Tag Archives: Lloyd Carr

The BCS Is Not Fair, But Do Bowl Games Even Matter?

There has been a lot of fuss over the bowl selections this year, and rightfully so. Reading the official BCS stance helps clarify the choices: “The BCS is designed to ensure that the two top-rated teams in the country meet in the national championship game.”

I think people have a problem with the fundamental mission of the BCS (in other news, people do not like root canals!).

This year, many fans do not want to see Alabama in the national championship solely because their opponent, LSU, already beat them. These people, myself included, think the national championship should be about determining the best team (how about that?!). Oklahoma State or Stanford or Boise or any team other than Alabama would be a better choice than Alabama, since we already know LSU is better than Alabama.
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Three and Out by John U. Bacon: Book Review

On the copyright page of John U. Bacon’s Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28), there is a note that reads: “This book has not been approved, endorsed, or sponsored by any person or entity involved with the University of Michigan.”

No kidding.

Bacon’s inside look at the University of Michigan football program has reportedly angered many of the key characters—former coaches and players, athletic directors, the University president, Rodriguez—and Wolverine fans will revel in the details of how Rodriguez was hired and what eventually led to his demise. The greater value of this book, however, is the picture it paints of big-time college coaches and athletes on and off the field. And what a fascinating picture that is.

Through a friend of a friend, Bacon—a freelance journalist, author, and a teacher at the University of Michigan—was granted unrestricted access to the Michigan football program during Rich Rodriguez’s first season in Ann Arbor, in 2008. When that season ended with a 3-9 record, Bacon realized the story was far from over, and he and Rodriguez extended the deal for another two years.

I’m not sure whether any reporter has ever had Bacon’s level of access to a major college football program or if any will in the future. Bacon exploits this opportunity, reporting from the sidelines, the locker room, practices, meetings, and just about anywhere else Rodriguez or his players might go. The demands on the coaches and athletes are startling. Sure, there is a lot of glory that can come from being in the limelight that Michigan football offers, but I doubt too many college students would want to switch places with quarterback Denard Robinson or many wanna-be coaches would like to fill Rodriguez’s shoes after reading this book.

Rodriguez’s stresses went beyond that of a typical coach. Bacon traces the fracturing of the Michigan football family to the death of its “godfather,” legendary coach Bo Schembechler (with whom Bacon co-authored a book), in November 2006. The following year was the last for head coach Lloyd Carr, and Bacon depicts athletic director Bill Martin’s sloppy search for a replacement. Going down a list that seemed to change by the day (Kirk Ferentz, Tony Dungy, Greg Schiano, Les Miles), Michigan eventually hired West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez, considered one of the top minds in his profession.

Rodriguez’s last three West Virginia teams posted 11-win seasons with two BCS bowl victories (though Rodriguez had been hired by Michigan and did not coach the last one), with Rodriguez’s innovative spread offense breaking all sorts of records along the way. With all the tradition and resources Michigan has to offer, it was reasonable to expect Rodriguez and the Wolverines would do great things.

Of course, it didn’t turn out that way, and Bacon was there to witness everything. He chronicles the missteps before Rodriguez had even coached a game in the Big House, such as the West Virginia buyout fiasco and fumbled introductory press conference. The Detroit Free Press report on Michigan’s practice violations receives a thorough examination as well.

Undoubtedly the biggest off-field problem during the Rodriguez tenure, however, was the powerful faction that wanted someone else leading the winningest program in college football history. Bacon explores this throughout, but was unable to get an interview with Lloyd Carr. Without getting Carr’s side, Bacon couldn’t reconcile why the same person who first recommended Rodriguez to Martin may have undermined Rodriguez behind the scenes.

Winning solves a lot of problems, though, and Rodriguez could have quieted most of his critics by avoiding a three-win debut season and second-half collapses in the next two. Bacon doesn’t try to sugarcoat the losses and doesn’t shy away from criticizing some of Rodriguez’s questionable off-field decisions—in addition to the press conference gaffes Michigan fans are familiar with, Rodriguez didn’t show his face enough in public, costing him the chance at gaining supporters he could have used when things went bad.

Three and Out readers will learn that despite the PR blunders and constant questions about whether he was a “Michigan Man,” Rodriguez came off as a seasoned orator when addressing his team, always direct and confident and regularly referencing the Michigan tradition that many former Wolverines thought he failed to grasp.

Throughout the 438 pages, Bacon contrasts how Michigan handled the transition from Carr to Rodriguez to how it dealt with the last time an “outsider” was hired to the position: when Schembechler took over after the 1968 season. The flaws of both Rodriguez and the athletic department are apparent, and by the end of the book it’s clear the latter has learned from some of its mistakes.

If they’re anything like me, Michigan fans will speed through this book and reach out to fellow fans to discuss it. They’ll also—and I didn’t think this was possible—appreciate Denard Robinson even more. College football fans in general will savor an unprecedented look inside a major program, which recounts the excitement on the field and the drama off of it.

I look forward to hearing from Three and Out readers in the coming months (it comes out tomorrow). As always, post your comments here and/or email me at andrew@thesportsjournalists.com.

Brady Hoke: Michigan Football New Coach

A lot of people have asked me how I feel about new Michigan football coach Brady Hoke. My answer has been: I don’t really know. I know how I would’ve felt had one of the other potential candidates been hired: I did not want Les Miles and while Jim Harbaugh has come across as a bit of a jerk over the last few years, there’s no denying his success. But with Hoke, who comes from San Diego State and was at Ball State before that, I’m not sure how I feel, and I think that sort of sums up the hire—it’s hard to get too excited about Hoke, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

One of the first questions when Hoke was hired—well, since Rich Rodriguez was fired, really—was whether Denard Robinson would stay at Michigan. Robinson has said he will, which is reassuring to Wolverine fans. It would have been impressive if Michigan could’ve somehow induced both Ryan Mallett (who had the fifth most passing yards in the country this past season for Arkansas) and Robinson, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, to transfer within three years of each other.

Part of the reason Robinson is staying is because of Hoke’s willingness to adapt to the star quarterback’s skill set. At least that is the hope. Rodriguez said the same thing as Hoke in his introductory press conference—that he is going to implement his style but will adapt to his personnel—but it proved to be not entirely true. Granted, Rodriguez didn’t have much to work with in his first year (regardless of what he was willing to do offensively), but his stubbornness didn’t help.

We’ll see if Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges, who has never presided over a running quarterback, can make good on their initial promise. Reducing Robinson’s carries may not be such a bad thing anyway, but if he doesn’t get some freedom to run then the transition from Rodriguez to Hoke could be just as rough as it was from Lloyd Carr to Rodriguez.

Speaking of Carr, a certain group of Michigan fans is not exactly enthused that Hoke was an assistant under Carr and believes in a similar football philosophy. These people were understandably frustrated with the last few years of Carr’s tenure and were excited about a shift they had hoped would bring Michigan football into a new era. Rodriguez’s three years obviously didn’t work out, but the Hoke hire by no means suggests Michigan is “surrendering” and settling for mediocrity.

Brady Hoke at his introductory press conference (Credit: MGoBlue.com)

Look at what Carr did in his first six years as Michigan’s head coach (starting in 1995): a 55-18 (.784) overall record with a 5-1 mark against Ohio State and a 4-2 record in bowl games, including a national title in his third season. It was his final seven years that weren’t as strong, though still respectable: 64-24 (.727), 1-6 vs. OSU, 2-5 in bowls. Of course there are a lot of factors that make Carr’s beginning as Michigan head coach different from Hoke’s, but it’s foolish to pretend Michigan was not great (not very good, but great) during Carr’s first several seasons.

Another assistant under Carr, Greg Mattison, returns to Ann Arbor as the defensive coordinator. Mattison’s resume and the reviews from his peers suggest this was an excellent hire. Rodriguez’s demise was largely because of his choice of Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator, so in this very important regard Hoke made a great choice. Mattison leaves the same position with the Baltimore Ravens, and you’ve got to like anyone who was affiliated with the Ravens defense.

There is no doubt that Hoke really wants to be at Michigan—at his press conference he said he would have walked to Ann Arbor from San Diego to get the job—and that passion certainly can’t hurt his chances of succeeding. The pressure is certainly there. With each season the Wolverines are really bad, bad, or just average (as they have been the last three seasons), it will be harder for them to climb out of the hole and back to national prominenc

A Coaching Search in 2011

This was not your father’s coaching search. This wasn’t even your older brother’s coaching search. The Internet has changed the news landscape, so when Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon announced yesterday that Brady Hoke would replace Rich Rodriguez, for the first time in a week the Wolverine fan base could stop clicking the “refresh” button.

The Web resources below were in existence when Rodriguez replaced Lloyd Carr three years ago, but were not as popular. Regarding the Michigan coaching search and any future searches at other football-crazy schools, here are the game changers:

Twitter
Although 140 characters isn’t much, it’s enough to write, “Harbaugh to Michigan, sources say,” or “Miles is being interviewed by UM; likely to accept offer if one is made.” Sure, publishing to a blog is fast, but Twitter is the emblem of immediacy.

There’s still an attitude that “it’s just a tweet,” so take it with a grain of salt. Also, athletes are on Twitter, and even though they often have no idea what’s going on, they can influence people with even the vaguest of messages.

Flight Tracking
FlightAware.com allows visitors to track flights live, even private planes, and people did just this to determine the whereabouts of Brandon. This happened during Michigan’s last coaching search, but it was taken to a new level this time.

It was determined there were two planes involved in the search—one with the Michigan winged helmet on the nose of the plane and one owned by Domino’s Pizza, Brandon’s former company. Bloggers and message board posters could pinpoint exactly where the athletic director was travelling and could reasonably speculate which coaches he was meeting. It was even noted that on one trip from Baton Rouge to Ann Arbor, Brandon’s plane went slightly out of its way to avoid Ohio airspace.

Yeah, the flight tracking got a little creepy. Not only were Michigan fans following planes, but LSU fans were as well, wondering if they might lose their coach, Les Miles. Would it have become public knowledge that these meetings took place even without such a website? Most likely. But fans and media could track the AD in real time, as if they were flying around the country with him.

I wonder if the site traffic numbers for FlightAware increase in December and January, especially when high-profile schools are looking for a new football coach.

Is this Dave Brandon’s jet? No, but the coaching search is over, so who cares? (Credit: Adrian Pingstone)

Blogs and Message Boards
These have obviously been around for a while but there are more than ever. This is not scientific by any means, but blogs are bigger and better as well. I’m not a frequent message board visitor, but it was clear that during the coaching search the boards were pounded just as they would be after a game.

I know many Michigan fans (myself included, at times) who clicked refresh on their favorite blogs throughout the past few days. Not everyone has the time, energy, or know-how to access the relevant information on Twitter or flight tracking sites, but many bloggers did that work for you, culling the news and speculating on what it might mean.

The Michigan coaching situation was unique in that it occurred later than most (if a coach is fired, it usually takes place before the bowl games) and took longer than most (Rodriguez was fired last Wednesday). The resourcefulness of the media, bloggers, and fans, however, are things you are going to see in any future coaching search involving a big-time football program.

And there was plenty of false information flying around. It seemed like everyone was trying to be first as opposed to being right, a philosophy of sports journalism that has apparently carried over from 2010. Get used to it.