These has been the longest of seasons for us diehard Michigan fans. The news today of additional players opting to leave the program comes at strange time in that we're in the last week of the season and usually players don't make the decision to leave mid-year or this late in the year. Some people choose to see this as a further indictment of the current staff, but I think it's just a continuation of the process required to build a program.
Many say that the program was decent shape after last season and the outcome of this season is more attributable to the new staff and their perceived shortcomings, but I think it goes much deeper than that. What is changing about the program more than the offesive and defensive philosophies is the mental make up of the players in the program itself. If one had the pleasure to know both Bo and Lloyd, they would know that Bo and Lloyd were as different as two people can be. Bo was as tenacious and demanding as any football coach I have ever known, but after he left coaching, he was potrayed as this lovable grandfather figure who had a snappy wit and penchant for telling great stories. The man was as intense as any person ever was on the football field and he recruited his type of players. Lloyd was fiery and he was competitive, but he was more reserved and introspective than most men you'd think coached college football. His demeanor was that of a banker more than a football coach at times. There is no right or wrong to their personalities or their style of coaching, but there was a distinct difference. When Bo recruited a kid to play for Michigan, he cared less about 40 times and squat numbers than he did about the fire in the person and the mentality of the player. The culmination of the recruiting process with Bo was the one on one with him in his office where he fired off questions that would make the toughest HR person in the world squirm in their seats. He basically threw Chris Spielman out of his office in disgust after Spielman showed up with torn jeans and snuff in his lip and acting like it was Bo who should be in awe of him. Lloyd was effective in recruiting, but his approach was much different in that he sold Michigan to recruits and their parents whereas Bo sold greatness and there is a difference. People who relentlessly strive for greatness have a certain mental make-up and that is what Bo sought. In today's game with the limited number of scholarships, Lloyd had a tougher road to travel and may not have had the luxury of evaluating the mental aspect of all of his recruits that way Bo did.
With that said, I think the process that Rich Rod has embarked on is one to restore the mental toughness of the players who play for Michigan. There is a process of building a program at all levels of football and the process is virtually the same. Rich Rod has to find the type of players that fit his philosophy, which has less to do with the workings of a spread offense than it does with their mental make-up. Rich Rod from what I can tell is an intense coach and he wants a certain type of athlete in his program. If you've seen the images of the facilities lately, you'll notice every wall has a sign hanging. Every sign is a challenge to the players to be great. "Those Who Stay..." is about striving for greatness and I think these new signs are also a call for people to strive for greatness. Look at Owen Schmitt for example, here is a guy who looks more like the guy driving the Budweiser truck than a football player. A guy who played Divsion III football beause he did not have the athletic pedigree to warrant offers from bigger schools, but the one thing not recorded on any film or any scouting report is the person's willingness to defy the measurables due to their desire to be great. Owen Schmitt was not afraid to strive for greatness and he found a coach who wasn't afraid to let him try. Yes, we've had some great players like Mike Hart that did the same, but Mike Hart was more the exception than the rule, IMO.
Sam McGuffie is an excellent athlete and with more experience, he'll be a good RB, but if he doesn't want to be at Michigan for whatever the reason, then it's better that he leaves the program. I don't like anyone leaving Michigan, but I certainly understand all of the factors that can affect a young man. I wish him well. Rich Rod has to find men that want to be here and want to be great. He has yet to have that opportunity here at Michigan except for the last few weeks of last year's recruiting class. I think RR will need at least 3 years to get this program built the way he wants it to be built with the type of players that he wants. Let's give him that time and keep our expectations realistic going forward.
I am not happy about the season, but it is easier for me to understand because I have played and coached football for almost 20 years and I understand to some small degree what RR faces. He needs to stay the course and keep building his program despite all the criticism and second-guessing that we as fans tend to offer. I am not giving him a free pass, which is currently the most popular accusation on the message boards, but rather I am tempering my expectations of him due to the state of the program. Once he gets two of his recruiting classes into the program(last's years was the continuation of LCs class) then my expectations will be raised back to the level of greatness. I think mental toughness will again be a focal point of the program. I think Rich Rod will recruit his players and you'll see the attrition curbed greatly as his players will have the same mental make-up as their head coach. There aren't guru ratings that measures those sort of things in recruits, so you'll have to trust that RR knows what he's looking for; how else does a school with the occassional 4 star player beat a team always in the top 5 of recruting in a BCS game?
I will not discredit the nay-sayers as they have the right to be upset and disgruntled about the season. They have the right to voice their opinions about the coaches, players, and sky falling, but don't count me amongst them insomuch as I see the process unfolding before me. At this point, people are saying we should be seeing the improvement on the field, so these coaches must be terrible, but I don't think that is where we are in the process. We are still in the infantile stages of the process. We have yet to get to the point where we can get RR's players on the field to compete. By this time next year, the nay-sayers will have pitchfork in hand as I think we're still in the .500 range give or take a lucky break or two. The process takes time and there are no shortcuts to do it right. For every player that leaves, there is another opportunity to fill that scholarship with a player with the attributes RR wants and that's not a bad thing; even if that person cannot leap over tall safeties in a single bound.
Have faith my friends and understand that greatness is not something one achieves in 10 months no matter how much we wish it to happen.