Saturday, February 26, 2011

Now that the dust has almost settled...

It's time for a few random thoughts here.

1. When will it stop?

The MSM is once again writing positive stories about the University of Michigan football program. However, for some reason, they still can't manage to stop putting subtle but gratuitous digs at RR into their stories.

I know they love their new opportunity to write twenty year-old "Michigan Man" memes on autopilot instead of having to work hard; I really have no problem with that. But I really wish they would stop finding new and creative ways to mention RR in most of their articles. They are writing about RR almost as much now as they did when he worked at the University of Michigan.

Why in the fuck can't they just give it a rest?

2. It's almost tournament time

While I'm sticking to my guns and still think Michigan is an NIT team this year, it is quite refreshing that they are even being mentioned as a bubble team this late in the year. As someone who thought they would win around 14 and possibly as few as 12, I see this season as a very pleasant surprise.

Morris, Hardaway, and Morgan have turned into very solid players with the potential to be national stars next year. The team has lost a lot of very close and disappointing games this year against elite competition, but next year those losses could turn into victories because of age, experience, and a little more bulk. This team doesn't quite know how to win against elite competition yet, but it is getting very, very close.

An NCAA bid would be nice, but I am looking forward to a nice run to the final four: in the NIT.

3. Is the tide finally turning for state supremacy?

Football is a game where recruiting can't be done solely in the state of Michigan; it's no accident that Michigan's last two Heisman Trophy winners have been from Ohio. Basketball, though, is a different story.

While you can't really build a National Champion in football with mostly Michigan players, you can build one that way in basketball. Ever since Tom Izzo encouraged Mateen Cleaves to turn Michigan in to the NCAA and started the ball rolling, eventually culminating in the Ed Martin scandal, MSU has had a virtual lock on instate recruiting. Their National Championships were won mostly with instate players, especially the "Flintstones."

All Tom Izzo had to do for his first ten years was say "dirty program" to the parents of recruits being pursued by both schools, and he pretty much got anyone he wanted in Michigan. Also, MSU has great facilities, while Michigan had allowed theirs to rot. Now, though, the stigma of the Martin scandal is finally pretty much worn off. Michigan's head coach was actually the head of the ethics committee. And the facilities are finally getting a much-needed upgrade.

What does this mean for the rivalry? It means the pendulum is starting to swing away from MSU and back to Michigan. Tom Izzo has proven that he can do a great job with great players. But he has is proving this year that he also does a mediocre job with mediocre players. I have written at length about Izzo pissing away his mojo with his Cavalier indulgence, but this year's results, at least so far, are even worse for MSU than anyone, including me, could have reasonably predicted.

If there is one thing to learn from the Martin scandal, it's that a team that has been on top for a decade or even two decades can fall incredibly fast under the "right" circumstances. Also, one obvious but overlooked dynamic is the rivalry is that what is good for Michigan is bad for MSU, and what is bad for Michigan is good for MSU.

What we have now is a Michigan program on the upswing and an MSU program in danger of a severe decline. All it is really going to take now for the swing to really take hold is for one five-star instate recruit to choose Michigan instead of MSU. One big recruit, and the perception will be that Michigan is once again a desirable destination for star players.

Tom Izzo is already having to work a lot harder for recruits. This year's class, while rated highly, hasn't really shown itself to be anywhere near the usual caliber of Izzo's classes. In the past, Izzo has had his pick of anyone in the state. Now, Michigan is back in the game, and he can't just convince parents and recruits to DQ Michigan by saying "Fab Five Scandal" or "Dirty Program."

Also, as I predicted during the summer, Izzo has definitely "lost" a lot of players in the locker room. They no longer give the supreme effort that used to be a hallmark of Spartan basketball. They really don't look like a well-coached team this year. Izzo is coaching the same; the kids just aren't listening anymore. They have decided that "Spartan for life" means "Spartan until I get a better offer than the one I got from the Cavs."

Izzo has accomplished enough already at MSU to be inducted into the Hall of Fame whenever he is eligible. How long will he want to endure what he has endured this year before he finally says "FTS" and signs with the next NBA team to make a decent offer? If things go as planned, an MSU grad will soon be the new owner of the Pistons. What better way to make a "splash" than to hire Tom Izzo? If that happens, I can see a few lean years in EL.

On the other hand, in Ann Arbor, there is a young team that has already overachieved this year, even if they don't win another game. They beat MSU in the Breslin Center, which was, at the time, a major upset. They are a bubble team that doesn't have a senior. They have two first-year players and one second-year player who are rapidly becoming stars. They have two very good recruits, one from instate, coming in next year. I think John Beilen deserves serious consideration for Coach of the Year honors in the Big Ten.

Michigan will have a new practice facility soon, and Crisler is about to be upgraded. Excitement is back in Ann Arbor, and it will only get better. It may even be good enough to get that one great recruit that Michigan needs to reestablish themselves as "the" school in Michigan again.

It could happen a lot faster than even I expected.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

DB, Hoke, Corwin Brown, and "sunshine."

In Florida, there is a law informally known as the "Sunshine Act." It mandates "government in the sunshine." Supposedly, any decision or discussion of any pending act is supposed to be conducted in public. While the MSM has been blowing a lot of "Michigan Man" sunshine up the keesters of its readers, listeners, and viewers, I think a lot of "sunshine" would be appropriate in the University of Michigan athletic department.

As most ardent Michigan fans know by now, ex-QB Michael Taylor called into WTKA this week, and lambasted the athletic department for not even giving ex-safety Corwin Brown a courtesy call or interview when he applied for a vacant coaching position. Taylor, for those who don't remember, beat Ohio State while playing with a soft-tissue injury that is best described as "torn everything that touches any part of the scapula."

Brown, for those who don't remember, started for two years as a DB, with two victories over OSU during those two years. His resume includes seven years as an NFL player, six years as a college coach, getting as far up the food chain as DC at Notre Dame, and four years as an NFL coach. I know that Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison were busy recruiting, but a coach with Brown's history at least deserved a courtesy phone call.

At this point, the coaching staff looks like "a bunch of old white guys and one token African-American." If I were one of the African-American ex-player/alums who are upset with Brown not even recieving a phone call, let alone an interview, I would have to conclude that there was some racial bias here.

I can't really accuse Hoke of racial bias, though; it's more a function of the system than any overt racial bias. Coaches, like any managers, CEO's, etc, like to hire "their own people" when they take over. People have a tendency to become friends with those with whom they feel they have the most in common. In the coaching profession, by the numbers, that still seems to mean "mostly white guys."

So, because most of the coaches in the game are still white, whenever a coach takes over and wants to hire "guys he's been in the trenches with," most of those "guys" are white. Coaches tend to be coaches because they focus on one thing and one thing only: football. This is not true for all, but for many. Hoke seems to be a guy who lives and breathes football. Consequently, I can't imagine Hoke even noticing that his staff looks like an audition for a new Casper the Ghost movie. But it does.

Where does David Brandon fit in here? Once again, he is asleep at the wheel. While the football guys were coaching football, Brandon was sitting in a cushy office managing personnel and money for two major corporations. There is no way a person with his resume is not familiar with equal opportunity, nor is there any way he can not be aware of the demographics of the coaching staff.

If David Brandon was the leader he pretends to be, he would step in and mandate that Hoke look at qualified African-American candidates. I'm not saying that race should be the only criterion for hiring, though; I am simply saying that there are plenty of qualifed African-Americans to round out the coaching staff.

The University of Michigan supposedly prides itself on its diversity. Sadly, the current coaching staff is antithetical to that so-called "pride." The majority of players on the team, and the majority of highly-ranked recruits, are African-American. Couldn't the staff at least be close to "50-50?"

Maybe casting a little bit of "sunshine" into the hiring process would be a great start.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

NSD and other subjects...

1. NSD not a total disaster, but not a great class, either.

When David Brandon did the dumbest thing someone in his position possibly could, and waited until less than a month before NSD to fire his head coach, especially when state law mandates that the job be held open for at least seven days before it can be filled, he put the school, the team, and the coaching staff in the worst possible position for recruiting.

In the middle of December, Michigan had six 4-stars and eight 3-stars committed, and were "in" on a few more four-stars. So far, out of nineteen commits, there are only four 4-stars, 14 3-stars, and a kicker who should have a third star. In other words: in December, Michigan had a 4-star/3-star and others ratio of .750. Now, that ratio is .210.

I want to be optimistic about this class, but really, if they get four or five players who eventually become senior leaders out of it, the recruiting class of 2011 will have reached its upside. The good news is that the class wasn't totally wiped out.

Basically, every coach talks about how happy he is on NSD. Every recruit is projected to his ceiling, and nobody has failed yet. It's like spring training in baseball. The recurring meme for this class, at least until NSD-mania dies down, will be that these are "tough kids who want to play at Michigan."

The bottom line, though, is that David Brandon turned a "batting average" of .750 into one of .210 when he decided to not only throw his weight around but lie about his intentions for over a month. Let's hope Hoke can get extraordinary results out of a very, very ordinary class.

2. The basketball team is headed in the right direction.

While it won't really make much of a difference in this season, Michigan's victory over MSU was huge. It not only temporarily stopped the bleeding, but it probably helped both Michigan's upward trend and MSU's downward spiral at the same time. I would actually go so far as to say that this may affect MSU a lot more than it does Michigan, at least for the short term.

The loss will have MSU a lot closer to the 5-seed I predicted for them than the 1 or 2-spot they are used to. It will also help to continue the dissent that is gradually building up in EL, from not only the players, but fans who are turning on Izzo, and administrators who remember that he was ready to abandon them at a stroke of LBJ's pen.

Michigan is on the way up and MSU is on the way down. Until Tom Izzo used negative recruiting to take advantage of the Ed Martin scandal, Michigan had been a superior program for most of the previous forty years, with the notable exception of Magic's two years at MSU. It has taken a long time, but the pendulum is finally swinging back toward Michigan.

I will cover this more in a subsequent post.

3. All things considered, Hoke has done well so far.

When Hoke was hired, his most important task was to keep Denard Robinson from transferring. The situation may or may not have been as urgent as it appeared, but the announcement that Denard was staying was probably the most welcome of all the announcements in the program over the last two months. The "bigger picture" is to keep a lot of transfers from happening, but Denard's decision to stay probably affected as many as ten players who may have thought of transferring if Denard had.

Next, Hoke had to assemble a staff. The timing of his hire had, of course, handicapped him, but he did a good job. The best hire was, of course, prying Greg Mattison out of the NFL and getting him back to Ann Arbor.

Finally, it was time to recruit. Hoke had to try and salvage a recruiting class that had signed on for a coach who had just been unjustly fired by an AD who was grossly dishonest about his intentions. The class had lost Florida players Demetrius Hart and Dallas Crawford, who were seen as important recruits. It would eventually lose Traverse City product Jake Fisher, too.

Worse yet, a lot of high-profile players who were considering Michigan suddenly crossed them off their lists. So, Hoke played the "Michigan Man" card. He looked for a bunch of 3-stars who exhibited "toughness," etc. What he really meant was "warm bodies who want to sign with Michigan this year." Hoke was able to fill out the roster with numbers. He brought a few recruits from other schools whose coaches had left, and brought in a kicker who apparently can kick without a tee.

As I wrote above, the class is ordinary, but it could have been a lot worse.

So far, I will give Hoke an A. We'll see how it translates in the fall.