Six Zero back with the latest installment of:
This monthly offseason feature highlights some of the more famous personalities
here at MGoBlog. Without pulling back the infamous veil of blog anonymity, we’ll
get to know some of your favorite posters better and possibly shed some light
on their definition of why it’s so darn Great, To Be, A Michigan Wolverine.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW PREVIOUS EDITIONS OF MGOPROFILE
(Scroll down to the MGoProfile section of the User-Curated HOF).
SIX QUESTIONS WITH HEIKO
Heiko Yang… the living, breathing “media availability” liason between the University
of Michigan and the online phenomenon/empire known as MGoBlog. I’ll admit, when the departures and subsequent replacements of Tim and Tom were announced, it was Heiko that cut under the radar the most. After all, he was some water polo guy, what could he offer, right? Well, we all learned quickly that Heiko took the press conference experience by storm, broadening the MGoBlog imprint in Schembechler and beyond, and ruffling some pretty big feathers in his own right.
I find it very impressive that despite all of the various outlets reporting weekly press conferences (especially Mattison’s), I always prefer to read Heiko’s first. What he injects and interpolates from the press room is one of a kind. And the fact that he makes it happen despite juggling some other imposing responsibilities makes it all
the more impressive. He somehow found the time to sit down for this
1. In your own words, explain to what it’s like to be THE MGoBlog representative among the rest of the media types during press opportunities?
My first day on the job was as frightening as: A third year medical student’s first day on surgery.
I’m just kidding. It wasn’t bad at all, especially since Tim was still there to hold my hand. Plus no one was actively trying to make me cry. Not that I know of, at least.
It was surprising to find that the presser atmosphere was much more relaxed than I imagined it to be from watching the videos. It makes sense. Many of the reporters have worked together for quite a few years and know each other well. Game faces are on when someone like Hoke is in the room, but when they’re not peppering coaches with questions, the reporters turn around and talk about everything from their romantic lives to what they had for dinner last night. You can learn some interesting things by paying attention to the small talk.
If anything, I was nervous around the coaches and players since I hadn’t introduced myself to any of them. People like Angelique Chengelis from the Detroit News and Larry Lage from the Associated Press are on a first name basis with nearly all of them, and having that kind of rapport really helps when you ask an open ended question (“What do you think about _____?”) and expect to get a good quote.
The good thing about being a diligent MGoReader, however, was that I knew most of the pertinent storylines right off the bat and had no problem interjecting questions of my own. I settled in quickly after I popped my first one (“Are you playing more at 3-tech or 5-tech?” to Ryan Van Bergen). After that it was just a matter of not stuttering.
These days my job is as frightening as: Asking Al Borges about bubble screens, which (see below) is kind of fun! I like going to the press conferences, and I always feel incredibly lucky when I’m there. To be able to interact directly with the coaches and players on a daily basis is any Michigan fan’s dream, and the nature of my job -- transcribing quotes, as opposed to coming up with angles and writing stories on deadline -- doesn’t ruin the experience for me or dampen my fandom at all.
Who in the press has impressed you, perhaps by being welcoming to the blog guy, etc? Or has anyone in the mainstream media given you something of a cold shoulder?
I already knew Chantel Jennings and the kids from the Daily because I worked with them last year. They were immensely helpful last season whenever I got confused by protocol or my tape recorder didn’t work or I just needed a ride back to lab, which was often. I’m not terribly close with anyone else in the MSM, but I did also get to know Kyle Meinke from AnnArbor.com later in the season. He reads MGoBlog. Cool guy.
2. So you get to go behind the curtains inside Fort Schembechler and sit in the press box during games. What’s the best part about those opportunities? What’s the worst?
The best part is hearing the other members of the press, particularly the ones who have been around a while, talk about their experiences. I love listening to Angelique go on about what Brian Griese was like in person or how crotchety Lloyd Carr used to get when she’d get cheeky with him -- her memories are always entertaining. It’s not just the other writers, either. The staff, when they’re not in super serious official Michigan athletic department mode, gets in on the chatter sometimes, and they’ll occasionally drop little hints or make offhand remarks about things the coaches or players would never tell you. I guarantee that I learn more about Michigan football when my tape recorder is off than when it’s on.
Gamedays at the Big House are even better, when guys like John Bacon hang out in the press box and shoot the shit with you all afternoon. You’ll be having a coffee with him during halftime and -- hey, was that Mike Hart who just walked by? Wearing green and white? That’s ironic. Oh, and there’s Gene Smith talking to Eddie George, who’s still enormous and hate-inspiring.
I feel silly admitting this but I am a kid in a candy store every week during football season. I’m sure Ace feels the same way. Two more years of this and we will develop diabetes.
The worst part … if there is even a negative aspect of the job … would have to be the cheering prohibition in the press box. I have to make an active effort not to talk during movies, so trying not to react out loud during football games is extra tough. My knuckles ended up in my teeth pretty often last season. I also sort of miss tailgating with my friends and staggering into the student section in a jersey (on time, of course), but I’m okay taking the bad with the good. They get rained on; I get free cookies.
3. Let’s talk about the coaches (Borges, obviously, more on that in a second). We all read the words, watch the interviews… but what have you learned about these men as people sitting in that room with them week after week? Your favorite, or favorites?
I probably don’t know whole lot about the coaches that astute readers wouldn’t figure out for themselves from reading the transcripts and watching the videos, but I’m guessing not everyone reads every word of the transcripts nor watches every minute of presser film. Off camera and off record they’re all lighthearted guys. Rarely does a press conference start without a joke or witty remark of some sort with the media. I used to transcribe the jokes and use them as my photo captions until I realized they weren’t funny to anyone but me.
The coach I enjoy listening to most is Greg Mattison. You can tell there’s no bullshit when he says that his number one passion is for coaching his players and developing them into “Michigan Men.” He’s so eloquent when expressing his pride in his players that I regularly got chills last season just hearing him talk about it. Here’s another penny for the broken record bank: it’s easy to see how he is a fantastic recruiter. He could probably convince me to drop out of school and transcribe Michigan football pressers forever if he wanted to. Please don’t, though.
Mattison’s personality is reflected in how he coaches his defense to play. He’s not the complicated, scheming type, and it rarely seems like he’s trying to hide anything. He knows who he is, nothing tricky about it, and he doesn’t care if you know who he is. He earns his salary and his defense wins games the same way: through maximum effort and attention to detail.
If Mattison could be considered a dog person, Al Borges would be a cat person. Borges strikes me as a lot more cerebral and calculating, which are probably good traits to have if you’re an offensive coordinator, and more on guard.
The last bit might be a product of his environment. Compared with fans’ expectations for Mattison where anything he did would have been an improvement over the last few years, the expectations for Borges really put him in a hard spot. Where are you going to go but down when you inherit a NCAA-record setting 2500-yard passer/1500-yard rusher who played in a system you don’t believe in? Early in the season it seemed as if he was more sensitive to the pressure to use the spread and run Denard or not run Denard. He was defensive about his decisions and often said things like “everyone wants to kill the offensive coordinator when a play doesn’t work.” He eventually opened up once he got comfortable with the personnel. As with most things in sports, a successful record was instrumental to the survival of the Al Borges-Denard Robinson fusion cuisine.
Personally, I like Borges a lot (I know, I know, death stare, bubble screens, etc.). Whereas with Mattison I could sit in a seminar room and listen to him all day, with Borges I can totally imagine myself hanging out with him at a bar and having a couple beers and talk about, idunno, women or something. Speaking of women, his young daughter made occasional appearances at the pressers last season. I suspect baselessly that it was a ploy to lessen the wrath of the media after the Iowa game.
I have the least to say about Brady Hoke because to me, Brady Hoke is an enigma. The man is so much smarter than he lets on. He’s so adept at playing the media and parrying loaded questions with mollifying non-answers, and he’s so impressively diplomatic in the “foreign affairs” aspect of being a head football coach.
Ten bucks says that he makes up words on purpose.
Let’s get back to Borges and the bubble screen. Or Coach Hoke and the spread punt. Your ability to provoke tete a tete showdowns with the staff has quickly become the stuff of legend and a bona fide MGoMeme. How does this happen? Are you simply carrying out the orders of Brian, or are you pushing for something printworthy? Tell us about the experience of ruffling their feathers.
Man, you make it sound like I go to these things in a helmet and pads. Actually, you know what, I kind of like that image. Let’s go with it.
Before I head out to the press conferences I usually get online and check with Brian to see if there’s anything he wants me to ask. Brian’s questions are often about schematic nuances or game decisions, things that he notices while watching the game or doing the UFR that he can’t explain, e.g. assignments when defending the veer option, why Craig Roh crashed down inside the tight end instead of keeping contain outside, and what’s the point of sending Koger as a U-back across the formation when linebackers end up in Denard’s face anyway.
I started adding the “MGoQuestion” tag to these questions halfway through the season upon request but felt silly doing so because Brian’s questions are so obviously different from ones like “How did you feel about such and such position group last game?” Especially when juxtaposed with my own questions, which I come up with occasionally when Brian has nothing for me and I just want to satisfy my own curiosity. You can tell which MGoQuestions are mine by whether you can imagine an excitable dude wearing a No. 16 jersey shouting them from halfway up section 28.
Anyway, the spread punt question to Hoke falls into the Brian category, although if I remember correctly it may have been prompted by a reader email. On that note, if you have questions about Michigan football, ask Brian, and he’ll ask me to ask a coach, and the coach will likely stare at me impassively before giving me an answer from Monosyllabia. Yeah, I probably could have done better. Instead of asking “Have you considered using the spread punt?” I should have asked, “What do you feel is the advantage of using the traditional punt formation as opposed to the spread punt?” They teach us how to frame our questions strategically in medical school in a unit called “The Difficult Patient Interview.” Lesson learned: Brady Hoke is a difficult patient.
The bubble screen question to Borges was completely my own (un)doing. During the season I keep up with a bunch of other Michigan-related blogs. The day of the bubble screen question, I had just read BWS and what must have been his second or third rant on “Why no bubble screen?” when I decided, you know what, maybe I’ll just straight up ask Borges and see what he has to say about it.
It was actually a lot funnier than a lot of readers made it out to be. Because of that incident and that I’ve been bugging him about it off camera ever since, Borges now knows my name. At least, I think he does. He recognized me at the NSD presser and asked me my name.
Over the course of last season, I’ve definitely asked my share of annoying questions, but I don’t think the coaches really care. They understand that the media are there to increase exposure to the program, which is usually a good thing. They’re just not thrilled when their methods are questioned by people who have never played or coached a single down at this level. I have to give them a lot of credit for their patience and humility -- especially Mattison and Borges, who are willing to explain their thoughts with such honesty and such detail that no MSM reporter would ever be able to use the quote in a 500-word story. To us, however, and to the readers, those quotes are gold because they truly enhance how we watch and appreciate Michigan football.
4. On top of all of this, you’re pursuing an MD/PhD?? First of all, how do you make all that happen? What sort of unique perspectives does your medical pursuits give you with regards to following Michigan sports? And finally, where would you like this unique skill set take you in the future?
It sounds impressive, but the secret is that the MD and the PhD don’t happen at the same time. It’s two years of med school, four years of thesis work, and then two more years of med school. It’s an eight year slog, and right now I’m somewhere between year four and five overall. For all you math majors that have been keeping track, it means I’ve been working in a lab for two years now.
Being in the PhD phase of my training is what makes all of this possible. My project is independent and my hours are fairly flexible, so I can duck out of lab for an hour or two a few times a week during football season to hang out in Schembechler Hall. They feed us on Mondays, which is nice.
I’m not sure whether my medical/science background offers anything unique per se regarding Michigan athletics. I recognized Denard’s staph infection the minute I saw it on his hand and made the connection to the abscess on his elbow when that news broke, but that’s about it. I certainly don’t know enough to even begin to discuss sports injuries (except for concussions, but only because I had one recently). That kind of stuff isn’t cool to talk about without actual expertise, nor is it cool to talk about until they officially release it anyway because private health issues are supposed to be private.
This is where I’m going to sound like a job application essay or a self-help book: While there aren’t many obvious parallels between science, medicine, and sportswriting, an important connection that I’ve drawn is that the people who are most successful in any of these fields all possess the ability to ask the right questions. Of course, a lot of effort goes into finding out what the right questions are -- that’s why it takes so long to train doctors, why the best scientists often spend more time reading papers than doing experiments, and why Brian has his own UFR -- but it seems to be a winning formula. (/end PSA)
I’m not sure what specialty I want to go into yet, so I can predict even less how the sports aspect will fit in with my future. Check back with me in four years. I’m keeping an open mind as to how everything plays out, but I’m perfectly okay if this ends up just being “That sweet hobby I had for a few years through which I got to meet Denard Robinson.”
Crazy. I’m sure you are no stranger to hard work.
So what do you like to do for fun?
I play a bunch of intramural sports with other med students, and I play music. In fact the reason I’ve been AWOL the last month was because I was spending all my waking hours in the pit band for the annual musical that the med school puts on at the Mendelssohn Theater.
On that note, recently I acquired a didgeridoo. Does anyone know how to play a didgeridoo? I’m having trouble learning how to breathe circularly.
5. Well... I know there are rules against cowbells and airhorns in the stadium, but to my knowledge there are no such restrictions in place concerning the preeminent Aboriginal instrument of Australia. Why are you a Michigan fan?
I went to high school in Ohio but was oblivious to the rivalry until one day I showed up to class wearing a Michigan shirt. It was pretty easy to pick sides after that. And now I go here, so I mean, duh.
6. And finally, who is your all-time favorite Wolverine?
It would be difficult not to say Denard, but there is a special place in my heart reserved for former Michigan volleyball player Lexi Zimmerman. Anyone who has ever written for Daily Sports knows that you will never forget the first time you deploy the Massive Profile Machine. For me it was Lexi.
Imagine yourself, ten or fifteen years from now, having to visit the doctor.
Perhaps you need your cholesterol checked, or maybe it’s even the dreaded prostate examination that becomes more and more terrifying as I get older. But either way, you’re led into the doc’s office and find yourself looking back at a small shrine of Michigan lore. Pics of your doctor shaking hands with Denard, or being held in a headlock by the offensive coordinator. You see all those framed diplomas, adorned with that famous golden seal with the magic lamp. And, as he walks into the room, either in block M-bedecked scrubs or sporting a striped maize and blue tie under his crisp lab coat, you hear the song in your head. By the time you get to the part
that says, “Leaders and Best,” it all fits perfectly.
You spend a little time interacting with Heiko and one thing immediately makes
itself clear: this dude is going places. Ambitious, well-written, yet without any presumptions about how people should treat him. He’s a fan, and he’s one of us—but at the same time you can’t help but feel that’s not all he is, or is capable of or will become. Who knows, maybe one day it’ll be Al Borges telling stories of the time
he was interviewed by Dr. Yang.