I know you're here today to find out who Michigan's next coach will be. I don't know. This is mostly eulogizing the last guy.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2008 Ohio State game, I left Craig James and rivalry week results on the flickering telly and moved to my computer to post one of my first-ever diaries, a short train of thought called "Cue the Coping Mechanisms." The relevant pieces:
Now is the time for coping mechanisms. If you have the ability to cry, take this opportunity to lock yourself in a closet with your favorite Sheridan throwing chart and let it all out. If you're more Type A, head to the gym and repeat "3 AND 9" until you break your max rate.
Or if you're like me, find the woman you love, sit her down, and see how long you can try to explain why this losing won't be permanent before her level of really not caring or understanding what the hell you're talking about overpowers her concern for your mental health.
Probably because Misopogal and I bought the DVD of Across the Universe the night before, the whole time I was writing that, other than utter despair, my internal DJ was filling my head with "Strawberry Fields Forever."
The fields: Ohio Stadium. The bleeding strawberries: Ohio State's uniforms and the smeared and splattered plasma of once great Michigan left twitching amongst a five-year losing streak that seemed, at the time, destined to go to at least six.
We knew there was something terrible going on the world, where George Lucas could ruin Star Wars, where Henne and Hart could graduate without beating Ohio State, where a man from the land of Yost with Crisler's offense and Bo's will was greeted by the establishment of our side with contempt and disdain for not having the transitional loyalty of Kipke, or the eloquence, affability, and talent of Lloyd Carr. 2008 had ended 3-9, and somewhere Mike Valenti was giddily preparing for months of grave-stomping, and somewhere Drew Sharp was rubbing his hands at the glorious opportunity it provided to piss good people off.
At least there was solace:
Nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about.
It's just sports, right? Everyone's alive. Everyone has their health. Except that doesn't work, because in 2008 I felt real despair, and in 2009 I felt real disappointment, and in 2010 I felt real shame, and a quick glance at my browser history will make the panic of 2011 immediately apparent. So if we are to get hung about this stuff, it'd be well to have some justification. The best I've heard yet is the following, from Brian's masterful eulogy of Bo/preview of the most important Michigan game ever:
And then you try to figure out why the stakes are so high in the first place. Why this entire week you haven't been able to concentrate on anything by war by proxy. Fake war by proxy. Meaningless war by proxy. You will suffer humiliation when the team from my area defeats the team from your area. It's ridiculous. Intelligent people do not spend a goodly swath of their life pouring emotion and precious time into a contest that affects no one and changes nothing except some inky scribbles in media guides.
You wonder why. It occurs that at some point the Michigan program acquired the traits you hold dear -- loyalty, honesty, tradition, victory. And you wonder: if you were a different person who valued other things would you care so much? It occurs that at some point the Michigan program acquired other traits you share but do not hold particularly dear -- cantankerousness, stubbornness, an inability to suffer fools gladly. And you wonder: do I like Michigan because of the way I am, or am I the way I am because I like Michigan?
The answer seems clear.
Now the man who took that rudderless program and gave it -- gave you -- all the things you like and don't like is dead. In 1969, it all started with a victory over #1 Ohio State.
…and ended with a loss to it. I posit that sports is not just war by proxy, but also politics by proxy, and value judgment by proxy, a binary system to serve as metaphor for any argument which in life is never resolved to any one side's satisfaction. A Michigan football game is won or lost. A recruit commits or doesn't. A coach is fired or retained, hired or left to pursue other opportunities.
In that battle, the aforementioned traits held dear – loyalty, honesty, tradition, victory – were defeated on the strawberry fields of Columbus, and Pasadena, and finally brought home in the twin horrors of early 2007. Those traits, adopted from Bo to represent the conference, were too drowned amidst the raucous choruses of "S-E-C."
That year went out with Lloyd carried upon the shoulders of star receivers and forgettable trenchmen, followed by a first overall NFL draft pick, and Robo QB, and led by a running back who was more Jamie Morris than Jamie Morris. But the most lasting image of 2007, in my mind, is neither the exeunt nor the scoreboard of the Horror, but a cold, sleeting day in Michigan Stadium when Henne's shoulder and Mike Hart's ankle and justice itself abandoned us, and Tressel Corp. made it four.
The years since have seen the rewarding of the villainous. It witnessed the rise of the Alabama and the SEC, a school and conference predicated on the concept of professionalizing college football, and witnessed the apogee of USC, the unapologetic Hollywood party. And it witnessed the continuing reign of Ohio State.
To view Michigan as the paragon of collegiate virtue is so much sanctimonious bunk, but to discount it entirely is to ignore sport's appeal as argument by proxy. This is what we believe about ourselves, why probation for a clerical error is a big deal here while Buckeyes can drive around in "borrowed" vehicles for a decade before someone bats an eyebrow, and schools, conferences, bowls and NCAA officials can excuse anything short of murder by its moneymakers to protect a BCS bowl and a Heisman run.
Right or wrong, we look at a Spartan and wonder how they can claim association with Dantonio without the shame. Our credulity is sincere when a Bama fan defends Saban's blatant ethical violations. We wonder how Ohioans can tune into the Sugar Bowl knowing most of their own conference is rooting against them, or at least that we see little difference between a Buckeye and the conference that's given them their widely publicized fits.
It's real because we make it so. And so, it follows, are the expectations of our head coach. Many of us naively believed that the Rodriguez hire was a chance for a new Bo to redefine Michigan in his own image and traits, some familiar, others not: honesty, hard work, openness, building a greater whole through the sum of specified parts. We saw ourselves beaten by Wildcats and Ducks and worse, and said "howcome we don't get one of those guys?" Well we got one of those guys, and we ran him out of town.
Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see..
It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out, it doesn't matter much to me.
So if you don't really think about what's going on in college football, if you take your platitudes with your visuals of man-beasts rumbling up and down a televised rectangle of gridded turf, then this is fine. The local papers, the talking heads, much of the fanbase, living easy with eyes closed, will bring up the values instilled by Bo, describe how Rodriguez didn't measure up, and conclude a "Michigan Man" is required to coach Michigan. This is a script, and it is misleading, for it supposes that the first three values of Bo – loyalty, honesty, tradition – were RR's greatest transgressions. That's because they're writing for a fanbase that believes our program, unlike the field, cares as much about that trio as for the fourth, victory.
Rich Rod was fired for two reasons: he didn't win, and Michigan fans were irreparably split over him. The first is mostly on him, but since he only had three years to accomplish a dramatic shift, it's not absolute. Most of the fault can be found in his handling of the defense, which fell far below even our modest expectations from '07. Shafer's apparent resurgence as a viable DC, and GERG's obvious inadequacies and unfamiliarity with the 3-3-5 put the defense in this position. To that you can add recruiting, which RR used his short '08 recruiting time to bring in a fine offensive class but merely held onto some Lloyd defenders. The defense he inherited was short on underclassmen and in desperate need of new blood and player development; instead we witnessed upperclassmen making freshmen mistakes and freshmen put in position to fail.
The split in the fanbase comes back to the winning – put it this way: Spartan fans aren't enamored with Dantonio because he's a good person, ye kennit? But this was also stoked by local media. Most notoriously, the Free Press published a total hit job that led to NCAA "major violations" that will never be severed from the Legend of Rich Rodriguez. Perhaps exoneration is in the future (probably when he turns whichever school hires him into a national power in four years); then again, "Remember the Maine…" remained a rallying cry against Spanish atrocities for half a century.
Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder can take personal responsibility for a part of Rich Rodriguez's failure, and by accounts of facial expressions and the atmosphere at Dave Brandon's press conference/execution, at the end they did. The investigation and sanctions created a cloud that hung over recruiting and the program. How big a cloud is difficult to say. What's fair to say is that it would be hard to find a coach given less of a benefit of the doubt from Year 1 by the prevailing local media than Rich Rodriguez. Rosenberg may have disliked the hick from West Virginia from the start, but really it was going 3-9 in 2008 that opened the door. Forget the early snafus over the No. 1 jersey and team captains – if you take away the practice scandal that has made Rosenberg, onetime alum, a disgrace to my profession and enemy to the University of Michigan, it was about the wins; it was always about the wins.
No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low.
That is you can't you know tune in but it's all right, that is I think it's not too bad.
It's December 2008 and I can't wait for it to be 2011, because that's when Rich Rod would finally have a few upperclassmen on the two deep, and the prospect of getting better for a third year in a row would be enough to get some of the glibslingers to back off. But Craig James is still talking. Michigan State has forward momentum. Ohio State has consolidated its evil grip on the galaxy and unleashed its most monstrous creation, an erstwhile Jedi named Terrelle Vader.
In retrospect, we knew Anakin Pryor had some inclinations toward the dark side – driving a car borrowed from a Columbus dealership to Jeanettte, murdering younglings (but everybody murders), etc. Truth be told, the Emperor must have been rather disappointed with young Vader's inability to live up to his lofty expectations, that he would turn out to have serious personality problems, his loyalty to the Empire only going so far as the power and notoriety it brought him. In what was meant to be his great coming out party, the young Sith lord went and got his arms and legs chopped off and his torso burned. The Emperor would thereafter deploy his great weapon in a debilitating suit; keeping up the pretense that the guy is anything but evil would be all but impossible.
Still, for the duration of Vader's career, the Jedi came out far worse.
It's hard to find a more appropriate metaphor for the opposite directions taken by Michigan and Ohio State since Pryor's late decision day than Pryor himself. The unlikeable quarterback did finally exorcise the demon of SEC dominance over the perennial Big Ten Champion, but only after the NCAA passed down an utterly indefensible decision to let Pryor and a who's who of his hyped classmates defer their suspensions until next season. In typical fashion, Senator Tressel offered promises from Pryor and his teammates that they would come back next season to accept their punishment.
Meanwhile, Michigan left one of its most important players, Tate Forcier, at home for a bowl game about as important to the Rich Rodriguez project as any game prior, because of grades. That would hardly have fixed the entirely theoretical defensive effort, but it's emblematic of decisions consistent with the expectations of the Michigan fanbase. There are very few schools in our tree. Stanford is one, which was a big reason Harbaugh's success there had Michigan fans looking wistfully westward. Others are BYU, Notre Dame, and Penn State. That's not a conclusive list, but it does make a coaching search at Michigan exponentially more difficult, since outside of a small and shrinking minority of schools, which side of the force you use – unless it results in suspensions/violations – isn't a big deal.
Always, no sometimes, think it's me, but you know I know when it's a dream.
I think I know I mean a 'Yes' but it's all wrong, that is I think I disagree.
When "Strawberry Fields Forever" was recorded in '66, it prefaced the most visible shift in the Beatles' musical direction, the unveiling of Tate before the Sgt. Pepper's of Denard. It was also pre-"Revolution" adjuration from John to the Great Society/Lord Wilson establishment that the young and liberal were moving away from their patronizing Democrat/Labor leaders.
Two years later the split was a fait accompli, or mostly. The potential for reunification came in the guise of Robert Kennedy, the right hand man of the last unifying figure, credible to both the elder and younger factions of the party. For years the spectre of Bobby was a kind of increasingly valued insurance policy should LBJ go sour. Then they killed Bobby.
What followed was a mess of a convention, a one-side-pleasing candidate, and Nixon. If you're an RR-hater smile now because if you take the analogy to its logical conclusion, Rodriguez is probably LBJ and the spread transition is the Vietnam War. I make no such assertion, mostly because I don't believe it one bit. What I do believe is that Michigan, internally and externally, has been functioning for the last several years with a mindset of "if Rich doesn't make it, at least we have Jim." This might even have been entirely true until last week, when the blood was spattered.
Absent Harbaugh, we're now thrown into a '68 scenario in one of the most critical times in our program's history, with only a vague hope of emerging with a candidate who can reverse the decade of the damned. Our best shot to unseat Ohio State in 2011 was the baby tossed with the bathwater of Rodriguez, and even a best-case scenario imagines Michigan just a middle of the conference team next year, with another exodus-enabled 3-9 the floor. The only way this isn't another rebuild is if they find a spread guy who's better than Rich Rodriguez (unlikely) and a defensive staff that can work miracles. Whatever name next comes out of Dave Brandon's lips, he'll at least be the first Michigan coach since 2008 to hit the trail without the cloud of "will he be here?" I wish I could say that Michigan gives you four years out of hand, but that's obviously no longer true. Among the plausible, I'm personally rooting for Tom Bradley, provided he agrees to a "no return" clause in his policy. If it's Les Miles, I'll do my best not to Rosenberg him until something more real than 20 minutes of practice materializes; FTR I'm not sure I like the combination of a man who weekly plays the Devil's odds and Michigan's consistently terrible luck.
Meanwhile, it's 321 days until the counter either goes to eight in a row, or I release the most jubilant noise in human history (yes, over the outcome of a sporting event!). Given the tenor of all things recently, you can forgive me if my expectations are more Strawberry Fields forever.
The diaries after the jump.
More Coping Mechanisms
Unless you were one of the guys who spent the last three years sacrificing every ounce of your journalistic credibility to sabotage the guy, the firing of Rich Rodriguez press conference and simultaneous declaration of Harbaughgeddon was probably a low point. For those of us in RR's camp it was a double defeat the likes of which hadn't been seen since – oh who am I kidding – four days earlier when we were wiped all over Jacksonville. One liveblogger blamed the Michigan LiveBlog curse (side-note: last time I agree to mod a liveblog – you have no idea how fast messages come in).
At its conclusion, Brandon boarded some plane or other bound for wherever they keep hats in the hopes of discovering a hare inside, and the rest of us were left to find our coping mechanisms. If you've gotten this far, you've either read or skimmed past mine. If you live in Brian's vicinity you probably heard the Smiths playing and what might have been cat abuse. Here's some other strategies:
(by the way, due to the MGoLockdown this week was I couldn't get in to copyedit, so if you see some obvious errors I haven't gotten there yet)
As the base coefficient of Michigan football-induced joy reached an all-time low (sadly not much of an outlier these days), our resident mathematical hall of famers re-emerged to chalk the talk. First up in the hearts and minds of the MGoFaithful, the irrepressible Mathlete, who used his PAN to show us the relative contributions that various coaching candidates have made to their current programs. A sample:
What’s Your Deal – Jim Harbaugh
hitting refresh to check if status has changed
Michigan may or may not be out on this one, but the Harbaugh effect on Stanford has been impressive.
Improvement has come each and every year with big jumps in the last two. The only question might be defensively as the year’s squad was decent after two really bad years under Harbaugh.
Speaking of numbers, the important one for Mathlete this week is Three (ah. ah. ah.) That's the number of kids he and his wife will be having in their next litter. MGoGratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Mathlete.
The next mathematical M-man is another legendary diarist, MCalibur, who put together a study on the coaching market, by which I mean what NCAA coaches are currently pulling in, how Michigan compares, and what exactly Dave Brandon meant when he said (in the press conf.) that Michigan's been "in the middle of the road" in coaching compensation. It was front-paged, but if you missed it yesterday go back.
When it comes to assistant coaches, things are different; unfortunately for everyone involved. In 2010, Michigan peeled of $1.8M in compensation for former Coach Rodriguez’s staff ranks in the 73rd percentile for the 112 programs listed (top-31 money) but dead last amongst the big dogs. Who among us is willing to pay more money for better defensive assistants? No one, I’m sure… /s.
I sooo don’t want to rehash but it’s clear that Rich Rodriguez had a specific vision for what he wanted his defense to be capable of and there he knew just the guy to do it (not shown at right). The word on Hoover street is that Jeff Casteel just liked West FUCKING Virginia too much to come to Ann Arbor. OK. Homeboy earned just over $372k last year. Allow me to visualize a phone call between Rich and Jeff circa Thanksgiving 2008 …
Huge MCalibur fan.
Finally, with the election over and the RR question moot UMAmaizinBlue is now polling Michigan fans on coaching candidates:
Question 6: If you had known about the current Coach Search beforehand, would your opinion about firing RR have changed?
This last diary by AC1997 doesn't really fit with the mathematicals, but his rundown of "Michigan Men," i.e. coaches with Michigan ties, is a must-read for those hoping to opine intelligently around the broken coffee machine (seriously, if it's not on tomorrow there's going to be a coup!). It doesn't fit with the Etc.s so it goes here.
While stability is wonderful, you would expect there to be more turnover than 26 assistants in 18 years. Putting it in perspective, there are nine assistants per season so a total of 26 assistants means that they only averaged one replacement per season for those 18 years.
As a result, very few former assistants have gone on to become head coaches. Of the 26 assistants in that time period, only eight have ANY head coaching experience at this point in time. And while that number might sound reasonable, a closer look at the list reveals it is actually pretty pathetic:
- Cam Cameron – Failed miserably at Indiana and for the Miami Dolphins, now a successful OC for the Ravens.
- Les Miles – Very successful at LSU, despite his grass-eating craziness.
- Tom Reed – A now-retired coach I have never heard of before who was briefly at Miami (OH) and NC-State
- Mike DeBord - A frustrating offensive coordinator for Michigan who was terrible at CMU
- Kit Cartwright – Someone I couldn’t even find decent google-stalk info about who was briefly the head coach at Butler before getting fired.
- Brady Hoke – Has been moderately successful at Ball State and San Diego State
- Stan Parrish – Another of Carr’s favorites who had stints at Ball State, Kansas State, and Marshall but was never successful and at 65 years old is probably retired now after losing his latest job.
- Ron English – A flaming disaster at EMU so far.
Other schools have had low turnover in the coaching ranks – Wisconsin comes to mind – but they went outside to bring in a coordinator to groom for the top job. Among the biggest mistakes made my Lloyd was he thought DeBord would be that guy.
So if logorrhea or logarithms aren't your style, how about laughter? Yes, even in these dark times there are heroes able to make light of our current sitch. You probably expected a THE_KNOWLEDGE prediction on the new coach, or one of those Google Wave coaching chats? Well, neither are extant (get on that guys) but I bet you weren't expecting…The Spanish Inquisition:
Rodriguez: I don't know – Mr. Magee just told me to come in here and say that there was trouble at Schembechler, that's all - I didn't expect a kind of Coaching Inquisition.
[The door flies open and Cardinal David Brandon of Domino’s enters, flanked by two junior cardinals. Cardinal Rosenberg has goggles pushed over his forehead. Cardinal Fatcatalumnus is just Cardinal Fatcatalumnus]
Brandon: NOBODY expects the Coaching Inquisition! Our chief Replacement Candidate is Hoke...Hoke and Miles...Miles and Hoke.... Our two Replacement Candidates are Miles and Hoke...and Patterson.... Our three Replacement Candidates are Miles, Hoke, and Patterson...and an almost fanatical devotion to Harbaugh.... Our four...no... Amongst our Replacement Candidates.... Amongst our Replacement Candidatery...are such candidates as Miles, Hoke.... I'll come in again.
[The Cardinals exit]
Rodriguez: I didn't expect a kind of Coaching Inquisition.
[The cardinals burst in]
Brandon: NOBODY expects the Coaching Inquisition! Amongst our Replacement Candidatery are such diverse candidates as: Miles, Hoke, Patterson, an almost fanatical devotion to Harbaugh, and nice red uniforms - Oh damn!
El Jeffe's two chief weapons are fear and surprise, and a fanatical devotion to Dave Brandon. So, three. Three chief weapons.
And of course you know jhackney's shtick. He has two chief weapons: fear…and loathing.
Finally the Gator Bowl began and I commandeered the remote away from the ring leader of this strange cult, my best friend. The Bowie knife on my side became all in one day a great deterrent and evidence in a surely coming criminal trial. After suffering for weeks upon weeks of coaching change talk, I was ready for an impressive show by Denard & Co. that would have Rich Rodriguez deniers begging to lick the fromunda cheese build up he has been saving them in his upper taint region. I busted open a little hair of the dog and also had a dog wearing a Michigan hat over its hair sitting close to me in case any of these rat bastards tried to go for the remote or my jugular. Michigan got the ball first. I was actually hoping they would go on defense first. I would be able to tell if we had a chance if the defense was on the field first or if I would have to reach in my bag of goodies early in order to be able to tolerate the Neanderthals that surrounded me.
And last in shtickiness, bronxblue came in with his cleverest pastiche story yet:
What made the situation even worse was the poor planning that had seemingly been put toward a potential coaching search by those in the UM family, with the groupthink being that that Harbaugh was the guy and he would jump at the opportunity to coach his alma mater despite evidence that UM wasn’t the most attractive offer on the table. For all the UM fans had taken in recent years from Notre Dame’s schizophrenic coaching decisions, the botched handling of the situation so far by the AD left me wondering if this wasn’t that far off.
If you're that one dude who cares about Diarist of the Week, for one time only I'm giving it to everyone mentioned above who managed to create something useful for Michigan fans when every fiber of their bodies told them to drink and hide under the couch.
Blowing Off Stream
- EZMIKEP meets some nice Nebraska fans who convince him it's time to can RR (beating Brandon by two days). Sidenote: are the Huskers trying to unseat Minnesota for their "nicest fans in the Big Ten" title, or is this just the Big Ten's latest contrived rivalry for them?
- lunchboxthegoat says stuff about stuff.