this guy evidently hired to work for AD
Due to time constraints the past couple of weeks, I caught only parts of the Purdue and Illinois games. Luckily, what I saw made a post like this unnecessary, unless you think “Best: Everything”, “Best: I’m Kirk Herbstreit and I like to jinx Purdue” and “Worst: Moar Fitz rushing” embodies deeply thoughtful analysis.
Plus, I was kind of saving up for this MSU game. The first two weeks of the B1G season looked like tuneups to start the season, with MSU being the unofficial beginning of “Run for the Roses” in Pasadena, and nothing transpired during those first couple of games to change that opinion, at least in UM’s eyes. MSU, though, stumbled to start the season, and were definitely looking to dig themselves out of a Sparty-inflicted hole that included tough loses to OSU and Iowa. And so a rivalry game + MSU reeling + “William Gholston isn’t a jerk, he’s just misunderstood” = a fertile ground for highlighting the waxing and waning of UM’s first victory in the history of this series.*
* This series having started in 2008, one year after Microsoft Encarta and the Mayan calendar apparently arrived in East Lansing.
UM was only 1-4 against Dantonio heading into this game, and for all of the negative press the guy gets here and across the greater UM blogosphere, he’s turned a mediocre State program into a consistent winner, something it hasn’t been since, I don’t know, the 1950’s. Seriously, check out these season records from 1950 to 2011. People around here complain about UM not making a bowl game for 2 years; MSU had won 10 games only twice in the past 60+ years before Dantonio glared his way onto campus.
And it wasn’t just the losing to MSU that drove people crazy, it was how. Sometimes they won in dramatic fashion in OT after UM made a miraculous comeback; other times it was a dominating performance on the ground. Almost always, though, MSU had the better team AND found a way to confound not only the Michigan players, especially Denard Robinson, but also the coaching staffs. There’s a reason that the game previews for 2010, 2011, and 2012 kept pointing out that MSU was successfully jumping the snap on virtually every play, yet it kept happening. Or how MSU found a way to consistently gash the UM defense for yards on the edges despite everyone knowing that MSU’s gameplan was taken from the 1959 game program.
So beating MSU needed to happen to not only restore order back to the world, but also to validate the notion that the program was back on its way to the relative dominance most people remember from the 90s/00s. The OSU win last year was a nice step in that direction, as was the bowl game, but beating OSU is rarely presumed when the season begins; beating MSU is far more the norm. And while I’m sure many fans are loathe to admit it, this iteration of UM football needed to beat them to dispel the notion that Dantonio was plated in some impenetrable Wolverine armor (a similar feeling seemed to have set in on Notre Dame until this year). He’s been cut by Hoke and Co., and once that happened that tightening you have in your chest when MSU takes the lead late will hopefully disappear.
* I know this is a super-tired reference. The “good job, good effort” kid was the next in line.
I’m sure this is a bit of coach-speak, but it is also something that needed to be said. Since, oh, the Eastern Michigan game, I don’t think most people saw MSU as a legitimate Big 10 championship team. The offense was too crippled by a porous line, poor WRs, and a somewhat-shaky QB to keep pace with teams like Wisconsin, UM, OSU, and Nebraska. The Iowa game cemented their ceiling for the year at 7-8 wins, even with an elite defense.
Outside of the Alabama game, though, UM’s ceiling was never defined. Notre Dame was a tough loss but one that felt more self-inflicted than the team meeting a superior opponent. Purdue and Illinois proved only that UM was probably as good as Louisiana Tech and and Marshall. MSU, frankly, was not going to validate UM’s season, but only give them another breakpoint from which to calibrate their potential.
And that’s what Hoke encapsulates in this statement. He recognizes that MSU is a rival and the game mattered, but this wasn’t the season. Nebraska and OSU will be tougher opponents, and the near-certain B1G title game and (hopefully) the Rose Bowl bid will be far more emblematic of Michigan’s 2012 season. Last year expectations were such than an MSU win would have been one to hang the team’s hat on; this year, they’re another 4-4 team that gave UM their best shot and came up a little short.
Worst: “Rivalry” game?
Listen, I can totally get behind belittling MSU’s fans. I was at school there for 3 years, and I witnessed two riots, one “celebration” of a hockey championship during a season in which tickets to games were very available, and thousands of instances of drunken 40-year-olds hitting on college girls outside of dorms as the men’s belies jiggled under super-tight “Go Green! Go White!” shirts they picked up from the local Quality Dairy. It is a school that prides itself on making boxes*, having “awesome parties with hot chicks!”, and being able to count, and while the people there are not as bad as you think, comparisons between the two schools tend toward the Blue Team.
That said, the oft-repeated refrain from UM faithful that MSU isn’t a “rival” is just silly. Sure, OSU remains UM’s most consistently-excellent foe, and 30 years ago the Notre Dame and Michigan clashes typically featured top-10 programs shooting for a national title. But MSU is the other major program in the state, and really the only one in the footprint that features two public schools that (at least ostensibly) draw from the same high schools and communities (Purdue and Notre Dame and Illinois and Northwestern feature the whole private/public differences and the related non-geographically draws). In my high school class of around 160 kids, we had 3 who went to UM and about 40 who went to MSU. At other schools, the numbers were a bit closer, but the fact remains that if you go to either university, you are more than likely to have spent years of your life cohabitating with peers on the other side.
For Michigan fans, beating MSU feels like it should; despite EVERY MSU student claiming he/she was accepted but declined/never wanted to apply/”totally loved MSU the minute they walked on campus and never thought Ann Arbor was anything special”, you secretly felt most of them wanted to go to UM but couldn’t. It also poked a weird hole in the meta-argument that the “jocks” went to MSU and the “nerds” went to UM (which never made sense since it’s not like either team is comprised of the general student body). For MSU, beating UM was a clear rebuttal to all the crap I spewed above; a tangible instance of MSU beating UM in something that both schools’ fanbases cared about. This wasn’t a “our Particle Physics major is better” or “our mascot is cooler according to Playboy.com”, but a win for MSU and a loss for UM.
The point is that it matters to both sides, and anyone mouthing off about how beating MSU didn’t matter, that they are not UM’s rival, is just displaying his/her naivety and/or unfounded arrogance. And while I definitely see this year being the end of MSU’s “dominant run” in the Big 10, they will remain a key opponent for championship game and bowl bids under Dantonio. MSU ain’t going anywhere, and trying to ignore them or minimize their threat doesn’t impress anyone.
* I know that packaging engineering is more than making boxes, but that ESPN special a couple of games ago didn’t help to dispel that idea.
Worst: Still with the unimaginative offensive schemes?
Al Borges seems like a nice guy, and I definitely see how the offensive skill players he inherited don’t mesh with the play-calling he prefers to call. Denard is great for the offense that RR runs, where his feet lead the way and defenses worry about gap control and QB Oh Noes! for 4 quarters. Under Borges, he’s an oval-ish peg trying to fit into a parallelogram-ish hole. He’s not super-accurate, the WRs he throws to are either too small, too slow, or too inexperienced for complete optimization, and the dominant tailback and massive linemen are either in red shirts or still playing HS. It’s like owning a 3DO in 1994 – it looks really cool on paper, but the controls don’t work the way they should and the pictures on the game boxes always look cooler than the games themselves.
That said, this offensive ineptitude against anyone with a top 50-ish defense needs to end. 2011 Notre Dame and Nebraska are the only decent defenses that Michigan really scored on, and even with those two performances there were a myriad of factors beyond “offensive efficiency” that led to those outbursts. It’s gotten to the point that I’d rather the team spot opponents 10-15 points just to get Borges out his routine and let up on the reins a bit.
Everyone knows about the much-bemoaned I- and screaming “multiple TEs in on the line so we are clearly running”-formations, but it’s also the option runs that are almost never options and a vertical passing game that can charitably be described as “adventurous” at times. It’s a mindset that calls for plays that he knows his team just cannot execute the way he wants, and while I get the argument that he needs to run what he knows, it is infuriating to see this team get stymied in the red zone or go three-and-out repeatedly with offensive play calling that only calls on Denard to run 6 times in the second half before the final drive. The Denard Borges Fusion Cuisine is like a restaurant in an airport – it looks good because you are starving and have a 2-hour layover with the only other options being a Sbarro’s and one of those airport bars where businessmen from Des Moines hit on the “mature” female bartender who also doubles as the short-order cook. Chop the menu in half, sprinkle in a bunch of designed runs and screens to keep Spartan Pride from killing him on gap blitzes, and wait until Shane Morris is a Sophomore.
Best: This is how we do it!
On the other end of the coordinator spectrum stands Greg Mattison, whose work restoring the validity of “Greg” after Mr. Robinson, Mr. Williams (I’m ignoring the superfluous G), Mr. Davis, and Mr. Brady tried their best to ruin it deserves serious nomination come the off-season. In 2010 Michigan was ranked 110th in total defense, above a bunch of directional schools and below such juggernauts as Rice, Duke, and Baylor. Today? They’re 10th. That’s not just impressive, that’s damn near a miracle. Every time a see Jake Ryan burst through the line to snag a QB in the backfield or J.T. Floyd break up another pass attempt, I involuntary pull one of these:
Yes, this is the same video. No, I won’t apologize for my love of mid-90’s R&B. You’re just lucky I couldn’t think of anything catchy/appropriate for Next.
Say what you will about MSU’s offense this year, they still had one of the better RBs in the country in Bell, a competent QB, and the laser-focus to circle the Michigan game on the calendar and pull every goofy play they can out for it. Yet, outside of two drives that netted MSU 170 yards (helped in part by a fake punt that accounted for almost 30 yards), they record 134 yards over 9 more drives and barely broke 300 yards for the game. Bell, who was used as the human battering ram that in years past gashed the Wolverines, had a quiet 68 yards and nothing longer than 8 yards. Maxwell threw a pick and a TD and never looked super-comfortable out there, and his repeated failed attempts to pick on Floyd at the end of the first half should shock anyone who remembers watching this only a couple of years ago.
Michigan won yesterday because the defense is a legitimate threat, and that transformation is due in large part to Greg Robinson (and Brady Hoke) making it so.
(Of course, this raises the questions surrounding why big-time coordinators were apparently “out of budget” under Carr and RR, but that’s for another day. Minnesota, let’s say.)
Best: Poor Sinead O’Connor
Everyone likes to say that Brenda Gibbons’ fondness for brunettes powers his cold-as-ice heart as he kicks yet another game winner. Personally, I think he derives his power from hair follicles in general, their faint aroma wafting by his nostrils as he lines up a half-dozen yards behind the ball. 2 years ago he was 1 for 5 in FGA, with a long of 24. In other words, a shade over an extra point. Two years later, he’s 10 of 12 with a long of 42 and a couple of game winners to boot. Someone needs to be in Columbus at the end of the season with whatever machine they use to fumigate Abercrombie & Fitch with their “cologne” and make sure whatever subconscious memories that are triggered in Gibbons are ready to go.
Worst: Recidivism on the rise in East Lansing
Usually the MSU-UM game coincides with the yearly East Lansing work-release program. I leave it to the reader to
bunch of convicts
to see what I am referring to.
Best: Liveblog Moderators are people too.
A redundant but totally necessary thank you should go out to the posters who moderate these liveblogs. I’ve yet to moderate one, as my proclivity to immediately approve anyone who references TMNT or “No Fear” t-shirt slogans would bog down the proceedings immensely, but watching the feed yesterday made me happy that no matter how many whiny posts go through, there must have been literally millions that didn’t. To imagine the horrors these men and women must endure every Saturday and yet function for the rest of the week is truly shocking, and they have my gratitude. Of course, that and $2.99 would get you a commemorative “I Was There” pin from the 2011 B1G championship game, but at least it’s something.
Note: I take this format directly from Brandon Stroud’s Best and Worst of Raw over at With Leather. I love what he does there, and figured it would be a nice style to recap both the OOC schedule and, going forward, each game in the schedule. As with everything on the Internet, reader beware.
So the past five weeks were interesting. UM currently sits at 2-2, with one blowout loss, one blowout win, and a split in games that could charitably be described as “competitive” and uncharitably described as “Big Tehnnn footbah!” The David Brandon Memorial “Millions of Dollars” bowl was what everyone expected once it transformed from that big travel date in the sky to Guards in The Longest Yard’s fantasy it was in reality. Air Force was the workman-like win that service academies typically extract from good teams, and UMass reminded everyone that we should all be happy that they root for a team with First World Football Problems and not a school whose claim to athletic fame was being the other other school John Calipari screwed over after leaving.
And then there was Notre Dame, which absolutely felt like those times in video game football when the computer says “you are NOT going undefeated this season with Brody Boss as your QB of New Mexico State” and your players do everything short of digitally pooping themselves on the field for 4 quarters. For shorthand purposes, I shall refer to this feeling going forward as pulling a “Rooting for Jimmy Clausen.”
But with Purdue coming up next, I figured it would be worth a brief look back at these first four games and highlight the soul-lifting positives and dong-punching negatives as I saw them.
Best: Yeah real Out-Of-Conference Games!
It is a not-so-dirty secret in Ann Arbor that UM almost always treated the ND game as the SUPER HUGE DEAL! game every season, so they rarely tried to schedule another tough opponent before conference play. Sure, you’d get your Baylor/Virginia/Syracuse/mid-level Pac-10 team here and there, but those blockbuster matchups were simply not that common. Whereas in recent years OSU scheduled USC, Texas, and Miami (YTM [when they were supposed to be good]), and various SEC teams were welcoming unassuming programs to the Thunderdome to be pulverized, UM seemingly built its out-of-conference slate around beating leather-helmet enthusiasts who are tears-of-sadness photogenic and who just like to hang out with the guys, bra.
So when it was announced in 2010 that Team 134 would be traveling to JerryWorld to face the good-but-not-yet-terrifying Alabama Crimson Tide the general consensus was “Good, hopefully Rich Rodriguez will have the team ready” coupled with “finally UM is playing a legit team in the OOC schedule.” That was also a more innocent time, when Greg Robinson was a bit more GERG and less interpretive dance/motivational animal rubbing-er.
|This can never be unseen|
But for once, it felt like UM was trying to maintain at least the notion that it would play anyone anywhere anytime, that it measured itself against the best programs in the country. And sure, it was going to carry with it the big-game taxes and costs to see it live, but finally UM would be part of a marquee non-conference game that didn’t include Tom Hammond receiving Pez every time he mentioned the ghosts of Notre Dame past.
|My Coldwell Banker rep sure seems happy today|
Worst: So THAT’S why people don’t schedule SEC teams
The sense when the game was announced was that there is no way Alabama would be as good as the year before when they won the national title, and the narrative of SEC dominance felt like the unholy lovechild of marketing by ESPN and the Power of Tebow, and not, you know, stone-cold reality. But as the years progressed and Alabama kept schooling fools and Michigan did not, then they switched coaches, it became clear that this wasn’t going to be fun.
Of course, there had been rumblings previously that Alabama might up to something, what with the wings of hospitals being filled with former recruits who didn’t quite pan out or signing 135 (!!) recruits since 2008 even though natural matriculation, the NFL draft, and math made that number still too high to meet the NCAA scholarship regulations. And it wasn’t like Saban was pulling a Houston Nutt and crashing his motorcycle while getting a…er, just grab-bagging kids in droves with no regard for ability or need. He was pulling in 4* and 5* kids, and then putting them on special teams because the 5* kids ahead of them were still producing/not suddenly being deemed unable to play sports again.
Best: Are you not ENTERTAINED!
One of the time-honored traditions for most major-college football teams is to schedule “Baby Seals” to play in home games before the regular conference season begins. The goal is to snag a couple of easy wins, get the starters some game-like practice without injury, and to send the alumni and fans home happy after a nice day game. And heck, maybe it will be a bit entertaining.
So that’s why teams typically schedule these Seal teams, comprised of fervent, KISS Army-like followers of British pop/soul musician Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel, their anthem a throaty “You’re never gonna survive…unless you get a little crazy!” and their uniforms adorned with a vibrant roses on a gravestones…
Wait, that’s not right. Fans of Seal would be more into the other game of football, and anyway their leader seems like he’d rather memorialize the game and not necessarily participate. No, apparently Seal teams are a crack team of Navy special forces (like the varsity of version of the Midshipmen, but with more guns, less hair, and the most OMG Shirtless-ness of the elite military forces).
Okay, wrong again. Apparently Baby Seals are teams that programs schedule because the talent disparity between the two programs is so significant that there is NO WAY that the Seal could EVER beat the BCS squad.
A great example this year was UMass, the past home of 16-year (!!) NBA star Marcus Camby and current home of former UM victory cigar Mike Cox. While UMass had given the Wolverines all they could handle a couple of years ago, it was clear from the first snap of the game that UM was a significantly better team than the Mintemen and that the only issue would be if Denard Robinson scored more points for UMass than they did on offense. It was the type of victory people need to see more often before it becomes routine, even though there is NO REASON why UM fans should ever be worried about losing to them. Right?
Anyway, it was the type of game where offensive players scamper untouched 5-10 yards past the line, where receivers are constantly blanketed and overmatched offensive linemen are being crushed left and right by future NFL DTs and DEs, and a couple of cheap scores shouldn’t cloud the severity of the beating dished out.
Worst: The other foot
Now, you probably thought that last paragraph above was referring to the UMass game, and it was. But I could copy and paste that text, and really the whole last section save for my weird Seal-based non-sequitur, and it would be a 100% recap of watching the Alabama game. UM was Baby Seal’ed as much as any UM team I’ve ever seen, though I’ll admit to being 10 and definitely not into sports when UM played Florida State. The worst game I ever saw UM play in person was against Iowa in 2002 because it wasn’t a fluky game where UM shot itself in the foot as much as Iowa just blew them off the field (check out the drive chart). Maybe Oregon in 2007 was worse, but that team was shell-shocked so it wasn’t surprising that a pumped Ducks team (which definitely stay together when they play together) with tons of talent beat them badly. I’m sure I’m missing an ND game in there somewhere, and Brian seems to have a thing about the 2007 OSU game, and anyone with knowledge before 1995 or so feel free to add in the comments below.
This has to be photoshopped, right?
But this Alabama game is the worst beating I’ve seen UM experience. It wasn’t that Alabama was the better team on the day, or that they played UM so well. I have watched UM enough, especially during the RR years but even during those down Carr and Moeller years, to know that sometimes this team just isn’t as talented as its competition.
This was different, though. In all previous butt-whoopings, UM at least looked like they COULD have beaten the opposition on a different day. But against Alabama, there was no reality, no world in which Michigan could have beaten that Alabama team. And that includes a reality in which both Michigan’s and Alabama’s players are clowns made of candy and Jim Tressel is a Doozer who built Cowboy Stadium with pixie sticks. I try not to use hyperbole very often, but Alabama UMass’d UM more than UM has UMass’d a team in recent memory (okay, maybe not Delaware St., but go with it). It was a sobering sight to see Al Borges look at his play sheet, throw up his hands in disgust, and just run the ball out of the I-form and punt. And it showed that while Brady Hoke is pointing UM in the right direction, maybe college football has morphed so much in the past half-dozen years that anyone who doesn’t recruit 120 kids and pays NFL-like salaries to state employees is going to be some precious sea animal to be mowed down by the couple of teams that are willing to play fast and loose with the spirit of college athletics.
|Couldn’t find an excuse to put this picture in anywhere else – a bear with chainsaws for claws|
Best: USA! USA! USA!
I was going to make this a Worst because I’m never a fan of playing the service academies. First, they are about as true a “student-athlete” as you’ll find in the FBS – they are not that big, they are not that fast, they all love engineering and science and stuff, and they are definitely Going Pro in Something Other Than Sports. So beating them feels like the varsity team beating a really motivated and disciplined intramural team, if said intramural team was full of smart guys and not brosephs who wear their Oak Red Division II championship t-shirt every time they get their swell on.
Second, they are actually pretty good at football, or at least are resourceful and schematically-unique enough that they can catch even good teams off guard. At least one of them is always a top-5/10 outfit running the ball, they almost never take bad penalties, and their defenses are those annoying blitz-heavy-at-weird-angles schemes that can rattle an offense that knows it probably won’t be getting the ball that often. It’s actually fun to watch them play football except when it is against your team and they are driving for a game-tying score despite having 5’ 9” WRs and linemen significantly smaller than Billy Bob from Varsity Blues.
Finally, it just feels Notre Dame-y to play them, in the sense that certain teams derive some weird morality boost by playing a service academy. To listen to some people describe these matchups, playing Army or Air Force is to Support the Troops® and show why America is great, whereas it always struck me as an easy win on the schedule. It’s not like dropping 50 on them in Dublin was going to make them feel any better as they hunted for Sean Connery or defended Andre Braugher (and yes, I need to stop watching so much TV). It’s equivalent to acting as if Vanderbilt, Northwestern, or Stanford’s football teams are full of geniuses who are also good at football, instead of academically rigorous schools who field football teams that may have a couple of smart guys sprinkled in with guys who are largely indistinguishable from the rest of college sports.
So there are a bunch of reasons why playing service academies is a dumb idea…
EXCEPT I just can’t get over how much fun it is to see them on the field and see the respect fans everywhere give them. I’m no Mitch Albom or Gregg Easterbook, but I love seeing names like “Service” and “Freedom” on the back of jerseys, see the cadets in the crowd jump up and down in perfect unison, and remind myself that football is still pretty much a game and even though it drives me crazy when Al Borges doesn’t throw a f’ing LAZER screen against Alabama nobody is going to permanently scarred as a result. I’m not going to go watch the Columbia University Lions play the Princeton Tigers every weekend (though good seats were DEFINITELY available), but sometimes it is refreshing to watch a mid-sized David battle a slightly-larger Goliath for an afternoon, provided that Goliath doesn’t, you know, lose.
Worst: I was into Groundhog Day back when it was just looking at a land-beaver getting out of a hole.
It has been my goal on this site to never disparage a college kid when he does something bad on the football field. I hate yelling at 22-year-old kids for screwing up in a position where I would turtle as soon as the ball was hiked. So I’m not going to call out Denard for the 5 turnovers against Notre Dame because there are various reasons why the ball was turned over, and not all of them are on his shoulders.
That said, after he threw interceptions on consecutive passes in the second quarter against Notre Dame AND gained a first down running the ball on three straight plays, you just knew that as soon as he rolled out to throw the ball bad things were going to happen. I love the chutzpah Denard has shown over the years, the fearlessness and supreme confidence in his abilities that helped him pull wins out of his butt and give the team hope after going 3-9. But at the same time, he has the problem every other college QB has – he has his safety valves, his “break on pressure” switches that lead him to lock onto Tacopants 50 yards down the field and just say
Or find the slot receiver triple covered and try to phase the ball through two of them into his arms. And yeah, UM QBs have been doing that since the beginning of time (John Navarre practically tethered his large intestine to Marquise Walker when he was being pressured), but this team doesn’t have the elite-type WRs those guys had, so they don’t usually get separation and can’t jump over the coverage and save him unless they are Baby Megatron.
Now, I don’t think you put any kid in that position if you can help it. The coaches should have had him keep running the ball until Notre Dame found a way to stop it. Then give the ball to Fitz, or a short dump-off to Funchess, or anything else that has a tiny chance of being turned over. Everyone knew he was a little rattled and that is fine; give him a series to get his feet under him again even if it ends with a punt. The defense was keeping the game close and Tommy Rees was under center on the other side of the field. Trust me – the game wasn’t over.
And I guess that will be Denard’s legacy at UM – a preposterously athletic kid who tried to play QB in an offense that is just too risky for some people’s tastes, who put up numbers but also seemingly came up a couple short when he needed them most. Even if the team wins out, he’ll be defeated against Penn St. and Wisconsin for his career, 1-3 versus MSU, and 2-2 against an OSU team that is itself in transition. He’ll have the career yardage mark but also the career interception record; the most rushing yards but also a disturbing number of fumbles. He’ll be a memorable figure in UM history, the epitome of the good and bad that occurred when UM tried something new for the first time in most of our lifetimes.
Barring Al Borges and Brady Hoke getting seduced by the siren song of Dana Holgorsen, the next 6.02X10^23 QBs are going to be majestic rocket-armed missile launchers who look down a crashing DE and thread three needles to get the ball to a 6’5” TE donkey-busting a DB down the sideline. And they’ll make all the correct reads (even when they don’t) and have just enough wiggle in the pocket to get time in the pocket (except when they can’t). And that will be glorious, if a bit sad. I happen to like little guys who make me smile every time they touch the ball.
My favorite dumb line (outside of, you know, this one) from the best dumb movie about football, perfectly embodies what the rest of the year holds for this team. At 2-2, nobody is thinking of a backdoor shot at some national title chase, nor were those wins or Notre Dame loss filled with any defining thru-line regarding how this team will play going forward (except, maybe, that the defense will be better than expected). But with 8 games to go in the conference slate, this squad can still put together a pretty nice season. Sure, they’ve got to beat OSU in the Horseshoe and Nebraska at the Astrodome North, and MSU looks like they will cobble together a gameplan wherein Bell runs the ball 90 times and they win by 3, but nobody is going to run away with this conference. Robinson may have games like 2012 Notre Dame at times, but he also has games like 2011 Notre Dame, 2010 Notre Dame, and 2011 Ohio State where he is the most dynamic player in the country. So starting with Purdue on Saturday, if this team plays like it is capable of, it has a chance at going from 3-9 to a conference championship in 4 years. That' isn’t just amazing, that’s heroic.
(Jebus, I need to update my Netflix queue…)
So provided this doesn’t stamp my ticket to Bolivia, I’ll be back with another installment after the Purdue game.
So this was something I wanted to do since about the first MSU game, but a combination of grad classes and not wanting to jinx anything conspired to delay me until today. But with an NCAA Tournament-clinching win against the Waffling Webers and [insert OSU results], I figured it was high time to recognize the magical run by the most inspiring UM team since 1997 in the only way I knew how – through a schmaltzy montage of posters from basketball movies and TV shows. Call it a retroactive .
After last season’s cosmic nad-kicking as the team well woefully short of expectations and lost both Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims to the professional ranks, hopes were not high for this year’s Wolverines as they embarked on an offseason European tour. Not only had the team lost approximately 99% of its scoring from last year, but the best most pundits could say about this club was that they might be able to “grit” and “hustle” their way to double-digit wins if they could steal a couple of wins against the likes of Harvard and Oakland over the pre-conference schedule. That’s right – credible thought was given to UM’s prospects being tied to the unlikely scenario of slaying both Tommy and the Fightin’ Amakers and the school I passed on my way to Meadow Brook to see “Weird Al” Yankovic in concert when I was in high school. So yeah, this was not expected to be a banner year for Beilein’s crew.
But a funny thing seemed to happen over the summer. and all the sights – this team figured out how to play together. Darius Morris emerged as a legitimate leader at the point, role players like Novak returned with 100% more gruis, coeur, and zähigkeit, and a faint buzz could be heard surrounding this ho-hum 3* freshman with the famous father who once made a cameo on .
Of course, there is a big difference between playing international ball in exhibition games and competing against legitimate NCAA teams, and after a couple of cupcakes to start the season UM battled a Syracuse team in the Legends Classic. UM played them tight throughout, ultimately falling 53-50 after leading 31-29 at halftime. While some saw this close loss as proof that the team was better than preseason expectations, others argued it was an aberration against a disinterested opponent, a characterization that gained support from a subsequent loss to “meh” UTEP in the consolation game. And to make matters worse, UM was going to travel to NCAA tourney-quality Clemson as part of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. The conditions were ripe for the wheels to come off, and yet they didn’t.
Displaying the type of mental toughness and, um, s that belied their experience, the team took care of Clemson and followed up that with a 7-game surge that put them at 10-2 entering league play. Sure, the wins weren’t against elite competition (though Oakland did make the tourney and Harvard probably should have), but considering how low expectations were coming in it was a pleasant surprise.
Of course, any optimism garnered from this hot start was extinguished by a 1-7 stretch to start the season, punctuated by shellackings at home to Purdue and at Wiscy. But those were top-10 teams the thinking went, so the losses were at least expected. But during this streak, there were also 19-point losses to the battling Jamie Macs…I mean and the Northwestern “Just as good as Brown” Wildcats. These were not juggernauts draining bucket after bucket against UM, and the general sentiment that the 10-2 start was a red herring and this was an NIT team if they could steal a couple of wins gained purchase with the UM faithful.
But part-and-parcel with all of this doom and gloom was a faint ember of hope kept alive by close losses to top-5 teams OSU and Kansas. A team like UM, playing without an established inside presence and streaky, young shooters, had no business taking the JayHawks to overtime or making OSU sweat for every bucket. And while the Wolverines shot pretty well against the Buckeyes, neither game would be thought of as a fluke in the classical sense – they were games where good teams find a way to stick around against elite squads and nearly steal a win. But as Jesse Ventura used to say “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades”, and 1-6 to start B10 play was close to the bottom of the B10 standings. If UM had any hope of postseason play, they needed to from this losing streak and right the ship immediately.
To do so, though, they would need to beat Tom Izzo’s MSU squad at the Breslin Center, a veritable house of horrors for UM since its opening. Even though the Spartans had failed to live up to their preseason #2 ranking, in East Lansing was still thick with anticipation, smugness, and AXE body spray of another MSU victory against the Wolverines.
It has often been said that you don’t see the true mettle of a team until it has overcome adversity, when it is has succeeded in the face of imposing odds, when it has emerged victorious of competition. On a day when nobody would have blamed the young Wolverines for folding in hostile territory, Darius Morris showed Sparty that to the tune of a 17-4-8 line while masterfully running the offense, and Zack Novak went all and scored a season-high 19 points to go along with 6 boards, in a 61-57 upset.
As UM basketball fans, we are all conditioned to be immensely reticent when it comes to the cagers; years of false starts and false hopes under Amaker and Ellerbe have conditioned us to remain stoic and, frankly, a little pessimistic regardless of the magnitude of the victory. Having lived through the car wreck that was the last few Ellerbe years and the growing pains of Amaker’s first two years, I had watched this team devolve from a consistent NCAA tourney team to a squad that lost to Western Michigan two years in a row. Two years ago, upsets against top-10 squads Duke and UCLA were met with a "let’s not blow it” mentality as the year progressed and the team slid into the NCAA tourney.
But it was impossible to underplay the importance of this win for both this season and this team. This might not have been a vintage MSU team, but UM still went into Breslin and beat MSU straight-up; no lucky bounces or last-minute tip-ins. UM was the better team that day, and gave a performance nobody expected coming off 6 straight losses. It was as if the Wolverines had pulled a on the Spartans, stealing the resolve and confidence that usually flowed from veteran squads and imbuing this team with it instead.
You know the rest of the story – UM went on a 7-3 tear, with two of those losses by a combined 3 points, and this team emerged as a legitimate NCAA-caliber team. Jordan Morgan showed he had the to compete down low against rugged competition, and the bench continued to evolve as Evan Smotrycz found a little bit of his shooting stroke. Novak, constantly undersized and outmuscled by PFs throughout the season, disproved the notion that by making the key defensive play against Minnesota and grabbing big rebounds amongst the trees every game. This was still a dangerously-shallow crew, but it played like a team and bought into Beilein’s system in a way no other team had. And nobody grew more as a player than Hardaway, who scored in double figures in every game and was the catalyst for wins over Iowa, Indiana, and Minnesota, playing and being absolutely unconscious at times from beyond the arc.
Riding this wake of momentum, the Wolverines welcomed the Spartans to Crisler to end the regular season. Both teams were nursing legitimate NCAA hopes, and some viewed this matchup as a “bubble buster” for the loser. All the talk leading up to the game was the MSU that had been to two straight Final Fours would emerge, that the Wolverines had a nice run but that there was no way Sparty was going to lose twice to UM in the same season. Statistics, efficiency metrics, and even our own eyes be damned, the perception was that MSU would find a way to win this game.
Looking back, of course, all of this bluster and worry seemed foolish. UM raced out to a 33-25 lead, and while MSU made a couple of runs late in the second half, the Wolverines never relinquished the lead. Every time Kalin Lucas or Durrell Summers made a play, UM answered with a nice feed from Morris to Morgan for a dunk or Hardaway taking the ball into traffic and making MSU pay at the foul line. s Smotrycz and Vogrich provided a nice boost from the bench, and as the game wound down and Morris scored some nice
on a coast-to-coast layup as time expired, even the most jaded UM fans couldn’t deny that this team was special. That still might not translate to an NCAA bid, though, and that was why the BTT was essential.
In the first game of the tourney, UM was pitted against a far more experienced and taller Illinois team, with both teams knowing that a victory would punch their respective tickets to the tourney. At the half Illinois held an 11-point lead, and there were some (me included) that thought maybe the magic had run out on the season one game too soon. But as they had done all year long, this team just kept battling. Led by an always-underrated defense, the Wolverines stormed back in the second half, outscoring the Illini by 16(!) to win 60-55. In the immortal words of Rasheed Wallace, , and it was saying UM was going to be in the NCAA tournament. A close loss to #1 overall seed OSU did little to damper this optimism, and the only surprise on Selection Sunday was UM earning an 8 seed as opposed to the 10 or 11 seed most expected.
It has been an amazing season so far by the Wolverines, one made sweeter by the low expectations and the realization that this team is positioned to continue this resurgence well into the future. A masterful coaching job by Beilein, he guided a young squad through myriad of potential landmines and is recruiting the type of high-end recruits that will be needed to sustain this success going forward. Any doubts about his coaching ability were laid to rest this year, and hopefully for good.
But perhaps the most important product of this magical run is that it let a large portion of the UM faithful, those scarred by the Ed Martin scandal and the subsequent dark years, to believe again in this team. That might sound sappy, but even the tourney bid in 2009 felt like a tease after the team stumbled through a mediocre season last year. But this team is different, this coach is different, and this program is different than it was since Steve Fisher walked the sidelines; it is a healthy program with a bright future, free of the cancers that plagued it for over a decade. I don’t know how the team will fare against a schizophrenic Tennessee squad or a third-round clash with mighty Duke, but what I do know is that UM is back as a basketball school, and saying that after all these years is .
Over the past few weeks, the University of Michigan football team has undergone some rather significant changes at the top, with Rich Rodriguez relieved of his position as Head Coach and replaced by former San Diego State head man (and former UM assistant coach) Brady Hoke. Trying to wrap one’s head around the events and motivations behind this momentous shift can be daunting for a fully-functioning adult (or daytime sports-radio host), let alone the most impressionable and innocent amongst us – the children. Thus, here is a guide with some helpful answers for addressing the coaching change to your littlest of loved ones.
Why was Rich Rodriguez fired as Head Coach of the Wolverines?
Well, there are many reasons why – mostly because he didn’t win enough, especially against UM’s little brother (MSU), that old man who always wants you to mow his lawn but then pays you a nickel (PSU), the fat guy next door who is always working on his car in the driveway in only his undershirt and the music turned up very loud (Wiscy), and especially that kid at the playground who always beats you up the jungle gym but who also eats paste (OSU). He looked really fast and strong when he played against the smaller kids in the park, but when the bigger kids showed up he always was pushed around and didn’t look nearly as good. Also, his defenses were really bad, he didn’t always pick the best kids to be on his team before the season, and used bad words like “fudge”, “shoot”, “mother fiddler”, and “read option.” Some of the local kids got him in trouble by telling everyone that he was a cheater even though that wasn’t true and they were just being jerks, but he still got a bar of soap in his mouth and now everyone has to go to bed a half-hour earlier for the next 2-3 years. Finally, some people wanted him to look more like the Wolverine’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and creepy grass-eating uncle, even though none of them looked the same either.
Why didn’t the Wolverines give him more than 3 years? They gave that nice man who coached the basketball team 6 years.
Very good question. Mostly because, again, he didn’t win enough games. Also, people care more about football than basketball, and that nice man looked a little like a young Will Smith and dressed like a singer in the band Color Me Bad, a band your mother/father and I used to love listening to about 9 months before you were born.
So who decided to fire Rich Rodriguez?
David Brandon, the current Athletic Director and a former player for the Wolverines. He was also the former CEO of Dominos Pizza.
Can we have pizza for dinner?
Not tonight; I already made roast beef and broccoli. Maybe this weekend. Don’t make that face!
Is David Brandon a good guy? You said he should pull his head out of his a...
Don’t you say that! Yes, sometimes when a person gets really angry, he or she may use bad words to show how angry they are, but you shouldn’t.
David Brandon is a good person who maybe made a couple of mistakes. He’s only been on the job for a couple of months, and so it is hard to tell if he is really a good Director or maybe just good at being a boss as a company. We will know more in a couple of years.
And no, it is not possible physically possible to do what Mommy/Daddy said. Unless you are a writer for a local newspaper, in which case that is the only way they can do their job.
So who did David Brandon replace Rich Rodriguez with?
Brady Hoke, a former assistant coach at Michigan as well as Head Coach at San Diego State University and Ball State. Now stop laughing just because I said “ball.”
Doesn’t Brady Hoke play for the Patriots?
No, you are thinking of Tom Brady. He once played at Michigan, back way before you were born and when the coaches kept wanting a baseball player to play instead of him. They were dumb. Also, Brady Hoke was the guy who brought Tom Brady to Michigan from California.
Is Brady Hoke a good coach?
An important lesson you will learn as you grow up is that words don’t always mean the same thing depending on who or what you are talking about. For example, I “love” you (and your brother/sister/wife/husband where appropriate), but I also “love” Michigan football. When I say I love you, it means I’d do anything to keep you safe and healthy. When I say I love Michigan football, it means I like to watch them beat other teams and sometimes when they don’t I throw things around the house and call people “bassbowls.”
The same can be said about Brady Hoke being a “good” coach. He’s definitely not a bad one – he’s won 47 games and had recent success at both schools before leaving them. Also, he is well-respected by other coaches, has a reputation for being good at getting good players to play for his team, and has a plan about how he wants to run his team. Also, he really wants to coach the Wolverines.
But at the same time, he also lost 50 games and is really old, like older than mommy/daddy. He’s never played with the big kids before, so we don’t know if he’ll be able to keep up. He says he wants to play the game differently than how Rich Rodriguez played, but people aren’t sure if he’ll be able to right now, since the players he has on his team all wanted to play like Rodriguez. Finally, some people worry that he’ll be like the old guy that coached the Wolverines before Rich Rodriguez, only worse.
So I’m not sure if Brady Hoke is a good coach, but I do know that he is a different coach than Rich Rodriguez, and sometimes change is good.
Do people like Brady Hoke?
Oh yeah, lots of people like him. Everyone who writes for the newspapers like him, especially since he is not like Rich Rodriguez at all. Lots of people who like the Wolverines all like him because he reminds them of other coaches they liked, kind of like how our puppy reminds you of Bo, our other dog who went to that farm up north to live on. The one with all the rabbits and squirrels to chase.
Now, there are some people who don’t like him as much, but they are just grumpy people who sit in their parents’ basements all day and type on the computer. They complain about him being not that good at his job and something we call a “safety option”, a word you’ll hear when you are applying to colleges and I have you fill out applications to schools you don’t want to attend, like that school Uncle Murray attended in the middle of the state. None of them ever talk to girls, they smell because they don’t take baths, and only eat pizza and drink pop all day.
Can I be one those of people who doesn’t like Brady Hoke?
No, no matter how awesome that sounds. Almost all of them grow beards and like soccer, and unfortunately (pick one: we have a medical thing that doesn’t allow us to grow beards/you are a girl and facial hair doesn’t look right on girls).
Were they are any other people who coach have been the coach for the Wolverines?
Great question! According to Mr. Brandon, the only person he wanted was Brady Hoke, even though everyone knows he was fibbing and yes, fibbing is wrong and don’t you do it. But sometimes when you are older, you need to say stuff that isn’t totally true so that you don’t look dumb or mean in front of others. It’s like when Aunt Belinda asks me if she looks fat in her wedding pictures and I say she looked beautiful, even though I’ve told you before she looked like Shrek in a dress.
But no, I’ve heard that Brandon asked a couple of other people if they wanted to coach the Wolverines, but all of them said they already had play dates lined up. Jim Harbaugh, a former player for the Wolverines who is also a successful Head Coach at a school with a tree as its mascot, decided he wanted to coach in the National Football League. He may have told Brandon that he planned on coaching the Wolverines and then used this to get a better job, which is something we call “leverage.” It’s how daddy/mommy got that new flat-screen television after he/she stumbled on my Google search history.
Brandon also apparently asked Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern University, but he liked his job and didn’t want to move. He might have also asked Les Miles at LSU, but he’s even older than Brady Hoke and likes to chew grass like the cat does when she’s sick.
Did David Brandon do a good job looking for a Head Coach?
I always tell you that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Well, this is an exception. David Brandon royally screwed up this search, like how I forgot to pick you up after band practice a couple of years ago and Susie’s mom saw you walking alone in the rain and drove you home. Except, I don’t think David Brandon can take every Wolverine fan out for ice cream and then buy you tickets to see Space Chimps. Of course, he might be able to give everyone a free pizza.
Brandon said he was going to look everywhere for the best coach, but then he only looked at people in his Wolverine phone book plus the guy next door. People probably won’t care that much as long as Brady Hoke turns out to be a good coach, but people also don’t like being lied to when everyone knows you are doing it. That’s a good lesson for you know. Also, always wash your hands after you use the bathroom and don’t accept candy from stranger. Unless they give you Snickers – then they are just really nice people with great taste.
Will the Wolverines be better with Brady Hoke as the Head Coach?
Nobody knows for sure. They were REALLY good last year at scoring points and REALLY bad at stopping the other guys from scoring them. They should be better at stopping teams because all of the players on defense are older, and the really fast guy on offense with the dreads is coming back and should be good. So they should be at least as good as they were this year, and will probably win a couple more games next year.
In the future, though, I’m not sure if the team will be better. We’ll have to see, especially as Hoke brings in more players that he wants and play the way he wants. My guess is that they’ll win games but will disappoint me enough most years that I’ll be making many trips to the store to refill the bottles of adult drinks I keep in the dining room.
Note: Longish post – TL;DR – bad comedy; why no news on planes! - to save you the trouble. Also, probably won’t be relevant in 2 hours.
To say that the past couple of weeks have been tumultuous for the University of Michigan and its football team would be a massive understatement. After a disheartening loss to Mississippi State on New Years Eve, fans of the program were subjected to days of uncertainty and innuendo regarding the future of the program, culminating the in the firing of Rich Rodriguez after three rocky years. Since then, we have seen promising replacements turn down the program’s overtures and either remain where they are or move on to other opportunities. We witnessed a number of high-profile recruits switch allegiances in the wake of RR’s removal and the subsequent uncertainty of his replacement. And throughout these travails, we have heard about how the coaching carousel has affected the coaching staffs both here and at other schools, unsigned recruits, the athletic department, and most importantly, the fans.
But in the furor over this most public chapter in the storied history of Michigan football, true victims and their travails have fallen through the cracks. Their pain is as real and notable as anyone else’s these past months, and yet nobody has lent them a voice to be heard. What follows are their stories.
James Jackson, proprietor of Ann Arbor Torch & Pitchfork, Inc.
“We’ve actually been in Ann Arbor longer than people think; my dad opened up our first office on Packard after Gary Moeller’s 1993 season,” said Mr. Jackson, as he looked out over downtown Ann Arbor from his expansive new headquarters on Division St. Occupying office space in the building affectionately called “Goolge A2” (due to the search giant’s ubiquitous logo on the building’s façade), Jackson reminisces about his company’s genesis from a mom-and-pop location for disgruntled UM fans to obtain mob-specific weaponry to the thriving factory of fan angst that employs over 100 people in Michigan, including some notable alums in the Detroit newspaper industry, as well as satellite offices in other major college towns.
Mr. Jackson credits his father, Mike Jackson, for first realizing Ann Arbor Torch and Pitckfork’s (AAT&P) enduring mission: “When the going gets tough, the tough get fiery sticks and pointy farm equipment.” While this is clearly a metaphor, Mr. Jackson acknowledges that college football fans are generally both the most loyal and irrational people one will ever meet, at least when it comes to analyzing the current state of their favorite program. When the team is winning, fans can be expected to fill the stadium every Saturday, buy bushels of merchandise, and follow the team religiously to road and bowl games (except, Mr. Jackson noted, MSU’s fairweather football fans). But when the team struggles, even if only compared to the fans’ sometimes-irrational expectations, “it can be one huge ‘Critter Fritter’ of a situation,” borrowing a term from a bumper sticker sold by AAT&P “Who’s fault is this Critter Fritter?”.
For example, Mr. Jackson remembers sales tripling after Michigan started the 1998 season 0-2 following the 1997 National Championship. At the time, AAT&P was struggling to pay its suppliers due to extremely slow sales during that magical championship run, with most customers buying the bare essentials (single torch stick, single posterboard and black marker, a pocket-sized trident, etc.) “in case Carr does something stupid like throw on 3rd-and-4,” in Mr. Jackson’s words. That season had been so harmonious amongst the fanbase that Mr. Jackson feared a new era of logical appreciation and rationality was permeating the UM faithful would spell the end for his fledgling shop.
“I thought I’d have to go back to my first job, which was as an actor who dressed up like an affluent gentleman at parties,” Mr. Jackson said, with a hint of sadness in his eye. When asked if Mr. Jackson got the idea for that occupation from a Simpson’s episode, he responded “oh great, you’re one of those guys” and quickly changed the subject.
“We were able to weather that 1997 season by the skin of our teeth, but after that Syracuse loss we never really struggled to keep the lights on. No matter how good the team looked, there was always a steady stream of people who would stop by on Monday, even after a win, to pick through our famous Nits section.” Though the actual Nits change weekly, they typically embody the lifeblood of any irrational argument provided by the customers:
- Sheets with offensive and defensive play calls that should have been made instead of the ones actually run (helpfully broken down by quarter and situation)
- Obscure jerseys of players not receiving much playing time who “totally should instead of that stupid” S/RB/WR/QB currently occupying the position. Includes players whose eligibility expired in 1999
- Box scores from rivals highlighted with the results from players and/or coaches who should be at this school “except the dumb coach ran him off” or “dumb school didn’t let him in because of his grades/test scores/juvenile record.”
“We plugged along for most of the 00’s under Carr with few ripples, save for the Critter Fritter created by Henson’s arrival and subsequent benching behind Brady. After those consecutive losses in ‘99 to MSU and Illinois, we actually ran out of torches and had to resort to wrapping 2x4’s with the Sports Illustrated 1997 Championship Recap special.” But tension soon dissipated as UM went undefeated the rest of the year, and business remained steady until The Horror and the subsequent shellacking by Oregon in 2007. “That point,” Mr. Jackson said, with a barely-disguised twinkle in his eye, “is when things really took off for us. The Monday after the Appalachian State game, there was a line around the block. We actually had to hire additional help to service all of the customers. And when we debuted our Henne vs. Mallett reversible dartboard, we knew we had hit a nerve in terms of fan apathy.”
But the true motherlode came with the hiring of Rich Rodriguez, an “outsider” to the program who was clearly not the first choice of the fanbase or, for that matter, a portion of the Michigan athletic department. “This,” Mr. Jackson said as he thrust his arm about his expansive office with floor-to-ceiling windows, flat-screen televisions, and mahogany furniture, “is all because of RR. When he arrived in Ann Arbor, sales went from steady to astronomical. Before the guy even coached a game on the UM sidelines, we were back-ordered 6 months on everything in the store – that includes the limited-edition pitchforks personally autographed in crayon by both Mike Valenti and UM’s own Drew Sharp.”
Mr. Jackson would not confirm specific sales numbers over RR’s three tumultuous years, but did acknowledge that the RR’s tenure coincided with dramatic growth for his company. One interesting trend Mr. Jackson noticed was that, unlike past years, business remained brisk regardless of the level of success on the field. “A vocal contingent of people clearly did not care whether or not RR’s team experienced success or failure on the football field – they wanted to march around in groups with flaming torches and pointy sticks, and to hell with reality.”
Top sellers during this time included “Make your own DC” kit with real recruiting violations and feathery GERG-style hairpiece, t-shirts emblazoned with “Start the other guy at QB”, a copy of “Family Matters” season 2 DVD signed by the entire Boren family, and framed copies of the Detroit Free Press’s expose on practice violations, player abuse, and baby-eating by RR and his staff.
Sales peaked following the Gator Bowl, but with the inevitability of RR’s firing “everybody wants to save their money until the next coach is selected,” lamented Jackson, who noted that his greatest fears were laid to rest when Jim Harbaugh decided to take the head coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers. “I’m sure people would have grown tired of Jim once he lost a couple of games, but with all the talent that was returning next year it might not have happened as quickly as we liked. Plus, people love Jim around here, which probably would have allowed him to go 8-4 without a total meltdown.”
“I just hope Brandon hires the replacement coach soon, because the longer he waits the fewer shopping days people will have before National Signing Day, which is when our sales naturally drop off as people finally realize that there are other successful sports at UM. Rent isn’t cheap, and we were planning on making an IPO in 2011. We don’t need much; pitchforks are always in style.”
When asked who he’d like to see succeed Rodriguez, Mr. Jackson paused for a moment before saying “based on an order we have pending for a Mr. B. Cook, probably Brady Hoke. He’s just Lloyd enough to annoy the fans who liked the direction RR was taking the program, but still unproven enough to bug the fans who expect UM to go 13-0 every year. Les Miles would also work, but the whole grass thing kind of weirds me out.”
As for what the future holds for AAT&P, Jackson spoke of continued expansion in the SEC, where sales have skyrocketed in Gainesville, Baton Rouge, and Athens. Closer to home, he expects sales to grow in Happy Valley as news of Paterno’s quest to defeat the sun in terms of longevity shows no signs of ending, and he might even open another branch in Columbus of all places. “We’ve had brisk business down there for years, but with the Pryor era failing to live up to expectations, I expect sales to exceed even those in Ann Arbor soon.”
Vincent Torino - Novelty t-shirt seller at corner of State and Hoover
“I’ve been selling shirts at this corner for over 10 years,” says Mr. Torino, wearing a Michigan wool cap with two bluetooth headsets sticking out from each ear. “From ‘Rudy Sucks’ to ‘Wuck Fisconsin’ to our recent bestseller ‘Shoelace16’, I’ve been trying to meet the needs of drunk frat boys and ironic kids of alums since the beginning of the millennium.”
Mr. Torino, “but you can call me Vinnie”, comes from a long line of vendors capitalizing on the fervor surrounding the UM program. His grandfather was once the official pickle seller during games when Fielding Yost roamed the sidelines, and his father sold knockoff football jerseys out of the back of his 1975 Ford LTD station wagon near what is now Elbel Field.
Even Vinnie’s mother was involved in the family business in a tangential way; according to Mr. Torino, his father met his wife while selling merchandise at a road game in East Lansing. “Dad said Mom was the most beautiful woman he ever saw, but she also dressed like a woman who ‘wasn’t a stranger to the old end-around’ as he used to say. That’s where the idea for ‘East Lansing is a woman of ill repute’ shirt came from – a fun little jab at Mom, rest her soul.”
When I asked how business was during Rich Rodriguez’s tenure at Michigan as compared to Lloyd Carr’s reign, he noted the biggest difference was the shift in focus in the nature of his merchandise under both coaches. “With Carr, it was all about the players – ‘I’ve good a Woodley’, ‘Bow Down Little Brother!"’ and ‘Robot Henne Maximize!’ were huge. I tried to sell bumper stickers saying ‘My other vehicle is a Carr’, but they never really took off. Maybe a little too ironic.”
“But with RR, it was all ‘In Rod We Trust’ and a three-wolf moon spinoff with Mike Barwis’ head as the moon. Sure, we had brisk sales with Zoltan Mesko’s space emperor line as well as the iconic shirts for Tate’s ‘Behold the power of the Forcier’ and Denard’s ‘Shoelace16’, but everyone loved the fact that RR’s name could be spun into a genetalia reference. Again, my market is mostly drunk people; it doesn’t need to be particularly clever for them to fork over $20.”
This sales bump from the coach’s line was especially important because some of the cherished models were running on fumes. “Everyone has ’Muck the Fuckeyes’,” Mr. Torino noted, “but when you haven’t won the Game recently, fans aren’t inclined to keep spending money. Also, Notre Dame’s continued irrelevance has really hurt. Do you realize ‘Rudy’ came out in 1993? They haven’t done anything since, and so I haven’t been able to generate any new material”
But with Rich Rodriguez’s departure and the subsequent uncertainty surrounding the new coach, Mr. Torino has found himself in the unusual position of “hedging” on the new Wolverine leader with his designs. He noted that he originally had orders in for “I have a Hard-buagh!” shirts until Jim Harbaugh signed with the 49ers, and has since been printing “Got Grass?” and “Miles of fun” (with an outline of Les Miles’ face) in anticipation of the LSU coach being named to the top spot. “I also had a couple dozen ‘I’m Yoked for Hoke’ shirts drawn up, but they just looked dumb. They’ll be sent along with the Harbaugh shirts to the American Red Cross, where they’ll be given to people in developing countries like they do with the loser’s shirts from the Super Bowl.” When asked why he doesn’t just sell them as novelty shirts, Mr. Torino said, “I like the idea of an alternate universe where the Patriots went 19-0, Butler beat Duke for the NCAA title, and Brady Hoke was the head coach at the University of Michigan.”
“I just hope that whomever David Brandon selects as the new head coach is good for business,” noted Vinnie. “Hell, who am I kidding? I sell t-shirts to drunk kids. All I have to do is mess around with the word ‘fuck’ and they’ll fork over the cash. Man, this is the life.”
BRADYPET, the Mgoblog server
“I hope Brian knows how hard I’ve been working,” the words appeared in the terminal window as I sat down with BRADYPET, the Dell PowerEdge server that hosts the MGoBlog site, “and how bad I feel about not being able to support upvotes right now.”
BRADYPET is actually the second server to maintain the site since the Haloscan days; the first was HENNEBOT, which was irreparably harmed by the traffic influx following MSU’s overtime victory against UM in 2009. BRADYPET was brought in shortly thereafter because she featured 32 GB of RAM, 2 TB of hard-drive space, 8 hot-swap banks, advanced bandwidth throttling, and had a track record of “knowing her way around Drupal.”
“Brian and I don’t talk about HENNEBOT much anymore, except that their relationship was one of convenience, while ours is one of mutual respect and scalability,” noted BRADYPET, who trumpeted that she hadn’t needed anything more than a BIOS update in nearly 2 years, “though Brian did mention he was looking at adding another rack, but only if I felt comfortable with it.”
Traffic at MGoBlog has always been steady, BRADYPET noted, and though it spiked at times the past few years, she was always able to handle it with minimal downtime. Sure, the “lockdown” phases for the site after disheartening losses in the past helped, but BRADYPET noted that those were more content-based than usability. “I can handle anything the community throws at me. Brian does respect my sensibilities, though, so that is why he limits posts at times – I can’t un-see what everyone writes.”
Without naming names, BRADYPET noted that “the worst offenders pop up after rivalry games – rival fans sign up with their student e-mail addresses, post ignorant articles with so many grammatical flaws that my spellchecker throbs for hours, and then never come back.” And then there is the negging, which “really hurts my soul. So many posts, so many d-bags, so much anger. It makes me want to throw, to throw, to throw – 503 – Service Unavailable.”
Ten minutes later, I was finally able to get BRADYPET back online. “I’m so sorry – this is what the coaching search has done to me. I can not even maintain simple connectivity with web users.” BRADYPET stated that the sheer number of hits the site received after the Gator Bowl “scared me like a grandmother trying to use her webmail but instead stumbling onto porn site hottmail.com.”
And once RR was fired, “I just couldn’t keep up. Brian said he would protect me, but it was too late. He disabled logins, but that just made people angrier. They just hitting refresh, refresh, refresh – dear God, the number of packets being sent and lost. Just carnage; pure, sad carnage.”
While the the spike has dissipated somewhat, the near-constant stream of insider knowledge and updates about the future coach “has been a strain. Everyone is creating threads about the same topic, then responding to each of them with the same post. It is just madness at times. And then you have Brian’s posts with links to Twitter accounts – Twitter! Have you ever tried to communicate with Twitter? Bunch of ruffians!”
“And don’t get me started about flightaware.”
When asked if she had a preference about the future coach, BRADYPET responded that “I really could care less, because at least then the number of visitors would drop. I guess, standing on my ethernet cable, I’d say Brady Hoke. Not because I think he’d be a good coach, but because if Les Miles was signed those TigerDroppings visitors would flood over here as well, and those people are crazy! Have you seen their animated gifs – supporting those monstrosities would kill me with bandwidth demands.”
As for what the future holds, BRADYPET said she’s looking forward to a break once the new coach is selected, “maybe host a couple of Cover It Lives for the basketball team, maybe go shopping at newegg for some more RAM. I also wouldn’t mind viewing some more Japanese girl-band pop videos with Brian, but I’m saving those for a special occasion.”
Part of me just wants to wallow in despair and ice my soul dong, but at the same time I just can’t overcome the urge to post my thoughts about the past couple of months in UM football. And since I’m more an REM fan than a Smith’s, this post is sprinkled with a couple of my favorite tunes’ names.
**NOTE: Depending on your office culture, there might be a few NSFW-ish memes here. Nothing epic or pornish (sorry), but you’ve been warned.
Shiny Happy People
After the Purdue game, my feelings about the team were shared by a bulk of the UM community – namely, .
Or, in words, excited about being 7-3, dreaming of possibly splitting with Wiscy and OSU, and finally ending the constant speculation swirling around RR and the team’s coaching staff. Sure, it felt like a bit of a smokescreen – this team was still worked over by MSU-Iowa-PSU that left me with a bad case of the – but I definitely felt that with Robinson and co. putting up record-breaking offensive numbers the season had taken on a feeling.
Plus, the wins, the offensive resurgence, and the uptick in recruiting they brought pointed to something greater – a sense that UM fans no longer needed to worry about rogue newspapers flailing about with half-cooked exposes, of turning on your television and seeing some smug talking head on ESPN crow about the “fall of Michigan” and how Rich Rodriguez was “definitely” on the outs, of scrolling through the blogs and Twitter with baited breath lest another player on the 2-deep tears tendons in his knee, fails to make the grade, or simply wants to leave. For the first time in 3 years, fans could finally look in the mirror and say .
Losing My Religion
…er, Ann Arbor, reality did not mesh with this dream scenario of a return to normalcy for fans of the Maize and Blue. While the offense had made definite strides under RR, the defense under this dapper gentleman had badly regressed even from the historically-bad standards of the previous two years. By any metric, this was one of the worst defenses in college football, and watching them every week made me so….
Yeah, I conveniently overlooked the fact that in order for there to be an historic 67-65 win over the Illini UM had to give up 65 points (!!!111!!11!!) in the process, or the fact that the Purdue ’s were calling key screen passes between their 3rd and 4th QBs. And yeah, Wisconsin and OSU still outclassed UM from a talent standpoint and would provide the staunchest tests yet for this fledgling offense, but still, nobody had really shut down UM’s offense yet, and when the game gets up to the 30-40 point range anything can happen. So really, what was wrong with a little bit of homerish optimism in an upset?
What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
I don’t (and won’t) need to recap what happened in gory detail, but let’s just say that phrases like “ that was a horrible series for the offense” and “GERG, ” were frequently typed, tweeted, uttered and sworn over those last two weeks. At some point during the second half of the Wisconsin game, I thought that jewel thieves were breaking into my house and had simply ed a single run play and set it on a loop on my TV to distract me. And if that shellacking wasn’t enough of a wake-up call to the UM faithful that this team was not ready for prime-time, the demolition by OSU the following week drove the point home that if you are an above-average offense against UM’s defense. Fans were left feeling , though not so much because of the defense’s shortcomings (by that point, nobody expected anything from the unit), but because the offense suddenly went from to .
And despite the mountain of factors and valid arguments explaining why this team was going to struggle against elite competition, and in spite of the very positive fact that it was going to be playing a NYD bowl game against a legit SEC team for the first time since…well, the last time they played a NYD bowl game against a legit SEC team, one couldn’t ignore the reality that it was another year of against marque teams not named Notre Dame while the fanbase yearned for a season .
Despite the thumping at the end of the season, at least this season had an expiration date beyond Thanksgiving, and after the past two years that felt like a win. Of course, this was all overshadowed by the rumors surrounding RR’s potential termination and the deafening silence coming from AD David Brandon on the matter beyond “I’m evaluating the team as a whole.” This led to a clear distinction amongst fans – one side felt that and Brandon either relieve RR of his coaching duties or publicly support his continued employment, and the other side that felt rushing to a decision was too reactionary and that a more measured approach was necessary. All would acknowledge, though, that the uncertainty surrounding the program had an adverse effect on recruiting, as everyone was , hide your recruits from other schools poaching them. Committed kids like Dee Hart started to look elsewhere while recruits like Zettel chose other programs (at least in part) because they weren’t sure if RR was going to be there next year, and frankly it was hard to blame them.
Of course, this led to an unrelenting number of commentators and pundits creating
Even venerable MGoBlog, wasn’t immune, leading the creation of the CC tag for posts about a potential coaching change as a means of identifying at least some of the rampant speculation surrounding the head man for the Wolverines. And this level of confusion/misinformation wasn’t limited to traditional media sources; while bloggers called for their readers to , it was clear that nobody knew what was going to happen to the Michigan program, and that probably included Brandon. It was enough to make
What made the situation even worse was the poor planning that had seemingly been put toward a potential coaching search by those in the UM family, with the groupthink being that that Harbaugh was the guy and he would jump at the opportunity to coach his alma mater despite evidence that UM wasn’t the most attractive offer on the table. For all the UM fans had taken in recent years from Notre Dame’s schizophrenic coaching decisions, the botched handling of the situation so far by the AD left me wondering if this wasn’t that far off.
Hey, remember that bowl game UM was going to play? Remember how everyone was excited that the team would have 15 more practices to prepare, and how it would allow the coaching staff (especially GERG) to focus on a single team and really prepare for everything, possibly leading to the type of competent defensive effort this team hasn’t displayed since UConn to start the season (the only other time when the staff had over a month to prepare)? It wasn’t rocket-; you made the Bulldogs pay for blitzing on offense and brought the pressure on defense. Honestly, a brain-damaged Capuchin monkey with a smartphone could have figured that out. Yeah, about that…
. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too crude. It wasn’t quite prison-shower-scene style, but more like …. UM was dominated by the Bulldogs in a way that was more shocking than even what Wiscy and OSU had done in previous games because while those teams were a combined 22-2 and 2 of the best 7-8 teams in the country, MSU was a very beatable SEC team that (thanks in large part to MGoBlog’s obsessive analysis) had clearly defined faults that could be exploited.
Yeah, apparently this was all news to the coaching staff. After the first quarter the offense couldn’t score (thanks in no small part to the realization that even chip-shot FGs were full of ), and the defense was thrashed AGAIN with minimal resistance. It was the worst bowl loss in UM history, yet another chink in the once-impenetrable armor that surrounded the University of Michigan football program. And more than the just the numerical domination, watching this team being manhandled by the Bulldogs was just embarrassing – the team looked ill-prepared and lost at times out there, everyone waiting for Denard to just carry the team to a victory that wasn’t going to materialize. It was a fitting end to another season for the Wolverines, and to many signified the final nail in RR’s coffin.
It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
After the Gator Bowl debacle, everyone braced for the announcement concerning the future of the program and where RR fit in. Most expected him to be fired, though a few held out hope (the author included) that he would be retained for another year to see how this team would perform with all the returning players. Plus, given that it was now about a month from Signing Day, it would be incredibly trying on a new coach to assemble his assistants, reach out to current commits AND snag some blue-chippers in a couple of weeks.
Harbaugh still looked like the leader in the clubhouse, with Brady Hoke and a gaggle of longshot , and the sentiment remained that once the job opened up to lead the Wolverines, Harbaugh would welcome the opportunity. I mean, it’s not like this transition wasn’t hammered out between the OSU game and January 1st.
Maybe the first clue that the power of Brandon’s might have been overstated a bit came from the frequent reports that Harbaugh was not sold on returning to UM; that he was weighing options in the NFL and even returning to Stanford. Then came tweets and articles from Fox Detroit and Michael Rosenberg that RR was fired, even though there had been no official word and wouldn’t be for at least one more day. This was an obvious formality and not a stay of execution for the Rodriguez era, and on Wednesday Brandon officially announced the termination.
Bang and Blame
So now a “national coaching search” begins on January 5th - ಠ_ಠ – and we are left again wondering what went wrong under RR and if this program’s recent instability was a blip or if it will be forever.
Personally, I think the key factor in the coaching search needs to be less about bringing in a “Michigan Man” – that anachronistic alliteration that makes Brady Hoke a legitimate candidate – and more on finding a coach who can work with the talent already in place and who understands how to run a defense/hire a competent DC. RR’s inability to find a non-Casteel Castell at Michigan, or at least allow a competent DC run his system, was the main force behind his .
The next coach, whether it be Harbaugh, Miles, Patterson, or whomever, needs to step into this situation and adapt quickly, hopefully winning along the way. Because what this whole experience has taught me is that despite our claims to the contrary, the average UM fan isn’t ly different than fans at other elite schools – they expect to win and have incredibly thin skin when they don’t, are largely resistant to change except if it works immediately, and are only as patient as is necessary before a “better guy” pops up.
Brandon put himself in this predicament by removing RR before a replacement was in place, so the pressure is squarely on him to deliver. Whether he does is open for debate, though my pessimism should not be dismissed as mere. Until proven otherwise, I view Brandon as an unknown commodity as an AD, and how he handles the next couple of days and weeks will define his tenure for years to come. Based on his business acumen and UM’s historic success, I am confident that Brandon will bring in the and return this program to national prominence, but if I’ve learned anything these past two months it is that such logical arguments are