Tales from the Deuce

Enough Already!

Ever since Michigan AD David Brandon hired Brady Hoke in January, there has been an ongoing critique throughout the internets excoriating Hoke’s tough-guy mantra as many things, but mostly anachronistic (See MGoBlog generally or today’s column on Rivals by Jonathan Chait).  While I too questioned his hiring, and the manner in which it was done, I think it’s time to ease up on the criticism. Sure, Hoke has taken great pains to differentiate himself from his predecessor Rich Rodriguez.  But I’m willing to give Hoke the benefit of the doubt. Mostly because he’s turned around two moribund programs (San Diego State and Ball State). But also because he’s more interested in attitude than scheme. Unfortunately, most of the criticism from the aforementioned writers is focused on just that; scheme.

Both Chait and Cook express deep concern over the change in offensive scheme from Rodriguez’ high-flying spread to Hoke’s more conventional pro-style.  This criticism misses the mark. Football teams don’t win because of scheme; they win because they execute in all phases of the game.  While Rodriguez’ challenges in Ann Arbor were legion, his biggest obstacle was that he was a one-trick pony.  Rodriguez was focused more on installing his offense, and less on putting a complete football team on the field come Saturday. This claim may seem unfair.  But when you consider some of the issues that plagued his teams, particularly on defense (e.g., two different DCs, neither of which ever ran a 3-3-5), and that he impliedly admitted as much, it is at least a reasonable argument to make.

Of course none of this means that Hoke will succeed as Michigan’s head football coach. Saying that you wanna run “manball” won’t ensure success.  Indeed, it will be no small task getting these kids to buy into his brand of football. Maybe that means that it takes a few more years for Michigan to truly be “back.” But hey, I’m willing to wait. Especially if that means that our team has an identity that isn’t rooted in incompetence at the expense of some highfalutin’ scheme.

Tales from the Deuce

Away We Go

As predicted, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon relieved Rich Rodriguez of his duties as head football coach yesterday.  Brandon cited Rodriguez’ lack of success over his three year tenure as a primary factor in his decision.  In particular, Rodriguez’ record against his rivals, or as Brandon put it, the “red letter games” against teams like Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State.   Having dispensed with Rodriguez’ dismissal, Brandon then addressed his approach for hiring a successor.  Brandon stated that while he understood the need to replace Rodriguez quickly, he would be motivated by making sure he got “exactly the right person to come in and be successful.”  So here we are.   Back where we were three years ago.  If you recall, it was a pretty bumpy ride the last time Michigan looked for a new head coach, and the past week’s events seem to indicate that we’re in for the same experience.  While you’re sure to hear a bunch of names thrown into the mix, here are the guys I would call (in order of preference) if I were Dave Brandon.  But before I move on, I should note that Jim Harbaugh is (regrettably) not on the list.  Between his (Jim) brother John saying he’s not coming to Michigan, and Brandon acknowledging the same in his press conference yesterday, it’s safe to say that he will not be Michigan’s next head football coach.

1.  Dan Mullen

The current head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs and former offensive coordinator for the Florida Gators has put together an impressive resume.  As the steward of the Florida Gators’ offense over the course of 4 years, Mullen flourished, helping the Gators win a national championship.  As the head coach of the Bulldogs, Mullen has compiled a 14-11 record in two seasons, including a 52-14 walloping of our beloved Wolverines in this year’s Gator Bowl.

Pros: He runs a similar offense, so there wouldn’t be a huge adjustment period.  He appears to be a solid recruiter and he has worked well with quarterbacks in the past (Tim Tebow and Alex Smith).

Cons: The ink is not yet dry on a new 4-year contract extension.  So leaving for Michigan now might present a similar set of circumstances as three years ago when Rodriguez departed West Virginia with a big buyout hanging over his head.  Also, defensive “prodigy” Manny Diaz has just been hired away from the Bulldogs to be the defensive coordinator at Texas

Likelihood: 20%

2.  Jon Gruden

Jon Gruden would be a nice consolation prize for those of us that clamored for Harbaugh.  As a coach in the NFL, he was one of the most successful during his tenure, with a record of 100-85 that included a Super Bowl win in 2002 with the Tampa Bay Buccanneers.  As a coach of the Oakland Raiders prior, he helped build a great team that made it to the AFC Championship game and then the Super Bowl the next year.  While he currently serves as an analyst and commentator for the worldwide leader, he continues to be rumored for a wide variety of jobs in both college and the NFL.  Most importantly, he’s a high energy guy with a high football IQ and he has a passion for the game that is rivaled by few.

Pros: While he has limited college experience, he could achieve the same type of recruiting success as former NFL-to-college coaches such as Dave Wannstedt, Bill Callahan, and even Chan Gailey.  Where he would be different is that he was a highly successful coach in the NFL, whereas the others were not.  He would also be the sort of high-profile hire that would rally the fan base.

Cons: He’s a pro guy so there could be a steeper learning curve than desired.  Babysitting 18-22 year olds would be quite a change from life in the NFL.  Also, while he’s constantly mentioned as a coaching candidate, he seems more content working in television; and that’s assuming Brandon would actually consider him.

Likelihood: 5%

3.  Gary Patterson

All you have to do is watch how Patterson’s team performed against the mighty Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl to know whether the guy can coach.  While some predicted the Badgers would roll, TCU proved that even with smaller but more athletic players, you can still be physical.  As the head coach of the Horned Frogs, Patterson has assembled a powerhouse program in the Mountain West Conference, boasting a 98-28 record over the last decade.  While Patterson took over a program on the rise, his predecessor Dennis Franchione never achieved anything close to what Patterson has done.

Pros: You wouldn’t be exaggerating if you said Patterson was the best coach in America.  He’s figured out how to do more with less, proving that he can hang with the big boys.  At 50 years of age, he’s just old enough to be content staying at Michigan; something we couldn’t say about Harbaugh.  And he runs a similar offense to Rodriguez so there wouldn’t be a huge adjustment period.

Cons: Like Gruden, he’s routinely mentioned as a candidate for coaching vacancies.  However, he’s never given any indication that he’s interested in leaving TCU.  Further, he has no Midwest ties; something that Brandon mentioned as a desired attribute for the next coach.

Likelihood: 20%

4.  Brady Hoke

Among the many names being mentioned as Michigan’s next coach, Brady Hoke is no doubt the redheaded stepchild.  Indeed, no name has drawn more ire amongst the Michigan faithful as Hoke.  This, despite the fact that he has put together a not-too-shabby resume.  Many think that the only reason that Hoke is being mentioned as a candidate is because of his relationship to the program, as a defensive line coach under Lloyd Carr.  But that would be ignoring the fact that he’s taken two perennial losers to levels unseen prior.

Pros: He’s the only “Michigan Man” on the list.  He’s also a terrific coach.  Anyone that can take the Ball State Cardinals to a 12-1 record, thus achieving the best record in school history, knows how to coach.  He’s done the same thing with the San Diego Aztecs, taking over a moribund program and turning it around in two years.

Cons: He lacks the “it” factor.  With a 47-50 record, he doesn’t move the needle like the others on the list, nor many that have been mentioned elsewhere.  Further, he has few (1-10) wins against ranked opponents.

Likelihood: 40%

You might read this list and think “that’s it?”  Well, if you consider all the factors that are at play in this decision, Brandon’s focus is likely pretty narrow.  In yesterday’s press conference Brandon stated that he is looking for an individual that possesses the following characteristics

  • Midwestern ties
  • Previous head coaching experience
  • A capacity to adapt to the skill set of his players
  • An understanding of what Michigan football is and it’s standards

This immediately eliminates guys like Boise State’s Chris Peterson, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham (and probably Gary Patterson), and any high-profile assistant coaches.  Regardless, it will be pretty interesting to follow the process; doubtless we’ll all be sitting on pins and needles.

Tales from the Deuce

Rich Rodriguez must know by now that he has just coached his final game at Michigan.  After all, athletic director David Brandon had publicly stated that he would evaluate the head football coach position after the season, which ended yesterday.  Most (including me) have thought all along that Brandon’s thought process on this was a little odd.  Certainly 36 games (15-21 overall, 6-18 conference) should have been enough for him to determine Rodriguez’ fate.  Instead, Brandon held true to an evaluative process that would leave coaches, recruits, and players in limbo for several weeks.  Well now the wait is over.  Michigan has just suffered another drubbing, this time at the hands of an 8-4 team that — at least on paper — appeared to be on similar footing as Michigan.  Yet the Mississippi State Bulldogs soundly defeated the Wolverines 52-14.  Given the poor display of the football team, after nearly a month of preparation, Brandon has no choice but to part ways with Rodriguez and bring in some new blood.  Considering Brandon’s reputation as a savvy leader, I predict that he will fire Rodriguez and name current Stanford coach and former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh as the next Michigan head coach, as soon as early next week.  My reasoning is simple.

As discussed previously, we can discard the notion that the outcome of today’s game would have any bearing on Brandon’s decision.  It’s difficult to see how one game could carry the same probative weight as the 36 games prior.  We can also discard the notion that Brandon intends to bring Rodriguez back.  Logic would dictate that a reasonable guy like Brandon wouldn’t let his stated purpose of waiting after the bowl game to decide Rodriguez’ fate get in the way of giving his head football coach a crucial vote of confidence.  A vote of confidence would make it easier for Rodriguez to bring in the type of recruits that are needed to build championship teams.     That leaves two other reasons for him waiting until after the bowl game:

  1. Brandon needed to get his ducks in a row so that he could ensure that he had Rodriguez’ successor (probably Harbaugh) already lined up; or
  2. Brandon didn’t want any distractions (like a coaching change) getting in the way of the football team’s preparation for the Gator Bowl.

While option two may be the case, I suspect Brandon knew after the Ohio State blowout what Rodriguez’ fate would be.  So he decided to wait to make a decision so that he could ensure that he had a successor lined up.  Since Stanford was invited to play in the Orange Bowl on Monday, Brandon probably figured that it would be prudent to give both teams (Michigan and Stanford, respectively) a chance to prepare for their bowl games without all the drama.  Naturally, this is all conjecture.  So one might wonder how I arrived at the decision that Harbaugh would be the next coach.  There are several reasons why.  I won’t name them all but here are a few.

First, Harbaugh has the type of pedigree that makes most Michigan fans salivate.  He comes from a family of coaches.  His father Jack coached under legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, and his older brother John is the head football coach for the Baltimore Ravens.  Second, Harbaugh grew up in Ann Arbor, was a ball boy for the Wolverines, then played quarterback under Bo eventually becoming one of the greatest players in the history of the program.  Finally, as a coach, he was successful as the head coach for the University of San Diego.  From there he went on to Stanford where he took over a 1-11 team and in his fourth year has them poised to play in the school’s first ever BCS Bowl.  Among his many highlights as the head coach at Stanford, Harbaugh knocked off the vaunted USC Trojans twice, including a win during his first year, despite being a 55-point underdog.  Could anyone imagine Rodriguez pulling off the same feat?

One last thought: does Harbaugh want the job?  It’s a fair question.  After all, he may be the most in-demand football coach in America.  Yet, I suspect he really wants this job and I’m fairly certain he doesn’t intend to stay at Stanford.  In fact, Harbaugh was asked recently about comments that were made by Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby who had stated that Harbaugh intended to sign a contract extension.  Harbaugh replied that perhaps the AD had “misspoke”; not exactly a ringing endorsement.  Some have suggested that he wants an NFL job.  But ESPN’s Adam Schefter discussed this issue on the radio last week.  According to Schefter, most of the “smart people” in the NFL believe that Harbaugh is headed to Michigan.

So there you have it.  He’s there if we want him.  I’ve heard several folks suggest that maybe Rodriguez should be given another year.  My belief before today’s game was that Harbaugh was too good a candidate to pass up, and not just because of his past but also his accomplishments.  In the wake of today’s crushing defeat, it is now imperative that a coaching change be made.  While some might argue that Harbaugh may be a bit brash, Harbaugh has the sort of moxie we need.  As a quarterback for the Wolverines he once guaranteed a victory over the rival Buckeyes in Columbus, then delivered.  I suspect that story has not fallen on deaf ears; least of all Dave Brandon.

Tales from the Deuce

The Case Against Rich Rodriguez

Michigan head football coach Rich Rodriguez should be fired at the end of the year.  The reasons are simple.  He has not performed his duties well, and I see little hope that the program will make significant changes next year.  While Rodriguez’ troubles are not all self-inflicted, he’s done more wrong than right during his tenure.  For that reason he’s gotta go.  I say this as a person that has always been in his corner.  I cheered his arrival in Ann Arbor nearly three years ago.  And I continued to support him through all of the turmoil.  And while one game (Saturday’s debacle in Happy Valley) should not determine a coach’s fate, it does cause some reflection.  I’ve done some thinking in the wake of Saturday’s nightmare and my feelings have only hardened with more time.  Here’s how I got from there to here.

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College Pigskin

Another Season in the Abyss?

Michigan 2010 Preview

Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez, 3rd Year (8-16)

2009 Record: 5-7 (1-7 Conference)

Returning Starters: 15 (8 defense, 7 offense)

When I think about the current state of the Michigan football program, I often think: “how did we get here?”  It seems like just yesterday I was on the horn with all of my Wolverine buddies talking about how dominant Michigan would be, once the newly hired coach Rich Rodriguez was able to install his system . . . what a difference a few seasons makes.

While I fully embraced the Rodriguez hire, I now find myself wondering whether its possible for ole’ Rich Rod to save his job.  I also wonder if Michigan is the right fit for Rich Rod.  Its not that I question his coaching ability.   Rather, I wonder whether new AD Dave Brandon has the patience, or more to the point, the faith to see this thing through.  After all, a dark cloud has hovered over this program, almost since the day Rodriguez arrived in Ann Arbor.  It started with Rodriguez’ messy divorce from his former team, the West Virginia Mountaineers.  Which was followed by other issues, some big (Justin Boren and Ryan Mallett transferring) and some small (taking the #1 jersey away from Daryl Stonum).  And now, we wait with baited breath as the NCAA decides how it will levy punishment against Michigan for a failure by Rodriguez and his staff to follow NCAA summer workout rules.  All of this along with one of the worst two-year records in the history of the program and it’s clear to see why this is a make or break year for Rodriguez.  Can he deliver the goods and save his job? Maybe.  Here’s a closer look. Continue reading