Offense impressions, year one
I attended the DC event you did over the summer where you talked about what to expect from a Harbaugh offense. Now that there is a season's worth of data, do you have any plans to revisit and do a compare and contrast on that? I'm curious what new wrinkles can be attributed to Fisch, opponent specific stuff, or just flat out integrating plays he likes, as a way of understanding how he evolves his approach.
That's a conversation for next year. It will be interesting to see how Michigan's philosophy changes going forward; right now I the only things I have to compare it to are NFL offenses in a vastly different competitive environment and a five-year-old Stanford team with a largely different braintrust.
Meanwhile it'll probably take another year before the Death Star is even vaguely operational. You could see the outlines of the things Harbaugh wants to do, but it's always much easier to see what the shape of a thing is when it works as intended. Michigan's ground game didn't do that enough to get a feel for the shape of he whole thing.
One thing that did stand out was the week-to-week diversity of formations and plays. Michigan had a T-formation package last seen in college football decades ago; they had a week where they ran a handful of zone read; they fiddled with some diamond formations. While the wrinkles didn't always add up to much in year one, they do speak to Harbaugh's philosophy: he wants to constantly show you things that make you uncomfortable and get you to bust a run fit.
It's mostly the same for the offensive line. They get a call and they execute the call. Those calls are almost always standard power, inside zone, or outside zone. The only things that Michigan did that they didn't do much under previous staffs were quick trap pulls.
Harbaugh puts a bunch of window dressing around it and uses his blocky/catchy types to spring the surprises. Going forward I am guessing you are going to see a high priority put on RB/TE/FB types who are highly intelligent, because the bulk of the week-to-week changes are on them. I think that's a major reason Michigan's PWO class is heavy on high-academic blocky/catchy types—there might be an Owen Marecic lurking in there.
[After THE JUMP: extensive takes on the envelope pushing and overall grades for Hoke]
Rules, how do they work?
Harbaugh has done probably a dozen or more rule-bending or tradition-bending moves in the first year of his reign, and while we've seen plenty of other programs complain about or copy these moves, I don't believe I've seen much about others "innovating" in the same way.
I've heard things about Saban making big waves like this when he began at Alabama, other than that not much. Are there others doing these sorts of innovations? Does is just seem like a bigger deal due to all of the publicity around the man and the program?
It was actually James Franklin who first started the satellite camp business, but he's been lower-key about it. Michigan took that idea and blew it up into a big deal thing, because that's what Harbaugh does.
Other programs do these sorts of things but take an opposite approach, playing them down so that they don't get the kind of pushback Harbaugh is getting. Harbaugh is Harbaugh, for one, and attracts attention wherever he goes no matter what he's doing. For two, Michigan is clearly implementing a public relations strategy geared toward maximum volume.
You are starting to see other schools get in on satellite camps; OSU recently announced they'd be down in Florida. They were down there last year, too. If they exist others will take advantage of them. To the extent Harbaugh does? Probably not.
Nothing that Harbaugh has done has seemed ground-breaking, or at all out-of-the-blue, so why aren't others doing nearly as much?
The IMG trip is unprecedented, I believe, for football players. Obviously other sports have done similar things—every four years basketball teams can take an international trip, and Michigan fans are now very well informed about that Vanderbilt baseball trip over fall break—but those have been less explicitly about recruiting. Yes, Kentucky taking a trip to the Bahamas is about recruiting, but indirectly because there aren't any croots there.
Harbaugh doesn't have a political bone in his body and thus makes everything explicit, which bothers good ol' boys who like the system the way it currently is.
Now that Michigan is quite clearly on an increasingly upward trajectory on the field and in recruiting, who do you think will be the next coach or program to copy this sort of aggressive overall management strategy?
Well, they'll try to ban everything no matter how hypocritical it is. Greg Sankey clearly isn't bothered that his arguments against the stuff Harbaugh is doing are preposterous on their face. They will Think Of The Children and try to ram legislation through that prevents these things from continuing, whereupon Harbaugh will look for other loopholes, etc., etc.
Saban was and is the same way. He got shut down after pushing the envelope with in-school "bump" visits; several years later they had bowl practices at a high school with some big-time recruits and just happened to give them enough money to renovate their field. I never really had a problem with any of that; the problem was when that willingness to push any edge resulted in Alabama going into a summer needing to shed 7, 8, 9, 10 kids.
I'm not sure how much of a difficulty it will be for the SEC that whatever legislation they'd need to pass would be clearly self-serving and without merit otherwise. It could be that there are enough schools interested in satellite camps that those stick around. It could be difficult to craft legislation that demands all offseason practices be held on campus without hitting a bunch of other sports. Or these things could sail through since people don't want to add yet more work to their plates.
But, just like Michigan's IMG trip doesn't add time but merely moves it, they won't be subtracting time from Harbaugh's efforts, merely relocating it.
Grading coaches, seed, Star Wars
1. I remember you wrote a few years ago grading Bo, Mo, Carr and RR on recruitment, player development and deployment. I think you gave Carr grades of A, A and C. So how would you grade Hoke along with the first year of HARBAUGH now?
I don't remember that but I'd more or less agree with those grades. Hoke is difficult to judge when it comes to the former because he was an excellent recruiter with a vast critical flaw: he let Al Borges acquire quarterbacks. Hoke's recruits formed the backbone of a 10-3 team that was top ten in a lot of advanced ranking systems, but if Harbaugh hadn't patched the QB recruiting hole how much worse do they end up? Much, much worse. You have to give the guy a B even so.
Player development, D, deployment, F. His QBs got worse over time. His OL got worse over time. He tried to ignore Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner's lower appendages. He converted his defense to press man after a coaching shakeup that saw a linebacker who had never coached in the secondary land at CB coach, and then watched Blake Countess die over and over again trying to do something he simply could not. He carried multiple coaches with no business in the Big Ten, let alone at Michigan, and their landing places afterwards—Florida Tech, Wyoming, San Jose State—demonstrate that a refusal to fire guys who weren't pulling their weight.
The one bright spot when it came to development was the defensive line, where Hoke turned a number of untouted players into draft picks and all-conference level performers.
It's too early to say anything definitive about Harbaugh. Early I'd say A, A, B, with the B for "deployment" 100% because of DJ Durkin's disastrous non-plan for the OSU game. You might ding Harbaugh's recruiting for an iffy showing at OT in the last cycle, if you were inclined. But, like, Gary.
As far as development goes, Jake Rudock, Jehu Chesson, AJ Williams, Jourdan Lewis, Willie Henry, Ryan Glasgow, and Chris Wormley all took huge steps forward in year one. The number of guys to run in place was correspondingly much lower—Bolden, maybe Kalis.
2. What does your instinct tell you the MBB team's NCAA seed number and which round they'll come furthest to?
At this point they look like a ten seed that maybe pulls off a mild first round upset before going down to a mean team with post players.
3. How would you rank the latest Star Wars among the previous six?
Thanks a lot,
ann.arbor.lover [at] mgoblog from Indianapolis
I got so depressed about Episodes I and II that I haven't ever seen III, so in front of those. I would put it behind the original trilogy since VII had exactly zero new ideas. It felt like JJ Abrams was as upset about the prequel trilogy as I was and decided that he was just going to Make Star Wars Okay Again. I guess he did that, but making the bad guy into Gamergate is not an innovation in my book.