Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What does Michigan need?

I want that. (image via Lumberjocks)
In the wake of Brady Hoke's firing, questions naturally arise about who could fill the head coaching role at Michigan. I am wading through that question in my Coaching Candidate posts (LINK), but it's a huge question mark.

Here, though, I'll try to adjust some things Michigan needs to do in the coming months, both with the coaching hire as well as the program itself. These items are in no particular order.

- Jim Harbaugh. Okay, this is perhaps obvious, cliched at this point, and a little too singular for this list, but the hiring of Harbaugh would meet almost all of Michigan fans' and administration's expectations. Alumni and recruits are pining for this guy, he's a proven winner at the college and NFL levels, he knows how to succeed at a high-level academic institution, his type of personnel is already in the program, etc.

- Bring back some excitement. Hoke's hiring in 2011 did not light the world on fire, even though he made a very good impact at his introductory press conference in January of that year. Now that the program is in a downward trend, the recruiting has fallen off a cliff (at least in 2015), donations and attendance are dropping, etc., the new coach needs to bring in some excitement. It doesn't necessarily have to be a flashy hire, but the guy has to give fans, recruits, and players a shot in the arm.

- Maintain Michigan's academic standards. One of Rich Rodriguez's failures was recruiting guys who were unable to hack it at Michigan. Especially in the 2010 class, he had numerous guys who didn't qualify, got in trouble, or had academic issues otherwise. Hoke changed that trend, and while the program was on a downward trend, the character of the players is high overall and he was able to retain a large amount of his players. New University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel stresses academics, so anyone who puts academics on the back burner is going to clash with Schlissel.

- Play nice with the media. Much like the media in New York City, the Ann Arbor and Detroit-area media will eat someone alive who makes mistakes. With a reputation for excellence in athletics and academics, Michigan has a relatively unique situation. Rich Rodriguez - with his West Virginia accent and salty on-field language/behavior - drew the ire of media figures, which combined with his losing to cause the Detroit Free Press  to launch a full scale investigation into how long Rodriguez was asking his players to stretch before practice. Hoke had his own issues, largely because he was much less open than Rodriguez and didn't share any juicy information. A coach can get away with a lot if he's winning, but a losing coach will find himself under an intimidating microscope. No coach will make 100% of the media happy, so he has to know how to walk the line.

- Avoid scandals. To go along with the item above, a scandal is bad news in Ann Arbor. Jameis Winston cannot exist at Michigan. Johnny Manziel cannot exist at Michigan. Stretching for too long will get the sharks circling. Every college is going to have its share of behavior issues (Michigan has had Frank Clark, Will Hagerup, Brendan Gibbons, Darryl Stonum, etc.), but the fans and administration will require those players to be dealt with fairly, if not harshly.

- Adjust to the personnel. Michigan is built to be a pro-style, multiple tight end, two-back offense. There are no dual-threat quarterbacks on the roster. There are few options for slot types of receivers that people like Rich Rodriguez and Urban Meyer have used. A new coach either needs to come in with the expectation of installing his offense slowly - and accepting some growing pains - or rolling with the current personnel and what they're capable of doing. Defensively, Michigan has some flexibility with the way they have recruited. Unlike when Rodriguez was here, Michigan has guys who can play nose tackle and defensive end in a 3-man front, enough quality linebackers to run a 3-4, enough talent in the defensive backfield to play with five defensive backs, or the ability to continue running their 4-3 stuff.

- A quarterback. Maybe Michigan's quarterback of the future is already on the roster, or maybe he's finishing up his senior year of high school. Current roster options are limited (Shane Morris and Russell Bellomy have combined to throw for 0 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, and Wilton Speight redshirted this past season). Either way, Michigan has arguably been without a "franchise" quarterback since 2007, when Chad Henne was in Ann Arbor. (Denard Robinson's only genuinely good year at quarterback was in 2010, in my opinion.) There are certainly other factors at play, but it's not a coincidence that Michigan has had a 46-42 record since Henne departed.

Win. Winning cures everything. The sooner, the better. Brady Hoke's 11-2 initial season earned him the 2014 season, in my opinion. If his records had been 8-5, 7-6, and 5-7, he probably wouldn't have been given a fourth year.


  1. You say: "One of Rich Rodriguez's failures was recruiting guys who were unable to hack it at Michigan. Especially in the 2010 class, he had numerous guys who didn't qualify, got in trouble, or had academic issues otherwise." While I have heard this, know a significant number of kids left the program and remember the one 5 star DB (Demar Dorsey?) who did not qualify and wound up not qualifying anywhere, I don't recall this being any more or less of a problem for RR than for Hoke or anyone else. Everyone talks about how Hoke has graduated all 69 players, but I believe every one of those 69 was someone who was recruited by RR (or possibly by Lloyd Carr), as the first graduating class for any of Hoke's recruits would be those who started at Michigan in August 2011 and are scheduled to graduate in May 2015. So, I guess I would appreciate a better understanding of why this is sometimes said about RR. Can you help me gain insight into this, please? Thank you.

    1. Hoke's statement about graduating 69 of 69 seniors is, I believe, a reference to helping everyone who made it to his senior year graduate. It's not about helping every single freshman make it through his senior year.

      More to the point, though, Rodriguez had way too many issues with non-qualifiers (guys like Conelius Jones, Davion Rogers, Antonio Kinard, Demar Dorsey) and guys who just quit immediately (Tony Posada, Greg Brown, Adrian Witty, Chris Rock, Anthony Lalota) or got in trouble (Justin Feagin, Kellen Jones).

      Hoke had an occasional whiff (like Chris Barnett), but in four years, he had way fewer issues than Rodriguez had in three.

      As for Lloyd Carr, he had his share of guys who got in trouble or didn't qualify, but I felt like he took calculated risks on some guys. Most of his signees seemed to be pretty high quality, but he would always have one or two guys in each class who were on the cusp. Hoke did a better job of retaining recruits than either of his predecessors.

    2. @Jack

      Fight the good fight. A lot of these careless cliches get thrown around without any evidence or basis in fact. The "florida thugz" meme was a key contributor to Rodriguez's aborted tenure in AA. The "but we are young" excuse was embraced and almost enough to save Hoke despite the woeful results. Neither are accurate, both are based on a kernel of truth getting distorted.

      That said, the attrition under Rodriguez was quite bad. It probably would have been a lot better after a few years but Hoke did a much better job of getting and keeping kids who would stick around out of the gate.

      There is a difference. Rodriguez is just a football coach and his interest is in football - focused on the field. Hoke was more of HEAD COACH, a guy who saw the big picture of what being a coach means on the field of life. I think this stuff matters a lot more to Michigan fans than most other programs, but ultimately gets exaggerated because, frankly, people don't like losing and will jump on the slimmest of "reasons" to fire somebody.

  2. All excellent points. I think the most important thing is to fix the offense and get it going -- that would certainly mean adjusting to the existing personnel. That's why Harbaugh would be the home run hire vis-a-vis coaches who run the spread. Now, I do think spread is here to stay, so I am hoping Harbaugh would also adjust in time, just not right away.

  3. What do you think of Michigan hiring Jim Tressel? Currently president of Youngstown, was considered a top 3 coach when he was let go by Ohio. Still has a show clause penalty which I think is a 5 game suspension, but he can still recruit while serving. Also, rumor has it that they may reduce it due to his academic work. Would be a lot cheaper than most of these other coaches, maybe besides Narduzzi. I can get over the Ohio thing, Saban coached LSU and now coaches Alabama, and that just as a big as a rivalry.

    1. Give me a break. Let's not even waste time discussing such things.

  4. He wouldn't be my top choice, but he's better than all of the "B" candidates. They could also hire him as a DC, if they got someone like Bob Stoops, or Les Miles.

  5. Denard Robinson's only bad year was 2009 when he was a raw freshman - even then he was pretty OK. Otherwise, he was a great player and broke many records. Michigan is a top 10 team in 2010 if the defense is at the level we've seen from '11-14. Denard was better in 2011 than 2010 -- it was the offense that changed. With a good offensive coaching staff and health, 2012 could have played out a lot different too. Anyway, it's not Denard's fault the teams he was on were not good.

  6. Agree with most of this stuff, though much of it is pretty generic for any school, you did hit on the stuff that makes Michigan a little unique.

    I don't know that I agree with the offensive system bit. I think you can make a case for either approach (go with your system vs. go with your players). Rodriguez won 3 games and had an awful first year when he went with system. Hoke had some immediate success and then declined every year and fired his OC, in part because he was slow to implement his changes, as you advised. Neither worked out real well in the end. That's what happens with bad transitions.

    Anyway, I don't think system is a prerequsite. I think obviously you have to adapt (as Rodriguez did in using Koger and Hoke did with Denard) but you also have to establish your identity.

    If the next coach is a spread-to-run guy (doubtful but you never know), I think he'll do pretty well with all the OL experience coming back and the solid stable of serviceable RBs. You won't see a repeat of 2008 unless there's a bunch of transfers.