Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Al Borges, Ex-Wolverine

Denard Robinson had some good times with offensive coordinator Al Borges back in 2011.
Michigan head coach Brady Hoke announced on Wednesday that offensive coordinator Al Borges would not be retained for the 2014 season, meaning almost everyone got their wish. Borges sprinkled amazing offensive performances (including record-setting 2013 games against Indiana and Ohio State) in with too many horrific game plans. I said after the bowl loss against Kansas State that heads should roll. Lots of other people called for it earlier, of course, but I wanted to see how 2013 played itself out.

Borges was hired by Hoke at San Diego State prior to the 2009 season, spending the next five seasons (two at SDSU, three at Michigan) together. They had some very good years together in San Diego and things started off pretty well in 2011 when the team went 11-2 and Michigan had two 1,000-yard rushers in quarterback Denard Robinson and tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint. But things started to go south in 2012 when Robinson failed to mature as a passer and the running game festered despite a veteran offensive line. A younger offensive line in 2013 forced the offense to mostly take steps backward again, with historically bad performances against Michigan State and Nebraska.

I hesitate to get into potential replacements, because these things almost never work out like you hope they will. What I would be looking for with the personnel and philosophy Michigan has is an offensive coordinator that has experience with the pistol and multiple tight end sets. As opposed to shotgun, the pistol lends itself more to pro-style and power running, which suits running backs Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith. Meanwhile, Michigan has the horses in Devin Funchess, Jake Butt, Khalid Hill, and Ian Bunting to make multiple tight ends work. Furthermore, quarterback Devin Gardner can run some option looks out of the pistol while still playing in a shotgun type of passing offense that suits his skills. Beyond Gardner, who's only around for one more year, Michigan has quarterbacks Shane Morris and Wilton Speight in the pipeline, both of whose skills are suited to more of a pistol/shotgun spread look. Michigan has a spate of good receivers on the team and headed to campus, and they don't have the maulers up front to be Alabama, so meshing Hoke's power running philosophy with a pistol passing philosophy seems like the best idea to me.

Running backs coach Fred Jackson was Michigan's offensive coordinator in 1995 and 1996 but is rumored to be nearing retirement, making him an unlikely candidate. Wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski has been an offensive coordinator in the past, most recently at Central Missouri State in 2002; he was also the passing game coordinator at Arizona in 2003. Tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno has not been an offensive coordinator since 1986 when he was at Western Michigan. Offensive line coach Darrell Funk has never been more than a position coach at the FBS level.

Michigan's previous offensive coordinator, Calvin Magee, spent 2011 as Pitt's offensive coordinator before reuniting with head coach Rich Rodriguez at Arizona in 2012. Before him was Mike Debord, who spent 2011-2012 as the Chicago Bears' tight ends coach before getting hired as the University of Michigan's Olympic sports administrator, a position he currently maintains.

29 comments:

  1. Scot Loeffler!!!

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    1. That would be tough sell given what happened at Auburn with him and immediately after him.

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    2. Get out of here

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  2. So Debord's probably the favorite eh. How GERG...

    I don't think we'll move to a 4-WR spread or anything, but if that's what the program wants they shouldn't let the 2013 team personnel affect the decision.

    There's certainly an argument to be made for multiple TE sets based on personnel but I don't think it's convincing. Not when Funchess can play WR fulltime and Hill and Bunting haven't played a down yet. I don't know how much it really hurts you to 'underutilize' guys like Khalid Hill and AJ Williams. Butt is the only 'real' TE we need to find playing time for. The other guys can play other positions or be situational players or backups.

    RB - we do have two quality-looking power backs but we also have Norfleet and Hayes (who actually started the bowl game) and Johnson (who is supposed to be fast).

    QB - this is more important obviously, but who knows if Speight even sticks with the class. Morris and Gardner can move well enough to function in most systems.

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    1. Coordinators don't stick around for long, generally. The guy has to be someone who can make the offense work with the guys who are already on the team. If you just plan to recruit for the new offensive coordinator, the guys he recruits will be sophomores or juniors and then the guy will be fired, promoted to head coach somewhere, etc.

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    2. Also, Speight is already enrolled, so he'll have to transfer and sit out the 2014 season if he wants to go elsewhere. Obviously, most freshmen redshirt anyway, so that might not be a huge change for him. Just throwing that out there, though. He might end up like Steve Threet, who spent a spring with Georgia Tech before transferring in the summer to Michigan, if I remember his story correctly.

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    3. I stand corrected on Speight. He could leave but has incentive to stick around to see how things go...

      You're probably right. Hoke will be in win-now mode after 2013 and won't want to weather another rough transition. Signing day isn't far away and the class is about done. It's probably a moot point since I really doubt Hoke wants to stray too far from the personnel he has recruited anyway.

      Guess you can strike Rich Rodriguez, Gus Malzhan, and Chip Kelly from the OC candidate pool.

      I still don't think we have the horses to dictate running much 2-TE stuff, but I expect it to be still be pretty common.

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  3. I do not believe it will be Scot Loeffler, but that's just a guess.

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  4. A tiny point: Hoke and Borges were at SDSU for just two seasons.

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  5. I think OCs with experience in power running and pistol formation make a lot of sense, as Thunder said. I really hope we are not going to hire internally though, as the current staff is "tainted" with two lackluster seasons and our position coaches on offense don't have much experience OCing. Hopely Brandon and Hoke are willing to pay $1,000,000+, if they have to, to bring a top guy in. That should make things excited for both recruiting and momentum into spring ball. I read that UCLA's OC was contacted by Hoke, as well as an assistant coach currently working in the NFL. Not sure who that would be, but plucking a top coach should be a top priority.

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  6. I also think that the hiring of new OC might lead to further staff changes in offense. HCs have the final call, of course, but the new OC might want his own guys in. This might be particularly bad news for Funk and Fred Jackson, whose units have underperformed, to say the least. Jackson, of course, deserves to retire for his services over the past two decades. I wouldn't care much about Funk. Ferrigno did a relatively good job with the TEs, and the special team has been decent. Hecklinski also did a good job, imo, with receivers. Hecklinski also has been with Hoke since 2004. Those two are more likely to stay put, in my humble opinion.

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  7. Thanks Al for all your hard work and care for the students.

    We really can't more than guess at what coaching problems there were. Was it Borges? Was Hoke giving him bad instructions or undermining him? Was Funk not executing? It even could be Brandon meddling (he reviewed film with the coordinators every Sunday, reportedly) and undermining him (the blog post supporting Hoke and Mattison but omitting Borges couldn't have helped keep players and staff on board). Or it could be Borges. (I'm not interested in anyone's guesses, unless you have been to practices or the meeting rooms and actually know something.)

    If Borges is just the sacrificial lamb, that's bad news. It means the problem isn't getting fixed. Also, if he was fired to appease hysterical fans (including one particularly popular blogger who loves creating controversy), it's even worse -- it means the inmates are running the asylum. Nobody who knows what happened in Schembechler Hall is talking, and nobody who is talking knows.

    Also, it might not be an attract position for a top OC, if he considers what happened to his predecessor. Would you want to work for the AD described above?

    I hope it works out for the best, especially for the students on the team. Go Blue!

    Long Time Alum

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  8. Internet rumor mills rolling with the word that Michigan already has an OC in place, and will be publicized very soon. If that's true, man, Brandon-Hoke duo sure is sly. They basically did the search already and waited until the first day of class (so our seven early enrollees would have started class, binding them to Michigan) to fire Borges. I like Brandon's business acumen in things like this, but it is pretty cold.

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    1. Why is it cold? Had Brandon canned Hoke and the rest of the staff I could see your objection, but assistants do come and go. I suspect that the actual timing has more to do with when the replacement said yes than binding the students. Some secrets don't keep well, and once you have a deal with the new guy you need to move immediately and make the change before it leaks. If they do announce tomorrow then they didn't just complete the search they completed a deal in principle including money, duration, etc. Probably with an offer letter that will be followed by a formal contract.

      You may be right. I may be right. We both may be right and the timing just worked out that way. Were unlikely to ever know, but assuming this was about the EE at all is pure speculation.
      UncleFred

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    2. I am not objecting at all. Let's all be happy since Hoke hired Bama's OC. If this doesn't fire up our recruiting going forward, I don't know what does.

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  9. All fingers pointing towards Cam Cameron

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  10. A top notch OC will not be limited to one style in order to succeed. He'll be able to adapt his offense to the personnel he has. And please..you should have hesitated to mention possible replacements. Hearing a rehash of the same revolving door mediocrities is too damn depressing.

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  11. http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/writer/bruce-feldman/24402908/michigan-hires-oc-nussmeier-away-from-alabama

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  12. Brandon swinging for the fences. Wonder what this will cost him?

    At Nussmeier's age and experience, is he the unofficial head-coach-in-waiting here? Assuming he doesn't suck of course.

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    1. I certainly don't think Nussmeier would be the "unofficial head coach-in-waiting." He'll be gone before Brady Hoke is. I think Nussmeier will be in Ann Arbor for a year, maybe two, before getting a head job.

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  13. Borges may be old news at this point, but in his defense:

    1) Points per game:
    2011: 33.3
    2012: 34.3 (my quick calculation)
    2013: 32.2

    2) Someone with experience in the profession, Gary DiNardo, also thinks it was done to appease the fans. If true, that is a very serious problem at a higher level. Brandon and Hoke are paid a lot to make decisions, not to leave them to an ignorant blogger who couldn't get a paid job coaching a middle school (obviously I don't mean Magnus). They are only encouraging him to sow division and controversy in the UM community.

    Good luck to the new guy. He'd better do what the blog says or else.

    Long Time Alum

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    1. We hung up 6 on MSU this year. We hung up 12 on MSU last year. Last year vs OSU, we hung up 21 in the first half, and 0 in the second half. We had 2 consecutive games where there were negative rushing yards. There was another game we had 29 yards on 29 attempts. There were games this year we weren't putting up points - Akron - UConn. Just ridiculous.

      It should please the fans because Borges was the problem. Plain and simple.

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    2. I agree with Long Time Alum, and Gerry DiNardo about Borges being the fall guy. I don't get how some bloggers and fans determined Borges was at fault for Michigan's problems. I actually feel like he gave the players plenty of opportunities to win most games, even the losses. Borges wasn't out there throwing INTs, dropping passes, missing tackles, blocks and field goals.

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    3. It's the job of the offensive coordinator to make sure those things don't happen (or at least minimize them), and you get shitcanned when you allow those shortcomings to make your offense HISTORICALLY bad.

      You'd have to avoid watching half of Michigan's games in 2013 alone to think that the offense gave the team any chance to win them. There were plenty of stretches where passes were caught, turnovers were avoided, blocks were had, and yet no points were scored and yards were not gained.

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    4. I kind of agree with both parties here. I don't think decisions should be made based on the fans' opinions, and I don't think Borges was getting the job done. Yes, he put up a ton of points against some teams, but there were some historically bad performances. But this is the way that businesses work, and the coaching aspect (if not the playing aspect) is certainly a business. The bottom line is that the coaching staff wasn't getting the job done. The talent on this team was not 7-6 talent. The talent on this team should have obliterated Akron and UConn, should have beaten Penn State and Kansas State, etc.

      After three seasons of diminishing returns, somebody's head had to roll. I'm not 100% convinced that it should have been Borges. Maybe it should have been Funk. From the outside perspective, who really knows? But I would also suggest that the players in the locker room see something amiss. They know they're better than 7-6. And whether they say it aloud or not, they probably think changes needed to be made. And if a guy making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year can get canned, so can they. Maybe they'll work a little more in the weight room, watch more film, eat a little better, something. Now everyone knows that people from top to bottom are being held accountable.

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  14. If indeed it is Nussmeier, credit has to go to Hoke and Brandon for having a plan, executing it well and spending what it takes to get it done. This guy did a wonderful job with Smoker and Stanton, two guys who got everything there was to get out of less than all world talent.

    Anybody know how effective Nussmeier is recruiting?

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    1. There have been a couple threads about it over on MGoBlog if you feel like venturing over there. The short answer is that he seems to be a pretty good recruiter, but usually, coordinators don't do the heavy lifting when it comes to recruiting. I think the performance/results of his offense will be more important to the overall recruiting than his individual persona, phone calls, etc.

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