national champs baby
Post-Release Three And Out Q&A: Part I
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.]
3) CARA FORMS
What does JUB think about Labadie and Draper's complicity in the whole CARA affair? It seems that both spoke to JUB, but he never shares his own judgment of what went wrong. Were they just overworked-clueless-frustrated, or were they acting on someone else's orders?
To clarify, Scott Draper declined to be interviewed, but Brad Labadie spoke with me at length. In our interview, he mentioned how difficult the CARA form process was to complete each week, and how he admires Coach Carr like few others. As was my goal throughout the book, I’ll only go as far as my confirmed reporting allows, then let the facts speak for themselves and the readers to form their own judgments. One of those facts is the on-the-record comment from former compliance director Judy Van Horn—a gentle soul, not normally given to criticizing colleagues, and one who had considered Labadie a trusted friend—that Labadie engaged in “out-and-out lying.” This caught my attention, as I suspect it did the readers’.
4) FREE PRESS SOURCES.
Did he ever find out the names of all the players who talked to the Free Press? Other than Greg Matthews & Toney Clemons nobody else was mentioned.
Mathews and Clemons both came forward, which I felt made naming them in the book fair game. As for the rest, I think I have it largely figured out, and in some cases confirmed, but I don’t think it’s good enough to print the names of a couple players who have not come forward, as it puts an unfair burden on a few. In any case, I’m more sympathetic to college students, whatever they might have done, than I am to the adults who were not above manipulating them for their own purposes.
5) DEFENSES 6) GERG INVOLVEMENT.
What was Rodriguez thinking as his defense imploded again and again (and again and again)? On related points: what was his relationship like with Greg Robinson versus the other D-coaches? Was there truth to the rumors that Robinson was an empty figurehead and that "Rodriguez's guys" had the inside track with the Head Coach?
There seems to be some inconsistency with how he portrays RR involvement with the defense. He mentions more than once that RR trusted Gerg and wanted to give him space even though he felt strongly that Demens should play more and Ezeh should play less. I felt like Bacon was implying that RR gave Gerg the slack to hang himself with.....but doesn't that contradict the fact that Gerg implemented a 3-3-5 and seemed to change some of his scheme toward what RR preferred? So how much did RR really influence things on defense?
Taking this from the top, while trying to avoid repeating too much of my last batch of answers for MGoBlog a couple months ago, Rodriguez’s original sin was not getting Jeff Casteel to Michigan—and in the book I explain how that falls to both Michigan and Rodriguez in equal measure. (As I wrote, he was not willing to leave Morgantown without his strength staff, but he did without his DC.) Everything after that was a compromised attempt at retrofitting, and none of it worked.
Rodriguez was asking a lot of Scott Shafer to arrive in Ann Arbor without knowing virtually anything about the program, the staff he was inheriting or the 3-3-5 system Rodriguez would eventually ask him to use before the 2008 Purdue game. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work, and while that mostly falls on Rodriguez, Shafer brought his own psychology to the equation. While Greg Robinson got along exceedingly well with Rodriguez’s staff in almost identical circumstances, Shafer did not. The dynamic the reader cites above more closely describes Shafer’s relationship with Rodriguez’s staff than Robinson’s. While I think he is a decent, hardworking man—and the staff could have done a better job working with him -- Shafer kept largely to himself. (I probably spoke a few sentences with him during his time in Ann Arbor.) Further, his stubbornness (or selfishness, take your pick) in continuing to recruit Denard Robinson as a defensive back – against Rodriguez’s wishes—would have cost Michigan its future Big Ten Player of the Year, and is indicative of the poor chemistry between Shafer and the rest of the staff. If Scott Shafer is still Michigan’s defensive coordinator, Denard Robinson is not your quarterback.
Greg Robinson was very well liked, as noted above, but he faced the same problems Shafer did: little experience with Rodriguez’s staff and system. This resulted in the conflict cited above: Rodriguez respected Robinson and wanted to demonstrate this in front of his staff, but he was also utterly frustrated not just with the poor results, but with the passivity the defense often displayed – arguably Rodriguez’s least favorite trait in a player.
As for my reporting on the defense in the book, it’s worth remembering the original idea was to spend three months to produce some magazine stories on the spread offense coming to the Big Ten. A simple, small idea. Well, three years later, here I am. I didn’t have any idea most of the story would take place off the field, not on it. And I certainly didn’t believe initially that the defense would prove to be such a story.
Further, in 2008, because I was largely unknown to the coaches and the players, the conversations I had with them were not nearly as frequent or as fruitful as they were in 2009 and 2010, especially after I worked out with Barwis and company for six weeks, which opened a lot of doors. But even after that, while I had many conversations with Greg Robinson over those two years about the team in general and some players in particular, he was usually as tight-lipped with me about the particulars as he was with the rest of the press.
Also, I spent almost all of the position meeting time with the quarterbacks – which we assumed, correctly I feel, that the readers would want to know about first and foremost. The slices of dialogue readers enjoyed in the quarterback meetings and hotel rooms represent a sliver of the time I spent with them to gain that trust and find those gems. I simply could not be everywhere at once – and in any case, I honestly don’t believe there’s much more to say about the defensive meltdown than what we already know. Whatever could have gone wrong—recruiting, injuries, coaching, and translation problems – went wrong, a perfect storm of failure. Spending more time in those meetings in the hope of hearing an argument or two would have illuminated very little that we didn’t already know.
The defense was historically horrible, but it was hardly mysterious.
7) SELF PITY
Compared to other coaches JUB has been around, where does RR fall on the maturity scale? I feel like we, the Michigan community, treated him unfairly. And yet... Rodriguez's level of immaturity/self-absorption was at times shocking, e.g. the constant mentioning of the cockroaches, the thinking Groban was a good idea, and the overall level of self-pity (fuck ME!).
I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive that Rodriguez faced more obstacles than Michigan coaches have in the past, yet still added to his problems, often at the most inopportune times. As they say, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Both can be true.
The above question is also why I do not believe the book is biased toward Rodriguez. I have been gratified to see serious national reviewers describe the book as fair and balanced, invariably pointing out that Rodriguez’s flaws and mistakes are hardly hidden. (You can find their reviews on Amazon, with the longer versions posted at their publications—though perhaps a better gauge of the book’s accuracy can be found by asking the players and parents who saw it all up close.)
When a reasonable reader can pull out all of his shortcomings above exclusively from the book (which I’ve listed below), it suggests Rodriguez’s warts were not concealed. In fact, Rodriguez’s main complaint with the book is that I produced a case to justify why he was fired. While I disagreed, in some ways he read the manuscript more closely than many readers. His list included my descriptions of the following:
-Not preparing for his first press conference, which could have gone better;
-The way he fired Carr’s assistants and failed to connect with the 2007 senior class before they left;
-His inability to convince Michigan he needed Jeff Casteel, while persuading Martin he needed Barwis, his staff and a new, million-dollar weight room;
-His many botched press conferences, including the behind-the-scenes lead-up to them;
-His post-loss tantrums, which display his almost pathological hatred of losing, going back to putting a blanket over his head as a pee wee football player (not uncommon among the highly competitive);
-The seven missed “match points” I identify in 2009 and 2010, any one of which, I argue in the book, would have been enough to keep his job. (This counters the claim that he never had a chance, something I never believed and have never stated);
-The Final Bust. That chapter was by far the most painful for him. He was very displeased with my take on that, as I wrote that it revealed he had still not learned essential things about being Michigan’s head coach, including establishing a circle of trusted advisors, and knowing his audience. As I report in the book, even some of his most loyal supporters leaving the banquet hall thought that night marked the end.
-The biggest obstacle any A.D. would have in retaining Rodriguez, in my opinion, is presented for the first time in this book: after a while his problems became his players’ problems, and his pressure became their pressure – including the frequent talk of cockroaches, and the overdeveloped sense of “Us versus Them.” The players grew weary under their weight, something you can see evolving in the book. Despite coming back for more, again and again, the players finally broke at the Gator Bowl, where some of them came out of the tunnel for the second half laughing—a clear sign that they had had enough.
You have to admit, that’s a pretty weighty list, enough to keep his critics busy for months. However, I told Rodriguez I was not trying to justify his being fired (nor argue for his retention) but simply trying to explain how it all got to that point. Which, to me, is fundamentally different.
In fact, I’d say, just about every reason you can think of to retain him is in the book, and every reason to let him go is, too—including the ones listed above, giving his detractors ammunition they could never have wished for before the book’s publication. How many of the items above were readers aware of before reading the book? The list of revelations does not suggest the author is trying to protect or promote Rich Rodriguez, but simply trying to identify the many factors that led to his demise.
I’ve also noticed readers who believe the book tilts toward Rodriguez usually didn’t like him before picking up the book (or still haven’t read it). Studies show we are naturally reluctant to change our minds after we form our first impression – and Rodriguez’s were not good.
That said, many of Rodriguez’s most prominent qualities, I believe, are endemic to big-time coaches. They have egos, they are loyal (often to a fault), they are quick to feel disrespected, and they feel losing is not merely a professional setback but a personal failing. Schembechler’s post-loss tirades were legendary. He was inconsolable for days after a defeat to the Buckeyes. Moeller’s implosion at the Southfield restaurant has been covered ad nauseum, while Carr’s mindset is documented in the book.
In short, to paraphrase a great line from “Casablanca,” I’d say Rodriguez is like every other big time coach – only more so.