things go poorly
I spent the afternoon reading about the careers of Ohio's staff, on the theory that coaching college football is a group endeavor, so Meyer is only as good as they are. This isn't a study of their tendencies or preferences as coaches, just a simple look at their résumés. I also wanted to compare Meyer's staff to Michigan's in terms of how it came to be -- unlike Hoke, Meyer has an extensive coaching tree to draw upon. Did he do so?
Let's begin with Hoke's staff at Michigan. Five coaches came with him from SDSU (Borges, Ferrigno, Hecklinski, Funk, Smith), three of whom have been with him since Ball State. Mattison and Jackson have relationships with him from his time at Michigan. So that's seven of the nine hires with previous experience working with Hoke. Of the remaining two, Mallory is a Bo/Mo Michigan alumni who coached at Ball State (Hoke's alma mater) while Hoke was at Michigan, so I'm going to guess they were not strangers prior to 2011. So that just leaves Montgomery, the youngest and least-experienced member of the staff, as a total newcomer to Hoke's world.
The same cannot be said of Urban Meyer's new staff. There are two carryovers from Florida, one of whom was already in Columbus. The other was a graduate/quality-control assistant at Florida and has never been an actual coach under Meyer, with precious little experience beyond that. None of the rest has any history with Meyer, except for one year in 1986 (more on that later).
Another thing worth pointing out is there are four coordinators, two for defense and two for offense. Maybe this is a way to justify higher salaries, but if not it seems like a recipe for confusion. In both cases, you have a full "coordinator" and then a "co-coordinator." On offense the duties are apparently split between the passing game and the running game. Meyer has brought in two coaches with recent success as offensive coordinators to fill these two positions. On defense, I'm not sure what the split means.
Anyhow, here's the rundown on offense (with links to their official bios):
- Tom Herman. Coordinator/Quarterbacks. 11 years experience. Hired because of Iowa State 2011 and Rice 2008. No history with Meyer.
- Ed Warinner. Co-coordinator/Line. 29 years experience. Hired because of Kansas 2007 (the year they were 12-1). No history with Meyer.
- Tim Hinton. Tight ends/Fullbacks. 31 years experience. Knows Meyer from 1986 Ohio staff (both were graduate assistants) under Earle Bruce. No history with Meyer since then. Has link to Dantonio at Cincinnati.
- Stan Drayton. Running backs. 20 years experience. Running backs coach at Florida (2005-2007, 2010). Drayton was already at Ohio (wide receivers) in 2011.
- Zach Smith. Receivers. 3 years experience. Spent five years as a graduate assistant and quality-control dude at Florida under Meyer. Did a lot of work with the special teams at Florida, so may also have that role here. [Note: He is Earle Bruce's grandson. h/t to elaydin in the comments.]
- Luke Fickell. Coordinator/Linebackers. 14 years experience. No history with Meyer.
- Everett Withers. Co-coordinator/Safeties. Also Assistant head coach. 24 years experience. Comes to Ohio after four years at North Carolina. No history with Meyer.
- Bill Sheridan. Cornerbacks? 31 years experience. Hired later, when Taver Johnson (Cornerbacks) left to follow Paul Haynes to Arkansas. Sheridan has Michigan ties, a graduate assistant 1985-86, linebackers coach 2002, and defensive line coach 2003-2004. He is also Nick Sheridan's father. Knows Warriner from six years together at Army (linebackers and defensive line). His only experience in the secondary seems to be 2001 at Notre Dame, where he coached safeties and special teams. No history with Meyer.
- Mike Vrabel. Line. 1 year experience. 14 years as an NFL player. No history with Meyer. [Note: Vrabel had the linebackers in 2011. Now he moves to the defensive line, replacing Jim Heacock, the defensive line coach since 1996 (also coordinator since 2005). For those keeping score at home, that's fifteen years of continuity up in smoke. h/t to BlueDragon in the comments.]
A few thoughts. One is that it could take a while for this group of coaches to gel. There are not a lot of existing relationships here. There could even be some turnover as things shake out over the next few years. Second, I guess Meyer is in control, so maybe it doesn't matter who his coordinators are, or how many there are. Nonetheless, he seems to have emphasized hiring coaches with significant experience as coordinators, which could cause friction. Third, for what it's worth, there is a stark difference between this situation and Michigan's last year. One of the principal reasons Michigan's 2011 season went so smoothly was because the new staff was able to work together immediately and without rancor. The players pick up on this.
Fourth, you have to wonder about the offense -- you've got three coaches with past ties to Meyer working under the two new offensive co-coordinators, neither of whom has ever worked with Meyer. Here's Meyer on Zach Smith: "He knows my system inside and out and he teaches the system the way I want it to be taught." How will Herman and Warriner, both of whom have had significant success coordinating their own offenses, function in the face of that? It's not quite the same situation, but I can't help thinking of Scott Shafer's year at Michigan.
On defense, it's clear Meyer tried to keep most of the existing staff together, but the loss of Taver Johnson undercuts that plan (especially with regard to Cleveland-area recruiting, or so I hear, not that it matters -- Ohio is Ohio). Now he's just got Fickell and Vrabel from the old staff, both alumni whose only real coaching experience is in Columbus -- what will the dynamic be like between these two hothouse flowers and the other two defensive coaches, both veteran teachers with many stops on their résumés?
Finally, I have to bring up the fact Meyer hired Tim Hinton. Both men were graduate assistants under Earle Bruce at Ohio in 1986. Bruce was fired the next year, before the end of the season in 1987. You have to wonder about that. Do they share some sort of long-simmering sense of injustice? If so, what sort of effect could that have if everything doesn't go perfectly?
Try to do this yourselves. When I do it, I can only find one configuration that works for me at all:
- "East" -- PSU, OSU, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern
- "West" -- Michigan, MSU, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska
I really think this is what the powers that be have in mind. Think about it -- if you separate OSU from Michigan then you pretty much have to keep Wisconsin in the division. Nebraska has to stay with Iowa, so it's done. The divisions are in fact geographically contiguous. All major rivalries are preserved within the divisions except one, or maybe two if you count MSU-PSU.
One problem with this is the reality that the winner of OSU-PSU will almost always play for the conference championship. How often will one of the others break that stranglehold? Twice a decade? Less? You're taking the two programs from the largest and richest football recruiting states in the Big Ten, both without in-state conference rivals, and isolating them in a division by themselves. Yeah, that will work!
What are they thinking?
I'm going to guess that they are thinking that this will create a competitive championship game every year. They are right -- the champions of the West are likely to be a very good team. But they will almost always have more losses than the East champion, due to more parity within their division.
While it's fun, the point of the game is not to knock OSU out of the national championship every once in a while. That is so 1969. The point is to beat them and not just go to the Rose Bowl, but go onto the national championship ourselves. These divisions work against that ultimate goal. Indeed, any Big Ten divisional alignment that separates Michigan and Ohio State has this same fatal flaw.
I guess Dave Brandon would argue that the primary goal of conference play is to win the Big Ten championship, no matter how the Wolverines get there. That's true. But to play for the BCS championship, most years Michigan will have to win three games against OSU/PSU. Strength of schedule might allow us one conference loss along the way if the SEC champion isn't in the same predicament. That's likely to be the new reality, folks. Get used to it.
[Edit: Note that I was writing this when Brian posted a front-page reference to the same idea on Slow States. All I can say is either great minds think alike or this is freaking obvious.]
What happened to the biggest rivalry of the old BIg 8 conference, Nebraska-Oklahoma, when it was split across divisions when the Big XII was formed? I'll answer that for you -- it was eclipsed by Texas-Oklahoma, a divisional rivalry. The collapse of that game is a major reason why Nebraska is leaving that conference to join the Big Ten.
What would happen to the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry if it were split across divisions? Could it be eclipsed by Penn State-Ohio State, a divisional rivalry? This isn't as far-fetched as you might think. An occasional championship matchup will not make up for turning the regular-season game into a trophy game instead of a must-win game with the divisional title almost always on the line. In the long run, the loss of this dynamic could damage the Michigan program and ultimately the Big Ten brand.
This doesn't need to happen.
It is possible to create both geographic equity (i.e., what Penn State wants) and competitive intensity (i.e., what Michigan and Ohio State should want) in a divisional alignment that preserves or protects all major rivalries. The only real question here is how to split up the quadrangle of hate (Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, formerly a triangle) -- no matter how you do it, you're going to lose part of that. Without further ado:
- Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue, Northwestern
- Michigan State, Penn State, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois
Protected regular-season games: Michigan-Michigan State, Ohio State-Penn State, Iowa-Nebraska, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Indiana-Purdue, Illinois-Northwestern.
- Michigan, Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Purdue, Northwestern
- Michigan State, Penn State, Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, Illinois
Protected regular-season games: Michigan-Michigan State, Ohio State-Penn State, Iowa-Minnesota, Nebraska-Wisconsin, Indiana-Purdue, Illinois-Northwestern.
I'm not sure which of these two are better in terms of the quadrangle, but you get the idea. This protects most border-war and all in-state rivalries while spreading out the divisions, thereby not screwing anyone in that regard (i.e., like Penn State would be if you put them in an otherwise western division).
Finally, lest you argue this is the ACC redux, let's take a look at their current alignment:
- Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami
- Boston College, Maryland, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State
I don't know if there are protected rivalry games across the divisions, but regardless, this is not a consistent system. Like the quadrangle of hate, the main problem for the ACC is how to handle the four North Carolina schools and, actually, I think the current scheme has got that right. The main problem with it is they don't split up Virginia-Virginia Tech, resulting in Maryland being split from Virginia.
If the ACC were to follow my methodology with regard to the Big Ten, it would look like this:
- Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Florida State
- Boston College, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Miami
Protected regular-season games: Maryland-Boston College, Virginia-Virginia Tech, North Carolina-North Carolina State, Duke-Wake Forest, Georgia Tech-Clemson, Florida State-Miami.
There, fixed two conferences in one go!
On the surface, the primary Freep article on this topic, A look inside Demar Dorsey’s recruitment to Michigan: What police records show; what U-M’s recruit says (link is to printer-ready version, no ads), is not problematic. It gives Demar a voice, and it lays out most of the facts. Fine.
On closer inspection, however, there are two not-so-hidden agendas in the article that deserve our attention. One is its attempt to defend Drew Sharp by continuing to argue that "Dorsey will be able to play college football … thanks to breaks he has gotten from the law" -- that he received "special consideration from law enforcement authorities" because he was "one of the country's highest-rated defensive backs." The other questionable aspect of the article is in its attempt to portray Rich Rodriguez as being disingenuous in his "wrong place, wrong time" comment. Neither of these gambits holds up under scrutiny.
Let's start with the first, which is a more subtle and pernicious version of Sharp's inflammatory "O.J." claim. One obvious point to be made is that in the summer of 2007, when Demar was still 15, he was not yet "one of the country's highest-rated defensive backs." He hadn't yet played as a sophomore in high-school. The consideration Demar received was the same the juvenile division gives any kid at that age in those circumstances. Maria Schneider, the assistant state attorney in charge, says as much in the article:
We are dealing with kids. The vast majority of kids stop offending. I hope this is one of them. … We try to take juveniles and judge them by the circumstances surrounding them. There are many, many things that can be taken into account.The facts are clear. Dorsey was twice sent to a diversion program, once as a first-time offender, and once because he confessed to participating in two burglaries on the same day. The police told the second victim about Dorsey's promise as an athlete and asked him what he wanted to happen:
I responded that I didn’t want the guy to get away scot-free because he freaked me out, to be honest about it. … But I didn’t want to screw the kid’s life up forever.So there you have it -- the victim/witness made the decision. Three older kids were convicted. Two younger kids where not. [I'm assuming that, because the Freep couldn't find a conviction for the other younger kid, there isn't one.] Okay, so there's some room for argument here. Demar's promising future was a factor. Just as it would be with any other kid with extenuating circumstances: high grades, class president, whatever.
However, where the Freep's thesis breaks down entirely is when it comes to the more serious felony armed-robbery charge brought against Demar later, when he was older. First, let me say that this is quite obviously what Rich Rodriguez was referring to when he said "You have to look into why he was in the wrong place at the wrong time." Dorsey was present in a car that was used in a mugging with a pellet gun. Here's what Demar had to say about it:
We was right down here going to my house. We dropped one of our players off, one of our teammates off. When we were dropping them off, they got out the car, tried to rob somebody. I was still in the car.So what do you think the Freep follows up this quote with? A rational reader would expect a comment on how, yes, indeed, Doresey does seem to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time in this case. But no... Here's what the Freep writers follow the above quote with: "Dorsey’s admissions to police in the … burglaries contrast with the portrait drawn of Dorsey’s actions by Rodriguez." No mention at all of how the armed-robbery incident fits Rod's statement perfectly.
Plus, let's not forget the other big-picture point here. If Dorsey was getting "special consideration" because of his status as a star athlete, how is it that he was arraigned and brought to trial before a jury? If he had done it, he would have been convicted. Indeed, we can surmise that someone else was convicted of the crime from the judge's statement:
The defendants all blamed one another as to who committed the armed robbery. My guess is what it came down to was identification.Was someone else convicted of this crime? Odd that the Freep would go to press without finding out this simple, verifiable fact. Let's also not forget that there is a jury verdict extant from the trial. It's right here. The verdict says very plainly that Demar has "been acquitted by a jury." I'm not a lawyer, but this document seems to call into question the judge's recollection of dismissing the charge against Dorsey at trial. Funny that the Freep does not mention it.
That's about it, then. The Freep says Demar got a huge break, but he was brought to trial before a jury. That doesn't sound like much of a break to me. Moreover, a judge and/or jury decided that he didn't do it and that he was indeed in "the wrong place at the wrong time." Only someone with an agenda could possibly argue that Rich meant the burglaries, which Demar confessed to, by "the wrong place at the wrong time." The Freep jihad lives on!
So what do we see for this year? Here's the schedule, home games in caps:
Sept. 4 ~ CONNECTICUT
Sept. 11 ~ Notre Dame
Sept. 18 ~ MASSACHUSETTS
Sept. 25 ~ BOWLING GREEN
Oct. 2 ~ Indiana
Oct. 9 ~ MICHIGAN STATE
Oct. 16 ~ IOWA
Oct. 30 ~ Penn State
Nov. 6 ~ ILLINOIS
Nov. 13 ~ Purdue
Nov. 20 ~ WISCONSIN
Nov. 27 ~ Ohio State
This is the same conference schedule as last year, in the same order. Only the stadiums are changing.
One key difference is all the non-conference games are on the front end. No baby seals on the menu in the midst of conference play. I see that as a good thing. It definitely didn't help last year -- the feast just seemed to leave the team lethargic the next week against Penn State.
Win or lose, UConn is a great way to prepare for ND the following week. The Huskies are probably about right in competitive terms for a hungry UM team coming off a disappointing season, so it should be a good, hard-fought game. Just what the doctor ordered. I give the Wolverines the edge at home.
Notre Dame is an unknown. New coaching staff, star quarterback and running back gone. Two very good seniors gone on the offensive line. Sound familiar? Nonetheless, they open against Purdue at home, so they will be primed and ready to go when UM comes in the next week. But I like having a tough early road game. Last year, the first road game was the first loss. There were no road wins. Four home games in a row is not a good way to start a season.
So even if Michigan goes 1-1 in the first two games, the team will at least know the drill when they go on the road to Indiana to start the Big Ten season. IU will be out for revenge, but let's say we score enough points to win going away, like 40 or something.
Thus, like last year, it's not inconceivable the team could have three wins going into Big Ten play, and four when they play State. The big difference being that this time Michigan will have the experience of a gut-check road game in South Bend under their belts, and after Indiana we are looking at back-to-back home games against State and Iowa. This is a much better outlook than last year, which was the opposite.
Iowa is homecoming, followed by a bye week and then a five-game grind beginning at Happy Valley and ending in the Horseshoe. This is a tougher way to finish the season than last year, but if we play Penn State at 5-2 again it will be a more seasoned, mature 5-2, with at least a few more wins to be expected. [That is, more than none!] Plus, there was no bye week last year. The team played every week. An extra week to heal at mid-season should help matters.
I doubt 9-3 is realistic, but 7-5 or even 8-4 seems possible. I expect a lot of carnage (i.e., parity) in the Big Ten this year, much like last year (UM's dismal results notwithstanding), so even 7-5 could mean a decent bowl berth.