BLUE

...the joy and despair of being a Wolverines fan.

 

August 29, 2008

WHERE'S MY STRAIGHTJACKET?


The college football world is Bearish on Michigan Football. Sports Illustrated has Michigan at 54, behind teams like Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa(!?!). I will bet my annual salary right here and right now that Michigan finishes vastly higher than Iowa.

The Bears are obviously fixated on Michigan’s denuded offensive line and walk-on quarterback, areas of concern, certainly. But let’s put Lloyd Carr back at the helm and add back Ryan Mallett and Justin Boren along with one or two other beefalo lineman who threw in the towel after their third Barwis sprint. SI and others would then be typically Bullish on Michigan, citing their seasoned defense and five-star QB before bestowing a top 25 ranking on the Wolverines. Excuse me? Boren, Mallett and Lloyd Carr do not elevate this current squad from 54th to the top 25. Yet, in the Lloyd Carr version of 2008, pundits would place Michigan in a more traditional pre-season slot citing better athletes, a stout defense and the simple fact that the schedule features largely inferior competition. They would grumble and mumble that Michigan is overrated, but they would never drop them down amongst the unwashed.

 

Let’s look deeper. Is there anyone reading this who actually thinks Ryan Mallett – the whole package we came to know and love – would have been a leader and a very good QB in 2008 under Lloyd Carr?  I will take that deafening silence to mean no. And all you Boren-Is-A-Pussy haters surely can’t believe he was worth wins all by himself.

To stick with the Wall Street lingo, what seems to have happened is that the market correctly started selling Michigan short upon seeing our QB and OL problems emerge and, like a run on a depression era bank, irrationality took over.

They have gone way too far. A Lloyd Carr 2008 team without the defections is not appreciably better than a Rich Rodriguez 2008 team with the defections, with Barwis and with the late speed recruits. Period. The deterioration in the OL and the presence of Nick Sheridan behind center are more than offset by having an offensive genius as a head coach, better conditioning and an emphasis on speed.

And the defense is substantially better. Setting the unknown of conditioning aside, the returning talent off of the 23rd rated defense is impressive with the bonus of addition by subtraction in the LB corps (yes, Personal Foul Crable included).  Examine the points allowed to last year’s Big 10 opponents:

If we accept the general premise that this year’s defense will be better, than projecting the same Big 10 scoring defense for 2008 is not unreasonable. Note that I did NOT say it was scientific or deeply analytical. This is a 30,000 foot analysis, not mgoblog. So the challenge is simple – score me three touchdowns a game in the Big 10 and that will probably be worth 6 wins. And Toledo?  Miami of Ohio? Notre Dame? One is hard-pressed to find a reason for the gloom that surrounds our beloved Wolverines.

I am predicting 10-2, with a loss early because of new-system errors and a loss in the meat of the season to either MSU or PSU (we can’t keep beating them every year). Yes, this means I am predicting a victory over Ohio State.  That certainly isn’t rational, but then neither was 1969.

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

December 16, 2007

BILL MARTIN, I AM SORRY!


In a stunning display of pessimism, a surprising number of Michigan fans are today celebrating the hiring of Rich Rodriguez with hand-wringing about how poorly his offensive philosophy fits in at Michigan…and with how little attention this offensive innovator pays to defense, which, of course, is what wins championships. One hopes that these people were not part of the hordes howling for Mike Debord’s flayed skin to be nailed outside the Big House for a lack of offensive creativity (I was one – see Curious Lloyd Feeds A Spartan), otherwise all the psychoanalysts in Southeastern Michigan will not be enough to untangle such conflicted fans.

The reality of Rich Rodriguez’s scheme is that he has had to contend with a stunning deficiency of talent in Morgantown. As we saw in the Appalachian State game, one of the great equalizers in college football today is the spread option – individual players can make a huge difference and compensate for a lack of overall talent, and this Rich Rodriguez has done at West Virginia and done it well.

“Wait!” say the conflicted contingent. Pat White and Steve Slaton? Lack of talent. Puhlease! Yes, a lack of talent. Embittered West Virginia fans must be delusional to think that the Rich Rodriguez can’t coach – he was a touchdown away from playing for the National Championship with Indiana talent. Here is a comparison of West Virginia’s talent level with Michigan and some lead SEC schools:

(Standard disclaimer: This analysis does not imply that ratings provided by recruiting services are an accurate predictor of player performance at the college level and does not take into account player experience. It is a gross measure of incoming talent.)

The highest rated player on either of West Virginia’s starting squads is a Michigan cast-off, Ryan Mundy. No other player – using Rivals data – is over a three star:

No defense!? How stunning is it that Rich Rodriguez has fashioned the 4th rated defense out of a unit that has two unrated players and a Michigan cast-off whom we all hated with a burning passion a year ago for his horrific tackling?

Talent on offense? This unit rated out at less than one-half the talent level of Michigan’s offense!

Eighteen Michigan starters were more highly rated than his counterpart on West Virginia. Only one West Virginia player - Ryan Mundy (how's that for irony) - was more highly rated. Mike Cox, whose commitment brought out equal parts derision and laughter amongst the Michigan faithful, would be a stud recruit at West Virginia.

Ask yourself this: what would Lloyd Carr have accomplished with those West Virginia players? I will tell you: Lloyd Carr would not have been able to produce a single winning season with these players. Rich Rodriguez has done more than just win with average talent, he has won big:

(2007 rankings incomplete.)

Common sense suggests that the reason Rich Rodriguez is successful with such inferior recruits is one part scheme, one part conditioning and another part player development. If you add Michigan’s historic level of talent to a coach who is an offensive genius, knows conditioning and develops talent, the possibilities are downright scary.

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

December 9, 2007

THE FOURTH STOOGE


There are two main camps debating – warring – about the Michigan coaching search. The biggest contingent is very well known: the ravenously angry fans who feel that the Miles hire was botched and that Michigan has become the laughingstock of the college football as other potential candidates scramble to remove themselves from consideration. There is a smaller contingent of measured, reasonable Michigan fans who counsel patience and argue that one cannot draw judgments about Bill Martin’s efforts until we see the final result.

There is a critical flaw in the second line of reasoning: In order to believe that Bill Martin has not been incompetent and/or duplicitous so far in his efforts, one must accept that there is a master plan in the works, some clever, covert strategy that is designed to secure a worthy candidate. Yet, the Schiano debacle firmly establishes that this is not true.

What do we know about the Schiano attempted hire? First, that he was the fourth candidate interviewed after English, Debord and Hoke (a phone interview). Second, he was informally offered the job after an interview that did not include a visit to Ann Arbor. Third, and most importantly, the offer to Schiano wiped out in one stroke the notion that Martin had been seriously speaking to other candidates – stealth superstar hires – all the while the Miles fiasco was unfolding. Indeed, this was his one potentially saving grace: that he was frying bigger fish than Miles and had no need to intelligently pursue the LSU coach.

The Schiano offer proved that the Miles hire was botched and his actions in and around last weekend were truly incompetent and not a cover for a smarter plan. That his efforts to date – beyond perhaps some crank calls to Urban Meyer or Bob Stoops – have been to interview his two unqualified coordinators, talk on the phone to a MAC coach who is 14 games under .500 and, out of desperation, throw an offer at the first candidate with a pulse – a candidate who never stepped within 600 miles of Ann Arbor.

There can be nothing clever in these events, no matter what the thrashing behind the scenes. Occam’s Razor demands that the obvious be acknowledged: Bill Martin, despite a year to plan, did absolutely nothing and is now fumbling away these critical weeks after Lloyd’s premature resignation to the amusement of the national media and Big Ten haters alike.

If Bill Martin manages to get a coach that doesn’t disgust and embarrass fans of the University of Michigan, it will be sheer unadulterated blind luck. Anyone who argues otherwise must explain away the desperate Schiano offer that refutes the idea of hidden plan of diabolical genius. In reality, Bill Martin is the fourth Stooge.

And, in this spirit, I offer my open letter to Bill Martin. Nothing as divinely written as this one, but it has its own spirit.


Dear Mr. Martin:

Why should you listen to one individual such as me? As a devoted follower of Michigan, I count among my circle of friends dozens of Michigan fans who have followed your "efforts" in the current coaching search.  Therefore, this e-mail does not represent n=1, but more like n=30, which also serves as a satisfying sample size for those of us who like statistics. Logic would suggest that if you collected 30 Michigan fans in a room and surveyed them, you could draw useful conclusions about all sorts of issues, from football coaches to global warming to presidential candidates.

What is remarkable about this virtual town hall of Michigan Wolverine fanatics is the universal and intense unhappiness with your efforts to replace Lloyd Carr. I am sure you appreciate that the term "intense unhappiness" is in fact a euphemism for boatloads and boatloads of raging profanity that would make a 15th century pirate squeamish. LOL. Indeed, if I had a quarter for every curse word directed at this search, well, let's just say that I would be dictating this letter to my personal assistant from my ocean villa in Roquebrune Cap Martin.

But I very much want this e-mail to be professional, because you are a professional and, quite frankly, so am I. It is incumbent upon me, then, to convey the utter horror and unanimous anger directed at whomever is leading the search - which I assume to be you - without resorting to vicious, profane language. This is a challenge, though, because I am I am coming to believe that only such crude forms of expression can describe thinking that places an unsuccessful Iowa coach with no legitimate (i.e. non-crony) ties to Michigan above a stunningly successful LSU coach who played and coached for Bo. And perhaps such gutter language is the only appropriate descriptive tool to express my concern over a desperate offer to a marginal Rutgers coach, an offer that exposes a sad truth: you haven’t been working on anything clever behind the scenes, as all four of your supporters have been arguing.

This is the most important thing you will do as an Athletic Director. You have had a year to plan, knowing as you did that Lloyd wanted to retire. You had a chip shot candidate that would have made former players, moneyed alumni and little fans like myself pleased. Yet, you failed to time Lloyd’s resignation properly, failed to coordinate your efforts with the Miles’s camp and failed to have a coherent plan of action to follow up those two failures. That’s a lot of failure, there, Bill!

You have one option left: swallow your pride and connect with the Miles camp. Your stumbling may cost you an extra million or two, but that would be a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of alumni dollars that hang in the balance. And Les Miles would still come if your grovel enough.

Sincerely,

 

Meeechigan Dan


Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

December 3, 2007

FLY ON THE WALL


        Bill Martin gently closed the heavy wooden door to the office of Mary Sue Coleman and slipped into one of the three exquisite leather chairs facing her desk. He nodded to Lloyd Carr, already seated and looking weary after his loss to Wisconsin the day before. Carr smiled wanly, his potently expressive face communicating years of frustration, pride and exhaustion all at the same time.

        The president of the University of Michigan was concluding a phone call with precise instructions to one of her deans. "Tenure does not come into play here. Please deal with this aggressively; I will not have this university associated with that kind of behavior." She acknowledged Martin's arrival with nod. "I agree. Thank you, Gerard."

        She placed the phone in the cradle. "Hello, Bill. Thank you for coming in. Lloyd felt it was important we meet today." She turned to Michigan’s head football coach. "Sorry about the game, Lloyd. We almost had them!"

        Carr offered up the same smile again along with a slight shrug. "Too many players out, yesterday," he said. "This coming weekend is the important game. I had to save--"

        Mary Sue Coleman fluttered her hands at him. "I will not have you explain anything! Your record at this University is impeccable. Beyond reproach. You will give Ohio State a great game next weekend." She wrinkled her nose in distaste as she said Ohio State.

        "We will. After that, though, I am ready to retire."

        Neither Coleman or Martin looked surprised. A year ago at a similar meeting they had talked Carr out of retirement, but that would not happen a second time.

        "I want to announce the Monday after the Ohio State game," Carr continued, watching them carefully.

        At this, Martin did look surprised. "Monday? That’s too early," he said quickly.

        "I disagree."

        Coleman also looked confused. "I don't understand." Carr was watching Martin and said nothing.

        "At a big-time university," the A.D. started after a moment, "you don’t want to tip your hand. You announce when you are ready to move, when you already have a pretty good idea of whom you want. We can’t do anything now; games are still being played. Announcing now gives nervous athletic directors a chance to lock down the best candidates with sweet deals." Coleman still looked puzzled. Martin continued: “When Lloyd announces his retirement, there will be an explosion of speculation about who will be the next coach at Michigan. At the winningest college football program in history. Lists of candidates will be made up at ESPN and the Free Press and on the Internet and discussed at the water cooler. Any A.D. with a popular candidate will try to lock up their guy.”

        “But Iowa’s season will be done,” said Coleman.

        “I didn’t know that we had settled on Coach Ferentz,” said Martin. He rubbed the back of his neck. “I thought that was the three of us just tossing around names for when the time came.”

        Coleman stared at Martin for a moment as if he were being intentionally daft. “Kirk would be excellent. He is a worthy successor to Lloyd. I know him very well. We discussed this, and you agreed.”

        “Yes, I did. But I think an immediate hire of Ferentz will look bad. It will look like…like…your handpicked man. When we hire Kirk, it needs to be after a proper search, or he won’t be well accepted.” If at all, thought Martin.

        Carr came to Martin’s rescue. “And there are other candidates. Serious ones.”

        “Who?”

        “Les Miles,” said Carr with a sour look.

        “Absolutely not!” Michigan’s president brought down her hand with a crisp thump. “We discussed this! The University of Michigan football Wolverines are to be led by unique men of character,” she inclined her head seriously at Carr. “We will not have another Gary Moeller here. Les Miles is not acceptable to me.”

        “Or to me,” said Carr leaning forward. “But that’s not good enough.”

        “What do you mean?”

        Carr pointed over to the far side of the office at the artist’s rendition of a renovated Michigan Stadium on an easel. “There are a whole lot of big money alumni who have grown tired of Lloyd Carr.” He raised a hand to cut off her protest. “I don’t blame them. Lloyd Carr has grown tired. They want Miles. Miles is hot. Number one in the country. Miles has done everything but move into my office in his push for this job. We can’t simply hire Ferentz and ignore Miles.”

        Martin was nodding. “There would be serious repercussions. Our base is not ready yet for Kirk Ferentz.”

        Mary Sue Coleman looked offended. “There are few better coaches – better men – than Kirk Ferentz,” she said sharply.

        “I agree, Mary,” said Carr. “But we would be foolish to ignore this. That is why I want to announce my retirement a week from tomorrow.”

        Coleman looked irritated that Martin was nodding slowly in understanding. “This is annoying,” she said. “How does that help?”

        Martin leaned forward. “The first name out of the mouths of everyone once Lloyd announces will be Les Miles. Miles will do his usual, ‘I love Michigan but I am the coach of LSU and we have a job ahead of us,’ crap, which is tantamount to saying, ‘Please hire me!’ The A.D. down there will go nuts. They’ll throw money at him.”

        “And that makes our alumni happy?” Coleman was not dumb.

        “No,” said Martin, picking up on the idea, “but Bill asking their A.D. for permission to talk to Les about the coaching vacancy will.”

        “But we don’t want to talk to him.”

        “And we won’t,” said Lloyd.  

        “They won’t let us actually start talking to him until after the SEC Championship game,” said Martin. “That’s two weeks after the end of our season.”

        “Bill, I am not that naïve. You can talk to his agent…buuuut, you won’t,” she said with sudden understanding. “Our generous donors will be under the impression that we are making a serious attempt for Mr. Miles. I see. Are we sure the A.D. will secure him before their big game?”

        “No,” said Martin. “Bertman has always known that Miles wants to come here. He may think it is inevitable. Miles’s agent will be all over us for our intentions, especially after we ask permission.”

        “You will have to be unavailable,” said Carr.

        “Huh?”

        “This all seems pretty dangerous, Lloyd,” said Coleman.

        Carr’s tired face grew hard. “I’ve given 27 years to this university. To this football team. I am not going to sit idly by and see Les Miles take over as head coach of this team!

        “I agree. But let’s say we get to the point when we can talk to him and he is not ‘locked up.’ What then?”

        “Bill has to tell Les that he is one of several candidates that we will be interviewing. We are Michigan. We are methodical. We suggest the process will take a couple weeks. That won’t work for Les or LSU, who will probably headed to New Orleans.”

        “New Orleans?”

        “The National Championship game.”

        “Oh.” There was silence in the room. “Bill, do you understand Lloyd’s plan?”

        Bill nodded. “I think so.”

        “Please summarize it for me so I am clear.”

        “Lloyd announces his retirement early. The football world goes crazy with speculation and Miles will be at the top of the list. We start a ‘search committee’ and talk about a process, and then I formally ask LSU for permission to speak with Miles. They will ask me to wait until after the SEC Championship game. Everyone will assume we are coming after Miles. We hope LSU tries to lock him up. I think Les will jump at the right price.”

        “No, he won’t,” said Lloyd. “But the pressure will be intense.”

        “So LSU is all over him. We ignore any back channel communications. If Les signs up with LSU, we’re off the hook. If he doesn’t, I string him out, suggest that our budget is limited.”

        Coleman nodded. “We get credit for going after Miles and look clean for honoring LSU’s request to not speak with him until after their championship game. I like it. Then we hire Kirk?”

        “We certainly can make a proposal. Are you sure he would come?”

        “Yes, I am. He understands that this is a different football tradition than Iowa. He is ready.”

        “For less money?”

        “Well,” said Mary Sue Coleman. “We will have to see on that. Very well. We’ll review this after we beat Ohio State.” She smiled at Lloyd.

        The men rose and turned to leave.

        “One more thing, Bill.”

        “Yes.”

        “If you wanted Les Miles, what would you do?”

        “Contact his agent. Hammer out the outlines of a deal over the next couple weeks. Have Lloyd wait until after their bowl game to announce and then follow that up with a press conference shortly thereafter with Les in tow. With his interest, it would be a chip shot. Money wouldn’t be an issue, LSU wouldn’t be an issue.”

        “Hmmmm. Thank you. Good day, gentlemen.”

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

December 3, 2007

THE PROCESS


Out of adversity comes opportunity. We all thought that this week we would be celebrating a dynamic new coach plucked from the bosom of a national championship contending team. For whatever reasons, that deal went badly awry.

An emerging consensus is that Bill Martin and Michigan were never intending to sweep Les Miles off his feet with diamonds and flowers and wild-eyed proposals of marriage. Like a team of pinch-faced accountants hovering over a prenuptial demanding exhaustive financial analysis, the Michigan folks seem determined that no one, not even Les Miles and a bevy of stud assistant coaches, will derail “the process.”

Well, the process, designed to use careful analysis to avoid a bad choice, threatens to achieve the exact opposite result: mediocrity. In a year with several high-profile coaching spots wide open, the methodical Michigan approach may result in the dynamic coaches being snapped up like Wii systems on Christmas Eve, leaving only safe and uninspiring choices cut from the Ferentz, Grobe, O’Brien, English, Debord cloth.  

The only chance is that Saturday – a day that shall live in infamy – was a wake up call for Bill Martin, a loud demand to can “the process” and move quickly on the best candidates. Did Martin hear the alarm? I hope so because the danger with the cadaverous choices that will remain once we get around to 4th and 5th interviews is that Michigan is good enough to support mediocrity for an extended period of time. Lloyd Carr was a mediocre coach the last 7 years, but Michigan supported that substandard performance because of the quality of players that choose the Wolverines. I have little doubt that Kirk Ferentz or Ron English or Jim Grobe could match that performance over the next seven years, but I have extensive doubts that they can do better than Lloyd did.

What is at stake is seven more years of famine, seven more years of 9-3 with the wrong games in the “3” column, seven more years of apologists arguing that nine meaningless wins with class are better than a disaster. Well, it is not. I would rather endure Weis-ian flames for a year or two if it meant rising like a Phoenix to the heights that this program deserves and is uniquely capable of. On Saturday morning, with the thought of Miles and Tenuta coming to Michigan dancing in our heads, we all sensed what Michigan unleashed would be like. On this Monday morning, Bill Martin had better realize that if he sticks to “the process” and ends up with mediocrity, his legacy for all time will be the Athletic Director who presided over the functional demise of the proudest of football programs.

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

November 28, 2007

LOUISIANA RED HERRING


Great coaches win at about a 75% clip, particularly when viewed over a long career:

                  Bryant - 78.2%

                  Paterno - 74.8%

                  Bowden - 76.2%

Over shorter stretches, great coaches can exceed an 80% winning percentage:

        Stoops - 81.9%

        Carroll - 84.4%

        Switzer - 83.7%

Back when Lloyd Carr was on the hot seat, defenders were quick to point out that the retiring Michigan coach has a 75.2% career winning percentage, seventh among active coaches and right up there with the all time greats. Is it reasonable, then, to ever fault a coach who is winning at an 84.2% pace, albeit over a three-year stretch? Most definitely, argue Les Miles's detractors, many who are still bloodspattered from defending Lloyd’s 75.2% winning percentage like the pass at Thermopylae.

To resolve this paradox, those who dislike Les Miles’s coaching accomplishments at LSU make the obvious point: will you look at all the talent he has at LSU! They are quite comfortable, then, establishing a new standard: a great coach may win at a 75% pace, but if a coach has a lot of talent, 75% is failure, not success. A higher standard, say 85%, is required if you are loaded with blue chippers (no one has defined this, but those making the argument have already declared Les's 84.2% at LSU inadequate, so it must be at least this).  Call this the “Carroll Standard,” after Pete Carroll’s sick 94.6% winning percentage and two national championships from 2003 to 2005, because clearly USC had ridiculous talent those years, and Pete was simply doing what should have been done.

Let's set aside the thorny problem of how we determine when great coaches have benefited from a glut of talent (say Lloyd in 97) and when they brilliantly overcame marginal talent, and grant the premise: Les Miles's winning 84.2% of his games these last three years is a substandard coaching effort because many coaches with that amount of incredible talent would have done better. In layman's terms, all Les did was mess up a sure thing.

Well, these people sure have high standards. Clearly, no other coach they put forward to replace Carr (Brian Kelly is a favorite, maybe Jeff Tedford) has to live up to that 85% winning percentage, but this is because they don’t have obscene talent at their disposal. If Les had crappy players and went 32 and 6, well then! Send the chartered jet!

Their argument breaks down if LSU’s talent does not trigger the Carroll Standard. So let’s take a look:

(data here)

Oh my. Where is the insane talent down in Baton Rouge? In case those reading this rejection of conventional wisdom need more detail, looking at the starting line-ups for Michigan and LSU:

The Rivals rating proves to be a very appropriate measure for our purposes here. Detractors of Les Miles argue that he is winning with Nick Saban’s talent. He has proven he can recruit (another qualification for the Michigan job), so examining the incoming rating of  current starters (many who were Saban's) will reveal a trend: if these numbers had been high, then the two losses each year prove that Miles is not meeting the Carroll Standard. If the numbers are lower than other SEC competitors, then the current players are outperforming their initial rating, suggesting that Les Miles is getting more out of his players than expected…a curious additional qualification for the Michigan job (Michigan being a place, as demonstrated by the data here, where players come in more highly rated and underachieve).

So why do so many think that LSU is loaded with extraordinary talent and not Michigan? Development?

Should Lloyd be held to the Carroll Standard?

The Miles-LSU Talent Glut argument is debunked. In fact, the analysis suggests the opposite: if one wants to claim that the best talent in the SEC is down in Baton Rouge, then Miles and his staff made them that way.

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

November 20, 2007

WHY LES MILES?


The Michigan faithful stand at the edge of a chasm.

They, along with their new coach, are going to make a jump for the other side, for continued success. At the bottom of the pit lies failure, prolonged mediocrity. Notre Dame.

The winningest football program in history is replacing one of its top coaches, and the stakes are high, particularly when the formula for avoiding descent into mediocrity seems so elusive. It doesn’t appear to be money, track record, or name. Sometimes the NFL works. More often it does not. Sometimes big money works.  Sometimes it gets you a lot of coach, but not a lot of wins.

While Lloyd Carr frustrated many with his conservative style, the University of Michigan holds the record for consecutive years going to a bowl, now at 32, soon to be 33. As many Carr supporters have pointed out, don’t be too quick to sneer at Carr’s typical 9-3 record or you might find yourself staring at 3-9.  Nonetheless, the change is upon us, and those passionate about Michigan football wonder how we avoid the fates of Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska, UCLA, Miami, and more.

This problem puzzled me. Why is Tressel successful? And why wasn’t John Cooper? How is Stoops different from Callahan?  Where has Weis gone wrong?

And I puzzled three hours, `till my puzzler was sore. Is it scheme?  Is it recruiting?

Then Meeechigan Dan thought of something he hadn't before!

"Maybe a National Championship," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."

"Maybe football...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

I am happy to report that I have the answer, but Tom Osborne gets part of the credit.

Tom Osborne was on Jim Rome shortly after Nebraska gave up 76 points to Kansas…and not in basketball. Osborne, appalled by a season that has turned Husker nation into distraught vegetables, discussed the many reasons why Nebraska had fallen on hard times. In my opinion, he finished with his most important reason: the demise of the walk-on program. Most are aware that Nebraska had a great tradition of Nebraska boys walking on to be part of their dream school. Rudys at heart if not stature who would die for Nebraska football and suffused the program with a sense of its importance to the state of Nebraska and all the Cornhusker faithful.  Callahan, in hopes of squeezing another four-star into the locker room, whacked this program quicker than a Vernon Gholston sack. Osborne had the temerity to suggest that those missing unrated Nebraska kids, many whom never saw the field, were the reason Kansas could run up 76 points his beloved team.

And that’s the answer: the tradition and the team have to be bigger than the coach. Callahan cut the heart out of the Nebraska football, and all those four-stars, when confronted with adversity, packed it in because what did it matter at that point? No Nebraska kid would ever pack it in.

Michigan has its bowl streak and its success year in and year out because the school is bigger than the coach, the motivation of the kids here is not to win for Coach Carr or win for their NFL resume, it is to win for Michigan and for their teammates who are living that tradition. All the recruiting prospects interested in Michigan talk about this tradition, the winning, the program. And given the way Carr has recruited…

Donovan Warren on Coach Carr's methods: “I like the fact that when a lot of coaches try to recruit you they throw out the negatives about each school, but Michigan didn't throw out the negatives about any school. They were just straight up with me. They laid it all out … the facts. They said this is a good opportunity for you. That was pretty much it.”

…you end up with class kids who don’t have quit in their vocabulary. And while here, Bo’s "Team" philosophy becomes part of their make-up. Without trivializing our heroes in the military, a man will go further in support of his brothers in his unit…or on his team…than he ever would go on his own behalf.

So after Appalachian State and Oregon, they can still rise up and preserve the streak. Tressel is mocked because of his milquetoast demeanor, but that is what you get from a man who elevates the tradition of Ohio State football above his ego. Weis, on the other hand, has functionally dismantled Notre Dame tradition to build an altar (or a Golden Corral) to his greatness. Those kids who have left the program have spoken volumes about how tradition no longer is pre-eminent. I saw a weary ND team coming out at halftime and more than a couple kids did not even bother to slap the “Play Like A Champion Today” sign over the exit to the locker room.

This is obviously not the only element in college football success – sick talent (USC) and brilliant tactics (Kelly) can temporarily overwhelm the importance of football tradition – but it looms very large. The best chances for bringing the right players, the passionate team players, to your program year in and year out is for the program to be revered above all else.

And so, we come back full circle to the old adage about Michigan always hiring a “Michigan Man.” Now it is clear why. A Michigan Man knows how to communicate his passion for the program to recruits, so that the right ones come – the Donovan Warrens come and the Ronald Johnsons don’t. A Michigan Man cherishes the tradition that he was a part of, because he once lived the glory and was part of a unique team. A Michigan Man understands what the greatest rivalry in sports is all about: the two greatest teams battling each other with honor.

Les Miles played for Bo Schembechler. Les Miles bleeds Blue. He may have a crazy edge to him, a scary passion, but his regard for Bo and for the University of Michigan will carry the Wolverines over the chasm to the other side.

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

November 4, 2007

CURIOUS LLOYD FEEDS A SPARTAN


I never liked Curious George. That made me a nasty little kid, I guess, but I never understood why he always got a free pass for cleaning up his own messes.  Seemed to me like he needed a good, hard backhand from the Man in the Yellow Hat.

What is the predictable story of Curious Lloyd...uh, George? He creates a problem and then overcomes that problem. He turns the candy-making machine up to fast and then catches all the candies to save the day. He scatters all the students’ artwork but then finds the sad little girl's painting (which he had lost). He wastes gallons of ice cream at the new ice cream store, but then saves the day by bringing in customers with his antics.

He makes problems and then solves them.

Just as there are people that love Curious George, there are Michigan fans that don’t seem to mind when Lloyd Carr’s success comes from cleaning up his own mess, which is most of the time. The game against Michigan State, now an instant classic known as Curious Lloyd Feeds a Spartan, is a perfect example of that ever-cute and playful Coach Carr cleaning up his own mess and saving the day! Yet, to many Wolverine fans, the Curious Lloyd stories are no longer entertaining, but extended dental pain.

Here is the play selection on first down throughout the game:

    First Quarter

    1-10-MI29 (11:14) Mike Hart rushed for 8 yards.

    1-10-MIST38 (9:00) Brandon Minor lost 4 yards.

    1-10-MI28 (5:45) Chad Henne passed to Carson Butler for 20 yards.  

    1-10-MI48 (5:27) Mike Hart rushed for 3 yards.    

    1-10-MIST11 (4:35) Mike Hart rushed for no gain.  

    1-10-MI44 (1:31) Mike Hart lost 1 yard.  

     

    Second Quarter

    1-10-MIST42 (14:40) Mike Hart rushed for 32 yards.  

    1-10-MIST10 (14:04) Mike Hart rushed for 5 yards.

    1-10-MI6 (11:15) Mike Hart rushed for 2 yards.  

    1-10-MI8 (6:50) Mike Hart rushed for 1 yard.   

    1-10-MI20 (4:17) Mike Hart rushed for no gain.   

    1-10-MIST41 (1:57) Mike Hart rushed for 6 yards.  

    1-10-MI18 (0:16) Chad Henne lost 1 yard.  

     

    Third Quarter

    1-10-MI31 (14:42) Brandon Minor rushed for no gain.  

    MICHIGAN STATE CLOSES TO 14-10

    1-10-MI35 (6:17) Chad Henne passed incomplete to Mario Manningham.   

    1-10-MI1 (2:43) Mike Hart rushed for 1 yard.

    1-10-MI49 (1:50) Chad Henne passed incomplete to Mario Manningham.  

    MICHIGAN STATE TAKES LEAD 17-14

     

    Fourth Quater

    1-10-MI27 (14:25) Carlos Brown lost 1 yard.   

    MICHIGAN STATE EXTENDS LEAD 24-14

    1-10-MI21 (7:28) Chad Henne passed to Adrian Arrington for 12 yards.  

    1-10-MI33 (7:20) Kendell Davis-Clark sacked Ryan Mallett for a loss of 8 yards.

    1-10-MIST43 (7:04) Chad Henne passed to Greg Mathews for 3 yards.

    1-10-MIST25 (6:59) Chad Henne passed to Adrian Arrington for 11 yards.  

    1-10-MIST14 (6:53) Chad Henne passed incomplete to Adrian Arrington.  

    1-10-MI35 (4:16) Chad Henne passed to Adrian Arrington for 9 yards.   

    1-10-MI45 (3:45) Chad Henne passed incomplete to Mario Manningham.  

    1-10-MIST44 (3:09) Chad Henne passed to Mario Manningham for 15 yards.  

    1-10-MIST29 (2:55) Brandon Minor lost 2 yards.  

Now, I concede that the first quarter plus produced two touchdowns, so perhaps Curious Lloyd was enamoured by the idea that this might continue to work. But Mike Hart was growing gimpier by the moment, State was growing more aggressive on first down, and the momentum was all on Michigan’s side. And then these two key possessions:

    Second Quarter

    Michigan Wolverines at 11:24

    1-10-MI6 (11:15) Mike Hart rushed for 2 yards.  

    2-8-MI8 (10:37) Mike Hart rushed for 5 yards.  

    3-3-MI13 (9:52) Chad Henne rushed for 2 yards.  

    4-1-MI15 (9:10) Zoltan Mesko punted for 36 yards.

     

    Michigan Wolverines at 7:01

    1-10-MI8 (6:50) Mike Hart rushed for 1 yard.  

    2-9-MI8 (6:17) Mike Hart rushed for 6 yards.  

    3-3-MI14 (5:36) Chad Henne passed incomplete to Brandon Minor.

    4-3-MI14 (5:28) Zoltan Mesko punted for 35 yards.

The term carpe diem is not often used in the world of Curious Lloyd, and it was nowhere to be found here. A few minutes earlier, I had looked at my 10 year old, Jack, took out a $5 bill and said, “I will give this $5 to you if they run play action on first down.”  For five straight series. Jack stared at the $5 in despair.  “Daaaaaaad. They always run it,” he said over and over.

There are many Michigan faithful who are perfectly content when Curious Lloyd makes a mess and then cleans it up. I am happy the mess got cleaned up, but dammit the world should admit that the mess wasn’t necessary in the first place.

Lloyd Carr is a Michigan icon. He has won a National Championship. He has run a solid program. He recruits well and with class. He has salvaged a year few of us thought was salvageable. He deserves an emotional farewell. But he is agonizingly painful to watch on game day, and both Jack and I are ready for a change, and that includes every one of his coaches.

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

September 9, 2007

GOOD NEWS IN MICHIGAN FOOTBALL


There is very good news in the current Michigan Football disaster. Very good indeed.

  1. While I am not entirely convinced that the defensive ineptitude can be laid at the feet of Ron English, the last four games have delivered us from perhaps several years of Ellerbe-like pain, rather than from just one horrific year. Consider the scenario we all expected: a strong year this year, perhaps a Rose Bowl berth featuring double digit wins. On the heels of such a year, many projected Ron English as the heir apparent to Lloyd. Perhaps this naively ignores some coaching calculus that is beyond my grasp, but Ron English used to be hot, hot, hot, when in reality it was Woodley, Branch, Harris and Hall that were hot, hot, hot.
  2. Another benefit is the decline of Lloyd Carr as an influential part of the post-Carr coaching paradigm. Regardless of the 11-0 start last year or the 1997 championship year, Lloyd Carr has always fielded a football style that I find boring at best and galactically painful at worst. A prominent Lloyd Carr retiring on the laurels of a successful 2007 campaign would cast a pall over the next generation of Michigan coaching, and it is unlikely that he would have embraced an innovative coach with an unpredictable, attacking style.
  3. Yet another dividend from the 2007 season so far is the elevated importance and expanded scope of Bill Martin’s search for a replacement. The idea of a “Michigan Man” is no longer relevant or even appealing to the Michigan faithful.  Michigan Football is now synonymous with two conflicting images: on one hand, the winningest football program with a deep tradition; on the other, a dinosaur pathetically standing in the football tar pit as mammals cavort around the edges.
  4. Finally, I value one thing more than any other this year: beating Ohio State.  For Hart, Meathead Henne, Long and other seniors, this year, which once was about a national championship, is now about one thing and one thing only – beating Ohio State. Oh, a Big 10 championship may be possible, but they have one of those.  It’s all about Ohio State this year; Lloyd will announce his retirement before the game and OSU, while possessing scary running backs, may be manageable for a defense that will eventually have to mature a little (won’t they?).

Why has Carr’s house of cards collapsed so utterly? Even in 2005, Carr’s abysmally predictable scheme has always kept Michigan competitive.  Why has the end come so harshly and to a team with many great players?  Very simply, the book is out on Michigan. College football today is loaded with innovative coaches and game plans that emphasis speed in space – which is Kryptonite to Michigan.  Due to a refusal to stockpile personnel that can cope with the new age of college football, Michigan is simply unable to defense the spread. In 2006, extraordinary frontline athletes kept things together until meeting their match at the end of the season.  In 2007, a perfect storm of defensive shortcomings and opposition strength has laid Michigan and the Precambrian Carr to waste.  I expect the team to compete quite well from here on out only because the Big 10, by and large, still features prehistoric offenses.

So, my fellow sufferers, take hope. Without these symptoms that have revealed the extent of the disease, we may have missed out on the cure altogether and suffered in agonizing football pain for years. Now, all realize that a radical Carrectomy is necessary, and the prognosis for a complete cure is bright.

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

September 8, 2007

INTERVENTION


I lied.

I said I was done with these Wolverines, but that lasted about four days. That is a good sign, I guess. I am back at the computer because something very significant is brewing for this weekend: whether or not “The Intervention” was successful.

The facts are clear: last Saturday’s game represents perhaps the single worst coaching effort in Division 1A history. A top-ranked team playing at home losing to a crappy team with a sophomore QB who can’t throw, a Michigan team with four future NFL players in the receiving game that was neutralized by midget walk-ons.  In the past, Lloyd has always had excuses, usually crappy ones but excuses nonetheless (usually offered by his defenders and not by Lloyd himself).  Those excuses had combined with an excellent but rapidly tarnishing career record to keep the hounds at bay.  So, too, an addict spiraling downwards always has an endless supply of excuses.

Now Lloyd is here:

 

There are no more excuses here.  Just coaching incompetence and a hard concrete bed.

Yet, Lloyd can coach – he has done so in the past and done it well.  For whatever deep unfathomable reason he has, in recent years, embraced ghastly predictability like a lover. Well, there is no romance in the offing when you are at bottom. Appalachian State, against our wishes and uninvited, nonetheless acted as our proxy in this Intervention, and delivered a message that we’ve been trying in vain to deliver for 6 years:

Throw out the old playbook.

Be unpredictable.

Attack – aggressive offense and aggressive defense.

This defense, if it remembers some fundamentals, can be adequate.  Like with the hated Buckeyes, when a powerful offense gets ahead early, the defense has the freedom to attack (with tight coverage on corners). And it is not simply personnel, but how they are used. The average recruiting ranking of Michigan defenders in the two deep is higher than Wisconsin, Penn State and even LSU.

Of course, that simplistic analysis does not take into account depth at certain positions, and unexpected suckiness of highly regarded recruits.  But the larger point stands: how can most of linebacking corps and defensive backfield be so horrible if the athletes at these positions are coming from the best stock of talent in the land?  Wisconsin is illustrative: at every position but one they recruited the crappiest talent (by far), and at every position but one they have the players with the least experience.  Yet they may have the most fearsome defense in the Big 10!  Are you saying that Michigan simply can't judge talent?  Like I can't judge good stocks to buy? I always think I’ve purchased a top-notch stock only to have it suck for years. Are Alvarez and Bielema great stock traders, finding all these gems in the penny stock lists?  Nonsense.

The answer, to my heart’s dismay, is coaching, and the fish rots from the head down. You can’t tell me Ron English and Jim Hermann are just crappy coaches. You cannot convince me Steve Szabo doesn’t know proper linebacker positions. The philosophy is Carr’s and that philosophy if rife with soft corners, and prevent defenses with a Turrets-like sprinkling of insanely irresponsible aggression, as if short bursts of temporary insanity will shield him from the “conservative” label.

So the team did not lose last week because we suck, particularly on defense. We lost because of coaching and the impact of bad coaching on the players, who, like Ohio State in the NC game, showed up expecting to easily win.

The question, then, this Saturday is has the message gotten through?  Has the Intervention succeeded?  If so, and a Lloyd with nothing to lose throws out the playbook, becomes unpredictable and attacks, then Michigan’s superior talent will triumph and today will be an easy victory.  And the rest of the season will look bright. If Lloyd trots out the old playbook, if he shows the inexplicable softness characteristic of all his defenses except those occasionally peopled with football superhero monsters (i.e., Woodson, Harris, etc.), we are in for a 7-5 season and football ignominy.

Prediction: I think the message has gotten through.  Michigan wins easily, 41-21.

HALFTIME UPDATE: Maybe not.

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

September 3, 2007

HITTING BOTTOM


I fell for it.

The opening premise of this blog was that Lloyd Carr was not a good coach.  To quote myself in January of this year: “So the premise here is simple: Lloyd Carr is the reason the Michigan Wolverines are now a second-tier college football program.”

I then embarked on a journey to prove that Lloyd Carr was not getting the job done. The first step was a hard look at the world of recruiting in a year that Michigan talent was fleeing the state like Soviet poets in the 1970s. I came away stunned at Carr’s excellence in this all-important area of coaching; the talent he has brought to Ann Arbor over the years is right there with the best programs in the game.  Not only that, but the classy way in which Carr has represented Michigan made me think I had simply overreacted to yet another tough finish to the season, difficult losses against good teams.

All along this little journey, the subliminal murmurings of the Carr faithful extolling his virtue droned on endlessly in my ears and, like the ADHD blogger that I am, I lost interest in the subject, concluding that Carr was probably OK. The brainwashing was so complete that in a later debate with MGoBlog commenters, I even proposed the idea of Mike Debord as an “interim” head coach to give Ron English time to mature.

Then…Appalachian State.

Like Neo spilling out of the bioelectric womb in the Matrix, the pretend world I had constructed out of my unending faith in Michigan tradition disgorged me into reality:

Today, Lloyd Carr is an absolutely abysmal coach.

A great recruiter, a very good man, but an absolutely horrible game day coach.  This statement is now fact, never to be disputed again by sane people. An indisputable fact along the lines of “there are five Great Lakes” and “General Motors manufactures cars.” At one time, he was good.  He is no longer.

Lloyd won’t go before the season ends, a season that will forever be tarnished no matter what the accomplishment (although, I will take a beat-down of OSU and a bowl victory as compensation for the 9 years of life I lost on Saturday), but he ABSOLUTELY must go at the end of this season, and, more importantly, no one on the current staff is the answer. The answer to the future of Michigan football – the winningest program in the history of college football that has become the Hot, Hot, Hot butt end of jokes – lies elsewhere.  I’d like to retain English and Szabo perhaps, but no job should be safe.

The amazing thing for everyone to consider is this: Mike Cox, who we bemoaned as an unworthy two-star recruit this year, would be the crown jewel of any Appalachian State recruiting class (see last year...).

Ryan Mundy would be in their Hall of Fame, as would Doug Dutch or Brett Gallimore. Cobrani Mixon would be all-world at the Division 1-AA level or whatever the hell they call that sorry excuse for a football division. No player who has ever played at Appalachian State would ever sniff interest, let alone a scholarship, from the University of Michigan, yet they just kicked our ass.  THAT is all about coaching, my friends.  Five players infinitely worse than Ryan Mundy running around their defensive backfield and Chad Henne, Mario Manningham, Adrian Arrington and Greg Matthews look like shit?!  This does not compute!  Four future NFL players going up against a bunch of walk-ons, and they got handled.

And recruiting could be a problem. I would not be surprised to see a couple of our current recruits open things back up after Saturday’s embarrassment.  How many of those guys loved Szabo or English or Bedford or even Carr?  How many of those same guys now know that no coaching job can be safe?

The silver lining in this very dark and oppressive cloud is that one must hit bottom before seeing the need for a life-changing experience, for the twelve steps. Well, Bill Martin, not Lloyd Carr, has just hit bottom, and it is now all the more likely that truly remedial steps will be taken to find a football coach worthy of this institution.  There can be no gambling on a coach for next year, or this prediction: there will be empty seats at Michigan Stadium; that statistic is powerful, a lot more significant than just a few unused tickets.

My heart truly goes out to Mike Hart, Chad Henne and in particular Jake Long, who gave up wealth and the NFL only to be betrayed by incompetent coaching. So, to the distress of no one, this tiny Michigan blog is done with these Wovlerines, done until Lloyd Carr is no longer the head coach of this great team. That’s not pouting; that’s mental health.

Prediction?  The Intervention works and Michigan blows out Oregon, 41-21.  

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink |

 

July 28, 2007

POSITION PROFILING


Many years ago, rooting for the Michigan Wolverines was simple: three or four televised games a year, the occasional Free Press article, and usually one game at the Big House against the likes of Purdue or Iowa. I never knew the name of a single recruit. A player earned space in my brain by playing good football on the field.  The larvae/pupae stages of the collegiate football player life cycle were as yet undiscovered.  It never occurred to me that knowing about players before they were good was desirable or even sensible. Think about the brain cells I have wasted envisioning Cobrani Mixon laying waste to enemy running backs.

That said, I love recruiting, and it’s not creepy as some humorously suggest. It’s about hope. One school walks away with the National Championship, and the other 127 hope. The futures market for college football fans is recruiting.

And this year, Michigan fans are hoping Sam McGuffie chooses the Wolverines on Sunday. Really. Really. Really. Hoping. In fact, I cannot ever recall this level of intensity about a recruit, although the Rojo fiasco comes close.

Which raises the question as to why Michigan fans are this excited about a player not even in the Rivals100.  A four star player ranked behind several other running backs, a player not in same league as Kevin Grady or Jonas Gray, according to the recruiting services.  

The answer is simple: Sam McGuffie is a victim of racism. The Michigan faithful, being far smarter than the average Buckeye, see through this racism and understand that Sam McGuffie is the best running back in the country. That’s why they’re excited.

Those who read my main blog, Logic Times, know that I am an arch conservative and abhor victimology, which seeks to replace common sense and hard work with blame. I offer this disclaimer because I do not seek out victims – real victims are obvious and deserving of our compassion and help, contrived victims are grifters, deserving of scorn. So why find a victim where no one else does? Why point to the white elephant in the room? First of all, it hardly matters – it’s more of a humorous observation than anything else. That Sam is a victim of recruiting racism or position profiling is of little consequence and without any need for remedy. But it does raise an interesting question: Why?

Highly successful running backs in major collegiate football are not white.  Sam McGuffie does not fit the profile of a big time running back and, as a result, his accomplishments and physical skills have been devalued, if only slightly.  If he were black and had the same stats, he would unequivocally be a five star recruit. Perhaps to compensate for this, Rivals reclassifies him as an “All Purpose Back” and rates him number one in this category, although why someone who lugged the ball out the backfield an astonishing 358 times as a junior is an All Purpose Back and not a Running Back is beyond me.  

Compare Sam McGuffie to the seven Rivals100 running backs this year:

In most ways, the Cy Fair senior surpasses the other backs rated in the top 100. Now, I will readily admit I am not a recruiting professional. I am not a recruiting amateur. But rating a player has to be based upon physical potential or stats or gut feel watching him run or some combination of these things, and nowhere can one find a hole in Sam’s football resume that would suggest not ranking him higher.  Size? All the players rated ahead of him are near clones; their heights are eerily similar and while Sam is the lightest by a few pounds, it is not significant (look at Reggie Bush, Joe McKnight and Noel Devine in previous years below).  He is the strongest. He is the fastest. His SPARQ rating is the highest (in fact, out of 1146 records in the SPARQ database, he ranks 4th and he is not number 1 only because the three kids in front of him have like 5,000 bench press reps). He has a 3.83 shuttle! He has the most carries (durable). He has the second most yards and touchdowns (within a whisker of the number two player in the country and miles ahead of the rest). He plays in a tough football state at the highest level.

And most important of all, any football fan who watches Sam McGuffie run knows that he is looking at something unique. Never have I seen a more explosive player with greater acceleration and better vision than this kid (at the high school level). Rivals experts agree, ranking him first and second overall in two out of four skill categories. “The video of McGuffie breaking people down in the open field is almost legendary, and he's without question the best in this group in my opinion,” says Rivals’s Jeremy Crabtree($).  And, “I also think McGuffie definitely is a threat to score on every play.”

Admittedly, in watching the Rivals video highlights of other backs, some (like Darrell Scott - $) compile yardage in a different, more physical, manner, shedding tacklers like they are oompa loompas, and perhaps that is the deciding factor in this irrelevant game of awarding stars.

No five star, Rivals100 running back in recent years has stats that compare to Sam McGuffie (admittedly, stats become thin as we look back in time):

Does this position profiling matter?  Not at all. I personally believe that, if McGuffie chooses Michigan, he could win a Heisman. God has not created a more harmonious match than McGuffie’s running style and the zone running game. With no studs in the corral, Sam McGuffie stands to shine and shine early.  Four star, five star, white, black…who cares? I just can’t wait to see that kid accelerate through holes opened by Justin Boren, Dann O’Neill, Elliot Mealer and Steve Schilling like Dash in the Incredibles (click):

Note: The goon guards are surely OSU lineman.

Second Note: I admit, Brain (mgoblog), the Matrix is cooler.

Last Note: It is a coincidence Dash and Sam are both white! I swear!

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

March 9, 2007

SOUTHERN FOOTBALL


I don’t like southern football. It’s not so much this new idea (to me anyway) that they are recruiting mills, grinding up academically challenged football players from the Deep South. It’s not the warm, un-college-football weather or their smarmy, overrated coaches. It’s that they have it as easy as Greg Oden’s class schedule, and yet everyone swoons over that brand of football as if something special is going on. Lauding Greg Oden’s basketball skills is one thing; calling him a scholar is imbecilic.

As we are officially one month into the new recruiting season, I thought I’d wander around the Big Ten to see who’s off to a hot start.

What Michigan fan doesn’t like landing Boubacar Cissoko right out of the gate? Nothing like a stud DB for fans suffering from Post-Traumatic Secondary Stress Disorder (PTSSD). The hated Buckeyes have apparently snapped up a kicker early. Hopefully, he is not a Mike Nugent clone – you never want to be at a disadvantage in the kicking game against Ohio State.  MSU and Minnesota don’t matter.  

Well, not bad…uh…wait…uh…uh…uh…uh…uh…uh…

Je#(#*&##!!$!, what the hell is that? THE FIRST MONTH OF THE RECRUITING SEASON AND TEXAS HAS A CLASS AS BIG AS OHIO STATE’S LAST YEAR?   All Texas kids. Yeah, Mack Brown is a genius. In a state loaded with talent, he basically has to figure out which kids not to offer. Then I guess Texas A&M can step in and pick up those scraps...

Must be a Texas anomaly.  Surely, Georgia…

…or Southern Cal…

…or a retooling Alabama…

…have to struggle like Michigan seems to struggle, recruits ripped out of the clutches of other schools with the ease of uprooting a stump with a shovel.

Tennessee, LSU and even Arkansas already have at least two top local kids in the fold and more very close.

Here we see the teenage mind – a generally worthless thing – at work shaping the landscape of college football and the moods of countless adult professionals with the not surprising application of the SPuD test (Sun, Pussy, Drinking).  As a result, we see top Southern California talent rushing to grab limited scholarships for a shot at the life of Leinart, while an equally prestigious football university short on scholarships in a northern state loaded with talent this year (Penn State) is being cautiously surveyed by local recruits, who, fully recognizing that Penn State scores a 33% on the SPuD test, are “considering their options.”

How can one seriously compare the recruiting efforts of Carr, Paterno or Tressel to these teams? You can’t. One is hard, the other is ridiculously easy. I am not saying that those coaches don’t hustle and log many miles of travel, but signing talent at a big name southern school is like electing a Democrat in New Orleans.  

So spare me the excitement about southern football. It is what it is: the New York Yankees of college football. Everyone hates them (except Yankee fans) precisely because one must compete against limitless talent.

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

February 25, 2007

GEORGIA v. MICHIGAN


I thought the issue of SEC vs. Big 10 recruiting demanded a little further investigation, until mgoblog got a hold of the topic Friday. Still, this is a more focused response to the defenders of Georgia, the team that I think is the most high-profile offender. It’s one thing to average 29 scholarships for two and three star players (Oregon State), quite another to do it at the four and five star level.

The team that caught my eye in the post on player quality – Georgia – signs an average of almost four more players a year than Michigan, about three above the number of scholarships available.  In the comment section of mgoblog, Georgia defenders claimed that up to two LOI don’t qualify academically and two end up in jail (…not really). Whatever the reason, the numbers deserved a closer look.

It turns out that six players over the last six years show up twice in the Georgia recruiting numbers, or one per year that comes back after, I assume, being academically ineligible when they went to enroll for the first time.  Michigan has no players that show up more than once in the Rivals recruiting commitment lists, although why Marques Slocum wouldn’t show again this year, I don’t know.

If we back out those players from the Georgia recruiting rolls, we come up with the following numbers.

So while there is some inflation in the Georgia recruiting statistics (dumb for Rivals to count a player more than once), Georgia still maintains almost a three player advantage over Michigan, which averages out to be about two more LOI per year than scholarships available.

If academics after enrollment (assuming that injuries and early draft entries are roughly even between the two teams) is the difference between Michigan and Georgia, then eleven extra players committed to Georgia since 2002 and eleven players, after spending some time on the football team, couldn’t make the grade (no amount of Googling could tease out any detailed information on the academic dregs of Georgia football – I was hoping to stumble across www.academicallyineligibledawgrecruits.com).

Is there a football advantage to bottom feeding in the recruiting world?  The answer is definitively yes, and it is a simple numbers game. The more bodies you can look at, particularly 3.56 star bodies (Georgia average), the deeper your program. And let’s face facts about academic ineligibility. My guess is that there is a certain, “Well, what can we do?” when Carl Tabb starts struggling with the grades, and there is a certain, “Ohmigod, omigod, advisors, advisors, where are the *$(#)damn advisors!” when Michael Hart starts struggling. Add this reality to a steady stream of extra players, and you have an academically challenged developmental squad.

Bottom line – made far more apparent by the mgoblog post than this one – is that teams feeding on a high number of recruits are playing a different, more cynical, less collegiate game than Michigan. And that is another great thing about Michigan.

Damn, that’s something else I have to give Lloyd Carr credit for.

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

February 14, 2007

RECRUITING RUMINATIONS


After crunching the numbers in inadvertent defense of Lloyd’s recruiting skills, several odd things jumped off the spreadsheet at me.

  • Michigan out-recruits every SEC school. The four teams above Michigan represent the Pac 10, two Big 12 teams and the ACC.  
  • Georgia is the top ranked SEC recruiter and is seventh. Of course, with Kurt Urban Russell from Used Cars recruiting in Florida, that will probably change soon.
  • Boy, the Big 10 sucks at recruiting. The fourth place recruiting “powerhouse” in the Big 10 is Michigan State, coming in at 31st.  Eight teams from the SEC weigh in before 4th place MSU. Seven from the ACC (a basketball conference for crying out loud), six from the Pac 10, and five from the Big 12 all recruit better than what is really the third place recruiter in the Big 10 (Penn State being a Johnny-come-lately independent).
  • West Virginia is not on the map. Weird.  I always felt they were a solid recruiting program. For that matter, the Big East is not on the map, which, except for West Virginia, in less surprising.
  • Wisconsin is seventh in the Big 10 in recruiting behind Iowa and Purdue. Huh. A lot of Barry Alvarez years here. That surprises me.
  • I hate USC.
  • I think it’s odd that Texas A&M is in the top 20.

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink | |

 

February 11, 2007

RECRUITING SURPRISE


This blog did not spring forth from an untapped subterranean reservoir of football expertise. Like Thomas Covenant, silenced by the elohim in The One Tree, saying “Don’t touch me” during times of unbearable tension, this blog is a pressure release valve for my amateur obsession with Michigan Football. In other words, I don’t know what I’m doing.

But I do know what facts are.  

With the analysis below, I set out to prove Lloyd Carr is not a good recruiter. A biased position, to be sure, but all arguments begin with bias, with a premise that represents an unproved position. Only when unearthed facts are ignored does bias acquire its negative connotation.

I set out to prove Lloyd Carr can’t recruit, and I proved exactly the opposite. In fact, data from the last six years suggest he is the best recruiter in the country. The news isn’t all good for Lloyd – I am still firm in my belief that he’s not doing very well with the talent he brings to Ann Arbor – but faulting him for recruiting, that I can no longer do.

My first post, Coachioplegia, attempted to demonstrate that Carr is missing out on in-state talent.  While there have been a lot misses in the last two years (particularly this year), this trend is likely an aberration and not a major concern.  We’ll see.

Data time. For there to be meaning in this analysis, one must accept that there is some validity in how high school talent is evaluated, in this instance by the Rivals recruiting service. Individually, these assessments are sometimes wildly wrong, but from a reasonable distance, they are accurate (see the mgoblog analysis on this topic). This analysis is at 30,000 feet, a level of resolution where even the enormous (and enormously disappointing) Gabe Watson is lost among five stars like Lamarr Woodley, Percy Harvin, Reggie Bush and Vince Young.

Data from 2002 through 2007 was compiled for the top 25 teams. At first, I looked at the final Rivals rankings. You know: the famously annoying recruiting contest (unless you are on top) that Florida just won and USC normally wins. Compiling six years of data based upon this recruiting beauty contest reveals that Michigan averages a somewhat disappointing 9th place.  

But a further review of the Rivals (and Scout) method of ranking reveals that the number of recruits is taken into account as well as the quality of recruits. Such a system results, for example, in Florida winning this year’s beauty contest even though USC blew everyone away on the quality of player signed. Ohio State this year finished 15th because of the low number of recruits, but ranked fourth in quality. Well, maybe Ohio State only wanted 15 bodies because next year is loaded with in-state talent, and, indeed, that is the thinking in Columbus.  While there is some logic behind rewarding a team for recruiting a large number of quality players (consider LSU this year, with 21 – count ‘em 21 – recruits of four stars or better), for our purposes, we are only going to look at the quality of recruits.  (NOTE: There is something weird going on, too. Could it be some universities don’t use all their scholarships on a regular basis? For example, Georgia plummets from 2nd to 7th when you factor out number of recruits because they always seem to have large classes [29, 25, 21, 19, 28, 23; ave: 24] as compared to, say Michigan [22, 17, 22, 23, 19, 20; ave: 20.5]. What’s up with that? How can Georgia have 22 more scholarships used over the last six years?).

So, considering only the quality of recruits, Michigan finishes a respectable 5th. But it is more than just respectable. There are really 11 recruiting powerhouses when you look hard at the data: the three Florida schools, Texas, USC, the SEC powerhouses (Georgia, Tennessee and LSU), Oklahoma, Michigan and Ohio State. The drop-off after Tennessee is statistically significant, with Penn State and Notre Dame almost 0.20 behind the Volunteers.

Michigan is the highest ranked northern school and by far, with Ohio State coming in five spots behind.  Everyone is well aware that the Southeast, Texas and California are the three great reservoirs of football talent, so we expect the Florida teams, Texas, USC and other southern SEC powerhouses to have a distinct advantage and they do.  The northern state with the most talent is arguably Ohio, where Ohio State competes against absolutely no one for that talent bonanza. The teams that jump out at you are Michigan, Oklahoma and Tennessee, three teams from states with modest levels of talent. But Tennessee and Oklahoma are more southerly schools featuring warm climates appealing to southern players and naturally drawing on the massive collection of nearby talent, Oklahoma from Texas and Tennessee from the SEC lands where they compete every year. Michigan plays in the frozen north, which to Miami linebackers and Bayou linemen acts like holy water on the undead. And while the school is superb, Michigan’s campus is otherwise is 0 for 3 in the teenage trifecta of southern co-eds, palm trees, and scantily clad southern co-eds.

Lloyd Carr may have missed out on Ronald Johnson and he may not have the contemporary pretty-boy flash of Urban Meyer and Peter Carroll, but the man recruits the whole nation and recruits it well. And he doesn’t feed these recruits lines of bullshit like Ron Zook. Donovan Warren on Coach Carr's methods: “I like the fact that when a lot of coaches try to recruit you they throw out the negatives about each school, but Michigan didn't throw out the negatives about any school. They were just straight up with me. They laid it all out … the facts. They said this is a good opportunity for you. That was pretty much it.”; Carr's methods repel prima donnas like Rojo and Finch, but they attract classy studs like Mallett and Warren.

It turns out Coachioplegia is mostly an Xs and Ox disease.

Posted by Meeechigan Dan | Permalink |  |

 

February 4, 2007

RONALD JOHNSON, SYMPTOM


One might expect that the announcement today that Ronald Johnson is going to the hated USC Trojans might cause me to trumpet my prophetic brilliance.

It only bums be out. And, strangely enough, there has been an opposite effect: after posting Coachioplegia, I was sent scuttling back to the historical records to prove that Michigan has indeed been missing out on a lot of in-state talent.  My research demonstrated the opposite: except for the last two years – and really, this year mostly – Michigan has taken what it wanted out of the Great Lake State.

Now, rather than get off to the ignoble beginning of disavowing my very first football post, I would simply point out the today’s announcement by Ronald Johnson simply casts the post in a simpler perspective: now there is a patient, and the patient has some unpleasant symptoms. Next year, when the talent in the state of Michigan appears to be respectable, will reveal whether this recruiting malaise is potentially fatal or just a seasonal malady. Fortunately, the I.V. bag dripping in a cocktail of Donovan Warren and Ryan Mallett has the patient resting easily.

Posted by Meeechigan Dan |  |

 

January 31, 2007

COACHIOPLEGIA (COACHING PARALYSIS)


Any Michigan fan who thinks Lloyd Carr should be fired is…foolish. I was going to say “a moron,” but it would be a bad precedent to use “moron” in the first sentence of the first post in this blog’s existence. The real question is whether Lloyd can effectively coach the Michigan Wolverines any longer (there is no question, of course, that in the late 1990s he was effective indeed). In my opinion, the game has passed him by; others feel that 2006 was a success. Either way, this debate is important, even if it has been reported that Lloyd is thinking about retirement. What frustrates those of us who see a major problem with the football program are those out there who feel that even discussing the idea of a coaching change is a waste of time (i.e., Brian Cook at mgoblog, who on most other matters is the best in the business). The thinking is this: Lloyd is untouchable, so why bother discussing whether he should go or not? The answer is this: no one – including Lloyd Carr – lives in a vacuum. If he is a liability, then the sooner the noise level gets raised, the sooner Lloyd gets the Rolex and Associate AD title, and the sooner Michigan can rejoin the ranks of the truly feared programs in college football.  The squeaky wheel will eventually get oil. And that is what it’s all about: the greatest college football team in history not being a klunky Midwestern war horse totally outclassed by the fast, creative game that is modern collegiate football.

So the premise here is simple: Lloyd Carr is the reason the Michigan Wolverines are now a second-tier college football program. That is a football statement, not a value statement. He was also a big reason they won a National Championship in 1997. Hey, the Eddie Murphy responsible for 48 Hours and Trading Places early in his career also made Daddy Day Care and The Adventures of Pluto Nash later in his career.  Greatness can devolve into mediocrity when the same formula is over-utilized.

No one dismisses that Lloyd is a class guy who stands for something more than just a game; he will go down in Michigan football history as a special coach. But the football team is not great right now, and – using the standard of other elite programs, mind you – the prospects are somewhat grim. Does that hurt? I hope it does. Either you are in denial and think that Michigan is competitive at the highest level, or you realize the problem and it hurts. Twelve steps, baby: admit you have a problem.

If that’s the premise, what’s the argument?  The argument is complex, so the place to begin is at the beginning…where little, young Wolverines are born: in high schools everywhere (don’t run with that).  Yes, the slightly depraved world of recruiting.

If you can’t recruit in college football, you can’t win. Well, unless you’re Boise State. Or maybe the recent editions of Louisville. Rutgers. Let me start again - if you can’t recruit in college football, you may get lucky from time to time, but you won’t be a perennial powerhouse.

And Michigan is no longer recruiting to its potential. Don’t get me wrong, there has been talent and a lot of great players in recent classes, but there is a deeply disturbing trend as well.

The key to recruiting – as frustrated Buckeye fans used to tell me over and over and over – is keeping homegrown talent at home.  That’s the easy stuff. You figure most athletic kids growing up in a region will gravitate to that region’s most dominant program.  Young kids in any corner of the country break down something like this:

If you’re Michigan, you aren’t going to build a team hoping that the one out-of-state kid on the left is Tom Brady. If you’re Michigan, you need – as a foundation – your schools to supply your talent. If kids growing up in your backyard are not going to your school, there is a problem and you’d better find out what it is. The problem in Ohio was that John Cooper had lost the sense of tradition that makes Buckeye football great and so kids were looking elsewhere, frequently to a school up north. Now, kids like Jermale Hines – a four-star speed linebacker – use Michigan as a negotiating ploy to extract the scholarship offer they desperately want from an OSU program that picks and chooses from Ohio's best. After getting that offer, Hines had an extended sexual orgasm for a week before breathlessly calling up Coach Tressel to commit (OSU took six of the top ten in Ohio; Michigan struck out in Ohio for the first time in a long time).

While the analysis below is not scientific (in fact, it bears no resemblance to science), it does give a sense of the problem. Michigan kids are not going to Michigan.

Percentage of top ten prospects [Rivals] that commit to the school listed (2007 estimated)

Take a look at the current status of the top ten kids in Michigan. One commit at #10.

From Rivals

Rojo looks to be headed elsewhere, a Michigan kid passing on the chance to start as a freshman at CB at the University of Michigan where dwells the only CB Heisman Trophy in history, for crying out loud. This is what it should look like, in a state where the program has momentum:

From Rivals

Perhaps the last two years – where Michigan has recruited three out of the top twenty Michigan kids (assuming no Rojo) – are an anomaly.  I hope so. Florida, competing against Florida State, Miami and a nation hungry for southern speed, is 7 for 20 over the same two-year period in their home state.  

The reality may be that Michigan currently does not appeal to local kids, that trusty old Lloyd is like your grandfather: someone you admire, but not someone you want to spend more than 10 minutes with at the reunion.  You’d rather play pickup ball with Uncle Urban.  

And the current class has been saved from utter Titanic disaster by Ryan Mallett. In all likelihood, Ryan Mallett would be playing for Texas next year if they didn’t get Finched by John Brantley.  How many of those receivers that make up the strength of our class would have avoided Michigan without a big-time QB for the future? One?  Two? If Clemons is one of those, then Michigan would have finished this year without a top 100 player.

I can hear some of you screaming at this pessimistic recruiting ponzi scheme. The point is not to preach doom and gloom, but to diagnose the patient before it’s dead (i.e., Michigan basketball). This class isn’t bad – it will be the number one QB/WR combo class in the country. But this same class with Rojo, Barksdale, Colasanti, and Dionte Allen is a homerun, and homeruns start at home (and no need to hear why these four aren’t going to Michigan – that’s not the point).

Recruiting is one symptom of the illness. The Xs and Os are another. In-game adjustments are yet another. Thank God the illness – coachioplegia – has a cure.

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