The Detroit News has been publishing excerpts of “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football,” by a fellow with the unlikely (but flavorful) name of John U. Bacon.
Normally I cannot be bothered to venture into the demented world that is Skunk Bear fandom, but I found the excerpts illuminating.
They proved that I was correct in assuming that the chaos in finding Lloyd Carr’s replacement as football head coach was the result of two factors: Michigan’s inflated self-image and sabotage by Carr himself.
This is one of those telling quotes authors love:
"If I had to put my finger on anything," said longtime faculty representative Percy Bates, "it's this notion that, 'This is Michigan. Once the job is open, they're going to be banging my door down, and I'm going to pick and choose among all these great candidates. The only question is, which of these great coaches will I invite to accept the honor of coaching at Michigan?'
Yep, that pretty much sums up the Wolverine mindset. They figured that once the position was open, applicants would be knocking down their door.
The problem is that anyone worth having already has a decent coaching job and would therefore be unlikely to jeopardize that by applying for work elsewhere. Sooner or later the news would get out, and then their own players and assistants would wonder.
Essentially the fools in the Michigan Athletic Department figured that top-shelf candidates would willingly risk their own careers for the mere chance of coaching in the Big House. It’s clinically deluded behavior.
The cruel truth was that U-M had been in a skid for years. Even its best year in the last 40 – the hallowed1997 season – only brought half of the national title (point this out the next time a Skunk Bear fan argues that MSU’s Big Ten Title is somehow less of an achievement because it is shared).
By 2007, that high point had faded into obscurity to everyone except those wearing Wolverine-pattern do-rags on their mullet and swigging Bo Wine by the case.
Phil Fulmer won an outright national title for Tennessee – and they fired him when the program went down hill. Fans were angry with Carr’s unimaginative coaching style, ossified play-calling and consistent failure to beat Ohio State. He knew his days were numbered and the unprecedented loss to Appalachian State only made things worse. He had to leave before he was kicked out.
Carr’s problem was that none of his assistants were ready to take over. That was what he really wanted. How else to explain his erratic behavior after he retired?
LSU’s Les Miles definitely wanted the job, and Carr wanted anyone but him. Apparently Carr suggested RichRod, and then immediately undercut him by offering to sign transfer waivers for anyone who wanted to leave. This latter development was the origin of the “bare cupboard” excuse.
It seems to me that either Carr was setting up RichRod to fail because none of his people had a shot, or he was simply irrational. Either way, the result was the same: the Skunk Bears, who were already shaky, got to experience their own version of the John L. Smith era.
If anything, the excerpts show how important it is for hiring decisions to be made in a far-sighted and deliberate manner. Like MSU, the Wolverines were in a panic and utterly unprepared to find a replacement. The outgoing athletic director, Bill Martin, was utterly clueless. This successor, Dave Brandon, is better but still made questionable decisions.
For one: Why not fire RichRod for the NCAA violations and avoid the buyout clause in his contract? Why wait until after the bowl game – a game everyone knew U-M would lose – to drop the axe?
He may have tried to make it look like he wasn’t trying to railroad RichRod, but it should have been clear that RichRod deserved the sack simply through his own ineptitude. He was a terrible hire and a lousy coach. He lied about his previous contract with West Virginia and U-M had to pay for most of his buyout. Consecutive losing seasons despite a velvety-soft schedule built around a preponderance of home games should have told anyone that the Skunk Bears had an awful coach.
As I noted yesterday, U-M is structurally set up to win a minimum of eight games every year simply by showing up. It takes extra effort to lose to teams like Toledo, yet RichRod managed to pull it off.
This track record is why I remain skeptical of Brady Hoke. So far, he hasn’t done anything noteworthy. The offense is the same and while the defense in improved, it took consistent, tireless effort to make it stink as badly as it did under RichRod. Short of feeding the students valium in the pre-game meal, I don’t see how it could have gotten worse.
Given Michigan’s fan base, financial resources and recruiting pool - a lot of kids in the Midwest dream of playing there because of its reputation and don’t care who is coaching – the U-M football team was never going to be as hapless as the men’s basketball team. The alumni would not allow it to happen.
The sportswriters are insisting that Hoke won’t let the team melt down, but I’ll believe it when I see it. It wasn’t that long ago that the Skunk Bear faithful were wearing “May the Forcier Be With You” T-shirts, hailing him as a Heisman prospect. Where is Tate Forcier now? He’s a Spartan – no, not that kind – he’s at San Jose State University.
Forcier’s fate exemplified everything that was wrong about how RichRod ran his team.
Hoke is doing better, but that’s a pretty low bar.
I’m not about to go buy the book, but the excerpts were illuminating. As they say, read the whole thing.