I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
So I went to the Midwest Coach's Tour, aka "Sports-O-Rama," tonight in Chicago, hosted by the Chicago Michigan Alumni Association. We had a wonderful time, hearing from Brandon, Hoke, Beilein, Kim Barnes Arico (Women's basketball,) and Hockey Asst Coach Brian Wiseman.
It was a great night, and a lot of fun. It was clear they had rehearsed and done this before, as this is the end of a 10 day tour, starting on the West Coast. (Brandon asked Hoke, for instance, "Did you really say that Notre Dame was chicken?" To which, Hoke answered, "I did.") They all had a good time, were happy to be there, and took a number of questions from the crowd. The only hard question had to do with Michigan's APR, which was low last year, and lower this year. We're abysmal compared to ND & Northwestern. (football is 7th in the Big 10 in ranking.) Brandon didn't quite say "answer to the hand," but close. His basic answer was, come back to me again in four years and ask the same question. The rolling average makes it very difficult to overcome students who do poorly four years back.
Afterwards, the coaches went to different locations, to take questions, sign autographs, take pictures, etc. The lines were ridiculously long for Hoke and Beilein, understandably so. I waited a bit to talk to Brandon. The first thing I'll say is that he was very personable, approachable, and not defensive at all. You can see how he is great for the position of AD. Here are a couple things he said.
- Adding Maryland and Rutgers is not just about TV dollars today. They both certainly open us to the New York, Baltimore, DC markets. But more than that, the problem is projected population growth. According to Brandon, the midwest is flat to declining in the number of people. Projecting out 10 years, the SEC & ACC are seeing significant population growth in their footprint, while the traditional Big 10 footprint is stagnant and stable. Adding the two new teams helps mitigate against this population trend.
- In the future, 12 noon starts will be extremely rare for Michigan (except maybe for Ohio.) TV drives everything, and they want as many night games as possible, and late afternoon games as possible. Teams in the bottom half of the conference will be relegated to 12 or 12:30pm starts. Michigan will almost always have an afternoon or evening start time.
- Brandon is working hard to schedule better non-conference games. A number of teams are ducking Michigan, even when offered very significant money (I think Toledo would be one of these.) We already have a home and home with Arkansas, and with Virginia Tech. Expect an announcement on a home and home with a major West Coast team in the next couple weeks. (USC? UCLA? Stanford? Oregon? I'm guessing Stanford.) ND is at least 10 years, maybe 15, before being regularly rescheduled.
- The door is open for Chris Webber. He is the only one of the Fab 5 not to reach out to Michigan. (Obv., there were limitations until recently on his contact with Michigan.) But Brandon is willing to talk with Chris, if that's what Chris wants to do.
The highlight of my evening, by far, was an unexpected discussion. Three of us were getting ready to head out. As we were walking, I looked over at Laura, and said to the two guys I was with, "I want to say hi to Laura Hoke." She was incredibly personable, sweet, talkative, and approachable. Obviously, you don't ask Laura bubble screen questions. (sorry, Heiko.) But she was just a fount of information. We went all over the place, and I'll try to remember some of what she said.
- The coaches and wives are extremely close. Hoke and Mattison were together at Western Michigan for 5 years, overlapped several years under Carr at Michigan, and are back together again. Hoke and Borges got along very well at San Diego. They all just get along, and enjoy each other's company. I can really see how the wives getting along fosters the family atmosphere recruits have talked about. Every school says they're a family: Michigan really is.
- The wives sometimes join their husbands in recruiting. (And they have to be reminded by coaches to talk to recruits and recruit's moms, not to each other.)
- Laura told a story about talking to Pepper's coaches and parents, just making small talk. They assumed she was part of the staff in some capacity, asked who she was, and she said, "oh, I'm one of the d line coach's wives." At which point, one of them figured it out.
- I asked whether it was Hoke or his grandchild that brought Mattison to Michigan. She said, "Both (citing the friendship.) She also said, "Mattison really didn't enjoy the NFL the same way he enjoys the college game."
- I asked how long Borges and Mattison would be there. She said, "Forever. They're not going anywhere." Seriously, as long as their health holds out, I think Borges and Mattison will stay at Michigan. I think their wives don't want to go anywhere else, especially Mattison's wife.
- I asked if Brady ever encouraged one of his staff to take a promotion to coach elsewhere. She said, "Well, the ONLY coach to ever leave Brady's staff was Montgomery." That's an incredible statistic, and speaks of real loyalty.
- I mentioned that Da'Shawn Hand has talked about how "real" the Michigan coaches are, not putting on a show, just regular folks who enjoy life and care for each other and the players. That he liked the "family" atmosphere. Laura told me another story. She mentioned that a recruit had come to Michigan, and had also visited another school down south, who really "put on the red carpet." The recruit's mom was very impressed by the red carpet treatment, and Hoke's attitude was, "that's not us. We're not doing that for anyone. We are who we are." The recruit eventually went to the school down south. I thought to myself later, that recruit must have been Treadwell. I could see that if Mississippi really pulled out all the stops, treated recruits like royalty, that would impress some of them.
- Brady doesn't ever do negative recruiting. He just shares about Michigan and their resources, and Michigan sells itself.
- I asked Laura what was the hardest part of recruiting. She said, "It starts so early, and it never stops." Laura said, "if a five star recruit [her words] comes to campus, what are the coaches going to do? They're going to go to the office, show the recruit around, spend time with him." With unofficial visits happening all the time, you NEVER are off as a coach or a wife. She said they'd get a couple weeks of vacation in July, but that's it.
- Laura (like Brady) is very open. Brady shared again about his bad choices his first two years at Ball State. This really shapes how he cares for the "105 sons" who are on the MIchigan team. On this area, Laura had very high praise for the academic support team, and how proactive they are in helping Freshmen before they get on campus, and the minute they're on campus.
- I asked Laura about Football Saturdays. She said that they were a lot of fun. They have as many as 50 family members sleeping over Friday and Saturday night in their home.
- Laura really enjoyed the Senior Leadership training in California last week. The Seals did their thing, Laura was able to visit friends in San Diego, the team got to see the Rose Bowl (and picture being there,) and the Seniors did their football clinic for kids in Pasadena. Brady had nothing to do with it: the seniors needed to organize drills, and make the whole thing happen.
I hope you all get the opportunity to go to one of these things sometime. What a great couple Brady and Laura are. Just seeing her and Brady, I can see why the summer Barbecue would be so successful. And what a treat to hear her perspective on football at Michigan. She so clearly is having fun and enjoying this.
I will stand by the essence of what I said, although this is all from memory, and so it is not word for word. There was way more that happened, but this already is far too long, and gives you a taste of the evening.
There has been a lot of angst on the board over offensive play calling, whether Borges can adjust to the player personnel on hand, the spread vs. power & manball, protecting Denard, his passing skills and ability in the pocket, whether or not a "go-to" running back will emerge, whether the OL is creating lanes, etc., etc., etc.
I think these are legitimate concerns. But I also am reminded of something Hoke said in the pre-season, in so many words: the offense is only 1/3 of the team. The defense and special teams also make a huge difference.
Even with our defensive liabilities, I see this side of the ball becoming a strength.
- Mattison's ability to make adjustments to other teams and shut them down as the game goes on is huge. Against both ND & EMU, it looked bleak in the first quarter. But the defense adjusted, and gave our offense time to perform.
- I haven't parsed the numbers, but I think our defense is way up over the last few years of Michigan teams in causing turnovers. Even with Denard's miscues, we still are way up on turnovers this year, a huge credit to the defense.
- On the DL, the play of Martin has been great, Roh is finally healthy, VanBergen is solid, BWC shows glimpses of promise.
- The secondary has been great, with Troy, Floyd, Avery, Kovacs, and Gordon bending yet not breaking, and stopping most of the home runs.
- With the emergence of Hawthorne and Jake Ryan, alongside Demens, LB play has been solid. And Cam Gordon should be contributing anytime now.
Admittedly, there isn't enough depth. But if the defense stays healthy, I think they're going to be able to play with most of the teams we will face, and even win us a game or two.
Special Teams has been under the radar, but I am very, very encouraged.
- Wile adds something to the mix, and has been solid, if unspectacular.
- Hagerup will return in one more game, and will give us more range on punts.
- Gibbons hasn't missed a field goal yet this year! Ok, this is overstating things, but at least this doesn't appear to be the huge liability of a year ago. Hoke sure doesn't seem concerned. Hitting a field goal last Saturday was a step in the right direction.
- Gallon has done a great job in returns. It was beautiful seeing him return a punt a long way (only to have it called back by an illegal block to the back.)
With the return of Hagerup, we are going to see our opponents pinned deep more often, with a long field ahead of them. Sustaining a drive of more than 80 yards is not easy. If the defense continues to generate turnovers, this will be a great thing.
With the emergence of Gallon, and the ability of our defense to stop the opponent on 3rd and 4th down, we are going to see a short field for Michigan's offense more often this year.
Having a solid defense and good special teams play will make a huge difference in our overall play and record. Even with our offense stepping down a level, it is more than compensated for by our defense and special teams stepping up. As entertaining as it may have been, I don't want to see a repeat of last year's Illinois game, where our only chance of winning was being the last one to score a TD.
However, there is one section in his article with which I resonate. Litke writes,
Rich Rodriguez was never going to be "a Michigan man."
Not when he was hired, not when he cried after being accused of pushing his players too hard, not even if he wins nearly every game for as long as he lasts in the job.
That's not a slam on Rodriguez. No one in charge of a topflight major college football program anywhere else qualifies as "a Michigan man," either. The last one, Lloyd Carr, resigned at the end of the 2007 season, when he realized he could no longer be both. Trying to uphold a winning tradition while following both the letter and spirit of NCAA laws finally wore him out.
I think Litke is right. Carr, the Michigan Man, the man who read Kipling, who retired to travel and do other things, who is a personal friend of Russell Crowe, who required players to look up a new word in a dictionary, is a vestige of a past I loved, but which is no more.
Rodriguez came in, was brought in, to win. No more, but no less. Was I supportive of this move? Yes. Do I continue to be supportive? Yes. At the end of the day, I want Michigan to win. I want MY school to compete for the MNC. I choose Rodriguez, and 10&11&12 wins every year, over Carr and 7 or 8 or 9 wins every year.
However, the romantic and the elitist in me is saddened at the cost. I loved the idea of Coach Carr who read Newsweek and read books and was conversant in National Politics and listened to NPR and cared about his players, loved them, while still competing. I loved the idea that you could work hard, play hard, win, but still have a life. Those days, I think, are over. It's stupid to moon and pine over a lost past. But a small part of me died when Carr retired. Even Bo&Woody had life beyond the gridiron. Nowadays? I don't know.
I think this is why I was not thrilled by the "General Studies" brouhaha of a year or so ago. GS was one more sign that FB players were barely students, were largely segregated from the regular student body, so they could focus on their job of football, and not be bothered by homework and competition with the typical Michigan student.
In other words, I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want a coach like Carr, a well read Renaissance Man, a literate Michigan Man who is also a winner. Alas, this day has passed. Somehow, I wonder if this is what grieved Rosenberg. The reality is that we have entered a New World, and we can't go back home again. This world represented by Carr, by Bo, by Woody, is the past I mourn losing. I wonder if our team is now interchangable with Florida or Alabama or Florida State or USC. I always thought Michigan was "better." Not in terms of wins & losses, but in terms, somehow, of quality.
If there was a way to have it all, I would. But I don't think there is a way to have to all. So, we have Rodriguez, and hopefully, the boatload of wins that come along.
Over the last year, there have been various conversations about how the game of football has changed, and left Carr in the dust. Some of the posters have said, more or less in the words of Al Davis and the Raiders, "Just win, baby." Now, I myself want to see Michigan win, but is there some point at which it's not worth it? I'm thinking of that old movie, "Indecent Proposal," and the line, "Some things aren't for sale."
I'd like to see Brian put up a poll or two, finding out how important it is to mgoblog readers HOW Michigan wins. It should be obvious that every Michigan fan wants Michigan to win. But we each have a different point where it's not worth it.
What got me thinking down this track was the profile on Brandon Hawthorne. Brian wrote, " 'I'm a get you.' Those four words . . . represent the vast gulf in culture between the old guard and the new better than anything I've run across so far. . . The fact that Hawthorne and Smith fit in so well with the coaches recruiting them they would commit to Michigan sight unseen . . . indicates a shift in philosophy. It's not seismic . . . but it's real."
Now, I can live with the shift in philosophy. I'm fine with Hawthorne coming to Michigan. After all, iirc, Anthony Carter wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but Bo was sure happy to have him on campus. It's obvious Michigan had to get with the program, in the shift from Carr & crew to RR.
Having said that, I don't want criminals on campus. I don't want Michigan to be just another semi-pro team, just another ticket to the NFL, with no loyalty, no "Michigan Men," no academic or ethical standards. I think we all know there is a huge double standard in terms of the academic expectations of the general student body compared to Michigan athletes. But I'm wondering if there is some point where the disparity becomes so vast it creates problems. As an example, it is my perception that Miami football players are thugs, and are purely hired guns. I don't want that for Michigan.
Back to the original question: how much would you "pay" to have the mythical national championship? If corruption and cheating was well enough hidden, would you want it, because it meant we would win? Or would you rather see UofM contend for the occasional NC, say every five or ten years, but doing it the "right" way, the "Michigan" way? What are you willing to compromise, and what is important to do the right way?
Maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic. Maybe Michigan under Bo & Carr has been just as corrupt and slimy as any other successful team out there. Maybe, but my strong impression of Carr and Bo was that they cared a lot about the process, about how things were done. I have always felt that Carr was a man of integrity, who cared about a lot more than wins. Again, we had to move forward. Carr was part of the problem. It was time for him to move on. But it is critical to me that we have moved on the "right" way.
Brian has been (I think) hinting at this kind of thing with the oversigning at Alabama and North Carolina. The implication is that for Brian, even if oversigning slightly improved the level of recruits at UofM, it wouldn't be worth it to him. This is one of his "lines in the sand." What are your lines in the sand? What is it worth to you to win?
I followed yesterday's discussion about Facebook and friends with interest. Full disclosure: I am a 49 year old Michigan Grad. In other words, my time really came before extensive use of Facebook, Myspace, etc. For those of you who are teens and current students, I am just another old fart. However, I am also a pastor, who has some responsibility and relationship with youth in the church, and I have a 15 year old daughter. She lives on Facebook. For this reason, I have a Facebook account. It allows me to briefly keep tabs on the youth at church, and my daughter, and rarely, to comment or reply to something. Some of the youth just use Facebook, and no e-mail. For the same reason, if they request it, I also text message them, instead of calling or e-mailing. I am trying, with some reluctance, to stay "current."
However, I never even consider texting or facebooking someone who isn't interested in contact. In fact, I RARELY facebook or text those who I already know. I have never even considered becoming "friends" on Facebook with someone I don't already know personally. I probably only go on Facebook once or twice a week . . . I just don't have time for it. And when I go there, I sometimes wonder at the wisdom of some of the stuff the youth actually put up for others to read.
Which brings us to recruiting. It is bad enough that I waste as much time as I do on mgoblog. But I don't think I would ever consider putting recruit names in to see if they would "confirm" me as a friend. I'm just an old white geezer they don't know from Adam.
However, instead of criticizing, I would love to hear from some of you young whippersnappers about proper Facebook etiquette. Are you telling me that in youth culture, it is ok to send friend requests to as many people as you want, whether you know them or not? What is the age cut off? When are you weirded out by someone older contacting you on Facebook? I kind of assume that somewhere around 30, you are an "adult," and below, you are youth or college age.
As regards recruits, it just seems weird and inappropriate to me to have personal facebook contact with a recruit, just because you were able to google stalk his name and high school, and so forth.
On that note, I really liked the Oku comments about just being left alone. Between fans, recruiting gurus, family, media, coaches, and who knows who else, it has got to be really over the top, the amount of contact and pressure put on quality hs football players.
I really like reading Tom VH, but I'm curious how he gets so much info without becoming annoying to recruits. When does one cross the line?
On another topic, I think it is great that these athletes have the opportunity to take visits to different schools. What I think many of us Michigan grads forget is how sheltered many of these players are. We should all remember that many of them have never been on a plane, and in some cases, never traveled out of the state they live in. Some of them have rarely, if ever, eaten in a nice restaurant. When I moved to Chicago, I was shocked to find some teens who had NEVER been to Lake Michigan, or to Indiana. To some of these recruits, seeing the ocean or snow or a huge stadium is about the same as many of us going to Antarctica or Mount Everest. I also think it is wise for them to check several schools out, to make sure they are sure. For every Ricardo Miller, (or coach's kid Jim Harbaugh) who knows they are going to Michigan, there are a dozen who don't have a clue. I would rather that they visit enough schools to know "Yes, I really want to be a Michigan Man," then to make a commitment and have regrets.
Another thing I remember from my time in AA was how many fellow students had lived their whole lives in Michigan, especially metro Detroit . . . in Livonia, or Troy, or Warren, or Gross Pointe, or Bloomfield Hills, but also a bunch from Grand Rapids, or Muskegon, or the Lansing or Flint area. They had never been extensively exposed to other areas of the country and world, and were pretty narrow in their thinking. Mind you, there were always kids from Chicago and NY, but the vast majority were Michigan homers. Maybe things have changed now. But my point is this. Many Michigan fans have lived in Michigan their whole lives, went to Michigan, and want their kids to go to Michigan. Even if they had the money, they wouldn't choose to go (or for their kids to go) to Texas, or to Harvard, or to Yale, or to Stanford, or to Southern Cal, or to Washington. And yet, we want kids from wherever to leave their families, their roots, their comfort zone, just so we can have a football team. If someone wants to do this, to escape Pahokee or wherever, that's great. But I don't think it's unreasonable for kids (and parents) to be somewhere near each other. I parked next to LaMarr Woodley's folks at the ND game 3 - 4 years ago, and I'm sure his parents were happy to be able to drive to a majority of their son's games. In hockey, I'm sure that Kampfer's parents are glad he's going to school close enough to attend. The solution is not just to recruit kids from elsewhere (Florida, Texas, Ohio, California). The solution has to be at least partially, to improve the quality of HS football in Michigan.