Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Welcome to the world of ‘The Brady Bunch’

If opposites attract, the Michigan football program has hired a polar opposite of the man it fired one week before. In former UM assistant coach Brady Hoke, they found, and the public heard, someone who could NOT have been more different and more direct than the coach from the last three seasons, Rich Rodriguez.
And if first impressions are the most lasting, the Wolverines, starting in the fall, will be a very tough-minded squad on BOTH sides of the football … because that is exactly the impression delivered by Hoke in his initial Ann Arbor press conference Wednesday.
Interspersing sly and some self-deprecating humor with lectern pounding emphasis, anyone involved with the university, past and present, had to feel good about the future of the football program. If not, they need to find another school to follow.
He is a man who will LOVE to go to work every day to the job he had dreamt about for years. Jokingly, but truthfully, he said he’d walk from San Diego to Ann Arbor to accept the position. One look at his mannerisms suggests such a proclamation was true.
Hoke made five important points that cannot be overlooked:
First, he is about toughness and his team will be about toughness – a commodity lacking in the final games over the last three seasons. Michigan might have been fleet of foot in some spots, but “tough” was not an accurate moniker to attach to Rodriguez’ teams. Michigan has never been about finesse; it has been about rolling over people with all the weapons at its disposal.
Otherwise, the U-M defense would not have suffered so much and the kicking/special teams game been so rancid. There are scores of good running backs but not enough strong-willed offensive lines to open holes. There are lots of swift defensive backs but not enough strong-willed defensive linemen to apply the pressure needed to produce turnovers and stop opponents.
Second, Hoke pointedly said the program was not about him; it was about the school and the team. It was the first of many (perhaps unintentional) body slams delivered to the RichRod legacy. You know damn well Josh Groban is persona non gratis at future banquets. Hell, by the time, Athletic Director Dave Brandon finished his Q&A portion of the afternoon, Rodriguez’s memory got body-slammed more times than Andre the Giant.
Third, Hoke said the goal is to win the Big 10 title “repeatedly, successively.” When Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press tried to grill him on winning national titles, Hoke correctly noted that before one can leap tall buildings at a single bound, you must first take the first step – winning the conference crown, which will lead to all things glory.
With Nebraska’s entry into the conference, the Big 10 will be able to go nose-to-nose with the SEC in terms of quality programs; it won’t be a cakewalk to enter the BCS lottery.
Fourth, he WILL recruit Michigan because he understands its ultimate importance to the Wolverines’ future. Finally, for the first time in three years, a head coach acknowledged that horribly-neglected aspect. The current roster is highly devoid of in-state talent and the state’s top players will no longer be dismissed while chasing some pipe dream in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and elsewhere. In fact, it should become a mantra among ALL Michigan programs – to keep the best in the state IN the state.
Hopefully, Hoke will begin that process immediately and try to fill the Class of 2011 with as many local products as possible. I always point to the late Bo Schembechler’s recruitment of a player from the worst team within the Michigan high school ranks, a 0-9 Saginaw unit, to secure its best player, linebacker Calvin O’Neal, an All-Big 10 performer and U-M captain. You CAN find such talent IF you look.
Finally, Brady Hoke made his strongest remarks about the importance of rivalry games, especially the final encounter on the annual schedule (that other team, he said, much like Bo and Woody). He spoke very slow, and slammed his fist on the podium with each word when speaking about the need, and the attitude, to beat Ohio State (something sorely missing three years before when Rodriguez said it was just another game on the schedule).
It left a mark on the furniture and hopefully, it left a mark with the team, media and U-M fans.
We learned he can get emotional (when speaking about players’ lives he and other coaches have touched), he makes up words (“I’m good at Scrabble”), and he knows how to run the same defensive scheme that has baffled U-M players at a much more proficient and effective rate. Watch for the name, Rocky Long, to perhaps be the new defensive coordinator in Ann Arbor. The entire question of which assistants are retained will say much about Hoke’s approach to coaching.
It can be absolutely said that Brady Hoke is no mouse; his voice doesn’t just speak, it barks, it roars. You can feel the energy coming from him, even through the Big 10 Network into homes across Wolverine Nation.
And all I can say … it’s about damn time!
Go Blue!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Michigan is now the Brady Bunch

Michigan's new football coach is San Diego State head coach Brady Hoke, a former Michigan assistant under Lloyd Carr, as officially announced by the school today. Introductory press conference in Wednesday.
It should be least the search is over.

Friday, January 07, 2011

When number two is as good as prime choice

In 1977, the starlet that captured the fancy, imagination and lust of America was a Corpus Christi, Texas native named Farrah Fawcett (God rest her soul). In my role as a sports editor for the Conroe (Texas) Daily Courier, I got to interview the actress at a charity tennis event at a resort development near Conroe (I also played a round of doubles with her but that horror story will remain unearthed).
I am here to testify that she was, at that moment in mankind’s history, one of the most gorgeous, striking and stunning women I had ever seen. And up close, she had THE most perfect set of teeth (in terms of tone, shine and lineage) ever ever ever (and her legs weren’t half bad either).
I tell this story because, when she attended the University of Texas at Austin, Fawcett placed second in a Miss UT beauty contest. Think about that – SECOND place. And the really strange thing is no one can remember, or name, who finished first!
Jim Harbaugh, he of the Michigan heritage and Stanford resume, was (and probably remains) the top choice to become the next, and newest, coach for the Wolverine football program. BUT … he won’t; he has taken that funky feeling coursing through his veins and is remaining in the Bay Area to coach the struggling 49ers of San Francisco – for five years at $5 million per annum.
After listening to his Friday press conference, extra money from Ann Arbor was NOT going to change his mind; he WANTED to coach in the NFL – not in Ann Arbor or Palo Alto anymore. At 47, he thinks he’s ready for the rough-and-tumble of Sundays (provided there will be Sundays in 2011 because a work stoppage over a labor contract is quite likely).
So, Michigan faithful, Mohammed is not coming to the mountain and he doesn’t want to mountain to come to him. You are not going to the prom with the Homecoming Queen; you’ll have to do with number two (or three or whatever). Live with it!
Be reminded that Glenn Edward Schembechler was NOT the first choice in December, 1968, of new athletic director Don Canham (that honor went to Joe Paterno of Penn State, but Joe said “no”). How did that decision work for ya?
Move ahead to 2011 and new athletic director Dave Brandon first major hire – a new football coach. Obviously, the top choice is off the table, but is that necessarily a BAD thing? Only time will time; many college coaches have bolted campuses for the bright lights of the NFL, only to be returned sniveling to the “lesser” game (such as Lou Holtz, Nick Saban, Dennis Erickson – just to name a few).
You want to handicap the rest of the field?
Les Miles? Is not well-liked among SEC or Big 12 coaches (remember he coached at Oklahoma State before going to Baton Rogue) and there are numerous reasons for it. However, his resume does post a national championship and excellent recruiting classes.
Brady Hoke? Former UM assistant who is still unknown after rebuilding two programs – Ball State and San Diego State. Michigan is his dream job he has said in multiple interviews, which often means one will do whatever it takes for UM to win. But it just as easily could be a nightmare if he proved to be in too deep. After all, this isn’t Muncie or Paradise.
Tony Dungy? Forget it; Michigan couldn’t recruit him as a high school quarterback out of Jackson (he went to Minnesota), so what makes anyone think UM can convince him to come coach in Ann Arbor? Besides, he enjoys his current status of “football wiseman” on NBC.
Bo Pellini? Nebraska was as up-and-down a team as existed in the Big 12. Bo’s still playing with another coach’s roster.
If it is a “name” coach who is a proven winner that’s required, how about enticing Alabama’s Nick Saban, who has proven his “loyalty” at Michigan State, LSU AND the Miami Dolphins. You see, everyone has their price as Saban had proven often.
As I have written before, THIS is the hiring that will define Brandon’s tenure as AD – not a change in the women’s gymnastics program. And as National Signing Day draws closer, along with the prospect of a bottom-basement class entering in 2011 (without a new coach’s imprint upon it), a decision is required real damn soon.
But being someone else’s second choice, in reality, means nothing; the on-field performance will be the sole determining factor and often, the coaches with the best records are the overachievers who worked that much harder BECAUSE they weren’t the first choice. They had something to prove to everyone.
Michigan needs a coach out to prove himself and get a bunch of players, who will be seen as less than top-flight in terms of talent, to also become over-achievers. The best coach will be the one who gets even more than those players’ best out of them.
Like who finished ahead of Farrah Fawcett on the UT campus, I just can’t tell who that is…yet.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Meet the new boss; same as the old boss?

Well, well, the wicked witch of the west (Virginia) is gone. That constant sullen mugshot has melted away.
In its place, is … well, THAT is the question of the day, right? Who will be the new football coach at Michigan and, part two of that question states, when will he be hired?
The opinions concerning the dismissal, possible candidates and the entire process are flying like arrows in a circular firing squad – from ALL directions. And they are being directed at the one person who has put himself as the face of Michigan athletics (at least for the moment) – athletic director Dave Brandon.
Whether he hires Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh (with maize and blue blood running through his veins) or LSU coach Les Miles (with a bunch of Tabasco mixed in his blood) or San Diego State coach Brady Hoke or Boise State coach Chris Peterson or TCU coach Gary Patterson or … your name is as good as any other, Brandon has made at least ONE major mistake off the top. The process has become about him; his is the mind that needs convincing and he said so in the most public of means.
No NCAA program wants its athletic director to be the face of any sport; that’s the job of the football coach, or basketball coach or hockey, etc. Brandon wasn’t the face of Domino’s Pizza, even when that company struggled a few years ago because of declining sales and poor customer reaction to changes in the product.
But here he is now – Mister Michigan Football … until he hires a new face. And that person MUST have the kind of personality to assert himself into the role.
Harbaugh would be that type of person and allow Brandon to return to the shadows. Miles could be that personality, although his experiences at LSU and Oklahoma State often demonstrate that he doesn’t play well with other kids in the sand box.
But does the former UM quarterback want to coach in Ann Arbor??? Brandon, himself, doesn’t think so and say it publicly (a strange thing to say in a press conference when the entire Wolverine nation is set to crown Harbaugh as the throne’s successor).
Miles told media at the Cotton Bowl site this week that he has not been contacted about the job but never said he wasn’t interested. The gypsy in his football soul would never allow that; he’s ALWAYS interested.
Here’s what the new Michigan coach faces in 2011: home games against Western and Eastern Michigan, San Diego State (wouldn’t THAT be interesting if Hoke moves to Ann Arbor), a night game against Notre Dame, Indiana and Minnesota (both under new leadership), Illinois and you-know-who; road trips will go to Wisconsin, Sparty, Iowa and Northwestern.
Even with the talent on the roster, that is another bowl-eligible squad and if someone can implement a decent 4-3 defense, it could account for 7, 8 or maybe 9 victories. If the new coach can stop the leakage of recruits (shrinking BEFORE Rodriguez was clipped), 2011 might be salvageable and even seen as an improvement.
It’ll have to be because 2012 opens with a road trip to Arlington, Texas, to play Alabama, and Michigan’s program is in no position to honor that contract. Seriously! I have yet to comprehend why Brandon wanted that confrontation and sought it like his pants were on fire. If you think the Gator Bowl was a disastrous rout, just wait until Michigan faces Demetrious Hart (who dropped UM in favor of playing for Nick Saban) and the school that utterly coldcocked Michigan State the other day.
Anything past this Monday without an announcement will cripple the UM program for the first half of this decade. Recruiting will become a smoldering cinder since Rodriguez only received verbal commitments from a relatively small list (12 and falling) and most of them out of range from Brandon’s stated area of concentration (the Midwest, as he said at his presser). The new coach will focus FIRST on the Midwest (I guess that will include the home state) and areas surrounding Ann Arbor (Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania). That’s the same roadmap used by Bo Schembechler, whose ghost continue to haunt the room – for better or worse.
Bo succeeded in his first year with a roster entirely consisting of players brought to the campus by Bump Elliott. It took until 1971 to see the complete stamp placed by Bo on the program.
The man who hired him, Don Canham, quickly stepped away from the spotlight and let Bo by THE man (remember, Bo was NOT Canham’s first choice; Joe Paterno WAS). Believe me, Brandon has not shown himself to be a Don Canham yet.
The new coach cannot be a year-to-year figurehead; he must be someone who will last more than a decade on the job.
And it has to happen soon because everyone is scratching their heads over how this scenario has played itself out. That’s not a good thing for Michigan football.
Brandon must deliver the greatest meal of his life to his hungriest fan base and a helluva lot faster than promised by his former employer. Because what the alumni will send back to his desk won’t resemble cold pizza; it’ll look like empty donation envelopes and no change in the tomato sauce will repair that.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Open letter to Dave Brandon, Univ. of Michigan athletic director

Dear Sir,
I sincerely hope the extra revenue your school’s bank account received from agreeing to appear in the 2011 Gator Bowl – on New Year’s Day (merely because the game was played on Jan. 1) was worth the complete dismantling and embarrassment the Wolverines received in Jacksonville.
I hope the players enjoyed the festivities and pageantry that accompanied the contest; I hope the ban performed smartly at halftime and in any parade. I hope you’re happy about what transpired PRIOR to the actual kickoff because what followed perhaps set a new modern-day low for Michigan athletics.
Dave, we looked MORE than pathetic – we looked disorganized, ill-prepared (despite the extra practices) and, at the end, simply disinterested. We didn’t seem to be concerned when we couldn’t score inside the red zone on two occasions in the fourth quarter. Why? Because the game was over LONG before those drives ever began.
And with that lackluster, uninspired performance, you, as Michigan athletic director, should have no difficulty telling the head football coach to clean out his desk and take most of the coaches with him (as if the majority would be worthy of hiring elsewhere). And on Tuesday (unless the deal is already in place), you should hire either Jim Harbaugh away from Stanford or Brady Hoke away from San Diego State.
IF you fail to pull the trigger on those two moves, perhaps you need to return to the world of coupon clipping or pizza making. Rich Rodriguez need not have another day at the head football coach at what USED to be a prestigious program; he has helped dump it in to the crapper in just three years’ time.
Against a good Mississippi State team (playing without two of its top receivers), Michigan’s porous, stupidly-conceived defensive scheme allowed 42 unanswered points as it should its complete inability to tackle ANYONE all afternoon. Of course, it has neither enough talent, enough size nor sufficient coaching to do otherwise. But you, and every other school in the Big 10, have known that from Day One.
Despite Michigan’s opening drive, the average fan, blinded by the Florida sun, could tell the Wolverines were in deep doo-doo by the same, old tackling woes on the Bulldogs’ first drive. UM never stopped MSU offensively all game long – except for the first series of the third quarter.
At which point, Rodriguez sealed his fate to coach another season. Hell, Dave, you should have marched out of the press box and escorted him off the field at that moment.
It came at the 11:46 mark of the third quarter, after the lone defensive stand and a 33-yard punt return by Junior Hemingway; Michigan, horrible in the game inside the red zone (1 for 4), faced a fourth down decision and a 17-point deficit. At that moment of clarity, Rodriguez sent out a player who had not kicked a field goal in five months to try a miserable 36-yard boot … instead of trying to continue a potential scoring drive and regain a slight smidgen of momentum.
Of course, the attempt sailed way wide left; it’s been the story of Michigan kicking all season long so why did RichRod expect a different outcome? Even Einstein knew that type of thinking to define insanity.
At that exact moment, the 2011 Gator Bowl was “officially” over; the only question was the final (embarrassing) score. I think many of the Maize and Blue supporters understood it, too, because there began a noticeable collection of empty seats around Raymond James Stadium.
I didn’t see any fire or enthusiasm coming from Rodriguez throughout the contest; I saw entirely too much hand-slapping by UM defenders when they weren’t participating in plays; and I saw nothing improve whatsoever between the lackluster Ohio State loss and this debacle. Michigan has NO running game (backs not named Robinson carried the ball 14 times for 27 yards), NO defense (the game announcers rarely called the name of any defensive lineman for making a single tackle), NO kicking game (the only punt attempt was blocked) and NO future (if you were a top-flight recruit, would join this mess?).
Sorry, I lay some of the blame in your office. Rodriguez was a monumental mistake made by your predecessor (Bill Martin), but there seems to have been a greater push for all things monetary instead of stopping the slide downwards and making the proper adjustments (coaching-wise). Yet he was permitted, after some tears and Josh Groban theatrics, to coach Michigan in this final game. So how did that exactly go for you?
And because of contractual obligations you’ve decided to make, Michigan has been set up to be embarrassed against to start the 2012 season in my backyard – Arlington, Texas – when Alabama will play (and probably destroy) UM … because you have sniffed for the money more than what is good for this program.
This was a national shellacking (to use a word popular in November) and no one should be spared from the final verdict. Except for some blood-thirsty maniacs here in Texas, no one enjoys witnessing an execution … but that is exactly what it was on that field. And Mississippi State has a victory over a “name” school (in name-only at the moment).
The ball (whether fumbled by running backs too small to play, intercepted by quarterbacks forced to throw too much in a ball-control offense or blocked because the UM kicking game is the absolutely laughing stock in Division 1) is in YOUR court.
Stanford plays Monday night; an announcement needs to be made Tuesday afternoon (I’m considering the time zone differential). Otherwise, kiss off the next half-decade and cancel that Alabama contract. Time to make the RIGHT decisions … and fast!!!
Chuck Bloom
Class of ’74 (just like you, Dave)