11/8/08 – Michigan 29, Minnesota 6 – 3-7, 2-4 Big Ten
Football is the strangest sport.
Baseball and basketball and hockey are too transparently random to be strange. Sometimes you just lose despite largely outplaying the other team; that's not strange, it's just puck luck or hot shooting or whatever baseball equivalent you'd like to offer. You hit the ball hard and it goes into someone's mitt. You toss rubber at the goalie and hope. You engage in a series of independent random trials worth two or three points. In all these activities the chance is right on the surface.
Football, though… in football inexplicable things happen on a regular basis and they're all gussied up to look like Flat Out Heart. You might think that, eventually, close observers would figure out this tendency and start saying things like "watch for the inexplicable thing!" but no, not really.
This is of some comfort to me in a season where the only thing more reliable than Michigan's ineptitude is this blog's ability to incorrectly forecast future events.
To be fair, if you had collected everyone on the planet who thought Nick Sheridan would lead Michigan to victory over a 7-2 team, no matter how fraudulent, and put them in a room that room would contain Nick Sheridan's mother, that one guy on the message board with the annoying, unkillable optimism, and a bushman who speaks one of those clicky languages and erroneously believes there to be free sandwiches because of a mindboggling linguistic coincidence.
Then at some point during Michigan's opening field goal fiesta Sheridan scrambled out of the pocket and threw across his body. I guarantee you every single Michigan fan watching the game thought this was a horrible idea and that in approximately two seconds Minnesota would be running the other way with the ball. Somewhere, a Michigan fan stuck at a wedding had an eerie feeling of deep foreboding as the Michigan fanbase's collective brainwave screamed "nooooooooo" in slow-motion.
Complete, first down, eventual scoring drive, final yardage for 435, final yardage against 188, 29-6 victory.
Back in the day when computer cases came bolted on with a dozen tiny screws and floppy disks were floppy, if you wanted to have decent sound you had to buy your sound card separately. My friends did this, and it was there they met Dr. Sbaitso. Dr. Sbaitso was a weird little AI program that would converse with you that Creative Labs shipped with their soundcards to show off their speech software. It was the early '90s. It was free software. If you swore at it, it would complain that that kind of talk would give it a parity error. You can imagine the hilarity.
Though I never interacted with him myself, for years after conversations would occasionally take abrupt detours into Sbaitso lingo. The thing that lingers in my head to this day is this:
NOT ENOUGH DATA SO I MAKE BIG
This was inevitably followed by some sort of fooshing noise that indicated great expansion.
Over the past five weeks as Michigan slid from 2-2 to 2-7 and victory became a thing once remembered, everybody wanted someone's blood. It didn't matter who you are, you wanted to bash someone with a brick. For some, it's Rodriguez or Martin or Shafer. For others (Wolverine Liberation Army most prominently), it's anyone who would come on the internet and say something rashly dumb. For me, it's the media that took the opportunity to lay the foundation for Rodriguez's premature firing.
Scorn, condescension, and mockery are the only things coming from Detroit columnists not named Wojo these days, as they rush to be the first to pile dirt on Rich Rodriguez's grave (but, of course, only after telling you that's it's far too early judge).
Look at this from the Detroit News in the aftermath of the Purdue game:
But what should be as distressing to Michigan's football camp as this incomprehensible string of losses -- five in a row -- is Rodriguez's attitude.
"I know what's going on," he said Saturday, as if he is aware of deficiencies no one else seems to recognize
Does he really believe that?
I find it amazing that Lynn Henning finds it possible to condescend to someone who's proven over the last twenty-five years that he's one of the best football coaches in the profession. After all, Lynn Henning has proven over the past twenty five years that he is Lynn Henning.
And then, of course, the Worst Columnist On The Planet*:
They're [Michigan fans] spoiled. They're arrogant. They feel entitled. They took 9-3 seasons with annual losses to Ohio State for granted, lusting for their program's rightful destiny. And they will demand significant improvement from Rodriguez in his second season or he will face a BCS-or-else ultimatum in his third year.
Saban's quick Alabama transformation just made it harder for every other coach.
This is so obviously retarded in a thousand different ways (for one: Saban has a senior multi-year starter at QB) that it hardly warrants a response. But there is one thing that is dangerous here: the suggestion that Rodriguez should be on a short leash.
In a word, no.
Rocky Top Talk, a fine Tennessee blog, was kind enough to have me on their latest podcast, whereupon we talked about coaching changes and the creepy similarity of the two programs* and, uh, how Alabama fans hate me. At some point Joel asked for advice, which was kind of odd but he asked. In response, I asked what the talent level looked like and he said the general opinion was that next year would actually be a step back. Then I noted that last year Tennessee had one of the most disappointing recruiting classes in the nation and that this year's class would likely be substandard what with the coaching change and all and advised patience. Sustained, gritted-teeth patience.
Because without patience you acquire unreasonable demands like "take a 3-7 team to the BCS in two years with a (probably) true sophomore quarterback or we fire you, confirm every stupid thing the media has incorrectly said about the Michigan fanbase, and start all over with someone definitely less proven as a successful head coach than Rich Rodriguez."
Screw that. Screw Sharp and all his ilk at the Detroit papers ready to leap upon the carcass of Michigan football because they're too stupid and shortsighted to do anything else.
Nick Sheridan was nicknamed DEATH up until the moment he threw that "nooooo" pass across his body. I had too little data, but I made big.
Michigan fans assumed this all-singing-all-dancing-all-freshman offense would be basically as effective as other crappy offenses from Michigan teams past. They had too little data, and they made big.
The Detroit media would like to assure you that it's way too early to judge Rich Rodriguez but my god what a horrible coach who is mostly at fault for Michigan's failure to acquire a chintzy bowl bid. They had too little data, and they made big. (They will continue to do this.)
Now Tennessee and Washington and Clemson and maybe Auburn and a bunch of other teams will be scouring the nation for coaches upon there is precious little data, because the ones on which there is much data are already out of reach. If Michigan goes searching again prematurely they will not find a guy with a proven record of success like Rodriguez. They will not find a coach with two BCS bowl wins to his name. They are wishing and hoping.
We got extraordinarily lucky; there is enough data to justify Rodriguez the five years coaches all used to get, and we should give it to him.
*(if you absolutely must see the entire thing I will link it (nofollowed) but I urge you to not click here: .)
**(No, seriously. I always thought Tennessee, a traditional power with an awesome fight song that operates at a recruiting disadvantage because its home state is talent-deficient relative to its peers and has a national championship from about a decade ago, was pretty similar to Michigan. Then Joel from RTT was talking with me and mentioned that Tennessee had been coached by a total of two guys over the last 32 years (16 years each for Majors and Fulmer) and I was like… whoah.)
- This is already way too long!