Mailbag: Coaching Turnover, A Ton Of Beilein Feelingsball

Submitted by Brian on March 16th, 2016 at 2:08 PM

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[Patrick Barron]

Brian,

Long-time reader, second time emailer. I sent you a fake inspirational poster featuring Tate Forcier when those were still things. You used it. Good times.

I have the following mailbag questions:

1. With the departure of Durkin, Baxter, Jackson, et. al, do you see the revolving door continuing for assistant coaches? I don't have a problem with it because HARBAUGH and it means they are poach worthy. What about Drevno? He seems unlikely to leave anytime soon. I guess my question is: how much of the offense is Harbaugh, and how much is Drevno/Fisch? Would there be a big change if one of the latter left? Butt's comments about not having to learn a new offense this year were nice to hear just for continuity's sake.

This offseason's turnover was a bit extreme. Maryland hiring Durkin after one year as a defensive coordinator actually in charge of his defense—at Florida he was under Will Muschamp—was unexpected. I figured we'd get a 3-5 year run from him before he was established enough to make the jump. Losing Baxter and Jackson is actually more of a worry for me. Baxter went back to California, which is understandable if you're sawft because you've spent your time in that climate. Jackson may have decided he's more of an NFL guy.

Harbaugh seemed to make a conscious decision to reduce staff turnover with his picks for replacements. College DC lifer Don Brown is past the point where he'd be a head coach candidate; Chris Partridge and Brian Smith are young guys moving up who will probably stick around a while before any potential bump to quasi-co-psuedo associate head coach and run defense coordinator. Michigan's defensive assistants should be set for a few years, with a Mattison retirement the next likely swap.

On the other side of the ball it's murkier. It's Harbaugh's offense, of that there is no doubt. Coordinators on the same side of the ball as a heavily involved guru head coach often take a significant amount of seasoning before they are targeted for a move up the ladder. (See: Pat Narduzzi.) Drevno had not been a full OC prior to the Michigan move and has been with Harbaugh for a long time; he doesn't seem like a threat to depart for a few years yet, and when and if he does it'll be because Michigan's offense is shredding opponents.

Meanwhile Fisch is set to negotiate an extension that should bump his salary up significantly after a buyout year when Michigan was more or less paying the Jaguars. He seemed to get on with the staff and clearly had OC-type input in the passing game…

…so I wouldn't expect him to leave for anything short of a full OC spot. That may very well happen—before he was cursed to work in the mines of Jacksonville he had a pretty good run at Miami—but I think he'll be around for a while yet.

The guy to watch for a departure is Tyrone Wheatley, who has ambitions to be a head coach. He has a powerful motivation to stick around for four more years; after that I would not be surprised to see him look for an OC spot no matter where it is.

2. What about Chesson for the #1 jersey? Has that been officially retired? If so, I don't remember hearing much about it. I can't remember a better candidate in recent years than him.

djfakeout

#1 is not retired and shouldn't be. Devin Funchess just wore it, remember? The fact that this guy didn't remember that and I wrote most of this response before remembering that an NFL player wore #1 two years ago is… Brady Hoke, man.

Anyway: no retiring more numbers please. #21 getting retired is kind of a bummer, man, and I can't imagine #1 or #2 goes by the wayside for practical (running out of numbers) and recruiting (here's Charles Woodson's number) reasons. But I don't expect Chesson to take it. He is in a pretty famous WR number (86) already and he doesn't seem like the type of guy to care much either way.

Beilein status, part 1

Hey Brian. I see you trying to walk the line of criticizing U-M basketball while not calling for Beilein's head. Here's the issue to me...

it's easy to compare Beilein to what came before and say look at his improvement. But the "fire Beilein" says "Well, that's not good enough." The better comparison isn't to what came before but to what would come after. What are the odds of replacing Beilein with someone who runs a clean program, fits culturally with the university, and achieves more success on the court? I put it at about 10%. That's not a chance worth taking for someone who may be marginally better. But the only thing that would satisfy these guys is if we were dominating the Big Ten. So then you need to consider the odds of getting the coach who runs a clean program, fits in culturally and consistently out-performs Izzo, Crean, et al. I put those odds under 1%.

So it's a shame that Beilein isn't a slightly better coach than he is, but Michigan's biggest obstacle is that our rivals' programs are just consistently too good.

-Anon

I mean, yeah. I think we're all pretty disappointed where the program is right now but that's largely an artifact of Beilein's insane level of success over the three years from 2012-14, which went

  • Big Ten Title
  • National Championship Game
  • Outright Big Ten Title & Elite Eight

Frankly I didn't expect that level of performance from Beilein when he was hired. I just wanted to make the tournament most of the time and Pittsnogle some higher seeds. Take that expectation and remove the team's star for consecutive years and this is what you get.

That said, the trend here, especially on defense, is alarming. It's not really about the level of the program, it's about the direction of the arrow. If Beilein's projected performance going forward is the average of his Michigan career minus his first year (which I think we can issue a mulligan for given the state of the roster) then yes, it will be very difficult for Michigan to match or exceed that. If it's the last two years, even considering Levert's injury, then the pool of candidates who can expect to match or do better expands considerably.

I don't think that's clear yet. I do think we're going to see an offseason shakeup and hopefully a defensive specialist brought in. I am still resigned to the fact that Beilein's peak is likely to have already passed and that we'll probably be gunning for a Sweet 16 or two before he retires, not a title.

[After THE JUMP: more Beilein feelingsball, PWO pickin', can the Big Ten replicate the Harbaugh model?]

Beilein status, part two

I have something to run by you. I think it's widely accepted that Tommy Amaker is a stand up guy and quite frankly was what this University needed to wash the program clean. But after some time it became evident that while he was perfect for that job he was not going to be the coach that could reach the next tier. Do you think we have reached that with Beilein?

He was what we needed to take the next step up to what you might call relevance and above average. But have we reached his ceiling, much like we reached Amaker's ceiling? They are both great men but sometimes a person can reach their potential. I believe the only way to reach the next level which, let's call it "Consistently a Championship Contender" we need to totally revamp our recruiting. We are simply never going to win with the recruits Beilein targets and lands. I know he was burned by a couple 5 stars, but so was everyone else that did not land those players and somehow top teams still manage to bring in other elite talent.

I guess my ultimate question is, Has John Beilein and his system reached it's pinnacle?

Probably. I don't think we're going to see another Beilein team at Michigan that has five NBA draft picks, four of them first-rounders, in one starting lineup. That was a confluence of scouting and development that was and remains unprecedented in the one-and-done era, and it seems like that was a one-time thing. Not because Beilein is worse than we thought but because that kind of syzygy is a rare thing, like the Pistons' latest NBA title. It happened and that team was great despite not having a superstar; it's not likely to happen again.

Michigan's recruiting isn't all that bad. Xavier Simpson is a top 50 point guard who was all but set to torment us at Wisconsin; Jon Teske is a true seven-footer who could still develop as college bigs tend to do. The big hole in Michigan's recruiting is the fact that they've got a top 30 player in Kam Chatman who is just now starting to find a role off the bench. It is not championship level recruiting unless the stars align perfectly, which they did. Now they're not.

Beilein status part 3

I'm sure this has been said, but I haven't seen it, so I'll say it:

Beilein hung three banners in three years from 2012 through 2014, and he came within a couple of plays of hanging two more during that period.  In the 30 years before Beilein landed here, we hung either two or four banners, depending on your perspective (two conference championship banners and either two or zero Final Four banners).  This year is very frustrating, and it has to be Beilein's worst coaching job since 2009-2010, but there's a limit to how much you complain about the guy who accomplishes that. 

The bigger concern is that the team looks like a bunch of followers in search of a leader, and it's hard to see anyone like Morris, Novak, Burke or Stauskas on next year's team either. 

I am more or less in the same spot as this gentleman. Beilein has obviously done enough to warrant further patience but I'm skeptical this group of players gets a ton better next year. MAAR is a bright spot but I wonder how much upside remains there since he's a bit older than sophomores usually are; meanwhile it's hard to see the post situation resolving itself in a positive manner unless Mo Wagner takes a huge leap.

I mean, they should get better with experience. That was the theory going into this year, especially on defense, and that did not come to pass. Hard to not interpret that as a flaw in the coaching. Maybe a staff shakeup fixes that; maybe we spin our wheels a bit longer. Only thing to do is wait and see.

Money and how to spend it

Brian et al,

I wrote a few years ago asking if you believed that the cash that the BTN would provide B1G schools would ultimately lead to parity with the SEC and other elite Power 5 schools.  At the time you said "eh, not so much", suggesting that B1G schools were willing to upgrade facilities but not their coaching.  Purdue and Illinois have proven this to be very true.

But now with news of Harbaugh's frequent flier status and plans to hold spring practice in Florida over spring break it's time to pose the same question a little differently.  Are Harbaugh and Michigan finally maximizing their utility of resources in a way that comes with having the stadium we have, and the (dare I say it) brand recognition we have?  If so, can other B1G schools do the same?

The B1G has long been resource-rich but feared acting like it, and I don't mean in a "bagmen" sense at all.  Harbaugh may be signaling to the nation that Michigan is a premier institution with unparalleled resources on the academic and athletic fronts, and is willing to use them in unconventional ways.  In fact he might be leading a redefinition of college football, away from the pseudo-NFL model the SEC employs to something as much cash behind it but far less sleaze.  Seriously.  And I think a handful of B1G schools (definitely not all) could do the same thing.

Any thoughts on this?
pete-rock

Let's just stipulate that OSU is excluded from this conversation since they've done well and every five years or so we're "surprised" by the fact that one of their star players has been driving a car with dealer plates for a year.

As for maximizing Michigan's resources, I literally cannot imagine what else Harbaugh could be doing to increase Michigan's recruiting profile and on-field fortunes. Harbaugh probably can't either, because then he would be doing the thing he thought up and Greg Sankey would be trying to gin up some reason to think of the children.

It has cost money. But Michigan has money. Michigan has scooped up support staff left and right; pretty soon their press box will look like Alabama's. They took a trip to Florida with the whole team. They flit about the country to satellite camps. All of that costs dollars; all of it is an attempt to convert those dollars into wins. Unfortunately the exchange rate there is much worse than "five star recruit here is some money", but I think it's clear that Michigan is pushing every angle they can find without falling afoul of NCAA rules.

With limited exceptions I do not think the Harbaugh model can extend to other Big Ten schools. With the possible exception of Penn State, none of them have the national cachet to make forays into California or Florida or the deep South, go head to head with local schools, and come out on top.

MSU has been the most successful Big Ten school outside of the Big Three for a while now and their latest class features zero(!) recruits from outside the Big Ten footprint. Their 2015 class was a lot more geographically diverse but featured just one composite four-star outside of the footprint. MSU can get local four stars these days but going and getting a Dylan McCaffrey or a David Long is a rare event indeed for them. More satellite camps and more pub isn't likely to do much other than unearth another sleeper or two.

And that's a team that has been in BCS bowls repeatedly. Purdue may as well not bother. Only a few schools have the ability to resist the fate of their location in recruiting no matter the (indirect) cash outlay.

Pick a PWO

Harbaugh is up to 12 pwo's. Which one has the best shot of seeing the field?

That's easy: Camaron Cheeseman. He's a long snapper, and apparently a very good one.

This is probably not a satisfying answer because he is a special teamer we hope to never hear from again unless he's catching a pass in the Sugar Bowl. Let's add a "on something other than special teams" stipulation. In that case, I've got Simeon Smith, the TE/WR out of Kalamazoo. You cannot teach 6'7" and Harbaugh loves tight ends. Smith might have had a higher profile if he didn't play on a team that was 1-9 both years he was an upperclassman; he's got the academics; if he fills out he could be the kind of field-stretching flex TE that Harbaugh built his empire on.

A useful thing

Hi there,

I made a classifieds facebook group for the community. LSAClassof2000 thought it'd be a good idea to make it as a sticky or something permanent and readily accessible for anyone who would want to join. The hope is this can keep the boards clear of the selling posts that happen during the regular football season.

The URL is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/MGoClassifieds/ it's a place for members to buy/sell/trade Michigan merchandise.

Thanks,
James

Hey, so, use this.

Comments

mgoblue98

March 17th, 2016 at 12:00 AM ^

team was truly great.  Rumeal Robinson, Sean Higgins, Glenn Rice, Loy Vaught and Terry Mills was a great line up.  Mark Hughes gave them some depth.  They underachieved in the regular season in my opinion.  They got run out of the buiding by Illinois twice, but beat them in the Final Four.  They bombed Virginia almost out of existence in the regional finals.  Rice and Higgins went nuts in that game.  They almost couldn't miss.

MI Expat NY

March 16th, 2016 at 3:06 PM ^

It is a pretty big banner to miss.  I also think that the "banners" argument downplays the success of Michigan basketball from the mid 1980's to mid 1990's.  Three final fours, a couple conference championships and constantly being in the top half of the standings of a major conference is nothing to sniff at.  The 10 or so years before Beilein took over were rough, but I don't think we should go out of our way to make our entire basketball history seem far worse than it is.  

Wolvie3758

March 16th, 2016 at 2:38 PM ^

admit after the Iowa loss,  after always and I mean always supporting Belien I posted it may be time for a change.. I fully retract that statement..Im fairly certain I totally over reacted out of extreme frustration..He managed to get us back into the tourney and for me Thats the measuring stick..I dont expect conference titles or final fours every year thats just unrealisitc. I do expect to make the tournament  JB has turned our program around and I will be more patient...JB I apologize I was wrong

Maizen

March 16th, 2016 at 3:10 PM ^

This rationale is sad. Making the tournament should be the absolute bare minimum expactation at Michigan. Beilein is one of the 10 highest paid coaches in the country and Michigan just sunk 100 million into its basketball facilities. Couple that with a 169 mllion dollar Nike contract on the way and you can bet your ass "just making the tournament" isn't going to cut it.

The people on this board like you who have this attitude are probably the same people who didn't spend their money not only now but through the Ellerbe and Amaker years like myself.

This program used to be a powerhouse and now people just want to make the tourney meanwhile our biggest rival is making a final 4 on average every 3 years. Pathetic.

Lanknows

March 16th, 2016 at 3:59 PM ^

But you can't just ignore the fact that the two best offensive players (arguably) and only seniors are out for the year and that the best guy standing is still recovering from major offseason back surgery.

Yes, Michigan should make the tournament every year.  But in a year where the above occurs, it's an accomplishment to get there.

Beilein remains a wizard and the lack of appreciation for what he's done is staggering.

CrankThatDonovan

March 16th, 2016 at 4:32 PM ^

And people use the disasterous half-decade (at least) in which Michigan's players were getting paid as some sort of bar.  Like we should be disappointed about 2 Big Ten titles, an Elite 8 appearance, a national championship appearance, a Big Ten player of the year, and a national player of the year.  Now that is beyond pathetic.

EDIT: And before you tell me that Michigan's now headed in the wrong direction, who thought in 2010 or 2011 that we were on the cusp of achieving all of the above?  People act like Beilein and staff identifying six draft picks plus Spike Albrecht was a fluke.  If Xavier Simpson or Ibi Watson or Mo Wagner blows up, Michigan's future may be as bright as ever.

Maizen

March 16th, 2016 at 4:51 PM ^

Fair points, but come on, you can't tell me 2 main problems with Beilein don't exist:

Recruiting: 

Look at Michigan's last 3 recruiting classes. There is no way a team coming off a national title game appearance should be recruiting on literally all their top targets and singing class after class comprised mosltly of 3 stars.

Center recruiting has been a distaster for a decade with Beielin. Thank god he landed McGary because without him they never make it past Kansas. This is basketball, you need tall skilled big guys. And almost all of his centers have the same profile: low 3 star passive white kid with minimal athleticism who doesn't board or block shots with any consistency.

Waiting until a kid visits after his sophmore year is insanely moronic. It's already hard enough to compete aginst the unsavory types so why the hell are you tying another hand behind your back by doing this?

And finally, Beilein has completely ignored the city of Detroit. Why in the hell does Xavier have more kids from the PSL and Michigan than THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN. You want to know why his teams are always labled soft, look where his players come from. 

Defense

Do I really need to elaborate here? It's been atrocious. Asking guys to try and not foul and then autobenching anyone with 2 fouls has made it impossible for these kids to play without any sort of worry on this end. Combine that with recruiting kids who don't play with any edge or dog in their game that possess minimal athleticism and you get the abjact disaster that has been beilein's "defense" the past few years.

CrankThatDonovan

March 16th, 2016 at 5:14 PM ^

It's totally legitimate to knock Michigan's recruitment at the 5 position, and I think that has been Beilein's biggest flaw as our coach.  I will say that Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford both developed throughout their careers, and I think that the current grouping of centers (plus Teske and Davis) will develop.  I think Wagner has a ton of upside and is an exciting prospect.  

The problem with low ceiling bigs is that the guard play has to be elite, and Michigan's guard play has been good-not-great the last two years; injuries and attrition have played a factor.  But Beilein has developed a bunch of talented guards while at Michigan, so this is something that will absolutely get better.  Additional depth is going to make the guards a lot better next year.

And the defense has been bad, but that is because Michigan's currently got some bad defensive players.  This is correctable and is not a reason to fire a head coach.  The defense 3 years ago was bad, but the offense was elite to the point that it didn't matter much.  I don't think that we have nearly enough data to say that Michigan's recruits will perpetually be soft and bad at defense (they only need to be average defenders to win with this offensive system).

Lanknows

March 16th, 2016 at 6:03 PM ^

The 2013 class had 2 (of 3) guys ranked in the top 50 and was ranked in the top 15 nationally despite being 3 dudes.  It was really just the '14 and '15 classes that were so weak.  [Rank for '14 is respectable due to quantity not quality, but it was a disappointing class before they set foot on campus because of all the misses].

2011-13 and 2016 are all quality classes.

2016: 26

2015: >100

2014: 28

2013: 13

2012: 7

2011: 27

2010: 48

 

Voltron Blue

March 17th, 2016 at 12:15 AM ^

Ha ha ha ha.

(a) False about my paycheck.

(b) Completely irrelevant anyway.

(c)  Why don't you try arguing on the merits of the facts?  Tell me where I'm wrong. 

Strack had Cazzie, Orr had his Green/Hubbard/et al team, Frieder/Fisher had one Final Four team (that counted), Beilein had one Final Four team.  Where am I wrong?

 

umchicago

March 16th, 2016 at 7:45 PM ^

is likely the 5th best bball team in the BIG historically, if you base it win%.  IU, PU, OSU and ILL have better histories.  UM is likely next.  sparty and wisky have definitely gained ground in the last 15 years.

UM is likely in the top 3 in the BIG the past 5 years.  i am fine with that.

Maizen

March 16th, 2016 at 7:59 PM ^

HA HA HA. Good one.

Do you even research these things or do you just post non sense and hope it slips by everyone.

Purdue has 0 national titles and has only been to two final 4's yet they have a better history than Michigan? In the words of Snoop Dogg bitch please. Illinois is in a similar boatd with zero national title and less final 4's and only 1 title game appearance (Uofm has 6 for 5h most all time).

At worst Michigan is behind IU and even with MSU and OSU.

 

wolverine1987

March 16th, 2016 at 4:11 PM ^

I am 100% fine with our basketball team standard for success being "always makes the tournament, occasionally sneaks into elite 8/final four." I think that's just fine as expectations go, given what the limits are for M within the dirty recruiting world of basketball. Toally fine with this.

Now in football my expectations are "top ten team consistently year in, year out, makes playoff every few years." But that's football. 

PurpleStuff

March 16th, 2016 at 2:47 PM ^

If somebody told you we would lose Caris and Spike for the entire B1G season, but the team would still go 10-8 and make the tournament, wouldn't you have taken that deal in a heartbeat?

I really don't get all the hand-wringing.  Yes, if we don't make the tournament next year, there might be a problem.  But we bring back everybody and add a full recruiting class that addresses the size issue the current roster has and potentially introduces another playmaker into the offense.  At a time when guys like Yogi, Valentine, Uthoff, Hammons, etc. are graduating across the conference. 

rice4114

March 16th, 2016 at 2:52 PM ^

MSU probably has players that are better than most of our roster next year. As high as my hopes were for this year I think they will be much more realistic next year. I would guess close to the same as this year unless Mo Weezy or Chatman can emerge as game changers. Besides those two nobody is going to have a breakout season. Maybe Simpson?

PurpleStuff

March 16th, 2016 at 2:56 PM ^

In 2012 they won 29 games and went to the Sweet Sixteen.  In 2013 they won 27 games and went to the Sweet Sixteen.  In 2014 they won 29 games and went to the Elite Eight.

It didn't stop us from being good in any of those years.  Yes, they are going to continue to have a strong program, but it doesn't really impact Michigan's fortunes.

PurpleStuff

March 16th, 2016 at 3:09 PM ^

If some combination of Donnal, Wilson, Wagner, and/or Chatman (who made big strides hitting 7/15 down the stretch) can become a consistent weapon shooting the three, this offense can become much more dangerous.  What is exciting to me about Wagner in this role is his length.  When he went to the bucket against one of the Purdue bigs, he was able to get to the basket with just one dribble from behind the line.  If people are closing out on him hard he can be a monster performer going forward.

L'Carpetron Do…

March 16th, 2016 at 4:06 PM ^

Im with you - I want to see more Wagner out there.  He plays with a passion too, nearly to the point of hotheadedness, which this team really needs.  Especially next year.

I'm a big Beilein fan but I think one of his biggest mistakes this year was not playing Wagner and Chatman more during the brutal Big Ten stretch when Michigan was getting run off the floor by Indiana and Michigan State.  Those guys are not ideal options but they're not total liabilities.  They can play and we saw them make significant contributions in the Big Ten tournament.  Sometimes I think Donnal is soft and ineffective and they need to get someone else in there to make things happen - Wagner can fill that role.