Never fuck with He-Man!
A Lesson from Skeletor
Author Note: Jump to Ecclesiastes 1:5 to roll right into more analytical thinking. No, no preaching here…well maybe a little.
Author Note 2: Additional data for historical context of Michigan achievement patterns added in Back to the Future section before the Penn State recovery discussion.
In 9th grade, I had just arrived in Ann Arbor after spending two years abroad. It was January, right before mid-term exams or some other teapot tempest of youth, and I sat there in 9th grade English class watching a lesson plan, ahem, about a story the class had apparently read and discussed a few days before. Skeletor, as the other kids called her due to her impossibly gaunt physique as well as the fact that her face had no skin or muscle on it, was at her desk doing whatever, looking up only when the conversations got loud enough to distract her.
I think I was the only one watching the movie, maybe that mousy girl was too, because I had no friends to talk to since I had just arrived in Ann Arbor ad I had to pass the time somehow. Either that or I was a hopeless social outcast, which, absurd. Anyway, besides being bored out of my effing mind, all that I remember was thinking, "Damn, that kid's pretty tough."
The movie was a film adaptation of Ernest J. Gaines's short story "The Sky is Gray". The story is set deep in the segregated south of the '30s or '40s and was first published in 1963 and so it is dense with racial and social themes, but the reason the story stuck with me had nothing to do with any of that. I remember it because of the dignity and poise Gaines's characters displayed in that story. Especially Octavia the mother of the 8 year old protagonist, James.
There are many episodes from which to draw but the most vivid for me comes towards the end of the story as Octavia and James are headed home. They're standing outside and a cold gust of wind causes James to flip his collar in an vain attempt to keep the wind's bite off his neck. I still have never been able to reconcile the fact the story was set in a cold winter in Louisiana, but whatever, poetic license, suspended disbelief, and all that. Anyway, Octavia tells him to put his collar down by saying something like "...only bums do that. And you're not a bum. You're a man." Then she stands there stoic, eyes up, shoulders back pinching the brim of her hat so it wouldn’t blow off.
From time to time, I'll see or hear something that reminds of that story and this time it was a Ohio State v. Michigan hype video of all things. In the video, chunkums opens with Rudyard Kipling's poem “If” set to music and images. The whole poem is dead on point for Michigan's situation right now, both the fan base and Rich Rodriguez. Frankly I can’t help but relate that poem to other things around me: the Big Three, the World Economy, Detroit. These lines are particularly compelling:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";
The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, then hastens back to its place where it rises once again.
The question people keep asking is “what is there to hold onto?” That has all been covered by myself and others, and at this point you either buy it or you don’t. Regardless of any of that, the point is moot, Coach Rodriguez will be back next year barring any new information. The important questions now are, what do we need to see before passing final judgment, how much longer must we drink in sorrow, and how much worse can things get?
To answer these questions I’ve developed a simple litmus test for what I think makes a good season. I give a team 1 point each for a bowl invitation, a bowl win, a conference championship, a national championship, and for what I call a merit win. A merit win is each game over a .500 baseline. For a 12 game season the baseline is 6 wins, so you get a point for each win above six. Each accomplishment is weighted equally as the goal is to track achievement, not necessarily how satisfying it should be.
Here’s Michigan’s Achievement Chart since 1990:
The blue, more erratic line, is the season to season score and the red line is a four year running average of achievement. Looking back, I think Coach Rodriguez needs a 3 or better in 2010 to be around in 2011. Scoring a 3 means going 7-5 and winning a bowl game. Going 8-4 and losing the bowl game is also good for 3 points.
Assuming that the last twenty years define the spectrum of reasonable expectations, which they do, Great is a National Championship (5%), Good is 6 or better (25%), typical is 5 or better (55%) , and normal is 3 or better (85%). Less than three is a severe disappointment. I personally think asking for more than three from where we are today is unreasonable.
As an interesting boondoggle, let’s look at what we are all afraid of: being Nebraska or Notre Dame.
As to Nebraska, I believe their issue was that Frank Solich was a holdover from a bygone era as Nebraska tried to do a Bo-Gary-Lloyd handoff with a much less current offensive system. Making matters worse for Big Red, Oklahoma and Texas were about to explode. Bill Callahan had to install a new system with a double stigma, a program in decline plus new system, and only got canned once he missed a bowl game after three years of mediocrity. Early returns on Bo Pelini are that he is doing well; can he replace Ndamukong Suh?
Notre Dame is well documented. Unfortunately for them they've had a string of coaches who weren’t as good as originally thought in one or more of the core competencies required of a head coach in NCAA FBS athletics. There’s definitely a danger of Michigan having a guy in this category in Coach Rodriguez. BUT, RichRod has a much better resume and track record as a coordinator/head coach than Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, (George O’Leary), or Charlie Weis did at the time of their hire. Bob Davie was actually a REALLY good candidate except that he had never been head coach before ND. O’Leary might have been a good hire if not for his dealings with the devil. Again if RR is as good as we’ve thought, he’ll put up three spot or better in 2010. Eff it, I’m going on record right now that he will.
How much longer? How much worse?
These are matters of faith. Nothing can calm one’s anxiety through a leap of faith much less a silly little chart conjured up some dude on the internet. Whatever though, if you’ve made it this far you’re at least interested. Queue eerie music. And queue eerie chart. Unfortunately its pretty busy but I think a few seconds of starring at it will sort things out.
The responsible answer to both questions is, it depends. If Michigan is “as bad off as” Oklahoma (c. 1991), USC (c. 1991), or Penn State (c. 2000), then the answer is it could stay this way for 4 – 6 more years. God, mother-effing, dammit…
BUT (not that kind of butt), Florida, Ohio State, and a previous incarnation of Michigan had their down turns as well and theirs only got as bad as ours is now..-ish. Yes 2008 and 2009 were particularly bad but when looking at a 4 year time frame, this litmus test does not yet distinguish between the magnitude of Michigan’s decline and the magnitude of those of Florida after Spurrier, late Cooper Ohio State, and post Moeller Michigan. If Coach Rodriguez is the caliber of Bob Stoops, Jim Tressel, Pete Carroll, or Urban Meyer, then he will have Michigan “back” (yikes term) in precisely two more years. This conclusion assumes that Michigan is at it’s nadir and by extension means that Michigan will be vying for or in a BCS bowl game by 2011 (there are only so many ways to score points by this litmus test). Assuming this is not the low point, Michigan will likely be courting a new head coach for 2011.
Back to the Future
At iawolve’s behest, I have extended the achievement chart for Michigan back to the full monty of the modern era. I actually already had this information on hand as its part of a much larger project I’m currently working on; but that won’t be ready for a little while yet.
A few quick observations that we know but I think we’re having trouble remembering clearly. Michigan has had declines before; ’81 – ’84 and ’93 – ’96. In each of those cases only slight alterations to the program were necessary. In both instances Michigan rebounded very quickly as expected by realizing 6 point swings in each instance over the course of a year or two. The 2007 season demonstrated that there were hidden underlying problems at Michigan in terms of how we went about our business. On one hand people like to point out that Rodriguez inherited a team that had just beaten Florida in the Citrus Bowl yet fail to mention that same team was blindsided by Appalachian State and annihilated by Oregon. I suppose those events were accidental?
Finally, a look at the Penn State situation is in order. I believe that Penn State circa 1999 was at the same crossroads that Michigan was in 2007. As far as the big programs go, they weren’t getting it done. On the field or off of it. The program needed to be renovated and people were even calling for the head of the Legendary Joe Pa. Though PSU didn’t go through a regime change, they obviously went through a program change. Penn State put up zeros in 4 of 5 years from 2000 to 2004. From its low point in 2004, Penn State rebounded quickly as soon as the overhaul to the Spread HD offense (which is obviously ineffective in the Big Ten) and a new operating structure in the executive suite took hold. They went from 0 to 7 in one year (2004 to 2005).
This is where that scripture comes into play. Programs rise, and programs fall. But they have all made it back, every single one. Michigan is now hastening back. Notre Dame is poised for a quick resurgence with the advent of a better coach. Nebraska already looks like its on the comeback trail, still early though.
Making It Through Winter
So, now, in this deepest winter of our discontent, we huddle in front of the warm glow of our computer screens—our modern campfires—telling each other stories about how if we take the second derivative of run-pass ratio, add the probability of recovering a fumble, then divide by the square root of the sum of squares of the star rankings of our young recruits, maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem. Some of us try to rationalize things by saying, “If the spread option had never come to Ann Arbor, then we wouldn’t give up so many touchdowns.” Nice logic. Others “never thought they’d see the day when…” some interesting but meaningless streak or observation would end. Still others have a different concept for how to stay warm then light their torches.
Michigan is beset on all sides, by knaves gleefully twisting the knives that have cut us oh so deep. And it sucks. Like a mofo. But we have a choice; there’s always a choice. We can agonize and scream and demand that these wounds heal immediately, or we can take our suffering like Brandons and write down the names of those who scorn us then plot our vengeance. I plan on serving my revenge in silence. Like Octavia said; You ain’t a bum. You don’t have to squirm.
If by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!
This was an incredible letdown.
Here is to hoping next offseason we won't need data to keep hope of making it back. Nice diary though i enjoyed. I still believe............
Thank you sir.
I was expecting there to be some sort of use of He-Man mythology to help me understand Michigan football. Instead, I got charts.
I miss Battle Cat.
Yeah, I agree...I was kinda hoping for Skeletor advice...
Like never trust Beast Man with the option read...
Or make sure Tri-klops gets rid of the ball before he gets hit in the endzone...(should be easy enough...he has 3 eyes around his head...)
Still, irony points for using one of Lloyd's favorite motivational poems.
Sorry for the bait 'n switch guys. That was a cheap move.
I thought this was going to be about Lindsay Lohan
This is an extremely impressive piece of work. I don't understand any of it but still...
This is one of the best things I've ever read on this site. Great prose. I get lost in the equations sometimes, but I know graphs. =)
This is rational, even-handed, and much-needed perspective. You don't fawn over RR, and you don't attack him. I think a +2 could save his job depending on the circumstances.
The Kipling poem is powerful, and I haven't read it since high school. I'm a teacher and I'm going to share it with some students. THANKS!
you need to consider RR's two years as partly the result of Lloyd Carr's tenure, much as you need to consider the first two, successful years of Weis' tenure as partly Willingham's.
Certainly, there are also still other extraneous factors--the mere switching of coaches would be expected to lead to a dropoff, all other things being equal, since recruits and players leave. (the same has happened with many other programs)
However, you can see a mild, gradual decline under LC after his peak. Thus, the first two years of RR--while precipitous--can at least partly be attributed to the same decline.
They cannot entirely be accounted for by the trends under LC, IMO. Yet, not until the next 2-3 years would we really see anything resembling the independent course of RR's program.
i do think the chart plotting all the teams
could be made clearer by at least using the
colors of said teams for their lines, and/or
by simply labeling each line with the team's
Skeletor will share the crystal with RichRod so he can feel "power beyond power". Indeed.
I like to think of UM’s trends as beginning with Forcier, this year. He reminds me a lot of Doug Flutie (short, scrambler who can pass, and seems capable of exciting comebacks--in fact, both Tate and Flutie could also kick the ball--Flutie even drop-kicked an extra point for the Pats in his last pro game).
In any case, it’s interesting to look at the four year average win pct of Flutie:
.386, .567, .641, .691
(the fourth season, BC actual record, not the 4-year-average, was 10-2).
Tate’s starting with a slightly higher 4 year team average but slightly lower actual first season than Flutie, but they’re close (although Flutie didn’t start until four games into his Freshman year).
Here’s hoping for another “Miracle-at-Miami” type finish to Tate’s career. That would put us right about where we should be and—hopefully—where we can remain for quite a while.
also, good diary
Beat me to it...
OP's post was a really good read. Seriously, well done.
Our long-tenured coach (Lloyd was here for 13 seasons) left on a high note with no clear successor. It seems like at most other "big time" programs, a coach is either fired for incompotence and a new system is put in place, or a coach retires with a clear successor, mitigating the "regime change" factor.
Rodriguez got hit with a double whammy - he was hired to install an entirely new system, but has to live up to the high expectations Lloyd set in 2006 and 2007. If Lloyd had gone 7-5 or 6-6 in his final two years, no one would be calling for Rich Rod's head right now. Hell, if Lloyd had lost to Florida in his final game, things might be different.
This also means our coach has a unique opportunity - a shot at redemption. A lot of coaches have brought programs back from the depths (Carroll, Meyer, Saban), but few have had to deal with the criticism Rich Rod has had to endure for "wrecking the program". Everyone loves a comeback, and Michigan is poised for an epic one. Rich Rod has two years to prove everyone wrong.
wow. you win. best diary ever?
May Rodriguez be this sun of York;
And all the Buckeyes that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now may Our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
but i could tell by the charts and the comments its the best diary eva, so congrats footbaw dude! Coulda used a vampire.
Seriously--that was a lot of work--nice contribution. Posbang for you.
No potato salad for you.
"We can agonize and scream and demand that these wounds heal immediately, or we can take our suffering like Brandons and write down the names of those who scorn us then plot our vengeance."
Halfway through Coach Rod's first season I chose option B. Michigan will be back, slowly maybe, but they'll be back and when they get back it's going to be worth it all to watch teams wet themselves in fear at the Big House.
It would be interesting to see the full transition in a similar way to Osbourne at Nebraska. Sorry for the extra work, that sort of jumped out when I read the post. I would really be interested to see how much angst is the "good old days" vs our actual mean in the 90s/00s. Obviously, this year and last year were terrible in their own right, I am more interested in the longer trend that includes THE coach.
No additional work was required. Thanks for your interest. See "Back to the Future" section.
I am a believer that RR will turn out to be (gasp!) a national championship team by 2013. I am stating this now, and will take full responsibility for this comment come 2013.
The reason why I believe in this is as follows:
1. We have talent. It's young, small, and sitting in the wings, but we have talent to be a Big Ten champ contender.
2. Barwis. He might be a jerk, but he has made a horrific O-line into something that can run a read-option run scheme relatively well. I think Barwis' conditioning program has been neglected in the past weeks (probably because the most improvement in this realm happens during the off-season), but think about the physical improvement some of the bovine lineman have made in the past two years (Shilling, Molk, etc.).
3. By next year, the Big House will be complete. It will be the crown jewel of the college football stadiums. This will lead to more fans = more maize in the crowd = more wins. (Ok, I admit, this logic might be a stretch, but home field advantage is a legit 12th man in Big Ten play).
Wild Card 4. A new AD with kahunas the size of Dan Dierdorf. Not that Bill Martin is a bad AD, but he was a typical 1980's Van Boven wearing country club member. I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Martin a lot during my time at UofM. He was a great guy, and excellent sports aristocrat. He liked status quo, and was perfect for Lloyd. Now, since RR is a hot-headed, sometimes loose cannon of a coach, UofM needs an AD with the caffiene-induced personality of Barwis and the business mind of Trump. This will be a wild card, of course, but think about the trickle down effect. RR gets all he wants: night games at the Big House, opportunities to play games in big recruiting states (Texas, Cali, Florida), and pretty much anything he needs at which Bo would roll his eyes.
Sorry for the long response, but I have been thinking about what MCalibur wrote and needed to add my own two cents...
I'm all in for the Tate/Flutie analogy; nowhere to go but up for Tate and we already know what a playmaker he is, GO BLUE!!!
I am not sure how to implement this, but....
For a program like Michigan’s, there is a lot of weight on rivalry games. A lot of the dissatisfaction near the end of the Lloyd Carr era was not his overall record, but the fact that he kept losing to Jim Tressell. There is no such thing as a “good loss” for Michigan, but I suspect that if Carr had had the identical record but had gone .500 against Tressell, history would remember him much more fondly. Likewise, I think John Cooper was fired at Ohio State, not for his record per se, but because he kept losing to Michigan.
Look at this year: No Michigan fan could be happy with a 5-7 record, but if Ohio State had been among the five victims, it would have changed everything.
What does that mean for Rich Rodriguez? A string of seasons with 9+ wins is not good enough, unless it includes at least parity with Ohio State. I realize that if you change your formula to assign “merit points” for beating a major rival, it becomes difficult to compare regimes at other schools, because very few programs have a rivalry quite like The Game.
but they still have rivalries, and typically there is a rivalry that means a significant amount, although in modern times perhaps not like UM-OSU.
Ohio State, of course, has us. Oklahoma had Nebraska in the Big 8 days and Texas now.
Florida has that odd little threesome with Miami and FSU; you can add Current SEC Contender, although some (Georgia, for example) also count as sort-of rivals, not on a scale with the big ones, though, and of course you can make the point that if you have two major rivals then you really don't have any.
Penn State, yeah.
USC is an interesting one. They had both Notre Dame and UCLA in the days when UCLA was a threat. Now I suppose you could make the case that those are one-way games in the sense that Michigan State and perhaps also Minnesota are for Michigan: win and you get no credit, lose and you get crap for a year.
Of course it ought to be USC-UCLA, but that rivalry seems to break down into three phases from USC's perspective: Woo WINS!, oh noes eight straight, and Woo WINS!.
Maybe a better way to look at it is that rivalry games aren't really points. It's more like they color the season: in your example, 5-7 losing to OSU sucks, obviously, but 5-7 with a win over OSU doesn't suck as much. It's more like "yeah, but at least we beat the Buckeyes."
oh hell, you're right. Never mind.
I noticed in the moving averages that the downswings in Bo's record before an upswing occurred involved four consecutive seasons of decline. the same was true for the Moeller to Carr transition. Now, it's been three consecutive seasons of declines for the Carr to RR transition. So, if the pattern holds, we would expect one more year of decline before the four year average will improve. However, we must remember that one of those decline seasons was Lloyd's alone and the other two, under RR, were largely with several true freshmen, with the players that Lloyd had left for him, and with constant attacks from the press that have further limited his recruiting.
I think it's reasonable to expect the kind of season that you have outlined for next year. But the real proof in wins and losses will only come in 2011 and 2012. If any decisions need to be made before then, they would need to be based on observations of performance. Wins and losses can seem deceptively objective but actually not tell us as much as our own eyes and ears do.