A Michigan Renaissance

Submitted by Swayze Howell Sheen on September 7th, 2010 at 11:34 PM

And the game rolled on. Denard left, Denard right, Denard up the middle. Molk opening up a hole, Webb making a block, Odoms shoving a cornerback downfield. Block, block, block; tackle, tackle, tackle; most decisively, win. I was thrilled, ecstatic. But strangely: saddened. Why? Because I found myself with one simple wish: for Bo to have seen it.


Coach Bo


I don't know how he'll put it years from now when he's looking back on it, but I think it is safe to say: these past few years have been some kind of waking nightmare for Coach Rod. One damned thing after the next. Accusations of the loss of tradition, assertions of cheating, and the stark reality of losing. Mostly, the losing, probably; but the other things, well, they didn't help.


Coach Rod


There were those who got confused over what a Michigan Man was. They thought it meant "descended from the Bo coaching/playing tree". A bad, awful definition, failing the most simple of tests. Yost? By this definition, nope. Crisler? Sorry. And thus, Coach Rod? No chance. He wasn't from Bo. He wasn't of Bo. And thus, from the hills of West Virginia, Coach Rod was the dreaded Other. He was a charlatan, a simpleton, a snake-oil salesman. He was no Michigan Man.

His practices were too tough, there was too much cursing, yelling; they're driving the players off. Where are the family values? But remember this: it is said that for Bo's players, game day was a relief; it was the practices during the week that killed them, that they were afraid of. By the time they got to the game, well, that was the easy part*.


Practice Makes Perfect


On Saturday we saw something that had long been lost in Michigan Stadium. A level of toughness and execution we haven't seen too often this past decade. I remember seeing it once, in 2002, when Iowa came in and blew us off the ball in a humiliating 34-9 loss. And again when Oregon came and dismantled us in 2007. And I remember thinking: when did they start doing that to us? Shit, it used to be the other way around. Maybe we saw glimpses of it from time to time (OSU 2003 comes to mind), but that was the exception that proved the rule. Something from the old era was lost, missing, gone.

So this is what Saturday really was. Not just a win. Not something for Coach Rod to get the media monkeys off his back. Yes, it will do that (for a time, until the next loss), but that's not what was important. Because what Saturday represented was much more. Yes, the form was different: the spread and not 3-yards-plus-dust-cloud. Yes, the emphasis was different too: more offensive-minded than defensive, perhaps. But there was a critical sameness: tough, hard-nosed football. Block. Tackle. Execute. Bo-style football. The basics. The essentials.


Blocking. Tackling.


There is a story Bo tells in John Bacon's book**. It is about how Bo felt after the 6-6 season. Maybe the game was passing him by, he thought. He went to some clinics taught by one of the young hot-shots of the time. The hot-shot, as Bo tells it, described all the new schemes they were using on defense. But one coach had the presence to ask, "If your schemes are so good, why did you give up so many yards last year?", to which the hot-shot replied, "Well, we probably didn't spend enough time practicing tackling." Blocking and tackling, that's what the game is about! It reinvigorated Bo. And that is what we saw Saturday. And it reinvigorated us all.


There were a number of milestones this past Saturday. One of the best debuts by a U of M QB ever. The first time in 21 years, as told touchingly by Michael Taylor on WTKA this morning, that an African-American took the helm of our beloved team. The first win of the season, and perhaps the first real win of the Coach Rodriguez era.




But make no mistake. There was really nothing new here. This was a Michigan Football renaissance. Emphasis on "re", as in again. A re-birth. Of what Bo created here long ago, what he first shouted to the world with a stirring 24-12 win.


The 1969 Upset of the Century


I don't believe in God, or Heaven. I don't think Bo was up there somewhere looking down on the game. But I do wish he could have seen it. Because when that hole opened up courtesy of Molk and company, and Webb came across to seal off the UConn linebacker, and Denard burst through on his way to the endzone, it wasn't some fancy new offense or scheme that did it. It was the blood of a hundred young men who don the Maize and Blue each week. It was the sweat they put in on each long, hot, grueling summer day. It was the tears they cried when Brock Mealer reached for the the banner and touched it, ever so gently.




It was goddamned Michigan Football. From a Michigan Team, coached by a Michigan Man (in the truest sense).

And Bo would have loved every minute of it.

Those who stay...


* From the excellent reminiscing of "Those Who Stay" by Curt Stephenson. Not particularly well written, but a fun read nonetheless.

** Pretty sure this is where I read it. May also be in Albom's book. Both should be read, of course.



September 7th, 2010 at 11:47 PM ^

I really do believe Bo was watching tho, and he no doubt was loving the OL play and he had to love Denard's toughness. No turnovers. ONE penalty? Falk stating that RR has some Bo in him rings truer all the time.


September 7th, 2010 at 11:47 PM ^

Well said. I feel like "Michigan Football" is not a scheme but the way the team prepares for a game, the love for one other, and the feeling that it is not about themselves and their stats, it's about the team, the team, the team.  I also feel that RichRod is doing just this.  The team played fundamentally sound football (from what I can tell, the majority of you guys are much more knowledgeable than I on the matter) and looked extremely happy for one another.  I can't wait to see what the rest of the season has in store.  Go Blue!


September 8th, 2010 at 12:07 AM ^

You are right that RichRod is developing a culture of toughness...the hard edge...and that tough practices are paying real dividends on the field. You're never going to appease the RichRod haters...he could win every game 1000 to negative 30 and it wouldn't matter...so no need in trying.

I'm glad that for the first time in my life watching a Michigan team we have a quarterback who is "that guy" in the way that Tebow, Dennis Dixon, Amanti Edwards, Troy Smith etc. have been against us. That's a good feeling.


September 8th, 2010 at 12:14 AM ^

Bo makes me think there is a heaven. I choose to believe that he checked out of this existence on that Friday in November of '06 so he could watch UM v OSU, #1 v #2, with his old friend Woody.


September 8th, 2010 at 12:19 AM ^

...Coach Schiano.  Anyone with a lick of sense and an ounce of knowledge about how things were done during Bo's tenure has to admit that RichRod's empasis on exacting execution and mental and physical toughness is entirely in line with the best traditions of Michigan football.

Ultimately it will become readily apparent to all that RichRod is just what the doctor ordered for this program.


September 8th, 2010 at 2:01 AM ^

great post, i watch footall that way.  Watch UM come together postion by position, to make that tackle.  Seeing Mike Martin take on his double team, roh creating pressure.  Oh and those hits Cameron Gordon lay out.  Seeing the freshmen kids and the veteran men play as a Team.  Exciting to see execution, Hard Edge. Fast!


September 8th, 2010 at 2:11 AM ^

since the ground game was so effective. I belive it was he who said there are 3 things that can happen on a forward pass and two of them are bad. Except for the spread formation this was how BO would have wanted to win, on the ground.

Twisted Martini

September 8th, 2010 at 8:00 AM ^

I was thinking the same thing.  I think it was the third quarter, when I turned to a friend and said "this is Michigan football...ball control offense, bend but don't break defense."  Time of possesion was so lopsided in the 3rd quarter, I thought I was watching a Colts game.  

And I'm glad we finally have a QB who can do to them what has been done to use since 1998.


September 8th, 2010 at 8:01 AM ^

paired with reverential references to Bo, and assertions that RR has besmirched what Bo built. What these people can't see is that out of all of the post-Bo coaches we've had, RR is FAR more like Bo in terms of his football personality than either Mo or Lloyd. This is not a criticism of either Mo or Lloyd, but they were just very different personalities than Bo. The most important difference between Bo and RR is that Bo won big right away, and RR has struggled greatly out of the gate. I really believe that if Bo were alive, he'd be solidly in RR's corner.


September 8th, 2010 at 1:21 PM ^

the two coaches in the country that Bo liked are Kirk Ferentz and Rich Rodriguez.  Rich Rodriguez is almost a mirror image of Bo.  It'd be a big mistake for Brandon to fire RR because Michigan will be a national power once RR get his players in and they have depth to keep the system cranking.


September 8th, 2010 at 9:20 AM ^

coached by a Michigan Man (in the truest sense).

And Bo would have loved every minute of it.


This Diarie is so well written that I had to read it twice.

It reminds me of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

What more can I say?

Fresh Meat

September 8th, 2010 at 10:09 AM ^

I was thinking the same thing, not trying to make a religious point, but just a logic one.

If you don't believe in god, god damming something seems like an odd statement for you to make then, right?  What god is there to damn something for you if you don't believe that god exists?

blue in nola

September 8th, 2010 at 9:39 AM ^

sounds like Bo-style Michigan Football to me.  If Bo were here, he would've been pleased with what he saw, especially when, consistently on third down, everyone in the stadium knew what was coming, yet it couldn't be stopped by a defense that returned 8 starters.  Why?  Because we were tougher, we were in better shape, and we imposed our will on them.  And the best part for me is that RichRod was not pleased with the lack of big plays and expects better blocking by the line and the receivers, especially at the second and third level. 


September 8th, 2010 at 9:40 AM ^

Great post... I was thinking very similar things sitting in the stands this last weekend. We had the ball two times in the first quarter and were up 14 to 0 - They had two really long possesions that sent a message to UConn. This is going to be a tougher game than you can handle. I'm still dying to find out how good/bad that team is this year. Did we just clobber a really good team? Reading about them all summer, I think they had 2 thousand yard backs, a whole offensive line returning from a great team, and a 5th year QB running the show.  Hats off to the Defense, that made big plays in tough situations. Go Blue! Now it's time to thump the Irish in South Bend. O let do it!


September 8th, 2010 at 10:07 AM ^

I agree RR is laying the foundation for a great team in the future.  As he starts winning, he will be able to recruit the best talent in the country. He already has recruiting in roads into  FL and this is already paying off.  I just hope the AD and fans will give him the time needed.  We are off to a great start but our defense is still very young and there will be some tough games. May be our offense will continue to be explosive through the season and we may win many more games than  most of us expect this season.  But even if we win only 6 or 7 games, RR should be given the chance to build this team back into champions and I think he will succeed in a few very short years.

Maize and Blue…

September 8th, 2010 at 10:26 AM ^

Don't forget this team is extremely young and has a ton of talent coming back next season.  If RR can pick up some immediate contributors on D in this recruiting class watch out.

Enjoy the ride this year it's going to be fun, but next season all skilled players will be back with most of the Oline.  The DL should again be strong, Roh with another year, and the entire secondary back.  RR deserves the opportunity to coach next season for all the BS he has been through.

Go Blue!


September 8th, 2010 at 10:36 AM ^

Very good read indeed, and "spot on." Now, it is off to South Bend to make the Irish a .500 football team. Watching the tape of their game vs. Purdue - ND's defense looks slow - and the grass in SB looks long.

Go Blue!


September 8th, 2010 at 1:53 PM ^

Running a play everyone knows is going to happen, and still getting it done, because we are executing better.  I agree with everyone. The discipline (only 1 penalty on the first drive).


Also noticed the comparisons to Bo. Everyone who says he should have changed his ways when he got here to be like the current coach, did not know Bo. From Bo's books, he always talked about doing things his way. As a coach you have to coach what you know and be confident in what you know.  RR, will earn his place at Michigan. I hope this year continues to shock the naysayers and gives him a chance to prove what he really can do. Somehow he combined exciting fast paced football, with classic old school Michigan football.  I have no idea how he did it, but I can't get enough of it.  Go Blue!


September 8th, 2010 at 2:28 PM ^

I notice you mention the 2007 game against Oregon where they destroyed Michigan.  Interestingly, my neighbor played O-Line for that team (now with the Carolina Panthers) and laughed about how surprised their offense was about being able to manhandle Michigan's defense.  I was embarrassed listening to him laugh about it.  Michigan needs a rematch - Oregon is one of the only teams I've seen embarrass the Wolverines.

Poster Nutbag

September 8th, 2010 at 2:51 PM ^

Well written!   When you come down to it, it's all about execution - Blocking, tackling and knowing your reads.  Saturday seemed like everyone was on the same page and well prepared.  It's a long season but at least we have one in the books for the good guys!

I'm very excited to see what this season brings!  


Go Blue and Beat the domers!!


September 8th, 2010 at 4:54 PM ^

Very well done. I believe in this team, this system, this coaching staff, and our incredible fans.  Last year when we started 4-0 I felt good, but I still felt like something wasn't quite right.  As the season went on it was clear that the pieces were still not quite in place, the players were still adjusting and there were still many mistakes.  After watching the opener I felt totally different.  I felt the family atmosphere.  I felt the confidence of the players, and coaches.  I witnessed the execution, toughness, and the hard edge of these young men.  For the first time in a long time I felt like Michigan was back.  Sure it's not the Michigan we're all used to, but to me, this is the best Michigan has looked in quite some time.  I am more excited about the future now, then I ever have been at any time the last 20 years.


September 8th, 2010 at 4:57 PM ^

Bo would have loved that effort, for sure: blocking, swarming the ball on defense, practically no penalties and few (if any) mental errors. 

Now, if that effort can be sustained over the course of the season--or better yet, improved upon--the current regime may indeed invoke comparisons to Bo-style Michigan football.  The true hallmark of the Schembechler era, however, was consistency.  Therein lies the challenge for this team.  One dominating performance is not enough to suggest Bo's legacy is being honored by any type of renaissance. 

Having said that, it feels like something is being built in Ann Arbor.  Starting with the 2007 season, it felt like things were falling apart (which, in fact, they were).  2008 was a free-fall, and last year may have been worse, as it seemed to me that a winning season was within that team's capabilities.   


September 8th, 2010 at 7:31 PM ^

The theme here is that we are getting back to Michigan Football... Rich Rod and our team this year are so very close. 

"Last year, hey we were under the radar, that's a good place to be.  F that!  The best place to be is when expectations are high.  Get used to it, it's always gonna be that way.  And now let's go out and prove everybody right!"  --Rex Ryan


September 8th, 2010 at 8:03 PM ^

I grew up in Ann Arbor in the Bo era and I think Rich Rod is absolutely a Bo guy, which is good, because to me nothing is more satisfying than watching a disciplined, aggressive, and confident Meeechigan football drop a bomb on opponents, crushing the life out of them by controlling the game the way they did Saturday. Love it and want more of it.

And thanks for the eloquent statement of one of the best things about being a Michigan fan.


September 8th, 2010 at 8:37 PM ^

I was at that 2002 Iowa game and said the exact same thing: that Iowa Hawkeyes team is exactly what Michigan football used to look like.  No disrespect to Lloyd, who was a great coach in his own right. But over the last decade the Wolverines drifted from the belief in hard work that is essential to being successful.  I think being able to recruit lots of top end talent made it easier to skimp and take short cuts while still being successful.  And of course that worked for a time being.  Then App State became the eye opener that made many of us realize we'd lost our way.  The following weekend Oregon showed the way to regaining all that we had lost.

I've said to friends that Bo would have a sh*t eating grin if he saw this offense.  Bo being the no nonsense man that he was also understood the importance of having a great defense.  I hope Rich Rod is heading in that direction by implementing the 3-3-5 stack and that the defense will show the same jumps in improvement we've seen from the offense.


September 8th, 2010 at 9:19 PM ^

I came to AA in 1978 and became a devoted U of M fan ( I'm from so cal) and I loved everything about Bo. Rich Rodriguez is more like Bo than any other coach I've seen at Michigan. They are both tough, hard-nosed, no nonsense you're with me or you're out coaches. No excuses. And I'm as devoted and supportive of Rodriguez as I am of Bo. The players that don't want to give 110% need to look elsewhere and I'll be the first to shake their hands on their way out. We were on our way to becoming a non-entity long before Rodriguez arrived and the way I see things we're quickly becoming the team we were when Bo was coaching. Rich Rodriguez will win multiple national championships...mark my words


September 8th, 2010 at 10:33 PM ^

Never cried in front of the cameras. Never got the team on probation. Didn't bring a whirlwind of controversial crap that makes a prima dona or an operatic diva look tame.

Bo was angry as hell when he needed to be (or just plain wanted to be), took on all comers--square jaw, daring them to question him and fired back in ways that Rodriguez's disingenuous down homey-ness look even sillier than they are.

Bo was funny, and ORIGINAL. Not full of stale ass jokes like "I was my wife's third choice, too HAR HAR DUH DUH"

Bo was transcendental, above it all, larger than life, bigger than the game, and a one-man FORCE for UM football. Turds like Rosenberg would have been ground to salt under his mighty stomp.

The only time Rodriguez showed balls was when he said "Playing time isn't voluntary either'--showed he was willing to stand out on an island and take some hits. Since then, it's been more shit and more walking around with tail between legs.

Rodriguez isn't like Bo at all. It's shameful, populist, and downright fucking silly to compare the two in any way.

Any future posts or stupid diaries like this that stretch truth beyond any recognizable form just to get Bo Schembechler into them and mention Rodriguez in the same sentence should be wiped off the face of the earth.


September 8th, 2010 at 10:37 PM ^

Super post.   I think this team is on it's way to throwing the experts for a loop.  They can't quantify the improvement in the individual players from week to week, let alone year to year.  That happens when you have the right guidance from the best coaches. 

Rich can definitely achieve that same lasting legacy. He has the vision and is super smart. 

It is a really interesting story each week and a great watch.  It wasn't that way for much of the decade. I agree with you.