This Mailbag Attempts To Answer The Unanswerable

Submitted by Brian on January 18th, 2011 at 12:27 PM

Most of the questions in my inbox I don't have an answer to, but does that ever stop sportswriters? No.

1.  With all the Hoke love from ex-players & everyone else for that matter, how could Bill Martin have misread the whole "Michigan Man" situation when he hired RichRod?  He had to get some sort of vibe about supporting a MI Man & not an outsider.  Did he ignore this, or was he ignorant of it?

Bill Martin seems like an affable sort of guy, but an affable sort of guy who wasn't actually on the football team and really likes sailing. I bet he was taken aback by the way Rodriguez's tenure developed. I think most people were surprised the vehemence with which Rodriguez was denounced once he started losing games.

But I'm not sure it really mattered, since at the time there were no Michigan Man options that were even vaguely plausible. Hoke—the sole Carr assistant to have a head coaching job at the time—was idling at 7-6 in his fifth year at Ball State. DeBord had failed miserably at CMU. Ron English was in charge of the defense that made The Horror and Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game possible. Harbaugh was still unproven.

Even if Martin could anticipate a negative reaction from the Carr clan, it's not like there was anything he could do about it without producing a backlash 10 times as massive as this year's Hoke doubt.

2.  With all the shouts of failure to hire a BIG name coach, looking at the hires of the last few years from "elite" schools: USC - Kiffin, Miami - Temple's coach, Florida - Tx D Coordinator, Florida St. - Jimbo Fisher, Notre Dame - Kelly, Tennessee - Dooley; big name coaches from big name schools rarely switch jobs within the college ranks - the last BIG name coach to do so would have to be RichRod - food for thought.


I guess that depends on your definition of the word "big." It's true that most jobs on the Michigan/Oklahoma/Florida/ND level are terminal destinations. But Stanford isn't, especially when the guy at Stanford is a famous Michigan alum. Harbaugh should have been poachable, and maybe he was but for the NFL. We'll never know. Meanwhile, there is a list of guys who are acquirable who may not be "big" names but seem like as good of any idea as possible when you switch coaches.

As for that list above:

  • Fisher was a hot OC at LSU that was imported to be HC in waiting/by proxy in the same sort of transition that saw Bielema and Chip Kelly smoothly ascend to the throne and experience fairly quick success. (Bielema took a little while to get going.)
  • Muschamp is an archetypical hot coordinator.
  • Brian Kelly qualified as a big name in the mold of Urban Meyer after championship runs at two different schools experiencing their greatest success.
  • Kiffin was the last act of an idiot and was met with the same sort of love at USC he was after his departure from Knoxville.
  • Dooley was a last second desperation hire after Kiffin left that was like hiring Hoke in 2007.

I'd say the first three are good ideas, the fourth a bad idea, and the fifth the sort of thing that happens when your head coach leaves in early January. In Tennessee's case they were left in the lurch involuntarily. Michigan did it to themselves.

At least Dooley provides a hopeful example. Despite being in shambles in mid-January they recovered decently enough in recruiting and outperformed expectations down the stretch. Sometimes guys catch fire with more resources and a fortunate recruit—or existing player—and that can quickly erase their uninspiring previous record. One year after Tennessee's Maple Street Annual asked me to write a piece about how to cope with a 3-9 crater, there is palpable optimism in Knoxville.


In the presser introducing Hoke as HC, Dave Brandon mentioned that he was a "data guy," and that the data showed that when you bring in a HC w/no ties to the area and/or university, it usually doesn't work.  However, a look at the top programs in recent college football history show important counterexamples:

  • Urban Meyer, Florida: no ties
  • Mack Brown, Texas: asst coach Iowa State 1 year, OC Iowa State 2 years (1980-81), OC Oklahoma 1 year (1984)
  • Nick Saban, LSU: no ties
  • Les Miles, LSU: no ties
  • Pete Carroll, USC: OC U. of Pacific, 1 year (1983)

Did these guys have assistants on staff who had ties?  What was the key to their success in winning over the respective fan bases?


Winning games? Those guys save Carroll and Meyer all came from BCS programs they had significantly outperforming their historical baseline, and Meyer had just turned Utah into the #2 team in the country after making Bowling Green a terrifying MAC opponent. And then they won immediately. Saban was 12-2 in year two. Miles lost six games in his first three years. The first time Mack Brown won fewer than nine games at Texas was this year. Meyer won the national title in year two.

Before any of these guys could be hated they were loved, and Rodriguez probably could have managed that trick if he hadn't presided over the worst three year stretch since Harry Kipke*.

If there's a common thread between these coaches it's recruiting, where all were monsters. You knew that's what you were getting with Brown, suspected it with Saban and Miles, and hoped for with Carroll.

*[I have your back, MVictors]

So, I've accepted the fact that we have Hoke and Borges (mostly).  The offensive personnel is obviously geared toward a zone read option type of offense with athletic lineman, lots of slot ninjas and a running quarterback.

Two actual questions for you:

1 - How is this line at pass protection?  Do the techniques change much between zone-read option spread teams and pro-style teams?  I know Kerrigan, Liuget and Watt were blowing up our plays quite a bit, but I'm hopeful the assignments and techniques would not be very different.  Now, Iso-blocks on runs plays....argh.

It was difficult to tell since teams spent most of the year deathly afraid of losing gap responsibility and letting Robinson slip into the secondary. Many opponents seemed content to let Denard sit and survey. In one on one matchups the line did very well against Iowa, Michigan State, and Penn State but not so well against Purdue (ie: Kerrigan) and Wisconsin. The numbers were consistently 1) low in amplitude and 2) good in percentage. The line wasn't asked to do a whole lot. They usually did it well.

It was a mixed bag, but they were starting a redshirt freshman and an injury-laden platoon at the tackles. I don't think there's much of a difference in pass protection between the two offenses in terms of technique, but pro-style attacks usually put a greater premium on five- and seven-step drops.

A bigger concern than this being an awkward transition is how much of the good pass protection last year was an illusion wrought by Robinson and the scheme.

2 - Thinking about a pro-style offense that employs slots and would fit fairly well.... What about the Patriots offense?  Slot guys, undersized receivers and running backs....Obviously Tom never runs, but they could incorporate the single-wing QB runs and ISQD's pretty easily as well as roll-out run-pass option plays....Am I dreaming here?  Is there any way with the Michigan connections over there that Borges/Hoke could go in this offseason pick Belichick and Brady's brains and/or outright steal some of that offense all together?  What about the Eagles offense?  It seems this would be a pretty good recruiting pitch - "You know Tom Brady?  The Patriots?  That team that crushes people all the time? Yeah - we're running their offense."



The Patriots may be pros but they don't really run a pro-style offense anymore thanks to Brady. Unfortunately for Michigan's immediate future, the things that make Brady one of the greatest QBs of all time—pinpoint accuracy and I'm-from-the-future coverage reads—are the things Robinson has in shortest supply.

Long term I'm down with what seems to be Borges's preference for a pass-slanted West Coast offense, which is a system that works and works well when you've got the right guy at the helm. One positive about returning to something resembling the old offense is that college football's tilt towards spread systems has made pocket guys more available, and Michigan's reputation was enough to lure Ryan Mallett north despite that not being the best idea in the world for him personally.



January 18th, 2011 at 1:35 PM ^

Too negative. We all need to stay positive about Hoke and not worry about not having a DC to help recruit defensive players with under two weeks to go until signing day.

Do you think Hoke points at people when he's in a player's living room? I feel like he should carry a bunch of pictures of Michigan greats in that player's position in his briefcase (does he carry a briefcase?) and point at them. The man is an excellent pointer.


January 18th, 2011 at 1:06 PM ^


Al Borges, who spoke to The Detroit News last week about building his pro-style offense around running quarterback Denard Robinson, will be the offensive coordinator and potentially the quarterbacks coach.


Jeff Hecklinski apparently will coach wide receivers and currently is co-recruiting coordinator at Michigan with Chris Singletary, who handled that position for Rodriguez the last three seasons. Darrell Funk also is here from San Diego State and will coach the offensive line, and Dan Ferrigno will coach tight ends and special teams.


And Jackson, whose son, Jeremy, will be a sophomore receiver at Michigan, returns.

From The Detroit News:

Clarence Beeks

January 18th, 2011 at 12:42 PM ^

The offensive personnel is obviously geared toward a zone read option type of offense with athletic lineman, lots of slot ninjas and a running quarterback.

Guh... I wish this would just stop.  Actually, what I really wish, is that people would actually look at the data and realize just how few times Michigan ran the "zone read option" last year.


January 18th, 2011 at 12:53 PM ^

They might not have run that play exceedingly, but the run blocking was most-certainly zone based, whereas pro-style running attacks use Isolation blocks and pulling lineman.  When Michigan tried to line up and knock people off the ball using I-form and these types of plays, it usually did not end well.  It's a legitimate concern.


January 18th, 2011 at 1:13 PM ^

Due to the running backs never really stepping up to offer a legitimate option to Denard running, opposing teams were able to just play the ZR to force the handoff (which usually didn't get much).  Most of Denard's runs were designed iso's since he never got to keep the ball on a true option play.

Nonetheless, Brian's statement is true that the offense was designed around the zone read, despite them not being able to run it as often as they'd like.  I-formation power runs were not generally successful with this line, so the notion that Hoke will be able to quickly shift them to ManBall™ is a bit suspect.


January 18th, 2011 at 6:33 PM ^

I don't understand what you are arguing here.  Are you just sick of hearing about it?  Zone blocking and Isolation blocking are different.  Are you saying that the pro-style offense Borges is going to run will employ zone blocking schemes so we don't need to worry about it?  "zone-Read Option" is a specific play, yes, but with many variations...but a play nonetheless instead of an offense.  However, there are entire offenses built around that 'play'. 

Desmonlon Edwoodson

January 18th, 2011 at 12:42 PM ^

"Long term I'm down with what seems to be Borges's preference for a pass-slanted West Coast offense, which is a system that works and works well when you've got the right guy at the helm." feeling alright Brian?  I am impressed...and well...shocked.


January 18th, 2011 at 12:51 PM ^

Not that he needs defending, but Brian would be the first one to note that there are several offensive styles, executed properly which can be successful. It wasn't the spread and shred that was as important switch as the hoped for switch to a more killer instinct based attack, wherein we don't sit there with a 7-10 pt lead and expect to just "protect the lead".

When Michigan finally unleashed the hounds versus Florida in that last bowl game for Carr we finally saw what it was that we all wanted. A kill kill kill attack that never let up. If it hadn't been for Hart's very unusual 2 fumbles that game would have been a blow out of unbelievable proportions.

So Brian's feeling fine. Let's hope that Hoke "unleashes the hounds" and doesn't just sit there on the 7 pt lead going into the 4th quarter and we all start popping antacids at an alarming rate.


January 18th, 2011 at 1:55 PM ^

Not directed at Rash.

First Colin is a joke.  I could care less about the man who loves to steal other people's ideas and call him his own.  Wasn't there an article that he stole on Michigan a couple of years ago. 

And Jay Feely.  Did Feely support RR?  Did he defend Coach Hoke or laugh with Colin.  I didn't see the Herd this morning.


January 18th, 2011 at 1:00 PM ^

that a lot of the pro-Hoke stuff out there from former players is a deliberate PR blitz from the athletic department.  These guys are doing their part to talk him up (and I do appreciate their efforts) but you can see that a lot of them don't really believe that Hoke is the best Michigan could do.  Some of them really are gung-ho, but most of them just seem to be going through the motions.


January 18th, 2011 at 4:52 PM ^

I wouldn't say "going through the motions."  I think Brandon has put the word out that other "sexier" coaches have PR machines behind them, and Hoke doesn't, so he is trying to compensate for that by having willing participants within the program get the word out.  Brandon genuinely believes that Hoke is a great coach, and so do many of the former players, who will gladly go to bat for him publicly.  This is not a bad thing. 


January 18th, 2011 at 1:07 PM ^

Unlike Rich Rod, who swept everyone out of the house except Fred out of the house.  The one midwestern guy he brought in, Shafer, basically butted heads with him and was canned.


Urban Meyer made a former Florida LB his defensive Co, and had another coach with SEC ties.


Nick Saban had Jumbo Fisher, former Auburn coordinator on his staff.  


Mack Brown coached at OU, Tulane, and Iowa State, a Big 12 foe of Texas.


Miles kept Fisher and being at Ok St had to recruit Texas in the same way LSU does.


Pete Carroll is probably the best outlier and he had tons of NFL experience and cheated.



MI Expat NY

January 18th, 2011 at 1:58 PM ^

The same logic on Miles applied to Rodriguez.  West Virginia is a state with practically no D1 recruits that borders Ohio and Pennsylvania.  I think he had a grasp of the landscape.  His guys also were strong in Florida, which basically served as a substitute for the California pipeline under the Carr staff.  

Add in keeping Jackson, and I can't see an argument that Rodriguez not having ties to the area was hurtful, at least in terms of recruiting.  In terms of knowledge of history, etc. that pissed off a certain segment of the fan base, it's a reasonable argument, but one that really only applies to head coaches, meaning all those examples still resonate.  

Greg McMurtry

January 18th, 2011 at 1:38 PM ^

was just glossed over, but Philly does run a WCO and Denard is somewhat comparable to Vick. I think Philly is the model for Michigan's 2011 offense. The RB screen will probably partially replace the plethora of bubble screens. Slants, posts and outs will probably be used a lot. There will also probably be a mix of zone reads, i-form, called sneaks and rollouts for Denard.

Wolverine 73

January 18th, 2011 at 2:15 PM ^

The other thing about the likes of Brown, Meyer, Saban, Miles and Carroll that makes them less than ideal comparison points is that each succeeded at a school located in an area rich with potential big time recruits.  If you run a decent program, it seems pretty easy for any coach to get the lion's share of the local recruits, many of whom grow up as fans.  Tressel has made a career of it in Ohio.  Michigan has to go elsewhere to find many of its players--especially so the last few years as we have lost top flight in-state recruits to MSU and SC.  Brown et al. can lose a few and still have plenty to pick from.


January 18th, 2011 at 2:48 PM ^

About coaches with no ties - I agree with the point made about recruiting. Look at the recruiting classes by LSU, Texas, USC and Florida under those coaches. Now look at Michigan's. Now back to LSU, Texas and USC and Forida's recruiting classes.  Now back at Michigan's.

Now ask yourself, seriously, is there any reason to believe Michigan would be contemporaneously kicking ass in the Big Ten and ranked in the Top 5?  The answer is no.

Michigan's recruiting the last 5 years is a crater compared to the Mt. Everest of recruiting these schools have pulled in. 

I'm hopeful for improvement  under Hoke, but when it comes to recruiting to get Michigan football the "championships" so frequently uttered the last few weeks, Michigan has a lot of sales work to do.


January 18th, 2011 at 6:03 PM ^

I agree that recruiting and retention are key.  Honestly...aside from Denard, Rich Rod did a lowsy job at this.  Hoke seems to have potential in this arena.

I think the change you will see in the OL is that  the "Smash Mouth" power offense will return.  Spread is all about trickery on the line.  Distracting the defense from the play.  If the OL can play smash mouth again, either denard or the running backs will find holes to run through.


January 18th, 2011 at 6:37 PM ^

No "Michigan Man" available in 07? What about Les Miles, that's who everyone wanted. No "Michigan Man" acceptable to Lloyd Carr? That's another story.

At the time, I thought that Rich Rod was a good choice; young, innovative offense, record of building programs. What surprised me was how he could let the defense fester in complete ineptitude and not take action. About all I can conclude is that I overestimated his accomplishments in the Big East, which is looking more and more like the Junior Big MAC.

That was also the year the Jerry Kill went from SIU to NIU, and he would have been a riskier but plausible choice if you wanted a non-Sabanite.


January 18th, 2011 at 11:56 PM ^

It really felt like there was a big push to make some changes following Lloyd in 07.  Although we beat Florida, we also lost to Oregon and that FCS school.  There was disgust in the fanbase.  We wanted change.  Michigan Man wasn't really part of the discussion.  RR came in and made very drastic changes that although the fanbase asked for, they weren't ready for.  The backlash is partly due to a need to get back to what we were - kind of a careful what you ask for situation.