MANBAUGH, MANBALL and. . . Moyer?

Submitted by dragonchild on February 8th, 2015 at 6:02 PM

NSD is over and it's basketball season, so of course I'm going to post a very belated and unprofessional football "analysis".  But hey, the basketball team is rebuilding and spring practice is still weeks away so here goes.


I pored over Seth's "Run Fits" column partly because of the Harbaugh hype and partly because I wanted -- confession of selfishness here -- vindication of my indictment of Borges.  If I'm right in comparing Borges' "27 for 27" to Black Adder's portrayal of Field Marshal Haig (clip since taken down), then Harbaugh should be the opposite, MANBAUGH be damned.  I definitely enjoyed the read and agree with every bit of Seth's analysis, but I kind of saw things a bit differently.  Harbaugh has this reputation for being an XXXTREME MANBALL coach, and the reason is far from inexplicable.  Just a glance at his formations screams old-school, smash-mouth, 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust SPARTAAAA:

Thing is, these offenses are notorious for being predictable in an era of S&C parity.  So why does it work?  Granted you can just re-read Seth's tactical breakdown, but I wanted to examine this offense from a more strategic perspective, so I took another look at Stanford's 2011 Orange Bowl.  First, the opening five drives:

Drive 1
Naked bootleg LEFT* for 11 yards
Tailback flat route for 6 yards
I-form run stuffed behind LoS
I-form pass blitzed, Luck rolls right and turfs it

Drive 2
I-form play-action blown up, Luck runs OOB
I-form quick pass to TE complete for 6
Pistol, go route caught OOB
Fake punt stuffed

Drive 3
I-form run left for 4
Pistol PA screen pass for 1
Pistol, out route + YAC for 20
I-form DOOM** left for 60-yard TD.

Drive 4
I-form run stuffed
I-form run left stuffed
1-back under center pass derped, safety

Drive 5
I-form run left for 5
I-form run right for 3
1-back under center pass to TE for 4
I-form off-tackle DOOM left for 26
I-form off-tackle left for 4
Wildcat right stuffed
Pistol 4-wide, 25-yard pass TD to TE

*Luck is right-handed, so I think VT was caught flat-footed.
**Seth explain this in detail but it's so much fun I'll say it again: Stanford shifted into an unbalanced formation, motioned the TE and then pulled the RG, launching well over a half ton of meat at VT's back seven.

Here's the rub:  A stereotypical "MANBALL" team with a right-handed QB typically has a run-blocking RT and pass-blocking LT, sending the TE, FB, RB and a puller to the right side of the formation to create a meat avalanche.  Stanford handed off three times in the first three drives, and while they were technically strongside runs, none of them went right.  How is this an "XXXTREME MANBALL" team?  The answer is, it isn't.   Hoke is MANBALL.  DeBord is MANBALL.  This is what I refer to as SunTzuBall:

"Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend."

I'm not a coach, but if I was one, this would be my philosophy.  Don't settle for predictable.  Don't even take what the defense gives you.  Make them think, "Ogod I don't know what's coming."  (Edit: Got a bit flippant here.) Every OC says they want that, but some are better at poker than others.


This was NOT a bunch of brutes mindlessly slamming into each other, or even coached to "execute" mindlessly slamming into each other.  Harbaugh's offense looks like MANBALL but is actually balanced.  I don't think Harbaugh does anything to dissuade the perception; he wants people to think they're cavemen.  His assistants will blather on about being a "physical" team and show that I-form heavy all day until your safeties are 6 yards off the LoS, but he's not going to give you what you want.  If he runs the ball 10 straight times, it's not because he's willing it to work; it's because you're doing the damage to yourself:

"For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left."

The keys here are misdirection and mismatches.  Borges tried to create misdirection but was downright infantile at it; Nuss used constraints but didn't exploit mismatches.  In modern offenses overall, the "spread" is such a generic term that it hardly means anything anymore, but to pick on one aspect, the slotback is a mismatch against linebackers and safeties.  It's tough for defenders who bulk up against the run to keep pace with a shifty slotbug in space.  Combined with the zone read and the O-line splits, the essence of a spread is that heavy guys aren't quick.  As Seth points out, MANBALL is the opposite:  multiple TEs and a FB put the secondary in a bind because the defense doesn't have enough meat to go around.  The defense compensates with speed, getting to the point of attack before the play can develop, but this means they have to act fast and make decisions faster.  That's easy when the OC kindly gives you what you want, but MANBAUGH is none of that nonsense.

Here's Some Rope, Now Hang Yourself

With that in mind, let's look at a particular play in the second half of the Orange Bowl (jump to 1:33:38).  Up 19-12 late in the 3rd quarter, Stanford is pinned on their own 3-yard line and shows their classic I-form.  Unlike in the first half, the TE motions to the right side.  The situation calls for a conservative play and the formation is MANBALL to end all MANBALL.  VT's defense had been torched several times, but also scored on a safety and otherwise kept Stanford in check.  So they're wary of strongside runs, but they're not scared of Stanford imposing their will, toughness, physicality, blah blah blah any of that stupid crap we've heard for the last four years.  Nope, they're champing at the bit to swarm whatever gap that FB is going.  Marecic is going to eat helmet.  The ghost of the still-living Borges is blushing with pride.  Only problem?

It's the wrong read.  In the mic'd up clip at 1:21, Harbaugh's yelling "backdoor".  Harbaugh knows VT is overplaying (also mentioned in MGoPodcast 6.15, 9:00-11:00), but I don't think Taylor is even reading this -- they're deliberately running a bait-and-switch.  On the snap, the FB runs strongside and VT follows.  Marecic is working his way outside and can't find a gap.  Even the RB's track is initially to the right, but (I think) this is a feint because after the mesh he immediately cuts around Luck -- no bounce -- and past the edge blocker (LT?) who casually escorts his defender into the mosh pit to create a gap even the legendary Yoh Momma could fit through:

The result is a 56-yard run.  The next play Stanford again shows a heavy formation, then tosses the first of three long TD passes to the TE.  VT does not have enough defenders to stop everything Stanford's throwing at them, and it's game over.

"If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.  Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make these preparations against us."

Space Coyote will probably be the first to point out that fundamentally, these are all plays available to a conventional "pro-style" offense, and I don't dispute that.  The killshot was just a backdoor cut.  We can also digress into an argument about execution, and I do have my thoughts on that as well (might post them later).  But to stay on point, I don't consider Harbaugh's plays "exotic".  The ball still goes in any direction available to a venerable pro-style offense.  The important aspect is that, contrary to his MANBALL reputation, he doesn't "impose his will" or use some plays only as constraints to "keep defenses honest", but do him a favor and go right on telling people that.  His strategy is physically less stubborn and mentally more vicious.  He doesn't pound his head against brick walls or even take what you give him.  He gets inside your nightmares, and if MANBALL is your bogeyman then he'll happily wear that mask.


Jamie Moyer is a retired MLB pitcher who reignited his career in his mid-30s by inverting his approach.  A formerly washed-up power pitcher, his repertoire wasn't different from his peers -- fastball, curve, changeup.  But whereas most "power" pitchers try to blow by hitters with a fastball to set up off-speed "out" pitches, Moyer realized he was terrible at that.  So used his changeup to set up his fastball en route to sub-4 ERAs in 7 of 8 of the most home-run happy seasons in MLB history, culminating with a 3.27 ERA and 21-7 record in 2003.  That is an elite season, and he did it in the boomstick American League, and he did it at age 40 with an 85mph fastball.

As I've said here and there, "3 yards and a cloud of dust" was not a conservative offense; it was an aggressive approach during a bygone era based on the premise that overwhelming talent can turn a predictable run into a sure thing.  There was no need to do anything else.  Today, it's the "washed up" power pitcher.  Except in rare cases, you can't get away with it.  You can't dare everyone with fastballs down the middle any more than you can run into a stacked box over and over again.  Stanford didn't.  They didn't overpower anyone with their roster of 2- and 3-star recruits.  It's not imposing will, toughness, blah blah.  Their "MANBALL" was the football equivalent of an 85mph heater thrown from a 40-year-old arm with veteran sagacity and exquisite precision.  Harbaugh is the Jamie Moyer of the pro-style offense.  That fastball may be 85mph, but you won't be able to hit it because he's smarter than you.



February 9th, 2015 at 11:34 AM ^

This one's been a contentious idiom for me with various peers and professionals; does one bury the "lead", or bury the "lede"? It seems to be a case of conventional spelling and nothing more. Why do we insist on conventional spelling in idioms, but not elsewhere?

My sense is if we're not spelling "humor" with a "u" ("humour"), then we can certainly Americanize the spelling of "lede" to "lead". Perhaps I should have led with this argument. 


February 9th, 2015 at 12:59 PM ^

I asked this exact same question just this past weekend. After convincing ourselves it might be right either way, we decided that in all probability, 'lead' and 'lede' were probably alternate spellings of the same word back in the day before spelling was an established thing. It appears that grammarist agrees.

And we insist on conventional spelling in idioms only because those of us who know better want to be able to distinguish ourselves from the unwashed masses. It's the gang symbol of the intellectual elite.


February 8th, 2015 at 8:00 PM ^

Interesting post. I enjoyed the comparison to Jamie Moyer. I never thought Jamie Moyer and Jim Harbaugh had so much in common.


"As I've said here and there, "3 yards and a cloud of dust" was not a conservative offense; it was an aggressive approach during a bygone era based on the premise that overwhelming talent can turn a predictable run into a sure thing.  There was no need to do anything else"


This part might be a bit of a misunderstanding of the pro-style offense. Its not an approach used by a "bygone era". It is used by tons of teams at every level of football to this day. Nobody ever ran the ball into a pile and thought of it as aggressive. That is a oversimplifcation of the Pro-Style offense. 

When Woody and Bo ran the Pro-Style offense, it was very similar to what Harbaugh, Nussmeier and Borges run. Lots of shifting. Lots of misdirection. Lots of ball handling by the QB. Different plays going in different directions. Trying to gain slight advantages in leverage. (I know we like Jim, but he isnt some genius wh oreinvented the Pro-Style offense).

The Spread wasnt invented because the Pro-Style suddenly stopped working. It was invented by small schools who didnt have the personnel to run a successful Pro-Style offense. 

I think you are insulting Borges and Nussmeier by writing about them as if they are some incompetent fools who have no idea how to run an offense. 


When you talk about the plays Stanford was running against VT, as you pointed out, these are pretty basic plays. They ran a counter play successfully after running the ball and pounding away to the other side. That is as "Old-School" as you can get. 


I really think you ought to go watch some classic football games with teams "imposing their wills" and tell me what you see. 


EDIT: I know its cliche, but any offense can work if you ca execute your plays. ...That doesnt mean "overpower your opponent". That means you do your job. As a coach, that means putting your players in the position to succeed. You can do that in a Spread formation or in a I Form Tight formation. Its all about execution

Maize and Blue…

February 13th, 2015 at 11:37 PM ^

Who was with the Tigers in the late 80's was the same type of pitcher. He was a left-handed fireballer with the Angels, but then, hurt his arm and could only throw in the high 80's, but he was able to learn how to be "crafty", and used a balanced approach to fool hitters, and get them out. He kept hitters off balance by changing speeds and locations, and never letting the hitter know what to expect next, if Michigan's offense uses the same philosophy, they will do well.


February 8th, 2015 at 8:11 PM ^

I have been saying this all along, but a lot more simply.  Thanks for some in-depth discussion of MANBAUGH.  Or, HARBALL.  The power plays work because they aren't as predictable as they were with David Brandon micromanaging OC's.  The same lack of predictability allows big plays to happen.

I have also been saying this all along: there are enough players here for Harbaugh to win ten games this year.  This roster has underachieved and they know it.  They are hungry to win.  They have a coach who is even hungrier.  This team is going to surprise a lot of people this year.


February 8th, 2015 at 8:27 PM ^

Youre really gonna blame Dave Brandon? lol


Schematically, we were fine last season. Actually, we have been just fine schmatically for as long as I can remember. The end of the Carr era looked like a lack of motivation. The beginning of the Rich Rod era was just a bunch of young players who needed time to develop. Hoke didnt develop players well. Scheme was never really an issue...It is just the most obvious thing to see and people can easily understand it for the most part. 


Scheme is rarely the real issue with a team. Good coaches are the ones who know how to teach their players


February 8th, 2015 at 9:31 PM ^

I think Borges often gets blamed what seems more likely Hoke's philosophy.  I find it hard to fathom that someone as invested in creating plays as Borges is, came up with the idea to run the ball up the middle over and over.  That wasn't an OC's approach; that was a HC playing to chew up the clock, play for field position, and avoid turnovers.  I'm convinced there were only a handful of games where Hoke gave Borges carte blanche to call a game the way he wanted.  One of those game was the 2013 game against Indiana, where Hoke admitted as much, saying Michigan's defense couldn't stop IU's offense, so their only chance was to unleash the offense.  Even at San Diego State Hoke seemed to allow Borges more freedom.  For some reason, as the seasons progressed at Michigan Hoke seemed to get more and more conservative in his philosophy in most games. I'm not saying that Borges didn't have weaknesses or make mistakes, but it seems far more likely that Hoke was the one throttling back the offensive play calling than Borges.


February 9th, 2015 at 10:36 AM ^

Borges had Hoke's ear, though, so if he deferred against his better judgement that's still on him.  I mean, it's not like it gets any easier if he goes to work for a control freak.

Borges, at least, seems to be a far better schemer than teacher.  He can do wonders with players who can do whatever he asks, but he can't turn recruits into those sorts of people, so when that falls apart he gimmicks them into oblivion.  He's also the streakiest game-caller I'd ever seen.  It's easy to forget we saw Michigan routinely put up 40-point games, but the galling thing was that he always seemed to open the bag of tricks at the worst times.  Who the hell cares if tackle over caught Minnesota flat-footed when the defense held them to 13 points anyway (hindsight's 20/20 but really did you need your A-game against 2013 Minnesota??) and three weeks later we'd have no cards left to play against Michigan State?  The last score of his UM career -- a meaningless 2-point conversion that would've won us the OSU game -- was classic Borges.

As for Nuss, since I trashed him as well (since redacted), to back off quite a bit I really do think he didn't have enough time.  Despite far worse short-term results, I was more supportive of his efforts because I could see what he was trying to do -- build something sustainable, even if it meant eating a number of early, ugly losses -- and a year was simply not enough.  By the end of the season the O-line was probably average, and I think Gardner was making mistakes because someone was finally teaching him to make decisions on the field instead of giving him marching orders, so he was basically a true freshman all over again.  Nuss also declined to exploit a receiver's one-foot height advantage, and rumor has it this is the sort of thing that got him driven out of Alabama.  Even so, I might've supported keeping Nuss around if not for the fact that Harbaugh is basically his own OC.  Harbaugh is a clear upgrade and I wasn't shocked to see Nuss get snapped up so all's well that ends well here.


February 8th, 2015 at 9:37 PM ^

People need to start looking at the 2008 Stanford team and not the 2009 team. We are going to be more reliant on our running backs jut like Stanford was on Gerhart. Also to compare our QB's to Andrew freaking Luck is just ridiculous, especially when he is in his 3rd year of the same system.

Also every Offensive Coordinator wants to be multiple and Balanced. The problem with Michigan is 4 different Coordinator's in the last 7 years. Each of them with a different style. If Michigan switch from Debord to Nuss, the transition is much easier then Debord to McGee to Borges to Nuss. All of these switches negates all the Muscle Memory players need to execute. This isn't Madden where you can just pick any play and the guys execute it.

By the time this orange bowl is play Stanford has been running this offense about 4 years, and it's a lot easier to make those little adjustments within on offense when everyone knows what they are doing. This is how I'd imagine the play you are creaming your pants went down. Stanford has run to the play side multiple times that game, not to mention the countless other times they ran it in other games. The left tackle either in the huddle, or on the sideline before the series told the offense when they are meeting on the sideline while the d is playing that the backside DE is crashing down hard to the play side and he is having a tough time blocking him. So they tell the running back to read this DE, and if he is crashing cut behind the tackles ass, and if he isn't run the play as it's called. Like Hancock says its execution more so then Harbaugh is this crazy offensive genius.


February 8th, 2015 at 10:22 PM ^

"Also every Offensive Coordinator wants to be multiple and Balanced."


^This is 100% correct. Cannot be stated enough. 


Every good Offensive Coorinator wants to be multiple. Everyone wants to be balanced. (With the possible expection of Air Raid guys like Mumme, Leach, Holgorsen, etc...but even those teams strive for balance within their schemes). 


The biggest factor that makes or breaks a team is experience, especially when you have a coach who is a good teacher. You can have all the talent in the world, but if your players are in their first season in a particular system, they are gonna struggle while they learn the language, adjustments, etc. It is a process. Like you said, we need to stop looking at Andrew Luck in his third season starting for Stanford. That entire unit was experienced at that point. 


I know it seems silly, but (for anyone reading this) think about any time you have done something for 4 years in the same system. This can be school, football, basketball, baseball, whatever. Lets go with school. Maybe your freshman year, you took entry level classes. You had talent in your particular discipline, but your were just beginning your studies. For most of us, it would have been a lot to ask to enroll in 400 level classes as a freshman. But, as the years went by and you gained more experience, you eventually got to the point that you could handle those classes and you succeeded. ....  Now, imagine if you began as a freshman, took all the basic, entry level classes for your major and were just planning to begin the higher level courses when suddenly, you switched majors and had to start over and take the entry level classes for your new major. This would certainly end up taking a few more years than you orginally expected and it would be hard to imagine graduating on your orginal timetable. This is basically what happens when you are a football player and your coaching staff is changed. You are halfway through mastering a particular system and then suddenly everything is changes and you are forced to start all over...and then imagine being someone like Shane Morris. He is going to be playing for his 3rd offensive coordinator in 3 years...basically switching majors after his freshman and sophomore years. It is going to take time for these guys to get used to the new system.


We should have some success this year, but we wont see perfection by any means. It simply will not be a finished.


February 9th, 2015 at 10:00 AM ^

I'm not expecting 2015 Michigan to be anything like 2010 Stanford or even 2009 Stanford.  Not sure where I implied that, looking at Stanford's fourth season and all.  We might go 5-7 again our first season as the O-line makes yet another switch if Drevno ditches all their progress on IZ.  I do think it's OK to be excited about what we might have in 2-3 years, though.

And as for 4 different coordinators in 7 years, you do realize no player is in any program for 7 years, right?  Borges had three himself, and in three years Stanford's offense was already elite.  We chalked it up to experience but OSU's offense has really been beating the death out of that horse lately.

As for your portrayal of the counter. . . um, Stanford flipped the strong side on the counter so it really doesn't matter to the LT what the backside DE was doing on the strongside plays, since that was probably the RT's assignment.  The backside DE in the strongside runs was the playside DE on the counter.  Stanford ran strongside, then ran the counter in the exact same direction.  I even pointed this out.  Although in fairness, I do suppose it would be pretty hard for the LT to block a DE on the opposite side of the line.


February 9th, 2015 at 11:23 AM ^

First off neither of us know what play was called. For me playing in a system in high school that looks a lot like what Harbaugh runs, this was a 34 ISO. The tailback (3) running an ISO to the 4th hole ( the gap between the RG and RT. I could be wrong on which gap it's supposed to be run. The H back was the lead blocker through the gap. VT played the right side (looking at it from the offensive side) very aggressively and had It stuffed. The DE playing over the left tackle crashed hard into the B gap makeing a seal block really hard on the left tackle. So instead he rides the end down into the pile of humans. In this play the running back has an option to cut it to the backside of the play which he did and the play was very successful.

If this was a called counter you would see either the right guard pulling or the H back going to kick out that DE who crashed or whatever defensive player steps in to that hole. That didn't happen so it leads me to believe this was an ISO that the running back bounced to the backside of the play. Also you pointed out Harbaugh is screaming backside, this would make me believe the playside (or frontside) is to the right of the formation looking at it from the O. Also look at the field position Stanford was on what their 1 yard line and counters are slower developing plays that get eaten in the backfield when teams blitz.

If you don't understand what I mean by 4 coordinators in 7 years, then I should stop arguing with you because its a simple concept that anyone with some football IQ should understand.


February 8th, 2015 at 11:43 PM ^

Nuss and borges have forgotten more about the game than you will ever know about it. Questioning a division 1 offensive coordinator from your computer is par the course these days. If you knew what it took to be an OC I know you would think differently.

Harbaugh does what all coaches do, he attacks where he has numbers advantages, angle advantages, leverage advantages, or open grass. Harbaugh does this through motioning, shifting, knowing when to audible, and by not having too many statistical tendencies.


February 8th, 2015 at 11:57 PM ^

I see colleagues in my line of work suffer the same human failings as any other mortal.  Some of them can't see the forest for the trees.  Others make careless mistakes.  Some are not great at making decisions on the fly.  Still others can be stubborn.  They're knowledgeable, professional and experienced, but they're fallible, so we all have bad habits that are easy to assess.

But I guess football coaches are fundamentally different kinds of people, with no human failings at all.  Football must be unique in that experience leads to inherent perfection.


February 9th, 2015 at 1:01 AM ^

I dont believe that was what he was trying to say. lol


Speaking for myself, you just seem to come across a little disrespectful towards Borges and Nussmeier. Yes, our team struggled last season and the 2/3 years preceding last season. Sure, Borges and Nussmeier probably couldve made some decisions that wouldve better served the offense; however, a lot of what they did was just an attempt at finding something that could gain some yards. They tried to take a lot of different approaches towards gaining just so happened that none of them seemed to work. Sometimes your team just isnt good. You can blame coaching for the lack of development of skill, but like I said above, its hard to teach young, inexperienced players everythng they need to know in a short amount of time. The players need to feel a level of comfort in the system and that takes a while. Certainly more than the 1 year that Nussimeier had. (Im not suggesting that I wouldve liked to have kept Nussmeier over Drevno or Harbaugh or anything, but I feel confident that he wouldve gotten us going in the right direction after he got his players in place).  To pretend that Borges and Nussmeier are utterly clueless and that they use outdated schemes from a bygone era is just taking it a little too far.

Now, Harbaugh has proven himself to have a better track record than both Borges and Nussmeier, and he has shown the ability to work some quick turnarounds with his system/style of coaching. Something he does just helps things "click" for players. He is a good teacher. If you are going to criticize Borges or Nussmeier, criticize their teaching abilities, because I think that is a much more reasonable approach to take because what they did offensively, scheme-wise, is very similar to what Harbaugh does. If anything, they use playbooks that are thicker than Harbaughs. Harbaugh is going to run about 5 different running plays and about 10 different passing plays. Thats literally it, give or take a few plays that will be gameplanned in for certain weeks. This stuff is not as complicated as you want to make it seem. I have no reason to believe that Jim Harbaugh is any more knowledgeable than Borges or Nussmeier when it comes to X's and O's. They were and still are very good football coaches and I am sure that they will succeed if/when they are given new opportunities. 


February 9th, 2015 at 6:43 AM ^

Well we can find out if you're right by watching how San Jose State does this year - or I guess next year, since they'll need a year to learn the Borges system?

You (Hancock) and some other Borges/Nuss defenders seem as if you're familiar with this blog, yet seem to have somehow missed some fairly extensive and elaborate analysis of how it was play-calling as much as execution that doomed our offense the past few years. Clearly we can all point to failure to develop players' skills as a major shortcoming of the past two (or three, or four. ..) offensive coordinators, but to simply chalk up the offensive woes to player error is pretty unfair to the players.

So many on this blog (Hell maybe every blog, I just don't read many others) are frequently trying to look smarter or more versed in football strategy than other readers/contributors. If "I luv Michigan" posts that Harbaugh will succeed because of his decided strategic advantage, "Bleeds Michigan Blue" will chime right in that it's his 'crootin that will actually make a difference, because all strategies short of Mike Leach are essentially the same.

And if "Blue til Death" posits that Harbaugh's savvy coaching hires are the key to our future success, "Ohio Wolverine" fires back that it's his revolutionary usage of TEs that are the real reason he'll have us swatting down evil Urban.

Sheesh people, if dragonchild praises Harbaugh's play calling, do you really need to try to impress us with your acumen even if it means saying the failures of the previous staff were mostly players not executing?! Because I heard that way more than enough from Hoke, thank you very much (or should I say Fergodsakes?)


February 9th, 2015 at 11:51 AM ^

Generally speaking, I suspect to a certain extent it's because MGoBlog has some youth coaches who have to deal with significantly more immaturity, so when they see a well-coached college team they can't help but think what if.  It's not like their schemes matter nearly as much as the quixotic task of getting eleven 8th-graders on the same page.  Do that long enough and eventually all football problems can be solved with execution.  Also, they don't like being told someone's smarter, even if that someone is Jim frickin' Harbaugh.

Michigan has certainly had problems with execution that 2010 Stanford didn't, but if we're looking at 2- and 3-star recruits coached to execute consistently, historically there are programs in our own conference who followed that formula and 8-9 wins was often the ceiling.  As for Andrew Luck, well, Drew Brees turned out to be a darned good QB and the best Purdue ever got with him was 8-4.  Obviously recruiting and development are vitally important -- take any one piece out and Stanford has no story -- but that's such an uncontroversial concept there's not much to say.  And I disagree that it's the sum total between one of the biggest program turnarounds in college football history and any power conference program mired in mediocrity; "what else then" turned out to be a far more compelling topic to write about, even if I just might be way off base.


February 23rd, 2015 at 12:09 PM ^

But schemes matter even at the younger levels.  This debate is like the chicken or the egg debate.  Playcalling or execution.  As far people not wanting to be told that they are wrong, well, that cuts both ways.  That's kinda the point of a blog.  The problem is when it is done in a condescending way, or by name calling or shouting someone down.

I enjoyed your analysis.



February 9th, 2015 at 9:41 AM ^

First, I made a language correction, since it seems for all I wrote I think it was all of a single sentence that mattered to you, to the extent of hanging around here to keep hammering your point.  I'll cop to being flippant when I typed that they don't have brains and removed it.

Two, teaching and execution are a separate discussion, if only due to length.  This diary was getting long enough already.  I was thinking of making a seperate post about that, but I had to start somewhere and ugh, just never mind.

Third, you missed the point anyway.  A classic power pitcher's repertoire is fastball, curve/slider, changeup.  Moyer's repertoire was fastball, curve, changeup.  Same ancient techniques, and while he certainly executed, how'd he do so well on the highest stage with stuff that would doom any prospect to a AA career?  Neither Harbaugh nor Moyer are "geniuses" for using methods that have been around for generations.  Theyr'e using them differently.  Not to downplay the importance of teaching, but if it came down to just that, why isn't everyone getting similar results?  I think you're grossly understating the scale of Stanford's turnaround.  Just look at the massive graveyard of decades of washed-up OCs (or AA pitchers) who couldn't get comparable results with any amount of playing experience.  They know football too, and they can't all be incompetent instructors, so I could argue you're being disrespectul of their efforts.  At least I'm suggesting that by turning mediocre talent and old techniques into an elite offense in 3 years, Harbaugh was doing something differently.

While Borges and Nuss have forgotten more about football than I'll ever read, they also made mistakes that were plain to see.  The thing about mistakes are, they're easy to spot.  That's a cruel and unfair fact of life, but tough.  I couldn't tell you the first thing about a surgeon's job, but if s/he misses with the scalpel and hits an artery, you don't need a goddamn expert to see blood flying everywhere.  That doesn't mean the job ain't hard, but neither does it mean I need to study medicine for twenty years to see what the hell happened.


February 9th, 2015 at 11:17 AM ^

It's a cliche that there are three parts of winning the game - recruiting, player development, and then actual play calling.

I'd love to have Stanford's development path over the next few years, but IMHO, this year is the most interesting.   Harbaugh has a few months to work with the team as he finds them.   I'm hoping that he somehow (1) uses their strengths and weaknesses creatively but still (2) keeps them on a path to developing a Harbaugh style system in the years to come.   

Also, if the team is noticably better at the end of the season than at the beginning, that will be a good sign.  


February 9th, 2015 at 12:39 PM ^

+1 on that - quick, when was the last season Michigan was playing it's best football at the end of the season? Aside from LLoyd's final game, the bowl victory over Urbs/Tebow, I'm gonna say '99 under Brady or 2000 under Henson was the last time we finished strong - i.e. beat osu & won our bowl in a fashion that didn't smack of good fortune more than good football (lookin at you Sugar Bowl). That's a LONG frickin time, man!

If we can get a trajectory going (let's call it a Beilein curve) where each season the team gets better and better, eliminates mistakes made early, instills new wrinkles that other teams cannot anticipate - well that will be a very successful transitiion from what we've been looking at for Oh, about this whole millenium!



February 9th, 2015 at 1:43 PM ^

I think our problems over the last decade stem from other than scheme related issues.  The late Lloyd period had tons of talent, but strange lapses where the team seemed sloppy and unmotivated.  Sure the conservative playcalling garnered alot of criticism and spawned the term lloydball, but I never felt that it was the real problem.  We just seemed to lack intensity and focus.

Richrod's teams were also very sloppy and unfocused.  Completely different scheme, but when executed well, it put up points.  I think he was a very good coach for Michigan and would have succeeded here if only on the field factors were in play.

The Hoke period starts with an anomaly, then degenerates into something that we all know too well.  I often felt that the team lacked intensity and decisiveness.  This was really obvious on offense over the last two years.


Looking ahead, I think the two most important things that Harbaugh has going for him and Michigan is that he is an intense guy.  I expect our teams to be intense, motivated, decisive, physical.  I expect their personality to be in alignment with his personality.  That should be a huge step up from the last 15 years.

The final and most important thing however is that he is Harbaugh.  I am sure that there will be some grouchy comments after losses, but this is the one top end coach in the world that can unify the fanbase behind him.  It is all right there; "If you are for us, then be for us."  This is huge and extends beyond scheme, team personality and any of the other things that this blog discusses so well.  It is the intangibles that excite me about the future of Michigan football.


February 9th, 2015 at 1:58 PM ^

There's no doubt Michigan just hired one of the best HCs in the game today, which makes me hopeful. Skeptical, because it's hard to imagine any coach has a monopoly on Guile. I posed the question in an OP a few weeks ago: what is the secret sauce that successful coaches have. Logical, generic answer is the best combination of the highest quality ingredients. We don't know yet whether we've got those.

Great diary post, BTW.


February 9th, 2015 at 2:13 PM ^

Guile is nothing without motivation, talent & execution.  There just isn't much to say about them at a holistic level.  All other factors equal, a motivated team will beat an unmotivated one, a talented team will beat an untalented one, and execution will beat mistakes.  That's not much of a topic for discussion, though in hindsight I'm thinking that might be a good thing.


February 10th, 2015 at 9:30 AM ^

I tend to agree that "motivation" is the biggest intangible.  A coach needs to get in the heads of his players in such a way that he doesn't intimidate them but does raise their fear of failure. Watch Belichick mic'd up (there are a bunch on YouTube) and you get the idea.  Without that, the players are just going through the executions without being intense about it.  The Welker/Wally Pipp bit was a fabulous example, in that he was able to apply the needle and find out what Wes was made of -- and know that he should probably let him go elsewhere.

Also, on a different aspect, teaching, I really liked the advice he gave a running back: "don't decide where you're going to go before the snap.  Take the ball and go to daylight wherever you find it."



February 10th, 2015 at 10:36 AM ^

I think "motivation" and "development" are linked far more than people think.  A player slacking on the field is a clear problem, but in this situation I don't think any program's approach is different.  They have to make a decision between enforcing a standard of conduct vs. keeping a playmaker on the field; it's tough but straightforward.  The real question is what the players are doing when the coaches AREN'T around.  "Motivation" is really a case of getting players to commit to preparation.

It works the same for anything.  Either through pressure from parents or an inspiring tutor or self-motivation, the kid who hits the books will most likely score higher in math than a kid of comparable acuity who slacks off.  Since you can't babysit college students, you have to motivate them to teach themselves, and I don't think fear is the way to go here.  In this case, genuine passion goes a long way because adolescents feed off that.  Fear is unreliable (it can also compel kids to quit) and only gets them to do the minimum.  Passion gets them watching tape at 2AM then working out four hours later.

To execute you need to understand, to understand you need to study, and to study you need to be motivated.  Just mindlessly staring at tape and sitting in meetings isn't any more productive than if they were playing video games.  Their minds need to be engaged.  That's what I was going to write about in a follow-up diary, but since the execution "all schemes are the same" hipster brigade showed up in a post about playcalling, I shudder at the public stoning I'd be inviting for myself if I actually tried to delve into that.