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.]
12) ERRORS. ROSENBERG COMPLAINT.
The errors in recounting the Purdue game have caused folks to doubt the veracity (voracity?) of other portions of the book. The most surprising element in the whole book, to me -- that Carr allowed players to skip classes during rivalry weeks. That's been repudiated by some. Can JUB address?
First, let me say that when my name is on the book, everything between the covers is ultimately my responsibility. So what I say next is not intended to shift the blame, but to explain what happened with the two fourth quarter scores of the 2008 Purdue game so the reader can understand how mistakes can get in final copy without ill-intent or incompetence.
When I wrote up each game week – which ran 10-30 pages each, for three seasons, most of which was ultimately cut – I was primarily concerned with the material only I had, e.g. the quotes, scenes and insights you couldn’t get anywhere else. While doing that, I would fill in the game stuff from memory, just as a place holder. Then I’d go back with the stat packet they hand out to the press after each game and fill in the blanks. In this case, my lead researcher, former Michigan Daily sports editor Nate Sandals – as sharp as they come -- remembers seeing the correct version of the fourth quarter scores of the 2008 Purdue game in one of our drafts, before it went from the electronic form to paper, and back again. (Modern publishing is both very high tech and stunningly old school. My final changes were made with a blue pencil, the copy editor’s in red.) In the process, the most current version somehow got left behind, creating the two inaccurate fourth quarter scores you see on page 139 (stated as 42-35 Michigan, when it was Purdue’s lead, and later, 42-41 instead of 42-42).
Needless to say, when we saw this we weren’t thrilled, but fortunately it was not material to the story -- Michigan still lost 48-42, as reported -- and easily fixed. We sent the changes to the copy editor immediately, so the next printing coming out will have the correct fourth quarter scores. And when you make a mistake in journalism – regrettably, a few are inevitable, in any book any author writes -- that’s what the author is supposed to do: fix it, instead of digging in his heels to defend inaccurate reporting or writing. No matter how it happened, my name is on the cover, no one else’s, so it’s my job to make every effort to make sure everything inside it is accurate.
Likewise, we’ve made a few other minor fixes – including correcting the spelling of two of the thousands of names in this book -- and if we find anything else that’s demonstrably false, we’ll fix that, too.
But the exception proves the rule. After over 40,000 people have bought the book, and probably 80,000 people have read it – most of them avid fans – those two fourth quarter scores are what readers have cited that most needed correcting.
That administrative glitch aside, the reporting holds up, including Carr letting his players skip class during rivalry weeks -- a fact confirmed by over a dozen former players and staffers, dating back at least to 2005.
Like just about everything else in the book, we know a lot more about it than we put between the covers. But since you asked, here it is: on the Monday of Michigan’s three rivalry weeks, Coach Carr would start those team meetings by asking, “It’s rivalry week. And you know what that means!” The players knew their line, yelling, “No classes!” Not all the players took this as an invitation to skip, of course, but most of them did, especially the upperclassmen. (A few dozen could be found those weeks in Schembechler Hall, watching film, which is entirely legal so long as it’s voluntary.)
Shortly after Rodriguez’s staff took over, they met with the academic support staff. Mike Parrish, among others, was stunned to see over a dozen players had GPAs below 2.0, with weak attendance playing a central role. Brandon Graham, for one, told me that list included him, for that reason.
After that meeting, Rodriguez told the academic staff to communicate directly with him instead of going to Scott Draper, as Carr had instructed them. On the Monday of every rivalry week in 2008, the players would ask in the team meeting if they had to go to class, and Rodriguez made it clear they did. He made it a point to underscore this policy during every rivalry week in 2009 and 2010, too.
Attendance soon improved, as did the team’s grade point average. Before the 2010 season, Parrish recalls, the number of players below a 2.0 had been reduced to one or two, which the academic staff told him was the lowest in memory. What impact the rivalry week tradition of skipping class had on their academic performance is impossible to tease out, but there is no question that, under Rodriguez, both the players’ attendance and grades greatly improved.
(Regarding Steven Threet: I reported the scene at Penn State that way because I was standing three feet away, and that’s what I saw and heard. Anyone in that room can confirm this.)
Having addressed those issues, it’s a good time to consider what readers are not questioning: just about everything else, including all the central issues of the book, from Coach Carr’s offer to sign his players’ transfer requests to the Free Press’s decision not to mention “countable hours” to the players running out of the tunnel before the second half at the Gator Bowl laughing.
This is especially noteworthy in light of Detroit Free Press publisher Paul Anger’s full-throated, front-page defense of the Rosenberg/Snyder investigation the Sunday after it had come out, and had already been dissected by UM administrators, reporters and fans alike, point by point. The Free Press, which buys ink by the barrel, has not spent one drop responding to my reporting on their story in Three and Out.
Likewise, when Coach Carr had been accused by Rick Leach, among others, of not supporting Rich Rodriguez, Carr readily found a friendly reporter that week to send a message, on the record, in support of Rich Rodriguez. He has not responded to anything in Three and Out, either, which is his choice.
Finally, the current silence also contrasts to Dave Brandon’s private, public and repeated complaints about specific inaccuracies in the Detroit Free Press’s original report. He has often stated that he had highlighted all the falsehoods in the story, which made the copy more yellow than white. He has made no such public claims about this book. Instead, he has simultaneously stated that he has not read the book, has no plans to and has no interest in it whatsoever – a somewhat odd stance for a university devoted to learning -- while telling at least two private audiences you cannot believe everything you read about Michigan football, and the book has “some inaccuracies,” without providing a single example. As of this writing, it’s not clear which story he’s sticking with. But he has not made a single claim on the record against this book – a striking contrast to the defense he mobilized against the Free Press.
Dave Brandon, Coach Carr, Michael Rosenberg, Rich Rodriguez and any other subjects are welcome to state publicly anything they feel is inaccurate in the book, and I will respond accordingly. If they are right, I will admit it publicly, as I have above, and make the necessary changes for later editions, as we have with the two misspelled names. If they are wrong, however, I will stand by my reporting, just as I have above.
I occasionally close my speeches on the book tour by describing the official seal of the University of Michigan, the very seal behind which the President and other officials stand when they represent the university. It features three Latin words: Artes, Scientia, Veritas: Arts, Science, and Truth.
If that seal merely represents some clever corporate branding, then none of us should take it seriously, or be offended when the university we love does not strive for the truth, but attempts to squelch it – which seems to be commonplace in big time college athletics these days.
But if the founders of our university actually meant what they wrote, and we still profess to believe it, perhaps our conduct should reflect our ideals.
A FEW ADDITIONAL POINTS
Of course, we couldn’t get to all 300-some questions, though Brian did a great job sifting through them to find the most interesting, and combine them. I’ve done my best to answer them as thoroughly as I can. I’d like to address a few others of my own, plus a few that often come up on the book tour.
First, an attempt to dispel some inaccurate information.
An easy one: On pages 394-395, I quote a coach blasting Tate Forcier after he fumbled the ball on a throw against Illinois in 2010, the famous shoot-out. A lot of readers have assumed the coach was Rodriguez, when in fact it was Rod Smith, the quarterback coach who normally had the patience of Job himself. I will make that clearer in future printings.
Next: we did not hold the publication date back to late October to maximize profits, and certainly not to distract the team, as some have claimed. Why anyone would think I would want to do that – or make Denard Robinson ineligible by putting him on the cover, for that matter – is a mystery to me. The publisher hoped for an August release, the same time Bo’s Lasting Lessons and virtually all football books are released, to coincide with the season and allow four months before the holidays. I simply couldn’t it get it done fast enough.
For some reason, people often claim I never interviewed Bill Martin (or Michael Rosenberg, in a recent review) and have stated “on the record” that I believed Rodriguez deserved a fourth year. All are false. I talked with Bill Martin over a hundred times, usually casually but often formally at great length, and his many quotes in the book stand as proof of these conversations. (It’s worth noting that he has gone out of his way to be utterly gracious before, during and after publication, much to his credit, I feel.) I interviewed Mr. Rosenberg for almost three hours, and his answers to my questions are in the book, and often identified as resulting from our conversation. I have no idea why some people would state otherwise.
Likewise, I have never said Rodriguez deserved a fourth year, on the radio, in print or anywhere else. I have quoted Bo Schembechler saying he believed every football coach deserves four years, and I’ve expanded that to all college coaches – unless, I always add, they are caught in a scandal or have lost their teams. In Rodriguez’s case, I think it’s pretty clear from the evidence the “practice scandal” was vastly overblown, and Brandon himself has stated it would never have qualified as a reason to fire Rodriguez. As for losing his team, however, I think that’s open to debate, particularly after the team’s performance in the second half of the Gator Bowl. There might have been many factors outside of Rodriguez’s control that added to his and his players’ burden, but whether the sources of their troubles were internal or external, the weight was real. But I’ll again leave that for the reader to decide. Bottom line: I have made it a point never to weigh in on either side of that debate. Reasonable people, looking at the evidence in the book, could come to either conclusion, I believe.
Others have complained that I made too many insinuations, leaps of logic and the like. Yet the questions above, asking me to do just that, suggest I did not do so in the book. As most of us try to live within our means, I tried to work well within my evidence, not stretching it to the breaking point. For example, I used few anonymous sources, and only when necessary to protect them from tangible threats, like losing their jobs. (Remember that many of my sources still work for the university, and some have been fired since the book’s publication. Their fears were reasonable.) According to Joe Cornicelli – a.k.a. Corn Chowder to you WTKA listeners – the book features over 100 on-the-record sources, and fewer than ten anonymous sources (some quoted more than once) in a 168,000-word book. The Free Press investigation, for comparison, used at least six anonymous sources in its 3,000-word piece, some of whom had already transferred to other schools. I gave my publisher’s literary attorney the names of all my anonymous sources, who confirmed their stories, and recorded in each case why we had no choice but to grant them anonymity. We never did so lightly.
The book has been selling very well. Every one of the 33 stops on the nationwide book tour has been a great success – and I think this says something about the unique character of Michigan fans. Ivy League alums don’t seem to care if their teams win, while fans of successful college programs often don’t seem to care how their teams win. When the papers in those towns report unsavory news, the fans there go after the messengers, not the message. (How else can you explain the relatively innocuous Kirk Herbstreit having to move his family to Nashville to keep them safe?)
Michigan fans want to win, badly, but they want to do it the right way. If something seems amiss – be it the basketball program in the nineties or the football program recently – they want to know the truth. And they will appreciate your best efforts to find it. In addition to the very favorable responses from every stop on the tour, after the book came out my walk to and from the stadium for home games took twice as long, because I was stopped every few feet by hardcore fans wearing the hats and sweatshirts and jackets – true believers, who have invested not just their money, but their time, their energy and even their faith in the Wolverines – who wanted to thank me for writing the book. They were unfailingly friendly and supportive.
I don’t think this would happen anywhere else. So, the real thanks should be the other way around: to you for reading it, and for responding as only Michigan fans can.
[Ed-Ace: I think JUB still merits thanking, at the very least, for his lengthy and detailed answers to our questions. I'll at least do his plug for him—the last stop on his 3&O tour is tonight, 7 pm, at the Ann Arbor Barnes & Noble. Be there.]