November 17, 2011
You have no idea who I am and you probably wouldn't care much beyond the fact that I am a Michigan alum and football fan. You'd probably throw me a cocked eyebrow and a headshake when you heard that I am a blogger, because I'm one of those damn media types, and what's worse, I'm pretending to be a media type. But then you'd probably laugh and move on to whatever it was you were planning to do next. This is my best guess based on what I have been told about you and from what I have read. But I hope you understand that in writing this letter to you, or perhaps moreover, to your spirit, I'm trying to make sense of a world that's changed so much in the five years since you left.
There are those who claimed that your passing was a curse, that your death the day before the #1 Ohio State/#2 Michigan "Game of the Century" was operatic in nature, but ultimately a harbinger. That your passing took the last bit out of Lloyd's will to give it his all, that it cost us a win in the Rose Bowl, and then that led to the Appalachian State disaster and the Oregon nightmare. But that's too simple, too easy. Curses are the name we give to a series of unfortunate events that can easily be better explained by logic and investigation and ultimately faulting ourselves. Since we do not want to do that, we're cursed. It absolves us of any guilt. And yet, I cannot help to believe that maybe there is something here. Not the curse, but the loss of the anchor. It is said when Pericles died during the Peloponnesian War, a certain way of thinking died and it ultimately cost the Athenians their golden age. While you had been retired for more than a quarter century before your passing, you were still the pater familias because you had never really gone away. You'd left the family business in the capable hands of the second son, not the one you envisioned, but one who was working hard to uphold the good name of the business. And then all hell broke loose.
I'm not going to rehash the last five years for you, because they're a mess and because Bacon did a great job covering it, as I am sure you would have suspected. (He keeps doing an impression of you around these parts, and it's pretty spot on. I'm assuming you haven't seen it because you don't get Big Ten Network where you are. I presume this is because Mark Silverman is only so good.) But the reality is, we're in a new place now, kind of like where you were when you got here in 1968, except the landscape is even more high pressure, even more potentially toxic, even more self-immalatory. In the past year alone, two "successful" Big Ten coaches saw their tenures end, both because they essentially didn't tell someone something they were bound, either by rules or by law, to tell. It's a different world than the one you left Bo, Twitter alone would make you throw a headset. This weekend, instead of playing Ohio State the weekend before Thanksgiving, Michigan now plays Nebraska in a Big Ten Legends Division game trying to keep pace with Michigan State, because the season now stretches to Thanksgiving weekend, Nebraska's now in the Big Ten, there are two insanely named divisions, and there's going to be a Big Ten championship game, and the Spartans may be playing in it. I'm comfortable in saying I'm pretty sure you would not approve of any of those things.
All of that said, the world, both inside college football and beyond, still has a lot of you in it. Start in Baton Rouge, where one of your former players is running the #1 team in the country and doing it pretty much as a slightly crazier version of you. Or look at the work that Dr. Billy Taylor is still doing with his expanded Get Back Up Foundation, helping to treat addicts and put them on the road to recovery. Look in the locker room, where Jon Falk's still there, still doing his thing better than anyone (and telling us some great stories about you.) Or look up at U of M Hospital, where your Heart of a Champion Resarch Fund is rolling along. Or simply upon State Street, whereanother of your former players is running the Michigan Athletic Department, following in the grand tradition on Canham's marketing prowess with a low-key but ever present ferocity and a number of 21st century twists. These are just a few of the most prominent examples of your former players doing great things, but that wouldn't surprise you. It's what Michigan men do.
There's not a statue of you at Michigan Stadium Bo, but you know that's not how Michigan does things. But in borrowing the words which inspired Michigan's state motto, "If you seek his monument, look around," you don't need a statue. Your monument is in the phrases "Those Who Stay Will Be Champions." and "The Team. The Team. The Team." and, unfortunate as it might be, "A Michigan man will coach Michigan." Your monument is the fact that the Big Ten Coach of the Year trophy is named for both Woody and yourself. Your monument is our program, as you would remind us, a link in the chain from Yost to Kipke to Crisler to Oosterbaan to Bump to you down to Mo and Lloyd and yes, even RichRod, and now Brady. Your monument is in our memories of you, five years gone, but not forgotten.
We've been warned in the past week about the dangers of any one coach having too much power; we can see the stark reminders of investing too much in a football coach as anything more than a football coach. So maybe you left at the right moment, maybe the plan is not ours to question, because maybe you just weren't made for these times. But that doesn't mean we can't miss you.
My thanks to you,