this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
three and out
Sponsor thanks. You may have noticed the banner on the left side from Park and Party, which is a local startup that organizes gameday parking. You can reserve a favorite spot, which allows you to get up after 5 AM without ceding your precious swath of green space. Hit their Purdue parking availability to reduce the number of things that can go wrong on gameday.
BONUS: checking them out also opens your Beveled Guilt valve.
Hardly knew ye. Freshman CB Greg Brown has left the football team. Brown was the first commitment of the 2011 class and enrolled early but evidently fell behind Countess and Taylor; with Rodriguez and Tony Gibson no longer on campus he may have felt he was never going to get playing time.
Michigan isn't likely to feel much impact from Brown's departure; they still have the aforementioned freshmen plus Tamani Carter and Delonte Hollowell and are bringing in a couple of corners this year. Best of luck wherever he goes (obviously Pitt).
By my count that brings Michigan up to 25 scholarships in this class. With three players set to enroll early and a couple guys not likely to return for fifth years, they may already be able to take this class to 28. If they aren't, they almost certainly will be by February. With Jeremy Clark losing his grayshirt that leaves Michigan with five slots for two WRs, another OL, a RB, and a wildcard who may or may not be CB Yuri Wright.
In another world. Wolverine Historian has posted a video of the '89 Purdue game that is derived from press box video sans announcers:
As a result there's a bunch of sideline stuff you wouldn't see in a normal game: band jumping around, cheerleaders doing different cheerleader stuff, etc. Also plenty of triple option.
Side note: man, the skill guys in that game. Hoard, Boles, Howard, Alexander, Calloway. Not bad.
Why did newspapers stop doing this? The analysis isn't amazing but surely 60 years later someone at a newspaper should be able to explain an inside zone. (BONUS: there is now a "1947 pitt" tag.)
About a week after Carr's announcement, Martin told his hand-picked search committee that Tony Dungy was his favorite candidate. Dungy had played high school football for Jackson Parkside, a half hour from Ann Arbor, but turned down Bo Schembechler to play for Minnesota. His Indianapolis Colts had just won the 2007 Super Bowl the previous winter. Exactly why Martin thought Dungy might be interested in Michigan, however, is a mystery.
The committee then briefly discussed Brian Kelly, who had just finished the 2007 regular season at Cincinnati 9-3 while graduating 75 percent of his players. But Kelly had a well-earned reputation for being unpleasant — even basketball coaches had strong opinions about him — and Martin made it clear he was not a serious candidate.
What was most striking about that first meeting, however, was the number of candidates they barely discussed, if at all: Mike DeBord, Ron English, Jeff Tedford, Rich Rodriguez, and even Les Miles, the committee's first choice. "Bill didn't want him," recalls Ted Spencer, the director of admissions and a committee member. "I have no idea why. He never gave us a reason."
Four years ago Dungy was 52 and therefore plausible if he actually wanted to keep coaching, but he didn't and Bill Martin didn't know this. The guy's a broadcaster and everyone in the world expects Carr to go out with Henne/Hart/etc. Call him?
There's much more at the link. It basically confirms the conventional wisdom that the coaching search was a fiasco run without much of a plan. Strange compared to the Beilein hiring, which had a bunch of plausible candidates and secured its first public option instead of getting turned down by the guy at Rutgers.
It is Carr who calls Rodriguez to gauge his interest in becoming the Michigan coach. And that call takes place only hours after the conference call with Miles. "Even if you haven't thought about it," Bacon reports Carr saying, "you should think about it now."
Readers are left to infer that Carr had a big role in picking Rodriguez, who took the job days later without setting foot on the campus. But then Carr, whose strong objections to Miles are documented early in the book, holds a team meeting after Rodriguez is introduced as the Wolverines' new coach, informing players he will sign their transfer papers if they want to leave.
Things go downhill from there.
*[Which oddly suggests that Robinson wouldn't have made it as a QB in Bo's offense. Moeller or Carr, sure, but Bo ran the option. He would have installed Robinson at quarterback ten seconds after he arrived on campus and threatened to deport anyone who suggested he move.]
No reason. Facepalm guy thread gem:
That is a long torso.
Phew. People are reporting that Jon Merrill is going to stick it out:
That comes from the junior side of the aisle so is likely sourced from Plymouth. That is likely to be solid.
In less good hockey news, Shawn Hunwick got ejected from Michigan's game against NMU and his replacement let in a number of softies en route to a loss; the next night Michigan could only manage a tie. (They did win the shootout. That only applies to CCHA standings. For NCAA purposes it's a tie.) Their (wholly ridiculous) time at #1 has come to an end.
The Oversigning Bowl. On the podcast last week I mentioned that if I was athletic director* Michigan would not have signed up to play Alabama at any juncture because it's stupid to take a knife to an oversigning fight. With the LSU-Bama game of the year already in hype mode (both teams have this week off), Ramzy states the obvious:
The storyline that probably won't make it anywhere near the national discussion is that Saban and Miles each play the recruiting game with a stacked deck: For every four players that almost every other program in the country admits to school, Alabama and LSU each take in five.
While it won't happen, the discussion of oversigning should be one of the storylines for this particular game. LSU and Alabama should be ranked at or near the top of the polls, and every year - not just in 2011.
Both programs have top-tier head coaches and both schools - unlike the one in Columbus - are at or above the Southeastern Conference's pay grade for proven assistant coaches and coordinators. Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa are practically required to be on every elite high school recruit's list of possibilities.
But what ensures that LSU and Alabama should be among the elite of the elite is that both have installed a system that gives them significantly less recruiting risk than most of their competitors in recruiting.
Oversigning recruits every year has given both schools built-in second and third-chances where talent acquisition is concerned. They get refunds on their bad bets, and their depth charts are proof that it works.
It's stupid to play a team that gets to look at 25% more players than you do over the course of a recruiting cycle. If you have to in a bowl game you have to but if I'm looking for an opponent it's not going to be one with an inbuilt advantage due to skeeziness. That goes double when you're coming off the attrition/recruiting problems Rodriguez left Michigan.
*[hoo boy, that's an alternate universe right there.]
Etc.: Create your own periodic-table-themed Denard Robinson tshirt.
[ED: Parts one and two here. Book on sale Tuesday. Bacon will be giving his first local book talk and signing at Nicola’s Books in the Westgate Shopping Center on Friday night, October 28, 7 p.m.; other events can be found on his website’s appropriately-named Event page.
Cave people: Three and Out is a book about the Rodriguez era from John Bacon, who was given unprecedented access to the program by Rich Rodriguez because Rich Rodriguez does these sorts of things.]
6. WHAT'S NEXT?
“What books are you going to write about now that Michigan won't let you within a mile of any of their programs anymore? I mean, it's not easy to piss off everybody.”
Well, first: Despite the sacrifices I mentioned in the first installment – time, money, and possibly professional opportunities -- writing it was my decision, naturally, and I don’t regret it. Given my choices, trying to write an honest book is certainly more appealing to me than trying to keep everyone happy and produce a book I could never respect.
Plus, I had the chance to see a big-time program form the inside that no fan, and no reporter, has ever had—and probably never will again. If there was one great privilege that I hope every reader can share, it was getting to know these young man not as gladiators but as human beings, some of the best I’ve met. If you were proud of Michigan football before, I can tell you this: getting to know these guys can erase much of the cynicism we all feel for college football these days. They were, quite simply, the real thing.
None of that, unfortunately, solves the problem in the question. Mr. Brandon and Mr. Carr, through various means and channels, have made their contempt for the book (and its author) plain enough. I have no idea what’s going to happen with my various ties to Michigan, including my teaching arrangement, but I’d probably be foolish to count on anything.
It’s almost impossible to write anything interesting without at least some cooperation and access, and I might find those in short supply under the Brandon regime. I will likely have to go “off the reservation,” if you will, to pursue future projects. And perhaps it’s time.
But I also believe this book would cost me a lot more if I were writing about Kentucky basketball under Eddie Sutton or, say, Ohio State football (as a convenient example). Those schools and fans generally don’t want the truth, and will attack anyone who attempts to deliver it (witness Mr. Herbstreit’s forced move to Tennessee). Michigan football fans are very demanding—they expect a first-class program on and off the field—but they also want the truth, and they can handle it.
I feel the same way. After all, I learned how to do all the things I needed to write this book – researching, writing and thinking critically – from world-class professors at the University of Michigan. But the most important principle Michigan taught me was the central importance of pursuing the truth without fear, wherever it leads.
For those who say this book will hurt Michigan, I can only respond: not the Michigan I know.
7. Does the idea of being a "Michigan man" emerge as tortured shibboleth in need of burial or does Bacon make the case that there is something valuable in it, something RR just really didn't get?
This is why you have to love Michigan fans. What other school’s backers would inquire if their culture’s central concept emerges as a “tortured shibboleth in need of burial”? It was such fans, by the way, that made it easy for me to persuade our highbrow publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux, that our readers would have no trouble getting through a 438-page book with no photos, nor digesting the word “crucible” in the subtitle. (Arthur Miller, after all, went to Michigan.)
The term “Michigan Man” probably goes back to the day men arrived at Michigan. But it’s taken more than a few twists and turns since.
Fielding Yost gave the term “Michigan Man” a boost when he started using it in his speeches. But the phrase really took off in 1989, of course, when Schembechler announced he was firing basketball coach Bill Frieder on the eve of the NCAA basketball tournament because Frieder had signed a secret deal to coach Arizona State the next season. This prompted Schembechler to bark: “A Michigan Man will coach Michigan!”
Pundits have wondered exactly what Bo meant, but I think it’s pretty simple: anybody coaching at Michigan better be completely committed to Michigan.
The phrase took on more weight four years ago, when a reporter asked brand-new head coach Rich Rodriguez if the Michigan coach had to be a Michigan Man. He joked, “Gosh, I hope not! They hired me!”
He was criticized for that—and not without some justification. The question was inevitable, and it exposed Rodriguez’s superficial knowledge of the program upon his arrival, and the athletic department’s failure to prepare its new coach for his mission.
From that point on, the phrase was used more often to beat somebody over the head—usually Rodriguez—than to underscore the values it’s supposed to represent, much the way extremists use “patriot” to castigate someone as un-American.
At the “Victors’ Rally” held in February 2010, Rodriguez wanted to show that he’d gotten the message. So, he closed his speech by saying, “I’m Rich Rodriguez, and I am a Michigan Man.” This time, he was criticized for being presumptuous.
Finally, with great humility, he told the crowd at his final speech at the Bust in December 2011, “I hope you realize, I truly want to be a Michigan Man.” But this time his critics said a true Michigan Man wouldn’t have to ask.
And thus, the silliness of the entire exercise had come full circle. The phrase had become so distorted, Michigan’s critics started using it as a mocking insult. Much like the word “classy,” it seemed, whoever uses it, probably isn’t.
Despite my temptation to chuck this overused and little understood phrase forever, I still think there’s something to it. Everyone knows the values it’s supposed to stand for: honor, sacrifice, pride in your team, and humility in yourself, all in one. But ultimately, to define it, I have to resort to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s description of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
Pardon the comparison, but when it comes to the phrase, “Michigan Man,” I know it when I see it, too. They might be Big Men on Campus, but they don’t act like it, in college or afterward. The men I’ve been lucky enough to get to know—many as good friends—really do put their team and their school before themselves, and become the kind of adults you want to be your employee, your colleague, your boss, your neighbor, your brother-in-law. Not because they played football for Michigan, but because they represent its values. And they really are different than the players I’ve met from other schools.
I can cite too many men who fit this description, and too many examples of their conduct, simply to dismiss it.
Here’s a small one: a few years ago the football alums of Ohio State and Michigan were invited to an event in Columbus. The Buckeyes showed up wearing everything from sport coats to sweatshirts and jeans. But the Michigan alums arrived wearing coats and ties. No one told them what to wear. Bo had already passed away. But they simply knew, reflexively, if you represent Michigan, this is how you do it.
A bigger example: a few years after graduating, Scott Smykowski, a former backup under Schembechler, discovered he needed a bone marrow transplant, but his health care wasn’t going to cover all his expenses. That’s all Schembechler needed to hear to rally Michigan Men from coast to coast. And that’s all they needed to hear to raise $150,000 in just a few weeks – even though most of them never played with Smykowski or even met him. That’s what being a Michigan Man meant to them.
When I speak at Michigan events, I often end with a quote from arguably the first important Michigan Man, Fielding Yost. Near the end of his life, they held a big banquet for him called, “A Toast to Yost from Coast to Coast,” which was broadcast nationwide by NBC. After all the speakers had paid tribute, he got up in his eponymous Fieldhouse and said, “My heart is so full at this moment, I fear I could say little else. But do let me reiterate the Spirit of Michigan. It is based on a deathless loyalty to Michigan and all her ways. An enthusiasm that makes it second nature for Michigan Men to spread the gospel of their university to the world’s distant outposts. And a conviction that nowhere, is there a better university, in any way, than this Michigan of ours.”
It gets me every time. But what really gets me is the response from the people in the audience. None of them ever met Fielding Yost. Most of them weren’t born when he passed away in 1946. Most of their parents weren’t, either. And yet, when they hear these words, they nod involuntarily, the words resonating with something deep inside them, and they are often glassy-eyed when I finish the quote.
If you could stand on that podium and look out on those faces, you would not have to wonder if the idea of the Michigan Man is for real.
Despite the best efforts to kill it, it is still very much alive.
[ED: Make that three parts. Coming Friday: “What does ‘Michigan Man’ mean anymore,” and “What’s next?”
If you live under a rock, John Bacon was embedded in the program the last three years and has written a book about this. It is called Three and Out.]
First, thanks to everyone for your interest, including some 400 readers asking more than a thousand questions. (And big thanks also to Brian for sorting through all those questions and combining them into the most popular categories.) I was not surprised to see they were very smart and often got beyond the surface of the situation, frequently forcing me to re-think the whole thing, when I thought I was long done thinking another thought about the last three years.
3. Were the "fit" issues real?
One of the central questions that came up in various forms was the “Fit, or Lack Thereof,” as Brian reduced it.
I’ll start by working backward, from the final seconds of Rodriguez’s regime. On January 5, 2011, the assistant coaches, staffers, and yours truly were all sitting in the coaches’ meeting room, when Rodriguez walked in, laid a file down on the table, and said, “Well, as expected, they fired me.” He later added, “It was a bad fit here from the start.”
And in many ways it was. I’m not certain it had to be.
People who were living in Ann Arbor in 1968 can tell you about the last outsider to take the reigns: Bo Schembechler. His predecessor, Bump Elliott, was a former Michigan All-American who was smart and humble, with an urbane, conservative manner. He didn’t yell at his players, he rarely swore, and if you said you were hurt, that was enough for him.
When Schembechler’s crew arrived with their wives sporting beehive hairdos and stiletto heels, some Michigan insiders took to calling them “The Ohio Mafia.” The players quickly learned the new guy yelled, swore, grabbed your facemask and literally kicked you in the ass. If you were merely hurt, not injured, but didn’t want to practice, you got left behind when the team plane took off.
Instead of turning his back on the new regime, however, Elliott embraced them, hosting parties for their families and introducing them to important people around town. He did not allow players to come to his office in the Athletic Department to complain about the new guy, either. And when Schembechler delivered what today would be an unforgivable comment about changing “Michigan’s silly helmets,” Elliott, Don Canham, Fritz Crisler and Bob Ufer quietly taught him Michigan tradition.
And, to Schembechler’s credit, he was wise enough to listen, and even seek out their help.
When Michigan upset Ohio State that year, they gave Bump Elliott the game ball, and there was not a dry eye in the room.
That’s Michigan at its best. The last three years were not.
Rodriguez had never been to Ann Arbor before his first press conference, and it was clear he had not prepared, nor been coached – a noted contrast to Brady Hoke’s introduction, when his rehearsed lines won over many doubters.
To cross this chasm, neither Michigan nor Rodriguez did enough, soon enough. I believe Rodriguez should have learned more about Michigan faster than he did, but I also believe he received little guidance. Readers will likely be struck by how often Rodriguez invoked Michigan’s traditions – the helmet, the banner, the rivals – when he talked to his team. And he could have helped his cause by reaching out to sympathetic Michigan groups like the M-Club, filled with loyal supporters who could have helped him when trouble hit.
Both sides of this marriage could have learned a lot from the other. Rodriguez could have gained the kind of polish Michigan usually applies to its players and coaches, much as it did for the initially rough-hewn Schembechler. And Michigan’s famed arrogance – occasionally succumbing to rank snobbism during the Rodriguez regime – could have been softened with some of Rodriguez’s down-home friendliness.
I suspect both sides have learned a great deal since, manifest in Michigan’s almost universal support for Brady Hoke. He isn’t exactly Bump Elliott, either, but he’s been accepted as a true “Michigan Man.”
(More on that Friday.)
4. What was so hard about the transition?
Everyone knows the transition was poorly handled – but it was actually much worse than you think, marked by a lack of preparation, communication, and transparency, not to mention severe undermining of the process and the candidates. It resulted in the famously unified Michigan football family fracturing before Martin named Rodriguez Michigan’s next coach – and it only got worse afterward. For his part, Rodriguez naively assumed he was walking into the same program Schembechler had created.
Rodriguez also made a crucial miscalculation: He honestly believed that the bigger the program, the less time the head coach has to deal with peripheral duties like connecting with former players, alumni and fans – when the opposite is true. The head football coach at Michigan, Texas or Alabama, is, in a very real sense, the leader of that school.
That said, it’s worth remembering: Michigan was hiring Rodriguez, not the other way around. It is the employer’s job to set their employees up for success, and at that central task, Michigan failed badly.
But I still believe that nothing would have helped more than Bo Schembechler continuing to lead the family. When he passed away, Michigan lost more than a coach. It lost its spiritual leader – and five years later he has still not been replaced.
If there were any doubts before that Bo did more than anyone to keep Michigan football at the top, even long after he retired, his absence erased them for me.
5. PRETTY MUCH THE Q: Who does John Bacon blame for the last three years?
I know: you want to know what happened to the defense, and who is most to blame for the disappointing last three seasons.
It’s not hard to identify a handful of contributing factors, all of which were necessary, but none sufficient to guarantee failure. We have a dozen variables in both cases, but no control group, so it’s ultimately impossible to be completely certain what, precisely, was the most important straw.
Nonetheless, if I don’t feed the bulldog something I’ll probably get my hand bitten off, so here goes.
Let’s start with the defense. When people ask if the shockingly poor performance was the result of inheriting weak talent, transfers, a stretch of freak injuries, youth or coaching, I say: Yes. It is simply impossible for your defense to drop to 68th then 82nd then 110th without all those factors playing a part. But the hardest to tease out is coaching.
We do know a few things, however. Failing to get Jeff Casteel was much bigger than probably anyone realized at the time. Bill Martin failed to pony up a few more bucks and a guaranteed contract to get him, while Rodriguez—who would not come to Michigan without Mike Barwis and the promise of a million-dollar weight room—was apparently willing to leave without his defensive coordinator. If he could do it again, he would probably insist he wasn’t coming to Michigan without his trusted defensive coordinator.
After that, Michigan never gave Rodriguez sufficient bait to get his top choice to replace Casteel. When Scott Shafer and Greg Robinson arrived in Ann Arbor, they inherited a staff of strangers who had been loyal to Rodriguez for years. Shafer and Robinson are both decent guys who’ve been successful elsewhere, but it clearly didn’t work at Michigan.
At the end of the day, however, the head coach is responsible for his team’s performance, and that obviously includes defense.
Likewise, there was no shortage of variables contributing to Rodriguez’s demise. The long list includes: the horrible transition; his Honeymoon from Hell (including overblown PR problems over buy-outs, departing players, and even shredded papers); his 3-9 debut; the Free Press feature and subsequent NCAA investigation; the string of four crucial losses in the middle of 2009 and three in middle of 2010; and the final Bust. Obviously, some of those are on Michigan, and some on Rodriguez.
The Rodriguez reign was fatally damaged by two main causes: the harm done by detractors inside and outside the program, and his own missed opportunities – from PR problems to those seven lost match points in 2009 and 2010, any one of which would probably have been enough to deliver him to a new era when he could focus more on football than survival. In particularly, I believe the 2009 game against Illinois, which blew up when Michigan failed to score on a first and goal from the one-yard line, marked the Continental Divide of the Rodriguez Era.
So, it’s not true that Rodriguez had no chance. He had seven. It is true, however, that his chances were greatly diminished by detractors inside and outside the program.
Assigning blame essentially boils down to weighing the factors above. But on one crucial point – really, the most important of all – there is absolutely no shade of gray whatsoever. Rodriguez, his staff, and his players (after the 2008 team graduated) worked extraordinarily hard to win every game.
Some powerful insiders, however, were working just as hard to see them fail. That is not a matter of degree. It’s a clear-cut, black-and-white difference – something I have never seen in all my years researching Michigan’s long and admirable history. But the people who suffered the most were the least to blame: the players.
As former offensive line coach Greg Frey told me, while driving to Mott Hospital one night, “I think about guys like Moosman and Ortmann and Brandon Graham. Man, those guys work their asses off. They care about their teammates. They stayed. They get pushed aside in all this, and that’s all right? That’s sad.”
When Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit News asked Ryan Van Bergen how it felt to see hundreds of alums returning to support the new coach, he said, “You know, it’s kind of unsettling… It’s great they’re back, but it’s kind of, where have they been the last two or three years? We’ve still be wearing the same helmets since they were here.”
Who deserves how much blame can be debated. Who was working against the Wolverines, and who suffered the most because of it, cannot be calculated.
Oddly not a problem. Thanks to a couple of diarists and the Wall Street Journal, we can answer the question posed in this AnnArbor.com headline:
Is Michigan at a disadvantage because of MSU's off week?
Bye weeks seem to hurt more than they help. Since 2002 (to 2010*), teams of the six BCS conferences have an overall win pct of 0.480 when coming off of a bye week. The Big Ten teams in particular struggle when coming off of a bye. From 2002-2010* Big Ten teams are a combined 17-32 when coming off of a bye. This is good for a 0.35 win pct.
…no. This also applies to the small sample sizes posted by Mark Dantonio coming off a bye and Brady Hoke facing someone off a bye. This is an odd finding, but there it is.
Bacon book excerpt. Has hit the WSJ:
Denard Robinson's day started at 6:30 a.m., when his alarm clock went off in his off-campus condo bedroom.
He hit the snooze once, then twice, before getting out of bed to put on jeans, a red polo shirt, black Adidas training shoes and his varsity jacket. Then he hopped into his roommate Devin Gardner's family pickup truck, a beat-up 2002 Dakota.
It continues following Denard from there. Autograph seekers, man. We will be running another installment of the Q&A Monday or Tuesday, depending on how jam-packed Monday is. Three and Out is out October 25th.
[*cough* if you are planning on buying the thing you can support the site by purchasing Three and Out through MGoBlog affiliate linkage *cough*]
Pizza: we want it. There was a "We want pizza" chant as Michigan's goal count exploded against St. Lawrence, and this is why:
Also in 1997, there was free pizza. Back in the day, Cottage Inn sponsored a 10-goal promotion, where every member in attendance received a free slice of pie if the team reached 10 goals. Sounds awesome, right?
It was awesome all right — for everyone but Cottage Inn. Even though 1997 was the last straw, the restaurant still had issues with the promotion in previous years. The blame game can start with a man they called ‘Doughboy.’
In the early 1990s, when the Wolverines would put up seven or eight goals, the crowd would start to chant, “Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!” It seemed that Michigan had a player who liked pizza as much as the fans did, as he would seemingly pick up his play whenever the total got close to 10. Hence, Cam Stewart became ‘Doughboy.’
Michigan's fallen off from their glory days and Cottage Inn could fire up the pizza promotion without too much damage—this was the first time it had happened since 2008.
I'm out of toner, too. I don't want to wade into a discussion about the content of this Dennis Dodd piece on why Rodriguez should get some credit. (Surprise: Dodd and Rodriguez share an employer.) I do want to linger on this image:
Rich Rodriguez still runs into his players during shopping trips in Ann Arbor.
"Office Depot or something," said Michigan's former coach. "You can figure, you've got mixed emotions. You're frustrated because it's your guys and you want to coach them."
That's the problem with the system: too much money going to students. The Big Ten and SEC made a case for "full cost of attendance" scholarships as caring more about student welfare than a level playing field, and they carry a lot of water in this town so I assume this will be killed and never brought up again:
Following a six-hour meeting in late September, the Resource Allocation Working Group, chaired by Georgia President Michael Adams, agreed to consider a reduction in FBS football scholarships from the current number of 85 to 80 and a reduction in the number of FCS football scholarships from 63 to 60. The reductions would likely follow a move toward a full cost-of-attendance scholarship that is expected to be passed in early 2012. In addition to football, the group agreed to consider a reduction in the number of men's basketball scholarships from 13 to 12 and in women's basketball from 15 to 13.
If it's not it's time to burn the NCAA to the ground. If you don't want to offer a full complement of scholarships, don't. Atlantic Hockey offers 13, not 18. Fine. Don't force teams awash in money to not offer scholarships because you cry poverty. The NCAA should be exploring relaxing or changing caps in money sports*, not increasing them.
*[The best anti-oversigning proposal I've heard is removing the overall cap entirely and just having a yearly one. Totally removes the motivation to kick a kid off the team unless he's Stephen Garcia.]
Etc.: Just Cover's SteveY dubs MSU's QB 'Kork Coupons,' which I find delightful. It is entirely plausible Lou Holtz has called him this at some point. Tom Ziller blows up David Stern. Grant Wahl makes the case for promotion and relegation in American sports. Yost renovation to take out 400 seats, add more "premium" seating so people can pay even more money to not show up at hockey games.
[ED: We're planning a two-parter here, with shorter answers to specific questions posed by commenters in part II. To start it seemed like a good idea to get the background on how this thing came about. Bacon is everything that is not in bold.
*cough* if you are planning on buying the thing you can support the site by purchasing Three and Out through MGoBlog affiliate linkage *cough*]
Most of the “What the hell just happened?” questions I’ll leave for the book, which many of you will likely be reading yourselves in a few weeks. Here, I’m trying to give you information to understand how this book came to be and what I tried to do, not all of which you can find in the book.
So let's talk about how this book came about. You had total unfettered access to Rich Rodriguez? How does that come about? Why would anyone agree to such a thing? What was his motivation?
This book came about largely by dumb luck. With my degree in history (“pre-unemployment”) in my pocket, I got my first job out of Michigan teaching U.S. history and coaching hockey at Culver Academies in Indiana. One of my best students, Greg Farrall, went on to become an All-Big Ten defensive end, and then a successful financial adviser.
We’ve stayed in touch, and in early 2008, he asked for some signed copies of Bo's Lasting Lessons, including one for his former coach at Indiana, Bill Mallory, and another to his boss at the time, Mike Wilcox—who just happened to be Rich Rodriguez’s financial adviser. In fact, when Rodriguez first met with Bill Martin and Mary Sue Coleman in December 2007, they did so at Wilcox’s Toledo office.
One thing led to another, and in July 2008 Wilcox asked me if I’d be interested in getting complete access to Rodriguez’s first Michigan team. I thought about it for a week or so, before concluding I’d be crazy not to jump at this chance.
Rodriguez’s motivation, I believe, was pretty straightforward: by July 2008, he had already been hammered by the press in Morgantown and Michigan, and probably figured he didn’t have much to lose. As he joked at the time, “Charles Manson is also from West Virginia, and right now he’s more popular than I am.” I think he also believed he didn’t have anything to hide, either. So he was willing to take his chances on a guy he’d never met tagging along to tell the story.
The original plan was simply to write about the spread offense coming to one of the country’s most conservative programs and publish a series of stories to a national magazine, in the hope of turning them into a book coauthored by Rodriguez, similar to the one I wrote with Bo Schembechler in 2007. But after the team finished 3-9, however, it was obvious the story was far from over, and that I’d need to write it myself. I was looking at sunk cost. If I bailed then, I’d have nothing to show for it. But if I came back for another year, I might have a great story to tell. That same reasoning held after the second season, too. To Rodriguez’s credit, he didn’t flinch.
We had a short legal agreement that gave him the right to read the final manuscript and comment on factual accuracy, but gave me the right to ignore anything and everything he suggested. The final product is mine, and mine alone, and does not have his approval.
I secured a book contract with a great publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which eschews sports writers for high brow authors like Ian Frazier, Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides. I felt lucky then, and I still do. They gave me an advance roughly equivalent to a year’s salary. The catch is, of course, the book required three years working full-time, so I’ve spent my life savings to get this done. When I read a few folks online posit that I’m simply out to make a quick buck, I enjoyed a good chuckle. It’s hard to imagine any buck being slower or smaller to make, with no guarantee of critical or commercial success. The book business is notoriously fickle.
I didn’t put one thing in this book just to sell copies. I did not dump my notebook on anyone, providing enough information to make a point and then move on. I kept out more than a few salacious details because they were not sufficiently sourced or they were not relevant to the main questions, and felt like cheap shots.
Likewise, if I was pursuing my own self-interest, the most obvious approach would be to put all the blame on Rodriguez, who is gone and cannot do anything to help me I can think of, and none on Michigan, where I was born, earned two degrees and continue teaching, among other lifelong connections. As I’m sure you know by now, I didn’t do that, either – but if I was trying to please Rodriguez, I can tell you I clearly fell short on that score, too. He has flaws and he made mistakes, and they’re in the book, too.
I realized pretty early in the process that trying to play politics with this would be almost impossible – and probably backfire in any case. So, I settled on the single, simple goal of getting as close to the truth as I possibly could. How close I came will surely be debated in the weeks and months to come, but that was my singular mission, no matter what it costs me.
[Ed: John is too nice to say this but the above section is likely in reference to Michael Rosenberg claiming that he is "misrepresented" in the book because Bacon needs to paint a widely-reviled coach who bombed out in three years as a victim.]
While the target moved a few times, as described above, when I sat down to write the final version from January to July of 2011, I was not setting out to write a “whodunit,” but as accurate a picture as possible of what it’s really like to be a college football player and coach. And not just for any team: the most stable and successful program in college football, which happened to be going through the three most tumultuous years in its long and enviable history. My reporting includes plenty of inside information on the drama constantly swirling around Schembechler Hall during that time, but if this book is going to have any lasting value I believe it will be because it’s the most intimate picture of college football players and coaches any writer has ever been allowed to paint.
Although some readers will surely debate this, I was not out to take sides. That doesn’t mean everyone comes out equally well, any more than a fair referee can ensure both teams will be penalized equally. But I sincerely tried to call everything as fairly as I could and let the readers sort the information for themselves.
Some have suggested that I must have had an axe to grind with Bill Martin, Coach Carr, Dave Brandon and others. Not true. The first two spoke to my classes several times, and I’ve extolled the good work of all three men in numerous pieces – including an ultimately flattering story on Dave Brandon in Bo's Lasting Lessons, and another on Coach Carr’s body of work, on and off the field, after his team lost to Appalachian State. When I won Michigan’s Golden Apple Award in March 2009, I hoped to ask Coach Carr to introduce me, but he was out of town. He said, however, that he would have been happy to do so, and I believe him. I’m also confident, having seen him speak many times on his dual passions for Mott Hospital and education, he would have done a great job.
That’s why, when I started hearing some surprising claims about the Michigan football family, I did not take them seriously. Most of those stories proved to be unfounded, but not all. When I returned to those sources, confirmed their stories, and connected the dots – to the degree I could -- I was stunned. I took no pleasure in these discoveries, nor in reporting them. As I told my first audience for this book in Chicago last week, researching and writing Bo's Lasting Lessons was a labor of love. Three and Out was labor.
I have tried to report unflinchingly on Rodriguez’s flaws and mistakes, but most people already know those—including his historically horrendous defense, his press conference gaffes, and his denouement at the final Football Bust. Michigan’s mistakes were private. Thus when you read them, the latter will likely be more surprising and make a bigger impression.
To produce this book, I started by filling two-dozen two-sided notebooks, eight bankers’ boxes worth of documents, and taking more than 10,000 pages of single-spaced notes from observing 37 games, hundreds of practices and meetings, and interviewing several hundred people. That effort created over 2,000 pages of copy, which we had to slash to the 438 pages that comprise the final manuscript.
All that cutting forced me to drop all photos and an epigraph from Oscar Wilde that I believe neatly sums up the entire three years: “The truth is rarely pure, and never simple.”
That’s exactly what I found in the bizarre dysfunction of the past three seasons. I did not encounter any angels, but I did not discover any devils, either. Almost everyone involved made some mistakes – most unintended, some not – but everyone in these pages had redemptive qualities, often quite remarkable ones. People, it turns out, are complicated.
The book, therefore, is not presented as an argument for this side or that. The reviews we’ve gotten so far (here on MGoBlog, on The Wolverine and on amazon.com) seem to indicate it’s being received in that spirit. “The author,” Publisher’s Weekly writes, “doesn’t shirk from acknowledging Rodriguez’s shortcomings as a coach or discussing the players’ disappointing performances.”
The readers, of course, will come to their own conclusions. And, knowing the wide range of independent-minded Michigan alums and fans, I’m sure those conclusions will run the gamut. But before we get too far down the scorekeeping path, I want to say that while that’s surely a reader’s right, it was not the author’s aim.
How close I came to achieving my goal of producing a fair-minded depiction of a marriage seemingly made in heaven that quickly ended in a disastrous divorce—with the best and worst of college football surrounding it—you can decide for yourself.
-John U. Bacon
p.s. Since folks have asked, I will give the first local book talk and signing at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor on Friday, October 28. I will be updating my schedule on my website very soon (johnubacon.com).
No, sir, I have no problems with tunnel screens anymore, sir. This is Al Borges's terrifying father:
That is a 79-year old in the photo. Gordon Borges is now 84 years old and is thinking about crushing your head like a grape. All criticisms about the offense are withdrawn.
“You removed the chart Dooley, so gloves are off!”
This book is right in their wheelhouse. Bacon points out in painful detail all the obstacles that RichRod faced (and yes, a few he created) along the way. They cheered each time Bacs mentioned “The Horror” or their homebase, mgoblog. Would have liked to seen more detail on the internal politics of RR’s handling of (or lack thereof) the defensive coordinators.
This is a bit of revenge on those responsible for setting the course for the Michigan offense to head back to the Stone Ages and.. [oh, wait a second..they stopped reading this --Bri’Onte Dunn just updated his Facebook page.]
Dammit, Dooley, no he didn't.
If this was a business it would be the kind of business that is not a business for very long. Dan Wetzel ties mega conference realignment into a college football playoff, or lack thereof, and hits home on the absurdity of the bowl system in one tight paragraph:
College football defies all business logic by outsourcing its most profitable product to third-party bowl games. The Bowl Championship Series not only fails to capitalize on the enormous potential of a multi-week tournament, it sucks hundreds of millions of dollars out of college pockets in an effort to preserve the tradition of $700,000 bowl director salaries and the majesty of the TaxSlayer.com Bowl.
That is a real thing now, that bowl name. It boggles the mind that an organization so relentlessly focused on every nickel signs away millions of dollars a year in the name of traditions not even I believe in anymore. College football actually does more than lose potential profit to nerds in yellow blazers, it sets money on fire by allowing bowls to impose ticket guarantees they know will never be fulfilled. The NCAA could do something about this (they okay bowl games) but chooses not to. Why is a mystery.
I disagree with Wetzel when he says extra revenue from a playoff could have forestalled or eliminated the current wackiness. Wins are a zero-sum game, so there is no such thing as enough money. It's all about how much money you have relative to the other guys. As long as Texas is Texas this still happens.
[ed: I meant to post this last week but it slipped through the cracks. Might as well publish it as further confirmation of MANBALL is +EV.]
I like it. Until Brady Hoke gives me reason to believe he is a football coach I am going to pretend he is playing XBox and does not know it and will therefore accidentally make correct decisions other football coaches will not. I will take press conference statements as rock-hard evidence of this fact. So:
You looked a little mad when the team went over to the student section after the Eastern Game. How come? “I wanted to score a touchdown at the end instead of a field goal.”
WOOO TEMPLE NATIONAL CHAMPIONS 2015
I like it, too. To emphasize how often coaches get things like this wrong, here's Ramzy on Luke Fickell:
Braxton Miller then rushed for ten yards to get to the Colorado one-yard line. There were six seconds left on the clock and Ohio State had a timeout to spare. The Buckeyes were ahead 17-7, playing at home, dominant in the trenches and had time for one more play from one yard out with the ability to still stop the clock if the attempt was unsuccessful.
Fickell was presented with a classic step-on-their-throats opportunity and chose to kick a field goal, to a chorus of boos. The chorus was correct: One more shot at a touchdown was the right call. The rookie head coach was caught over-thinking yet again, while covering for the position he's trying to earn permanently.
This was not a situation where 'just taking the three points' should have been a delicious, dangling carrot. A fade or a sneak could be easily be run in under five seconds, still leaving time for a field goal with that timeout in Fickell's pocket (a disturbing trend that began in the waning moments of the Miami game). Even if the end zone shot failed, Ohio State still could have stopped the clock and attempted a field goal as time expired.
Five seconds is a little hairy when it comes to getting that second snap but he's probably right if it's from the one. Michigan's game-ending ND fade was run from the 16 and took six seconds. Given OSU's mauling interior line it was likely to be moot anyway.
BTW, Ramzy seems very much opposed to Fickell's retention at the end of the year. I'm torn: OSU elevating an unproven guy who's never really been a coordinator (Fickell was listed as "co-DC" for the past six years but with Jim Heacock around that seems more ceremonial than functional) and makes goofy gameday decisions is an excellent situation, but dumping Fickell after the season helps Michigan's recruiting momentum since presumably it will come with a poor record.
Hat collection. Brady has one.
On a shelf in his office at the University of Michigan, Brady Hoke keeps a display of various baseball caps.
There’s a Pittsburgh Penguins hat, a few White Sox caps, plus a couple from the Detroit Tigers.
“That’s my collection to this point,” said Hoke, Michigan’s head football coach.
He didn’t buy these hats, though. And they weren’t given to him as gifts. Instead, he took them from his players because they broke his rule.
“Those are hats from players that don’t wear Michigan hats in here,” he said.
"Brady Hoke gets it" tag… engaged.
Now kill some of them with fire. The NCAA was sued by the Aloha Bowl when the bowl game tried to sell itself to some people in Seattle only for the NCAA to block them. This happened way back in 2003 and is only getting resolved now. The NCAA won. Money quote:
“We will vigorously defend the NCAA’s efforts to act in the best interest of student-athletes and the collegiate model of sports, as we did in this case,” he added. “The jury found that saying no to the Seattle Bowl was the right thing. We look forward to moving on from this case and continuing to assist the postseason bowl system so it can operate ethically and appropriately.”
Thing the NCAA can do:
The NCAA does not run postseason football bowl games in Division I but licenses them to ensure they meet a variety of requirements to ultimately provide a meaningful experience for student-athletes and institutions. These criteria relate to attendance, conference commitments, revenue and other details.
Thing the NCAA does not do: prohibit ticket guarantees that transfer money from universities to warm-weather cities with guys in colored blazers. IE: Stop setting student fees on fire.
The arbitrariness of stickers. An old Bo lineman writes MVictors about Michigan's helmet stickers and the extremely precise way in which they were handed out:
It’s funny as an offensive lineman you were never quite sure why you got one. A good block, a good game, a good play. It was easy for the specialty folks, touchdowns, TFL, sacks, fumble recovery, interceptions, 100+ yard games, etc. They never told us specifically why we received one. You just seemed to get more of them when you won. I still have my helmet from my freshman year where I earned I think 6 or 7 of them. I only played on the kick-off return team then and I was never told what I did to receive them.
A real throwback uniform would have to include stickers, but they'd have to wait until Denard graduates unless we fit him with a comically oversized Turd Ferguson helmet.
Etc.: Just Cover on the state of MSU's offensive line, which is shamblicious. Rant about spin on Craig Roh crying story if RR still in charge implied but mercifully omitted. Michigan's last 2012 opponent is UMass, who will be in the MAC by then. Kiffin assistant paid for Seastrunk's airfare on an unofficial visit to Tennessee—wonder how that fallout hits repeat violators UT and USC.
If I had known they were handing out muppets that look like you at BWB for winning the USMAP awards I would have created a voting robot to win.