Since the season has ended, many Michigan fans have been playing the what-if game. Retrospect, hindsight, reflection on past failures and successes: these are the cherished and sacred rites of any sports fan when his team is in its offseason. And God knows there is no longer offseason than that of a college football team not going bowling (side note—it’s kinda hard to conceive of 10 months before we see Michigan play another game) Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of Michigan related ruminations, including: What if Bo were still alive? What if Les Miles were our coach? What if Ryan Mallett had stayed? Etc. Many Michigan fans are wondering what we could have done to avoid the worst season in 129 years of Wolverine football. You know the conversation because you’ve probably had it. And I don’t wish to rehash it, because, as a wise man once quoted an even wiser monkey, ‘It’s in the past.’
But, when the past does come up, there is one assertion universally agreed upon by all Michigan fans and that is this: Mike DeBord as U-M Head Coach=DEATH.
I bring it up only because I still read it and hear it, even today, and frankly, it bothers me. I might get crucified for this but here goes: I believe Mike DeBord would have been a fine choice for Michigan’s head coach. Now don’t click away just yet! I’ve got reasons dammit!
Part I: Theory on College Football Coaches
I’d first like to introduce the Mad Magician’s Theory of College Football Coaching Models. According to research performed in my secret lab on Death Mountain, there are two primary modes of operation for a college football head coach:
Type 1 is the Hands-On Head Coach. This coach is the man with the headphones on the ears and play sheet in hand, in constant communication with his coaches in the box and his players on the field during games. He calls plays on one side of the ball. He's a gameplanner, a schemer. He employs a distinct style of play often referred to as '(Insert last name)-ball.' Examples of Type 1 are Jim Tressel, Steve Spurrier, Rich Rodriguez, and, I think, Pete Carroll (defense).
Type 2 is the Program CEO. This is the Head Coach who oversees the entire operation of the team but delegates certain responsibilities, mainly play calling and game planning, to his assistants. In the end, however, there's no doubt he’s the boss. He manages the games, runs practices, screams at referees, and is the Closer when it comes to recruiting. Lloyd Carr was classic Type 2. The players all respected and even feared Lloyd because his judgment was always final. The Type 2 Head Coach is the face of the program, and his demeanor sets the tone for his players, coaches, and fans. Mack Brown is another example.
Sub-type: Type 2 (ret.) was the predecessor of the modern Type 2 but is now, obviously, retired. Type 2 (ret.) was a Tyrant. A General. Sometimes even considered God. Examples include Bear Bryant, Bo Schembechler, and Woody Hayes. Type 2 (ret.) has gone the way of the days when men had names like Bear, Bo, and Woody. Their time ended ca. 1989 AD.
There are two other types of head coaches:
Type 3 is, sadly, soon to be extinct. Type 3 is a conflicted, raging egomaniac who cannot decide if he’s a Type 1 or a Type 2. It probably doesn’t matter, but it is compelling to watch him flounder in helpless despair as he seeks a true identity. Type 3 loves to show off his Super Bowl rings, the last relic of former associated glory.
Type 4 is also known as The School Mascot. There are only two Type 4s: Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden. Coooommmee to Pennn Shhhhhtaaate!
Part II: A History Lesson
It’s 1995 and Gary Moeller has just been forced to resign. Lloyd Carr is not a very popular guy in Ann Arbor. As Defensive Coordinator he has been designated the new scapegoat for a four loss season. Really, he is the Mike DeBord of the early nineties. He is not Michigan fans’ first, second, or even third choice to take over the program. But desperate times…
I recall that Lloyd once said, 'The best move I made as Head Coach was firing myself as Defensive Coordinator.' Because, you see, sometimes a guy may not be the best coordinator, but he's got the moxie, the cajones, the brains to be a good Type 2 head coach. He may not be a great schemer, but the good ones have a feel for players, are adept at recruiting and developing talent, know to hire the best assistants, and foster a winning environment. He understands how every aspect of a winning college football program should operate. This was the case with Lloyd Carr, a Michigan assistant since 1980.
Part III: The Case for DeBord
Now let’s consider the supposed DEATH alternative universe where Mike DeBord has been named Michigan’s Head Coach. I beg you to open your eyes and look about you. See? It’s not so bad. Because Head Coach DeBord’s first move would have been the same as Lloyd’s, that is, he would have fired himself and ceded Offensive Coordinator duties to Scot Loeffler, widely considered one of the bright young coaching minds in the country. My guess is Loeffler would have committed U-M’s offense to a more diverse, aerial/spread attack like the one we saw in the bowl game last year. I refer to this scheme fondly as the Indianapolis Colts offense. And those 41 points hung on the Gators in Florida? Mike DeBord/Scot Loeffler’s gameplan. So the guy wasn’t a total hack.
I graduated in 2006 and I was good friends with several guys on the team. Mike DeBord, aka DeBo, was universally beloved by the players. I can say quite certainly that they would have loved to play for him in the same way they loved to play for Lloyd.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Mike DeBord a few times, and he had the kind of personality you'd want in your Head Coach. Unlike most football coaches, he seemed a genuinely nice guy. Funny too. I heard him tell a story about how his best friend was coaching with the Vikings. Randy Moss came to practice with his shoes untied, looked down at the laces, and said, 'Sorry coach, I can't go today' and walked away. 'That's why I'm coaching in college,' said DeBord, who now coaches in the NFL. Such is life.
But I’m not here to say Mike DeBord should have been Head Coach because he was a nice guy. Hell, I’m not saying he should have been Head Coach period. Remember, my premise is I don’t believe Mike DeBord=DEATH. You see, I think Mike DeBord would have been a capable Type 2 college football head coach. One of the key components of being a Head Coach is being a respectable Face of the Program, someone who carries himself with class, treats others with respect, wins and loses with dignity, and demands the same of his players. I think Michigan fans would have loved DeBord in this respect. And getting the fans and the players on your side, well, that’s half the battle.
Now I also know that DeBord's one stint as a Head Coach with CMU was a failure. No question. But DeBord felt at that time, similar to Rodriguez with WVU albeit on a smaller scale, that the school was not committed to providing the necessary resources to build the program. That’s not something I can judge one way or the other because I don't really know enough about CMU. But I don’t believe his CMU experience means he would have failed as head coach for U-M.
Michigan is not the toughest place to win.* The pieces for success are built-in. A monkey could reel in annual top 15 recruiting classes. And I’m a big believer in what John Wooden once said, when asked who were the best coaches: ‘The ones with the best players.’ Talent is 99% of the battle, and U-M with DeBord or RichRod or the monkey or anybody would have continued its talent advantage in at least ¾ of their games every year.
I also believe that as a continuation of the Schembechler line of coaches, DeBord would have gained national credibility immediately. He may not have been the sexiest pick, but it doesn’t make him the worst. With Loeffler at OC, English at DC and all the inherited assistants, I don't believe Michigan would have ceased to be a national power with Mike DeBord as head coach.
Now, I don't want to make it seem as though I'm mad DeBord wasn't named head coach. I'm not one of the Rodriguez haters--quite the opposite; in fact, lately I have become more militant in my belief in the progressive football values espoused by the WLA. I think the long-term ceiling for success under Rodriguez is higher than it would have been under DeBord. Michigan is Rodriguez's program now, and I for one am behind him 100%. This article is not meant to have anything to do with Rich Rodriguez. I love Rich and think he’ll bring more success to Michigan.
But it bothered me last year, and bothers me still, to see DeBord so universally denounced as a potential U-M Head Coach. Michigan fans, you would have liked this guy. Just think of Lloyd Carr, Defensive Coordinator. Maybe this has just been a really long way of saying that lousy assistants can make capable head coaches. But anyway, thanks for reading, and as always, GO BLUE-- The Mad Magician
*=you can make it tough, however, if you bring in a new offensive system, new coaches, etc. But that's cool, too, it'll just take a few years. Rodriguez will find it very easy to win at Michigan in the near future.