Bacon Three And Out Q&A: Intro

Submitted by Brian on October 11th, 2011 at 3:03 PM

image[ED: We're planning a two-parter here, with shorter answers to specific questions posed by commenters in part II. To start it seemed like a good idea to get the background on how this thing came about. Bacon is everything that is not in bold.

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

Most of the “What the hell just happened?” questions I’ll leave for the book, which many of you will likely be reading yourselves in a few weeks. Here, I’m trying to give you information to understand how this book came to be and what I tried to do, not all of which you can find in the book.

So let's talk about how this book came about. You had total unfettered access to Rich Rodriguez? How does that come about? Why would anyone agree to such a thing? What was his motivation?

This book came about largely by dumb luck. With my degree in history (“pre-unemployment”) in my pocket, I got my first job out of Michigan teaching U.S. history and coaching hockey at Culver Academies in Indiana. One of my best students, Greg Farrall, went on to become an All-Big Ten defensive end, and then a successful financial adviser.

We’ve stayed in touch, and in early 2008, he asked for some signed copies of Bo's Lasting Lessons, including one for his former coach at Indiana, Bill Mallory, and another to his boss at the time, Mike Wilcox—who just happened to be Rich Rodriguez’s financial adviser. In fact, when Rodriguez first met with Bill Martin and Mary Sue Coleman in December 2007, they did so at Wilcox’s Toledo office.

One thing led to another, and in July 2008 Wilcox asked me if I’d be interested in getting complete access to Rodriguez’s first Michigan team. I thought about it for a week or so, before concluding I’d be crazy not to jump at this chance.

Rodriguez’s motivation, I believe, was pretty straightforward: by July 2008, he had already been hammered by the press in Morgantown and Michigan, and probably figured he didn’t have much to lose. As he joked at the time, “Charles Manson is also from West Virginia, and right now he’s more popular than I am.” I think he also believed he didn’t have anything to hide, either. So he was willing to take his chances on a guy he’d never met tagging along to tell the story.

The Plan

The original plan was simply to write about the spread offense coming to one of the country’s most conservative programs and publish a series of stories to a national magazine, in the hope of turning them into a book coauthored by Rodriguez, similar to the one I wrote with Bo Schembechler in 2007. But after the team finished 3-9, however, it was obvious the story was far from over, and that I’d need to write it myself. I was looking at sunk cost. If I bailed then, I’d have nothing to show for it. But if I came back for another year, I might have a great story to tell. That same reasoning held after the second season, too. To Rodriguez’s credit, he didn’t flinch.

We had a short legal agreement that gave him the right to read the final manuscript and comment on factual accuracy, but gave me the right to ignore anything and everything he suggested. The final product is mine, and mine alone, and does not have his approval.

I secured a book contract with a great publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which eschews sports writers for high brow authors like Ian Frazier, Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides. I felt lucky then, and I still do. They gave me an advance roughly equivalent to a year’s salary. The catch is, of course, the book required three years working full-time, so I’ve spent my life savings to get this done. When I read a few folks online posit that I’m simply out to make a quick buck, I enjoyed a good chuckle. It’s hard to imagine any buck being slower or smaller to make, with no guarantee of critical or commercial success. The book business is notoriously fickle.

I didn’t put one thing in this book just to sell copies. I did not dump my notebook on anyone, providing enough information to make a point and then move on. I kept out more than a few salacious details because they were not sufficiently sourced or they were not relevant to the main questions, and felt like cheap shots.

Likewise, if I was pursuing my own self-interest, the most obvious approach would be to put all the blame on Rodriguez, who is gone and cannot do anything to help me I can think of, and none on Michigan, where I was born, earned two degrees and continue teaching, among other lifelong connections. As I’m sure you know by now, I didn’t do that, either – but if I was trying to please Rodriguez, I can tell you I clearly fell short on that score, too. He has flaws and he made mistakes, and they’re in the book, too.

I realized pretty early in the process that trying to play politics with this would be almost impossible – and probably backfire in any case. So, I settled on the single, simple goal of getting as close to the truth as I possibly could. How close I came will surely be debated in the weeks and months to come, but that was my singular mission, no matter what it costs me.

[Ed: John is too nice to say this but the above section is likely in reference to Michael Rosenberg claiming that he is "misrepresented" in the book because Bacon needs to paint a widely-reviled coach who bombed out in three years as a victim.]

The Book

While the target moved a few times, as described above, when I sat down to write the final version from January to July of 2011, I was not setting out to write a “whodunit,” but as accurate a picture as possible of what it’s really like to be a college football player and coach. And not just for any team: the most stable and successful program in college football, which happened to be going through the three most tumultuous years in its long and enviable history. My reporting includes plenty of inside information on the drama constantly swirling around Schembechler Hall during that time, but if this book is going to have any lasting value I believe it will be because it’s the most intimate picture of college football players and coaches any writer has ever been allowed to paint.

Although some readers will surely debate this, I was not out to take sides. That doesn’t mean everyone comes out equally well, any more than a fair referee can ensure both teams will be penalized equally. But I sincerely tried to call everything as fairly as I could and let the readers sort the information for themselves.

Some have suggested that I must have had an axe to grind with Bill Martin, Coach Carr, Dave Brandon and others. Not true. The first two spoke to my classes several times, and I’ve extolled the good work of all three men in numerous pieces – including an ultimately flattering story on Dave Brandon in Bo's Lasting Lessons, and another on Coach Carr’s body of work, on and off the field, after his team lost to Appalachian State. When I won Michigan’s Golden Apple Award in March 2009, I hoped to ask Coach Carr to introduce me, but he was out of town. He said, however, that he would have been happy to do so, and I believe him. I’m also confident, having seen him speak many times on his dual passions for Mott Hospital and education, he would have done a great job.

That’s why, when I started hearing some surprising claims about the Michigan football family, I did not take them seriously. Most of those stories proved to be unfounded, but not all. When I returned to those sources, confirmed their stories, and connected the dots – to the degree I could -- I was stunned. I took no pleasure in these discoveries, nor in reporting them. As I told my first audience for this book in Chicago last week, researching and writing Bo's Lasting Lessons was a labor of love. Three and Out was labor.

I have tried to report unflinchingly on Rodriguez’s flaws and mistakes, but most people already know those—including his historically horrendous defense, his press conference gaffes, and his denouement at the final Football Bust. Michigan’s mistakes were private. Thus when you read them, the latter will likely be more surprising and make a bigger impression.

To produce this book, I started by filling two-dozen two-sided notebooks, eight bankers’ boxes worth of documents, and taking more than 10,000 pages of single-spaced notes from observing 37 games, hundreds of practices and meetings, and interviewing several hundred people. That effort created over 2,000 pages of copy, which we had to slash to the 438 pages that comprise the final manuscript.

All that cutting forced me to drop all photos and an epigraph from Oscar Wilde that I believe neatly sums up the entire three years: “The truth is rarely pure, and never simple.”

That’s exactly what I found in the bizarre dysfunction of the past three seasons. I did not encounter any angels, but I did not discover any devils, either. Almost everyone involved made some mistakes – most unintended, some not – but everyone in these pages had redemptive qualities, often quite remarkable ones. People, it turns out, are complicated.

The book, therefore, is not presented as an argument for this side or that. The reviews we’ve gotten so far (here on MGoBlog, on The Wolverine and on amazon.com) seem to indicate it’s being received in that spirit. “The author,” Publisher’s Weekly writes, “doesn’t shirk from acknowledging Rodriguez’s shortcomings as a coach or discussing the players’ disappointing performances.”

The readers, of course, will come to their own conclusions. And, knowing the wide range of independent-minded Michigan alums and fans, I’m sure those conclusions will run the gamut. But before we get too far down the scorekeeping path, I want to say that while that’s surely a reader’s right, it was not the author’s aim.

How close I came to achieving my goal of producing a fair-minded depiction of a marriage seemingly made in heaven that quickly ended in a disastrous divorce—with the best and worst of college football surrounding it—you can decide for yourself.

-John U. Bacon

p.s. Since folks have asked, I will give the first local book talk and signing at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor on Friday, October 28. I will be updating my schedule on my website very soon (johnubacon.com).

Comments

ATLalumni

October 11th, 2011 at 3:44 PM ^

although i have my reservations.  Not for John or the controversy its created, but rather for my own scars i have from those 3 years and how i have to re-open them.  It feels like an ugly divorce that I just got past emotionally, and now she's taking me back to court.  Oh boy!

langkyl

October 11th, 2011 at 3:44 PM ^

I went to the Alumni Club book signing last week, at Jack's Tavern. I didn't know what to expect from Mr. Bacon, as I've heard he's a bit brash. I must admit, I found him to be very entertaining, and quite a good speaker...engaging and interesting to say the least. He, like Holk, seem to 'get it,' and understand the passion and disdain all of us harbor for all things Michigan related. I purchased two copies of the book, both of which he signed graciously, and although I was probably the last person in line, and had enjoyed a few cocktails prior to meeting him, I still insist that he's a good character, and extremely knowledgable about Michigan Football. If you happen to meet him, he enjoys a Gin and Tonic on the rocks, and good conversation. Who doesn't!!
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<br>As for the book, I'm sad to say I haven't started it yet. Plan on delving in, this week.
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connecticutblue

October 11th, 2011 at 3:51 PM ^

I took his class on the History of College Athletics (really great) a couple of years ago as an undergrad, and found him to be understanding, open-minded, thoughtful and overall excellent all good qualities in a writer. I hope he does not get stonewalled by the current Michigan athletic regime becuase this man really does love Michigan-and doesn't really have an axe to grind.

TheHoke.TheHok…

October 11th, 2011 at 3:53 PM ^

I keep imagining this is like the part in The Help where Miss Hilley and friends are all reading a book about their ongoing lives, trying to figure out who's who.  I'm sure the current players will be sharing a few copies.

Undefeated dre…

October 11th, 2011 at 4:17 PM ^

My goodness, what an opportunity, and I look forward to it. I've had it on pre-order for a month.

Like any good forum user, however, I will only read and remember the points that support my preconceived notions -- namely that the biggest villain in this whole thing is the yachtsman.

BlueVoix

October 11th, 2011 at 3:56 PM ^

I won't be ordering this book until the current season is over.  Frankly, I don't want to read about the mismanagement, internal woes, and incompetence, while Michigan appears to be doing the opposite of those things right now.  Appears.  Right now.  Knock on wood.

But I understand those that will immediately pound through it the second they get the book.

Jon06

October 11th, 2011 at 4:03 PM ^

The final product is mine, and mine alone, and does not have his approval.

I assume this confirms that Rodriguez explicitly disapproves of the book. Did Rodriguez or anyone else associated with the University attempt to get anything specific taken out of the book?

What are the, say, three things contentwise that he most regrets having cut out of the book?

Are there plans to publish the photographs separately? If not, should there be?

What effects has the book had on his relationship with or treatment by the University so far?

chitownblue2

October 11th, 2011 at 4:21 PM ^

I don't think it means Rodriguez explicitly disapproves of it at all.

Given that the project started as a co-authored book between Bacon and Rodriguez, I think Bacon wants to explicitly make clear that the result is his work, not that of a collective. Otherwise, the accusations of this being a biased perspective would ring especially true.

Rasmus

October 11th, 2011 at 8:52 PM ^

[1] Bacon sent Rodriguez a draft near the end of the process, which Rich responded to, as per their agreement.

[2] Rodriguez objected to some things Bacon claims, but John left them in regardless. Rich isn't happy about that. 

[3] Thus, no one should think that because the agreement called for Rodriguez to have access to a near-final draft, then Rich had anything to do with the decision-making of what would be in the book.

That's all Bacon is saying here. John's (publisher's) lawyers have told him that he's okay as long as it remains clear that the book is not a collaboration and it was not published with Rodriguez's "approval" (in any legal sense).

Wolv2004

October 11th, 2011 at 4:37 PM ^

That specific sentence might not mean that RR disapproves, but Brian indicated in his previous Three and Out post that RR is not pleased:

"Bacon's been banished to the Drew Sharp area of the press box, Michael Rosenberg is livid, Rodriguez himself is apparently hugely pissed. And while I can't confirm this like the above, I can't help but think that Lloyd Carr hates this book more than anything he's ever hated."

That, to me, indicates disapproval.  Of course, I don't know what/who Brian's source is, but he also says that he can confirm.

Just sayin.

chitownblue2

October 11th, 2011 at 4:39 PM ^

Well that's kind of exactly the difference between "explicit" (what the poster I responded to said) and "implicit", right?

I only said that Bacon's likely motivation for saying that this book didn't get "Rodriguez approval" wasn't to indicate that Rodrigues DISAPPROVES, but to establish that it's unbiased.

Jon06

October 11th, 2011 at 4:43 PM ^

and the ambiguity present in what he, qua professional writer, wrote is exactly why i'm asking specifically about whether RR (or others) explicitly disapproved. there's a big difference between being pissed off and asking/demanding that something be suppressed--the former is  just human (which, as Brian has noted, was a problem for RR once he was under constant scrutiny), but the latter seems really blameworthy in this context.

Wolv2004

October 11th, 2011 at 5:16 PM ^

This is also not explicit, and my previous post was deemed "trolling, so I'm hesitant to post it.  But Bacon makes a remark in an inteview with Sam Webb at around the 6:40 mark of the podcast that can be found here that "any one who thinks this is a RichRod cheerleading excercise, please inform Rich of this...also inform his lawyers."

Again, that's not explicit disapproval, so draw your own conclusions.  

Jon06

October 11th, 2011 at 5:32 PM ^

Huh, yeah, the implicature is obvious and strong there. Maybe the lawyer thing explains why the sentence I asked about is so studiously vague? I'd still like Brian to get him to talk about it more on the record here.

[Not that it matters, but just FYI I haven't moderated your last post at all, much less marked it trolling.]

MaizeAndBlueWahoo

October 11th, 2011 at 4:39 PM ^

This is the question that came right into my head as I read this article.  I think it definitely needs clarification.  It does read like "has Rodriguez's explicit disapproval" but, understanding the journalistic need not to have a public thumbs-up from RR, it certainly could be meant that way too.  Whichever is right, I'd like to hear it from Bacon.

SFBayAreaBlue

October 11th, 2011 at 4:04 PM ^

knowing that Bacon had to stick his neck out and put his own money on the line to write this book really makes me want to buy it more instead of just downloading it. Anyone know if I can buy this for my android smartphone?

MileHighJK

October 11th, 2011 at 4:22 PM ^

...and re-ordered thru MGoBlog.  Brian needs to let people know that we can pre-order thru him and let him "wet his beak" - it's the least we can do for everything he gives us...

TCGoBlue

October 11th, 2011 at 4:22 PM ^

Although I'm definately ordering and reading this book, I think I'm going to set myself a reminder now to re-read it in 3 years.  Even without the insider perspective, it will be really interesting to look back at the first 3 Hoke years and ponder on how things went differently.

Hopefully they will be drastically different, at least on the field (Looking good so far/knocks on all wood I can see...)

ak47

October 11th, 2011 at 4:33 PM ^

I still don't buy a lot of the stories. Yeah he had access from rich rod but not from the university.  How did he get concrete evidence on how the search went down before rich rod if he didn't get contacted until after rich rod was hired? I think a lot of people want to blame these three years on something and bacon provides it.  While some of the stuff may be true I'm not buying the accuracy of the entire book.

gbdub

October 11th, 2011 at 5:16 PM ^

Logic seems to dictate that we give Bacon the benefit of the doubt here:

1) He has essentially nothing to gain by trashing Michigan in favor of RR - he'd sell just as many books by trashing RR, maybe more. And RR has never signed his paychecks.

2) The book lacks Carr's side of things. But it looks like Bacon went out of his way to try and get it. I understand he gave Rosenberg an interview, and he's known Carr for a long time. All parties had a chance to defend themselves but either declined (Carr) or failed (Rosenberg). While Carr has been rather reclusive about all of this, presumably he would have given something to defend himself and his former players if Bacon was printing outright lies.

ak47

October 11th, 2011 at 6:50 PM ^

My inherent mistrust is less on the carr stuff and more on the stuff like private conversations between martin and mary sue.  If only them and rich knew about those discussions and agreements I find it hard to believe bacon found out about them.  Also generally when you approach someone about an interview you don't spell out the accusations against them and it seems carr is just trying to not speak about RR since he has nothing good to say.  The man is still active in the community, I had a good conversation with him at the detroit partnership volunteer day last year and while I don't think he handled the transition well and doesn't like RR (duh I know) there are some RR sympathizers (I consider Brian one of these) that want to play up Carr to explain the failure of RR other than he just wasn't a good coach.  In full disclosure I haven't liked RR since like 2001 back when he was at WVU so I tend to not give him the benefit of the doubt and while I'm sure bacon did due diligence in following up stories there is no way the story will be unbias as most of the intitial stories would have been coming out of the RR camp.  Anyways the book sounds interesting, I just see a lot of people here seeing this book as a gold standard of what actually went down and I view it more as more speculation into what went down, doesn't make it not interesting but doesn't make it the truth either.

BigBlue02

October 11th, 2011 at 7:43 PM ^

It also seems our friend who has disliked RichRod for a decade is completely happy not waiting to read the book, forming his own opinions and disregarding information from someone who has been up close and personal with Michigan football for the past 3 years. Seems logical. I mean, whenever someone with 1st hand knowledge about a situation tells me something on said situation, I usually like to not believe most of what they say because I dislike what they are telling me.

ak47

October 12th, 2011 at 12:16 AM ^

wow you guys need to calm down, I am not saying the book isn't good I am saying I am going in skeptical while many on this blog are going in seeing it as truth, thats the difference.  If the book proves me wrong then good but so far everyone on this blog is reporting it as fact and the circumstances make it hard for me to believe that bacon actually had access to a conversation between msc, martin, and rich rod before he was even hired to write the book and the only source was rich rod.

jmblue

October 11th, 2011 at 5:38 PM ^

The question I have is whether Carr knew in which direction the book was going.  It seems that even RR is now feeling blindsided by the book, and he collaborated with Bacon for three years.  If RR didn't know what to expect from the book, how would Carr?

Pretty much everything Bacon had ever written before this was extremely flattering to Michigan, so it's possible that Carr assumed the book was simply going to be the RR version of Bo's Lasting Lessons and thus saw no reason to participate.  Did Bacon come to Carr and say, "I'm hearing some unflattering things about you; care to respond?"  Or did he just say, "Hey Lloyd, got anything to say on the record about Coach Rod?" If Carr had no idea where Bacon was going with the book, then I don't think we can draw any conclusions from his silence.

BRCE

October 11th, 2011 at 5:49 PM ^

I would be absolutely shocked if Bacon did not approach Carr and give him a chance to respond to the unflattering things he heard in his research. It's only right and, as he said, Bacon has no axe to grind with Carr.

The fact that Carr did not respond says a whole hell of a lot. The stories are almost certainly true and we might not even know the half of it.

 

coastal blue

October 11th, 2011 at 6:54 PM ^

In what you say about Hoke is this: 

Forgetting who the coaches are, right now, Michigan football does not need Lloyd Carr to step in and publicly support the program. We're 6-0, ranked 10/11 in the country and are favored by Vegas the rest of the season. 

However, in 2008, it would have helped the football program if a respected member of the Michigan Family had come out and voiced his support. The best person for that task was Lloyd Carr.  He didn't even have to directly support the coach. All he had to do was speak about the difficulty of transitions, switching to new systems and the importance of supporting the players. 

Even if Coach Carr hated speaking to the press, if you truly believe that Michigan football is about something bigger than yourself, then at times you might have to leave your comfort zone to help avoid a crisis. LC chose not to help out the program in this manner. There is/was nothing that says he has too, but to me, it is disappointing that he didn't step up when he had the chance.