Post-Release Three And Out Q&A: Part II

Post-Release Three And Out Q&A: Part II

Submitted by Ace on December 22nd, 2011 at 12:02 PM

Brian has already fled the scene for whereabouts unknown, but he left behind part the second of John U. Bacon's Q&A. If you're looking for part one, click here.

8) FIRING PROCESS.

What did Dave Brandon say in his 2 hour meeting with Rich Rod the day before he was fired? Everyone including Rodriguez thought he'd be fired so why string it out like that?

Good question. Rodriguez told me that night in his home, between the two meetings, that he believed Brandon hoped that afternoon that Rodriguez would make it easy for him by conceding that things hadn’t gone as planned, it was all too much, and Rodriguez was ready to negotiate his departure. Rodriguez thought Brandon was surprised to see Rodriguez digging in his heels, asserting his eagerness to coach a fourth season, and displaying his confidence that 2011 would be the year his team would take off.

That night, Rodriguez told me he was “90-percent certain” Brandon would fire him the next day, which he did, “as expected,” as Rodriguez told his assistants after the meeting. For his part, Brandon stated at the press conference that he was still tossing the question over in his mind that very morning, though – as I wrote in the book – that seems very unlikely for such a calculating man.

So, why drag it out? Since this boils down to speculation, something I’ve tried to avoid, your guess is as good as mine. The book does point out, however, the indisputable effects the delay had on Rodriguez, his players, and the program, which don’t require speculation, namely: Rodriguez declined Maryland’s offer in December, which would have provided a safe haven for him, his coaches, and any players who might want to transfer, particularly Denard Robinson. It gave Brandon more time to set the stage for Brady Hoke, a relative unknown at the time. And, after the Gator Bowl, it made it very difficult for even Rodriguez’s most fervent supporters to defend retaining him. Whether these results were intended or not, they certainly helped pave the way for Brandon to hire Hoke, and for Hoke to succeed, with the team intact.
 
9) HYPOTHETICAL 2011.

Did Rich Rod ever hint at changes that would be made to his staff if he was retained for 2011?

He told me he was definitely going to make changes. With a few games to go in the 2010 season – after the Illinois game, I believe -- when it was already quite obvious the offense was working as well as the defense wasn’t, Brandon met with Rodriguez to discuss the future. He asked if Rodriguez was so loyal to his staff that he was not willing to make changes. Rodriguez replied that he was loyal to his staff, but he understood that changes needed to be made, and he was willing to make them, including replacing the entire defensive staff. Just as important, of course, would be the next step: figuring out who would replace them, starting with a new defensive coordinator.

To do so effectively, Brandon would need to offer competitive salaries and guaranteed contracts – as he’s done for Hoke’s staff -- which would have committed him to Rodriguez for probably two more years, minimum. Obviously, after the Gator Bowl, that was not going to happen.
 
10) DID BACON EVER GET A SENSE FOR WHAT RODRIGUEZ WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY IF HE HAD A TIME MACHINE?

It’s part of the psychology of the big-time college coach, I’ve noticed, not to look back very often, not to indulge regret, and not to admit too many mistakes. Schembechler got better at the latter over time, for example, but only so much. Most of them don’t think too much about the past unless prompted – and even then, their failings are not usually at the top of the list of things they mention. They tend to be confident and stubborn in equal measure.

Nonetheless, I think there are several things we can conclude based partly on Rodriguez’s comments, but more on his decisions since becoming Arizona’s head coach. He clearly had prepared for his first press conference -- closing with the Wildcats’ signature slogan, “Bear Down!” -- something he had failed to do before his Ann Arbor introduction. I’m sure he wishes he had phrased things differently during any number of press conferences, although he would be likely to blame the interpretation of his remarks as much as the remarks themselves.

The fact that he’s currently working much harder to get WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Castell to join him than he had in 2007 tells you something, too. (Whether or not Arizona has the resources to lure Casteel to Tucson, however, remains to be seen.) And I suspect you’ve seen the last of Rodriguez calling for an inspirational song at a football banquet.

I think it’s pretty clear both Michigan and Rodriguez have learned a lot from those three years. I suspect both parties have read the book, too, and taken away some lessons. Brady Hoke is already off and running, while working to unite the family, and if Rodriguez gets Casteel (or a similarly good fit) at Arizona, I would expect him to do very well there, too.

11) PEOPLE YOU'D LIKE TO TALK TO.

I'd like to know the list of the people he most wanted to interview for the book and what his primary question would be for each one.

I’m satisfied that we reported everything that could be reported fairly. I followed the team non-stop for three seasons, compiling 10,000 pages of notes, and writing 2,000 pages. I don’t think readers will ever get a more thorough look inside a major college football program.

No reporter gets everyone he wants to speak on the record for a book, but we came very close. Of the hundreds of people I asked to interview, only six people declined: three at West Virginia, cited above, and three at Michigan: Scott Draper, President Coleman and Coach Carr. Given the eyewitness testimonies of hundreds of others, the first five could simply deny what other witnesses have said, on the record. They have so far declined to do so.

To me, there is only one important question that hasn’t been answered: Why did Coach Carr reach out to Rich Rodriguez, recommend him to Bill Martin, then invite his players to transfer immediately after Rodriguez was hired, all in the same week? As I wrote in the book, “on its face, it seems like a simple, generous offer to look out for people he cared about – and, in fairness, that was probably part of his motive.” But it’s also true that of the dozen-plus witness I’ve talked to, all of them interpreted it as a pre-emptive vote of no-confidence for the new coach. However, until Coach Carr chooses to speak – if he does, that is – I’ll leave that answer blank.

[Errors, the Threet thing, reactions from Rosenberg and Brandon, and additional notes covered after the jump.]

Post-Release Three And Out Q&A: Part I

Post-Release Three And Out Q&A: Part I

Submitted by Brian on December 21st, 2011 at 5:18 PM

image

The ever-loquacious John Bacon gave me 6k words on the following questions about Three and Out that seemed to touch on most of the questions provided in the comments and via email. As per usual, we'll split that into two posts, the second of which will run tomorrow. Unfortunately, the answer to "why Greg Robinson?" turns out to be "I don't know, either," but some things are just unexplainable.

1) LAWSUITS

The book seemed reasonably two-sided once things got to Michigan. The WV stuff is more one-sided -- just Rich's POV. Did JUB see anything that supported WV's position in those 'negotiations'/lawsuits?

As stated in the book, then-Governor Joe Manchin and former A.D. Eddie Pastilong did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. Ousted WVU president Mike Garrison entertained the idea, and I went so far as to send him several questions in the hopes of encouraging him to cooperate. We talked on the phone a couple times, and at one point he asked if I was for or against Rich Rodriguez. I told him I simply wanted to find the truth. He declined, saying he couldn’t answer the questions if he didn’t know where I stood. That seemed odd—it seems to me you either know what happened and what you think about it or you don’t—but that’s his decision.

I don’t think their silence left much out, however, because we were able to get five other central figures to speak freely, and on the record—and in each case, at considerable personal risk. Ike Morris owns an oil and gas company in Glenville, WV; Dave Alvarez is the president and CEO of a construction company in Meadowbrook, WV; Paul Astorg owns a Mercedes Benz dealership, and Matt Jones owns a handful of convenience stores, both in Parkersburg. Don Nehlen, the former West Virginia head coach, is now a spokesman for the coal industry. None of them have ever been Michigan boosters, but all have been long-time boosters for the Mountaineers, before, during and after the Rodriguez era. They are all private businessmen who depend on their reputations to be successful. They have a deep knowledge of West Virginia football politics, with close ties to all sides, and had no incentive to do anything other than throw Rodriguez under the bus and extoll West Virginia’s leadership. None of them had anything tangible to gain by speaking to me on the record, with a lot to lose. Yet they all did.

So, while I would have liked to get the above three people on the record, the people I spoke to answered every question I had, on the record, which I believe gives the reader almost everything they need to know about what happened in West Virginia.

As for the lawsuit, I assume the reader is referring to the buy-out provision in Rodriguez’s West Virginia contract. While Rodriguez maintained that the president, Matt Garrison, had promised him they’d cut it in half if he wanted to leave, which the above subjects confirmed, the contract was nonetheless legally binding. West Virginia University was well within its rights to sue for all four million, which Michigan and Rodriguez ultimately acknowledged, and paid.

2) LLOYD CARR
If JUB had to make a guess as to what caused in the great Carr switcheroo (from making first contact with RR to the continuous cold shoulder), what would it be? And does JUB think Carr informed the Freep investigation?

Before I delve into this, I’ve noticed some confusion over the timeline in some of the posts I’ve seen. Clarifying the sequence of events should clear up a lot of this.

On Monday night, December 10, 2007, Rodriguez received a call from Lloyd Carr, which marked the first direct contact Rodriguez had from someone representing Michigan. (Rodriguez was my source, and his recollection of it was consistent in a handful of accounts over a couple years.)

On Tuesday, December 11, Lloyd Carr told Bill Martin that Rodriguez would be a good candidate. This marked the first time someone within the department had made this suggestion to Martin, according to Martin himself, whose recollection of the conversation was also consistent over several interviews.

On Friday, December 14, Rodriguez met with President Coleman and Bill Martin in Toledo, and agreed on the basic tenets of a potential agreement.

On Sunday, December 16, the deal was finalized, via phone and fax.

On Monday, December 17, Rodriguez met Lloyd Carr outside the Junge Center for a brief handshake, on his way in to his first Ann Arbor press conference, where he would be named Michigan’s next coach.

After Rodriguez returned to Morgantown that day to start packing, Coach Carr met with his team a day or two later for a suddenly scheduled morning meeting, and offered to sign the transfer papers of anyone who wanted to leave. This has been corroborated by over a dozen people in the meeting room that day – both staffers and players – plus the Big Ten compliance office, Bill Martin, and Judy Van Horn, who spoke on the record about the day and its aftermath. The reporting of these events is air-tight.

-----------------------------------

It’s important to note, looking at this timeline, that all this occurred before Carr got to know Rodriguez, and before Rodriguez met with any of Carr’s assistant coaches or players. Thus, the idea that Carr offered to sign his players’ transfer forms only after he became concerned about how Rodriguez would treat his assistants and players is hard to believe. For whatever reason, before Rodriguez had met any of those people, Carr had made up his mind to help his players transfer.

Until Coach Carr speaks, I can’t say why he called the transfer meeting. (As stated before, I made repeated requests to interview him at his convenience. While he declined to respond, I have since confirmed there is no question he received my requests and made a firm decision not to reply.) But I can say that he definitely did call the transfer meeting, that it was a premeditated decision—based on Draper’s call to compliance to have the forms and personnel ready to process the anticipated flood of requests—and it occurred before Rodriguez met any of his assistants or players.

Yes, I have a theory as to why, but it’s just that. Some have suggested that it’s my job as a journalist to fill in the blank with my best guess, but I believe the opposite is true: it’s a journalist’s job not to do so. If my theory proves wrong, it would unfairly influence public opinion, and might be difficult to reverse. (I’ve seen this happen frequently during the past three years.) Until Carr decides to answer such questions, I am going to let the facts above stand, and the readers can come to their own conclusions.

Carr’s speaking on these issues might help his cause, but as we’ve seen with other subjects who were interviewed for the book, it might not. If Carr had simple, innocent answers to the questions above, it would not be hard for him to find friendly journalists in the local media happy to communicate his message, directly or indirectly, as he has done in the past. To date, he has not attempted to do so.

[CARA, Shafer, Robinson (Denard and Greg), and the emotional stability of Rodriguez post-jump.]

Michigan Museday Finishes That Thought

Michigan Museday Finishes That Thought

Submitted by Seth on November 1st, 2011 at 9:56 AM

josh-groban-_-you-raise-me-up_6VqRlO3wa1A image_120

Michigan is 7-1 right now with four winnable games on the horizon. We have an excellent coaching staff and a team and fanbase united behind them. We have a top 5 recruiting class, yet one of the cleanest programs in the Top 25, and one of the hungriest. A victory over Ohio State this year for the first time seems at least 50% likely. The defense is young but competent, the offense scares people. We have all the Denards.

It took me three sessions to get through Three and Out, and after each one I had to repeat some variation of the above mantra to recalibrate. The book is about the program and the team from the perspective of Rodriguez, it has a hard Michigan bias and got at least one minor fact wrong,* but as an RR-era survivor I couldn't help experiencing it again as a fan. Reliving the Rod years is not a particularly enjoyable experience.

Battle_of_Fort_Rodriguez

M Zone

-------------------------------------

* He gives the program credit for giving Kovacs, an out-of-state player, a scholarship despite out-of-state tuition being much higher, but the AD—and I'm 99.999% sure about this—pays the same (full) cost of attendance for every student athlete. Everyone costs the maximum whether they're suburban Toledo defensive backs, underclass volleyball strikers from Algonac, or intergalactic space punters in the B-school.

-------------------------------------

What struck me most when reading Bacon's book was how important those years made this all seem. He mentions match points a lot; there were a lot of match points, and not just the football game ones. Like every article in every rag across the country that ragged on our coaches meant organizing a counter-defense. We were blogging for our very lives!

The second, and longest, of those sessions ended around page 415, or Location 8691 for you Kindle readers. Rodriguez was giving his speech at the infamous Bust, moments before the Great Groban-ing finally tipped the scales. Rodriguez at the bustI quote the passage:

"We all need to be ONE Michigan. One Michigan. Proud of every era. Proud of every young man, every student athlete who went through this program…

After giving a nod to Michigan tradition, he was now speaking of what his coaches were doing to turn their players into a team of Michigan Men. Now that he understood Michigan traditions, Michigan needed to extend him the respect he needed to lead the program…

The raw emotion of the speech went up a notch.

"Is this worth it?" Behind that question stood all the personal and professional costs of the past three years. "Is this worth it for your family?" he asked, getting choked up.

The answer wasn't clear-cut. It wasn't a matter of feeling sorry for yourself, he said, though the temptation was always there. It was instead seeing "the pain in the coaches' faces and worry and anxiety in your kids' faces." He wasn't speaking just of the losses but also of the personal attacks and the seemingly endless public trial he and his staff and players had been put through.

But, unequivocally, Rodriguez said, the answer was yes. Yes, it was worth it. It was worth it because the differences made in the lives of everyone attached to the program, said, and because of his unquestioning faith in the future greatness of his players and team. 

And right there I had to painfully leave it for a day of work. I knew as well as you do where this was going, but without its infamous conclusion I got to ponder the content of the Bust speech and mentally fill in Factionsmy own ending. In it I had him define "Michigan" and confront the idea of factions…

"If you ask me what side I'm on it's for these players, and the ideals of hard work, excellence, education, loyalty, and honesty which they embody—in a word, 'Michigan.' If you ask our own living legend, Lloyd Carr, who stood as a rock of integrity in a business that makes a mockery of it, what side he's on, it's 'Michigan.' If you ask our millions of fans and alumni what faction they're with, it'll be Michigan! Michigan! Michigan!" etc.

…and then come back to "Is it worth it," where "it" isn't just poor Rich and his staff but the players and the program. This is the thing that Hoke "gets" that Rodriguez didn't: there's nothing that can galvanize Michigan fans like talk about how great Michigan is, and the unity of the fanbase is all-important.

Of course he didn't take that tack but before he Groban-ed himself out of the job Rodriguez did give us a question worth pondering: "Was it worth it?"

Well was it? All the battles, all the interminable defenses, all the GERG and gimpy Gibsonesque defensive backing? The transfers, the divisiveness, the losing, the jihad—were these all worth it if that was the price to chip off the hubris from our program's unique idealism?

The RR years left us with a defense so bad it would literally need the Baltimore Ravens' D.C. and more than one outstanding freshman to even get to okay. It also left a team and a fanbase more united behind our program and our ideals than anytime in recent memory. We may have had to throw one of the rare good guys who can actually coach under the bus to get there, but we did get there. Other than a bit of whining last February, the mistakes made in the last transition have not been repeated, either inside Fort Schembechler or outside of it. The liars and the leaks were exposed. And these players, man. rtreeCan you remember a team more worth rooting for?

I got to the end of the book feeling more favorable toward Rodriguez than I was before, but ultimately, like Brian, still glad we've moved on from all that. But in some ways, I'm also glad he came. Because that subtext, the possibilities left unrealized at every match point, all the stuff that was on the tip of the tongue right before everything went Josh Groban, weirdly enough we got to keep all of that, and move on.

Michigan is 7-1 right now with four winnable games on the horizon. We have an excellent coaching staff and a team and fanbase united behind them. We have a top 5 recruiting class, yet one of the cleanest programs in the Top 25, and one of the hungriest. A victory over Ohio State this year for the first time seems at least 50% likely. The defense is young but competent, the offense scares people. We have all the Denards. Hoke and his staff have a lot to do with that, but a lot of that comes from what was built before them. In his own completely inelegant way, Rodriguez left a program in better shape than he found it. Perhaps that can be my last thought on him.

Three And Out: An Excerpt

Three And Out: An Excerpt

Submitted by Brian on October 28th, 2011 at 11:25 AM

imageStrong language contained herein. Three and Out is a book about the short, tumultuous reign of Rich Rodriguez at Michigan.

[star wars text scrolling]

The week after Michigan collapsed against Illinois in 2009, they prepare to take on Purdue.

A weary Rodriguez wearily surveys his weary troops, because he has to or the media will write about other things…

[/star wars text scrolling]

------------------

The Friday night before the Purdue game, Rodriguez dug at his meal like a hungry prisoner who was sick of eating the same gray food every night. When I told him I was surprised that the guys seemed loose, like they were still having fun and staying positive, he stared at his food, paused, and said, “I don’t care.

“I don’t care anymore about trying to analyze the psychology of these guys, especially for the press. I just want them to freakin’ play. I’m sick of it.”

Sick of what?

“Everything. I’m sick of the situation I’m in. I’m sick of the crap I’ve got to deal with every week. I’m sick of people not taking responsibility.” A case could be made that all happiness is feeling like you have possibilities. When someone wins the lottery, he’s happy not because he won the lottery but because he suddenly has dozens of options he didn’t have the day before.

But the corollary is also true: All unhappiness is feeling like your options are shrinking and the world is closing in on you. That you’re trapped. Rich Rodriguez’s options were shrinking. By the time he arrived in Ann Arbor, it was clear he could not go back the way he had come. But after only twenty-one games at Michigan, it had become just as clear there would be only one way he could stay: winning football games. And fast.

--------

Every Friday night, between the dinner and the movie, the offense and defense met separately with their coaches to go over the scouting report one last time. But this week, instead of reviewing the opponent, they reviewed a tape of their practices that week. The message was simple: The Illini didn’t beat the Wolverines. The Wolverines beat the Wolverines.

Job 1: Hold on to the damn ball. There was a reason John Heisman famously showed his players a football and said, “Gentlemen, it is better to have died a small boy than to fumble this football.”

But John Heisman never met Tate Forcier. On one play Rodriguez showed that night, Forcier held the ball like an oversized sponge and swung it around like he was washing his windows with it. Sure enough, the defense soon forced a fumble.

“High and tight, high and tight, high and tight,” Rodriguez said with relative calm. “Anything else is selfish. It shows disrespect for your teammates, and I know you’re not selfish, and I know you don’t want to disrespect your teammates.”

Here he was, going into the tenth game of the season, reviewing something they had covered on the first day of spring ball, the first day of summer practice, and just about every day since. It was pretty clear Rodriguez was tired of that, too.

But he knew it came with coaching young players, and he usually enjoyed the teaching process. But they were repeating the same lessons too often, which became especially aggravating when he had no idea how many lessons they would get.

Job 2: In the spread option offense, the quarterback has to take three steps and throw it. Not four steps. Not five steps. And no hitches, either. Three and throw. Three and throw. The timing was simple but exact—and it was everything. Any freelancing and incompletes, sacks, and interceptions soon followed.

And that’s exactly what Rodriguez saw next on the practice tape: Forcier taking three steps (an improvement), seeing his receiver open— but then hitching, which allowed the linebacker to cover the receiver. Rodriguez was calm but firm. “I’m sure I will not have to see on Monday any tape of any Michigan quarterback taking three steps and a hitch when he should be taking three steps and throwing.”

Next play, same thing, but this time Forcier threw it behind the receiver. The linebacker just missed making the interception.

“That one’s late. Why? Three and hitch instead of three and throw. I’ve been doing this for twenty years! I didn’t just wake up and come up with this thing. We have refined this over time. We know what works. We’re not guessing! Three steps and throw! THROW! You’ve got to trust the timing!”

But it was really more than that. The quarterbacks had to trust the system—and the coaches who had created it.

The flipside was just as simple: The coaches had to remember that Forcier was still a freshman. And even though Rodriguez’s quarterbacks on every team he’d coached eventually won Conference Player of the Year, not one of them did it his first season.

--------------

If the Illinois game could be reduced to Michigan’s four tries from the 1-yard line, Michigan’s season likewise boiled down to four great chances to win just one game to secure a bowl bid: Michigan State, which ended in overtime; Iowa, which ended one pass short of a winning field goal attempt; Illinois, which broke on the 1-yard line; and Purdue, which looked like an eminently winnable game. But like the fourth-and- 1 play against Illinois, the pressure mounted with each failed attempt. This was Rodriguez’s last best chance at match point.

Blow it against the Boilermakers, and the odds would only get taller against Wisconsin, and taller still against Ohio State, still in the hunt for a national title. Collars were tight in Ann Arbor.

The quarterbacks didn’t think Purdue would be a pushover, either. “They’re good, they play hard,” Sheridan said later that night in his hotel room. “Much harder than Illinois.” And then, unable to let Illinois go: “I still can’t believe we lost to those guys.”

“Don’t let ’em beat you twice,” Forcier said, as a half- joking warning they’d all heard a hundred times. “Man, we just got to win again. That’s been driving me fucking nuts. We just got to win again.”

Three And Out Takes: Ensemble

Three And Out Takes: Ensemble

Submitted by Brian on October 27th, 2011 at 12:21 PM

imageYesterday we covered the main characters in Three and Out; today some of the people who show up less frequently (or do not loom with their absence).

For people complaining about spoilers, I have bad news: they fire the guy. But we won World War II, so we've got that going for us. Unless this is an alternate history and we're all Nazis, but only Michigan State fans believe that because Michigan State fans will believe anyone is a racist if it helps exonerate Will Gholston. Denard: totally racist.

Anyway, I show up briefly. A few reporters show up more extensively, and then there are the players—addressed as a group—and the new athletic director.

This guy's opinion: boy, does that hippie with the blog need a haircut. But his logic… so dashing.

Person Who Identifies Himself As Brian

(And you guys.)

So… right. There are some scattered MGoBlog references, mostly as a reading of the fan zeitgeist. "Never Forget" is referenced because "Never Forget" is always referenced all the time; The Horror is identified as The Horror, and so forth and so on. The blog's permanence relative to most message boards (and even newspapers, which put their stories behind a paywall after a while) seems to have made it the database of record when it comes to how the average fan felt at X point in time, even if the average fan here is not the average fan elsewhere. It's around. Since that's more than anything else can say, its opinion wins by default.

A couple people have asked for more detail about the point in the book where I show up in the flesh. This is after the WMU 2009 press conference, which was the first one post-Free Press story. I've had a couple days to consider the story and have come to the conclusion that it's a misleading, unethical hack job. I am steaming. I go to the press conference to liveblog it.

Afterwards—and in retrospect I can't believe this actually transpired—I go to the front of the room, where Snyder is, and repeatedly ask him if he knows what a countable hour is in an unfriendly fashion. He refuses to answer. The pattern is: I ask, he says he won't respond because I am a "competitor," I ask, he says the same thing, I incredulously ask if he will not defend his article, etc. etc. etc. This is actually broadcast (off-camera but audible) on the MGoBlue stream, which was not turned off after the presser.

I give up on Snyder and am in the process of storming out when I happen on Rosenberg in the little vestibule between the Junge proper and outside. I ask the same thing; Rosenberg responds that he does know what a countable hour is, so I start in on why that wasn't in the article and how realistic it is that a head coach at a major program had been more than doubling the NCAA's allotted maximums for years. He starts asking me my name over and over again, which I ignore in favor of further badgering. Craig Ross, watching this with a combination of bemusement and horror, eventually tells Rosenberg my name. I think this was because he wanted Rosenberg to start saying other things, but you'd have to ask him and he doesn't remember interjecting. So that's lost to history.

I had no idea this was going to be in the book until just before the thing went to print when Bacon emailed me with Rosenberg's version of the event and asked me if I had any corrections, which I did since he remembered me as some wild-eyed nut instead of a wild-eyed nut with very specific questions.

And <poof> like that, he's gone.

Mike Rosenberg

As for my bête noir… well now. Revelations about Rosenberg from the book:

  1. Countable hours was "in the story at some point" but "there were a lot of edits."
  2. He did not attend a single practice before writing the infamous story in which he declares it "sad" that Michigan is employing a guy to belittle its students. (I found this so implausible when I read it that I double-checked with Bacon about this; he dug up the email he had gotten from Rosenberg as proof.)
  3. He told multiple Michigan employees that he "hated Bill Martin" and "was going to get him run out of his job."
  4. He got teary when Michigan fans left nasty reviews of his book on Amazon.

Rosenberg has taken to twitter to call Bacon a "fan" and claim the book is "littered with errors," complaining that Bacon made "almost no attempt to talk to anybody who would contradict his subject's point of view."

How Rosenberg knows this is unknown. Bacon states in the book that he repeatedly tried to talk to Martin, Coleman, Carr, and Brandon but never got anywhere. Certainly Brandon's response to the book—a disingenuous "what book?" issued at the same time he's pressuring the M-Den not to carry it and Bacon has been exiled to Drew Sharp Row—indicates the sort of cooperation the AD is providing the guy.

Meanwhile, the height of irony:

When I asked Rosenberg if they had made any attempt to talk to players with different views, he replied, "Did we keep calling until we got guys to say, 'Hey, it's fine?' No, we didn't."

The difference between Bacon's book—which contains a half-dozen quotes from Rosenberg as it attempts to show both sides of the story—and the Free Press piece is stark. The [REDACTED] has the balls to complain about Bacon's approach to journalism? After the NCAA called the original article exaggerated and misleading? After they took countable hours out of the story? /head explodes

That this guy still has a job is a black mark on the Free Press. That he's still allowed to show up at press conferences is inexplicable. That he has the chutzpah to criticize someone else's journalism is totally expected, because he's just that kind of guy.

Players of all varieties

The only enjoyable parts of the book are the moments when Michigan's players come into focus. I suspect that Bacon soft-pedaled some of the Tate stuff. He comes off as a fairly likeable, if pretty weird, kid. Denard and Devin and Mark Moundros and Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin all come off well.

At least we've got that after the last few years. Michigan's players are easy to root for. They don't put MIKE VICK on their eyeblack or fracture skulls or not pay for tattoos or give quotes about how "everybody murders" to the media. They leave all that stuff to the adults.

Dave Brandon

That feeling you got at the end of the Hoke press conference when Brandon was talking and you thought "Rodriguez was a dead man even before the bowl" is a feeling most of the players had. Bacon, too, which he made more explicit than he did in the book in an appearance on the Huge show yesterday.

Brandon's drawn-out firing process does seem like an unnecessary delay of an already-made decision. The impression Bacon got was the players thought Rodriguez was done, people around the program felt Brandon was hoping for a loss in the bowl game. So cut the cord already.

We don't get much else on the current AD.

Three And Out Takes: Carr, Rodriguez, Martin

Three And Out Takes: Carr, Rodriguez, Martin

Submitted by Brian on October 26th, 2011 at 2:14 PM

imageSo. It's out.

I'm impressed with the large numbers of people who seem to have already blazed their way through Three and Out. It took me a while. I stopped for a few days after "Honeymoon from Hell" because it was too depressing; every chapter featuring a game I knew they'd lose spectacularly required a little bit of willpower to start.

But I'm done and a large number of you are done. It is time to talk the turkey.

We've got this document. What does it say about major players in the saga? I was planning one part here but this got long, so today we'll cover Carr, Rodriguez, and Bill Martin, with various players with less prominent roles in the story covered in a post tomorrow.

Lloyd Carr

55313590F[1]

It says a few things about Lloyd Carr that are not nice, and implies more. Bacon's said he left a lot of things out that he could not get multiple sources on, which is both his responsibility as an actual journalist and horribly frustrating.

The main strikes:

  1. Informing his former players he would sign any transfer papers they wanted at his meeting with them after their bowl game, a marked contrast from the Bo-Bump transition.
  2. Telling Mallett he "needed to leave".
  3. Having zero control over his former players, or—worse—tacitly endorsing their behavior by not jumping down their throats.
  4. Offering something short of the fiery defense Bo would have launched once the program started taking fire.

That's aside from the state of the roster when Rodriguez took over, which wasn't specifically directed at the new man.

Those seem like major strikes. Screw it: those are major strikes, particularly #3. I find it inconceivable that Eric Mayes would made it thirty seconds into the embarrassing "we own this program" speech before Bo burst from his chest like a Xenomorph. Carr does nothing. Multiple former players trash Rodriguez in public. Carr does nothing. The 2009 golf outing that even guys like Chris Balas* come back from disgusted at, naming specific names of players (Marlin Jackson, Dhani Jones) who embarrassed themselves with their behavior. Is Carr even at it? It's worse if he is.

So, like, whatever. Carr doesn't owe anyone anything except the 400k a year he was pulling down as associate AD. But he's no program patriarch. He's just a guy who used to coach here. His loyalty is to an incredibly specific version of Michigan only. The difference between the Bo guys and the Carr guys is obvious. Bo guys organize a weird counterproductive rally for RR; Carr guys go on MNF and state they're from "Lloyd Carr's Michigan" or storm the AD's office to demand RR's firing after every loss**. There are exceptions, obviously. The trend is clear.

I have no sympathy for arguments the guy is being painted unfairly when he was offered the opportunity to tell his side a dozen times. If history is written by the losers here it's because the winners don't care what the public thinks. They can't be surprised when the public thinks they're not Bo.

Carr did a lot of things for the program but his legacy is significantly tarnished by the pit it found itself in immediately after his departure. It was his lack of a coaching tree, lack of serious coordinators, and lack of tolerance for Les Miles that caused Michigan to hire Rodriguez in the first place. It was his lack of a roster—seven scholarship OL!—and lack of support that provided Rodriguez with two strikes before he even coached a game. We can argue about how much is Carr's fault and how much is Rodriguez's, but figuring out the latter is pointless since RR is gone and everyone hates him. The former is "far too much."

*[By this I mean guys who work for publications for whom access is lifeblood. They're naturally more circumspect. The reaction on premium sites to this golf outing was unprecedented, with people moved to call actual former players out by name after years of dark mutterings.]

**[Not in the book; something I got from a good source.]

Rich Rodriguez

123110_SPT_Gator Bowl_MRM

via AnnArbor.com

If you left a goat in the locker room after a Michigan loss and then locked Rodriguez in it for five minutes, you would return to find the walls smeared with blood and feta. There would be no trace of the goat.

Rich Rodriguez was obviously not a stoic guy. His sideline tantrums proved that. The extent of his leg-gashing, table-throwing, goat-cheese-making post-loss hissies is probably the thing that Rodriguez is pissed about. They don't make him look like a stable dude. Neither does his descent into J. Edgar Hoover-esque paranoia, no matter how intent the university was on making that paranoia seems reasonable.

By the time I got through it, my reaction to Rodriguez's portrayal was different than that of the media reviewing the book. It doesn't paint Rodriguez as a guy I would want in charge of my football program. I can deal with one goat-annihilating postgame tantrum a year. Rodriguez seemed to have one after every loss.

So why do most neutral accounts play up the Rodriguez sympathy angle? They do not take the truth that the local media is dominated by agenda-laden twits to be self-evident. When Mike Rosenberg—who comes off as a real winner—bombed Rodriguez with a bunch of half-truths and misrepresentations I bombed back, stating that it was obvious the buyout kerfuffle was university-directed. Surprise: it was university-directed as they tried to get out of their 2.5 million dollar hook. Similarly, Free Press Jihad is re-exposed as a bunch of half-truths at best run by a couple of guys who "had countable hours in there at some point" but had it edited out, no doubt because that's not at all important in a discussion about whether Michigan was more than doubling their allotted time on Sundays.

If you go into the book knowing Rosenberg and Snyder published an embarrassing hack-job and that a large part of the media firestorm surrounding Rodriguez was a combination of University incompetence and the tiny lizard brains of certain folk in the local media*, the main takeaway from the book in re: RR is the sheer height of the plumes his emotional volcano shoots up. I mean, Bacon spends pages and pages on Rodriguez playing up the traditions of Michigan to his players. That's an obvious reaction to the Michigan Man business. I assumed Rodriguez was not an idiot when it came to firing up his troops, I guess, and that stuff shot by me. Beating a bleating ungulate against the wall of the Notre Dame locker room until it bursts into a kaleidoscope of viscera… that stays with you.

I feel bad for the guy. I'm glad he's gone.

*[The rest a combo of Rodriguez never winning any games and his remarkable ability to stick his leg into the press conference bear trap.]

Bill Martin

University of Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin watches over Thursday afternoon, August 20th's football practice at the Michigan practice facility outside of Schembechler Hall. 
Lon Horwedel | Ann Arbor.com

Good Lord, man. I find it hard to believe that a guy who dragged Michigan kicking and screaming into massive financial success and smoothly hired John Beilein (admittedly after making a questionable hire in Tommy Amaker) was really as incompetent as… uh… I believed he was after the sailboat incident. That's Yogi Berra right there but it's also true.

Here's the the story of the post-Carr coaching search from the perspective of this site:

  1. Kirk Ferentz is reached out to and either is or is not offered; if offered he may have been given an offer that was a paycut. Ferentz fades but it seems like there was truth to the rumors.
  2. Flailing. Miles heavily discussed. ESPN reports Michigan contacts him after Ferentz falls through. They agree to wait until the SEC championship game is over. LSU boards buzz that Les has told his team he's out. I would be "surprised if it was not" Miles.
  3. Infamous ESPN report.
  4. Sailboat. "Have a great day." Sailboat.
  5. Conclusion reached in the aftermath is that M "essentially passed on Miles."
  6. Tedford and Schiano now start getting thrown around along with odder names like Grobe and Pinkel. Also some guy named Hoke. So much Hoke.
  7. Kirk Ferentz momentarily back. Then gone.
  8. Schiano talked to, offered, accepts, changes mind, offered again, says no.
  9. Sean Payton!
  10. Miles again! Seriously!
  11. Miles out again.
  12. Jim Grobe. Jim Grobe does not get an exclamation point.
  13. KC Keeler! Lane Kiffin! Seriously!
  14. Rodriguez out of nowhere.
  15. Sigh… Peanut Butter Jelly Time.

It seemed like a clown show, and behind the scenes… clown show. Martin wants Dungy, has no idea if Dungy—who is a broadcaster and can be contacted by anyone at any time for any reason—will take the job. Wants Ferentz, has no idea that the president of the university will stab him if he hires Ferentz. Wants Miles, has no idea that Lloyd Carr will stab him if he hires Miles. Somehow misses on Schiano, then has Rodriguez fall into his lap and grabs him before anyone can think about it, which sets up the whole buyout fiasco the media will spin for six months. The sailboat incident is even worse since Bacon asserts one of the main problems was Martin had a new cell phone and didn't know how to use it.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh /dies

Martin himself drops out of the story shortly thereafter, which is another indictment of the guy because what enters is a vast institutional incompetence that starts the Rodriguez media cockroach katamari rolling. Everything from the buyout to the Dorsey situation is mishandled not only by Rodriguez (sometimes not even by Rodriguez, as with the buyout) but by the people who should be telling him what is and is not possible. When Rodriguez went to bat for Dorsey with a guy in admissions the guy in admissions should have looked at the guy's transcript before saying yes, and then when he did look at the transcript he should have said no.

Instead we actually sign the guy—opening us up to the most cynical and loathsome of all the lizard-brain media attacks—only to find out he is nowhere near eligible. And don't get me started on the CARA forms, which was a special brand of idiocy all on its own. Martin did a lot of big picture stuff very well, but he was totally unprepared to fix a department that had started downhill long before he arrived.

For all the crap I give Brandon about his failure on big picture stuff, he cleaned out the deadwood with alacrity.

TOMORROW: Players, reporters, me/us(!?).

Unverified Voracity Bids Brown Adieu

Unverified Voracity Bids Brown Adieu

Submitted by Brian on October 24th, 2011 at 5:07 PM

image

Sponsor thanks. You may have noticed the banner on the left side from Park and Party, which is a local startup that organizes gameday parking. You can reserve a favorite spot, which allows you to get up after 5 AM without ceding your precious swath of green space. Hit their Purdue parking availability to reduce the number of things that can go wrong on gameday.

BONUS: checking them out also opens your Beveled Guilt valve.

Hardly knew ye. Freshman CB Greg Brown has left the football team. Brown was the first commitment of the 2011 class and enrolled early but evidently fell behind Countess and Taylor; with Rodriguez and Tony Gibson no longer on campus he may have felt he was never going to get playing time.

Michigan isn't likely to feel much impact from Brown's departure; they still have the aforementioned freshmen plus Tamani Carter and Delonte Hollowell and are bringing in a couple of corners this year. Best of luck wherever he goes (obviously Pitt).

By my count that brings Michigan up to 25 scholarships in this class. With three players set to enroll early and a couple guys not likely to return for fifth years, they may already be able to take this class to 28. If they aren't, they almost certainly will be by February. With Jeremy Clark losing his grayshirt that leaves Michigan with five slots for two WRs, another OL, a RB, and a wildcard who may or may not be CB Yuri Wright.

In another world. Wolverine Historian has posted a video of the '89 Purdue game that is derived from press box video sans announcers:

As a result there's a bunch of sideline stuff you wouldn't see in a normal game: band jumping around, cheerleaders doing different cheerleader stuff, etc. Also plenty of triple option.

Side note: man, the skill guys in that game. Hoard, Boles, Howard, Alexander, Calloway. Not bad.

Vintage picture pages. MVictors has a shot of the Detroit Times explaining some Mad Magicianry against Pitt:

pitt1947_thumb[1]

Why did newspapers stop doing this? The analysis isn't amazing but surely 60 years later someone at a newspaper should be able to explain an inside zone. (BONUS: there is now a "1947 pitt" tag.)

The Baconing. An excerpt from Three and Out hits the Detroit News, this one about the coaching search. The first one. Prepare your sailboats:

About a week after Carr's announcement, Martin told his hand-picked search committee that Tony Dungy was his favorite candidate. Dungy had played high school football for Jackson Parkside, a half hour from Ann Arbor, but turned down Bo Schembechler to play for Minnesota. His Indianapolis Colts had just won the 2007 Super Bowl the previous winter. Exactly why Martin thought Dungy might be interested in Michigan, however, is a mystery.

The committee then briefly discussed Brian Kelly, who had just finished the 2007 regular season at Cincinnati 9-3 while graduating 75 percent of his players. But Kelly had a well-earned reputation for being unpleasant — even basketball coaches had strong opinions about him — and Martin made it clear he was not a serious candidate.

What was most striking about that first meeting, however, was the number of candidates they barely discussed, if at all: Mike DeBord, Ron English, Jeff Tedford, Rich Rodriguez, and even Les Miles, the committee's first choice. "Bill didn't want him," recalls Ted Spencer, the director of admissions and a committee member. "I have no idea why. He never gave us a reason."

Four years ago Dungy was 52 and therefore plausible if he actually wanted to keep coaching, but he didn't and Bill Martin didn't know this. The guy's a broadcaster and everyone in the world expects Carr to go out with Henne/Hart/etc. Call him?

There's much more at the link. It basically confirms the conventional wisdom that the coaching search was a fiasco run without much of a plan. Strange compared to the Beilein hiring, which had a bunch of plausible candidates and secured its first public option instead of getting turned down by the guy at Rutgers.

Former AnnArbor.com sports guy Jeff Arnold has a review-type substance* at Yahoo that contains one of many WTF moments in regard to the absent Lloyd Carr:

It is Carr who calls Rodriguez to gauge his interest in becoming the Michigan coach. And that call takes place only hours after the conference call with Miles. "Even if you haven't thought about it," Bacon reports Carr saying, "you should think about it now."

Readers are left to infer that Carr had a big role in picking Rodriguez, who took the job days later without setting foot on the campus. But then Carr, whose strong objections to Miles are documented early in the book, holds a team meeting after Rodriguez is introduced as the Wolverines' new coach, informing players he will sign their transfer papers if they want to leave.

Things go downhill from there.

*[Which oddly suggests that Robinson wouldn't have made it as a QB in Bo's offense. Moeller or Carr, sure, but Bo ran the option. He would have installed Robinson at quarterback ten seconds after he arrived on campus and threatened to deport anyone who suggested he move.]

No reason. Facepalm guy thread gem:

6141105800_1700e01759[1]

That is a long torso.

Phew. People are reporting that Jon Merrill is going to stick it out:

@HockeyProspect: FWIW, been told that Jon Merrill is staying at U of M and will not be signing with Plymouth. #Michigan #NCAA #OHL

That comes from the junior side of the aisle so is likely sourced from Plymouth. That is likely to be solid.

In less good hockey news, Shawn Hunwick got ejected from Michigan's game against NMU and his replacement let in a number of softies en route to a loss; the next night Michigan could only manage a tie. (They did win the shootout. That only applies to CCHA standings. For NCAA purposes it's a tie.) Their (wholly ridiculous) time at #1 has come to an end.

The Oversigning Bowl. On the podcast last week I mentioned that if I was athletic director* Michigan would not have signed up to play Alabama at any juncture because it's stupid to take a knife to an oversigning fight. With the LSU-Bama game of the year already in hype mode (both teams have this week off), Ramzy states the obvious:

The storyline that probably won't make it anywhere near the national discussion is that Saban and Miles each play the recruiting game with a stacked deck: For every four players that almost every other program in the country admits to school, Alabama and LSU each take in five.

While it won't happen, the discussion of oversigning should be one of the storylines for this particular game. LSU and Alabama should be ranked at or near the top of the polls, and every year - not just in 2011.

Both programs have top-tier head coaches and both schools - unlike the one in Columbus - are at or above the Southeastern Conference's pay grade for proven assistant coaches and coordinators. Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa are practically required to be on every elite high school recruit's list of possibilities.

But what ensures that LSU and Alabama should be among the elite of the elite is that both have installed a system that gives them significantly less recruiting risk than most of their competitors in recruiting.

Oversigning recruits every year has given both schools built-in second and third-chances where talent acquisition is concerned. They get refunds on their bad bets, and their depth charts are proof that it works.

It's stupid to play a team that gets to look at 25% more players than you do over the course of a recruiting cycle. If you have to in a bowl game you have to but if I'm looking for an opponent it's not going to be one with an inbuilt advantage due to skeeziness. That goes double when you're coming off the attrition/recruiting problems Rodriguez left Michigan.

*[hoo boy, that's an alternate universe right there.]

Etc.: Create your own periodic-table-themed Denard Robinson tshirt.

Three And Out Q&A: Part Three

Three And Out Q&A: Part Three

Submitted by Brian on October 21st, 2011 at 11:06 AM

image53

[ED: Parts one and two here. Book on sale Tuesday. Bacon will be giving his first local book talk and signing at Nicola’s Books in the Westgate Shopping Center on Friday night, October 28, 7 p.m.; other events can be found on his website’s appropriately-named Event page.

Cave people: Three and Out is a book about the Rodriguez era from John Bacon, who was given unprecedented access to the program by Rich Rodriguez because Rich Rodriguez does these sorts of things.]

6. WHAT'S NEXT?

“What books are you going to write about now that Michigan won't let you within a mile of any of their programs anymore? I mean, it's not easy to piss off everybody.”

Well, first: Despite the sacrifices I mentioned in the first installment – time, money, and possibly professional opportunities -- writing it was my decision, naturally, and I don’t regret it. Given my choices, trying to write an honest book is certainly more appealing to me than trying to keep everyone happy and produce a book I could never respect.

Plus, I had the chance to see a big-time program form the inside that no fan, and no reporter, has ever had—and probably never will again. If there was one great privilege that I hope every reader can share, it was getting to know these young man not as gladiators but as human beings, some of the best I’ve met. If you were proud of Michigan football before, I can tell you this: getting to know these guys can erase much of the cynicism we all feel for college football these days. They were, quite simply, the real thing.

None of that, unfortunately, solves the problem in the question. Mr. Brandon and Mr. Carr, through various means and channels, have made their contempt for the book (and its author) plain enough. I have no idea what’s going to happen with my various ties to Michigan, including my teaching arrangement, but I’d probably be foolish to count on anything.

It’s almost impossible to write anything interesting without at least some cooperation and access, and I might find those in short supply under the Brandon regime. I will likely have to go “off the reservation,” if you will, to pursue future projects. And perhaps it’s time.

But I also believe this book would cost me a lot more if I were writing about Kentucky basketball under Eddie Sutton or, say, Ohio State football (as a convenient example). Those schools and fans generally don’t want the truth, and will attack anyone who attempts to deliver it (witness Mr. Herbstreit’s forced move to Tennessee). Michigan football fans are very demanding—they expect a first-class program on and off the field—but they also want the truth, and they can handle it.

I feel the same way. After all, I learned how to do all the things I needed to write this book – researching, writing and thinking critically – from world-class professors at the University of Michigan. But the most important principle Michigan taught me was the central importance of pursuing the truth without fear, wherever it leads.

For those who say this book will hurt Michigan, I can only respond: not the Michigan I know.

7. Does the idea of being a "Michigan man" emerge as tortured shibboleth in need of burial or does Bacon make the case that there is something valuable in it, something RR just really didn't get?

This is why you have to love Michigan fans. What other school’s backers would inquire if their culture’s central concept emerges as a “tortured shibboleth in need of burial”? It was such fans, by the way, that made it easy for me to persuade our highbrow publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux, that our readers would have no trouble getting through a 438-page book with no photos, nor digesting the word “crucible” in the subtitle. (Arthur Miller, after all, went to Michigan.)

The term “Michigan Man” probably goes back to the day men arrived at Michigan. But it’s taken more than a few twists and turns since.

Fielding Yost gave the term “Michigan Man” a boost when he started using it in his speeches. But the phrase really took off in 1989, of course, when Schembechler announced he was firing basketball coach Bill Frieder on the eve of the NCAA basketball tournament because Frieder had signed a secret deal to coach Arizona State the next season. This prompted Schembechler to bark: “A Michigan Man will coach Michigan!”

Pundits have wondered exactly what Bo meant, but I think it’s pretty simple: anybody coaching at Michigan better be completely committed to Michigan.

The phrase took on more weight four years ago, when a reporter asked brand-new head coach Rich Rodriguez if the Michigan coach had to be a Michigan Man. He joked, “Gosh, I hope not! They hired me!”

He was criticized for that—and not without some justification. The question was inevitable, and it exposed Rodriguez’s superficial knowledge of the program upon his arrival, and the athletic department’s failure to prepare its new coach for his mission.

From that point on, the phrase was used more often to beat somebody over the head—usually Rodriguez—than to underscore the values it’s supposed to represent, much the way extremists use “patriot” to castigate someone as un-American.

At the “Victors’ Rally” held in February 2010, Rodriguez wanted to show that he’d gotten the message. So, he closed his speech by saying, “I’m Rich Rodriguez, and I am a Michigan Man.” This time, he was criticized for being presumptuous.

Finally, with great humility, he told the crowd at his final speech at the Bust in December 2011, “I hope you realize, I truly want to be a Michigan Man.” But this time his critics said a true Michigan Man wouldn’t have to ask.

And thus, the silliness of the entire exercise had come full circle. The phrase had become so distorted, Michigan’s critics started using it as a mocking insult. Much like the word “classy,” it seemed, whoever uses it, probably isn’t.

Despite my temptation to chuck this overused and little understood phrase forever, I still think there’s something to it. Everyone knows the values it’s supposed to stand for: honor, sacrifice, pride in your team, and humility in yourself, all in one. But ultimately, to define it, I have to resort to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s description of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

Pardon the comparison, but when it comes to the phrase, “Michigan Man,” I know it when I see it, too. They might be Big Men on Campus, but they don’t act like it, in college or afterward. The men I’ve been lucky enough to get to know—many as good friends—really do put their team and their school before themselves, and become the kind of adults you want to be your employee, your colleague, your boss, your neighbor, your brother-in-law. Not because they played football for Michigan, but because they represent its values. And they really are different than the players I’ve met from other schools.

I can cite too many men who fit this description, and too many examples of their conduct, simply to dismiss it.

Here’s a small one: a few years ago the football alums of Ohio State and Michigan were invited to an event in Columbus. The Buckeyes showed up wearing everything from sport coats to sweatshirts and jeans. But the Michigan alums arrived wearing coats and ties. No one told them what to wear. Bo had already passed away. But they simply knew, reflexively, if you represent Michigan, this is how you do it.

A bigger example: a few years after graduating, Scott Smykowski, a former backup under Schembechler, discovered he needed a bone marrow transplant, but his health care wasn’t going to cover all his expenses. That’s all Schembechler needed to hear to rally Michigan Men from coast to coast. And that’s all they needed to hear to raise $150,000 in just a few weeks – even though most of them never played with Smykowski or even met him. That’s what being a Michigan Man meant to them.

When I speak at Michigan events, I often end with a quote from arguably the first important Michigan Man, Fielding Yost. Near the end of his life, they held a big banquet for him called, “A Toast to Yost from Coast to Coast,” which was broadcast nationwide by NBC. After all the speakers had paid tribute, he got up in his eponymous Fieldhouse and said, “My heart is so full at this moment, I fear I could say little else. But do let me reiterate the Spirit of Michigan. It is based on a deathless loyalty to Michigan and all her ways. An enthusiasm that makes it second nature for Michigan Men to spread the gospel of their university to the world’s distant outposts. And a conviction that nowhere, is there a better university, in any way, than this Michigan of ours.”

It gets me every time. But what really gets me is the response from the people in the audience. None of them ever met Fielding Yost. Most of them weren’t born when he passed away in 1946. Most of their parents weren’t, either. And yet, when they hear these words, they nod involuntarily, the words resonating with something deep inside them, and they are often glassy-eyed when I finish the quote.

If you could stand on that podium and look out on those faces, you would not have to wonder if the idea of the Michigan Man is for real.

Despite the best efforts to kill it, it is still very much alive.

Three And Out Q&A: Part Two

Three And Out Q&A: Part Two

Submitted by Brian on October 18th, 2011 at 12:09 PM

image5

[ED: Make that three parts. Coming Friday: “What does ‘Michigan Man’ mean anymore,” and “What’s next?”

If you live under a rock, John Bacon was embedded in the program the last three years and has written a book about this. It is called Three and Out.]

First, thanks to everyone for your interest, including some 400 readers asking more than a thousand questions. (And big thanks also to Brian for sorting through all those questions and combining them into the most popular categories.) I was not surprised to see they were very smart and often got beyond the surface of the situation, frequently forcing me to re-think the whole thing, when I thought I was long done thinking another thought about the last three years.

 

3. Were the "fit" issues real?

One of the central questions that came up in various forms was the “Fit, or Lack Thereof,” as Brian reduced it.

I’ll start by working backward, from the final seconds of Rodriguez’s regime. On January 5, 2011, the assistant coaches, staffers, and yours truly were all sitting in the coaches’ meeting room, when Rodriguez walked in, laid a file down on the table, and said, “Well, as expected, they fired me.” He later added, “It was a bad fit here from the start.”

And in many ways it was. I’m not certain it had to be.

People who were living in Ann Arbor in 1968 can tell you about the last outsider to take the reigns: Bo Schembechler. His predecessor, Bump Elliott, was a former Michigan All-American who was smart and humble, with an urbane, conservative manner. He didn’t yell at his players, he rarely swore, and if you said you were hurt, that was enough for him.

When Schembechler’s crew arrived with their wives sporting beehive hairdos and stiletto heels, some Michigan insiders took to calling them “The Ohio Mafia.” The players quickly learned the new guy yelled, swore, grabbed your facemask and literally kicked you in the ass. If you were merely hurt, not injured, but didn’t want to practice, you got left behind when the team plane took off.

Instead of turning his back on the new regime, however, Elliott embraced them, hosting parties for their families and introducing them to important people around town. He did not allow players to come to his office in the Athletic Department to complain about the new guy, either. And when Schembechler delivered what today would be an unforgivable comment about changing “Michigan’s silly helmets,” Elliott, Don Canham, Fritz Crisler and Bob Ufer quietly taught him Michigan tradition.

And, to Schembechler’s credit, he was wise enough to listen, and even seek out their help.

When Michigan upset Ohio State that year, they gave Bump Elliott the game ball, and there was not a dry eye in the room.

That’s Michigan at its best. The last three years were not.

Rodriguez had never been to Ann Arbor before his first press conference, and it was clear he had not prepared, nor been coached – a noted contrast to Brady Hoke’s introduction, when his rehearsed lines won over many doubters.

To cross this chasm, neither Michigan nor Rodriguez did enough, soon enough. I believe Rodriguez should have learned more about Michigan faster than he did, but I also believe he received little guidance. Readers will likely be struck by how often Rodriguez invoked Michigan’s traditions – the helmet, the banner, the rivals – when he talked to his team. And he could have helped his cause by reaching out to sympathetic Michigan groups like the M-Club, filled with loyal supporters who could have helped him when trouble hit.

Both sides of this marriage could have learned a lot from the other. Rodriguez could have gained the kind of polish Michigan usually applies to its players and coaches, much as it did for the initially rough-hewn Schembechler. And Michigan’s famed arrogance – occasionally succumbing to rank snobbism during the Rodriguez regime – could have been softened with some of Rodriguez’s down-home friendliness.

I suspect both sides have learned a great deal since, manifest in Michigan’s almost universal support for Brady Hoke. He isn’t exactly Bump Elliott, either, but he’s been accepted as a true “Michigan Man.”

(More on that Friday.)

 

4. What was so hard about the transition?

Everyone knows the transition was poorly handled – but it was actually much worse than you think, marked by a lack of preparation, communication, and transparency, not to mention severe undermining of the process and the candidates. It resulted in the famously unified Michigan football family fracturing before Martin named Rodriguez Michigan’s next coach – and it only got worse afterward. For his part, Rodriguez naively assumed he was walking into the same program Schembechler had created.

Rodriguez also made a crucial miscalculation: He honestly believed that the bigger the program, the less time the head coach has to deal with peripheral duties like connecting with former players, alumni and fans – when the opposite is true. The head football coach at Michigan, Texas or Alabama, is, in a very real sense, the leader of that school.

That said, it’s worth remembering: Michigan was hiring Rodriguez, not the other way around. It is the employer’s job to set their employees up for success, and at that central task, Michigan failed badly.

But I still believe that nothing would have helped more than Bo Schembechler continuing to lead the family. When he passed away, Michigan lost more than a coach. It lost its spiritual leader – and five years later he has still not been replaced.

If there were any doubts before that Bo did more than anyone to keep Michigan football at the top, even long after he retired, his absence erased them for me.

 

5. PRETTY MUCH THE Q: Who does John Bacon blame for the last three years?

I know: you want to know what happened to the defense, and who is most to blame for the disappointing last three seasons.

It’s not hard to identify a handful of contributing factors, all of which were necessary, but none sufficient to guarantee failure. We have a dozen variables in both cases, but no control group, so it’s ultimately impossible to be completely certain what, precisely, was the most important straw.

Nonetheless, if I don’t feed the bulldog something I’ll probably get my hand bitten off, so here goes.

Let’s start with the defense. When people ask if the shockingly poor performance was the result of inheriting weak talent, transfers, a stretch of freak injuries, youth or coaching, I say: Yes. It is simply impossible for your defense to drop to 68th then 82nd then 110th without all those factors playing a part. But the hardest to tease out is coaching.

We do know a few things, however. Failing to get Jeff Casteel was much bigger than probably anyone realized at the time. Bill Martin failed to pony up a few more bucks and a guaranteed contract to get him, while Rodriguez—who would not come to Michigan without Mike Barwis and the promise of a million-dollar weight room—was apparently willing to leave without his defensive coordinator. If he could do it again, he would probably insist he wasn’t coming to Michigan without his trusted defensive coordinator.

After that, Michigan never gave Rodriguez sufficient bait to get his top choice to replace Casteel. When Scott Shafer and Greg Robinson arrived in Ann Arbor, they inherited a staff of strangers who had been loyal to Rodriguez for years. Shafer and Robinson are both decent guys who’ve been successful elsewhere, but it clearly didn’t work at Michigan.

At the end of the day, however, the head coach is responsible for his team’s performance, and that obviously includes defense.

Likewise, there was no shortage of variables contributing to Rodriguez’s demise. The long list includes: the horrible transition; his Honeymoon from Hell (including overblown PR problems over buy-outs, departing players, and even shredded papers); his 3-9 debut; the Free Press feature and subsequent NCAA investigation; the string of four crucial losses in the middle of 2009 and three in middle of 2010; and the final Bust. Obviously, some of those are on Michigan, and some on Rodriguez.

The Rodriguez reign was fatally damaged by two main causes: the harm done by detractors inside and outside the program, and his own missed opportunities – from PR problems to those seven lost match points in 2009 and 2010, any one of which would probably have been enough to deliver him to a new era when he could focus more on football than survival. In particularly, I believe the 2009 game against Illinois, which blew up when Michigan failed to score on a first and goal from the one-yard line, marked the Continental Divide of the Rodriguez Era.

So, it’s not true that Rodriguez had no chance. He had seven. It is true, however, that his chances were greatly diminished by detractors inside and outside the program.

Assigning blame essentially boils down to weighing the factors above. But on one crucial point – really, the most important of all – there is absolutely no shade of gray whatsoever. Rodriguez, his staff, and his players (after the 2008 team graduated) worked extraordinarily hard to win every game.

Some powerful insiders, however, were working just as hard to see them fail. That is not a matter of degree. It’s a clear-cut, black-and-white difference – something I have never seen in all my years researching Michigan’s long and admirable history. But the people who suffered the most were the least to blame: the players.

As former offensive line coach Greg Frey told me, while driving to Mott Hospital one night, “I think about guys like Moosman and Ortmann and Brandon Graham. Man, those guys work their asses off. They care about their teammates. They stayed. They get pushed aside in all this, and that’s all right? That’s sad.”

When Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit News asked Ryan Van Bergen how it felt to see hundreds of alums returning to support the new coach, he said, “You know, it’s kind of unsettling… It’s great they’re back, but it’s kind of, where have they been the last two or three years? We’ve still be wearing the same helmets since they were here.”

Who deserves how much blame can be debated. Who was working against the Wolverines, and who suffered the most because of it, cannot be calculated.

Unverified Voracity Sweats No Bye

Unverified Voracity Sweats No Bye

Submitted by Brian on October 14th, 2011 at 5:06 PM

Oddly not a problem. Thanks to a couple of diarists and the Wall Street Journal, we can answer the question posed in this AnnArbor.com headline:

Is Michigan at a disadvantage because of MSU's off week?

Survey says

Bye weeks seem to hurt more than they help.  Since 2002 (to 2010*), teams of the six BCS conferences have an overall win pct of 0.480 when coming off of a bye week.  The Big Ten teams in particular struggle when coming off of a bye.  From 2002-2010* Big Ten teams are a combined 17-32 when coming off of a bye.  This is good for a 0.35 win pct.

…no. This also applies to the small sample sizes posted by Mark Dantonio coming off a bye and Brady Hoke facing someone off a bye. This is an odd finding, but there it is.

Bacon book excerpt. Has hit the WSJ:

Denard Robinson's day started at 6:30 a.m., when his alarm clock went off in his off-campus condo bedroom.

He hit the snooze once, then twice, before getting out of bed to put on jeans, a red polo shirt, black Adidas training shoes and his varsity jacket. Then he hopped into his roommate Devin Gardner's family pickup truck, a beat-up 2002 Dakota.

It continues following Denard from there. Autograph seekers, man. We will be running another installment of the Q&A Monday or Tuesday, depending on how jam-packed Monday is. Three and Out is out October 25th.

[*cough* if you are planning on buying the thing you can support the site by purchasing Three and Out through MGoBlog affiliate linkage *cough*]

Pizza: we want it. There was a "We want pizza" chant as Michigan's goal count exploded against St. Lawrence, and this is why:

Also in 1997, there was free pizza. Back in the day, Cottage Inn sponsored a 10-goal promotion, where every member in attendance received a free slice of pie if the team reached 10 goals. Sounds awesome, right?

It was awesome all right — for everyone but Cottage Inn. Even though 1997 was the last straw, the restaurant still had issues with the promotion in previous years. The blame game can start with a man they called ‘Doughboy.’

In the early 1990s, when the Wolverines would put up seven or eight goals, the crowd would start to chant, “Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!” It seemed that Michigan had a player who liked pizza as much as the fans did, as he would seemingly pick up his play whenever the total got close to 10. Hence, Cam Stewart became ‘Doughboy.’

Michigan's fallen off from their glory days and Cottage Inn could fire up the pizza promotion without too much damage—this was the first time it had happened since 2008.

I'm out of toner, too. I don't want to wade into a discussion about the content of this Dennis Dodd piece on why Rodriguez should get some credit. (Surprise: Dodd and Rodriguez share an employer.) I do want to linger on this image:

Rich Rodriguez still runs into his players during shopping trips in Ann Arbor.

"Office Depot or something," said Michigan's former coach. "You can figure, you've got mixed emotions. You're frustrated because it's your guys and you want to coach them."

Rich Rodriguez is running into former players at Office Depot? Has Jeremy Gallon been misinformed about where to acquire a nail gun? /watches ten minutes of Wire quotes

That's the problem with the system: too much money going to students. The Big Ten and SEC made a case for "full cost of attendance" scholarships as caring more about student welfare than a level playing field, and they carry a lot of water in this town so I assume this will be killed and never brought up again:

Following a six-hour meeting in late September, the Resource Allocation Working Group, chaired by Georgia President Michael Adams, agreed to consider a reduction in FBS football scholarships from the current number of 85 to 80 and a reduction in the number of FCS football scholarships from 63 to 60. The reductions would likely follow a move toward a full cost-of-attendance scholarship that is expected to be passed in early 2012. In addition to football, the group agreed to consider a reduction in the number of men's basketball scholarships from 13 to 12 and in women's basketball from 15 to 13.

If it's not it's time to burn the NCAA to the ground. If you don't want to offer a full complement of scholarships, don't. Atlantic Hockey offers 13, not 18. Fine. Don't force teams awash in money to not offer scholarships because you cry poverty. The NCAA should be exploring relaxing or changing caps in money sports*, not increasing them.

*[The best anti-oversigning proposal I've heard is removing the overall cap entirely and just having a yearly one. Totally removes the motivation to kick a kid off the team unless he's Stephen Garcia.]

Etc.: Just Cover's SteveY dubs MSU's QB 'Kork Coupons,' which I find delightful. It is entirely plausible Lou Holtz has called him this at some point. Tom Ziller blows up David Stern. Grant Wahl makes the case for promotion and relegation in American sports. Yost renovation to take out 400 seats, add more "premium" seating so people can pay even more money to not show up at hockey games.