Tuesday, January 11, 2011

C3PO, You’re Up

When I make small talk at cocktail parties about backgrounds, I almost invariably get the question “wait, so you grew up in Macon and went to the University of Michigan?  How did that happen?”  (This question usually comes about 45 seconds after making the joke that I didn’t live in Macon for my whole life and that’s why my knuckles don’t drag on the ground when I walk.)  My answer is that Michigan was an antidote to everything I hated about Macon.  In short, my adolescence was spent as a red-headed Jewish liberal debate star with less than “stylish” clothes (as if a polo shirt and khakis is the definition of style) at an non-diverse private school where open displays of prejudice were the norm and outsiders (read: people whose parents weren’t members at Idle Hour) were shunned.  I was attracted to Michigan by the end of middle school because it was everything that Macon wasn’t: big, progressive, diverse, intellectual, and welcoming of outsiders.  The last quality was especially important to me.  By design, I was going to a school where I wouldn’t know a soul, so a public university where one-third of the students were from out-of-state fit the bill perfectly.  If I’m not from here, then you won’t be either.

I bring up this back story not because my therapist told me to vent, but rather to express why I hate the Brady Hoke hire with the heat of a thousand suns.  Michigan hired Hoke because he coached at Michigan before.  Let’s ignore the fact that his eight-year coaching record has produced a losing record, or the fact that he wasn’t exactly in demand by other schools, or that he has expressed a disdain for the spread offense that is the one part of the team that worked in 2010.  Let’s hire Hoke because he has Michigan on his resume and only Michigan Men need apply.  There’s a word for that line of thinking: inbred.  I have this crazy preference for evidence-based decisions and there is no evidence to support hiring Brady Hoke at this stage in his career other than the fact that he’ll know how to place an order at Zingermann’s.

My verdict on the Hoke hire depends somewhat on my view of the Lloyd Carr era.  I liked Carr as a coach and as a representative of the University, but I wasn’t upset when he retired in large part because he had not done a good job of surrounding himself with top-notch coaches.  It’s in this respect that he is no Bo.  Bo Schembechler created modern Michigan football and one aspect of his greatness was that his coaching tree was excellent.  Carr, on the other hand, doesn’t have a coaching tree to speak of.  Thus, the two obvious candidates for Michigan’s head coaching position were Jim Harbaugh – a Bo quarterback whom Carr declined to hire when he was looking for a quarterback coach – and Les Miles – a Bo lineman/assistant whom Carr reputedly did not want as his replacement in 2007.  If Dave Brandon’s much-discussed Process was designed to bring back a Michigan Man from Bo’s lineage, then that would have been fine because hiring a Bo protege is can be done on merit.  The fact that the Process produced the one sickly branch from the Carr tree is the reason why Hoke’s hire has been greeted by articles with titles like "Advice for the Despondent."  I couldn’t agree more with this description by Brian Cook:

I'd rather have Rich Rodriguez entering year four with a new defensive staff than this, a total capitulation. Does anyone remember Tressel's record against Lloyd Carr? 5-1. Change was necessary. It didn't work, but that doesn't mean you go back to the stuff that required change.

Lloyd’s teams looked out of date by the end of his tenure, especially against spread opponents.  (Might I mention the Appalachian State game as Exhibit A?)  So that’s why I feel nauseous about the prospect of hiring a coach who expresses the following about the offensive style of the two teams that played in the national title game last night:

“Right, wrong or indifferent, when you’re zone blocking all the time -- when you’re playing basketball on grass -- you practice against that all spring, you practice against it all fall and then you’re going to play a two-back team that wants to knock you off the football,” Hoke said. “I don’t think you’re prepared.

“I think there’s a toughness level (required in college football). I still believe you win with defense. That’s been beaten into my head a long time, but I really believe that. The toughness of your team has to be the offensive front and your defensive front.”

So let’s summarize.  The University of Michigan is a great research institution based on the concept of open inquiry, but its football program just hired a coach who ignores all evidence regarding the dominant offense in modern football.  The University of Michigan is supposed to represent the values of tolerance and open-minded thinking, but its athletic director just concluded a coaching process where he did not interview a coach who was not a former Michigan player or coach.  The University of Michigan’s football program is the winningest in college football history and leads the nation in attendance on an annual basis, but with a massive pool of revenue from which to pay a coach, it just hired a guy with a 47-50 career record.  For the first and last time, I will quote Michael Rosenberg (excluding fisking purposes, which come up on a weekly basis): the University of Michigan is better than this.


Stephen said...

More importantly, did you debate at UM? Some crazy shizz has gone down with that team in the last year and in the recent past as well. I debated in HS in GA and in college at Westminster->Emory (which makes my "accept that Barca is evil empire too" rants make more sense) and was always a fan of UM and of other GA debate folks. This post also explains your being down with the offense/defense distinction.

Ryno said...

Geez Michael, I understand that Macon will never be the center of American research and thought - but you make it seem like the Sudan.

The attitudes and thoughts present there are probably mirrored across the country in small, insular environments.

Michael said...

Stephen, I did not debate in college. I had an option to debate at Dartmouth, but decided that I wanted and needed more of a normal college experience. I'll stand by that decision, as I needed some development after the socially stunted experience at Stratford.

Ryno, it's quite possible that Macon is no different than other small towns in the US, but the Macon metro area has a population of 300,000. That includes Warner Robins, which is a pretty decent town with good high schools because of the Base. Macon, on the other hand, is stuck in the 50s (and not in the happy Ozzie & Harriet way) more than a town of its size should be. Then again, I can only compare it to Pittsburgh, Ann Arbor, Charlottesville, and Atlanta, all of which are very different demographically.

Andrew said...

Couple points:

1. Regarding Lloyd's coaching tree... at least we hired one of the guys that actually went on to become a head coach, and who, unlike some others, has yet to be fired. He was well liked at Ball State, and he was obviously well liked and respected at SDSU. So you can make all the generalizations about Lloyd's tree, but this is one guy who, by all accounts, doesn't fit the mold of the DeBords and Hermanns of the world.

2. Hoke's comments regarding the spread spoke specifically to zone-blocking, and let's be honest, after watching the MSU, Iowa, OSU and Wisco (hell, even UMASS), would seem to be on point, at least where Michigan's concerned.

Moreover, regardless of the fact that Oregon and Auburn are both spread teams, the final score of the game was 22-19... not exactly a barnburner between the best two offenses the world has ever seen.

And if you watched the game, you must have noted that it was Auburn's defense, and specifically its mammoth defensive line, that controlled the entire game. Defense, exactly what Hoke purports to preach.

So how bout given the guy a chance?

Host PPH said...

I didn't expect that Macon sucked in that way but at least you have the opportunity to go to Michigan.