Thursday, September 27, 2007

Who's Next?

I was golfing with some friends – all Michigan State grads – last night, and talk inevitably turned to the subject of the next coach.


Before taking one step further, some caveats / presumptions.  Lloyd Carr, whatever his faults, has been a credit to the program.  A fine man, a wonderful recruiter, and one who has the complete loyalty of his players.  He has been a placeholder, on some level.  Brought in under inauspicious circumstances, he was quite literally only meant to keep the seat warm for the next guy.  But he did a good enough job as interim coach that he was a logical choice for the permanent job, and the rest, as they say, is history.


13 years later here we are, at the 1/3 point of what is presumed to be his last season at the helm.  It’s been interesting to watch the tide change over the last month – two weeks ago, coming off horrific home losses to Appalachian State and Oregon, it was assumed that Carr would not get to choose his successor.  But big wins over a putrid Notre Dame team and a vastly overrated Penn State team have apparently changed the public tenor.  Now, the assumption is that we’ll be 8-2 going into Madison, with the only nervey game being Purdue.  If that happens, and we win one of the last two, we’ll be 9-3 and playing on New Year’s Day.  Not the terrible season we appeared to be staring at two weeks ago, but not the rousing send-off, either.  In that case, is he gone?  More to the point – does he get to pick the next guy?


As to the first, my guess is yes.  I don’t think he’ll want to start from scratch on offense next season.  The departure of Long, Henne, and Hart (and Manningham, at a guess) will be a fairly large turning point in the program, and would seem to imply the end of one era and the start of another.


As to the second.  I think…not.  The assumption of the fandom is that Lloyd would choose Mike Debord to succeed him.  I don’t know that that’s the case – yeah, he brought him back as Offensive Coordinator, and I think he envisioned Debord taking over after his departure, a la Bo to Moeller.  Moeller had spent his years in the wilderness of Champaign, failed miserably, and was ready to take over in Ann Arbor.  That he succeeded (largely) is more testament to Bo’s legacy than to Moeller’s ability.  Carr undoubtedly believed that Debord’s failure in Mount Pleasant would prepare him to be the next head coach, and I think that remained Carr’s plan going into this season.


But the two bad opening losses this year changed that.  The offense’s ineptitude against Oregon – and more importantly its complete lack of fire – probably crossed Debord off the list forever.  Hiring him at this point would be greeted by near-universal disgust from the fanbase, including the big donors that are paying for stadium renovations.  It would be an admission that the athletic department is, at this point, not only out of ideas and lacking in any innovation but is actually AGAINST innovation.


So.  If we take it as a given that this is the last year of the Lloyd Carr era, and that Bill Martin will go outside the program, what are we looking for?  For my part:

  • A proven recruiter is absolutely critical.  You can get away with being solely an x-and-o’s guy in basketball, but you just can’t in football, at least at the highest level.
  • Someone absolutely, 100%, no-questions-asked, SQUEAKY clean.  Their name and the word “boosters” should never EVER apppear in the same sentence.  Ever.
  • Someone who will never, ever get asked if he’s interested in the Cowboys job.  It should be completely obvious that they’re not going anywhere.  Jobhoppers need not apply.  Say what you will about Tressel (and I do), but there’s no danger of him ever going anywhere else.  Can you say that about…oh, I don’t know…Brian Kelly?  Mark Dantonio?  Cam Cameron?  Nope.
  • Not necessarily an innovator – again, Jim Tressel doesn’t innovate.  He recruits and he wins, over and over.  The innovators don’t have a long shelf life – this hire is for twenty years, not five.
  • And not necessarily a “name” with a “proven track record.”  Some of the best hires are not big names when they get hired – Stoops had a rep as a DC, but he wasn’t exactly a household name.  Pete Carroll’s last chance was at USC.  Heck, most people had zero idea who Tressel was.  Or Bo, for that matter.


So, that’s the starting point.  Stay tuned for more…


Thursday, September 13, 2007


Have any?  No, not really.


I’ve been thinking about the fickle nature of sports fandom and analysis a lot the past couple of days.


It’s a cliché to say that sports fans are a “what have you done for me lately” group.  A cliché that has a grain of truth at its core…and that’s part of what’s happening here, obviously.  Ron English was considered a Weis-esque genius for 11 games last year, and was even given a pass in the Ohio State and USC games – in the Ohio State game, a couple of busted long runs came off as a bit flukey, and that was a an offense with multiple future NFL players and a Heisman Trophy quarterback.  The USC game was (in my opinion) lost by the offense – no, we couldn’t stop them in the second half.  No, we didn’t adjust very well to their changed game plan after halftime.  But the conservatism seemed to be much more damaging on the offensive side of the ball – and postgame analysis mostly focused on that.  Why didn’t we open it up, like USC did?


Well, the bloom is clearly off the rose.  Giving up over 1000 yards and 70 points in two games will do that to you.  The worst part is that the schemes that have shredded us the last two (four) games have been vaguely similar – spread the field and throw it around, run in the gaps.  We can all see that in the stands – can’t he?  Why can’t we adjust our approach?


Which brings me to my second point.  The traits that are positives when you’re winning – in Lloyd’s case, steadiness and restraint and confidence – look like weaknesses when you’re losing.  Steadiness becomes stodginess.  Restraint becomes rigidity.  Confidence becomes arrogance.  Those supposed weaknesses seem


If we win two of the last four – Ohio State and Appalachian State, let’s say, for the two most winnable games – I doubt we’re even having this conversation.  One more stop in each game, and Lloyd isn’t reading about Les Miles, and Ron English is still considered an up-and-coming defensive star.  Two missed tackles.  A made block by Crable on a field goal and wrapped arms on Beanie Wells (or whichever borderline illiterate busted us up the middle).  So close.


Which isn’t to say that I think we should be undefeated, or that we should have been national champs, or…whatever.  Just that the sky isn’t falling.  We may win this week, we may not (holy hell, I hope we do, and I hope the ND bus rams into a bridge abutment on the way back to Indiana with the gigantic body of their head coach / gasbag cushioning everyone else from major injury).  But we’ll be back, and we’ll be okay.  There’s too much talent (and yes, good coaching) here for that not to happen.  I still think we’ll be pretty good.


Michigan 28, Notre Dame 24.  Good god, please make it so.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Blogpoll, Week 3

No, I'm not official...

1. USC
2. LSU
3. Oklahoma
4. Cal
5. Florida
6. West Virginia
7. Penn State
8. Texas
9. Wisconsin
10. Ohio State
11. Louisville
12. Nebraska
13. Oregon
14. Boston College
15. UCLA
16. Rutgers
17. Georgia Tech
18. Tennessee
19. Arkansas
20. Texas A&M
21. Clemson
22. Virginia Tech
23. Hawaii
24. South Carolina
25. Washington

Some notes:
• At this point, I consider USC #1 and LSU #1A. I want Les Miles to fall short, though, so LSU won’t completely freak out to keep him.
• Oregon looked real, real good, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll crumble against a mentally tough team. Their run defense is still problematic, but the offense is impressive. Caveats galore re: opposition to this point.
• Washington has been good, but it’s still Ty Willingham. He could still “lead” them to 6-6 as easily as 10-2.
• I remain skeptical on all the Big East teams…I still have the sneaking suspicion that the Louisville / West Virginia / Rutgers trio is all smoke, mirrors, and happy unicorns. They all remind me of BYU of the mid-80s – good at first glance, but really an unknown quantity. Case in point - West Virginia’s struggles vs. Marshall (on the road, yes, and not for the entire game, but still).
• Wisconsin and Ohio State are probably both too high based on my Big Ten bias. Their next struggle against mediocre competition will knock them down significantly. Until then, though, I’ll base this on my own preseason expectations of goodness.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

You have GOT to be kidding me.

Jesus, but that was ugly. I don't think I've ever seen us look that bad. Seriously. I actually left the room and spent most of the second half putting up my kids' bunk beds. Which helped - a lot. Reminded me that life is good. Really!

I have never been That Guy, the guy that creams Lloyd after every loss, that says that Lloyd has to go, blah blah blah. I hate those guys...they're so unhappy - even when we win. It just ain't me. I'm a positive guy, an optimist. Always.

But...Lord, did we look like shit. We weren't ready to play, even after a week as a laughingstock. Ron English, after a season as the savior du jour, looks 100% completely overwhelmed and unable to adjust. We played better defense in the second half, just as we did last week. So what? Shawn Crable is terrible against the run and unable to keep contain on the pass rush. Terance Taylor is a force but slower than hell. The safeties - my Lord, how did Jamar Adams EVER get on the Thorpe list? Morgan Trent has actually played pretty well. Donovan Warren, too, but he's so raw. I don't think I've heard Tim Jamison's name once this season.

Offensively - Ron Debord appears to have...oh, about eight plays in his playbook. TE waggle, deep out, seam route, zone run, zone run with fullback, WR screen. Am i missing anything? Chad Henne is slow-footed, unaware in the pocket and has been terribly inaccurate. I hope he's not injured, but he hasn't progressed much since his freshman year. Brandon Minor will be good, but he's not ready. Mario still shows bursts of productivity, but he appeared to take long stretches off today. He quit on Mallett's interception - not when he failed to catch it (it happens), but he didn't make any effort to make the tackle. Carson Butler was a nice spark today - what happened after the first quarter?

And Lloyd...look, I love Lloyd, I really do. He's been a credit to the program, and there's not anyone I'd rather have. Not Stoops, Meyer, Carroll, nobody. He's been a perfect fit, he really has.

But it's time. This is a team that has lost at least one game unnecessarily a season for the last decade. A team that has performed under expectations for a long, long time, and I just can't pretend I don't see it anymore. Lloyd Carr is overly conservative, arrogant, and - above all and most importantly - hidebound. He is fundamentally unable to change approach or direction unless as a last resort. He moved away from Jim Herrmann long after it was clear that a change absolutely needed to be made. He will never - EVER - change his offensive approach, despite having had as much offensive talent as anyone over the last decade. His attitude - "this worked before, it will always work" - is the mark of someone who simply isn't interested in innovation. Hell, screw innovation - how about adjustment?

He can't do it, and he won't ever. Love you Lloyd, but it's time to go. This program will never, ever, ever return to true excellence until he's gone and the direction changes.

I'll still be the biggest fan you can find. I'll still wear my stuff, I'll still watch every game, I'll still shout to the heavens when we win. Hell, my new block 'M' license plate came in the mail today, and I can't wait to put it on my car...I don't know where I'm going with this. All I know is that it hurts, and I want it to stop.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Review - "Mindless Eating"

The idea of 'mindless eating' (and, indeed, its subtitle) is simple - why do we eat more than we think? A phrase which can be read two ways - that we eat more than we realize, or that we actually engage in eating more than we engage in thinking. Both of which are true, of course, particularly in my case. And not to put too fine a point on it, but it's true for this entire fat country of ours.

And it's a powerful read, on some level. We talk ourself into eating way, way, WAY more than we realize, in about a thousand different ways. Some of the examples and strategies are surprising and interesting, but after a while, it becomes..."yeah, I get it. I eat too much and don't realize why that's the case or even when I’m doing it." So it starts well but tails off. Put it this way - I was happy that the footnotes were a) substantial and b) in the back of the book.

But, to hit some high points:

  • The 'mindless margin" is a key phrase. It’s that place where we feel fine, and are full, but tell ourselves that we could eat more.
  • We simply don't know the difference between 1900 calories and 2100 calories, and that's the place where weight is gained (or lost, for that matter). 3500 calories is a pound, and it doesn't matter whether those calories are consumed in one day or over a year. 10 calories a day - a stick of gum or three jelly beans - will gain you a pound.
  • On that note, making a change can be easily measured. Give up a Coke - 140 calories - a day, and you lose 14 pounds a year. That works in both directions - walking a mile is 100 calories. It takes a mile and a half to burn off a coke, and it's easier to give that up than walk for 22 minutes.
  • Great strategy - 20 percent less. Dish out 20 percent less - You probably won't miss it. And dish out 20 percent MORE veggies and fruit.
  • Most of us decide how much to eat before we open our mouth...we see it, dish it, and eat until it's gone. I TOTALLY do that. Smaller servings disappoint me when i see them, but i usually find out that they're enough. Last night was a perfect example – I was at Camilla’s house, and she made some pork chops, rice, and cantaloupe. The pork was…oh, I don’t know, four ounces? A little smaller than the palm of my hand, I guess – and it was enough. More than enough, really. I was full and satisfied.
  • The power of three - what THREE 100-calorie changes can i make that would be easiest for me to turn into positive mindfulness? Create a checklist - name them, write them down, and check them off on the days I do them. It’s much like my morning / evening list. Once is a fluke, twice is a tendency, three times is a habit.

Overall, lots of good information if a little scattered in its approach and repetitive. Three stars (out of five).

Next up – “The Lake, the River, and the Other Lake,” by Steve Amick. Ostensibly for a book group discussion this Sunday that I won’t be able to attend.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Oy, Gevalt

Okay, there’s not much to say…but I’ll try anyway.  I categorically refuse to say “we lost because xyz,” because this was clearly a team loss.  Everyone (save Mike Hart) did something that helped us lose.  So.  Bullets:

  • First of all, that’s a really good football team.  They played smart, relatively mistake-free football, saw our weaknesses and capitalized on them.
  • And more importantly, they’ve been pointing at this game for eight months.  We, on the other hand, have been pointing at Oregon and Notre Dame for eight months.  I would guess that even this past week was spent preparing for those guys and that App State only got a cursory focus.  You can say that’s the fault of Lloyd Carr, or Mike Debord, and I won’t necessarily disagree any more than to say overlooking them was a completely, 100% natural thing to do – I’m not a player (obviously), but I didn’t think this was necessarily worth worrying about, either.  And if this was a problem of preparation, I guarantee you we prepared for this one the same way that Ohio State prepared for Youngstown State, or that Penn State prepared for whatever cupcake they had. 
  • I guess you could say that it’s an example of Michigan arrogance – we decided if we had to schedule a cupcake, we couldn’t quite go all the way – we still had to schedule a GOOD cupcake.  On second thought, never mind that one…I don’t even know what the hell that means.
  • Henne…oh, Chad.  He still can’t throw on the move, even when it’s a designed rollout.  He really only threw one good deep ball all day.  He had too much gas on the short balls, and he threw into coverage too often.  He did throw some breathtaking midlevel balls – released just before the receiver broke out of his pattern, hit them right in the numbers.  When he’s throwing in rhythm, he’s really, really, REALLY good.
  • And seriously – Mike fucking Massey?  You’ve got the best group of wideouts in the country – why the hell did Mike Massey get thrown to eight times?  Look – I like Mike Massey, I really do, and I thought his brother got way, way too much blame for a placid defense when he was here.  But you’re down and you need to make plays.  Mike Massey isn’t the guy to make them for you.
  • Is there anything Mike Hart can’t do?  I saw a stat – when he was in, we outscored them 26-6.  When he was out, they outscored us 28-6.   I still think Brandon Minor will be a good player – but man, are we going to miss Mike Hart.
  • Ron English looked a lot more genius-ey with Branch / Woodley / Harris / Hall, didn’t he?  Here’s a question – we were getting shredded, just running around aimlessly out there – did we substitute defensively at all?  Donovan Warren played a bit, and I think Ferrara came in even after Taylor came back from his injury, and Ezeh and Thompson alternated a bit, but I think that was it.  Brandon Graham didn’t make a play all day, but Patterson and Banks never got on the field…Patterson is really egregious – we burned his redshirt last season, and he’s not ready to play yet?  W.T.F.?  In any case – you’re defending a team that’s running all over the place – you desperately need fresh legs out there.  Let’s see what these guys can do.
  • I think there were only two freshmen who burned redshirts on special teams – Woolfolk and Vince Hellmuth – both of whom can be expected to get meaningful snaps as the season goes on.  Hellmuth may have played some fullback, but I’m not sure.
  • Placekicking – I know everyone’s going to be freaking out about how we missed two critical field goals and we need a new kicker, but I’m willing to wait and see on that.  I didn’t catch how the first got blocked, but the second was all on Crable.  He blocked outside when he had someone inside, and the one he let through smothered it.
  • Lastly – I was there (Camilla’s son is a trombone in the marching band), and I’m convinced – we have the worst, most fair-weather fans in the world.  If we ever slip to 5-7, 7-5 level, that stadium will be half empty…the constant carping, complaining, screaming about how Lloyd is the worst coach in the world and that we should go undefeated with this talent, and how we should get the baseball team out on the field because they’d probably be better than these guys, blah blah blah…I honestly can’t stand being around most of us.


As to what this means for the rest of the season – Call me a Pollyanna, but I still think we’ll win the Big Ten.  This was such an oddity, such an outlier…App State ran an extremely unconventional offense, even more so than Oregon and Purdue…teams won’t run on us, and I think our pass rush will be very good.  We won’t face anyone like them for a long, long time.


And as to what this means to Lloyd Carr – again, sometimes I’m ashamed to be a michigan fan.  If this was to be his last season (pointless internet speculation alert!), our “fans” are going to make it a completely miserable experience for him no matter what happens the rest of the way.  Yes, this one falls squarely in the “games we lost but shouldn’t have” category, along with a couple Notre Dames, an Oregon, a bowl game or two, a Northwestern, a couple Ohio States, etc.  But the man has earned a better swan song than this – whether you think this was his fault or not.


Oregon’s up next.  I like our chances.