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.

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