Mailbag: Dead Yet, Duderstadt Days Again, Turnaround Timeframe Comment Count

Brian November 5th, 2014 at 11:51 AM


[Eric Upchurch]

Could he keep his job?

You can't twirl a dead cat anymore without hitting someone claiming, "if Brady Hoke wins out he could keep his job." If you ignore the fact that at no point has this team even competed with a competent team, there is still too much against him, right? If somehow the stars align and a UM team that was embarrassed in New Jersey can beat an OSU team that will probably be favored by 20+, Hoke is still gone, right?

I'm terrified that all this smoke about him still having a chance means there's fire. The last thing UM needs is to have Hoke Wayne Fontes his way into another chance. Pleases just tell me that a New AD means a new coach and I can enjoy watching Drake Johnson run roughshod over NW.

-Dylan [Ed: not that Dylan]

It's worse than that, actually: there are a number of people asserting crazy things about what happens if Michigan squeaks into a bowl game.

First, that is not likely. Michigan is a dog to a Northwestern team that just got blitzed by Iowa, and they'll probably be a slight favorite against Maryland before being a two-TD dog against OSU. Going to a bowl at all is a 30% proposition.

Even if Michigan finishes the season "strong" I can't imagine Hoke returning for a thousand reasons we've all seen. The major one is what happens to the season ticket base. It has to take a significant hit if Hoke's back, and with Brandon expanding his expenses even more rapidly than he expanded Michigan's revenue that could see Michigan dip into the red. That's not tenable.

Neither is Hoke. Without a miracle upset against Ohio State this year's resume consists of wins over some of the worst teams Division I has to offer and comprehensive blowouts against any team with a pulse. In year four, with an offense that is more experienced than Ohio State's.

Are we going back to the Duderstadt attitude?

What's up mgoblog,

I have read a lot about " be careful what you wish for" in terms of firing Dave. I think all football fans agree that we need to pay our coaches competitive salaries and Dave was on the same page.

It has been discussed most recently by Sam Webb that Schlissel has little interest in paying a coach top dollar.

Do you think there is some truth to this or do you think this is just speculation.

I am worried Michigan will hire a decent coach and be content with 8-4.

Mike V in CT.

I don't have much to go on in this department and I don't think many people know what's going on inside Schlissel's head. But: I seriously doubt that Schlissel is going to say anything to his athletic director about appropriate salaries as long as the department stays in the black. He's a doctor and a biology professor; he's going to look at numbers and do the thing that makes sense.

Since one of the best ways to keep the department in the black is to hire a real good football coach, I doubt a couple million a year is going to make or break M's ability to get the right guy.

If there's anything resembling a reconfiguring of priorities I would expect it comes in the academic component of the athletic department. That's something I forgot about in the previous mailbag when I was searching for good things Brandon did—under his watch Michigan pulled out of the Rodriguez transition APR disaster and graduated literally every senior FB player under Hoke. I don't think an emphasis on getting plausible students is going to have a ton of impact since Michigan is avoiding borderline guys already.

Michigan might scale back some of the more extravagant building projects for non-revenue sports, but I'm of the opinion that's a good thing. Palaces make some sense for the revenue sports because they, you know, generate revenue. (And those are all done anyway.) Adding permanent maintenance and debt service costs to the U's bottom line puts more stress on the fans to provide money and reduces Michigan's ability to get quality coaches in all sports.

[After THE JUMP: student attendance against Indiana, turnaround timeframe, WHYYYYY]

Student attendance?

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[Bryan Fuller]


I would like to know your take on the student attendance at the Indiana game. Was the lack of attendance following Brandon's resignation indicative of ongoing anger with the program? Or do you think it had to do with post-Halloween lethargy?

Second, do you think our win was in part due to a burst of energy follow a positive change in our athletic program or merely because Indiana is just a bad football team?


Brandon's exit didn't change many of the fundamental facts presented the students on Saturday: they were hungover, it was surprisingly cold, Michigan is not a good football team, and the game they were watching was not a good football game. Also only 12,000 of them have tickets this year.

Hell, I was seriously thinking about leaving in the fourth quarter. The entertainment value here is not real high, and even the normal reason to hang around and watch a game like Indiana—it might give you some information about how Michigan will be the rest of the year and possibly next year—is a really weak one at the moment.

Michigan won because Indiana is really really bad, especially without a QB.

How quick can this turn around?


I keep hearing you suggest that whomever the coach is, we should expect a four year rebuild. I can't help but feel this is a classic situation of the new coach winning with the old coach's players. The roster is full of scholarship players. There is a huge number of four and five star players entering upper class men range. I especially expect a huge bump from the offensive and defensive lineman entering that range. Are these players damaged from the disorganization that has plagued the team? Were there really that many swing and misses?


I don't think I've said this is a major reclamation project. Rodriguez had one. Hoke had one. The next guy is walking into 9 or 10 returning starters on offense and a defense that returns seven starters plus Morgan and Peppers. Unlike both of the previous transitions, the new coach will have double-digit offensive linemen.

I do think it's likely that Michigan had some swings and misses amongst its touted offensive line class; otherwise they would not be starting a true freshman at LT. Still, a new good mean coach can get production out of these gentlemen quickly. A look at the roster suggests the year two breakout that successful coaches tend to have is very plausible.

As long as he finds a QB, that is.


Hi Brian,

I know for some its a forgone conclusion that Hoke will not be
back after this season.  I have no problem with this as he has simply
failed to develop players, and most of all, regressed every year.
That being said, I have one question.  Why? 

What do you see our successful opponents doing when you watch on film, that we are not doing.  Specifically, is there a fundamental flaw that you see
when watching hours of video that our team possesses that could only come from our coaches?  I'm not talking about Gardner and his footwork, or the O-line/running backs failing to pick up yet another A-gap blitz.  We know they fail at these things, we know that the running backs don't hit the holes.  But why? 

I don't know if I am even asking my question correctly.  What is it at the molecular level that has prevented this team from learning from their mistakes?  Is the system too complicated?  Too simple?  Too archaic?  If Chris
Spielman can predict a run or pass play based on some obvious mannerisms by the MSU RB, why couldn't Hoke pick up on this from the hours of video he watched?  I know you don't have access to the team practices (unfortunately), and I know you are not a football coach, but is there something specific you see that makes you think our players are being taught incorrect things? 


I wish I had an easy answer. For Rodriguez there was an easy answer: he hired two guys who didn't know a 3-3-5 from a hole in the ground to run his defense and his assistants hated the idea of running anything else. (Here's a what-if-the-Nazis-won-WWII counterfactual: what if Rodriguez installed Tony Gibson as his DC on day 1.) That paired with Mallett's departure and the dearth of talent left from the Carr regime put him behind the eight ball and he could not recover.

Hoke is a more complicated nut to crack. I do think it says something about something that the coaching staff came in swearing up and down that they were going to run power down the opponents' throat and have gone to an inside zone oriented system in year four. In year one, they ended up running the inverted veer wrong but got bailed out by Denard being Denard and OSU being down to a seriously injured freshman edition of Ryan Shazier.

At no point have they settled on a thing to be, and the things they wanted to be only grudgingly took advantage of the fact that they had some super fast QBs.

Yes, they're too archaic. Jeff Hecklinski told Sam Webb that "speed can be taught"; a glance at this year's WR corps suggest that's not actually true. They've assembled an offense with very little speed and insisted on running a bunch of tight ends onto the field when for most of the Hoke regime they've been more likely to blow a block than make one. They've heavily preferred their biggest backs despite serious performance issues; they have a vision of their program that is hard to make work unless you're Alabama. (Yeah, Stanford. Stanford and…?)

That's one issue, but the bigger one is that it seems like everyone is sloppy. Hoke's making bonkers decisions on a weekly basis. WRs run bad routes, OL blow by their assignments, RBs miss holes, safeties take terrible angles. The most likely explanation to me is that Michigan is poorly structured from the top down, with a lack of—I'm sorry to use this #hottake—accountability with various assistants.

The mission statement.

Check out the mission statement for the athletic department.

The AD's customers are the student-athletes. The mission statement is 300 + words long and does not mention students, alumni, fans, community or state. Dave Brandon was just doing his job.

Obviously this is dumb. More importantly, it seems to not be how Schlissel conceives of the Athletic Department's role. Do you know how people change a mission statement here? Do people within the AD take the mission statement seriously? 


Mission statements are never taken seriously by anyone except the committee crafting them, and as soon as they're done torturing the English language past its breaking point they forget about it too. That does provide a great deal of insight into the department's attitude.

Here's what the mission statement should be:

"The University of Michigan athletic department strives to graduate its athletes, win games, and provide a kick-ass fan experience at a fair price."

The end.



Mel Pearson tha god?

I think so.

I mean, I kind of thought so when Pearson went to Tech and they immediately went from punching bag to pretty decent. The year before Pearson arrived in Houghton the Huskies were 4-30-4(!), and the previous two years had seen the Huskies win 5 and 6 games. Pearson helicopters in; they immediately go 16-19-4, their best season since 2005-06, and they've hovered slightly under .500 since. Before Pearson, MTU's had two seasons of 10+ wins since 1999-00.

This year they're going full Mullen. They're 6-0, having swept LSSU and Ferris on the road before blowing Michigan's doors off in a series that was 10-3 total goals. Meanwhile, Michigan has fallen off the map and is facing down what may be their third straight year without a tourney bid of any variety.

By the end of this year or next—Berenson is scheduled to retire after 2014-15 but has made noises about getting out early if he thinks he's not getting it done—Pearson is going to look like a strong candidate for any college hockey job, let alone the one he helped drive to great success. Age is the only drawback—he's 55 currently.

Pearson's biggest obstacle to the Michigan job is in Massachusetts, where UMass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin has done even more incredible work. The year before his arrival UML went 5-25-4. They hadn't been to the tournament since 1996. In Bazin's three years UML has been to the tourney every year,—doubling the number of bids in the history of the program—won their first-ever Hockey East title, and gone to their first-ever Frozen Four. He's in his fourth year there and he's already won HE coach of the year twice and national coach of the year once. Possible difficulty: Bazin's a UML alum.

Even if Bazin doesn't work out, if the worst you can do is Mel Pearson you're gonna have a good coaching search.



November 5th, 2014 at 3:52 PM ^

This is the first season where I have simply lost track of the schedule mentally. I have always known the next game and the games after. With so much other stuff swirling around, I have found myself forgetting who we are playing, when we had a bye, I swore we had one in the middle of last week and realized Indiana was next. The intensity of focus on everything else around the program instead of playing the games has made this season a drag.


November 5th, 2014 at 12:10 PM ^

is he meant that if the receivers are running good, clean, crisp routes the 'lack of speed' wouldn't be an issue, at least in terms of getting open.

I'm with you though, if that's not what he meant I'd love to know what he means. 


November 5th, 2014 at 12:25 PM ^

This is my interpretation as well.

Another way to look at this -- just because someone is a world-class sprinter does not necessarily make them a good receiver.  A slower runner can be a better receiver by running the route crisply and getting momentary separation at the right moment.

Below a point of slowness no amount of route execution helps.  Blow a point, slow is slow.


November 5th, 2014 at 2:24 PM ^

I would think quickness is the key ... particularly for short routes.  Receiver runs route and defenders think the velocity is constant and defend as such.  Then suddenly the receiver spurts and in one or two steps has 2 or 3 yards on someone.  Bam ... with a properly timed ball that's a completion and yards.


November 5th, 2014 at 12:10 PM ^

I mean, that was one of THE mantras the athletes I knew (among them many UMFB players as well as my own teammates on lax) all knew from experience. You can't teach speed.

That's why I think the comment was probably in the context of making players more efficient in their movements (better routes, whatever) rather than actual straight-line stuff. Otherwise, please do let me know what that secret is, as I could use such knowledge for my hoops rec league.


Frieze Memorial

November 5th, 2014 at 12:29 PM ^

I vaguely remember Denard saying that he had a method when he was a kid and that he would teach it once he was done with football.  It would be interesting to hear about it.

Like anything else, I'm guessing you have to practice and work hard.  In the Blind Side (book), the author talks about that kid like he was magically gifted to be so agile and fast with such a big body.  But that kid skipped school so he could play basketball 8 hours every day.  And he only wanted to play shooting guard like Michael Jordan.  Do that for 8 hours a day, every day, for years, you'll get pretty agile and fast.


November 5th, 2014 at 3:02 PM ^

that is play analysis.  The top athletes are athleticly gifted plus can think extremely fast (or just trained so well to recognize a coverage, formation, or whatever, that lets them know what should develop).

I'm guessing he is referring to the crispness and execution of routes more than speed, but I think what he stated is not accurate.  


November 5th, 2014 at 12:37 PM ^

I only have the quote to go on, but you can get players to play faster, in several ways:

1) S&C, obviously.  Get rid of fat and slow-twitch and replace it with fast-twitch muscle.  I have my opinions of Wellman but we honestly don't know what's going on in the weight room.  I DO know that Michigan has shown a horrible inability to build up speed and loves to bulk up their players so it might not be method so much as emphasis.

2) Experience.  I hate the term "paralysis by analysis" but you can certainly get faster play by repping until reads and reactions are second nature.

3) Technique.  I'm not talking about the mental aspect of reads and reactions so much as wasted motion.  Bad pad level means you spend most of your leg power standing up instead of going forward.  An improper foot plant means you haven't optimized lateral force so you more hop than juke.  You can improve sprint speed by optimizing stride length and leg churn.

It's tough to pinpoint because all three can look very similar -- if a running back is slow to the hole, for example, he could be conditioned improperly, hesitating, or look like he's hesitating when he's not changing his gait out of the mesh fast enough.  One reason why I suspect S&C is that even when the ball carrier gets past the secondary they're consistently chased down from behind by even the worst defenses.  That's just a horse race; there are no reads or football moves involved.  The longest play against Indiana was thirtysomething yards.   This team can't outrun anyone, which if you turn that around, means everyone can outrun them.  Some of the fastest players are among the youngest so I'm thinking they're being bulked up at the expense of speed.


November 5th, 2014 at 1:02 PM ^

See, I don't see the bulk vs speed thing on D. Our d-line is pretty strong, bulky, and fast IMHO; and the rest of the D, while not the fastest in the country, isn't even close to anything that would cause me alarm as being slow.


Offense on the other hand, at least as it is right now, we seem to be lacking overall speed and quickness, so I might agree with you there. Both of the Drake's (Johnson and Harris) have decent speed, but we haven't really been able to see it used on the field for various reasons - I seem to recall some scouts comparing Drake Harris to Randy Moss (hey no pressure). Ty Isaac was said to have breakaway speed, especially for a big guy, too. So while overall it might seem we're more on the bulky vs fast side of the spectrum on O and we don't have speed all over the field like some teams, I think theres individual players that definitely have the speed we're looking for.


November 5th, 2014 at 4:15 PM ^

I consider D-line the exception because they're coached well.  Say whatever else you will of Hoke; as a specialist he can coach D-line and Heinenger Certainty Principle applies.  They play fast.  If you look at our quickest players relative to positional peers, D-line stands out.

But they're the exception and hardly a surprise at that.  Speed-wise the linebackers are unremarkable, the secondary is mediocre at best and our fastest (who are supposed to be genuinely fast) get burned by mid-round (at best) NFL receiver talent (argh argh Tony Lippett).  The only exceptions are people who showed up fast (Denard, Jourdan Lewis, etc.).  In Year Four we've allowed big plays, pick-sixes and punt return TDs but even our best playmakers are routinely run down from behind.  Again, I'm not discussing technique issues -- defensively the back 7 do pretty well by keeping the ball "inside and front" and offensively the main issue ain't speed -- I'm talking about horse races where the guy with the ball just runs in a straight line.  Other teams not even known for speed take it to da house on us; we couldn't even outrun Indiana with a head start.

It's by no means the only reason they're bad, but our team is officially Sloooooow.


November 5th, 2014 at 12:41 PM ^

If Sanderson (and hard work) can add 3-6" to our cager's verticals we can certainly get a little more speed out of our receivers and DBs. Many of our guys came as touted HS track guys, but the current lack of football speed is apparent. 


November 5th, 2014 at 12:45 PM ^

It's not that hard of a leap to make.

There's raw abillity: This is the kind of speed you and Brian refer to--raw, natural speed that requires little to no work on the part of the speedster.

Then there's technique: This is the kind of speed Coach Heck is talking about. You might be better to think of it as agility, but the idea here would be that you can get faster with solid technique.


November 5th, 2014 at 2:19 PM ^

That really doesn't sound like the full story.  Okay, funny one liner by the coach but any track coach would also be able to offer some technical advice that could make at least a small difference.

FWIW there were some news stories in 2001 about Larry Foote improving his speed significantly after the UM track coaches helped him work on his technique.  


November 5th, 2014 at 3:04 PM ^

This was over ten years ago but beyond that comment, what I remember is it was his perspective that, literally, players should focus on sprinting. He extended the offer for any of the football players to come sprint with the team.  

I got the impression that he got those questions a lot from guys who didn't really want to put in the effort it would take to shave fractions of a second off their forty time so that was his stock answer.  I think Sharik's post below is accurate to actual technique.

steve sharik

November 5th, 2014 at 1:20 PM ^

You can't teach a slow guy to become fast, but everyone can improve their speed with fundamental technique and efficiency of motion.  There are a lot of speed coaches out there and plenty of instructional videos/books that teach these techniques.  Drill examples are A skips, B skips, bounders, etc.  The most common sprinting technique errors are over-striding (heel comes up near the butt), proper knee height (thigh parallel to ground at crest), hip/waist level (parallel to ground), back angle (slight forward, and I do mean slight), and head level (parallel to ground).

Sextus Empiricus

November 5th, 2014 at 1:26 PM ^

There's a myriad  of programs out there. Try this one - Link.

Just kidding - don't hit that link.  Seriously though... what's so hard to believe here?  Athletes improve performance all the time?  Granted - there are limits.  OK go ahead hit that link.


November 5th, 2014 at 4:15 PM ^

He probably has a payback clause in his contract, but he may have negotiated a "Michigan Clause" ... If he's offered the HC job at Michigan, he owes less, or doesn't owe anything.  It's been a few years, but I feel like I remember reading that Red helped him get his job at Tech, possibly so he could get some experience as a HC before Red retired.


November 5th, 2014 at 12:09 PM ^

I do not buy the argument one bit that season tickets will take a drastic hit if Hoke is retained. It's the wrong argument to keep bringing up, which you have continued doing. The great thing about season ticket holders are that they tend to be loyal fans and like any fans will rekindle their sense of optimism in the offseason. "Most of those young players from last year's team are coming back!" "Hoke finally has the quarterback made for his system!" "Morris has drastically improved in practice since last year" "The wide receivers have become more explosive" "The offensive line finally has chemistry!"...and so on

Yes, I agree that a splashy new coach (like a Harbaugh) would boost optimism and likely boost demand for season ticket sales, but I do not expect it to fall off like you do if Hoke stays.


November 5th, 2014 at 12:17 PM ^

While I get the argument you're trying to make I think it's insane.  Given the amount of apathy around the program right now and the fact that everyone has decided Hoke has to go and even hearing from friends who are current season ticket holders about their plans if Hoke is retained, Hoke's retention almost has to have a serious effect on season ticket holders. 

Right now in everyone's minds Hoke = Buffoon and there's no reason to shell out a ton of money if you know you're not going to get a good return on it.  Michigan football season ticket's value proposition is already tenuous even with a new coach, if Hoke's still in place it's non-existent.


November 5th, 2014 at 1:17 PM ^

Stubhub could only explain the lack of season ticket purchases, not the empty stadium.  I agree that the schedule is bad, but we've had weak schedules before and the attendance has never been anything like this.


November 5th, 2014 at 12:25 PM ^

but I will not be renewing my tickets if Hoke is back.  They are already too expensive for what has been a medicore to bad product for a decade.  If I want to go back for a game or two I can just get tickets on Stubhub for much cheaper anyway.  I refuse to keep paying top dollar for mediocrity. 


November 5th, 2014 at 12:26 PM ^

Also, if this actually happens, it lends credence to my belief that Brandon was fired only because football stinks.

The students marched to fire him and then celebrated by not showing up to the Indiana game. Yeah, its cold and we stink and Indiana stinks worse, but they should have come out to show their appreciation for having their vote counted.

But they chanted, "Harbaugh!" on Schlissel's lawn, so I'm worried that only Harbaugh will get them back into the stands.