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

hart20

October 11th, 2011 at 3:11 PM ^

but after hearing all the reviews and talk of it, I think I'm going to buy at least 2 copies. 1 for me, and 1 for my dad. It seems like a can't miss book.

kvnryn

October 11th, 2011 at 3:50 PM ^

Yes, click on the "Three and Out" link that Brian provided in the intro. It's a referral link (notice there is some code with 'mgoblog' contained in the URL) that still links you to purchase the book from amazon, but also gives Brian a small cut since you were "referred" from him.

profitgoblue

October 11th, 2011 at 3:22 PM ^

I think I can "speak" for most MGoMembers in expressing our thanks to you for taking the time to respond to Brian's questions and provide the above background information.  I am one of the I am sure thousands on the pre-order list.  I would also like to say thanks for the years of hard work that went into the final product but I find that I'm unable to do so, seeing as how I am envious of your extended access to the program.  (I jest.)

MGoArkansas

October 11th, 2011 at 3:42 PM ^

I have been debating whether i wanted to get this and read it or not.  (as i'm not a big reader but i do find the subject very interesting (I'm not a RR hater, i would have loved to see what he could have done with a DC who wasn't a complete asshat)).  and no lie, seeing the cover picture is what made me decide to go ahead and get it!  Already preordered using the above link :)

Section 1

October 11th, 2011 at 6:03 PM ^

But one of the uncountable fascinating things that I have found with this marvelous book is that Bacon starts out with a description of Rosenberg as one of the best-liked and most capable writers around.  I held my head at first, wondering what I was getting into.

I say this categorically; John U. Bacon did not attack Rosenberg in this book.  Bacon reported the facts, and did so rather modestly.  There could have been two additional chapters Fisking the Freep, but John carried on with the football narrative.

And it is the facts alone that are so damning to Rosenberg.

Michael Rosenberg says that they are standing by their reporting.  (The Twitter comment in the hyper-link.)  And while Rosenberg can say that -- meaning, preusmably that they don't admit any wrongdoing), he and Snyder actually are NOT standing by their reporting.  They are NOT.  They aren't answering any challenging questions.  They aren't discussing the matter.  So Rosenberg is NOT "standing by [his] reporting."

Section 1

October 11th, 2011 at 11:14 PM ^

Reading the Rosenberg-related comments in this thread, it occurs to me that mine might be the only one suited for general audiences.

Rosenberg knows how to reach me if he wants to.  I'm quite certain he doesn't want to.

What do you guys think?  Do you suppose that Rosenberg might respond more formally to this book?  A self-defense column?  An oppo-interview with Valenti?  Or is he going to Tweet his way through the storm?  It's pretty unimpressive so far. Just the usual ad hominem attack -- "Bacon was an embed!" -- and nothing more.

I think that if Bacon's book gets big enough in sales and buzz, that Rosenberg won't be able to ignore it.  So that's what I'm hoping for.  That Three and Out will become the number one topic of conversation at every Michigan tailgate between now and December, and that everybody starts buzzing about it.

Oh, by the way; Snyder comes off very nearly as bad as Rosenberg does in the book.  Don't forget about Mark Snyder.  The Freep's current Michigan sports beat writer.  Still actively covering the team every day of the week.

wolverine1987

October 12th, 2011 at 9:36 AM ^

It won't do anything to disuade his detractors, and I can't imagine a response that would help him with people like us. And there are so many RR haters among the fanbase that they won't care about Bacon's book anyway. So I think comments from him would likely be self-defeating. And what exactly could he say to defend it anyway?

outwest

October 11th, 2011 at 5:50 PM ^

I could not agree more.  That is my plan as well.  Now that the rain is settling in, I will be falling into more reading, and this one will be high up on the list.

 

I would also be curious to know how well this book would have done had it never been featured on mgoblog.  I know that I will be purchasing through the link provided and after reading the book explanation, I am more interested than before.

PDX Blue

October 11th, 2011 at 9:41 PM ^

The only problem is that "Bo's Lasting Lessons" is such a good read that I have already finished it. I bought it a few weeks ago and planned on that getting me through a few rainy days when I'm not convincing people in Portland how great Michigan football is.

Go Blue!

Section 1

October 11th, 2011 at 10:38 PM ^

It's great to be able to meet him, and sign a book.  But if you've ever seen John perform as a speaker, it is really something special.

Instead of giving him the cold shoulder, the University of Michigan ought to realize that he is one of the rare special human assets in his generation of faculty members.  He ought to be given a place of honor.  It won't be so nice if Medill gives him a tenured position and he's gone from Ann Arbor.

M Fanfare

October 11th, 2011 at 3:29 PM ^

I just hope Bacon doesn't become a pariah. We've already heard rumors that Dave Brandon tried to block M-Den from stocking Three and Out, and he got moved to the Drew Sharp/Mike Rosenberg corner of the pressbox. Unfortunately, the University could really make things difficult for him.

MaizeAndBlueWahoo

October 11th, 2011 at 4:33 PM ^

The problem with that is that raising a stink in favor of Bacon, if he's mistreated by the school, could be interpreted the wrong way: as a reason to believe that that's exactly why Bacon needs to be ostracized.

I'd hate to think there's a dark side to the whole Fort Schembechler thing, but unfortunately that may well be how things really are, behind behind the scenes.  Rodriguez's legacy at Michigan, I think, has already been to shake the football program out of its 9-3-for-eternity torpor.  The athletic department may need the same.

3rdGenerationBlue

October 11th, 2011 at 5:55 PM ^

Many thanks to Coach Rodriguez for shaking the football program out its 9-3 for eternity torpor. We already miss the days of going 3 - 9, 5 - 7, and 7 -6. Sarcasm intended.

Based on recent history it seems that the best way to regularly exceed a 9-3 record is to out right cheat or bend the rules as far as you can. See the SEC, USC, and our friends in Ohio for good examples. Let's try and not complain if Michigan's program returns to the 9-3 "torpor" as long as they do it without cheating.

Mitch Cumstein

October 11th, 2011 at 5:07 PM ^

And I don't disagree with your very general statement, I just think there is a lot of grey there. The term "amoral vacuum" is a little strong for just not wanting books that tarnish the UM brand being sold in UM stores.  I guess I don't really see that as "amoral".  Its not like hes putting out a hit on Bacon to silence him.

Jon06

October 11th, 2011 at 5:57 PM ^

Attempting to silence journalists because the truth makes you look bad is very dangerous territory, especially when you work for a public institution. Michigan gets to exert plenty of influence by deciding who gets to sell things bearing University trademarks, etc. I can see no justification for interfering with the free market beyond that in the name of corporate messaging or brand enhancement. It almost seems like anti-monopoly protections should kick in at that point, as there would clearly be too much power located in one shadowy office building. Besides, students, athletes, alumni, and boosters, as well as the taxpaying public, have a right to know how the school, qua public institution, operates.

I do wonder if the revelations will cost MSC her job though--hiding a 2.5 million dollar payment to a football coach from the Regents should get anybody with knowledge of the situation shitcanned immediately.

bronxblue

October 11th, 2011 at 5:18 PM ^

I agree that Brandon's job is to protect the UM brand, but at the same time the reviews and early leaks point to him failing numerous times in his position as AD as it pertained to the football team and the environment in the sports department.  To "protect the brand" by silencing legitimate criticism of you/your department's handling of the most recent coaching staff seems disingenuous to me, and insulting to a fanbase that is (largely) intelligent enough to be interested in knowing as much about the RR era as possible.

03 Blue 07

October 11th, 2011 at 5:47 PM ^

No- don't worry, there's plenty in the book (at the end) about Brandon that I'm sure he's a tad wrankled. For example, he said to the media that he talked to lots of players about RR before dismissing him and that his door was always open. Denard Robinson asked multiple times for a personal audience with him- both in Jacksonville and in Ann Arbor- and was denied; Denard took umbrage with DB saying he had "an open door" when he wouldn't talk to Denard before firing RR.

There's crap to go around in the book. Enough for everybody to be pissed.

Voltron Blue

October 11th, 2011 at 6:35 PM ^

Not only do I stand corrected, but I'm pretty surprised that - even if your MO in the meeting is to pay lip service and not actually listen or divulge info - you wouldn't at least take a meeting with Denard if you're Brandon.  From a PR standpoint, that would have been a nightmare if Denard took offense and started talking about it.  Yikes.

Section 1

October 11th, 2011 at 8:33 PM ^

from Denard.  It's a very straight-up damnation, with quotes from Denard.  But I'm not sure how big of a deal it is.  It was a short-term, temporary thing.

Tell you what, though; just imagine such a story, if Denard had transferred.  (RichRod/Mallett, anybody?)

 

3rdGenerationBlue

October 11th, 2011 at 6:03 PM ^

What are some examples of "him (Brandon) failing numerous times in his position as AD as it pertains to the football team and the environment in the sports department". While I don't idolize the guy it seems like he is doing plenty of good things. Please help me get my head out of the sand if it is there for no good reason.