Mailbag, Because I Have To

Submitted by Brian on December 2nd, 2010 at 1:26 PM



It is mailbag time, and this necessarily involves talking about the various job securities of the various coaches on the staff. Apologies in advance for this.

I've followed the program pretty closely for the last few decades through friends, family, and former players. Wondering if your general opinion of Brady Hoke's competence as a head coach continues to reflect your 2007 assessment?

Go Blue,
Andrew Steketee

That 2007 assessment was a "Profile in Cronyism" at the dark point of the coaching search when reasonable options were thin on the ground and names like Hoke and Jim Grobe were getting thrown around, and it laid out the case that no reasonable Big Ten program, let alone Michigan, could possibly consider Hoke for a head coaching gig. At the time he was 22-36 at Ball State and had just finished his first winning season, that a 7-6 campaign. "Evidence suggests Hoke is outclassed in the MAC," I said at the time.

So of course Hoke immediately ripped off the best season in Ball State history, finishing the regular season before inexplicably losing to Buffalo in the MAC championship game. San Diego State hired him away, whereupon former Michigan offensive coordinator Stan Parrish took over. Parrish wasted no time impressing his indelible stamp on the program by losing 45-13. Hoke took over a 2-10 program; in his second year they're 8-4. Since the four losses have come against Missouri, BYU, TCU, and Utah and the biggest deficit was five points against TCU(though that game wasn't nearly as close as all that), his resume is now a plausible Big Ten resume…

…at Minnesota, where he's a rumored candidate. I know the emailer wasn't suggesting that Hoke would be considered for the Michigan job, but it's worth mentioning that Michigan's coaching search got so desperate in 2007 that a guy who put up a 12-2 season and has turned around San Diego State but still doesn't have a reasonable resume was getting kicked around.


I know you briefly alluded to this on TWIS, but what are the chances that Randy Shannon could possibly come and be our defensive coordinator? There are SO many great reasons why:

- He graduates players (I believe he had one of the highest APR rates for a BCS school)
- Pipeline to the South, especially Florida, so we can get their recruits
- Much better than GERG
- Able to relate to all sorts of players with different backgrounds
- Players stayed out of trouble

The only thing is whether or not Rich Rod would be willing to forgo the 3-3-5 or if Randy Shannon can coach the 3-3-5.

Speaking of which – isn’t that the hinge question? Do we want someone who can actually coach the 3-3-5 or do we want someone to switch to the 3-4 or 4-3?

Jin Shi

I made a joking reference to Shannon in TWIS without thinking much other than "this is a defensive coach who is not Robinson," but… yeah, seriously. Unlike Robinson, Shannon has a track record of recent college success. His current team is 16th in total D and 22nd in scoring, seventh in sacks, first in TFLs, and third in pass efficiency D. FEI has them third nationally*.

Downsides: they got bombed by Florida State and gave up 31 to Virginia Tech—both games featured rushes of over eighty yards, and Shannon's had access to the steady stream of insane athletes that just hangs out at Miami Northwestern so his defenses probably should be pretty good.

Still, Wikipedia sayeth:

During Shannon's six years as UM's defensive coordinator, his defenses ranked as follows in total defense nationally:

Dang. Once he got the top job at Miami there was some dropoff, as Shannon's Ds finished 33rd, 28th, 29th, and 16th in yardage. FEI has the Shannon defenses, 41st (2007),  65th (2008), 18th, and 3rd, which is really interesting since the conventional measure hardly differentiates between Shannon's first three years.

That's a full decade of defenses somewhere between bludgeoning and decent, mostly bludgeoning. And as anyone who's watched a Miami game in the last four years can tell you, Shannon is a great guy with a heartbreaking life story who graduated his kids and kept them out of trouble. He should help Michigan's Florida recruiting even further, as he's a guy respected across the state. If Michigan changes DCs again they could do much worse.

The 3-3-5 issue shouldn't come up. Shannon's spent his entire career playing and coaching Miami's basic 4-3 cover two; asking him to run anything else would be as nuts as hiring a guy who'd driven Syracuse into a crater and asking him to run a defense he doesn't know, and one of the preconditions to keeping Rodriguez around should be "no more transparently nuts decisions, okay?"

*(Guess who's #1: West Virginia. FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUU.)

On the inefficiency of the offense:

So I found out why we suck.  Turns out it isn't our defense.  The reason we cant win is because of the offense and whatever kicker we trot out there to kick FGs.  Look at the comparison between yards/game rank vs. points/yd rank among the top 30 offenses (total offense by total yards, not yds/game).  We rank #6 in yds/game but #26 in pts/yd.  So we move a ton of yards without getting much in return.  Well, i should say we don't get enough in return.  You'd think or expect our yd/game rank to be in the neighborhood of our pts/yd rank....but we have the worst differential among the top 30 offenses (total yards).  Who knows where we'd rank if I went to all FBS teams.

What's also interesting is who is at the top.  Teams with a high negative delta (pts/yd rank minus yd/game rank) get more points than they should be expected to.  This can be because of a number of factors--they don't turn the ball over, they don't miss field goals, and/or their defense forces turnovers and provides shorter fields for the offense.  In any case we now know why such a boring Wisconsin offense scores so many fricking points.  They are #1 in pts/yd.  OSU is #5.  Neither of these teams are prolific, but they are extremely efficient and they don't screw up.  Oregon, Boise State, and TCU are just fricking awesome all around.  Stanford is another team that makes the most of its chances.  Michigan's delta goes in the other direction (yd/game is awesome...pts/game not so much).  Obviously we need to move the two numbers closer together. 

Oh, if we scored .0868366 pts/yd, which is what NIU got at #6 in pts/yd rank (and closer to where we should be) we would have scored about 110 more points this year.  If we had Wisconsin's, we would have scored 167 more points this year...hopefully all against OSU, WISC, PSU, Iowa, and MSU.

In summary... our defense can continue to suck and there will still be hope.  Our offense needs to perform on 8 cylinders all the time and we need to get a kicker...have we tried the women's soccer team?

Wisconsin 450.2 43.3 0.096 1 18 -17
Oregon 541.7 50.2 0.093 2 1 1
Boise State 525.5 46.4 0.088 3 4 -1
TCU 491.5 43.2 0.088 4 7 -3
Ohio State 448.8 39.4 0.088 5 19 -14
Northern Illinois 452 39.3 0.087 6 17 -11
Auburn 490.1 42.1 0.086 7 8 -1
East Carolina 445.5 38.2 0.086 8 22 -14
Stanford 467.3 39.8 0.085 9 14 -5
Oklahoma State 537.6 44.9 0.084 10 2 8
Southern Miss 458.2 37.6 0.082 11 15 -4
Nevada 536.9 43.3 0.081 12 3 9
Nebraska 424.3 33.8 0.080 13 27 -14
Alabama 435.6 34.4 0.079 14 25 -11
Hawaii 487.8 38.3 0.079 15 10 5
Houston 480.5 37.7 0.078 16 11 5
Tulsa 503.5 39.3 0.078 17 5 12
Oklahoma 480.1 37.5 0.078 18 12 6
San Diego State 448.5 35 0.078 19 20 -1
Arkansas 489.3 37.3 0.076 20 9 11
Kentucky 437.3 33 0.075 21 24 -3
Air Force 437.4 32.3 0.074 22 23 -1
USC 427.9 31.1 0.073 23 26 -3
Texas A&M 447.6 31.7 0.071 24 21 3
Texas Tech 452.6 31.9 0.071 25 16 9
Michigan 500.9 34.2 0.068 26 6 20
Baylor 478.5 32.6 0.068 27 13 14
Southern Methodist 422.8 27.9 0.066 28 28 0
Miami (FL) 422.6 27.1 0.064 29 30 -1
UAB 422.8 26.8 0.063 30 29 1

This is the thing about looking up at halftime and seeing around 250 yards and ten points in chart form: hoooo boy was Michigan bad at converting drives into points this year.

A chunk of this is on the kickers. I don't think Michigan made any calls a David Romer obsessive wouldn't regard as broadly correct because of their field goal situation, so all of the disadvantages going 4 of 13 provides should be encapsulated in FEI's kicking stat, in which Michigan has proudly reclaimed their crown as the worst in the nation. They're giving up an astounding 1.15 points relative to an average team every time they line up to kick. Pretending they're average closes the gap between themselves and puts them in a tie with A&M and Texas Tech; something in the 30s gets them slightly past.

Turnovers are another chunk. This one's not quite as easy to quantify. Michigan's 27 lost turnovers is 109th nationally. I'm going to take a wild stab at how much of Michigan's deficiency here is due to the huge TO rate that should be generally correct but vulnerable to a lot of niggling details, so bear with me. Michigan's drives last year excluding end-of-half situations that did not result in points:

  • 43 punts
  • 57 TDs
  • 13 FGAs
  • 27 turnovers

The national median in turnovers lost is 20. If we wave a wand and pretend this is Michigan's distribution, and leave the spread unchanged otherwise we get another 2.7 punts, 3.5 TDs, and eight tenths of a field goal. That's another two points a game, which gets Michigan up to… 22nd.

So then the rest of it is starting almost every drive at their 20 or worse thanks to a terrible defense, no punt return game, no kick return game, and everything else that goes into Michigan's average starting field position, in which Michigan ranks 92nd relative to the opponent.

If we're assigning blame, the the offense appear to be about 25% responsible thanks to those turnovers with special teams taking 50% and the defense 25%.

We have done this the last two years but it's worth noting that West Virginia was consistently positive in TO margin after Rodriguez's first year, so it's not like this is an artifact of the system. I know I keep saying this in defiance of persistently agonizing triple digit rankings. Maybe next year, when Rodriguez has an upperclassman at QB for the first time?

Do you weigh the fact that Harbaugh probably is available only this offseason in your calculation to retain RR for a fourth year?  Does the presumed availability of a top-tier candidate with deep UM ties change the analysis of whether RR should be retained?  It has to in my mind--I'm not sure what conclusion it leads me to--does it in your mind?  Or do you challenge my assumption about only this offseason?

I'm not sure I agree with the premise. I can see Harbaugh sticking around for another year at Stanford if he knows he's got a shot at the job next year, or leaving his team a la Al Groh to coach his alma mater, or not actually getting a pro job offer for whatever reason. (Let's stipulate that there's no college job Michigan couldn't poach Harbaugh from and no college program is likely to be foolhardy enough to test that.)  But it is accurate that Harbaugh is available now and might not be in the future.

Does that change the calculus? Yeah. Without Harbaugh sitting there with an 11-1 Stanford team he built by hand from the finest recruits known to Stanford, I don't think the conversation about Rodriguez's job security is anywhere near as intense. Who's the next hot guy? Patterson and Peterson seem married to their current schools, Chip Kelly isn't going anywhere. The two guys next on everyone's lips are Dana Holgorsen and Gus Mahlzahn, two offensive coordinators who have never been head coaches.

Sans Harbaugh, Michigan would probably take a look at the available options, glance back at Denard, and say "well, one more year probably can't hurt." With him, it's a choice between as-probable-as-it-gets long term success and an awkward fit with the Big Ten offensive player of the year, or hoping that someone can finally turn Rodriguez's defense at Michigan into something other than doom. There are worse spots to be in. There are better.



December 2nd, 2010 at 2:02 PM ^

Were you in cahoots with Brian on this post?  It appears from the timing as though you were expecting this new Mailbag and ready to immediately fire off your "first" post . . .  If so, I think that might be considered cheating in the game of "first."


December 2nd, 2010 at 1:38 PM ^

In terms of the defense and scheme - we need to fit our talent and then recruit talent for that scheme. 

Schemes don't win, players executing schemes correctly win games. Ask Charlie (miss you a little still big guy xoxoxo). 

I don't care what defense we run, but we need to run it well. 

I'm in the "Keep RR, new relatively-independent Defensive Staff" camp, but I do kind of agree about the timing thing for Harbaugh. If he weren't so hot right now, there wouldn't be this much chatter. Harbaugh's value might be peaking right now as well - lost a Heisman finalist last year and is losing a #1QB Pick this year. 

All told it'll be an interesting month.

On another random note - Brian what kind of Big Chill coverage will you have?

/thus ends random thoughts from JeepinBen


December 2nd, 2010 at 1:43 PM ^

Why'd you have to say this:

With him, it's a choice between as-probable-as-it-gets long term success and an awkward fit with the Big Ten offensive player of the year or hoping that someone can finally turn Rodriguez's defense at Michigan into something other than doom.

Blunt truth is blunt. I hope it works out with Rodriguez, and I think Harbaugh might be a bit of a dick, but I always want what's best for the program.


December 2nd, 2010 at 1:47 PM ^

And come to a different conclusion about Hoke. He shouldn't have been Michigan's coach in 2007; he shouldn't be now (or next year, even). He's not that far on his coaching track yet.  But he's a good coach Whether he'll be great, who knows?  Probably has as good a chance of being great as Rich or Harbaugh at this point.  Who knows about any of them? Other than The Knowledge, of course.


December 2nd, 2010 at 1:52 PM ^

Thanks, good post. My only contribution is to note that out here in Seattle my head is spinning in Exorcist-like fashion, what with so many questions, so few answers, and so much speculation. 

Strangely, even though I'm looking forward to seeing how everything sorts itself out over the next month or two between now and national signing day in early February, I'm actually sort of enjoying this chapter in UM Football (not the losing, or the "not quite winning enough," but the "up in the air," "I wonder how this is all going to work out" location we currently find ourselves in).

For the record, I'm for retaining Rich Rodriguez, but this Christmas season has taken on added dimensions as I wonder what will be placed underneath our maize and blue tree this year. As a small and useless aside, here's to hoping our stockings hold a resurgence of earning helmet stickers in 2011, though.

Challenging, difficult and exciting times, my friends...


December 2nd, 2010 at 1:53 PM ^

My hands are tied on this one . . .

Please be advised that you have violated the Prohibition on Coaching Change Opinions Act of 2010 (hereafter, the "Act"), profligated by Profitgoblue on November 30, 2010.  In particular, you have violated Article 2(a) of the Act. 

(See )

Please be further advised that, pursuant to Article 3 of the Act, the minimum fine for this violation is the loss of one (1) MGoPoint, with the maximum to be determined by the MGoCommunity.

Please be further advised that, pursuant to Article 5 of the Act, if you dispute the application of the Act to your thread/post, you have twenty-four (24) hours to "file" a formal written appeal by replying to this post.  All appeals will be considered on their merits as soon as practical, unless deemed to be frivolous by Profitgoblue in his sole discretion.

MMB 82

December 2nd, 2010 at 5:08 PM ^

can afford to wait another year to see what happens at UM, if that is where he truly wants to end up. Even if next year's Stanford team is a bit off from its current high, there is still enough of a groundswell to bring him back to Ann Arbor if RR doesn't work out. In the meantime, I would much prefer to give RR another year to perfect the offense and fix the defense (arguments ad nauseum).


December 2nd, 2010 at 9:53 PM ^

than living in/near Palo Alto and enjoying California weather while keeping a team in BCS contention.

In fact, I think it's better for Harbaugh to make no move at all in this direction; that way, he can have his current job and pursue another one too (but not openly). If it pursues him, so much the better.

I think it's better for Michigan if there are more good candidates available. If it's just Harbaugh and meh, it's conceivable that the discussion would go something like "How much do you want, because we'll pay it?" If it becomes necessary for Michigan to make a change, I'd prefer that Brandon has a reasonable number of candidates from which he can choose.


December 2nd, 2010 at 1:57 PM ^

Were it not for seeing what Jim Harbaugh did at SD and now at Stanford, combined with his iron-clad understanding of our rivalries, tradition, positioning, etc., I would be 100% on the "keep RichRod for year 4, it's only fair" bandwagon.  He IS all of those things, though, and a coach this seemingly hand-made for the Michigan coaching job does not, and likely will not, come along very often, maybe not again in our lifetimes (other than Mike Hart someday??).

If Brandon makes the move it's probably not fair to Rich, but a fair decision isn't the same thing as the right decision.  There are positive and negative impications to all major decisions at that level, which is why Brandon's the guy making them.  He could very well feel Rich has done well in three years but still justify bringing Harbaugh home.

Either way, Go Blue!  Thanks as always for the reasoned analysis, Brian.


December 2nd, 2010 at 1:57 PM ^

No offense (ha!) but that email about Michigan's offensive efficiency is not particularly groundbreaking.  Simply looking at their rankings nationally, obviously they're not scoring as many points as their yardage would suggest. And obviously if they had a better ratio of points per yards, they'd score:  MORE POINTS!

To say the reason "why we can't win is because of our offense", as the emailer says, I suppose is literally true:  if we scored 75 points a game, we wouldn't lose.

But realistically these arguments about our offense not being good enough, or "when yards determine who wins, let me know" are silly.  Setting aside yardage, being in the top 25 in the country in terms of PPG is good, and ought to be good enough to be better than 7-5.  There are only 2 other teams above us in PPG with 5 or more losses.  Speaking in generalities, the problem was, is and will be, the defense. 

This is like that Skip Bayless show where guys take a ridiculous position on an issue just to be contrarian, despite it flying in the face of facts.


December 2nd, 2010 at 2:00 PM ^

For clearly articulating my point that Harbaugh doesn't have anyplace else to go.  Would he go to Miami or Georgia? What other stepping stones does he have?

If he chooses to go to the NFL, to coach for 6 years or less and get kicked back, basically all NFL coaches besisdes elite, then I submit we don't want him then.  We would be constantly fighting the NFL if he was our coach.

Make or break in 2011 and hope Harbaugh's repuatation doesn't go off the cliff without Andrew Luck.


December 2nd, 2010 at 2:01 PM ^

Sans Harbaugh, Michigan would probably take a look at the available options, glance back at Denard, and say "well, one more year probably can't hurt." With him, it's a choice between as-probable-as-it-gets long term success and an awkward fit with the Big Ten offensive player of the year or hoping that someone can finally turn Rodriguez's defense at Michigan into something other than doom. There are worse spots to be in. There are better.

Wow, exactly.  I can see it now: in a year people could be asking "why did we ever want to get rid of RR?"


December 2nd, 2010 at 5:59 PM ^

I totally agree with Brian's thinking on this point.  This is definitely a situation where Michigan gives Rich Rod one more year to prove him himself.  The problem is the availability of Harbaugh, and subsequent lack of availability of Harbaugh next year, that make this problem more pressing.

Keeping Coach Rod wouldn't be a bad decision.  I believe that we will prove a lot of haters wrong next year with a 10 win season, competing for the Big Ten title.


December 2nd, 2010 at 2:00 PM ^

RR's 1st 3 years at Michigan:

3-9, 5-7, 8-5 or 7-6

Harbaugh's 1st 3 years at Stanford:

4-8, 5-7, 8-5


i'm just saying. most rationalizations to defend Harbaugh's record would apply to RR as well. obviously, the 11-1 is boner-inducing, but so were RR's 11-2 records at WV...

Fuzzy Dunlop

December 2nd, 2010 at 2:19 PM ^

It's been said before.  And the general response is that each of Harbaugh's first three years included wins over ranked opponents (ie, teams that finished the year ranked, not overrated opponents who were ranked early then sucked the rest of the year), including a victory over USC in year one.  Harbaugh's 8-5 third year saw victories over multiple ranked opponents, and Stanford itself finished the season ranked #19.  While our record this year is comparable, we don't have any real quality wins, we eked by some bad-to-mediocre opponents, and were handily defeated by all quality opponents.

Thisisn't to say that I want Rodriguez fired.  But while the records are similar, if you actually look a little closer there is no comparing the last three seasons at Michigan with Harbaugh's first three years at Stanford.  (And that's setting aside the historic disadvantages involved in recruiting at Stanford, etc).

Blue in Seattle

December 2nd, 2010 at 7:18 PM ^

So how did Harbaugh do against inferior competition?  in general season schedules have the same make up of conference versus cupcakes.  So Harbaugh beat more rated teams, but since the final output is the same he also lost to teams he should have beaten.

While this is still speculation, it seems to me that someone with the talent to beat USC, but loses to inferior competition indicates more of a weakness in coaching than beating everyone equal or weaker, and losing to everyone stronger.

Of course this argument is just a different kind of transitive property explanation.

For me the FEI demonstrates it conclusively, two teams with nearly equal total FEI who have dramatically different records must be playing a different quality of competition.

so Harbaugh's FEI was good enough for an 11-1 win-loss record in a Pac 10 conference like schedule.  Rodriguez was able to reap a 7-5 in Big Ten conference like schedule.

 it seems pretty easy to me, it no longer matters how we got here, there has been win-loss improvement consistently through 3 years, his recruiting ranking is respectable and improving, and finally it's unfortunate that he didn't bring Jeff Casteel with him, but then again if it's all talent based issues, then the DC quality doesn't matter.

now, do we want to delay things for 2 years at a chance for a faster ramp up?  Only if we think Rodriguez has hit his ceiling.  I don't think he has.  I haven't heard any truly convincing arguments demonstrating that he has.  I have heard people try to spin 7-5 as equal to 3-9, but i just don't see how that's possible unless my assumption that we're consistently using base 10 numbers is incorrect?


December 2nd, 2010 at 2:01 PM ^

I am going to go ahead and declare myself as more of a CFB fan than NFL, but would the possibility  of there not being a season next year have any influence on what would or could happen in regards to JH?


December 2nd, 2010 at 2:14 PM ^

While I agree with the general sentiment that UM's offense has sputtered to score in certain circumstances, it is difficult to compare them to schools like Wiscy and OSU because of the youth at the skill positions, especially at QB.  Wiscy trotted out one of the oldest teams in the country and bludgeoned people to death with it.  That's great for them, but I'm fairly certain the ceiling for UM is going to be higher when Denard and co. are in a similar situation.  Also, and I'm not sure if this was taken into account, but I'm sure Wiscy's numbers were helped by dropping approximately 1,000,000 garbage points on teams like Austin Peay, IU, UM, and NU.  They looked far more mortal against teams not in the triple digits when it comes to defense. 

As for the Harbaugh situation, I still think people are reading way too much into that 11-1 season.  Stanford was smoked by the only elite team they faced in Oregon, beat a couple of meh teams in ND and USC, and had good talent at key positions that might not be reproducable in a different environment.  Not that it is a perfect comparison, but Ty Willingham had pretty good success at Stanford and then struggled at ND when the pressure was turned up and the competition on a week-to-week basis jumped.  If people are going to villify RR for "only" posting multiple 10-win season in the Big East because of the competition, it seems illogical to read too much into a couple of winning seasons at Stanford.

I think Harbaugh has done a great job at Stanford, but just because he was a great QB at UM does not mean he is going to be a great HC at UM at this time.  I'm sure that the prospect of getting Harbaugh now is a major factor behind the coaching change movement, but I also hope people realize that there will be a rebuilding curve AGAIN, and  I hope they display more patience than they gave RR during that inevitable down time.


December 2nd, 2010 at 3:00 PM ^

While there are no guarantees with Harbaugh, he has a lot of things going for him.

1.  Michigan ties

2.  NFL ties

3.  Successful stints at USD and Stanford

4.  Football style designed to compete with OSU, MSU, PSU, Iowa and Wisky.  All things being the same, Michigan should be able to recruit better players than all of those schools except OSU (call that one a push).

5.   Comes from coaching family (dad coached at Michigan, brother is HC in NFL)

6.   Relatively young and energenic

Again, there are no guarantees in life but if Michigan were to design a "bionic coach",  it would pretty much come out looking like Jim Harbaugh (except for the DUI and two point conversion against USC).