On Coaching or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love DeBord

Submitted by mad magician on November 25th, 2008 at 7:42 PM

Since the season has ended, many Michigan fans have been playing the what-if game. Retrospect, hindsight, reflection on past failures and successes: these are the cherished and sacred rites of any sports fan when his team is in its offseason. And God knows there is no longer offseason than that of a college football team not going bowling (side note—it’s kinda hard to conceive of 10 months before we see Michigan play another game) Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of Michigan related ruminations, including: What if Bo were still alive? What if Les Miles were our coach? What if Ryan Mallett had stayed? Etc. Many Michigan fans are wondering what we could have done to avoid the worst season in 129 years of Wolverine football. You know the conversation because you’ve probably had it. And I don’t wish to rehash it, because, as a wise man once quoted an even wiser monkey, ‘It’s in the past.’

But, when the past does come up, there is one assertion universally agreed upon by all Michigan fans and that is this: Mike DeBord as U-M Head Coach=DEATH.

I bring it up only because I still read it and hear it, even today, and frankly, it bothers me. I might get crucified for this but here goes: I believe Mike DeBord would have been a fine choice for Michigan’s head coach. Now don’t click away just yet! I’ve got reasons dammit!

Part I: Theory on College Football Coaches

I’d first like to introduce the Mad Magician’s Theory of College Football Coaching Models. According to research performed in my secret lab on Death Mountain, there are two primary modes of operation for a college football head coach:

Type 1 is the Hands-On Head Coach. This coach is the man with the headphones on the ears and play sheet in hand, in constant communication with his coaches in the box and his players on the field during games. He calls plays on one side of the ball. He's a gameplanner, a schemer. He employs a distinct style of play often referred to as '(Insert last name)-ball.' Examples of Type 1 are Jim Tressel, Steve Spurrier, Rich Rodriguez, and, I think, Pete Carroll (defense).

Type 2 is the Program CEO. This is the Head Coach who oversees the entire operation of the team but delegates certain responsibilities, mainly play calling and game planning, to his assistants. In the end, however, there's no doubt he’s the boss. He manages the games, runs practices, screams at referees, and is the Closer when it comes to recruiting. Lloyd Carr was classic Type 2. The players all respected and even feared Lloyd because his judgment was always final. The Type 2 Head Coach is the face of the program, and his demeanor sets the tone for his players, coaches, and fans. Mack Brown is another example.

Sub-type: Type 2 (ret.) was the predecessor of the modern Type 2 but is now, obviously, retired. Type 2 (ret.) was a Tyrant. A General. Sometimes even considered God. Examples include Bear Bryant, Bo Schembechler, and Woody Hayes. Type 2 (ret.) has gone the way of the days when men had names like Bear, Bo, and Woody. Their time ended ca. 1989 AD.

There are two other types of head coaches:

Type 3 is, sadly, soon to be extinct. Type 3 is a conflicted, raging egomaniac who cannot decide if he’s a Type 1 or a Type 2. It probably doesn’t matter, but it is compelling to watch him flounder in helpless despair as he seeks a true identity. Type 3 loves to show off his Super Bowl rings, the last relic of former associated glory.

Type 4 is also known as The School Mascot. There are only two Type 4s: Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden. Coooommmee to Pennn Shhhhhtaaate!

Part II: A History Lesson

It’s 1995 and Gary Moeller has just been forced to resign. Lloyd Carr is not a very popular guy in Ann Arbor. As Defensive Coordinator he has been designated the new scapegoat for a four loss season. Really, he is the Mike DeBord of the early nineties. He is not Michigan fans’ first, second, or even third choice to take over the program. But desperate times…

I recall that Lloyd once said, 'The best move I made as Head Coach was firing myself as Defensive Coordinator.' Because, you see, sometimes a guy may not be the best coordinator, but he's got the moxie, the cajones, the brains to be a good Type 2 head coach. He may not be a great schemer, but the good ones have a feel for players, are adept at recruiting and developing talent, know to hire the best assistants, and foster a winning environment. He understands how every aspect of a winning college football program should operate. This was the case with Lloyd Carr, a Michigan assistant since 1980.

Part III: The Case for DeBord

Now let’s consider the supposed DEATH alternative universe where Mike DeBord has been named Michigan’s Head Coach. I beg you to open your eyes and look about you. See? It’s not so bad. Because Head Coach DeBord’s first move would have been the same as Lloyd’s, that is, he would have fired himself and ceded Offensive Coordinator duties to Scot Loeffler, widely considered one of the bright young coaching minds in the country. My guess is Loeffler would have committed U-M’s offense to a more diverse, aerial/spread attack like the one we saw in the bowl game last year. I refer to this scheme fondly as the Indianapolis Colts offense. And those 41 points hung on the Gators in Florida? Mike DeBord/Scot Loeffler’s gameplan. So the guy wasn’t a total hack.

I graduated in 2006 and I was good friends with several guys on the team. Mike DeBord, aka DeBo, was universally beloved by the players. I can say quite certainly that they would have loved to play for him in the same way they loved to play for Lloyd.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Mike DeBord a few times, and he had the kind of personality you'd want in your Head Coach. Unlike most football coaches, he seemed a genuinely nice guy. Funny too. I heard him tell a story about how his best friend was coaching with the Vikings. Randy Moss came to practice with his shoes untied, looked down at the laces, and said, 'Sorry coach, I can't go today' and walked away. 'That's why I'm coaching in college,' said DeBord, who now coaches in the NFL. Such is life.

But I’m not here to say Mike DeBord should have been Head Coach because he was a nice guy. Hell, I’m not saying he should have been Head Coach period. Remember, my premise is I don’t believe Mike DeBord=DEATH. You see, I think Mike DeBord would have been a capable Type 2 college football head coach. One of the key components of being a Head Coach is being a respectable Face of the Program, someone who carries himself with class, treats others with respect, wins and loses with dignity, and demands the same of his players. I think Michigan fans would have loved DeBord in this respect. And getting the fans and the players on your side, well, that’s half the battle.

Now I also know that DeBord's one stint as a Head Coach with CMU was a failure. No question. But DeBord felt at that time, similar to Rodriguez with WVU albeit on a smaller scale, that the school was not committed to providing the necessary resources to build the program. That’s not something I can judge one way or the other because I don't really know enough about CMU. But I don’t believe his CMU experience means he would have failed as head coach for U-M.

Michigan is not the toughest place to win.* The pieces for success are built-in. A monkey could reel in annual top 15 recruiting classes. And I’m a big believer in what John Wooden once said, when asked who were the best coaches: ‘The ones with the best players.’ Talent is 99% of the battle, and U-M with DeBord or RichRod or the monkey or anybody would have continued its talent advantage in at least ¾ of their games every year.

I also believe that as a continuation of the Schembechler line of coaches, DeBord would have gained national credibility immediately. He may not have been the sexiest pick, but it doesn’t make him the worst. With Loeffler at OC, English at DC and all the inherited assistants, I don't believe Michigan would have ceased to be a national power with Mike DeBord as head coach.

Now, I don't want to make it seem as though I'm mad DeBord wasn't named head coach. I'm not one of the Rodriguez haters--quite the opposite; in fact, lately I have become more militant in my belief in the progressive football values espoused by the WLA. I think the long-term ceiling for success under Rodriguez is higher than it would have been under DeBord. Michigan is Rodriguez's program now, and I for one am behind him 100%. This article is not meant to have anything to do with Rich Rodriguez. I love Rich and think he’ll bring more success to Michigan.

But it bothered me last year, and bothers me still, to see DeBord so universally denounced as a potential U-M Head Coach. Michigan fans, you would have liked this guy. Just think of Lloyd Carr, Defensive Coordinator. Maybe this has just been a really long way of saying that lousy assistants can make capable head coaches. But anyway, thanks for reading, and as always, GO BLUE-- The Mad Magician

*=you can make it tough, however, if you bring in a new offensive system, new coaches, etc. But that's cool, too, it'll just take a few years. Rodriguez will find it very easy to win at Michigan in the near future.


mad magician

November 25th, 2008 at 8:30 PM ^

I appreciate the feedback. I don't believe DeBord was as bad as many Michigan fans painted him. He had two great seasons as offensive coordinator: 97 and 06. I should have pointed that out.

Any offensive struggles Michigan experienced in the last few years of the Carr regime I blame on one overriding factor: that, with the notable exception of Jake Long, we ceased to be the greatest NFL Offensive Linemen producing factory in the country. Brian has written about this before, but for whatever reason a lot of our big o-line recruits were no longer panning out. And that was over a 3-4 year period, and it's why Justin Boren played as a true freshman (what, you thought it was because of his awesomeness?).

Because of that, Andy Moeller and Mike Gittleson were my biggest scapegoats of the Carr era. But they had some successes as well in their careers


November 26th, 2008 at 11:33 AM ^

Seriously, have you looked at the stats or anything? The offense was middling in '97 and '06, statistically speaking. I think you're confusing a good W-L record with a good offense. That's not necessarily true.

If you wanted to point to some great Michigan offenses, I'd say that the '99-'01 years were pretty good. And what do you know, DeBord wasn't there for those years.

Huh, must just be a coincidence...just like the historically awful years CMU suffered through when DeBord was the head coach there. Yep, sure are a bunch of coincidences that follow DeBord around.


November 25th, 2008 at 7:52 PM ^

I'll admit I only read bits and pieces of this so I really don't have anything to say about the content, but I do enjoy the play on Dr. Strangelove with your title.

By the by, seriously this has been like the 40th tl;dr diary in the last couple weeks. You guys sure are chatty.

turbo cool

November 25th, 2008 at 7:59 PM ^

this is one of the best threads i've read in a while. but i really think that Debord would be along the lines of Bill Stewart at WVU. Yeah, he's a great guy, very nice and a continuation of the old regime but I just don't see him advancing the program. I had a couple friends on the team who loved Coach DeBo but I think that was also the part of the fact that he was a position coach and not the head coach, like the Type 2 who ran the program and made the executive decisions. he was supposed to be more personable since he was a position coach, not the head coach. And I remember a lot of them having mixed feelings towards Lloyd, bitching about how he could be such a dick, but now that he's gone they only have great things to say about him (hmmm...). anyway, even though i know you're not arguing that Debord should be head coach instead of RR I just don't he would've made a great coach (see stint at CMU and bill stewart).

mad magician

November 25th, 2008 at 8:40 PM ^

Thanks for the comments. I have to say, though, Mike DeBord has a much better resume than Bill Stewart, who was only hired b/c 'Hey, he's like me! He won't leave us like Dick Rod!' (in best West Virgina accent)

With U-M, DeBord would have inherited a strong program in which he had played a major role in past success (97, 06). DeBo would have known how to operate as Michigan's head coach. After all, he was Lloyd's #2. Stew is just some journeyman coach.

You're right, though, Bill Stewart was the worst hire ever. Mike DeBord, not so much. In my opinion.


November 25th, 2008 at 8:43 PM ^

What happened to all the people that thought the program had stagnated under Lloyd? While DeBord may have been a good coach, I think we would have had mostly mediocre seasons with a few miracle seasons not unlike 2006. I think the consensus was that the program needed new life. DeBord is more like nice old Lloyd of 2007 than ruthless jugular gnawing Lloyd of 1997. As much as 3-9 sucks, it's hopefully a road apple on the way to MNCs and Rose Bowls rather than Alamo, Capital One, and Gaylord Hotels presents Music City Bowls.

mad magician

November 25th, 2008 at 9:15 PM ^

As I said, I think the ceiling for potential success is higher with Rodriguez than with DeBord. I'm just trying to make the case that DeBo as HC would not have been the disastrous hire most Michigan fans assume it would have been. A conservative pick? Absolutely. But not the worst.

And I think DeBo would have understood that as HC, you can't be everyone's best friend. You've got to alter your personality to the job, and after years of being around Lloyd I think DeBo would know that better than anyone. The standards for Michigan have always been high-- anything less than a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl is disappointing, and that will never change no matter who the head coach is. DeBord would have strived for that, the same as Bo, the same as Lloyd, the same as Rich.


November 26th, 2008 at 10:33 AM ^

I agree. While a DeBord hire wouldn't have been a long term disaster, it certainly would have been a disappointment as hiring from within wasn't in the cards for most fans. Take away the App State loss and maybe DeBord gets the job, however, too many things happened last season to warrant that hire. The culture change was necessary and DeBord was not the guy. In this sense, he would have been the worst hire not because we wouldn't see results on the field, but because he is an artifact of an era that lost its teeth and energy and that goddamn App State game.

mad magician

November 25th, 2008 at 9:07 PM ^

It's a fair question so here goes: CMU was a mediocre, if not poor, program when DeBo became its coach. It was a rebuilding job. The best fit for that kind of job is an innovative, energizing head coach-- to use the lingo of my post, a Type 1 coach, a schemer. I admit, Mike DeBord is not an innovative coach. But I argued instead for DeBord's success as a Type 2 coach inheriting an already successful program at Michigan.

CMU and Michigan are not the same. At Central, you've got to create success. Mike DeBord failed in that regard. But at Michigan, success is inherent. You've just got to continue it. It's an easier gig--infinite resources, big time recruiting, better assistants, etc.

Certainly we've seen with Brian Kelly (a definite Type 1) and Butch Jones that Central can be a highly successful program. I would be curious to know if they received the upgrades Mike DeBord lobbied for.

So, there, I tried.


November 26th, 2008 at 11:12 AM ^

Great thread, and I like the discussion. That said, the weakest part of the argument is the glossing over of CMU. As pointed out elsewhere, CMU was better before and after DeBord. I live in Midland, MI, about 20 minutes away from Central, so there's a lot of CMU grads around. They are universally of the opinion that DeBord set the program back 5+ years.

Also, I don't have the link handy, but I'm guessing everyone reading the thread can quote, chapter and verse, the "Rock-Paper-Scissors Michigan always throws Rock" post by Brian. I'm not sure if that's more "coordinator-y" or "coching philosophy-y" but DeBord had a *big* part to play in all of that. Even if that mindset got left behind w/ Loeffler as an OC, it would still be part of his makeup.


November 26th, 2008 at 11:25 AM ^

DeBord did worse than his predecessor, and worse than his successor. There is no way to square better performance with BOTH DeBord's predecessor AND successor, unless you conclude that DeBord was the problem.

Occam's Razor dictates that DeBord was a failure as a head coach. And that would have applied to Michigan as well.

mad magician

November 25th, 2008 at 9:19 PM ^

My guess is he'll be alright. That entire organization is so dysfunctional, I don't think anyone will hold it against the first year QB coach. I expect to see Loeffler back in the college ranks soon. After all, he's the guy who made John Navarre first team All Big Ten, and coached a freshman QB to the Rose Bowl.


November 26th, 2008 at 12:28 AM ^

DeBord's record at CMU speaks for itself, but it is even more stark in the greater context of the program. The seasons immediately before and after DeBord taking over at CMU sported higher win percentages than his best season (out of 4 years). Furthermore, those seasons were among the worst of the coaches behind them during their tenure as Chippewas (Dick Flynn [2nd worst/6] and Brian Kelly [worst/3], respectively)

Conclusion: DeBord at his best was not as good as Flynn or Kelly at their worst (or near-worst)

DeBord may have been a great guy and even --arguably, I suppose-- a good OC. Those characteristics are not necessarily predictors of equivalent quality as head coach. He was not a good head coach. Would he suddenly turn a new leaf at Michigan? Maybe. But it's pure speculation, as is the rest of this diary entry.

Nice title, though


November 26th, 2008 at 3:13 AM ^

The funny part is, DeBord seemed to sort of be Lloyd's hand-picked successor for HC. If Lloyd has an excellent year last year to retire on, leading Henne, Hart, Long, et al to a BCS bowl, DeBoard probably takes over this year, with Loeffler taking on OC responsibilities. App State is what really derailed this plan.

As for your argument: the taxonomy of coaches is clever justification and all, but I this years challenges had more in common with CMU's rebuilding than with continuing previous success. If Michigan had some whale of a system, perhaps they could have plugged in DeBord and not missed a beat, but the program was already falling into disarray.

mad magician

November 26th, 2008 at 5:53 PM ^

This is for another discussion, but I don't think it can be overstated how colossal an impact the App. State loss (and the ensuing disaster against Oregon) had on the Michigan program. Perception, both inside and outside, was forever altered. I agree that nearly everything that has happened to U-M in the last 15 months has been a direct result of that game.

Bielfeldt's Calves

November 26th, 2008 at 9:37 AM ^

Good post. And I think you're dead on.

I'm glad you also talked about the ceilings between the RR and DeBo, because you're right. Martin could've kept the status quo with DeBord. We would've continued on with our 10-3 and 9-4 seasons had he been hired. We may have gotten lucky with a couple BCS runs under Loeffler. But Martin did the thing (and I tread lightly here) that a good leader should do: he took the higher calculated risk. He was willing to accept the "Sunk Costs" (wonderful how that tied in, thank you Brian) as the reward for that risk was higher with RR.

chitownblue (not verified)

November 26th, 2008 at 10:26 AM ^

Reading the title, I wanted to hate this thread.

I didn't. Well thought out, though I disagree.

Your point that succeeding at Michigan and succeeding at CMU are two very different things is a good one - at CMU, DeBord needed to create something from the ashes - something he clearly failed to do. At Michigan, as a steward of the program more than an architect, could he have coaxed some 8 and 9 wins seasons out? Probably.

The issue, of course, is that no one wants that outcome as our ceiling. We wanted NC's - and DeBord would never bring that.


November 26th, 2008 at 10:59 AM ^

I'm thrilled DeBord is not our head coach.

With that - solid thread and well thought out. It's not inconceivable that MD could have been a decent CEO-type of head coach. But I believed then (and still do now) that this program needed a dramatic change - App State is the obvious reason, but there was a trend of downplaying massive talent advantages that was bothersome. Perhaps an MD (HC) and Loeff (OC) system would have emphasized the talent advantages (that, as you say, existed in at least 75% of UM games), but not to go on Biden on you, it strikes me as "more of the same."

Still, good and fair points, MadMagician. I'm stunned I didn't hate this thread ;)


November 26th, 2008 at 11:20 AM ^

"Because Head Coach DeBord’s first move would have been the same as Lloyd’s, that is, he would have fired himself and ceded Offensive Coordinator duties to Scot Loeffler."

You absolutely, positively have no way of knowing this. You cannot say with any certainty that DeBord would have ceded the OC duties to Loeffler. Pure speculation.

Further, while DeBord's failure at CMU has been discussed in this thread, what has NOT been discussed was the fact that DEBORD QUIT. He wasn't fired, and by all accounts CMU wasn't going to fire him. DeBord quit because IIRC DeBord said something to the effect of "I don't want to be a head coach." DeBord quit when the head coaching got too difficult for him, yet you think that would have made a good fit for Michigan?!?!?!?!?

No. DeBord failed worse than any other CMU coach in history (look it up), and quit because it was too hard. That is not the mark of a man who will succeed as the head coach of Michigan.

mad magician

November 26th, 2008 at 12:17 PM ^

You're right, that's a guess. But I don't think it's beyond reason.

First off, DeBord would not have kept OC duties as Head Coach. Most Head Coaches don't, and as I state in the article, I think DeBo would have followed the Lloyd-model of coaching. Second, he and Loeffler were something of a partnership. If you'll recall, there were rumors they were headed to Tennessee as a package deal. And Loeffler was the brightest young star on that staff. He was a Michigan Man (hate that phrase, but it's true with a guy like Loeffler) all the way, even turning down some NFL jobs to stay in Ann Arbor. It's not unreasonable to think that he was going to be a key component in the Michigan coaching pipeline, even, as I've always thought, a possible future head coach. And I believe he had some play calling authority already in the passing game, as well as being one of the key game planners on the staff. So it wouldn't have been a big leap to OC.


November 26th, 2008 at 12:38 PM ^

I really like your diary entry. It's well thought out and you make a good argument, even though I don't fully agree with it.

However, IIRC in DeBord's first season as HC of CMU, he was also the OC. Later on (2001 or 2002) the OC was Butch Jones. That's not to say he definitly would have remained OC at Michigan, but his experience at CMU would indicate otherwise.

STW P. Brabbs

November 26th, 2008 at 11:25 AM ^

Seems to me that the big variable would have been how Loeffler and English would have performed as coordinators. If DeBord really was to be Lloyd Lite (and note that I personally think Lloyd was a great coach), he likely would've followed the Lloyd pattern of being extremely resistant to firing coaches and bringing in new blood. So, if Loeffler or English weren't really cutting it, they still would have stuck around at least 2-3 years longer than necessary.

Also, I still hold a seeting resentment for the Mike DeBord "establish tendencies all fucking season long, then surprise the bejesus out of OSU for an extra 5 yards" plan. If he planned to keep that shit going as head coach, I would've pulled my hair out.


November 26th, 2008 at 1:28 PM ^

CMU and Michigan are not the same. At Central, you've got to create success. Mike DeBord failed in that regard. But at Michigan, success is inherent. You've just got to continue it.

I argue that this is exactly the kind of thinking that led to the slow rotting of the program from the inside out, a rot that was finally exposed in the lightning strike App State game. Michigan has reached a point where it needs to be rebuilt, not continued, and the attitude that "success is inherent" is IMHO exactly why we haven't been as successful as we would like over the past several seasons. Are there institutional advantages at a place like Michigan? Sure. But there are institutional advantages at Notre Dame, too, and look what happened when they plugged in the wrong coach.

I think your argument works if MDB takes over Michigan circa 2002. By 2007, we'd had almost 20 years of "continuing the success" of the Schembechler era, and that was more than the program could take.

I'm not arguing against LC (loved him) or even against MDB if he's plugged in as a Type 2 at Michigan 5 years ago. But from your own words, he'd be the wrong fit for what Michigan needs now, because we need someone who can build a program. Luckily for us, Rich Rodriguez is that someone.


November 26th, 2008 at 2:03 PM ^

Did he have an OC at CMU? Anyone know how much he was involved in playcalling?

It would stand to reason that if he had an OC that called plays at CMU, he would do the same at UM - a job that requires more work.

On that point, though, is the flaw (as numerous others have pointed out). DB was an undeniable failure at CMU. UM is a harder job than I think you're suggesting (I get what you mean about the monkey recruiting analogy, but the same arguments have been heard in Nebraska, Miami-FL, FSU, USC, ND etc.... before having losing seasons). I realize UM just went through a losing season, but clearly there were factors at play (new system, frosh starters, etc.)


November 26th, 2008 at 3:25 PM ^

I did read the article in full, but with respect, I still disagree.

While I agree that Central and Michigan are different, i think this argument might be a little too nuanced- the only evidence we have of his coaching was a disaster.

Accepting your argument for a moment, however, consider that Central was a pretty successful program when DeBord took over, and he immediately drove it into the ground. CMU has been good before and since. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Michigan_Chippewas_football

So, actually, DeBord did take the reigns of an already successful program, and didn't do very well.

Electron Erectshon

November 27th, 2008 at 1:02 PM ^

I liked the "Coooommmee to Pennn Shhhhhtaaate!" part. And your avatar with Red wearing the #9.

Your post gave me another thing to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Just learning that any one could find merit in a DeBord hire and/or a Loeffler promotion (in retrospect or at the time) makes me incredibly thankful we hired RR in the end. This blog covered DeBord's failures during the frustrating parts of the search. I have even stronger opinions about Loeffler too.

My biggest concern these days is the prospect of Brian Kelly going to Notre Dame or Penn State.


November 28th, 2008 at 8:55 AM ^

-- DeBord would have been ok -- and as noted elsewhere that's the problem.
-- Can we really blame DeBord for App State? After all, the team scored 30+ points and was in position for two more field goals. Doesn't the blame for App State go to the defense more than the offense?
-- Speaking of defense, the thread notes that English would have stayed under DeBord. Who says? And, would that have made a difference?
-- Couldn't the same thread have been started about Hoke? After all, he was a former assistant -- and at least he's had a modicum of success as a Head Coach.