Sunk Costs Comment Count

Brian November 24th, 2008 at 12:31 PM

11/22/2008 – Michigan 7, Ohio State 42 – 3-9, 2-6 Big Ten


I gave you the emotional appeal for patience with Rich Rodriguez on Friday. Then Michigan went out and got clubbed to death like everyone expected, though the killing blows took a longer to get home. Michigan is 3-9, the season is over, etc.

So what happened? Who's at fault? How does this affect Rodriguez going forward?

What happened. In retrospect the optimism about the season was comical. At some point in fall camp it became clear the coaches did not think the one viable scholarship quarterback on the roster was obviously better than a walk-on who looks like the wimpy guy in a barbershop quartet. This should have been a HEAD FOR THE HILLS moment.

Instead, I saw (and participated in) a classic moment of irrational fan optimism: it's not that bad. He was injured as a senior, he could be okay. He slipped through the cracks. He's a better fit for the system. And so on and so forth.

Meanwhile, a defensive tackle was moved to the offensive line and ended up starting. Michigan lost one of its only viable starters in the preseason. Stevie Brown would reclaim a starting job, and the other safeties would be 1) a guy who had been playing corner and 2) a guy who couldn't hack it at corner.

People say "Michigan shouldn't be that bad with all that talent!" and I say "I would like to see some of this talent!" There is obviously none on offense except that which is underclassmen. Sure, the defensive line is great but it doesn't matter when none of your linebackers can cover worth a damn and the safeties give out long touchdowns like candy. This thing was doomed from the start, and even if Rodriguez screwed up all he did was make it slightly more doomed.

Who's at fault. Everyone:

  • Lloyd Carr put all his eggs in Mallett's basket, leaving Michigan with David Cone as upperclass QBs this year. His recruiting was obviously rotting slowly, too.
  • Angry Michigan Mobile Quarterback Hating God blew up Antonio Bass's knee.
  • Bill Martin scheduled Utah instead of Sam Houston State.
  • Rich Rodriguez thought Steven Threet was worse than Nick Sheridan.
  • Angry Michigan Fan Sanity God also thought it would be funny to see Michigan fumble every ten seconds.

There's plenty to go around.

The one criticism being launched on the internet and elsewhere that I think has some validity is directed at the defensive staff. They had one and a half viable linebackers and a returning senior who spent the last two years of his career as a LB/CB/S hybrid. Maybe Thompson plays against UW, MSU, and OSU, but the switch to a nickel package against the spread took nine games and was only spurred by a move to a 3-3-5 that Justin Siller shredded for 48 points. Much of the year Michigan ran out three-man fronts on potential running downs and was gashed.

If they keep Thompson off the field and go with a nickel all year and never, ever go to a three man line on a potential running down Michigan probably wins another game or two more games and this year is not nearly as ugly. Is that on Shafer? I don't know. I suspect there was some major conflict between the various guys running the defense, as two of them were new to Rodriguez and two were holdovers.

I'm willing to grant a first-year coordinator a mulligan when he doesn't know the strengths and weaknesses of his players; next year I hope to see a more coherent idea of what Michigan can and cannot do and what players are good.

What now. A favorite media complaint of late has been that "it didn't have to be this bad," inevitably followed by "why didn't Rodriguez run Mike DeBord's offense?" The latter idea has already been debunked here. The former is not a complaint for Rich Rodriguez, it's for Bill Martin. If Martin wanted he could have hung on to an assistant or grabbed Brady Hoke or picked up any number of coaches who would have changed the culture and offense less radically.

Once you decide to bring Rodriguez in, though, you are committed to some degree of rebuilding, and when your hotshot QB recruit transfers leaving nothing behind him that degree is "lots." This is not Rodriguez's fault. I'm sure there were any number of things he could have done better, and that in some way he has personality flaws that make transition years under him more brutal than they usually are. Okay. Those are a sunk cost. 2008 is a sunk cost. This is a sunk cost:

In economics and business decision-making, sunk costs are costs that cannot be recovered once they have been incurred. Sunk costs are sometimes contrasted with variable costs, which are the costs that will change due to the proposed course of action…. In microeconomic theory, only variable costs are relevant to a decision. Economics proposes that a rational actor does not let sunk costs influence one's decisions, because doing so would not be assessing a decision exclusively on its own merits.

Even if Rodriguez did run off Mallett and Manningham and Arrington and Boren and various other players and is just really horrible at transitioning football teams, all that already happened. We suffered the consequences of it. Booting Rodriguez before he's been given a chance to show what he can do with a roster of his guys makes this year in vain.

I mention it because the ridiculous "BCS with a sophomore QB in 2010 or DEATH" meme has spread beyond the addled brain of the Worst Columnist in America and to some of the more Little Wayne-obsessed parts of the Michigan blogosphere:

We're predicting a sloppy 7-5 campaign … and a loss in the Alamo, setting up a situation in Year 3 that he MUST reach a BCS bowl. No pressure, though.

I generally like the Realests, but no. This horrible season should not have much bearing on Rich Rodriguez's job security. It's sunk and gone. As long as Michigan improves consistently and Rodriguez strides towards the excellent program he had at West Virginia, his job should be safe. Firing him after three years if he goes 3-9, 6-6, and 8-4 would be the first step towards the doming down of the program.

Because. Because I have to tell you, the state of the program right now is not good. 19 scholarship defenders return. Not on the two-deep. On the roster. In all likelihood, a freshman will start at quarterback next year and the skill position players will be mostly underclassmen. Michigan should obviously be better next year. They probably aren't going to be good.

I'm sorry to harp on this, but in my mind it's the primary danger facing the program right now. They've grabbed a high quality coach with 20 years of experience young enough to stay at Michigan for 20 years, which is a combination you never see. Getting rid of Rich Rodriguez for not moving the program in the right direction enough would be the biggest mistake Michigan has made in over 40 years.

Suck it up and ye shall reach the promised land. As Ninja Football says: WE ARE GOING TO BE A MACHINE.



November 24th, 2008 at 12:42 PM ^

.......thats one way of putting it.

I still prefer to think of this season as the world's longest practice and/or scrimmage.

Either comparison, however, demands that we adhere to your sane message of patience.

This year was not about winning or was about transition....and while the coaches wanted to win, for them, the 12 games this year was about seeing who could play their style and who could not.

I am, however, not as pesimistic as you seem to be about the overall state of the program. I think there is talent all around, its just young and uncultivated.

We'll be fine.


November 24th, 2008 at 12:45 PM ^


Whatever degree of the "we didn't have to be THIS bad in 2008" game you want to play, we were going to be really, really bad this year no matter what. Blaming Rodriguez for whatever mistakes he did make might release horrible emotional anguish from the bowels of your soul, but it doesn't change the fact that this program had fundamental problems rotting away at it's very core.

Carl Spackler

November 24th, 2008 at 12:48 PM ^

They need a Paterno. An old guy who can tell stories about the rivalries, who can go into recruits' houses and be a father figure, and can quote obscure passages from books that no one has ever read but think are really inspiring.....And then to sit in the booth and not be involved in any actual game planning or play calling. There is definitely a lack of UM history with these coaches and a lack of father figure leadership. IMO, these are needed to have success.


November 24th, 2008 at 12:51 PM ^

Good point about 20 years experience/20 years at Michigan.

But your point about sunk costs is also relevant to the question of whether Rodriguez is a "quality coach": "past performance is no guarantee of future results."

It's all going to depend on what happens when Rich Rod looks inside himself in the offseason of this year (and probably in the offseason of next year, when they will probably go 5-7 or so).

Does he have value to add now that the spread has been widely assimilated? Is he a coaching genius, or a Johnny One-Note? time will tell...


November 24th, 2008 at 12:55 PM ^

Right on. I think the O-line will improve in a major way from this year to next. This year's freshman class has a lot of talent and when they are ready for the field next fall I think we'll see the improvement which was not addressed much. Our O-line was bad this year...lead the nation in 3 and outs. Given time to mature, that front five will gel and we'll see the offense we thought we were going to see this year.


November 24th, 2008 at 1:03 PM ^

Despair is typical of those who do not understand the causes of evil, see no way out, and are incapable of struggle. The modern Michigan fan should not belong to the category of such classes.


November 24th, 2008 at 1:03 PM ^

Similarly, I suffered from Irrational Michigan History Optimism Entering This Season (IMHOETS). I was thinking 6-6 or 7-5 and a crappy bowl bid. Was wrong, wrong and wrong.

I'll even say that if RR is fired before 2013, it will be a shame and we will be ND, Nebraska and Alabama (pre-Satan) all rolled up into one. Granted, if we are perpetually 3-9 for the next three seasons, that will be wrong. But we won't be.

The 20/20 observation is one I've made with many Michigan fans and a number of Domers I am (un)privileged to work with. If you fire a guy too early, no one else will want to coach there. If you fire a young guy with a resume, you'll end up with either a young guy with no resume or an old guy with one. Neither is preferable.


November 24th, 2008 at 1:04 PM ^

fans, alumni and boosters think about it this logically, but I'm willing to bet they won't. I'm afraid the uproar resulting from anything less than 7 wins and a BCS in the next 2 years will set into motion RR's departure, involuntarily or otherwise.


November 24th, 2008 at 1:11 PM ^

"Getting rid of Rich Rodriguez for not moving the program in the right direction enough would be the biggest mistake Michigan has made in over 40 years.

Suck it up and ye shall reach the promised land. As Ninja Football says: WE ARE GOING TO BE A MACHINE."



November 24th, 2008 at 1:15 PM ^

putting all of his eggs in the Mallett basket is not correct. He did have Threet and Weinke (I think that was his name) coming in this year. That would have made Weinke RS, and Threet #2, Sheridan #3 (from Carr's perspective).

Other than this, I don't Lloyd could have gotten a great QB after Mallett, since even Forcier transferred and didn't want to sit behind a presumably 3 year starter.


November 24th, 2008 at 1:21 PM ^

who transferred when Mallet committed. He would have been a nice fit in this offense - a two-year starter, upperclassman, somewhat mobile (at least moreso than what they have now) and his little bro' would have taken over at the helm after he graduated. Shame shame shame.


November 24th, 2008 at 1:19 PM ^

I'm sure it is hard right now for many of us to imagine this team looking competent on either side of the ball, but Rich won 3 games in '01, and 9 games in '02. I'm sure that '01 WVU team had their own Toledo's and Purdue's, and people probably didn't picture them getting any better the next season, and I wonder how many WVU fans were calling for his head. The toughest part will be having to listen to EVERYONE in Southeast Michigan telling us all offseason that Rich was and is a complete failure. But it will be niiiiiiiice when it's all over.


November 24th, 2008 at 1:20 PM ^

"Lloyd Carr put all his eggs in Mallett's basket, leaving Michigan with David Cone as upperclass QBs this year. His recruiting was obviously rotting slowly, too."

That sounds a little bit revisionist. Outside of the Mallett thing, where was the "obvious" rotting? Lloyd's classes have been guru approved in consistently the same range year after year, haven't they?


November 24th, 2008 at 1:24 PM ^

actually look at the individual players that made them 'guru approved.' I hear this argument a lot, but the truth is that well over 50% of the talent that was in those classes either had career-ending injuries or transferred/quit. And a few others who were actually left over haven't panned out, under Rodriguez or Carr (see DB's).


November 24th, 2008 at 1:26 PM ^

This was a remarkable season that I can't imagine will ever happen again in my lifetime (and I'm not old):

The worst offense in Michigan history.
The worst defense in Michigan history.
The worst speical teams in Michigan history.

Don't think so?

The offense: Sheridammit, the Fumblors, and the Maginot Line. 'Nuff said.

The Defense: 2004 = 279 pts against (previous worst) 2008 = 347(!) pts against.'Nuff said.

The Special Teams: fumble, fumble, blocked, fumble, fumble, blocked. Lather, rinse, repeat. The most fumbled punt and kickoff returns in the program's 129-year history. Vomitous.

Okay, okay. So 2008 was EPIC FAIL. I'll stop piling on.
Silver lining? We hired the right guy and we WILL be good. The ONLY thing that would shake my confidence is if we see any more STARTERS leave the program. Kates, Chambers, Babb? Well, sure, of course YOU guys want to quit.
But Boren and Mallett quitting REALLY sucked. If we see guys who KNOW they are going to be seeing a ton of playing time quit ANYWAY? That is a bad, bad sign. I've read the iffy rumors about Warren and McGuffie and Stonum. Those aren't guys buried on the depth chart and them leaving would send up the red flag of "Whoa, wait a minute, this is a PATTERN."
If the attrition is limited to just a bunch of benchwarmers, that will be a great assurance for me that yes, we ARE going to be a MACHINE.


November 24th, 2008 at 1:22 PM ^

I do now, after having watched the OSU game in person. I could see it. OSU is going to be obsolete, and we will own them. I have my concerns about the defense, and I will need to see changes in schematic, but the offense is going to be just fine. Once we have the ability to stretch the field a bit, and draw those DB's/LB's back into coverage, there will be large chewy bits of turf to snack upon, as we haul ass up and down the field. There is no way that the LB will be able to make the play in single coverage, out there on the island, as they are confronted with someone like Shaw or Odoms moving at warp speed. I get it now.

Also- should any of you talk to RR, please do pass along this message: After the way my wife and I were treated by those troglodytes who call themselves OSU fans, if, when we get good again, RR pulls back on the throttle the slightest bit against OSU, then he should be fired during the game. If we do not beat that team 150-0 and make their armada of douchebag fans weep and gnash their teeth and pull out their mullets, then I will be sorely displeased. I want to make them see the offense in their worst nightmares.


November 24th, 2008 at 1:32 PM ^

heres to going 6-6 next year and making the motor city bowl so i dont have to drive to california for the rose bowl again. like kevin mccalister says, why would i want to spend winter in a tropical climate anyway?


November 24th, 2008 at 1:35 PM ^

You're forgetting rule #1 of Laymen's Economic Theory.

Most people LOVE to consider sunk costs. Listen to people talk...whether about financial decisions or, yes, coaching ones: they make very little distinction between sunk costs and variable costs. It's simultaneously hilarious and frightening.

(OK, maybe it's not rule 1, but it's certainly up there.)


November 24th, 2008 at 1:37 PM ^

Someone suggested this in a post last week, but I think it deserves reinforcement: with all the flack that RR is taking on right now, it probably wouldn't hurt for us level-headed types to shoot him a line or two of encouragement via snail mail.


November 24th, 2008 at 1:52 PM ^

Coach Rich Rodriguez
Athletic Department
University of Michigan
1000 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2201

Remember, hand written letters are always appreciated more than typed ones, shorter notes are more likely to be read, general statements of support trumps specific mentions of improvement, and don't give them any reason not to hand the envelope over to him.


November 24th, 2008 at 1:37 PM ^

I agree Brian that RichRod needs time to implement his system and that 2009 will not be a BCS year.

That being said, there should be some type of non-subjective s (wins/losses, yards per play, margin of victory/losses, etc) for progress made in the 2009 season, prior to the beginning of the season. That way, we can't look back retrospectively at the beginning of the season and try to spin any potential disaster.


November 24th, 2008 at 1:39 PM ^


Keep harping on this as much as is needed. The ave fan / alum does not think through these things like you (and by extension we) do. I shudder to think of what the folks that have Bill Martin's ear are saying to him.

The effects of Antonio Bass's treacherous knee being treacherous can not be overstated, IMO. IIRC, he was to be Henne's backup, not Mallet. Imagine how would a junior Tate or Beaver would have done in place of Sheridan. Bass was a 4-star also...


November 24th, 2008 at 1:41 PM ^

I agree with the general direction of this conversation, and want to add one additional point. Firing Rich Rod in 3-4 years will create in essence a black hole for Michigan football. Why would you allow the new regime time enough to fully have a system incorporated, then pull the plug before you see the results? If that happened, the football program would be looking at many more years of transition and hardship.

Tommy Amaker got 6 years before Bill Martin decided to head into another direction. Even though the situation is different, hopefully, Bill Martin will give Rich Rod the same curiously (Though I don’t think he’ll need it.)


November 24th, 2008 at 1:44 PM ^

I'm hopeful we'll get to 6-6 next year, but what if we only get like 5 wins and miss a bowl game again? What is considered significant enough progress?


November 24th, 2008 at 1:45 PM ^

Lots of revisionist history the last couple of years over at BGS is humorous, pathetic, and a bit worrisome.
Let's let the dust settle on 2008 and then establish some fair and reasonable benchmarks for the 2009 season. This will also help combat the whole "Irrational Expectation Syndrome."

Michigan Arrogance

November 24th, 2008 at 2:07 PM ^

the OL recruiting has been terrible. we we're getting 2nd & 3rd choices a lot the last 2-3 years, save boren & schilling.

the QB stuff... it wasn't that LC didn't recruit other QBs. it's that he went after a questionable guy in mallet that chased others away. it the eggs in one basket thing is an indirect effect.

safety... well we don't have to rehash that old chestnut.

The Squid

November 24th, 2008 at 2:14 PM ^

In what way was Mallet questionable? Depending on who you listen to, he was either the #1 or #2 QB in the country his senior year. When Henne got injured and there was no other reasonable backup (thanks to Forcier's transfer), Mallett, a true freshman, got put on the field and promptly played like a true freshman. No surprise there.


November 24th, 2008 at 2:25 PM ^

"Booting Rodriguez before he's been given a chance to show what he can do with a roster of his guys makes this year in vain."

Just wanted to point out that this statement is not necessarily consistent with the concept of sunk cost. The basic idea behind sunk cost is that you should make the best possible decision that you can today regardless of what has already happened. That is to say, the investment in RRod and his system for the past year is irrelevant. The only relevant thing is how you think the team will perform next year under RRod vs. another option.

For what it's worth, I completely agree with Brian's premise and think that it would be shortsighted to fire RRod after one year.


November 24th, 2008 at 2:20 PM ^

Look folks, we all care about Michigan football and I would like RichRod to succeed. I also believe he is entitled to another year. But, realistically, what evidence is there that he has done a good coaching job this year? I am very concerned that most of your views are based on RichRod's success at WVU. It is important to note that this success, essentially occurred after Miami, Virginia Tech and BC left the conference. When your big game is Pitt, Rutgers, or Cicinatti, winning the conference does not seem like such an accomplishment. Now none of that is proof that he is a bad coach, but, it's not evidence that he is a great coach either. So, let's look at his performance this year.

In my view, the fundamental quality of a good coach is that he gets the most out of his players. He may not win championships, but his players do the best that they are capable. Can anyone out there with a straight face, really say that RichRod got the most he could out of this team? Are you really saying that these players were not capable of beating Toledo and Purdue. If you're not saying that, why are you so convinced that the criticisms of RichRod are so unfair?

Now, I strongly disagree with the view that you can't coach fundamentals. Both Bo and Woody made their careers out of coaching fundamentals. Can anyone suggest that this was a fundamentally sound team? They simply did not block or tackle well. Yes, many were underclassmen, but still. Moreover,perhaps there's no way to coach Odoms out of fumbling punts, but if you can't why keep sending him out there? That's fundamentally poor coaching.

I don't disagree with the view that the offense was substantially depleted by graduations and I am not after RichRod's head because Mallet and Boren transferred and Arrington turned pro (though certainly he doesn't get any brownie points for his handling of this). Nonetheless, the defense had seven returning starters from a 9-4 team that beat Florida. So, the incompetence of the defense is incomprehensible and I think can fairly be laid on to the coaching (by the way is anyone the least concerned about the defensive signal confusion and shouting during the OSU game?) Lloyd's recruting may have been on the downswing the last few years but until the disaster of this season was completed, no one would have accepted that this was 3-9 talent.

So, where are we? You cannot say that those of us who are skeptical of RichRod are all neanderthals who don't understand football. There is cause for serious concern that the man is not as gifted a coach as you would like to believe and is doing serious damage to the program. Personally, I don't know. But saying if we fire him we will turn into the next Nebraska or ND to me makes no sense when RR may well be the next Weiss or Callahan. I think the only good way to look at it is to ask yourself what kind of coaching job RR did this year with this team. Most of the evidence points to not very good, but there are some things that do make me believe the issue is not settled:

1. He has a history of lousy first years. I don't think there's a legitimate reason for this as most good coaches improve a program their first year (go look at the first year records of Saban, Miles, Tressel, Meyer, etc. Not to mention, of course, Schembechler-yes I know he had a talented team) but it seems to be RichRod's way so a bad first year is not necessarily a predictor.

2. He has had success at other programs, although that it was a weak Big East makes me nervous.

3. I saw progress in the offensive line. This is the one coaching area where I think they did a good job. Last year's O-line was essentially Jake Long and four guys who couldn't block anyone. This year they had essentially no one and by the end of the year they were opening holes even though the defense knew there was no passing game. This is the biggest cause of optimism in my view.

4. He recruited Beaver and Forcier.

In my view, the foregoing is not cause to give RichRod 5 or 6 years unless substantial progress is made next year and the year after. Otherwise, you are just hoping he's a good coach without any evidence that he is (at least for Michigan). I think, with respect, that a lot of your support for RichRod is based on the horrible thought that if he isn't the answer then Michigan really is on the verge of a disaster with no clear answer and no clear way out. I hope that's not the case but just as I don't believe RichRod should be fired at this time, I don't think he deserves any fan letters either.


November 24th, 2008 at 2:21 PM ^

He completed less than 50% of his passes throwing to NFL-drafted WRs. And couldn't figure out how to take a snap without fumbling it.
Compare his spot duty to Henne's performance in 2004. Night and day.

The Squid

November 24th, 2008 at 9:04 PM ^

Mallett looked like a true freshman. I don't think that makes him questionable.

Can we please dispense with the idea that Henne's freshman performance is a threshold for good true freshman quarterbacking? Henne's 2004 season was a remarkable achievement that's going to be very rarely duplicated.


November 24th, 2008 at 2:26 PM ^

Exhibit A: 2005 WVU beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl
Exhibit B: 2007 WVU destroyed Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
Exhibit C: As OC at Clemson, they led the ACC in offense.
Exhibit D: As OC, helped Tulane go 11-0, with the #1 offense in the country.


November 24th, 2008 at 2:54 PM ^

Very legitimate points and cause for hope. I would be as happy as anyone if RichRod turns out to be the guy. But my point is that the best argument for him is what he's done in the past (and much of that is in an inferior conference). If he didn't have the resume and turned in this season (or for that matter if he was Lloyd and turned in this season)I think we'd be united in wanting his head. I don't think there's much evidence that he did a good job with this year's Michigan team (and if I'm missing something I'd be happy if I was wrong). Moreover, if he goes 8-4 next year as Arrogant Michigan fan suggests, I'd be satisfied that that was a sign of significant progress. But I do think if Michigan goes 5-7 or even 6-6 that a long look would have to be taken to evaluate the coaching job that RR is doing. I do stand by my view that the mark of a good coach is that he gets the most out of his players. If objectively, what he does next year meets that test I'm fine with it. If it doesn't I don't think he gets to rest on his prior accomplishments any more than the rest of us do.