Thursday, February 24, 2011

Who’s in the Mood for an Exercise in Generalization?

My operative theory on why the Big Ten underperforms despite outpacing every major conference other than the SEC in revenue generation is that the conference’s members do not spend their lucre on hiring brand name coaches. Rather, because of the Midwestern cultural bias towards blandness, they hire guys like Tim Brewster and Danny Hope instead of Bobby Petrino and Steve Spurrier because G-d forbid we pay for clothes and a car that make us look … flashy!

Michigan’s hire of Brady Hoke might have been the result of simple desperation. Dave Brandon assumed that he had Jim Harbaugh in the bag and when Harbaugh had second thoughts after NFL teams started chasing him, Brandon was left without a Plan B. However, the Hoke hire might also have been a classic example of what I’m talking about. With the money that Michigan potentially has to spend on a head coach, Brandon could have gone from candidate to candidate with the pitch “how would you like $4 million per year to coach a famous program in a famous stadium?” Instead, he picked the desperate girl whom he knew would go home with him the minute he raised the possibility. (Who knew that Dave Brandon and Cristiano Ronaldo have something in common?) To speculate for a moment, Brandon’s Midwestern sensibilities made him more likely to pick an unassuming guy without, you know, a big ego caused by numerous on-field successes.

With Hoke onboard and the rational members of the Michigan fan base thoroughly unimpressed, the PR machine has to go into full swing. What better way to sell the guy to your fan base than by portraying the new coach as a simple everyman? Short of finding a picture of Hoke driving into the parking lot of a Meijer in a Dodge Stratus, Michael Spath hits all of the notes with a frankly ludicrous piece. Spath’s thesis is that “almost everyone [in Michigan’s athletic department] is already impressed.” (Thank heavens that the athletic department won’t be acting to undermine the head coach by cooperating with the Detroit Free Press on a chilling expose that leads to the conclusion that Michigan was misclassifying ten minutes of stretching at the start of each practice! I guess that’s progress.) Spath’s evidence? I hope you’re sitting down for this: Hoke didn’t play Score-O at a Michigan hockey game. I shit you not, the following two paragraphs made it into a major online publication:

Three years earlier, Rich Rodriguez donned a Maize and Blue hockey jersey and took a stab at Score-O - the second-period intermission game in which three contestants attempt to slide a shot from the blue-line through a tiny opening into the net. The student section roared with delight. That was Rodriguez's way and that didn't make it wrong but his occupation of the spotlight did offend some folks.

Flash-forward (or rewind) to Friday night. Hoke stepped onto the ice from the north entrance wearing jeans and an untucked collared blue shirt. He looked uncomfortable as the patrons rose to their feet just as he appeared a bit out of sorts at a men's basketball game a few weeks ago. Hoke probably would have retreated quickly, disappearing out of sight, but the band broke into a rendition of The Victors and Hoke was soon pumping his fists in unison with the crowd.

If there are actually a non-trivial number of Michigan fans who were offended that Rich Rodriguez played Score-O between periods at a hockey game, then the program has bigger problems than I thought. Heaven forbid that the highest-paid employee at the University of Michigan, the man up front for the winningest program in college football history actually acknowledges that he is in the spotlight! Thank goodness that we’ve hired a guy who is going to do his work in front of 110,000 paying customers and millions watching on TV, but is uncomfortable with attention. This is bound to work out well!

Spath’s second piece of evidence is testimony from a current Michigan assistant coach that Hoke doesn’t engage in self-promotion. Leaving aside the obvious “what the hell do you think an assistant coach is going to say to a reporter about his boss?” factor, it seems fairly clear to me that Hoke doesn’t engage in self-promotion because he has nothing to promote! On a related note, I would like to brag that I am a committed husband because I haven’t slept with Salma Hayek. Thank goodness that Michigan doesn’t have a larger-than-life figure as its head coach. We all know that the program couldn’t prosper with a guy like that.

As with Dave Brandon’s "I stared into his eyes and saw his soul" defense of an indefensible hire, there are two possibilities here. One is that Spath is doing his best to make the best of a bad situation. Michigan has hired a coach with an underwhelming resume, so let’s find some way to build the guy up. How about the fact that he looks like a slob!?! The second is that Hoke’s underwhelming persona is actually a positive. If that’s the case, then Spath’s mindset is the Platonic ideal of why Big Ten football fails. It is generally (but not universally) true that successful head coaches have big egos. The level of adulation that fans and the media heap on coaches who win makes this a natural result. If having an ego is a red flag for Big Ten programs, then they’ll just keep hiring guys who get broiled 49-7 in Orlando. If the focus is on having rock-ribbed, square-jawed Midwesterners instead of guys who have actually won things, then the league can look forward to more 0-4 New Year’s Days. Southerners can be as provincial as anyone, but at least we demand that our ADs hire on the basis of credentials instead of stereotypes.


Robert said...

Meijer's? Come on, you've spent enough time in Michigan to know better than that. It's Meijer.

Dr. Billi Gordon said...

I, as a Michigan Alum, take serious umbrage to the tonality of this article. As the kids say, "hater"... We're the winningest program in football history, and no southern school is even close... okay? Brady Hoke was an excellent hire, much better than Harbaugh would have been for a variety of reasons. I would never expect a southerner to grasp that though because if you had the intellect to understand such complexities you wouldn't be a southerner. Hoke is like Bo Schembechler, so let's talk again in 2012 when Michigan beats Alabama in Tuscaloosa like they're waffle mix. --Dr. Gordon

Anonymous said...

I think the Big Ten went 0-5 on NYD. But I doubt that'll happen much in the future: Nebraska seems to operate a little more like a football program and less like a fainting couch convention.

Michael said...

Dr. Billi,

Would you like to see the Michigan degree on my wall? The one that has "High Honors" on it?

Alabama, the team that we are playing in 2012 in DALLAS, is close to us in wins and winning percentage. They are ahead in bowl wins and national titles.

If you can make the case for Hoke having a resume like Bo's, then more power to you. One won in the MAC and the other did not.

Michael said...

PS, you're misusing the word "tonality." Look it up.

Hugs and kisses,
Dumbass from Georgia

Long-time reader said...

Don't be too offended Michael, Dr Billi was just taking the title of the post to heart.

Anonymous said...

"Long time reader"....I had to lol at your comment, and it was so true.

Rob Pollard said...

Re an earlier comment: Well, Nebraska somehow got beat by a 6-6 Washington team it had thumped earlier in the year, so I wouldn't count on them to lead the Big 10 to glory; Tom Osborne has long since left the building.

This article is spot on. I hope Hoke does well, but that's hope based on just that - hope, not on his sub .500, zero conf championship experience.

One thing has changed a bit though: you may have seen that UM opened the vault for Mattison. I don't necessarily think he'll be world-beating, but at a minimum, he'll be thoroughly competent, which will be a definite step up from GERG.

Anonymous said...

Gussy it up however you want, but the Hoke hire sucked. It's LLLoyd 2.0. He's safe. He can sing the fight song. He doesn't cause the 55+ crowd to shit their pants because the offense is too fast for them to follow.

Keep making excuses. The hire was awful and it made Michigan a laughingstock.

Anonymous said...

I also am a Michigan alum, and I don't care whether Michael is or not. He speaks the truth. Perhaps Dr. Gordon is a Michigan alum, perhaps not, but one thing I can say is that he should know that it doesn't matter where someone comes from, or whether they're "Michigan Men" or not. I am so freaking tired of "Michigan Man" statements. Let me refresh your memory as to where it came from. Out of the mouth of a man who wasn't a "Michigan Man" when he was hired speaking about the coach who had just accepted another job. A coach he couldn't stand. The "Michigan Man" that Bo (just in case you didn't remember) put in wasn't even the man Bo wanted. However, winning a national championship tied Bo's hands and he had to hire him.

In fact most of the great hires in Michigan athletic history weren't "Michigan Men or Women." Some were. Don Canham being the best of those, with Red Berenson coming in a close second. Let's look at the other great hires who weren't Michigan Men or Women: Fielding Yost, Fritz Crisler, Bo Schembechler, Carol Hutchins, Johnny Orr, just to name a few.

Hoke is a fine human being, but let's not think that he should ever have been plan a, b, or c. I hope he works out, but if Michigan had just been willing to spend real money on assistants coaches in the past we'd probably be in a whole different place. We attempted to spend money on coaches like we did in the 80's and we never developed any assistants of any greatness. Lloyd's coaching tree looks more like a Charlie Brown x-mas tree than a strong oak. We're still trying to harvest coaches from Bo's tree. (Les Miles, and Harbaugh, not a great tree either really but then again it's been 22 years since Bo coached so not really his fault any more). Let's hope Hoke is good, let's hope that the 1 million offers sent out in the past two weeks is a good thing. (Though it doesn't seem like it to me.) And let's hope he can utilize the talent well. But there's a lot of hope there with little more than a promise of passion from the coach. Passion is fine, but it don't win ball games. Talent and strategy generally win ball games.

Robert said...

Alabama claims 476 national titles, including one two years ago, and UM has won .5 of a national title in 60 years. The sooner that Michigan and the Big Ten generally stop pretending that wins before WWI mean something, the sooner the SEC will gain some real competition.

And to be fair, Michigan was a laughingstock long before they hired Brady Hoke. Did you watch a game coached by Rich Rodriguez?

Anonymous said...

Let it go, Michael. The guy is the coach and your article does nothing but a disservice to Michigan fans and the University. Either get on board with your team or shut the fu*k up.

Michael said...

You're right, anon. I ought to swallow whatever crap is served up on a platter by the mouthpieces of the athletic department. This pasta bowl is the best thing I've ever eaten! Hoke's slobbiness makes him more likely to win! Of course, why didn't I think of that.

Are you also one of those people who claims that dissent during a war is unpatriotic?

Anonymous said...

The worst part of the boosterism is that its taking away from some real, genuine excitement that should come from adding good coordinators to a veteran team playing a soft schedule. Carr never had a tandem like Borges & Mattison; he paired Mattison with the comedic stylings of Fred Jackson.

I mean, they could be pretty good next year. They would have been better by giving RR a $750,000 coordinator, but still.

Unknown said...

In defense of Bradie Hoke, how many games did Ball State lose by playing above it's level, i.e. Big 10 games for the payday. How does that effect his record?
His last year at San Diego State he loses to #2 TCU and #12 Missouri by very close scores and blows out a good Navy team in a Bowl Game.
I tried to defend RichRod but 52 points in a Bowl Game with a month to prepare? Undefendable (no pun intended).
What was Gene Chizik's record at Iowa State before going to Auburn?

'Nuff said.

Devil's Advocate said...

What is Chizik's record without Cam Newton?

Jack said...

Wait. Brian Cook at MGoBlog is a "rational" fan? Since when? The dude is as emo as it gets.