Preface 1: Yep, all your comments on my previous entry remain. At some point, I will comb through them. If yours doesn't get through, it's because you're an idiot who can't read, as I plainly said my troll tolerance was at zero.
Preface 2: In some ways, this is going to be even more controversial. While my systematic taking apart of the Michigan State propaganda machine riled up a lot of Spartans, it was almost unanimously popular among Michigan fans. What I have to say here will...not be as popular. But I didn't start this blog to get a bunch of pats on the back. Sometimes it shakes out that way. Sometimes it doesn't. This will almost assuredly be the latter.
Preface 3: I have no intention of fisking Rosenberg or Snyder for what they did. That has already been done. And Brian at MGoBlog will no doubt continue his usual job of staying on top of absolutely every possible angle the story takes. So no, I'm not going to go bit by bit taking apart the column that has dominated our lives since Saturday. Want my thoughts on the overall situation? We'll get to that.
There is a reason motive is so crucial to a criminal trial. When it boils down, motive is what makes us tick. It's what makes the world go round. If a prosecutor cannot prove WHY an alleged murderer wanted to kill the people that ended up dead, that case is going to hit the brakes. Motive is the centerpiece in explaining otherwise irrational or abnormal behavior. From a distance, the person rolling around and screaming on their front lawn may just appear to be a mentally unhinged loon. If you get closer though, you may see that he or she is being swarmed by hornets. So what's this person's motive for acting in a usually bizarre manner? In this example, it's self-preservation. There are countless numbers of reasons for why people do things. But there's always a reason. There's always a motive. And this whole fiasco involving the allegations of impropriety on behalf of Michigan's coaches in regard to the rules the NCAA dictates about allotted time for practices and "mandatory" team functions is no different. Some of the motives are plain, obvious and not very intriguing.
Why would Michigan's coaches break these rules?
The answer is simple: to maximize the preparedness and potential of their players. Here is my first shot across the bow at the old, crotchety Michigan fans: Welcome to 21st Century college football, pops. This isn't the 1970s anymore. The game is different, and if you aren't constantly working to improve, you're going to get left behind, and end up doing something crazy like lose five straight to your archrival.
But hey, don't take my word for it. Let's ask Chad Henne:
“Twenty hours is a very, very small portion of what you do, especially if you’re a quarterback at a high-profile school,” Henne, now with the Miami Dolphins, said in a phone interview Sunday. “Twenty hours isn’t enough for you. You have to be in there by yourself, studying film, no coaches around, and doing it on your own. That’s where the leadership comes in and that’s where, if you want to get better and play better, you have to do it on your own.”
So yeah. The agenda of why the coaches would want all this "extra" practice time and weightlifting to take place is obvious. To achieve greatness, you must dedicate yourself completely and totally. And Rosenberg's asinine assertion that this is corrupting the "student-athlete" experience - highest team GPA since before Bo was coach. Note that Rosenberg blatantly disregarded this. He is fully aware of it. There's no way he couldn't be. And yet in both the hit piece and in his subsequent television appearences, he has avoided mentioning it like it doesn't exist.
Why are there current or former players speaking out like this?
Well, for one, who are the current players? Je'Ron Stokes and Brandin Hawthorne? You mean the two freshmen that Rosenberg sought out at Media Day and questioned without fully informing them of what his intentions were? Of course, he couldn't do that. He had to go after freshmen because they are the most likely to be overwhelmed by the new experience of a full-on college strength and conditioning program, and hence are the most likely to be forthcoming about how much hard work is required. But he couldn't tell them what he was doing for that same reason. Stokes and Hawthorne are freshmen; they are 100% Rich Rodriguez recruits. Rich Rodriguez and his assistants sat in the living rooms of these kids and befriended their parents and loved ones. They believed in Rodriguez enough to commit the next 4-5 years of their lives to his football team. If Rosenberg had approached them and said, "Hey, I'm going to write a scathing piece in my newspaper about how your coach is a cheat, and I'd like you to help," he would've gotten nowhere. Of course, this kind of deception is not new to Michigan fans. We all remember Jim Carty and John Heuser of the Ann Arbor News last year, approaching football players for information about Professor John Hagen under the guise of writing a reflective tribute piece as Hagen neared retirement when in reality they were collecting information for a much larger series attempting to expose a scandal at Michigan that had the athletes being steered toward certain majors and certain professors so their workload would not be strenuous and their athletic careers would not be burdened. The expose was a bust, the Ann Arbor News folded, and Carty is off writing some blog now. Of course, it comes as a surprise to no one that Carty and Rosenberg are friends.
But more on that later. Back to my original point. The original Rosenberg piece and subsequent reporting by Joe Schad of ESPN insist that there is a current (or former) starter still on Michigan's team that spoke to them about the violations going on, but of course they won't name who it is. Instead, the vast majority of the allegations come from skewing the quotes that the unsuspecting Stokes and Hawthorne provided to Rosenberg...and then relying on the words provided by former players who have since graduated or transferred.
Here is Toney Clemons on March 24:
"It's time for me to make a change and go in another direction than what I am needed for," said Clemons, a two-year letterman who has 12 career receptions for 106 yards and no touchdowns. "I still love Michigan. It's still my No. 1. Athletically, this is the right move for me.
Here is Toney Clemons on August 30:
"The allegations are true," Clemons said. "Nothing is fabricated or exaggerated in that story. I was there on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. depending on if guys needed treatment. You were there daylight to nighttime."
So, like...that's two completely different mindsets. What causes someone to go from "I still love Michigan. It's still my #1" to "I truly don't want to be associated with the program back there"? In this regard, I'm totally baffled. As far as I know, Joe Schad has no ax to grind here. He's just a reporter who picked up the Rosenberg story and decided to make it into a national story (which is not a problem, it's his job). As far as I know he has no history of shady reporting or anything, so I highly doubt he pressured Clemons into anything or skewed the quotes he was given. I'm honestly at a loss with this one. Only thing I can think of is Clemons loved Michigan (obviously, as he originally committed and signed there), and when he said "Michigan is still my #1", he literally meant that, but when questioned specifically about Rodriguez by Schad, he decided to voice his opinions about the coach at the school he love(d). Who knows. What I DO know is that at no point in that article does Clemons say the word "mandatory", nor does he say anything about there being punishment if he left. And he mentions things like lifting, watching film and eating meals - none of which count toward the allotment of hours given by the NCAA toward "mandatory" team functions. And as I said, nowhere did Clemons say that these were mandatory activities.
Let's continue. Here is Terrance Taylor on October 2, 2008:
During summer workouts, players had to beat specific times for a series of sprints. If a player couldn’t make the times, he simply worked harder to achieve them.
Here is Taylor again, this time on February 2, 2009:
"I enjoyed my time at Michigan, I enjoyed it to death," he said. "I'm happy with the career I had there. I wish we could have won a couple titles, but it was a great opportunity."
Considering the quotes from October, the "bad situation" he spoke of was obviously the whole 3-9 thing, and not being worked to death under the threat of waterboarding by Rodriguez and Barwis.
Here is Taylor's quote from the Rosenberg piece:
In September 2008, three weeks into Rodriguez’s first season, senior defensive tackle Terrance Taylor talked about his previous Sunday.
Excuse me...where in that quote does Terrance Taylor say he was "required" to stay? Where does he say the coaches told him if he left, he'd be punished or benched? That's what Rosenberg was looking for, what, he couldn't dig it out of him?
Another guy I hate linking to is Dennis Dodd because, well, QED...but here is a quote from Morgan Trent in the Dodd piece:
"It's definitely a culture change," former defensive back Morgan Trent told me. "What first hit us was the strength and conditioning aspect. The lifts we were doing, that was the biggest culture shock. That was rough, it still is rough.
Small aside: Dodd goes on to say, "The story is solid and well reported, although it was a bit troubling that not one of the accusing sources went on the record." Which, like....okay. How did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
Anyway, Trent concluded by saying it's fun seeing his body change. Call me crazy, but if something is fun, aren't you going to do it...voluntarily? Aren't you going to do it...all day?
"Yes, we were there all day, it seemed sometimes," said Trent, a former Michigan cornerback now in his first season with the Cincinnati Bengals. "But if you expect to win, that's the sacrifice you make. I was a senior (last season under Rodriguez)
So he says it was fun, and that he was there all day it seemed...does this seem like a scenario where Barwis chains the doors shut and says nobody's leaving? I didn't think so.
So...for the sake of argument, let's assume Clemons hates Rodriguez, Taylor lied about being happy, and Trent really didn't have fun getting jacked. Who are the other sources? You can't drop a bomb like this and fall back on anonymous sources if you're Mike Rosenberg. He isn't an opinion columnist. This wasn't an editorial. His entire career is fact-driven. If he wants to start throwing bombs at Michigan football, eventually he's going to have to name names. And if names like Boren and Wermers and Chambers and Butler and Mallett start popping up, then this whole thing disappears, because none of those people are credible. Again, it all goes back to motive. These players have motive. They left on bad terms, and if Rosenberg calls them, they'd be more than happy to provide him with quotes that paint an ugly picture. That's why this isn't going to go anywhere. The evidence is flimsy, and the "sources" are dubious at best.
Why is Michael Rosenberg on a crusade?
This one is simple and complex at the same time. Michael Rosenberg is a Michigan guy. He graduated from the University. He, like so many others, liked Lloyd Carr. Why a member of the media would like Lloyd, I have no idea. He certainly didn't like them. But that's irrelevant. What is relevant is that since Rich Rodriguez took over in Ann Arbor, the generally sane and enjoyable Rosenberg has taken a plunge off the deep end and landed somewhere between Drew Sharp and Rob Parker.
Since last year, Rosenberg has been taken apart by MGoBlog after harping about Boren and salty language. He was taken to task by MGoBlog again after passing judgment after six games. He attacked Rodriguez for the Justin Feagin situation while conveniently glossing over Michigan State allowing Glenn Winston back onto the practice field the same day he was released from prison after sucker punching a hockey player and nearly killing him. And now the half-baked story alleging violations with no proof except some quotes from some ex-players and a couple of freshmen. Four completely ridiculous articles centered around one common theme, which would be that Rich Rodriguez is a bad, bad man.
The agenda, the motive here, is plainly obvious. Rosenberg has an ax to grind with Rodriguez. Whether it's because Rosenberg was in the Les Miles camp, or because Rodriguez is so different from Carr, who knows. Maybe it's because Rosenberg has, on more than one occasion, been removed from Michigan practices and scrimmages. Maybe he's been forcefed the green koolaid being passed around statewide. I haven't the faintest idea WHY. I just know the what. And the what is right there for everyone to see. Michael Rosenberg used to be one of the Freep's best when it came to sports journalism. While Drew Sharp relished in the hatred that his stupid ass columns conjured up and Mitch Albom somehow avoided the guillotine despite completely fabricating a story, Rosenberg was always sensible, insightful, and level-headed. In my eyes, he was up there with Wojo and Angelique from the News as the only respectable, worthwhile sports writers Detroit had. For god's sake, I bought his goddamn book, and this was after his jihad started. And it was a great book to read! But now he has let a personal vendetta ruin whatever credibility he had. He has presented a damning indictment of Rodriguez that lacks any amount of substantial evidence. Okay. You are saying that some disgruntled ex-Michigan players and perhaps one current Michigan player complained about the amount of work they had to put in. Where's the proof? This small group of five, six players, many of whom no longer play for Michigan and whose word cannot be taken at face value, are they going to go up against the 80+ players still on the team? Are they going to go up against the word of the compliance department at Michigan? Is there a paper trail? The answer to that one is yes - the paper trail are forms players signed saying they followed NCAA rules in regards to time limits. Oh, you say they were forced to sign these forms? Do you have proof of that? Zapruder film of Rodriguez threatening Toney Clemons if he didn't sign the piece of paper, perhaps?
This is, in some form, sad to me. Because I don't think Rosenberg is an evil person. At least, not nearly as evil as he seems to think Rich Rodriguez is. But he has become invested in seeing the man fail, and he is trying to use his position as a member of the media to make that happen. Worse, he's being backed by his employers. The Free Press has always sucked, really, but over the past year it has gone completely into the tank for the Michigan State Spartans. The glossing over of the Winston situation was proof enough. The fact that they did a "spot check" at Michigan State to see if MSU followed the rules that they say UM has broken just reaffirms that. What is a "spot check", anyway? Dictionary.com says: "a random sampling or quick sample investigation". So basically, a flyover. Is Rosenberg going to go investigate Florida, too? After all, there's this:
To combat any complacency, Meyer has ordered strength coach Mickey Marotti to design the most difficult offseason that Florida's ever had.
Here's the dirty little secret that isn't a secret at all and one that ALL Michigan fans better accept: This happens everywhere. If you're not a fan of that argument and want to stand on some "but-but this is MICHIGAN" moral ground, good luck. Because Les Miles operates like this in Baton Rouge, too. And this is going to lead me into my next point, which is really going to steam a lot of Michigan fans. I mean, really piss some people off. But as I said, I'm not interested in making friends. I'm interested in sifting through the bullshit.
So here it is.
It's time to admit what many of us already know: In his final years as head coach, Lloyd Carr got soft. You can rant and rave and put your hands over your ears and sing "lalalalalalala" all you want. The reports from insiders that have been close to the program for years are there. More than one, all relaying the same message: "It's a country club atmosphere." The proof is there on the field. Faster teams made Michigan look retarded. Go watch the Appalachian State game. Go watch the Oregon game. Go watch the Rose Bowls against USC. Go watch the 2007 Ohio State game. Everybody says it was the weather, and Henne's lack of health that killed us. Bullshit. It was the offensive line being a complete and utter trainwreck that produced one of the worst offensive games in Michigan history. Go read THIS from MGoBlog, right now. Read about how Andy Moeller was a total failure as an offensive line coach. If you've been paying attention at all over the past five years, you already know what an embarrassment Mike Debord was as Michigan's offensive coordinator, and you know that Mike Gittleson, while good at what he did, was horrendously outdated in his methods as strength and conditioning coach. And as the years went on, Carr's drive faded, and those "voluntary" workouts in the offseason were just voluntary. No quotes. See, USC has "voluntary" offseason workouts. And Florida has "voluntary" offseason workouts. And LSU. And Oklahoma. And Texas. And Ohio State. And basically every single D-1 school. They are "voluntary" in the sense that players don't have to attend them - and they don't have to play in the games, either. College football is big business now, and it requires yearround work. Whether you choose to accept that or not is inconsequential. But as Carr slowly lost an edge, the workouts at Michigan were literally voluntary. Players could skip them without fear of losing their jobs more often than not. That's why you get guys like Matt Lentz and Adam Stenavich and Adam Kraus peaking as sophomores and regressing by the time they're seniors. That's why you get Alex Mitchell, a guy embarrassingly out of shape, starting at right guard. That's why you get someone like Justin Boren going apeshit with the new staff. He had grown accustomed to being handled with care by Carr and Gittleson and Moeller. He grew accustomed to not having any challengers on the depth chart, to being assured of his spot on the line. The latter years of Carr saw the heart and fire of Michigan football lose the intensity that produced a national title in 1997. Instead, UM relied almost entirely on its skill level. This was acceptable against most teams. But when Michigan would face a faster team, or a hungrier team, well...we all saw the results. We don't forget what happened to start 2007. Or what never seemed to end in 2005. That's why it almost seems violent when players leave and shoot their mouths off recently. It's because Rodriguez, Barwis and all the new assistants were performing a complete 180 of what had become the status quo. Now I know many will dismiss all this and say things like "How dare you, Lloyd Carr was an honest, integrity-filled Michigan Man." Guess what? I agree with you. But don't make the man out to be a saint. Everyone has flaws. Just because you love something or someone doesn't mean you can't acknowledge that it isn't perfect. Notice how I haven't taken any cheapshots or anything. I'm not calling Lloyd a grumpy old fool or any sort of bullshit like that. It's simply an honest, accurate assessment of the way things deteriorated. And yet there will still be some that look at "9-4 in 2007 under Carr" and "3-9 in 2008 under Rodriguez" and use that as their argument, when it is nowhere close to being that black and white. This is chess, not checkers.
But hey, while we're talking about Lloyd...let's get back to the present. It's so remarkably clear now why Lloyd (and Mo and Bo) had the policy toward the media that they did. The premium message board over at Michigan's Rivals website is called The Fort, because that's the nickname Schembechler Hall acquired during the Era of Bo (1969-2007). No information came out of The Fort unless authorized by the coach, and the info that did come out was sparse. Practices were closed. There was no Spring Game. Interviews with coaches were rare, and interviews with players were rarer. That famous deadpanned scowl/glare that Lloyd had at his pressers beat back any snobby reporter trying to overstep his bounds. And now that all that has changed, now that the doors to the Fort have been blown open and Rodriguez has welcomed the media in with open arms...look at where we are. If there's one thing I miss about Lloyd, it's his demeanor toward the press, because Rich Rodriguez is quickly finding out what his predecessor knew - the media is full of snakes, backstabbers and biased hacks who will always be sniffing around, looking for something to bring you down by.
Speaking of which...how exactly is Rosenberg getting his info? This story didn't start at Media Day when Rosenberg approached Stokes and Hawthorne. How did these players who have been so egregiously wronged know to run to the one reporter who has constantly been beating the anti-Rodriguez drum for over a year now? The answer is not pleasant, nor is it clear. Innuendo has swirled on the premium message boards for a while now, with more of it swirling recently for obvious reasons. When the Feagin story broke and the Rosenberg hit piece immediately followed, nobody really questioned the timing of it - until someone at The Fort said without any doubt that the story had been hand delivered to Rosenberg. And now this. A major hit piece alleging major violations at a school that has never had any comes out just a week before the season begins, when on-field results are crucial to Rodriguez's future and any distractions would be detrimental. Could be a coincidence. But these two incidents, combined with the Carty/Heuser academic scandal series coming out conveniently after Carr retired despite being extensively worked on for a lengthy period of time...I'm not going to beat around the bush. I'm going to say what should be obvious to us all: There is a leak. It shouldn't be all that surprising, really. Lloyd Carr was revered by all in the athletic department, and Les Miles had a huge group of followers who demanded that he be brought home from LSU. And then Bill Martin went sailing, lost Miles, and ended up with some outsider with a funny accent from West Virginia. No connection to Michigan in his life. He fires all of the loyal Carr assistants except one. Revamps almost every aspect of the program...and then goes 3-9 on the field. It's not farfetched at all. There is a faction - how large it is is anyone's guess - inside the Michigan athletic department that is working directly against Rich Rodriguez. He isn't "one of them", and they have their own vision for Michigan football that they want to promote, and that means the current guy has to go. So how do you subvert and sabotage a head coach? You leak stories to the media. Doesn't matter if they're true, false, half-true, half-false. The damage is done. The fact that there are many people calling for Rodriguez to be immediately fired is proof of that. The words "Michigan Football" and "NCAA violations" have never, ever crossed paths. And now that they have, to many it is insignificant if the allegations are valid or not. To them, it's the allegations themselves that are the crime here.
There is one man that can fix this. One issued statement, one prepared paragraph to release to the newspapers, and this story's legs get cut out from under it. One sign of support, and a sense of stability returns.
Last night at Rivals, Chris Balas posted a somewhat lengthy column-type piece composed of musings and thoughts about the current situation. It's premium, so I won't paste the whole thing, but I'm going to take a snippet from it and post it here, because it is so telling of what's going on and I feel that it needs to be seen by all.
Several dozen players left the program when head coach Bo Schembechler took over in 1969 … we could search the archives to see if former players went on the record (other than the one who wrote, “Those who don’t will become doctors, lawyers and captains of industry” beneath the “Those who stay will be champions” sign Schembechler had made for the locker room), but it’s doubtful you’d see anything similar written in print.
It seems that all sense of accountability in Michigan circles died with Bo on that wretched day in November 2006. Since then, what's gone right? A loss to Ohio State with the title on the line, a loss to USC, a loss to Appalachian State, a loss to Oregon, another loss to Ohio State, a former Michigan player shooting his mouth off about how things operate on the academic side of things, sparking an extensive inquiry by an Ann Arbor newspaper, a complete mess of a coaching search that ends with the Michigan Man still in Louisiana and a group of people not ready to let that go, departure after departure being skewed by the media and other special interest groups as a renegade coach tearing down what Michigan stands for, a 3-9 season full of turmoil and pain, and now allegations of wrongdoing from a man desperate to get his name out there because his profession is a deadend and he's being backed by a newspaper desperate to keep its head above water with sensational headlines because it is quickly becoming obsolete and headed for extinction.
You can accuse Rich Rodriguez of anything you want. None of the allegations from Rosenberg are going to stick. There will be no NCAA investigation at Michigan. There will be no sanctions, nothing. You can call him every name in the book, just know that you are also calling Tate Forcier's father Mike those names. You're also calling Michael Schofield's father Mike those names. You're calling Obi Ezeh's father those names. You can pass judgment on a man you have never met. Pass judgment on someone because of something agenda-driven people say. Pass judgment on someone because his methods don't match those of a man you hold up to an ideal no one could ever equal. I'm not making a political statement here (because I think both sides of the aisle can see the point I'm trying to make), but I find it horribly ironic and repulsive that in Ann Arbor, a haven for progressive, open-minded people, the one institution that stands tallest, Michigan Football, is poisoned with close-minded elitists who will not give this man a fair shake because he's not "one of them." There are always agendas. From all sides. And all people.
One man could make this better. One man who I hope realizes that while this is a direct attack on Rodriguez, any damage done to him damages Michigan. If that is as sacred as it is made out to be, then it's time to speak out. Unless it turns out that this is not about "Michigan", and another agenda comes to light. I choose to reject that, because I view him as the rest of you do: a man of honor, of integrity.
So I ask, with my hands outstretched, and I plead: when Michigan Football needs you, where are you, Coach Carr? As Bump Elliott once aided his successor, your great friend, will you rise and help your successor when he needs it?