I thought this was weird. 20 years later, I know I'm the weird one. I like airports. I like wandering from place to place. I like LaGuardia because it has a place where I can buy olives and lunchmeat by the pound and call it a salad. I like the people moving from place to place like me, and I like the waiting when no one can expect anything from you. Now I know this is weird, because everyone tells me it all the time.
When Dr. Z said he hated airports, it was News. Paul Zimmerman leapt onto the internet like a fish who'd been introduced to water at the age of 65. He used his newfound milieu to talk about his wife, wine he liked, and how much he detested airports. Also football, so much football, and in a way that nobody else had ever tried to talk about football. All of this was innovative in a way that can no longer be communicated accurately.
I was 18 and dedicated to absorbing every iota of information about Michigan football, and football in general, that existed. Here is the thing about 1997 that baffles today: this was possible. I read everything. As 1997 progressed in a potentially memorable direction I downloaded 150x120 pictures of Charles Woodson for posterity. I flipped over to reports about the Raiders, who might be using a Michigan alum as a fourth receiver. I read every damn thing about Michigan football that existed and when that was over I looked for any possible reference to Michigan football from NFL folks.
Dr. Z existed apart from this. He was Sports Illustrated's main NFL analyst, and also completely insane. He charted every game for every NFL team. He used the opinions derived from this Sisyphean task to bludgeon coaches and assorted other NFL persons with his opinions until they admitted he was right. I remember one particular safety for the Arizona Cardinals—at the time a 5-11 makeweight with a consistency the Lions could only aspire to—who Zimmerman proclaimed was an All-Pro despite the fact that nobody could be bothered to look at an Arizona Cardinal. The next year that guy was an actual, legitimate NFL All-Pro, and boy did Zimmerman let you know about that. This was perfect.
It's hard to explain? At the time I was downloading every episode of the first season of South Park and looking at it on the hard drive I'd set aside for this task with a feeling of distinct pride. Late in my freshman year I took a trip to North Campus with my friend Sunil to use the Media Library's CD burner. I put a bunch of Tragically Hip and They Might Be Giants bootlegs on a CD that would actually play in your car and felt amazing. The internet opened up wide, like Lewis and Clark broaching the Rockies.
The internet was simultaneously mind-blowing and manageable. Platforms were still hard to come by. The ones that existed were an entirely new paradigm. And the football internet was dominated by a 65-year old guy who charted every-damn-thing and didn't mind telling you about his wife and his Various Foibles.
He was right about as often as anyone can be when talking about something as squirrelly as football players making football plays. I moved to Detroit when I was 10 and had a Lions phase that lasted from about then to about college and hated Z about half the time, because he'd say the Lions wouldn't be good. Then they were good. Then I'd like Z because he'd say the Lions would be good, and then they wouldn't be good.
I grew up and realized that Zimmerman was doing his level best in a field of applied chaos. For seven hundred consecutive years I projected that Rich Rodriguez's team would have a turnover ratio approximately equal to the one he had at West Virginia. QED.
It should be no surprise that I tried to be him. Back in the day when blogs were worth talking about people would ask me why I started this thing, and I'd say I was frustrated with the shallow level of coverage Michigan got. I only thought that because there was a man out there saying Arizona Cardinal safeties should be All-Pros before everyone else agreed. When they asked me what my influences were I'd name anything and everything outside of sportswriting, and then I'd say Paul Zimmerman, Dr. Z, the patron saint of charting.
Its executioners are its own coaches, who have strangled opposing offenses with a variety of neutral zone traps. Scoring is down almost two and a half goals a game from the firewagon 1980s. Jacques Lemaire wins three Stanley Cups playing the most stultifying brand of hockey imaginable. At Michigan State, Ron Mason seeks to win games –1 to –2, and does with depressing frequency. Your author is mere months away from swearing off the Red Wings forever after attending two games at Joe Louis Arena at which the only reaction from the crowd comes on goals, of which there is about one a period, and when a man named "Mo Cheese" does a jiggle-dance on the jumbotron.
That fall, two people walked into Yost Ice Arena for the first time: Mike Comrie and I. I sat in the student section; Mike Comrie set people on fire and laughed about it. I don't know anything about Mike Comrie's childhood but I know it involved ants and a magnifying glass.
I just missed the Brendan Morrison era but even if I'd seen it, I'd probably still believe Comrie is the closest thing to an on-ice avatar of the Red Berenson era in existence. He was a tiny puck wizard who defied all logical modes of playing hockey with sheer talent. It was not uncommon for Comrie to make a zone entry by himself, then tool around the offensive zone like Spike Albrecht doing donuts in the lane. The opposition allowed this because the alternative was approaching Comrie and risking an explosive moment after which Michigan would have another goal and you would have no pants.
Over the next decade it seemed like Michigan had an infinite supply of these guys. After Comrie came Mike Cammalleri, Jeff Tambellini, Eric Werner (who belongs on this list despite being a defenseman), TJ Hensick, Andrew Ebbett, John Shouneyia, and Andrew Cogliano. They were all different versions of the same assassin. Collectively they are this Cammalleri goal.
Under Red Berenson, Michigan hockey was an electric middle finger to the neutral zone trap. It defied NHL norms of the time, and sometimes basic physics itself. It took no quarter, and gave none. It lived in Yost Ice Arena, which for about 15 years was the most intimidating environment in sports.
YOST WAS BLACK, pitch black. Literally so. The shot at the top of the post is one of the bleachers that I had the good fortune to acquire when Dave Brandon's renovation of Yost was literally throwing them away. It is not the bright and shiny anodyne chrome of the current building. It is not even the respectable deep blue that Michigan has on hand for uniforms, logos, and what-have-you. It is black.
It is unnecessarily black. At one edge the paint has worn down and you can see that underneath there is a layer of blue. Someone erased that blue, probably for no reason at all other than hockey was a non-revenue sport and black paint was cheaper. So they painted it black.
To walk into Yost Ice Arena in 1998 was a mindblowing experience for someone raised on the relatively genteel ways of Michigan Stadium. To be a Michigan fan is to have your nose in the air about the unhinged activities of those people; Yost was the Scarface coke bender kept hidden from public view. It is the only environment in the history of Michigan sports that can be compared in any way to Miami and its general attitude.
I have thought long and hard about why this might have come to be and still have no unifying theory, but by the time you arrived in 1998 at the same time as Mike Comrie it took about three games to fully assimilate into the baying hive mind. Then-Lake Superior State coach Frank Anzalone once told me to "shut the fuck up" between periods, and while I don't remember why he did this I assume he was 100% correct to do so.
And I was just a guy, really, not one of the gentlemen in the section behind the opposing bench. One of the Superfans was there, the guy with the Flintstones water buffalo hat. Next to him was the guy with the megaphone, and around them was a cadre of the dirtiest dudes in town.
The megaphone, I think, is key to understanding the allure here. We have all had the experience of shouting something in anger at a referee at a football game. This is exactly as effective as shouting at your TV. There are one hundred thousand people in the stands and you are some vast distance away from the field even if you're in row 20; you are just a voice in the crowd.
At Yost, amongst six thousand people, in row ten, with the ears just the other side of some plexiglass, you know damn well that everyone can hear your every word. With a megaphone or without. By the time I had arrived there was a culture that understood and sought to exploit this, and it worked. I can't tell you how many times opposing players tried to spray people in the crowd with water bottles. The opposing parents were seated directly behind their bench, and directly in front of the dirtiest dudes in town, and since the dirtiest dudes in town had a tendency to select one player for excessive torment it was a semi-regular occurrence for a hockey parent to respond in kind. Rarely you'd catch a slightly unhinged one who would fume his way up the stairs and try to get in a fight.
The stupidity and the gloriousness of this should be apparent. For a period of several years the opposing parents had to be located across the rink, the ice serving as a demilitarized zone. Yost got people shook.
The creation of this seething cauldron in the context of dead-puck-era hockey, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is one of the great miracles of sports. The none-more-blackness of Yost had something to do with it. So did the basketball team's malaise.
But the primary factor was Red Berenson, who never gave a damn about what you thought he should do. Berenson spent four years in college when college was not a path to the NHL. He was literally the first player to ever go directly from the NCAA to the NHL. He was the NHL coach of the year at one point and could have continued being an NHL head coach indefinitely if he so chose. Instead he came back to Michigan. At a time when the primary way to win hockey games was by murdering the game itself he played balls-to-the-wall.
Yost was a magnet for sadists because it was a place you could go and see someone blown off the ice 8-1. A promotion where attendees got free tacos if Michigan scored ten goals had to be discontinued because it was costing too much. Here is an arena where the residents are chanting for more goals when they are already at nine—nine! They are no longer beating the dead horse, but gleefully spitting on its grave. Yost was a reflection of the product on the ice.
Red Berenson did a lot of great things for his university, his players, his student managers, his coaches, his alumni, and they will all remember him for the things he did for them. The thing Red Berenson did for me is turn Yost Ice Arena into the greatest sports environment I've ever been in. He did that because he is metal. Bite-the-head-off-a-bat metal.
On redshirts. I don't know if this is a recent change or if it has always been this way, but the medical redshirt operating parameters I've been working with are incorrect. I've been under the impression that if you play at all after game #4 you are ineligible. That is in fact not the case:
The injury must occur prior to the start of the second half of the season.
The student-athlete must not have competed in more than 30% of the season or three contests, whichever is greater.
(FWIW, I looked this up in the NCAA's bylaw search engine to confirm. I am an exciting person with many rewarding pastimes.)
The NCAA rounds up if 30% of the season is not an integer, so as long as games played < 5 and latest game played < 7, you are eligible. For Michigan that means guys who played in four or fewer games and did not participate after Rutgers can get a year of eligibility back if there is sufficient medical documentation. I believe Michigan has assembled such documentation.
Classification of freshmen follows.
Did not play: Brandon Peters, Kareem Walker, Stephen Spanellis, Ron Johnson, Quinn Nordin.
Eligible for hardship year: Kingston Davis, Nick Eubanks, Sean McKeon, Carlo Kemp, Mike Dwumfour, Josh Uche, David Long.
Definitely sophomores: Chris Evans, Kekoa Crawford, Eddie McDoom, Nate Johnson, Devin Asiasi, Ben Bredeson, Mike Onwenu, Rashan Gary, Devin Gil, Elysee Mbem-Bosse, Lavert Hill, Khaleke Hudson, Josh Metellus.
If the guys eligible for hardships get them that dials back the Great Halifax Redshirt Fire Of 2016 a great deal. The only burned redshirts that look wasteful in that case are Nate Johnson (who played just three games, but one was Nebraska) and maybe the two linebackers. Everyone else was either an important contributor or clear heir apparent needed in 2017.
We've moved the hardship-eligible folks back to the freshman column on the depth chart by class.
Today, big time college football coaches are media stars, with thousands of followers on Twitter. They’re rich and famous, whether they should be or not. Even assistant coaches are millionaires. But it wasn’t always that way.
This week in Ann Arbor a few hundred people gathered to remember a college football coach who wasn’t rich or famous. But he’d earned the respect of everyone there.
Returning experience: nope! There was a spate of articles last offseason claiming that Michigan was low on returning experience; these were wrong because they believed the Michigan roster and its lack of announced redshirts. This year, though, I rather believe metrics like Bill Connelly's that declare Michigan to be #127 of 129 D-I teams in returning experience. Losing 9.5 defensive starters*, three OL, and your top three receivers tends to do that.
Other Big Ten teams way down the list: Iowa (#118), Nebraska (#122), and... yep, 3-9 Michigan State (#124). The most alarming aspect of last year's MSU outfit from the perspective of an MSU fan has to be the fact that they were not young at all.
Michigan doesn't play anyone particularly high up the list except Indiana, which just set their program on fire. It is notable that 2017 opponent Air Force—a charter member of the MGoBlog Never Schedule This Team list, thanks Dave—is dead last. Hopefully we don't get the bejeezus scared out of us again.
*[Mo Hurst was a starter in production if not actuality.]
It's been a while. Here's a Big Ten fight song medley from 1929. Chicago is included, and Michigan State is not, like God intended.
NFL scouting for various Michigan players. Many impressed. Jourdan Lewis:
Lewis used light feet, loose hips and excellent acceleration to blanket receivers throughout the practice. Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp (more on him later) was one of the few receivers to gain even a sliver of space on Lewis Tuesday and though he managed to catch one pass on the Wolverines' star, Lewis was there immediately to eliminate any possible yardage after the grab.
Lewis' agility and acceleration stood out in the afternoon but during the weigh-ins Tuesday morning it was his surprising length that proved a pleasant surprise. Though possessing just "average" height for the position at 5-foot-10 and 188 pounds, Lewis has disproportionately long arms (31 inches), which make him that much better suited to handling the massive receivers he'll face on the outside in the NFL.
2. DE - Chris Wormley, Michigan - An ideal blend of size (6-foot-5½, 297) and speed for an NFL defensive end in a 4-3 system, nobody displayed better and more consistent pass-rushing speed in Mobile this week than Wormley. He's quick off the snap, good at splitting double teams and can get to the quarterback.
8. ILB - Ben Gedeon, Michigan - Yes, there was a lot of Wolverine representation on the North Defense. Michigan didn't finish No. 1 in the nation in total defense for nothing. Gedeon (6'1 5/8" / 247) was a standout against the run in all three days of practice. He's strong and physical with good instincts. He struggled at times on his pass rush drills, but he may be best suited as a two down inside linebacker who goes to the sidelines in passing situations anyway.
Smith, who gained 846 yards on 181 carries and scored 10 rushing touchdowns for the Wolverines in 2016, has looked more elusive than he did in Ann Arbor. He also has proven he can catch. Add those traits to his blocking ability and his familiarity with pro-style protections after playing two seasons for Jim Harbaugh, and Smith suddenly looks like a mid-round pick a team can plug in immediately. And if the line in front of him is good enough, Smith could wind up on one of those lists.
Blue chip quarterbacks: many transfer. Dueling takes on the same subject on Signing Day eve from the Sporting News and Sports on Earth. The latter article is a just-the-facts-ma'am take on the recent history of blue-chip QBs:
It would be a mistake to call it an epidemic. Transfers have gone up in college football, and that's especially true at quarterback, where there are only so many starting positions available. The wave of transfers is often treated like a problem, but players switching schools to try to find a better opportunity for themselves is hardly an actual problem. (Coaches do it all the time.) The graduate transfer rule in particular has made transferring easier, as veteran players with degrees in hand can switch teams without sitting out a year.
The massive wave of transfers is undeniably a big story, even if it's overblown as a problem. While a lot of coaches and fan bases will be excited on Wednesday when blue-chip quarterbacks sign to play at their school, there's a good chance that those QBs won't actually finish their careers with the same team or deliver on the hype.
In fact, from 2007-13, more than half of four- and five-star quarterback recruits didn't finish their college career at the school they originally picked, whether it's because they transferred, were dismissed, switched to baseball or gave up playing football. (This does not include players who left early for the NFL Draft.) Likewise, just 44.1 percent of the 145 blue-chip quarterbacks signed from 2007-13 attempted at least 300 career passes for their original team.
"It's almost like a generational systematic issue where kids feel entitled and they feel like they should have the opportunity," Quinn said. "They don’t realize that opportunity is earned. It's not given. That's kind of my issue with it. I don't know how you change it unless you change things at the levels below college."
As you might imagine, this caused some eyerolls in MGoSlack. There are two main reasons for the uptick in transfers: the grad transfer rule and the commercialization of the sport.
The first one should be obvious: a redshirt senior who would otherwise be out of luck can now transfer, degree in hand, to another school where he'll get a shot. Shane Morris counts as a departure; ten years ago he would have not been offered a fifth year by Michigan and would be done with college football.
The second is a little more winding, but when you've spent the last 20 years doing literally everything you can to maximize revenue with no other concerns do you really expect platitudes about loyalty to mean much? Recruits are told it's a business now, and, I mean, does it or does it not act exactly like a business? It does. And you'd be dumb to have loyalty to most businesses.
Meanwhile I wonder how many of those Bama transfers even had the option to return this season. One, certainly. Saban no doubt prefers a veteran option if Hurts gets injured. Three? No. The NCAA's overall cap on scholarships encourages movement. It's not a damn millennials thing, and it's certainly not a problem with high schools and parents. Move to a yearly cap with no overall cap and transfers go down immensely because there's no motivation for schools to prune kids who aren't panning out.
To blame the players, who are doing the things the system either tells them to or literally forces them to, is high grade paternalist bullshit. I love the smell of NCAA in the morning.
So... how did that happen? Ohio State lost to Penn State over the weekend. You may not be aware of this so I will pause for your chortling.
All right. Done? No?
how bout now nvm
Okay. Now we can proceed. While OSU losing to Penn State, a team Michigan beat 49-10, has caused no end of merriment in the Michigan fan base*, there was an awful lot of flukiness in the PSU win. OSU outgained PSU by a wide margin, held them to under 300 yards of offense, and had a 64% win expectancy per S&P+. PSU made up the deficit with two huge special teams plays, the first a blocked punt that set up a field goal to pull them within four, the second a kick-six that turned an potential 7-point OSU lead into the three point deficit they'd lose by.
Normally I'd write those off as flukes not applicable to the Game, but Michigan has already blocked six kicks this year and has Jabrill Peppers sitting back there for any teams who want to get overly concerned about getting the punt off. Advantage: Michigan.
...the entire unit struggled in pass protection, surrendering a staggering 34 pressures between them, with RT Isaiah Prince accounting for almost half of those by himself. The spark of Curtis Samuel’s untouched 74-yard touchdown run and Marcus Baugh’s tackle-breaking exploits in the first quarter weren’t repeated in the final 25 minutes of the game.
And it could have been worse for OSU. Star Nittany Lion DE Garrett Sickels sat out the first half. This did not prevent him from racking up 2.5 sacks. A different PFF article has a different pressure number but it's still boggling: 28 pressures on 53 dropbacks. Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley are likely to do similar work. PSU's 28th in adjusted sack rate. Michigan is 4th.
A second major issue was an inability to get to Saquon Barkley near the line of scrimmage:
the Penn State offensive line set up Barkley with 41 of his 99 rushing yards before contact, and Barkley didn’t have to break any tackles while coming up just a yard shy of a 100-yard game. The star on the offensive line for the third straight week was RT Brendan Mahon, who dominated the Ohio State front on the ground, combining particularly well on double teams to blow the Buckeyes’ defensive tackles out of the middle of the play and disrupt the linebackers behind them.
Later in that piece PFF will advocate for OSU's backup DTs to play over the starters after PSU and Wisconsin gashed OSU up the gut repeatedly. I will repeat: PSU—THE Penn State University—gashed Ohio State up the gut. Penn State. That one. That team. The one with Paris Palmer in the starting lineup again. They got 8.2 yards per carry between the tackles. (Why on Earth they only gave Barkley 12 carries is completely inexplic—oh right James Franklin.)
OSU's run D looks fine statistically, but that's largely due to 4 TEAM rushes for a total of –43 yards. Those were three kneels from the gun and a yakety snap over the punter's head. Remove those and Penn State rushed for an even 5 yards a carry without a single broken tackle from Barkley.
Michigan looks like they have a significant advantage on both lines. I can't believe I'm saying that but here we are.
*[My favorite thing is OSU fans saying it was a ROAD NIGHT GAME since Vegas is now offering 40 points for home field advantage.]
How is Michigan State going to move the football? I'm not sure how else to headline this bullet point. If you look at the numbers -- what Michigan's done on defense and what Michigan State's done on offense -- you get a pretty simple result. Michigan State will have to completely change the way it runs offense, overnight, and Michigan's defense will have to take a massive step backward for the Spartans to move the ball with consistency.
For the year, 22.2 percent of MSU's offensive possession have reached the red zone (No. 117 nationally). Michigan's defense, meanwhile, has allowed offenses to reach the red zone on just 6.7 percent of their possessions. That's No. 1 nationally. Michigan State also ranks near the bottom nationally in number of possessions per game at 12.6 and near the bottom in average field position. MSU is No. 91 nationally in rush yards per game, Michigan's No. 4 nationally in rush defense. If numbers hold, this could be a great day for Michigan's defense and a long one for MSU's offense.
MSU's gotta hope that some long bombs get completed and LJ Scott can conjure something up himself.
Bill Connelly gets to talk about his numbers too. We've been doing it all year, and he joins the "holy crap, Michigan's defense in S&P+" brigade:
Def. S&P+ is presented in an adjusted points-per-game figure and is created from an opponent-adjusted mix of efficiency, explosiveness, finishing drives, turnover factors, and field position factors. Here are its top five defenses in the country:
Yes, these numbers are adjusted for opponent, though while Michigan’s schedule was supposedto be awful, it really hasn’t been; among Wolverine victims, Wisconsin is 10th in overall S&P+, Penn State is 16th, and Colorado is 17th.
When Tomsula wouldn’t let anything go, you called him a hoarder and impounded his car.
He was my daughter’s micro-soccer coach when she and his kid were 4 years old. He couldn’t have been nicer, more mellow, or better liked by the kids. He adapts to every situation to be great at whatever it is.
U-M's overall revenue in spectator admissions increased to $45.1 million during the 2016 fiscal year, compared to $41.9 million in 2015. The $3.2 million increase was primarily due to an increase in football ticket demand, according to the financial analysis, which was approved by the U-M Board of Regents on Thursday, Oct. 20.
In comparison, spectator admissions decreased $8.3 million in 2015 due to a decrease in football, men's basketball and ice hockey admissions.
Overall, the athletic department saw an increase of $7.8 million to its net position for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, which is up from 2015's $1 million overall increase.
He literally pays for himself, and that's before various other application/donation things get factored in.
RIP Drew Sharp, troll. People should memorialize the dead as they knew them. Much of the Detroit media has done so in the case of Drew Sharp, who passed away at 56 this Friday. Those who knew him say he was a great and funny guy whose button-pushing writing shouldn't define the man, and I won't dispute that.
However, much of the memorializing has bothered me because it skips straight over the lasting fact of Drew Sharp's career: he was an unrepentant troll. There is a certain genre of newspaper columnist or radio talking head that is relentlessly negative because that's the only thing he can do that gets a reaction, and Sharp was Detroit's version. (There's one in every city.) He didn't have readers. He had marks.
His cynicism was breathtaking, and this was never more clear than in the immediate aftermath of Michigan signing Demar Dorsey. Sharp correctly diagnosed that circus as desperation on the part of Rich Rodriguez, but for the wrong reason. Dorsey was nowhere close to qualifying and never came close, spending his career at various vagabond stops en route to a brief Arena League career. It's a sad story about kids who come up rough and can't make it out.
MATT SHEPARD: "He was timed with a 4.4—" SHARP: "Avoiding police."
SHEPARD: "That happened when he was 16 and he was acquitted. SHARP: "I wonder if that was because he was a high profile recruit. Hmm. I wonder. … OJ got acquitted. Being acquitted doesn't mean you're innocent."
That's the only thing he ever did that made me legitimately angry; the rest of it was eye-rolling at his transparent attempts to troll people. I only knew his writing, so I knew him as a man with contempt for everything and an utter lack of empathy.
Meanwhile his writing level and banter was barely above every message board's worst poster. Deadspin got its hands on a couple of his Brandon-esque emails some years back, and since those come through without the benefit of seven layers of editing they're the clearest picture of his talent as a writer.
WAAAAAH! WAAAAAH! Does the little baby need a pacifier? Yeah, Detroit needs writers that makes excuses for the city and simply tell the idiots in this town just want to hear. They've been doing that for 30 years in this town and that's a big reason why Detroit is swirling down the toilet. Oh, I'm sorry...that's not a "happy feel good story" is it? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
He had none. Drew Sharp's death is a loss to those who knew him. His career is his career, though, and shouldn't be viewed through sepia-tinged glasses. It says something that most of the newspaper obits start with "if you look past the thing he did every day for the last 30 years, he was a great guy." Mmmhmm.
I mean, he gave Penn State a free shot at the endzone by taking a timeout with three seconds left in the first half.
What do you do with that? How do you put that into your ongoing calculations? Add that datum to the rickety mess that is your ever-shifting, often-hypocritical, prone-to-explode model of your favorite thing in the world, and what happens? I don't know. The brain elects not to travel down that path. The future ceases to exist, replaced by only the ever more nonsensical present. All series diverge. Projection is impossible.
Let's jam that thing in anyway.
Not an improvement, but not any worse either. At that point such a thing was almost expected, after the previous year's offensive line roulette and 27 for 27 and two minute drills that usually took five minutes. Time for some maniacal giggling, then.
On the bright side, even three-and-a-half years deep into a coaching tenure that resembled nothing so much as Wile E. Coyote sauntering off a cliff Brady Hoke still had ways to surprise you.
Brady Hoke should never have been Michigan's football coach. This was apparent from the start, as at the time of his hire he had two assets: the fool's gold of an undefeated MAC regular season and a reasonable, if truncated, turnaround job at San Diego State. Aside from that he had five seasons of average MAC ball and zero years as a coordinator. Even the breakout year at Ball State ended with consecutive blowout losses to Buffalo and Tulsa.
When you stake your program to a resume like that you're as likely as not to come out the other end with Tim Beckman or Tim Brewster or Darrell Hazell. An infinite number of nondescript gentleman have had the ball bounce the right way during the furball that is a season in the Mid-American. Some of them populate the lower rungs of the Big Ten when Purdue can't think of anything better.
And then there's Bo.
Bo was on another level, having gone 27-8-1 in league play in six years with Miami. Even he was widely derided. Here is that picture again.
In the center is a man who has made a Decision. It's no exaggeration to say that Michigan's best and… most recent athletic directors staked their careers on whether they could separate coaching talent from noise.
All these years later, you get why Canham rolled the dice on Bo. Bo was a legendary hardass who took nothing from anyone and comfortably existed atop the roiling mass of chaos that is any football program, successful or not. He chewed out players on the sidelines, sent them back in the game, and cracked impish smiles at the reaming he'd just handed to the young man. He has a gravitas that stays with the program—veritably looms—a decade after his death. Bo had the proverbial It, and you can understand how he communicated that to Canham in whatever passed for a job interview between them.
That understanding will permanently elude historians attempting to discern what comparable force of personality Brady Hoke brought to a press conference in the Junge Center in January 2011.
There was a moment, though. Now it's hard to remember that Brady Hoke had two years in which it seemed he was indeed gold that does not glitter. Hoke gruffly intoned "This Is Michigan, fergodsakes" in response to a question nobody remembers. He wore short sleeves in weather ranging from torrid to frozen. His matter-of-fact declarations and tough toughness were his tentpoles. We hung a great edifice of hope on it; Hoke going to and winning a BCS game in year one provided buttresses and filigree and whatnot to the structure.
At a few years remove it's clear that Hoke stumbled ass-backwards into that success. Few 11-2 seasons have been jankier than Michigan's 2011. The Notre Dame game that kicked things off was a deranged exercise in winning against double coverage; Michigan threw 41 times for 2.8 YPA against Michigan State; they had 166 yards of offense before chuck-and-pray time against Iowa; they were one overthrown Braxton Miller pass away from losing to a .500 OSU team; they won that bowl game with 184 yards of total offense.
The signs were all there, even in the moment ("lucky as hell," quoth this space in the aftermath of the Denard After Dentist game). I alternated between excitement at the idea of a head coach who had an innate aggressiveness on fourth down and wondering why the hell they thought Denard Robinson could be Tom Brady.
But the games were won, and the recruits rolled in. Hoke seemed to stroll through a garden of four-stars gathering what he would. For a year or two, everything seemed just fine. In 2013, Michigan beat Notre Dame rather easily. Michigan fans were walking on air. Then someone looked down.
Rarely in the history of college football has a fanbase been jerked so rudely to attention as already beleaguered Michigan fans were in 2013. The relatively straight line that was the Hoke era turned into a harrowing plunge straight into the bowels of second-and-eleven-play-action hell. Save for an inexplicable Ohio State game, Michigan became the most brutally unwatchable team in the country the instant they left the field against Notre Dame.
Hoke was the same person through the good bits and the bad. He was gruffly nonsensical to start and gruffly nonsensical to end. As success turned to failure, the things we liked about him became the things we hated about him. Remember when this was hilarious?
That joke isn't funny anymore.
Despite the fact that people will still swear up and down that Brady Hoke is a great dude, I have less charity in my heart for him than I did Rich Rodriguez when it came to write his obit. A slice from that piece:
Coaches aren't humans. They are walking soundbites wrapped in great swirling cloaks of mythology. Rap on one of their chests. You will get a hollow clang and a statement about senior leadership. Kick sand in one of their faces. You will get a lecture from Peter the Great. Peter the Great will be confused and incensed that he cannot sentence you to hang. Tell one his aunt has been dismembered by bikers on PCP and you will get a statement about senior leadership. Seniors don't do PCP and rip aunts limb from limb, because they have leadership.
Rodriguez was human. He was just this guy. He wasn't supernatural or metallic. If you rapped his chest he would probably get a little weepy. He did not seem like a great leader of men, or a colossus astride anything, or even a dude fully in control of his shit.
Hoke was that coachbot even in impossible circumstances. By the end so many indignities had piled up that I was waiting for him to snap.
It never came. He endured the brutally painful press conference following last year's Minnesota game as a coachbot. He released a statement apologizing to Michigan State for Joe Bolden putting a small piece of metal in their field. At no point did he bite the head off a reporter, or say that his boss had sold him down the river, or do anything at all other than repeat the same goddamn things he'd been repeating for two straight years.
I liked Rodriguez because he seemed like a person who reacted to stimuli. He reacted too much, but at least you could see that he was processing information and coming to conclusions about what it meant.
Hoke did not do this. Whether Hoke was stoic or insensate is in the eye of the beholder; given the chaos around the program my vote is the latter. He seemed to shut down in terror when his dream job turned to a nightmare.
As the competence of his team deteriorated, Hoke shuffled his coaching staff nonsensically instead of making real changes. He stuck with his terrible punt formation and a style of offense unsuited for his quarterbacks. Even after it was clear his disastrous program could not be allowed to continue—the financial ruin it would cause must have been apparent to even Michigan's most recent athletic director—nothing changed. If Hoke thought he had a chance, well, he also called timeout to give Penn State a free Hail Mary.
At least Nero fiddled. Brady Hoke stood there in the rain without so much as shaking a fist at the heavens.
RIP Terry Pratchett. British author Terry Pratchett died on Thursday at 66, eight years after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.
Occasionally, people ask me about how to be a successful writer. This is kind of like asking a football player about his rad interception after the game—I don't really know, it just happened. But no one likes that answer. So my second-best guess is that I read many different things over a long period of time, and written various things for public consumption all along. Eventually I'd cribbed my style from so many different people that the pastiche seems like something its own. Voila: writer with Voice.
Pratchett was the first and most painfully obvious theft of the Big Four. (The others: Bloom County author Berke Breathed, David Foster Wallace, and SI's Paul Zimmerman.) He had not yet made a successful transition to this side of the Atlantic, but I had a friend in high school whose aunt was in British publishing. She passed Pratchett along to him, and he doled the books out to me one at a time. I lost one once and was terrified that I would not be entrusted with additional precious objects. But my friend kept giving them to me. For a time afterwards my prose was littered with jaunty footnotes and anthropomorphizations of natural forces. A pale imitation of the real thing.
I kept some of that, toning it down, and as I was reading the internet's obituary of the man I found this, in his own words:
There is a term that readers have been known to apply to fantasy that is sometimes an unquestioning echo of better work gone before, with a static society, conveniently ugly “bad” races, magic that works like electricity, and horses that work like cars. It’s EFP, or Extruded Fantasy Product. It can be recognized by the fact that you can’t tell it apart from all the other EFP.
Do not write it, and try not to read it. Read widely outside the genre. Read about the Old West (a fantasy in itself) or Georgian London or how Nelson’s navy was victualled or the history of alchemy or clock making or the mail coach system. Read with the mind-set of a carpenter looking at trees.
This is what I've done. I barely read sports books. I get a lot of them in the mail, or at least I used to before people cottoned onto the fact that a review was not likely to be forthcoming. I read fiction, right now mostly science fiction, and I think it serves the site well.
Pratchett was endlessly creative and subversive, often taking hallowed but trope-laden fantasy novels apart then reassembling them into a half-parodic, half-genuine whole far better than the source material. He found a platform, then found that he'd rather make his own characters than repackage the frustrating ones he found elsewhere. He was excellent at this as well. He always maintained a healthy fear of hollow marketing—Pratchett elves are twisted creatures who live in a neighboring dimension that project an aura of glamour that iron disrupts. His most prominent and probably favorite character was DEATH, yes with the bones and the scythe and everything. He was simultaneously very weird and very kind and very upset, and I'll miss him.
If you're interested in trying him out, I recommend Good Omens, a book he wrote with Neil Gaiman, Guards! Guards!, and Small Gods.
YES OKAY. I did think to myself "by dang, Dave Brandon was selling Extruded Michigan Product" when I read that.
The difference here is an average of seven percent. Apply that to the average scoring this season of 66.85 points per game and you’d get 71.5. That’s over a point higher than last season when the scoring average was propped up by an increase in free throws early in the season. And it’s higher than any season since 1996.
…seven percent, which in fact precisely offsets the drop in possessions from 2002 (the first year for which Kenpom has data) to 2015. Kenpom also points out that the drop from 45 seconds to 35 resulted in just a two percent increase in pace.
If this year's NIT doesn't show a large negative impact on efficiency, I would expect the 30 second clock to become standard in the near future.
Miller says adios. Already covered by Ace when it happened; Miller releases his own reasoning on twitter. It sounds like he was just done with football. This kind of thing happens when you have a transition, and if Miller didn't have much of an NFL career in the wings (he didn't) it makes sense to just go be in the world… if the alternative you most closely associate with continuing is the last two years of Michigan football followed by a jarring change.
I don't think this is a major issue since Michigan finally has a lot of depth that is not any variety of freshman. It is an indication that the team spirit was worn down extensively over the past couple years. It's one thing to walk away from an NFL job—it's a job. It's another, or at least should be another, to do so when you could be a senior at Michigan. Hopefully Harbaugh can restore that difference.
But it could be a problem because… Graham Glasgow violated the terms of his probation and is suspended as a result. The nature of his violation is worrying:
Michigan offensive lineman Graham Glasgow has been suspended from the program, according to a UM spokesman, after testing .086 on a Breathalyzer given on Sunday and violating his probation.
Testing barely over the legal limit to drive is not a big deal if you are not driving… except this test was done at ten in the morning. That is a red flag.
If Glasgow comes through this okay and gets a handle on things, the OL can sustain Miller's departure by sliding him back to center and inserting Erik Magnuson with little loss of efficacy. If Glasgow flames out, then things start to look a bit thin.
But seeing your head coach lying on the ground during practice to demonstrate the proper center-quarterback exchange technique?
Well, things get real at that point.
"He's really hands on with everything," the Michigan junior running back said with a smile Thursday. "When I first saw him (on the ground like that), I was like 'why is he doing this?' But I asked the centers the next day if that helped them and they said it did, they said that was the first time anyone had showed them something like that.
"So, I enjoyed it."
"…and barely avoided bursting into laughter like Derrick. RIP Derrick."
More people. Erik Campbell returns to staff as a… guy… who does… things. Probably works with film, breaks down opponent tendencies, that sort of thing. Michigan also added Cleveland St. Ed's head coach Jim Finotti as their Ops guy.
Obligatory. John Oliver on the NCAA:
It's a racket. Related: here's Andy Schwarz on Purdue's "internal services" sleight of hand. Long story short, Purdue takes profit from the athletic department and pretends it's an expense they are paying for. In this way it appears like the Boilermakers are not in the black, helping the NCAA cry poverty.
Finally. Bill Raftery, at 73, gets to call the Final Four. Raftery manages to bring the enthusiasm Dick Vitale does without being a braying nonsense merchant; he is one of the chosen few media people who can be utterly himself without getting in trouble for it and still be awesome. (Another: Scott Van Pelt.)
“I would say it’s probably the longest I’ve ever been on the football field, other than a game with a rain delay like Utah last year,” said senior linebacker Joe Bolden. “To me it flies by. If you tell a high school or college kid that they’re going to have a four-hour practice in pads they’ll think you’re a bit crazy. But at the same time, you don’t think about it when you’re out there. Your body can take a lot more than you think it can. If he wants to practice six hours, and it’s (within the practice time cap), then we’ll practice six hours.”
This man was not one of the Big Four influences. A nation realizes that those rabid anti-Rosenberg Michigan fans were probably right all along.
I'm pretty mad about Dave Brandon on the internet, but in real life social cues prevent you from ranting for two thousand words at a time; mostly they argue for nodding silence. I kept the wild-eyed revolutionary on the internet. So it was crazy how Brandon angst followed me around.
One day during my ACL rehab, I was doing my various stretching things when one of the therapists came in steamed. He started relating to one of his buddies that he'd been booted from his position with Michigan football in favor of a kid who had literally just graduated from college, because that kid would worship Brandon as a god.
When we bought our house, one of the seemingly infinite signing ceremony things involved a conversation with someone who had been an assistant with a nonrevenue sport. My job came up, she had never heard of MGoBlog, she proceeded to sigh and say that the department was really something and then… not that any more.
A woman who Brandon tried to get fired from the alumni association because she had the temerity to disagree with him. Her friendship with Jamie Morris was demonstration enough that she "had no character."
One day, two staffers sent home for insufficiently ironed khakis, and then berated because their blazers were "from JC Penney."
Report after report that the regents couldn't stand him and he had a year, tops, left. For three years.
And of course, email after email in my inbox, all from the same insulting man prone to exclamation points and misused ellipses.
As a kid I was really good at memorizing things and had no friends. A large part of why, I would find out in retrospect, is that I was an annoying person. I was convinced I was the smartest person in the room, something that was often true for a given definition of smartest that stopped once the tests were turned in. It was never true when it came to interacting with something other than a piece of paper.
My attempt to be an adult centers around that fact: I'm an idiot when it comes to a lot of things. Faltering progress has been made. I hired Tom VanHaaren back in the day when he was just a guy with an idea to use social media to get information about recruits (this was controversial at the time). Tom proceeded to get his own bat signal. To this day he gets requests from people on the internet to hold him.
Tom's prose was rough at the time, prone to sentence after sentence with the same structure. A lot of adverbs. (I measure my progress as a writer by how many adverbs I edit out of my own stuff.) Twelve year old me would have been too annoying about it to deal. But by the time I made that decision I had realized that there were a lot of skills. zTalking to people you don't know and making them come out of that experience feeling like something good had just happened was emphatically not one I possessed. Tom is now at ESPN because of that skill.
Everyone has peaks and valleys in their intelligences, which is why I can do this for a job and still get pwned by Tom Dienhart whenever I try to act like an Actual Journalist.
That is how a guy can be in charge of three different things and still be an idiot: Dave Brandon's skill is for creating personal leverage for Dave Brandon. And there end the skills. There is that sub-genre of successful person that achieves seemingly without any reason to. They are nature's bullshitters. Charlie Weis is their treasurer. Dave Brandon is their king.
[After THE JUMP: a sordid history and the lessons learned: none]
I met Teddy after he'd had a double lung transplant. I only have one fuzzy memory of this being a thing that impacted my senses directly. We probably watched an Amaker-era game against Illinois at his apartment; I remember Teddy lugging around a canister of oxygen, like he was a 90-year-old smoker. He was not. He had cystic fibrosis.
The thing I do remember vividly is Dave's inability to shut up and solemnly take in an Amaker-era game against Illinois, which… yeah. First terrifying indicator of mortality in a kid who was barely 20 or annoyance at someone talking during a basketball game, and I remember one of these things clearly, the other dimly. I even think Michigan was way ahead for most of the game.
After that, Teddy got better, mostly. When they do a transplant they have to shut off sections of your immune system, so every once in a while I'd hear that Teddy had been in the hospital for a week fighting off something or other that would have been a couple of days of mucus for someone with an immune system at full capacity. You hear those things and have a tremor, and then you file it away because the first intermission is ending.
We went to the Joe once for a Michigan hockey game. I met his brother, a maniac extrovert, and drove home his car because it was something with three letters like Geo or Ion or something and apparently cars with really short names also come with front-wheel drive and bicycle tires. Teddy didn't feel comfortable driving that thing home, so I did it. Guys in the back seat yelled at me to do things other than I was doing, because only Teddy and I knew the special terror of trying to maneuver that thing through anything other than a velodrome. When we got home, haggard and spent, I drove my Jeep home from his apartment and rolled my eyes at myself.
Events like that eventually solidified a picture of Teddy in my head: he was one of life's Donnys.
He had a hangdog way of saying "no" that stretched and depressed that single syllable, which he usually deployed after someone took a shot at him. His friends called him "ladylungs." He was a sweet, calm person who was stepped on by his friends for humor value. Many groups end up with a version of this person. A Donny.
Teddy died Sunday.
Apparently, lung transplants just up and get rejected even after you've had them for years. I know this now. I've read all the relevant wikipedia articles. I didn't then, but when he went into the hospital six weeks ago I heard he wasn't coming out until he'd had a second transplant. That combined with a second fact—there was one place that had done a second transplant in the US—to paint a clear picture. He was on and off lists, got pneumonia, was heavily sedated as his lungs once again betrayed him, and finally there was no way out.
Like the rest of my interaction with his disease, it happened away from me. I was insulated and relied on second-hand reports. I don't know if that's good or bad. The funeral will be a shock.
I had a phase a few months ago where I thought boxing was really interesting all of a sudden. I didn't really know why then. I just watched some boxing, and found it interesting.
I think I figured it out thanks to two images from the recent Pacquiao-Marquez fight. The first is this shot of Filipinos reacting to the Marquez knockout:
Twitter blew up with GIFs immediately after the knockout so I'd already seen what happened but this shot and the accompanying article made me feel like an idiot for forgetting about boxing and not finding some way to watch the fight.
And then I noticed Marquez had a beer's name on his genitals. Maybe you have just done this as well. When it happened to me the photograph reconfigured itself into a splash of corporate logos covering literally every available surface in the shot save the ref and the boxers' skin itself—and anyone who had a passing familiarity with the idea of boxers in the mid-aughts knows that Golden Palace made even that a billboard for a time.
Marquez is still there, damaged. A guy in a suit is craning his neck to see Pacquaio. A ringside photographer in red is too shocked to do his job even though that would also consist of looking at what has happened. Rows further back every mouth is agape. The sea of logos recedes again. A real, archipelago-crushing thing is still there.
I understand my temporary boxing fascination better today. Eventually it comes down to two men in a ring. Despite the legendary loathsomeness of everything surrounding those two guys, they can overcome it. Judging outrages are at least evidence that what happened inside the ring was worthy of getting mad about, and people get mad and fume about the things that are so deranged and greedy about this thing they love and then they sulk for a bit and then go on and get on with it because sometimes it's worth it anyway, and when else has anyone in the background of those pictures felt like that?
The core of the thing is still there, whether it's boxing or football. Before there were hundreds of thousands of people who were obsessed with men running into each other, they still ran into each other. The answer to "why?" is always "tribalism" or "I don't know, some people are strange." They didn't have much motivation. Life was short and could have been spent in a mine, I guess.
Anthony left, Teddy right
Here is the thing that caused me to combine Teddy's obituary with an already-developing post on trying to focus on the core of the sporting activity that has made said activity a worldwide thing people do or watch.
We went to open skate at Yost one day with some other people. At Yost, I discovered that ice skating is not quite entirely unlike rollerblading. Since I can do the latter, that was unfortunate. While I had the ability to stay upright, it was only just. Never in the history of gliding has there been a less elegant demonstration of it. There have been uncontrolled bathtubs sent down ski hills who made a better show of it. I was not good.
Teddy was, and this was a shock to me. I don't know. I must of assumed he'd spent the 20 years before the transplant in a bubble. He had evidently spent many of them on skates, and here was the second shock: placed in an environment of comfort and advantage, Teddy was no Donny. He was a dick, in that way you are to your friends. People must think that way about me outside the context in which I am worse than an unguided bathtub. I smiled tightly, and took it, and filed that one away nice and clear.
I related this story on Sunday and found that Anthony, who'd played on various teams with him for the last few years, had stories about misconducts Teddy had acquired—plural. And that the normally serene, "no"-deploying Teddy would on occasion (just on occasion) curse blue streaks at refs. He remained fundamentally Teddy, so the fact that he of all people was the one to acquire misconduct was a never-live-it-down-type situation.
Anthony told us that late, when Teddy's lungs had started going, he remembers a phase in which he couldn't get to pucks he used to—his game was always speed—and how he was downhearted after the game, apologizing to the team for something grim and outside of his control.
That's the thing, though. When we take something as plainly artificial as putting metal on your feet to skate around a perfectly manicured ice sheet so we can put a rubber disk in the right place, things are or are not. Ambiguities are ruthlessly hewed away and people do or do not. And it is unfair that when college kid under extreme duress does something bad that there is a hot flash of anger and wonderment that anyone could be such a holistic-complete-total failure, just like it was unfair that Teddy blamed himself for his lungs. When I heard that I thought about Marquez, and Manny Pacquiao, and if Pacquiao would had the same inevitable/bizarre reaction when he came to.
It is real no matter how many barnacles attach themselves. The thing does this to you. Watch or play and it transforms you. I'll avail myself of that for as long as I can.
I mean, I just realized every interaction in this post is about sports. I heard Teddy was in the hospital as I walked to Yost. And when Anthony asked a heavily-sedated Teddy if he was going to listen to the hockey game Friday, Teddy's eyes un-rolled and got real big and he solemnly shook his head "no" and I laughed when I heard that because I saw that South Park too and I knew what that "no" sounded like even if his lungs wouldn't let him speak.
You can't throw a rock today without hitting a piece on Joe Paterno, and I'll add my bit. I've read a half-dozen of them and feel myself drawn to the portions that focus on his ignoble demise at the hands of a long-overdue grand jury investigation into Jerry Sandusky. The ones that skip it entirely, as many PSU-based POVs do, or attempt to put it "in perspective" seem to be succumbing to the same disease that felled everyone when Nixon died and people scrambled for good things to say about him other than "he's dead."
Paterno is not Nixon, obviously. Nixon is the most obvious public funeral held in which ill things were not spoken of the dead due to social taboo, rather than reason. I dislike that natural impulse to whitewash. When Christopher Hitchens died I spent a lot of time reading his withering obituaries just to watch him stick the knife in and twist. If that makes me ruthless, okay.
I just can't get over how it all came crashing down. Not only did Paterno and the culture he created shelter Sandusky, Paterno did not seem to feel remorse for half a second. Maybe this is just an addled old man speaking but it is appalling that this came out of his mouth at the impromptu pep rally at his home in the immediate aftermath of the grand jury's testimony:
The kids that were victims or whatever they want to say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them. Tough life, when people do certain things to you. Anyway, you’ve been great. Everything’s great, all right.
Virtually the entire media edited Paterno's statement into a less awful version because their sense of propriety could not grasp the words that had actually come out of his mouth. This was Joe Paterno. He couldn't have said that. He shouldn't have said anything. He should have been in his house crying to his wife, finally realizing the monstrous consequences of his inaction.
Instead he seemed to think of himself as a victim. A lot of people find ways to blame themselves for massive tragedies they are not responsible for. Paterno was oblivious to his role to the end. Maybe that's forgivable to some people who look at the donations and the football coaching and the Great Experiment. Not me. I have great respect for Chris Grovich of Black Shoe Diaries but I can't read this…
Behind Joe Paterno's Beaver Stadium statue are the words, "Educator, Coach, Humanitarian." They really could have been arranged in any order.
…without inserting "child rape enabler" in any order. That phrase overwhelms the rest. If he did lead a program that strove to prove it was capable of operating at a higher plane that just makes it worse. He was held up—he held himself up—as a man who could achieve success on and off the field in a way that others could not.
Maybe any one of us would have done the same thing if confronted by the terrible truth about a long-time friend. Maybe 90% of people would not have had the courage to blow up a reputation so carefully crafted over such a long period. Maybe Joe Paterno was just being human.
That's not enough when you have a statue. Paterno wasn't supposed to be human, he was supposed to be Joe Paterno. He wasn't and now he never was. He had over a decade to do something about Sandusky and did not. That is no mistake, or misjudgment, or error. It is immensely sad, but in the end Paterno failed his charge more spectacularly than a man who dared less would have. You can call him Icarus if you want; I'm not inclined to give him that benefit of the doubt. The costs were not worth the attempt.
The statue is Joe Paterno now. The man is dead. Hopefully the idea behind the statue can help people be better than the man turned out to be.
[Editor's note: Orson and I both go for the statue conceit. We've seen people crying or overturning news vans in its vicinity it every 30 seconds over the past few months, so maybe not a huge surprise.]