Identity Problems

Submitted by 2PointConversion on July 25th, 2009 at 2:56 AM

I've been a Michigan football fan all my life.  I attended my first game at the age of 8, celebrated in the stands after AC pulled out a victory over Indiana in '79, remember when the Rose Bowl MVP went to the entire O line, and still haven't gotten over the loss to the unmentionables in 2006. But I've had my greatest doubts (in the same sense as in the movie with Meryl Streep) as a fan in the past year. And it's not because of the losing. It's an identity crisis. 

Until Lloyd Carr retired in 2008, Michigan football had been led by exactly three head coaches in my lifetime. And I'm no spring chicken. These three coaches were undeniably related - not by blood, but by football family. Gary Moeller had spent more than a decade under Bo, and likewise, Lloyd Carr spent more than a decade under Bo and then Mo. It was like nepotism, at its best. When coaches changed, it was seemless - there was no "clearing house", no radical change in style, no player exodus, and certainly no head coach who had to read a book to find out what Michigan football is all about! 

When Carr retired, I had my heart set on Les Miles as his successor. Why? Because Les Miles was a Michigan man as I understood it - he'd played for Bo and coached under Bo and Mo. But, Rich Rodriguez was hired, and brought Morgantown to Ann Arbor. For the first time ever, I recognized almost none of the coaches (thank goodness for Fred Jackson...), had to come to grips with a complete change in style (there was no "spread" in those three dusty yards), and watched players who really shouldn't have, leave before their eligibility was expired. Understanding the significance of the Rose Bowl or the Brown jug etc. doesn't and can't come from reading - as RichRod and his staff reportedly did. I suppose Rodriguez understands the urgency of beating the round, hard-headed rival.  At least, I assume so since coaches have been fired over that game.

Last year, Michigan fielded a team I could hardly recognize. It was so undisciplined - even the Pop Warner ball handling basics seemed to be forgotten. Is this a Rodriguez coaching staff characteristic or just a symptom of a really bad year? I guess the helmets are still the winged helmets, the fight song is still the best in the Nation, and the stadium is still the Big House, but when will the real identity be back? Or maybe it is, and I'm still waiting for the ghost of Bo.



July 25th, 2009 at 4:11 AM ^

I suppose we are all still are frustrated by last year and yearn for the good 'ole days of Michigan football from our youth.

If venting was the purpose of this post - we all feel your pain sir.

If these are actual questions and gripes, feel free to scan back content for the hundreds of posts that have discussed these topics in bitter detail over the past year.

Some noteable points of the opinions/discussions:

- Bo was an "outsider" when hired - many players left the team due to new, higher expectations in regard to conditioning and commitment when he was hired. I believe a few other coaches you may have heard of....Yost etc. that were also not "Michigan Men" when hired.

- Michigan was suffering from a malaise in the program from years of over-reliance on superior talent (alone) to win games rather than conditioning, game planning etc. Talent dilution due to scholarship reductions and increased TV exposure of smaller schools/conferences was causing a slow erosion of the program for many years. (This may be more of my personal opinion.)

- Mallett was probably gone from Michigan even if Carr had stayed as coach. He did not get along with Carr and apparently most of his teammates.

- Coach Rod has a long history of poorly coached, conditioned, and disciplined teams - the success he has had at EVERY stop prior to Michigan is obviously just a fluke.

Ok -- the last point was a bit sarcastic. If you realy care, do look at the archives


July 25th, 2009 at 8:18 AM ^

These long summer months seem to be getting to us all. At this point, with the weather trying to convince us its September here in Michigan, the season can't start soon enough. Hopefully a successful football campaign this Fall will end this and similar posts...


July 25th, 2009 at 8:49 AM ^

As a certifiable (by MGoBlog standards) old fart, I know all too well how time can dim and distort memories, so this is a correction in the interests of accuracy, not a criticism.

The bowl game you're fondly remembering that saw the MVP awarded to the entire Michigan offensive line was not the Rose Bowl but the Jan. 1, 1991 Gator Bowl against Mississippi. In what I imagine is still a Gator Bowl record, Gary Moeller's first Michigan team pounded out 715 yards of total offense.

Since Bo came to town, we've played in 16 Rose Bowls against the PAC10. Our record in them is an embarrassingly pathetic 4-12, with victories following the '80, '88, '92, and '97 seasons. The Michigan MVPs were, in order, Woolfolk, Hoard, Wheatley, and Griese. In addition, two other Wolverines received shares of the MVP award after their efforts in losses; Rick Leach for the Jan. 1, '79 game against USC and Lamarr Woodley for the Jan. 1, '05 game against Texas.

Up until Bo arrived, our record in the RB was a perfect 4-0, with our MVP recipients being Snow, Chappuis, Dufek, and Anthony.

Michigan's struggles out in Pasadena are not unique; since Bo's first RB on Jan. 1, '70, the other Big Ten teams are 7-13 against their PAC10 foes. USC has been the primary terrorizer of the B10, going 13-3; the rest of the PAC10 is 12-8 against the B10. Which is why it's amazing to me that every damn year leading up to the game I've heard the same comments made about PAC10 teams: they're soft, they don't like to get hit, they don't play a physical brand of football. I heard it back in the early '70s from many local fans, and the same malarkey continues to be uttered in this era of internet-and-ESPN-fueled media saturation. A typical excuse offered by Michigan and Big Ten apologists is that our poor players are just so tuckered out by travel and entertainment diversions that by game time they're at an unfair disadvantage. What these folks never want to explain is exactly how that wasn't a problem all through the '50's and '60s, when the Big Ten was more or less dominant. Last time I checked, Pasadena is the same distance from Champaign and Ann Arbor and Iowa City today that it was back in 1957, and Rose Bowl festivities involving players have been going on since the beginning.

The obvious explanation that never seems to be considered is that, on balance, since approximately 1970, the PAC10 has simply had better players and better coaches more often than not. As their record indicates, the dominant team in the Rose Bowl over this span has been USC, and there's no team I want Michigan to beat more fervently in post-season play than the Trojans.


July 25th, 2009 at 11:44 AM ^

The most recent excuse for post season losses is the lack of a Big Ten play off and the two week lapse between final games of other conferences.
Contrary to the original posters sentiments, I see the team addressing these excuses in concrete ways... conditioning, teamwork, a dedicated football mind-set, and discipline.
We still have to put the talent out there and play the games, but these elements will certainly put Michigan in a position to leave all of the cards on the table-- no excuses.


July 25th, 2009 at 11:39 PM ^

In general the PAC 10 matchup has placed them with better teams lately... but I do think that the whole weather thing has an impact. Going from 0 degrees to 80 degrees is a huge hit - even with a few days to get adjusted.

If it was reversed you would see the same thing; warm weather teams in the NFL have a dismal record in cold weather games.

Nick Sparks

July 26th, 2009 at 9:48 AM ^

Yeah, that comment did smell like a troll.

What does troll smell like you ask? It smells like illogical negativity that refuses to be reasoned with.

It's actually typically a sign of some level of narcissism. Not to say you have it in the least.

I agree with the above poster - these long summer months, especially after 3-9, takes a toll.


July 25th, 2009 at 11:05 AM ^

Bo was an outsider, so is he not a Michigan Man? Don Nehlen was a coach at Michigan then went to WVU to be their head coach. Rich Rodriguez became an assistant under him then took over for Don. So in a way I guess he could what you would call a Michigan Man.

Of course he is not going to know all the traditions right away. He was in West Virginia most of his freaking life.

The program was going down hill in the sense of not winning big games, losing games no business losing, and out of date conditioning program. Is this the right move? Who knows. But this is what we have so support the coach.


July 25th, 2009 at 11:07 AM ^

I also am a lifelong M fan. My parents met there, I went there, my brother and sister went there. I grew up a rabid M fan in East Lansing with my mother's side of the family all Columbus based Bucknuts. I had season tickets the whole time I was growing up, I went to every home game and watched/listened to every away game.

I, for one, welcome the change and would echo the sentiment of a previous reply in that the current staff has a lot in common with Bo in his first years, as well as some other legnedary M coaches. Change was needed. Traditions will continue. Hell, Bo was a student of Woody Hayes before cooming to M, he was about as un-Michigan man as you can get. Remember the attrition he caused in players that could not hack it? Remember his focus on competition? They are eeerily similar to RR's approach.

In the final seasons under Carr I would find myself fearing the beginning of the season more than anything else. Typical situation would be a 9-3 season the previous year with a load of returning starters and a high pre-season ranking. M would look to be a candidate for a Big Ten title and a high-end BCS bowl and possibly in the hunt for a national title. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complainging about 9-3 and 10-2 results, they are pretty good, but so often one of the losses came to an inferior opponent pre-October in games that clearly could/should have been won. I love Carr and the class and character he brought to the program, but the predictability in his philosophy was clearly not competitive and was going to get less competitive as the level of talent became more equally disbributed across teams at all levels. It was time for a change, to be sure.

Big change v. little change/Les Miles v. Rodriguez:

We will never know for sure what would have happened had Les become the coach. My personal feeling, Les would have had a better year last year b/c he would not have made made such radical, wholesale changes in the coaching staff or in the offensive/defensive philosophy. On the other hand, I do not think he would have provided the long term upside potential that Rodriguez brings to the program. Les is great, but he is also a CEO type coach that depends on getting very good OC and DC to augment his skillset and there is no guarantee he would have brought the LSU people that were a large part of his success there. Maybe, maybe not. Had he come without them I think UM would be in a disastrous predicament right now, had he come with them you are still lookng at a lot transition issues. Bottom line though, he is not our coach, RR is our coach.

RR is changing things to be sure. It takes time and meaningful change rarely comes without at least some pain. I am very much looking forward to football season this year, even though I would expect the results to be less than what Carr would have produced at somewhere close to 7-5 (Dog willing), because I am excited to see progress toward what I believe will be the final result. That final result will be a new M team that while retaining all of its tradition and prestige, once again scares the hell out of opponents and inspires fans to do a little more than shake their keys and sit on their asses waiting around to not lose. A team that will electrify the stadium with a wide open approach to playing the game and a competitive edge and attitude that provides them with an edge before they ever step on the field.

As for RR's character, I see a guy who 'changed jobs' from one where he was taken for granted. Can't blame him for that. The only opinions I had any respect for coming out of Morgantown at that time were the wealthy WVU alumns/boosters who all indicated that the AD and Prez at WVU mucked things up and then created a shizzlestorm of negative PR to cover their own asses. To paraphrase one such booster, "when you have a guy that produces at the level of RR, you ask 'what can I do to make you happy, you don't drive them away..'" I don't blame him at all for leaving. Player attrition b/c of some perceived lack of Family Values? Let's see:
*Boren wanted more free time to skip practices and help out with his Dad's plow business, was upset that his 'most favored' status under Carr didn't afford him the guaranteed starting slot no matter how he performed and ultimately quit b/c RR would not waste a scholarship for his brother to play at M even though he wasn't qualified to get one....RR +1 for character, Boren -10. The fact that his Dad bought him a boat to play at UM is a great indicator of what spoiled little prick he really is. Glad to see him go to where he always wanted to be.
*Wermer's exposure after his departure and comments is a perfect example of the piling on that has occurred. Baseless repetition of non-facts designed to cover his fat, lazy and apparently stupid, ass. Wermers, also glad to see you go.
*Mallett, for that matter, was another departure that makes me very happy. He reeks lack of character from every pore.

Yes, many players have left for legitimate reasons as they do not see themselves being impact players an a new scheme. That happens with a coaching change and especially when you go from one extreme to another in terms of philosophy.

I see players staying that love to play the game and are willing to put in the effort. I see recruits coming to M with the same attitude. That makes me feel great about the future of the program long term. It also makes me feel good about the coach.


July 25th, 2009 at 1:03 PM ^

On the topic of the title "identity problems", Michigan needed a new identity. A tough, hard-nosed style team thats going to run the ball down your throat and punch you in the mouth. That's the image that Rodriguez wants his team to take, and you'll see it take shape over the next few years. Michigan needs to be that team again if they want to truly make it back to the top of the big 10 and be back in the national picture.


July 25th, 2009 at 5:47 PM ^

Until Lloyd Carr retired in 2008, Michigan football had been led by exactly three head coaches in my lifetime.

And now it has been led by FOUR. Whoa, change.

But seriously, I think you've got it backwards. I'd argue that it was under Carr that we really suffered from an identity crisis. Carr always preached about the importance of the ground game, and certainly playcalled to that effect, yet his teams tended to be better at passing than running. We transitioned into something of a finesse, passing team under Carr, yet playcalled as though we were still a power running team. Save for a few occasions, like the final Citrus Bowl, Carr was unwilling or unable to design an offense that truly capitalized on his team's offensive skills, and I think this was a big reason why our scoring averages were so mediocre under his watch.

Under RR, I believe that we are going to make the sacrifices needed to become the power running team Carr wanted, but could rarely deliver.


July 25th, 2009 at 4:36 PM ^

I wanted Les Miles as well and actually got the nerve to email him about it. He knows my Dad and actually responded and said he loved my passion for Michigan and football, but had not really been in contact about the coaching vacancy. I was really bummed out when he said he was staying at LSU, but do know he wanted to be at M.

That was unfortunate, but I do support RR and think our misfortunes last year were due to lack of experience, youth, and a total overhaul in coaching style, and scheme. I think RR's train will start to roll this year and will be full speed ahead by 2011.

So, don't worry. We will be fine and are in good hands. At least thats what I'd like to believe.


July 26th, 2009 at 12:50 AM ^

Change was needed. As much as I respect Lloyd, I was getting tired of watching Michigan play not to lose instead of just throwing a beat down on some fools. The MSU game from 2004 is a game that stands out in my memory. It was an amazing game, there is no doubt about that, but I don't think the game ever needed to be that close. Michigan dominated as soon as they started throwing the ball downfield instead of being careful while nickel and diming down the field. MSU had no stop for the Henne-Braylon connection, but it wasn't majorly exploited until Michigan was on the ropes and had to become the aggressor.

And last year probably would have been rough regardless of the coach. Even if Lloyd would have stayed or Les would have coached, the cupboards too bare to have much success. I'm not accusing Lloyd of anything, but it almost makes you wonder if he conveniently called it quits because he knew that '08 was not going to be a strong season and he wanted to go out with a great '07 team.


July 26th, 2009 at 3:49 AM ^

I disagree with that last point. Steven Threet was a highly regarded quarterback and I have to imagine that in the proper system he would have prospered. Consistent quarterback play wins us as many as five more games last season (specifically: Notre Dame, Toledo, Purdue, MSU and Northwestern)


July 26th, 2009 at 2:34 AM ^

How do you think Bo learned about Michigan's tradition? He knew of a lot of it due to the prominence of the program while he was growing up and Woody Hayes certainly instilled some knowledge in him... but mostly he learned from talking to people like Bennie Oosterbaan, Fritz Crisler and Don Canham. He learned from, yes, reading books written by Yost and Crisler. Then he taught it to Mo and Lloyd.

Now we have Rodriguez, a man who was born in Chicago and who grew up only about 50 miles from the Ohio border. A man whose mentor as both a player and assistant is a former Bo assistant. And instead of Oosterbaan, Canham and Crisler he has Carr, Moeller and any number of people willing to teach him about Michigan's traditions. And I'm sure he's gotten more from Bo's three books than Bo did from Yost's 1905 book.

And, of course, you learn on the job. People say John Cooper didn't get the rivalry... I'm pretty damn sure that by the time his AD openly admitted he was considering firing him if he couldn't beat Michigan in 1992, he understood pretty freaking well what the rivalry meant. Rodriguez, following a tumultuous first offseason and a historically bad season, understands.

Nick Sparks

July 26th, 2009 at 10:37 AM ^

You guys stole the Bo, Yost outsider words out of my mouth and I really liked the point about Lloyd's team losing that identity.

What I will say is:

1st, explain to me how "Pop Warner fundamentals" are supposed to be displayed by a bunch of 17 year olds doing something they've never done before.

2ndly, watch Bo's '69 season and you'll see an offense that looks eerily similar to RR's. Now when guys like Harbaugh and AC made Bo loosen up the passing game did we start to change the offense.

As was mentioned, if anything, RR is bringing the offense back to where it originally was under Bo.

Just close your eyes - it'll all be over soon.

Meeechigan Dan

July 26th, 2009 at 4:06 PM ^

I agree that the old identity was not working anymore. Football has passed by the Bo family tree. Doesn't mean we don't love that family and honor them, but I love me some RR, and what I love is creativity. Adapt or die.