Where I'm at. The previous "when can we fire this guy" post?
(illustration via reader Brian Louwers)
I promised I wouldn't talk about Rich Rodriguez's job status until the season was over but apparently I'm going to. I blame everyone.
Too many posts in the Fire RR vein argue things no one is disputing. This one titled "The Buck Stops at Rodriguez," argues that a head coach is in charge of his program. This is not very enlightening. Neither is restating his record. We're all aware of Rich Rodriguez's record. We watched it. Saying "but this happened and I was sad" means you're answering the wrong question. You're answering the question "what will make me feel better?" Sometimes you're answering the question "who would have been the best choice for 2008?"
These are the questions I'm interested in:
- Which football coach will give Michigan the best record in 2011?
- What about 2012?
- What about 2015?
You hire a coach for the long term. I think you fire a coach for the short term, though, and the point at which you boot the last guy is when you think the next year isn't going to meet a reasonable minimum threshold of progress. I completely understand people who have hit that point. You can save your comments about how he needs to go—neither I nor anyone else cares to hear it for the one millionth time in the last three days. It's an understandable position. If Rich Rodriguez is cut loose after the season and Jim Harbaugh comes in I will not be in the streets with a bullhorn.
But I wouldn't endorse that move (at least not right now), because I think the answers to questions one and two are conditionally "Rich Rodriguez."
Upperclass Denard: How Does It Work?
Michigan has a unique talent on its hands in Denard Robinson, and they've acquired a mobile offensive line, slot receivers, and tailbacks to complement him. Some of these players can easily transition to another scheme. Stephen Hopkins can I-back with anyone. The outside receivers are just outside receivers. Taylor Lewan is going to hate donkeys in any scheme.
Others can't. The gaggle of tiny waterbug types—including Dee Hart, though he probably won't end up at M if there is a change—are going to be marginalized. I'm not sure how well the offensive line will hold up in an offense that prizes power over movement. Michigan isn't going to be able to materialize an excellent fullback and tight end depth out of nothing.
And then there's Denard. He could move to receiver or tailback, I guess, or more likely transfer, or you could bring in a spread guy, or you could try to keep Magee, or you could just ride with the guy who has already made Denard the all-time leading QB rusher in the Big Ten, will make him the all-time leading QB rusher in NCAA history, and turned Pat White into one of the best quarterbacks in college football before that. One of the "Smiths or MGoBlog" posts contains an argument I've made before:
For everyone that wants RR gone, I submit a short rebuttal.
This team (could) return 22 of 24 starters next year. The #4 offense in the country will return every skill position player except Martell Webb and the offensive line should improve even with losing S. Schilling. The 2011 schedule is set up for a Big 10 Championship. Rodriguez will finally have experience and depth at his disposal on offense. No freshmen(even redshirt freshmen) save possibly Hart will see the field. Don't you want to see what could become of this offense and the stars it could attract with stability up top? If you broom RR then what? If you bring in Harbaugh, Denard is either gone or a slot back. I have no idea how much attrition you get but this offense has been molded by RR for 3 years, it will not be as good.
I think that's indisputable: you will lose offensive firepower by making a change. Over the course of his career Rodriguez has established he is standard deviations above the mean as an offensive coordinator. Criticisms about the offense exist but are limited to suggesting that this group featuring two seniors and a sophomore quarterback isn't really the fourth-best offense in the nation because they're not scoring enough. That's true—Michigan is only 19th in scoring offense—but the blame for that rests largely with a defense that doesn't force turnovers (or punts) and the nation's worst kicker situation. If you adjust for all the vagaries that make straight yardage and scoring statistics unrepresentative, pile on a strength of schedule factor, and average it all out this is not, in fact, the fourth best offense in the country:
Michigan is still ranked #2 nationally in rushing and #3 overall in Points Above Normal but the game scores are coming down.
While Michigan's performance over the last three games is not that good, it would still be top 25. If you're wantonly throwing that much data away to make that your conclusion you've just gone Nanking on math for little reward.
Whatever you lose had better be made up for by better play from special teams and defense, but if we're rebooting the defensive coaching staff what does it matter who's doing ninja stuff on the other side of the ball? Unless Anonymous New Coach, who we'll call "Jim Harbaugh" for simplicity's sake, brings in someone who can play instantly the only way that will happen is by bringing in a better defensive staff. Michigan can do that without disrupting something that looks like it's going very right on the other side of the ball.
The obvious argument against that is Scott Shafer, Jay Hopson, and Greg Robinson. That's why the conditional case for bringing RR back rests on either 1) grabbing Jeff Casteel, probably in the event of a Bill Stewart firing, or 2) clearing everyone (or almost everyone) out, bringing in a defensive coordinator with a track record of established recent success on the college level, and giving him carte blanche to bring in the people he wants to bring in. This will be expensive but I hereby volunteer a dollar from each Michigan season ticketholder to make it happen.
The Convincing Argument Against
I AM SO PUMPED ABOUT THIS SMOOTHIE I'M THINKING OF
I AM TOTALLY GOING TO KICK THIS SMOOTHIE'S ASS
WHAT IS YOUR DEAL, BANANA AND WHEATGRASS?
i hope i'm not having an aneurysm—YEAH SMOOTHIES
Recruiting, basically. Rich Rodriguez is chased around by a horrendous narrative caused by a lot of losing and a lot of other stuff. Jim Harbaugh has to deal with a DUI and some self-serving statements about Michigan's academics—these don't live up. If Michigan goes 9-3 next year under Harbaugh, people are delighted. If Rodriguez does it there remain many, many grumbles. Michigan can throw away the last three years and start over.
Even if this reduces expectations short term, the narrative is totally different and recruits might be more amenable to jumping on board. Fuzzy Dunlop, who amazingly does not have a tennis ball avatar:
Many of those saying the defense is not Rodriguez's "fault" miss the essential point. It doesn't matter whose fault it is. What matters is who has the ability to rectify the situation. And we are fast approaching the point where Rodriguez will no longer have that ability (if he ever had it).
The defense sucks. Let's say it's not Rod's fault. Fine. So how does he fix it? Get great defensive recruits? If we lose out, or eke by Purdue, what makes anyone think the good defensive recruits will be rushing to come to Michigan this year? Perception becomes reality -- our defense is perceived to be a joke, with terrible coaching -- this is not a situation talented players are going to rush into.
He gets a little more negative than I am but the point is valid. Unfortunately, at some point the baggage in your past becomes an active detriment to your future. Rodriguez is either already there or one season from it.
The Gibson Issue
Defensive backs coach Tony Gibson is a lightning rod for criticism because the secondary is a disaster zone and the internets have it that he and Rodriguez have a Clinton-Blair style "special relationship," with all the charges of cronyism that brings. Even Michael Rosenberg is making that argument after years of blithely ignoring the DerpBord era. (Q: What's the difference between a Free Press columnist and a message board poster? A: Editors.)
Unfortunately there's no statistic you can point to that definitively says he's good or bad but the vague outlines provided by the NCAA's site aren't exactly damning:
|Pass Eff Rk
That's not great aside from the bizarre first year (West Virginia was terrible at run defense so teams just ran) but it's consistently above average. In six years Gibson had three players drafted, one of them (Ryan Mundy) a guy who transferred away from Michigan because he wasn't going to get playing time. That's about one per slot he was in charge of, assuming that the spur and bandit were not his responsibilities. The rest of WVU's team saw eight guys drafted across nineteen spots.
None of this is definitive but it's at least an indication that Gibson isn't the anchor certain FFFFFUUUUUUU sorts make him out to be. The debacle here could be a coaching issue, but Occam's razor suggest it's talent (and attrition). Cbuswolverine put up a diary looking at the experience of the top five and bottom five secondaries in the country with the expected results—everyone but LSU averages at least 3.5 years on campus, and LSU is at 2.75. It is possible that Tony Gibson is a huge problem, but even if he was we wouldn't know. His reputation as a great recruiter is commonly stated, but we have even less data on that.
I put in a Mathlete request for a fancy math version of the above statistics that would adjust for schedule strength and maybe parse out the sacks in the three years they're available.
The Most Insane Thing Ever Said About Me
It's days like this that I envy Brian.
What I'd Do At 7-5 Or 6-6, Probably—I Mean If We Lose By A Billion In Three Games, Probably Not, But Let's Just Say If The Season Plays Out Like It Looks It Will
I'd fire Robinson. Then I'd bring in Casteel if he's available post Stewart firing or broom most of the defensive staff and bring in someone making SEC dollars along with two other established position coaches, and then I'd give Rodriguez 2011 and hope like hell. Michigan's in a bad spot either way, but at least Ivan Maisel's with me.
Yeah, that's right: Ivan Maisel.
Other bits: for folks complaining about the O/D coaching breakdown, Touch The Banner surveys the Big Ten and finds that literally every team in the league has four defensive assistants and all but one (Purdue, which has a dedicated ST coach) has five offensive assistants, or would if they hadn't fired their head coach already. Maize And Go Blue is here:
Wojo on matters:
Rich Rodriguez didn't fire or demote his defensive coordinator Monday, and to some, that's a sad surprise. Frankly, I'm not sure it makes a big difference.
Greg Robinson has done a poor job, and his position certainly should be in jeopardy. But full accountability sits where it always sits, where it now shifts uncomfortably — on the coach.