Friday, January 14, 2011

The Clans!

I want to say that Greg at MVictors did tremendous work on this and I am proud to have been a part of this. The Clans. The Factions. Defined.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

October 18, 1995

It's not a game day, if you're wondering (Michigan had a bye that weekend). It was a Wednesday actually. But October 18, 1995 is the reason I want Brady Hoke to be a stunning success at Michigan. I cannot promise that he will be, no one can, but I know he has the first, most important step in being a success with Michigan football; he's the head coach. Woo-hoo! Living the dream!

I don't like to be too personal on here, because it's not a style that suits me well, but Brady Hoke today struck a chord when he said he would have walked from San Diego if it meant being the new head coach at Michigan. It struck a chord because I believed him. I not only think he meant it, I sincerely think he would have figured out a way to do it. It struck me because I am pretty sure I know the exact feeling Brady Hoke had today. Mine came on October 18, 1995, the day I got my fat envelope from the University of Michigan admitting me as a part of its next freshman class. All of the joy, all of the hard work, all of my effort and energy that I had put in to a goal that I had set for myself in third grade had finally paid off. I was in at Michigan. It was the place I wanted to be more than anything in the world and now it wanted me.

There were bumps along the way. I wasn't great in my accelerated math classes. I probably could have put in a little more effort there, done a little better, made it a little less of a question as to whether Michigan would want me. I distinctly remember crawling under my computer desk in my parents' basement for several hours after I got my first ACT score back, knowing it was under the magic number and worried that it wasn't going to happen and mentally working on the Plan B Dearborn-->Ann Arbor route. That fear of failing, of coming close, but not getting what I wanted, I knew that might fall on me, might haunt me, and it pushed me to do better, to be better, because the goal was important.

If you ask anyone who knows me, even a little, to describe me, one of the first five things they might mention is "huge Michigan fan". They're right, it probably is one of the five things people know and note about me, and I wear it like a badge of honor, in good times and in difficult ones. If it helps define who I am, if it makes it easier for people to get a sense of me, I'm all for it. The things I believe about what Michigan is are things I strive to be. Michigan doesn't always get it right, it's not perfect, but it aims high and works to live up to the idea of being "the leaders and best."

Which brings me back to Brady Hoke. Do not misunderstand me when I say that I think Hoke will be successful in no small part because he is passionate about being at Michigan, that there is nowhere else in the world he wants to coach, that this is his dream job. Passion and desire can only get you so far. But I also get the sense that Brady knows in his heart that while Michigan, the university, may believe in him at the moment, to hand over the keys and say "We trust you, don't scratch it.", he knows he has to convince a number of skeptical people that he deserves it. There are a few ways a person can handle that. One is to ignore it, trust your instincts, brush it off with something along the lines of "haters gonna hate" and trust that you'll win them over and if you don't, it doesn't matter what they think. The second one is to put everything you have into showing them that you are worthy, that you deserve it. From the things I have read, Brady Hoke seems like he is many things: genuine, humble, earnest, emotional, and passionate. Does this mean that he has the best defensive schemes in all of college football? No, but it does mean that he knows he has a hill to climb and he's going to find the right people to climb it with him. Does this mean he thinks Michigan will go 14-0 next season simply by showing up? No, but I think it means he's going to find a way to convince this team, his new family, that they can be successful if they play with passion, intensity, and intelligence. Does this mean he is going to get all of the best recruits in the land? No, but I think he is going to look for players who fit his vision of a Michigan football player, who know that they're good, but they can be better, and that if you want to be a part of something special, something larger than yourself, Michigan just might be the place to do that.*

Winning football games is not a Tinkerbell problem. Simply wishing it to be so, believing really hard, and clapping your hands does not put more points on your side of the scoreboard. But today, Michigan introduced a coach who believes, with everything he has, that he will give everything he has to be a worthy successor to legends like Yost, Kipke, Crisler, Oosterbaan, Schembechler, and Carr. If Coach Hoke's results match his passion, Michigan is in good hands.

*-A strange coda, but one I feel compelled to make. I liked Coach Rodriguez, a lot. I still like him as a person and I want him to be successful in his next coaching stop. I wanted him desperately to succeed not just because I wanted Michigan football to be great again, but because I genuinely believed that he was a guy who was trying to do the right things and everything he tried seemed to make things worse. He was like the Mr. Bean of college football coaches during the last three years. It is so easy, in retrospect, to dismiss the last three years as having no value. It would be a shame if we did. There are far too many lessons we need to take from the Coach Rodriguez era, both as fans and as people. One day, when Michigan fans conclude their own Rogers Commission investigation into the Rodriguez era, we may find the reasons that Michigan did not succeed during the past three seasons. For now, all we are left with are the known knowns, and we are left to speculate on the unknown knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns of the era. We will speculate, piece together, connect dots, and hurl accusations and invective because, more than anything, the end of the Rodriguez era demands of us that we understand what the last three years have meant, and we are compelled to ask ourselves the simple question "Were they worth it?" You look around and the obvious answers point to no. But the obvious answers aren't always the best answers. Beneath the surface, there is a lot more to the last three years than a losing record, and we'll need to sort that out. We've got time, new evidence will surface, new pieces will be able to be put in to place. We'll know more. When we do, we'll make decisions from there.

But the reason this coda is here is because I want to remind people of two key points. 1). When you invest heavily in something and said thing ends, there is a grieving process. 2). Not everyone grieves on your timetable. So please be nice to your fellow fans. Let them take their time to find their way and realize that many of us are we're living in hope, of things unseen, because in the absence of evidence the alternative is fear and for many of us, it's way too cold to sleep in the long shadow it casts. We're a family, we'll be here.

Best Idea of the Day

Ian Casselberry mentioned today on his Twitter

"Rewatched Brady Hoke presser. Question I would've asked: Coach, are you bringing back #Michigan Replay? Theme song and all?"

I just have to say, if you want to "heal" the divisions in the Michigan fan base, this would be a tremendous first step. I don't know if Brandy wants to go back to 4 AM tapings, but I know a lot of Michigan fans would be thrilled to hear this music again every Sunday morning.

Come on Mr. Brandon, we're counting on you.

Control the Controllables

So someone, a certain columnist at the Free Press, wanted to know why Brady Hoke was so "focused" on winning Big Ten championships, shouldn't the national championship be the focus? Well, that's funny, because Bo was big on the Big Ten championship and when he would have his seniors set their goals for the season, if they included the national championship, well, I'll let Bo's Lasting Lessons take it from here:

"I might say 'Hey, that sounds great, but do you have any idea what it takes to win a national championship? You have to bust your butt constantly, you have to be perfect in every practice, and every one of you has to have your greatest year of practice. If you understand this, you go right ahead and put it up there, but if you don't, then don't just put it up there for the hell of it. Don't put any goal up on the board you aren't willing to sacrifice everything to achieve."

I know that an initial press conference is basically a giant warm fuzzy. You push the reset button on the recent past, and you look for some mad hope. But, with the only "negative" leaning question of the entire question, I think Brady Hoke's answer shows that he sees the sequential nature of things. Winning a Big Ten championship is something that Michigan can control. Win all eight of their games, win the Big Ten championship game, and they win the Big Ten championship. That is a tangible goal, one which they control their own destiny. With the whims of the BCS, the computers, the human polls, to set the goal as winning the national championship means that you might be perfect and not even get a chance to play for it (not saying that Michigan would be denied that chance as a major name school from an AQ conference, but, well, stranger things have happened.) You start with a goal that you place in your hands, and then, should the moment present itself, you move on to the larger goal.

Besides, 6-18 in the last three years in Big Ten play, you would think a columnist who has harped on that would applaud the idea of starting over with something reasonable? Oh, right, never mind.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Wisdom of Michael Jagger and Judge Harold T. Stone

It's kind of funny, today reminds me of the last five minutes of the pilot episodes of two very disparate television series.  In the opening episode of House, fictional Michigan alumnus Greg House reminds fictional Michigan alumnus Lisa Cuddy of the words of the philosopher Jagger, who said "You can't always get what you want".  Later in that episode, Cuddy reminds House of the second part of that kernel of wisdom, which is "But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need."

That's what I think about the coaching search of 2011 and the resulting hiring of Brady Hoke as Michigan's head coach; he's not necessarily what people wanted, demanded, or thought they were going to get when Michigan decided that Rich Rodriguez was not the right way to go as Michigan's football program headed into the future.  But Harbaugh was always going to have one eye on the NFL, and Les Miles comes with some baggage, the likes of which it would have taken some serious whistling past the graveyard to overlook with a "Michigan man" straight face.

So here we have Brady Hoke.  In Brady Hoke, we have a coach who wants to be the head coach at Michigan and probably never, in a million years, thought he would have a shot to be the head coach at Michigan, but well, he was on the list.

(You've got to skip ahead to 3:50 for the relevant phrase)

Say what you will about that list, no one can deny the fact that Brady Hoke was on Dave Brandon's list, even if he was at the bottom of it.  When Dave Brandon called, he not only listened to Dave Brandon, Brady Hoke said yes.  Which brings me to a serious question: Don't you want someone at Michigan who wants to be at Michigan as much as we want to cheer for Michigan?  Don't you want someone leading Michigan who gets glowing reviews from virtually every former player who offers one?  

Isn't that what we want out of our head coach, someone who brings players to Michigan, who steeps them in the tradition of being a part of the fabric of Michigan's history, who understands that Michigan is a special place to those of us who call it alma mater or those of us who have chosen to bear the colors of Michigan on our shield.  Someone who takes those players and leads them to victory.

And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, "We're gonna vent our frustration
If we don't we're gonna blow a 50-amp fuse"
Sing it to me now...

The entire last four years feel suboptimal, there is no doubt.  Every fan has their own issues with what has happened in the last four seasons or four off-seasons, but the reality is, none of us is very happy.  We lash out, we express our anger, our dismay, our frustration at each other because we have nowhere else to direct it.  Were I a snarky MSM writer, I might suggest that we have gotten what we deserved and we need to accept the new reality of our football lives.

But, in the absence of results on the field, I'm choosing to believe that Brady Hoke is the right choice for this particular moment in Michigan football.  I'll be critical when and where criticism is warranted.  But if Coach Hoke represents a new beginning, or perhaps a restoration after a misunderstood interregnum, then we need to look at it with the fresh eyes that a new beginning deserves.

You can't always get what you want.  You can't always get what you want.  You can't always get what you want.  But if you try some times, you just might get what you need.

The Audacity of Hoke

Go Blue!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Not saying...Just saying....

(Before we start, massive hat tip to the good people of the Bentley Historical Library for their invaluable work on behalf of Michigan athletics and fans and historians of the game.) 

This is the 1973 Michigan Wolverines football team.  They went 10-0-1, tying Ohio State in the final game of the season (the infamous M Club Banner incident).  They were denied a trip to the Rose Bowl by a vote of the Big Ten athletic directors.  They finished the season ranked #6 in the country.  Led by All-Americans Dave Brown at safety and Dave Gallagher at right tackle, and Dennis Franklin at quarterback, they were, arguably one of Bo's finest teams.

But, look a little closer with me, won't you?

The guy in the third row, wearing #85, that's senior defensive end Dave Brandon.  Perhaps you have heard of him?
The guy in the sixth row, wearing #63 and the neck roll, that's sophomore offensive guard Les Miles.  Perhaps you've heard of him?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Fielding Yost and "Michigan Man"

No one knows what a Michigan man is. Everyone, I sense, has different definitions of what it means, and what it is.* I make no great claim to what a Michigan man is. It's a Potter Stewart problem, in that I cannot succeed in defining succinctly what a Michigan man is, but I know it when I see it.

But, for the last few years, we've had here at the HSR on our sidebar our mission statement. It was a quote the three of us greatly admired and realized that it was something we wanted to embrace, because we already were living in the spirit of the thing.

Upon his retirement as Michigan's athletic director in 1942, a major valedictory banquet was held by his friends in the Field house that bore his name. As John U. Bacon recounts in Blue Ice, Yost concluded his statement by saying:

"But do let me reiterate the spirit of Michigan. It is based upon a deathless loyalty to Michigan and all her ways; an enthusiasm that makes it second nature for Michigan men to spread the gospel of their university to the world's distant outposts; a conviction that nowhere is there a better university, in any way, than this Michigan of ours."

Is this fundamentally different than any of one hundred other schools around the country? Probably not. If you love your school, if you're devoted to it, well, that isn't that surprising. But Yost's statement resonates with us as Michigan fans because he is the origin myth of Michigan athletics. They existed before him, but they were not what they would become after him. In this, Yost is held in a place of esteem for the Michigan fans who know of him, who know of his legend and legacy. "Yost" at MZone and Greg at MVictors, are, like myself, acolytes in the ways of Fielding Yost, because when you look at the history, you begin to understand what it means.

Bo may have popularized the phrase "Michigan man", but I think it's important to understand that I've always taken Bo's point that "A Michigan man will coach Michigan" simply meant that someone who would rather be at Michigan than any other school would lead Michigan. Bill Frieder (a Michigan alum, by the way) was headed out the door for Tempe as soon as the NCAA tournament was over. That isn't loyalty to Michigan, so Bo hastened his departure, and lo and behold, it worked. Six games later, Steve Fisher and the Wolverines are national champions and the mythos of a Michigan man takes on a whole other dimension, one, I genuinely suspect, Bo never intended.

In my mind, if you want a Michigan man, it's simple, pick someone who gets that for so many of us, there is nowhere else in the world we would rather be associated with than the University of Michigan, for good or for ill, in right and in wrong. If they understand that, and if they feel the same way, if they are respectful of tradition without being beholden to it, if they are mindful of what has made Michigan great in the past without trying to do it exactly the same way, if they hold fast to the spirit of the thing rather than the letter of it, they will have a strong chance to be successful.

I don't think this means promises that Michigan will beat Ohio State next year are necessary, because I like to think Michigan fans are realists. I do think it means that you acknowledge that there is no greater rivalry in college football than Michigan/Ohio State. I think it means knowing that some people see the Notre Dame game as vitally important, others want a perpetual beatdown of Michigan State to maintain the "natural order of things" as it were, still others want you to know that the Little Brown Jug is way more important than you realize, and still others will want Nebraska to get their comeuppance, because they know what they did. In this sense, Michigan is like many other fan bases, divided, placing priority on different things informed by their own experience, but collectively knowing first and foremost there is but one priority. Win a lot, but win the right way.

Find the man who agrees with that, and move forward from there.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Michael Rosenberg's column this morning.While I'm still not thrilled with Mr. Rosenberg, this column isn't a bad place to start. (I have a feeling I'll end up disliking Mr. Rosenberg less in the next few years, simply because he has his Mission Accomplished banner and can move on to just general contempt, not monomania. I don't like it, but I know it's going to happen. You can only hold a grudge for so long before the grudge consumes you.)

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Losing Touch


Console me in my darkest hour
Convince me that the truth is always gray
Caress me in your velvet chair
Conceal me from the ghost you cast away

I wanted to take some time before I figured out what yesterday meant.  In 2007, in the midst of the chaos of the coaching search, I found solace in the Killers song "Read My Mind" because I became convinced it was speaking to the events in the Michigan AD at the time, however obliquely.  So when I was driving last night and I put the Killers on via Sync, this song came on, and once again, I knew.  (If I had more time, I would make a music video that would explain all of this via story, song, and image.  And since I would need to start by learning how to edit a video, but I digress.)

I ain't in no hurry, you go on
And tell your friends I'm losing touch
Fill their heads with rumors of impending doom
It must be true

It is very clear, by now, that there are many Michigan fans who quite frustrated with "The Process" and the length of time David Brandon took to reach his decision to fire Rich Rodriguez.  I can understand where they are coming from, even if I do not agree.  In less than a year, Mr. Brandon has gone, in the eyes of a great many, from infallible high lord of 1000 S. State Street to just another out of his depth businessman.  This is not my assessment.  It is my firm belief that David Brandon is so far ahead on this, most of us cannot even see it, because we don't have all of the information.  In as much as we lack information, we will fill in the blanks on their own.  And because fear moves product, fear is the prevailing mood of the Michigan fan at the moment.  (Actually, let's be plain, fear is the prevailing mood of the Michigan fan at any given moment.  We are not a hopeful bunch by our nature.)

Console me in my darkest hour
And tell me that you always hear my cries.
I wonder what you got conspired,
I'm sure it was the consolation prize.

David Brandon said yesterday that he would listen to fans, former players, and alums, but that his decision would by no means be a popularity contestMany read this statement (in the larger context of the press conference) to mean that Brandon is set on hiring former Michigan assistant coach and current San Diego State head coach Brady Hoke after he was unable to land Jim Harbaugh. 

I ain't in no hurry, you go on
And tell your friends I'm losing touch
Fill the night with stories, the legend grows
Of how you got lost

But you made your way back home
You sold your soul, like a roamin' vagabond, yeah

One of the current themes in the media is how Rich Rodriguez is a good man, but a bad fit at Michigan.  How he's a good football coach, but he just never really fit in at Michigan.  How Michigan's unique culture made it virtually impossible for Rodriguez to succeed because he never understood "Michigan".  It's the easy way out.  It explains everything neatly, it tells the reader who wants to be quickly mollified that everything will be OK, as long as David Brandon finds, if not a "Michigan man", then someone who gets Michigan and loves Michigan as much as the Michigan fan does.  Maybe it means holding on to the dream of calling Jim Harbaugh home.  Maybe it means finding a tiny white hat with a navy blue block M on it.  But, like almost any college coach, squarely in the crosshairs of the media, fans, and rivals, is going to have black marks against them.

I heard you found a wishing well
In the city
Console me in my darkest hour (in my darkest hour)
And you throw me down

And so we sit here.  We cling to wishing and hoping, every morsel and notion that Harbaugh can still be convinced to come back to Michigan, even as evidence and reports mount to the contrary.  We challenge one another.  We see conspiracy where there is none, and fill the vacant moments with more fear than hope.  Because Michigan fans want to win again, and it wants to win "the right way" and it wants to "be Michigan again."  They want the future to mean something and they want the last three years to mean something, be it a penance paid, a cautionary tale, or just simply bad luck.  But it is foolish to presume that things will be done right just simply because we wish it to be so.  We can't find the middle, because there is no room for a rational fan in a coaching search. 

I ain't in no hurry, you go on
And tell your friends I'm losing touch
Fill your crowd with rumors
Impending doom, it must be true

But you made your way back home
You sold your soul, like a roamin' vagabond

If Michigan has spent the last three years wandering (and really, you can argue rather readily it's the last four years [The Curse of November 17, 2006 and all] ), then we want to know when we can come home.  But we must realize that home is never going to be home again.  My most ready analogy is to a moment in The Late Shift when it is conveyed to David Letterman that NBC wants to dump Leno from The Tonight Show after 18 months hence and Letterman has to decide whether he wants The Tonight Show on NBC's terms, and it's pointed out to Dave that it may be The Tonight Show, but it's not Johnny Carson's Tonight Show.

And about how you got lost, but you made your way back home
You went and sold your soul, an allegiance dead and gone
I'm losing touch.

In the interim, my plan is patience and restraint.  Don't let the hope blind us from reality, but don't let the fear make us stumble around in the dark.  Something will happen, and when it happens, we can evaluate it from there.

Godspeed to you Rich Rodriguez.  I hope you find your next job more peaceful and tranquil.  I hope you succeed in a way that you are comfortable with.

Good luck to you David Brandon.  I sincerely hope that the trust that has been placed in you by people way smarter than I am is well founded.  I believe it is.  I would like to know it is.

Fair winds to you, Michigan fans.  May you realize how much this means to you and why it does, and may it help you understand where you want things to end up, tomorrow, next week, next year.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Glengarry Dave Brandon

We here at HSR were able to get a portion of the transcript of the continuing evaluation of Coach Rodriguez from inside 1000 South State Street.  While it is incomplete, our source, a Mr. David Mamet, assures us that it is very accurate from his transcript.  (Mr. Mamet, every apology in the world.)

Brandon: Let me have your attention for a moment! So you're talking about what? You're talking about...(puts out his cigarette)...bitching about that Gator Bowl you blew up, some recruit that doesn't want to commit, somebody in the media who wrote something unflattering, some scheme you're trying to implement and so forth. Let's talk about something important. Are they all here?
Ablauf: All but one.
Brandon: Well, I'm going anyway. Let's talk about something important! (to Robinson) Put that coffee down!! Coffee's for closers only. (Robinson scoffs) Do you think I'm messing with you? I am not messing with you. I'm here from the Fleming. I'm here from Mary Sue. And I'm here on a mission of mercy. Your name's Robinson?
Robinson: Yeah.
Brandon: You call yourself a defensive coordinator, you son of a bitch?
Rodriguez: I don't have to listen to this.
Brandon: You certainly don't pal. 'Cause the good news is -- you're fired. The bad news is you've got, all you got, just one night to regain your jobs, starting tonight. Starting with tonight's sit. Oh, have I got your attention now? Good. 'Cause we're adding a little something to next year's football season.  As you all know, first prize is a BCS Championship. Anyone want to see second prize? Second prize's a Legends Division championship. Third prize is you're fired. You get the picture? You're laughing now? You got leads. Mary Sue and the alumni paid good money. Get their games to sell them out! You can't close the leads you're given, you can't close shit, you ARE shit, hit the bricks pal and beat it 'cause you are going out!!!
Robinson: The leads are weak.
Brandon: 'The leads are weak.' Fucking leads are weak? You're weak. I've been in this business fifteen years.
Rodriguez: What's your name?
Brandon: FUCK YOU, that's my name!! You know why, Mister? 'Cause you drove a Dodge Stratus to get here tonight, I drove an eighty thousand dollar BMW. That's my name!! (to Robinson) And your name is "you're wanting." And you can't play in a man's game. You can't close them. (at a near whisper) And you go home and tell your wife your troubles. (to everyone again) Because only one thing counts in this life! Get more points on your side of the scoreboard! You hear me, you fucking maggots?
(Brandon flips over a whiteboard which has two sets of letters on it: ABC, and HAIL.)
Brandon: A-B-C. A-always, B-be, C-coaching. Always be coaching! Always be coaching!! H-A-I-L. Head's Up, Attacking, Interceptions, Leadership. Head's Up-- do the players have your attention? Are you using some form of stuffed animal? Attacking-- are you attacking? I know you are because it's sack or six with your defense. You stop them or you hit the bricks! Interceptions -- are you protecting the ball when you have it and taking the ball away when you doing.  And leadership. H-A-I-L; get out there!! You got the prospects comin' in; you think they came in to get out of the rain? Guy doesn't walk on campus unless he wants to play. Sitting out there waiting to give you their effort! Are you gonna take them? Are you man enough to take them? (to Rodriguez) What's the problem pal? You. Rodriguez.
Rodriguez: You're such a hero, you're so rich. Why you coming down here and waste your time on a bunch of bums?
(Brandon sits and takes off his gold watch)
Brandon: You see this watch? You see this watch?
Rodriguez: Yeah.
Brandon: That watch cost more than your car. I made $1,970,000 last year. How much you make? You see, pal, that's who I am. And you're nothing. Nice guy? I don't give a shit. Good father? Forget you -- go home and play with your kids!! (to everyone) You wanna work here? WIN!! (to Gibson) You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you special teams coach? You can't take this -- how can you take the abuse you get on a sit?! You don't like it -- leave. I can go out there tonight with the materials you got, make myself a 10 and 2 season! Tonight! In two hours! Can you? Can you? Go and do likewise! H-A-I-L!! Get mad! You sons of bitches! Get mad!! You know what it takes to sell win football games?
(He pulls something out of his briefcase)
Brandon: It takes a tiny white hat to win football games.
(He's holding a tiny white hat with a purple LSU on its crown, over his head--he puts them away after a pause)
Brandon: Go and do likewise, gents. The wins are out there, you pick it up, it's yours. You don't--I have no sympathy for you. You wanna go out on those sits tonight and close, close, it's yours. If not you're going to be shining my shoes. Bunch of losers sitting around in a bar. (in a mocking weak voice) "Oh yeah, I used to be a college football coach, it's a tough racket." (he takes out large stack of red index cards tied together with string from his briefcase) These are the new defensive recruiting leads. These are the ESPN150 leads. And to you, they're gold. And you don't get them. Because to give them to you is just throwing them away. (he hands the stack to Ablauf) They're for closers.
I'd wish you good luck but you wouldn't know what to do with it if you got it. (to Rodriguez as he puts on his watch again) And to answer your question, pal: why am I here? I came here because Mary Sue asked me to, she asked me for a favor. I said, the real favor, follow my advice and fire your fucking ass because a loser is a loser.
(He stares at Rodriguez for a sec, and then picking up his briefcase, goes into inner office with Ablauf)

(Addition: Two bits of thanks which I thought I had initially included:
Thanks to both of you.  And apologies for the swearing.  But, well, it's Mamet.)

Monday, January 03, 2011

Elegy Written in a Ford Escape

In the end, it's the strangest, the littlest things that end up striking you about the end of something, be it a relationship, an era, or a job. In this case, it was Frank Beckmann's pre-game interview with Rich Rodriguez on the radio side of the 2011 Gator Bowl broadcast; something that I only heard because I was driving home from Pittsburgh, trying very hard to get home before the game started. (I regret nothing!)

Beckmann's interview was formulaic, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. People have expectations for a pre-game show, particularly one before a bowl game. Beckmann asked questions like "How were the practices?" and "How do the younger players look" and "How has this week in Jacksonville been?" and Rodriguez answered them with some standard coachspeak. Anyone dying for a cutting insight into the state of the Michigan football program was going to be sorely disappointed. After a commercial break, Beckmann's interview shifted to the game itself, the opponent in Mississippi State, and what the Bulldogs brought to the table. Rodriguez's answers were what you would expect, not tipping the hand too much, but clearly someone who had watched a lot of film and knew what his team needed to do to be successful. But what struck me was the change in tone and tenor of Rodriguez's voice. It was confident; it was almost, if not giddy, certainly quite pleased.

The first half of the interview was perfunctory and it seemed to me that Rodriguez couldn't even bring himself to feign the enthusiasm one is supposed to bring to this kind of thing. The second half of the interview was technical, and genuinely, it was a little wonky to the point where I felt like I was only getting tremendous insight because I had just finished reading Tim Layden's Blood, Sweat, and Chalk (where Rodriguez's birth of the read option gets some love) and Ron Jaworski's The Games That Changed The Game if only because I now felt like I understood scheme, gap responsibility, and exploiting what the opposition gives you. The entire thing reinforced what I genuinely and fully believe. Rich Rodriguez is a great football coach, he is an offensive genius, but he is not a great head coach. Head coaches have to do more than just game plan. They are CEOs, they are spokesmen, they are the face of the brand. It feels now, and perhaps should have been obvious to us sooner that Rich Rodriguez accepted those additional roles but never embraced them.

It's like the story of Ted Williams, while managing the Senators/Rangers who, when told about the development struggles of his young pitching staff said "Aww hell, let's go hit." Williams knew how to hit as well as any person on the planet, it's what he cared about and it helped him make his hitters better. But hitting is but one aspect of being a manager, just like offense is but one aspect of being a head coach. You need to care about everything, or delegate to capable, responsible parties to do so and hold them accountable when they do not live up to expectations. Rodriguez is at his best when he is talking about scheme, about plays, as you might expect of someone who has been a successful offensive coordinator. But his lack of success at Michigan can be traced to many reasons, but one cause, he was not able to successfully juggle all of the facets of being a head coach in a way that translated to long-term success. This likely means the end of the Rodriguez era at Michigan and the start of something else. But that is where we begin to stare through a glass darkly, because it is a murky, unwritten future.