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…


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