"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
I was at the UConn game and although the game itself has been analyzed and covered in great detail, I did not see much in the way of observations of what it was like in the stadium. Below are bulletpoints of the experience.
· This isn’t Ann Arbor! There was no traffic at all getting to the stadium, we drove right up to the front. Also, we were able to park at the stadium for 15 bucks! The drunk college students in Ann Arbor would be disappointed in how little they charged. Interesting overheard fact – the stadium was built at an old airport, we drove in on the tarmac. The stadium inherited all fifty million traffic cones from the airport and all of them were laid out in the parking areas.
· There is what appears to be the world’s largest Cabela’s next to the stadium. There were even signs directing people to the stadium or Cabela’s. I kept asking if people wanted to stop for cheese bread from Cabela’s – until someone finally figured out I thought it was a chain Italian place not an outdoors store.
· This is Ann Arbor! The percentage of Michigan fans walking into the game from outer parking lots was close to 90%. All of the UConn fans made fun of Michigan because they were so outnumbered, including a drunk girl who said Michigan “sucked her weenie.” She seemed confused.
· UConn played to its audience – both inside and outside at the merchandise stands, you could buy Michigan gear. There was one booth outside the stadium selling Michigan shirts right under the sign that said this is Husky Country. I don't think they fully appreciated the irony. The UConn band played the victors as well.
· Unusual for a home college game – you could buy beer at the stadium. This is because it is off campus for UConn. According to UConn student, the Patriots were originally going to play there, but backed out and UConn took over. All the concessions were really cheap – and a good mix, you could even get a funnel cake or cupcake!
· Not a bad stadium for only holding 40,000, although with the temporary seats added just for this game it looked like a cross between a high school stadium and a real stadium like the big house. It looked like Michigan fans outnumbered UConn fans in the stadium as well. The temporary added seats, in the endzone, where we were siting, was almost 100% Michigan fans. The most annoying part was, since the seats were added, they checked the tickets like crazy, making it hard to get in and out of the section.
· The benefit to only 40,000 seats – we were close to the action. It was great to see and Michigan drove toward us in the fourth quarter. It was a great angle to see Morgan’s INT and return. The downside – security would randomly stand in our way and we couldn’t see at the goal line.
· It was a good mix of Michigan fans, both young and old, looked like lots of families. A lot of Michigan gear, including a lot of shirts I had never seen before. Vamos Azul shirts were especially popular. There was also an Elvis sitting in the bleachers. The only non-Michigan fan that I saw was a girl in a UConn shirt who was bawling and carrying nachos. We were all curious as to what her deal was. Also odd, the girl behind us broke her foot? And had to be carried up and down a couple of time at the game, and didn’t ask to sit at the number of handicap seats that were open in front of us.
· The biggest downside in the stadium– no information anywhere – the video/reply board was behind us and there was only three little information bars around the stadium and two of them usually had adds on them. I was using twitter to see down and distance for most of the first half.
· The UConn fans started to get a little chippy at the end of the first half and for much of the second half. There were also a number of Ohio State fans – who I guess were there to see if Michigan would lose? One random guy in a Michigan state windbreaker seemed to follow us around as well.
· There were a ton of games between the plays – students tried to kick field goals, throw footballs into a hole, trivia, they played follow the football under the three helmets, they threw t-shirts into the stands, all during timeouts.
· They were stuck in the 80s – they played Guns and Roses, Def Leopard, and a whole lot of 80s rock during the game. Every third down of Michigan’s the PA would play welcome to the jungle. It got old.
· It was weird to see a grass field. Any stop in action there were kids out there fixing it.
· This was a huge game for UConn – they honored past captains of the UConn football team, as well the 2013 woman’s basketball team with Geno Auriemma. Ray Allen and Donny Marshall were also on the field and spoke during breaks in the game.
· At one point they showed Derek Jeter on the video board – and everyone booed. More Red Sox fans than Yankees fans in Hartford I suppose, and I am assuming he was showing his Michigan pride and not UConn spirit. His lady friend did not look pleased to be there.
· They showed their video highlight of past seasons…it was a DJ Hernandez TD. No mention of his current coaching position and certainly no mention of his brother, Aaron.
· They were not equipped to deal with getting the largest crowd ever at the stadium (42,000 how cute) out of there- we sat in the parking lot for 30 minutes without moving. It was a long game, but we still didn’t make it home until 2 am. Unclear if Cabela’s would have been open but we were really craving cheese bread
In December, Brian was nice enough to come to DC and do a question an event for the Washington, DCMichiganalumni group. There was a great turnout for the event. Some of this is really out of date (recruiting, New Years bowls, Lewan leaving), but some of it is still relevant.
In the off season, he is going to overhaul the blog and switch it to a magazine style layout so stories do not get lost as easily. Will also have "drill-down pages" for some of the smaller sports, softball, lacrosse, so that those sports don't get lost on the board.
Will eventually add a subscription model, the site will remain free, but subscription could offer no ads, a copy of Hail to the Victors, a tee shirt and discounts at Moe's.
Is going to do a basketball podcast in the winter, but probably not much more with the podcast. For a recruiting podcast, listen to him with Sam Webb.
When asked how much time do you spend on UFR - he just said a lot.
Said 8-4 was fine, about what people expected, keeps the momentum going on for the program. Pointed out that everyone has been worried about Denard getting hurt for 3 years and when it did, Gardnerwas able to step in. Gardnerwas much better than the coaches thought he would be - and everyone else I guess. Brian had a great line about Denard, said he will not be the best Michiganplayer of all time, but he will be a lot of people's favorite Michiganplayer.
Next year, the defense, assuming they can replace his binky, Jordan Kovacs, will be in great shape. Was impressed Quinton Washington, thinks Pipkins will back him up, although he will play a lot of downs. Thoughts Pipkins was bad this year because he lacked technique, and pointed out he got pancaked by a running back, but Brian thinks he will be really good as an upperclassman, said his faith is in part from the Heininger Certainty Principle - Heininger went from a liability to a strength on the team because of the coaching and the technique he learned. Brian believes that will be there as long as the defensive coaches are there. Brian thinks that linebacker will be a strength with three quality players in the mix. Likes Ross a lot once he bulks up.
The offense line will be the question mark next year having to start 3 freshman. But was pleasantly surprised by the development of Michael Schofield who should not be a disaster in place of Lewan. Said it says a lot about the end of Carr recruiting and Rodriguez recruiting. Thinks once all of Hoke's recruits are in place, team will be in a position to compete for national titles. The difference going forward is attrition will be for guys not getting playing time not simply leaving the team because they didn't get along with the coaches or coaching changes. Looking forward to freshman TE Jake Butt and RB DeVeon Smith (and Green if he commits). Things the pro style offense could look like Stamfordor New England. In the New Englandversion, Jake Butt and Devin Funchess play the roles of Gronk and Hernandez. Doesn't think WR will be that great. Didn't know about the redshirt for Gardner, but thought the staff should try and redshirt Morris next year, but burn it before putting Bellomy back out there, unless up 50 points, then put in Kennedy.
Thinks there will be a ten year war with Ohio- and guessed that Michiganwould go 4-6 (including this year). I asked if that meant Urban was the better coach and he said Ohiohas natural recruiting advantages and we would see.
Said we need to give the coaches (read Borges) two to three years to get their own players, switch to a pro-style offense before can accurately judge them. The worst criticisms about Borges that we have are probably not valid yet. Pointed out the most legitimate criticism was how badly the missed on Belomy and Gardner. They see both guys in practice and thought that Belomy was a legitimate option and Gardnerwas not. Noted that kicking game (save for kickers) was really bad and that the coverage was not good. Not sure why the staff has not adapted. Also questioned why they are huddling so long, thinks you lose something by taking that long, getting set and allowing the defense to sub in.
Despite the above, the staff are really highly thought of, tight-knit group. His sources said the staff was night and day compared to the coaches under Rodriguez. Really professional group of guys, great teachers.
Said the real battle will be when Mattison retires (he thought it might happen after a big ten title or Rose Bowl win), who will take the DC position. Said it probably comes down to Curt Mallory, the DB coach and Jerry Montgomery, the DL coach. Whoever is elevated, if they do a good job, would be the internal candidate to take over for Hoke in 10-12 years. Said after Bielema left is even happier about Hoke.
Bielema led to a discussion about paying coaches, Brian said it came down to priorities, Arkansas and Wisconsin have almost the same athletic department budget, but Arkansas willing to pay more, especially for assistant coaches. Wisconsin has the money chose not to. Reflection on the SEC/Big Ten - Mississippi State has 8 teams, Ohio State has 40+ including a rifle club. He also mocked the crew team having an indoor rowing facility, thought they should be outside.
Oh, Brian thinks the big ten will go winless in the bowl season.
Doesn't look good for Treadwell, but may be in good shape on Green, just because every other school fired their coach and Miamiis Miami. Thinks they might be in good shape with Conley and Dawson. If Conley commits, he might end up at WR, especially if Mike McCray's teammate, Reon Dawson, signs with Michigan. He hopes that the staff will pursue Eldridge Massington, who recently decommitted from USC. The staff wants to add a linebacker because one of the young linebackers might be leaving the program for medical reasons.
Brian loves Stauskas - even more than appears on the blog. He is also delighted that the NBA does not focus on a player with his skill set so he will be a "foundational" player for the next couple of years. Impressed with how much Hardaway changed his game during the off season. Pointed out that people have really stepped up after Douglass and Novak (the aneurysm of leadership) left. Specifically mentioned McGary as a leader of the freshman, didn't complain that he wasn't starting, went to the older players and asked what he should do. Compared McGary to a puppy.
Brian is very excited about this team - final four caliber - but also the direction of the program. Sees the strength of the team on offense, hard to double team guys when there are so many offensive weapons. Thinks the weakness is on defense, young team, not great shot-blockers, slow on rotations. Going to lose Big Ten games, like to Indianabecause of defensive liabilities.
Brian is very impressed with Beilein, including his ability to change up his style, moving from a 1-3-1to man, adapting to the team's strengths, like more alley-oops this year. Says Beilein reminds him of a chemistry teacher - compared him to Walter White on the first episode of Breaking Bad without the meth or cancer. Also very high on the assistants, including Bacari Alexander and LaVall Jordan. Thinks that they could be head coaching material, but will probably stay to see how this group of players develop.
Odds and Ends
Brian was depressed and didn't want to talk about hockey, said real chance they will miss the NCAAs. Not sure why, the team has talent. Did say the goal keepers we not to blame as much you might think. Was asked a question about Red if he was going to be pushed out, said that Red was the Hockey Bo, could stay as long as he wanted, but would step away if it came to that.
Brian is not a fan of expansion, and did a straw poll with 80% of the audience against it. His ideal expansion plan would be to go to 20 and have everyone that joined in 1990 or later be in the other division and he could forget about them. He also doesn't think the big ten people really have a clue, both for the future of television and how the conference should be aligned. Brian thought the future was a la carte with only the true fans paying for football on cable, and grandma watching matlock on netflix. If that is the case, Rutgers, even though they are in NYC, doesn't make a lot of sense, they do not have a passionate fan base. Brian noted that Louisville is in a much smaller media market, but they are the only game in town and have a huge fan base.
For alignment, Brian pointed out there is a major problem with Michigan and Ohio in different divisions - if they are playing for the big ten title the week following the Game, do they play as hard, do they not show the whole bag of tricks, or rest starters? Would be a de facto division championship if they were in the division.
Regarding Dave Brandon, he said that the Hoke hire was great, but everything else is reducing the program and the experience. Said that he doesn't want to see a Lions game at Michigan Stadium, that Michigan is unique and Brandon is turning it into something generic. Would tell him not to make Michigan into pizza if he could talk to him. He pointed out that we do not watch college sports because it is the best product that is the pros, but there is something special about college sports.