things go poorly
During the Purdue meltdown, the announcers made mention of Michigan's fragile psyche and how the team seemed to collapse when a play or two went against it. Right about the time we surrendered the ill-covered on-side kick, followed by a 50+ yd TD bomb to a wide-open WR, I started thinking about what this Michigan team reminded me of.
Not exactly the 2005 UM team, Lloyd's worst team that finished 7-5. I only wished that we could have that team back again, at least their record. That team blew 2nd half leads to Wisconsin, Minnesota, OSU, and Nebraska in losing gut-wrenching games. Without the Henne-to-Manningham TD at the end of the PSU game and a great catch by Jason Avant in OT at Iowa (which set up the winning TD), we would have lost 6 games that we led in the 2nd half. But, that team still did deliver a few beautiful wins, including two on the road. (I was at both the PSU win and at Iowa for the OT win in back-to-back weeks.)
So...just who did 2009 UM resemble?
Well, consider the 2005 MSU team. They started with a few easy wins and then a thriller of a win at ND in OT. You might recall that a few zealous Spartan players promptly planted the S flag on the ND field (a mighty classless act that has NOT been duplicated by any RichRod teams in the past, even going back to WVU).
Sparty then rolled to victory two more times, including a blowout win at Illinois. UM stumbled into East Lansing a humbled 2-2, playing Sparty at 4-0. This was finally the chance to bury UM and possibly send them home without a bowl game at all. The game went back and forth, before UM blew a chance to win at the end, when Garrett Rivas shanked a short FG, similar to the Olnesavage shank yesterday vs. OSU. Sparty missed a FG (barely) in OT, and Rivas drilled the game winner.
Sparty proceeded to lose 4 of the next 5 games and then faced a must-win home game vs. PSU. Sparty played well but lost 31-22. Sparty QB Drew Stanton had a bunch of turnovers, similar to Forcier yesterday. Sparty ended home for the year, even though UM felt down after the season, losing an uninspired Alamo Bowl game to a Bill-Callahan-coached Nebraska team (Callahan = Ron Zook w/o the recruiting ability).
While NO bad season revolves around 1 or 2 bad plays, most seasons that turn sour seem to have a key southward-turning point. MSU's undoubtedly occurred during a classic John L meltdown at the end of the half vs. OSU. MSU had a surprising 17-7 lead and was trying a FG on the last play of the half. MSU had 10 men on the field and the FG was blocked and returned for a TD. MSU fell apart and never recovered. It seemed that the final blow wasn't the OT loss to UM, but the bumbled FG and subsequent meltdown at OSU. One play turned about an entire season. Once things bombed, morale sank to the depths of the ocean floor. Even a great coach would have struggled helping that team turn it around.
Our meltdown moment was that 1st and goal vs. Illinois, up 13-7, ready to go up 20-7. Nothing went right the rest of that game and, except for a quarter here or there of good play, we melted. Just like if Sparty hadn't blown the FG vs. OSU in 2005, I think they would have probably found a way to win enough to make a bowl game. Ditto for 2009 UM.
What needs to happen between now and September 2010 to avoid the "John L" fate?
Well, for one, RichRod should KEEP his staff together (as he stated he would). If improvement is only a matter of guys getting more time in his "system" then keeping the system the same makes sense, even if it isn't popular. I'm tired of change. All I want is improvement.
Second, RichRod needs to be more of a Dr. Phil in the off-season. Bo was always easier and supportive of his players when they were down. We don't really need anyone transferring out right now. Let's face it, Tate's unscripted text messages show how down he feels! Yelling has a place in this world of coaching (laziness, silly personal fouls, etc.), but this team seems (at least on the surface) to be together more than it is not.
Finally, enough of the "hey we're improving even if you don't see it on Saturday" comments! Be specific. If a guy is making great strides in practice, tell everyone who and what. After a game, mention the plays/situations where we made improvement from 2008-09. I'm hoping to here RichRod say sometime next year: "last year, Tate would have thrown it here and not waited for a another second or two, and that's why we got the winning TD today."
UConn will be ready to roll next year when we open up the new Big House. We have 10 months to get ready.
The thought popping into my head was this...what former/current college coach had a trajectory similar to Rich Rod's first 22 games at Michigan?
I don't think he is anything like the Gillespie guy who bombed out at Kentucky (and who is one serious head case and arrested recently for a DUI). It's clear he hasn't resembled Tressel or Urban Meyer who won NCs in their second seasons. Nor Charlie "sandwich" Weis who won big his 1st two years at ND and has since gone 3-9, 7-6, and is looking at anywhere from 7-5 to 9-3 this year.
Anyway, after the same walk (probably on the same darn path!) last night, I realized just whom I hope Rich Rod follows.
A bit of history first...in January 1982, Bo had just finished a 9-3 "disappointing" season with a rare bowl win against UCLA in the now defunct Bluebonnet Bowl. I was a freshman at UM and was in the Marching Band. We started the season Numero Uno in the country and were shocked by a Wisconsin team, 21-14, that we had shut out for FOUR consecutive years (by the combined score of 176 to nothing!). We recovered nicely only to lose to upstart Iowa at home, 9-7. Again, we recovered nicely until losing a stunner at home to OSU, 14-9. We tumbled all the way from the Rose Bowl to the Bluebonnet Bowl.
During those days, Bo worked off a 1-yr contract. Yes, there was always an implied "Bo is coach forever" belief, but coaching contracts were coming into vogue. In January, Texas A&M dumped its coach after a 7-4 season. They contacted Bo and offered him a deal for something like 10 yrs and $2 million (200 K per season). Peanuts today, but at that time it was HUGE money. Any UM fan at the time remembers where they were when Bo was mulling the offer on a Friday or Saturday night. Bo decided to stay at Michigan and Canham decided it was time for a contract to make Bo feel secure, if the guy really should have had to worry about his job!
Having missed on Bo, TAMU offered and got Jackie Sherrill, highly successful coach at Pitt, though they didn't have to pay him as much or for as long as TAMU offered Bo.
Sherrill's teams started with two 5 win seasons, no bowl game, and a frustrated fan base. If the guy fired in '81 could win 7 games, why is Sherrill here winning 5 games! Things really boiled over early in the 1984 season. I was living in Texas at the time and TAMU stumbled to start the season. After a tough home loss to a weaker opponent (think Purdue in '09), Sherrill, even with troopers around, was harassed by fans as he was leaving the field. I still remember seeing the news coverage on the Houston TV station, thinking "Sherrill is toast!" TAMU was 5-5 going into its final game at Texas, which was playing for the SWC Title. TAMU blew out the Horns in Austin, something like 38-12, sending the Horns to one of those nondefunct bowls. The 6-5 record wasn't good enough for a bowl game in those days (unless you were ND or UM) so TAMU stayed home but the win in Austin took all of the heat off of Sherrill.
TAMU went on to win 3 consecutive SWC titles in 85-86-87 and beat Texas each year. Sherrill had finally "arrived" at a school where Football is king over the other sports.
Thinking to today...highly successful coach at one school, goes to a football-mad school (even though the school didn't first offer the job to him), stumbles the first few years, fan-base erupts, coach is harassed, calls for his head, and FINALLY said coach beat's the school's hated rival. Then the wins and conference titles start rolling in.
Can it happen here? Stay tuned!