people who seem to have already blazed their way through Three and Out. It took me a while. I stopped for a few days after "Honeymoon from Hell" because it was too depressing; every chapter featuring a game I knew they'd lose spectacularly required a little bit of willpower to start.
But I'm done and a large number of you are done. It is time to talk the turkey.
We've got this document. What does it say about major players in the saga? I was planning one part here but this got long, so today we'll cover Carr, Rodriguez, and Bill Martin, with various players with less prominent roles in the story covered in a post tomorrow.
It says a few things about Lloyd Carr that are not nice, and implies more. Bacon's said he left a lot of things out that he could not get multiple sources on, which is both his responsibility as an actual journalist and horribly frustrating.
The main strikes:
- Informing his former players he would sign any transfer papers they wanted at his meeting with them after their bowl game, a marked contrast from the Bo-Bump transition.
- Telling Mallett he "needed to leave".
- Having zero control over his former players, or—worse—tacitly endorsing their behavior by not jumping down their throats.
- Offering something short of the fiery defense Bo would have launched once the program started taking fire.
That's aside from the state of the roster when Rodriguez took over, which wasn't specifically directed at the new man.
Those seem like major strikes. Screw it: those are major strikes, particularly #3. I find it inconceivable that Eric Mayes would made it thirty seconds into the embarrassing "we own this program" speech before Bo burst from his chest like a Xenomorph. Carr does nothing. Multiple former players trash Rodriguez in public. Carr does nothing. The 2009 golf outing that even guys like Chris Balas* come back from disgusted at, naming specific names of players (Marlin Jackson, Dhani Jones) who embarrassed themselves with their behavior. Is Carr even at it? It's worse if he is.
So, like, whatever. Carr doesn't owe anyone anything except the 400k a year he was pulling down as associate AD. But he's no program patriarch. He's just a guy who used to coach here. His loyalty is to an incredibly specific version of Michigan only. The difference between the Bo guys and the Carr guys is obvious. Bo guys organize a weird counterproductive rally for RR; Carr guys go on MNF and state they're from "Lloyd Carr's Michigan" or storm the AD's office to demand RR's firing after every loss**. There are exceptions, obviously. The trend is clear.
I have no sympathy for arguments the guy is being painted unfairly when he was offered the opportunity to tell his side a dozen times. If history is written by the losers here it's because the winners don't care what the public thinks. They can't be surprised when the public thinks they're not Bo.
Carr did a lot of things for the program but his legacy is significantly tarnished by the pit it found itself in immediately after his departure. It was his lack of a coaching tree, lack of serious coordinators, and lack of tolerance for Les Miles that caused Michigan to hire Rodriguez in the first place. It was his lack of a roster—seven scholarship OL!—and lack of support that provided Rodriguez with two strikes before he even coached a game. We can argue about how much is Carr's fault and how much is Rodriguez's, but figuring out the latter is pointless since RR is gone and everyone hates him. The former is "far too much."
*[By this I mean guys who work for publications for whom access is lifeblood. They're naturally more circumspect. The reaction on premium sites to this golf outing was unprecedented, with people moved to call actual former players out by name after years of dark mutterings.]
**[Not in the book; something I got from a good source.]
If you left a goat in the locker room after a Michigan loss and then locked Rodriguez in it for five minutes, you would return to find the walls smeared with blood and feta. There would be no trace of the goat.
Rich Rodriguez was obviously not a stoic guy. His sideline tantrums proved that. The extent of his leg-gashing, table-throwing, goat-cheese-making post-loss hissies is probably the thing that Rodriguez is pissed about. They don't make him look like a stable dude. Neither does his descent into J. Edgar Hoover-esque paranoia, no matter how intent the university was on making that paranoia seems reasonable.
By the time I got through it, my reaction to Rodriguez's portrayal was different than that of the media reviewing the book. It doesn't paint Rodriguez as a guy I would want in charge of my football program. I can deal with one goat-annihilating postgame tantrum a year. Rodriguez seemed to have one after every loss.
So why do most neutral accounts play up the Rodriguez sympathy angle? They do not take the truth that the local media is dominated by agenda-laden twits to be self-evident. When Mike Rosenberg—who comes off as a real winner—bombed Rodriguez with a bunch of half-truths and misrepresentations I bombed back, stating that it was obvious the buyout kerfuffle was university-directed. Surprise: it was university-directed as they tried to get out of their 2.5 million dollar hook. Similarly, Free Press Jihad is re-exposed as a bunch of half-truths at best run by a couple of guys who "had countable hours in there at some point" but had it edited out, no doubt because that's not at all important in a discussion about whether Michigan was more than doubling their allotted time on Sundays.
If you go into the book knowing Rosenberg and Snyder published an embarrassing hack-job and that a large part of the media firestorm surrounding Rodriguez was a combination of University incompetence and the tiny lizard brains of certain folk in the local media*, the main takeaway from the book in re: RR is the sheer height of the plumes his emotional volcano shoots up. I mean, Bacon spends pages and pages on Rodriguez playing up the traditions of Michigan to his players. That's an obvious reaction to the Michigan Man business. I assumed Rodriguez was not an idiot when it came to firing up his troops, I guess, and that stuff shot by me. Beating a bleating ungulate against the wall of the Notre Dame locker room until it bursts into a kaleidoscope of viscera… that stays with you.
I feel bad for the guy. I'm glad he's gone.
*[The rest a combo of Rodriguez never winning any games and his remarkable ability to stick his leg into the press conference bear trap.]
Good Lord, man. I find it hard to believe that a guy who dragged Michigan kicking and screaming into massive financial success and smoothly hired John Beilein (admittedly after making a questionable hire in Tommy Amaker) was really as incompetent as… uh… I believed he was after the sailboat incident. That's Yogi Berra right there but it's also true.
Here's the the story of the post-Carr coaching search from the perspective of this site:
- Kirk Ferentz is reached out to and either is or is not offered; if offered he may have been given an offer that was a paycut. Ferentz fades but it seems like there was truth to the rumors.
- Flailing. Miles heavily discussed. ESPN reports Michigan contacts him after Ferentz falls through. They agree to wait until the SEC championship game is over. LSU boards buzz that Les has told his team he's out. I would be "surprised if it was not" Miles.
- Infamous ESPN report.
- Sailboat. "Have a great day." Sailboat.
- Conclusion reached in the aftermath is that M "essentially passed on Miles."
- Tedford and Schiano now start getting thrown around along with odder names like Grobe and Pinkel. Also some guy named Hoke. So much Hoke.
- Kirk Ferentz momentarily back. Then gone.
- Schiano talked to, offered, accepts, changes mind, offered again, says no.
- Sean Payton!
- Miles again! Seriously!
- Miles out again.
- Jim Grobe. Jim Grobe does not get an exclamation point.
- KC Keeler! Lane Kiffin! Seriously!
- Rodriguez out of nowhere.
- Sigh… Peanut Butter Jelly Time.
It seemed like a clown show, and behind the scenes… clown show. Martin wants Dungy, has no idea if Dungy—who is a broadcaster and can be contacted by anyone at any time for any reason—will take the job. Wants Ferentz, has no idea that the president of the university will stab him if he hires Ferentz. Wants Miles, has no idea that Lloyd Carr will stab him if he hires Miles. Somehow misses on Schiano, then has Rodriguez fall into his lap and grabs him before anyone can think about it, which sets up the whole buyout fiasco the media will spin for six months. The sailboat incident is even worse since Bacon asserts one of the main problems was Martin had a new cell phone and didn't know how to use it.
Martin himself drops out of the story shortly thereafter, which is another indictment of the guy because what enters is a vast institutional incompetence that starts the Rodriguez media cockroach katamari rolling. Everything from the buyout to the Dorsey situation is mishandled not only by Rodriguez (sometimes not even by Rodriguez, as with the buyout) but by the people who should be telling him what is and is not possible. When Rodriguez went to bat for Dorsey with a guy in admissions the guy in admissions should have looked at the guy's transcript before saying yes, and then when he did look at the transcript he should have said no.
Instead we actually sign the guy—opening us up to the most cynical and loathsome of all the lizard-brain media attacks—only to find out he is nowhere near eligible. And don't get me started on the CARA forms, which was a special brand of idiocy all on its own. Martin did a lot of big picture stuff very well, but he was totally unprepared to fix a department that had started downhill long before he arrived.
For all the crap I give Brandon about his failure on big picture stuff, he cleaned out the deadwood with alacrity.
TOMORROW: Players, reporters, me/us(!?).