Scott Shafer As Tony Franklin Comment Count

Brian December 17th, 2008 at 10:16 AM

Scott Shafer on his resignation/dismissal:

The two coaches had differing philosophies from the start as Shafer believed in a base 4-3 defense and Michigan began the season with that before morphing into Rodriguez's traditional 3-3-5 format late in the season.

"That’s kind of the reason the decision was made," Shafer said about their differences. "It's one of those deals throughout the whole deal (we debated.) We came up with that decision that it was time to go our own ways. It just didn't fit as simple as that is. I wish Michigan all the success in the future."

On the surface this seems like an indication Rodriguez desires the 3-3-5 to be Michigan's base set, but there's a possibility he wasn't speaking directly to that particular formation. If we had a transcript of the interview we would know; we do not.

One thing is clear. We did this:


That, as mentioned previously, is Tony Franklin's sad fugee face after his midseason canning. Franklin was brought in as Auburn's offensive coordinator to run a system none of his assistants ran—though surely they must have been more familiar with the 4-3 than Auburn assistants were with Franklin's Air-Raid-based spread—failed to get buy-in, suffered through an abysmal season, and were shuffled off after a brief period of time. That was a failure of management on Tommy Tuberville's part and it's a failure on Rich Rodriguez's part. Rodriguez will get an opportunity to try again; Tuberville was not so lucky.

Now what?

Yesterday the internet rumor mill (and the above-linked article) were suggesting linebackers coach and former Southern Miss DC Jay Hopson would be promoted internally. My inbox also contains some Hopson chatter, though nothing definitive. That rumor has recently been downgraded from "near certainty"; it remains a strong possibility.

Picking Hopson makes some degree of sense. He was a grad assistant at Tulane when Rodriguez was the offensive coordinator there and seems to have fit in well after his first year; at Southern Miss he started moving towards the 3-3-5 towards the end of his term, albeit irregularly. If cohesion and the 3-3-5 are the top priorities he's the best choice outside of nabbing Jeff Casteel, who probably would have left WVU already if he was going to.

Outside of those guys, it's a bunch of gentlemen who haven't run a 3-3-5, because no one really runs the 3-3-5, and how well will that work out, etc.

If it's Hopson you are—read "I am"—in luck, because last year when Hopson was rumored to be the next defensive coordinator I analyzed him, complete with the two posts SMQ (now Dr. Saturday) had made about Hopson. The general upshot:

Hopson, if hired, would be a wildcard. He has some experience, some knowledge of/affinity for the stack, some success, and some decided meh going on in the doldrum days of a coach heading for pasture. Judgment is withheld.

This is no slam dunk, unfortunately.

I also pinged Mr. Hinton via email; by the time he responded Hopson was in but as the linebackers coach and the response no longer seemed relevant. I'll post it later today. It's interesting, if not particularly encouraging.

On said wacky defense.

Some people will criticize anything Rodriguez does at this point, so watch out for this outstanding hypocrisy sure to be unleashed if it is, in fact, Hopson or Casteel: the same people who are claiming the golden age of the spread has passed and it's all downhill now will dismiss the 3-3-5 as a defense that can't work in the Big Ten and cite the complete lack of "big time programs" running it as proof it's a guaranteed failure. The thought that maybe Rodriguez's desire to be innovative and unusual extends to the defensive side of the ball and may serve him well will not cross this sort of person's mind.

As far as my opinion: eh, whatever. The 3-3-5 has been pretty good at West Virginia the last few years and obviously can work as a base defense when, you know, you don't install it the week of a game with players who don't really know what they're doing. (Again: we Franklined it this season. Or maybe Weised it?) I tend to dismiss any and all "scheme X can't work in conference Y" arguments. I am a little concerned a flip to the 3-3-5 will be another painful transition in a year we kind of need to show improvement lest the banshees come out in force, but if that's what he wants to run that's what he wants to run.

Now watch all this be moot when Rodriguez hires your standard 4-3 defensive coordinator.

That crazy quote. It's hard for this not to seem sarcastic:

"Bottom line is, I take full responsibility for the demise of the Michigan program," Shafer, 41, said by phone Tuesday afternoon. "I accept all the responsibility."

Um… all of the responsibility? Surely some of it falls on the country's 109th-ranked offense or the gentlemen who fumbled the ball so often Michigan ended up 105th in turnover margin, Mr. Shafer.

Commenters seem sure that Shafer was genuinely attempting to take as much heat as he could. Shafer did bluntly state he had been outcoached after the Illinois game; maybe he's just prone to self-immolating quotes.

Whatever it is, it must seriously suck to be him right now. Earlier this year he joked with the media that his wife was none too pleased with the constant moving; this will be another year with the U-Haul, and very probably a step down the coaching ladder. All this after two years in which he went from Western Michigan to Stanford to Michigan. He must be crushed.

Recruiting fallout. I didn't get the impression that Shafer was heavily involved with a lot of recruits, but one he had a serious relationship with was Cass Tech safety Thomas Gordon, who posted something to his Facebook account saying he would open up his recruitment. There's a Scout article up on it, too, though a premium one.

This appears to be an immediate reaction that should settle down. Tom VanHaaren confirmed with someone close to Gordon's situation that he has not decommitted and as long as Michigan continues to assure him he's wanted he should remain a member of the class.

No one else has made noises like the Shafer departure seriously affects them, though it's early yet and we may get wind of someone who is displeased. As of yet: no change.



December 17th, 2008 at 11:01 AM ^

I know WVU's numbers didn't look bad this past year. However, I would argue that several of the "traditionally up" teams in the big East had a "down year" especially offensively. I want to be positive on anyone RR picks, but GOD, can I be the only one who sees the the flashcard that says "WVU defense" instantly thinks of the up-and-down-the-field games against L'ville, or anyone else who could throw? It's just a gut feeling, but I'd rather not see Casteel come. I remember being happy/relieved about the fact that while the offense came with RR, the defense largely didn't.
I'd support Hopson (for the sake of finding another 3-3-5 guy who buys in), but have to admit, the Auburn guy (Rhoades?) is quite a pull for me. I'd take some of that D anyday.


December 17th, 2008 at 11:16 AM ^

believing in a coach and having blind faith are two different things. you saw the ineptness on the offensive side of the ball when we brought in a new system. if we goto a 3-3-5 expect that on the defensive side. this would not be good...


December 17th, 2008 at 11:22 AM ^

The offensive ineptness was due to QB issues, an Oline that could generously be called "patchwork" at the beginning (was serviceable at the end) and massive turnovers. I have a feeling most of this will be ironed out for next year.

A new defensive scheme won't cause near the problems because it's less about new over all responsibilities and more about different players with new grouping of those tasks. For example, players will still have gap responsibility, it just might change what gaps they have.


December 17th, 2008 at 11:09 AM ^

How do I send a question to the mailbag and for the sake of efficiency, a key virtue of all members of the Michigan Workers' Congress I'm sure, the question is:

What were the differences that led to Michigan's defense sucking and Auburn's still being respectable under very similar circumstances (DC new to the program, awful offense)?

I've thought part of it may be the SEC offenses being fairly mediocre this year and more depth of quality Big Ten offenses, the conflicting philosophies of Schafer and RR, and also that the entire UM staff was new and unfamiliar with the players where as at Auburn only the coordinators were new.


December 17th, 2008 at 11:14 AM ^

I never had more than 3 conversations with my Dc once i got to school... almost all of the interaction a player has is through his position coach, or assitant possition coach, or even GA coach. If they arent on the Dc's page, you wont be....

Maize and True

December 17th, 2008 at 11:24 AM ^

I was just going to ask if anyone felt that this would affect Graham's decision at all. I seem to recall Brian (or somebody on this site) saying that Graham was somewhat concerned about whether or not there would be coaching changes on defense.

Since players generally have most of their interaction with the position coach... I'm hoping that the probability of him staying remains high.


December 17th, 2008 at 11:26 AM ^

at LB/secondary like we had. The problem was not ALL Shafer, but as DC he's going to get a lot of the blame, and it was becoming more and more of an issue that the coaches weren't all on the same page. It was best for everyone. My hope is that we can find a guy that can willingly make the 3-3-5 successful. I guess my love of Rhoades is that he had success against the spread (at least the WVU version) with whatever he was using, and maybe he could adapt.

J. Lichty

December 17th, 2008 at 11:22 AM ^

What were the differences that led to Michigan's defense sucking and Auburn's still being respectable under very similar circumstances (DC new to the program, awful offense)?

Go back through the UFR's. I think we had some serious personnel problems, some back luck - poor play on giving up big plays.

While I think Trent and Warren took steps back this year, we really had poor linebackers and safety play. Ezeh is not good. Mouton improved. Thompson was very limited. Safeties were terrible.

As Gsimmons says, sometimes it is Jimmy's and Joes not X's an O's. While there were certain points where scheme seemed puzzling, for the most part, players seemed to be in the right places and just could not make plays - with the exception of Purdue which seems to be the nadir of the rift between Shaffer and Rodriguez.

I have not looked at Auburn, but I think our problems were more personnel than scheme.


December 17th, 2008 at 11:37 AM ^

Franklin was fired mid-season. Also, the difference between Franklin's system and Auburn's previous one was much bigger than the difference between Shafer's defense and Michigan's previous one (which would, I think, necessitate giving more time to Franklin).

I wasn't for getting rid of Shafer, but it could be that the cohesion gained by promoting Hopson, for example, will outweigh the loss of Shafer's coaching ability.


December 17th, 2008 at 12:16 PM ^

just becasue defense is 1000x harder to install than offense. its harder to see but techniques, responsiblities, teaching points, emphasis, etc everything is deifferent from coach to caoch.. even if you are running the exact same front.... all that, and REACTING to what the offense is doing.

On the otherhand on offense, you run your play on air, you run it aginst the fronts you are going to see, and thats it... much easier to install...

dont get me wrong, both are difficult, i just think its a common misconception that a 4-3 is a 4-3 no matter what..


December 17th, 2008 at 1:57 PM ^

I wonder if the players were hearing one thing from Shafer and another from the coaches who came from WVU...I'm curious if you think the bad angles taken by Steve Brown, et al. are things you can teach or if you think the ability to size up where a guy is going to be on the field given that he's running in direction X at speed Y is just something you have in your brain or you don't.


December 17th, 2008 at 11:38 AM ^

is recruiting

One of the major reasons people do not run the 3-3-5 is you basically are asking your tackles to act as blockers for linebackers to make plays....when you have Mike Martin at nose I would assume a rotation of Campbell, Roh and Lalota at ends.........but who wants to be a end where you are asked to clog things up but not really there to rush the passer?

oh ya, see ya Brandon Graham, doubt he wants that as well next year.

k bizzle

December 17th, 2008 at 11:45 AM ^

While checking out Devin Gardners profile on rivals yesterday I found it odd when it listed Shafer as his recruiter. Most UM recruits on rivals don't have a lead recruiter listed so it must of been from good information to put him there. I don't see this hurting the process but did find it odd that somebody with as much talent as Gardner was recruited by him and not RR himself.


December 17th, 2008 at 12:13 PM ^

This whole philosophy thing is a double standard.

1. We endured the spread when we had the talent for a pro-style offense. But we ran the spread because that is what the coaches coach. And I (kind of) buy this argument, because the coaches shouldn't totally change the offensive philosophy just to suit the players. (But you will still have to explain to me why Threet should have run the zone read play even once.)

2. Shafer is a "Base 4-3" guy. AND he had base 4-3 _talent_. (As our D-line was the strongest part of the defense, we should have considered putting 5 of them out there, not cutting from 4 to 3!) But Rodriguez said, no, we should run the 3-3-5. I'm the coach, deal with it.

Why doesn't Shafer get the same flexibility with the defense that Rodriguez got with the offense? Also, while you can't let the tail wag the dog (the talent on the team determine the philosophy) can't you let it inform your decisions some? And if you butted heads with him on this,
WHY DID YOU HIRE HIM IN THE FIRST PLACE? Isn't one of the first questions in the interview, "What is your defensive philosophy?" and "What kind of base formation do you see using?"

Right now, I don't know what Rodriguez' plan is, and this troubles me. I know we've had trouble stopping mobile QBs in the past. But I don't think this was a problem of defensive scheme, so much as execution of that scheme.

As far as the spread goes, I like the concept of putting your playmakers in space. But, I still think the smashmouth mentality has a place in football. 3rd and 1? Give them the old I-formation and run it right up the gut. (And we DID this a few times this season). 3rd and goal from the 3? Fade route to Braylon. I don't care who's defending. (I heard that RR likes the little, "squirmy" guys for WR. WV never had a WR in the mold of Braylon.) A QB is a thrower first. A strong, accurate thrower. If all else fails, he should be able to get the first down on 3rd and 7, sliding after 8 yards. Tailbacks need not apply. (I mean really, does anyone buy Pat White as a NFL QB?)

Clearly, I'm frustrated. Clearly I have no better things to do.


December 17th, 2008 at 12:27 PM ^

i is gonna do it his way. which is fine, there is something to be said in someone who will stick to their guns. the problem is his way is not the best way right here. i get the spread, even if it is different, you can point to the fact that every single team these days runs some version of it. but the 3-3-5??? come on....


December 17th, 2008 at 5:49 PM ^

I agree...Ive been standing behind RR since day one (like my avatar is behind the GodFather) but as time goes on, it is looking more and more as if RR does not have a plan and is fumbling around trying to stay one step ahead of where he wants to be, but cant be.

Certainly the Shafer decision came down to personality conflicts over how to handle the situation at hand: slow, unathletic LBs and safetys who were converted CBs and dont understand how to play the position under any system or formation.... so what is Shafer to do? Im not defending him because his defense was bad, but there obviously seemed to be a lack of cohesion during the season in terms of his philosophy vs. RR's (and his crew).

I am wondering how this is going to affect recruiting. Hopefully not at all, but will Roh, Lalota, Will and the other guys want to come here if they are going 3-3-5? And if it will be 3-3-5...where are the speedy LB recruits needed to play that system? or are they going to convert some safety recruits like Vlad to OLB?

Right now the "plan" is looking muckier and muckier...

but I still stand behind the guy... because for one I saw WRs open downfield all year missed by the terrible QBs...that alone should be easily solvable and improve the team 3 wins easily.... the offensive system is good...the defensive system is ???


December 17th, 2008 at 7:42 PM ^

this is the kinda blind faith among the majority of those on this blog that worries me. the same kind of blind faith that you can post an entire message about how rich's plan is looking "mukier and mukier" but then say how you're still behind him, because well golly the recievers were open.

the 3-3-5 = the end of michigan football as we know it.


December 18th, 2008 at 12:21 PM ^

hates the whole, "make my players adjust to my style" philosophy.

GTech showed this year that the Triple option can work too. Nobody has the market cornered on the best offensive philosophy (or defensive philosophy for that matter). And it is an arrogant folly to think that you do.

But when choosing your philosophy, it is wise to:
1. Consider your present (and probable) talent. The state of Michigan, tends to have more D-Line guys than speedy LB types. Yes, UM recruits nationally, but you can count on getting talent from home.

2. Consider the competition. Ok, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota, and Penn State (and to some extent Ohio State) all run a spread. But Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State (and to some extent Ohio State) run a more traditional, downhill running attack. We will need to stop both kinds of attacks.

Finally, if I could point out the biggest deficiency on defense for the past ~5 years, it would be TACKLING. We need to wrap guys up. This has nothing to do with the scheme we run. I hope our new DC understands this.


December 17th, 2008 at 12:40 PM ^

in my opinion all this is blown way out of proportion. i mean sure would i rather see the 4-3 sure but its not the end of the world to have the 3-3-5. athletes will be athletes and make plays no matter what scheme they are in, it just depends on fundamentals and wanting to do it. also there is something to be said about being different than other teams. would you rather run a traditional set that teams go up against in practice every day or would you rather force opponents scout teams try to imitate your ones in only one week of practice. being different is more common on o but same principles apply-i mean if cal poly had a kicker their different offense would have beat wisconson in madison


December 17th, 2008 at 8:21 PM ^

If anything, your logic goes *against* hiring a 3-3-5 guy!

Think about it.... We go 3-3-5, you really think all the talent we've recruited so far this year is going to stay?

Yeah, there's nothing inherently wrong with one system or the other. (Probably.) But when you've recruited talent for a system, then switch... I don't even need to explain the rest. If we switch, next year's defense is this year's offense redux, except with no real long-term future upside.

Epic fail.


December 17th, 2008 at 1:11 PM ^

It doesn't really make that much of a difference in the long run. the thing RR needs more than a 4-3, 3-3-5, 5-2 or a defensive coordinator is TIME.

In 2010 Stevie Brown will be gone. RR will have had 2 years in with 2 classes that are his own, and 1 class that has known only him. We will no longer have Freshman Quaterbacks and the players will have had lots of exposure to Barwis.

We need it to be 2010 or 2011 more than anything.


December 17th, 2008 at 1:15 PM ^

Rocky, used the 3-3-5 for 11 years at New Mexico, with a stop at UCLA preceeding his stop at NM. It is an unorthodox 3-3-5 with 3 LB's or 5 DB's capable of blitzing at any time from any position. Rocky's scheme resulted in several top 20 defenses and held Utah to 13 pts this year. I would love to see him in he Big ten and swap conferences with coach Locksley. After living in Michigan for seven years I love the Wolverines. Now I am back in NM and I am looking forward to our new coach from the Big Ten.


December 17th, 2008 at 1:18 PM ^

My God, Shafer sounds borderline incoherent in interviews.

I don't know what Rodriguez was thinking switching to the 3-3-5 eight games into the season; Shafer can't be blamed for that screwup. However, aside from that experiment, we ran the 4-3 with a veteran-stacked roster and still turned in one of the worst defensive performances in Michigan history. There were too many times when we looked like we were caught off-guard. Shafer deserved to go.

But this definitely doesn't bode well for next year, especially if Rodriguez decides to go back to the 3-3-5.

Garvie Craw

December 17th, 2008 at 1:37 PM ^

But Bill Mallory, who coached at Indiana, Northern Illinois, Colorado and Miami (Ohio) and gave Shafer his first coaching job, doesn't think Shafer's resignation was a mutual decision.

“For Scott to me leaving after the first year, I know that he's the kind of person that would work very hard to get the situation better,” Mallory said. “And for him to, you say, resign, I can't believe there wasn't pressure put upon him. For him to get the blame, I think that's ridiculous.”

Mallory said he feels anger toward Rodriguez.

“Yeah, I do,” said Mallory, who never fired an assistant based on performance in his 27 years as a head coach. “I think that kind of mindset today, to me, is very irky. I know Bo was not that way.


December 17th, 2008 at 11:52 PM ^

First of all, our defense would have looked a lot better this year if Sheridan, Threet and co. weren't going three-and-out every possession. A lot of times, especially OSU, MSU, and Illinois, it looked to me that they just got tired out. If the offense could hold the ball a little bit longer, and maybe give the defense a better lead with which to play, I'm sure they will play better.

I'm only pretending, but I think everything will get better when we have more talent. I mean, how many times did you watch Morgan Trent and want to drink Drano? Whether we have the appropriate talent is an issue with the recruiting that's already ongoing, but better players, who have not been through the shock of a coaching change, some future uncertainty, and adjusting to Barwis, should play better.

On the offense, there is really nowhere to go but up, but on defense we definitely could have been a lot worse, and I hope a new DC will be a net improvement.