Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saigon


I would hope that at this point I would've gained a reputation for being at the very least, fair, if not decidedly in the "pro" camp for Rich Rodriguez. All the essay-type posts I've typed up over the last three years, I would've thought some sort of credence would be given. But alas, the moment I started questioning things, the moment I dared to speak out, I had people questioning my fanhood, calling me fake, berating me, etc. I'm not terribly surprised - if there's one thing I've learned in the last three years, it's that the Michigan fanbase is ultimately spineless and afraid.

So, as it stands now, there are two camps: one still throws out offensive ranking statistics and "youth"; they want Rodriguez back. The other throws out defensive ranking statistics; they want Harbaugh.

Before the season, I was "all in"; I have since grown to despise this term, as it is disingenuous and screams of bleating by sheep who cling to whatever they can cling to. It's the same sort of thing the (sorry, about to get political here) Bush administration did when they questioned the patriotism of those who criticized the war and other things. Same sort of nonsense I hear democrats throw out when people criticize President Obama. The "all in" crowd has tried to blur the line. They try to say if you're not "all in" for Rich Rodriguez, then you're not "all in" for Michigan; that somehow you're not a true fan. Well, there's something to be said for loyalty. But there's another thing to be said for blind devotion and thoughtlessly following your leader into the fire.

I dare anyone to question my fanhood. I was at Purdue and stood through the monsoon as we yakety sax'd our way through the game and managed to stumble into a win. I was at Iowa and UMass when the defense couldn't stop a thing. I sat in front of my TV for every play of today's game. My heart hurt as yours hurt when OSU scored, when we fucked up, etc. So no, I will not tolerate anybody saying I'm not a real fan because I refuse to stand in lockstep with the Rodriguez supporters.

There are legitimate reasons for our incompetence on the football field, some that are indeed out of Rodriguez's hands. Once again, Rodriguez did not break Troy Woolfolk's ankle, didn't put JT Floyd in the ankle lock, didn't tell Donovan Warren to leave and go undrafted, didn't turn Boubacar Cissoko into a thug, didn't tell JT Turner to be lazy, etc. But he does employ Tony Gibson, who has shown not one iota of coaching ability. He did force some bastardized, pathetic version of the 3-3-5 on this defense. He has shown, in three full years, zero ability to put together any form of cohesion on defense. There is nothing redeemable there. No coaches, no scheme, no fundamentals. Nothing. After three years. What makes anybody think that's suddenly going to change moving forward?

And despite the screams from certain significant people about the statistical prowess of this offense...well, you saw what happened today. It wasn't some outlier. The offense was similarly squashed when it mattered by Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Putting up a ton of yards and points isn't really worth a whole lot when you don't do it until you fall behind by three touchdowns. Every single aspect of this team has proven to be tissue paper soft against the real Big 10 competition. So we're able to beat Indiana, Illinois and Purdue now. We look like "Michigan" against MAC teams. Congrats, our coach has built a MAC champion. Against every single Big 10 team with a winning record, the defense has been meek, undersized, and bulldozed into submission. The offense has been tenative, turnover-prone, and they make mistakes like they're still learning how to play football. Penalties, fumbles, dropped passes - against the physical elite in this conference, this offense turns to goo, because they're soft, both mentally and physically. The wide receivers are pretty good at catching the ball...except against legitimate, "old school" Big Ten defenses. Then they get alligator arms and start dropping everything. The running backs are physical...until they face physical defenses, then they go down on first contact and cough the ball up. The quarterbacks are accurate and make plays...until they play good defenses, then they turn the ball over and are wild with many of their throws.

So yeah, I'm off the bandwagon. I'm "all in" for Michigan, and that means I'm ready to abandon this wild experiment, admit it was a sunk cost, and ditch everything associated with it. And the whole "We can't go through another 3-4 years of rebuilding" is a red herring. If that's your best justification for keeping a coach, then that says it all.

I don't take pleasure in any of this, I hope people realize that. There are those who secretly (and perhaps not-so-secretly in some places) took delight in what happened today because it serves as more vindication for their stance. Not me. My heart is broken over all this. I never want to see Michigan swirling the drain like we are now. And I desperately wanted Rodriguez to win because I saw and am aware of how unfairly he was treated when he arrived, how he had essentially zero support on the inside when he took over. But I've reached the point where I no longer trust him to turn the corner. Getting revenge against no-counts like Illinois and Purdue was important, but, for me anyway, we had to show something more than we did against the upper tier of the conference. Watching the games against MSU, Iowa, Penn State (who isn't even upper tier this year), Wisconsin, Ohio State...I saw no difference in these games than what was on the field in 2008 and 2009. In some cases, it was even worse.

So, for those of you who remain loyal to the coach and still believe he is the man for the job and think he deserves more time, I admire your conviction, even if I no longer understand it. And for those who believe the time for change has arrived...I begrudgingly ask for a seat at the table.

At the end of the Vietnam War, there was no war at all, really. The violence had long since ended, the gunfire long silenced, the ambush attacks by the rebels long quieted. Instead there was a steady, solemn withdrawal by US forces as they realized everything they had invested was going to be for naught. And as the Communist forces finally closed in on the city of Saigon, the final helicopter loaded up what it could, trying to get as many people as it could to safety before the city fell. They were allowed to leave, and shortly thereafter, PAVN tanks rolled in, the final candle of democracy in Vietnam was extinguished, and all the blood, sweat and tears poured into the country in the name of freedom were rendered moot.

I'm certainly not comparing something as ultimately trivial as football to something as real and horrifying as war, but as a history major, I can't help but see the parallel. And right about now, Michigan football is reaching the point where the final helicopters are warming up on the roofs of the embassy, with refugees trying to board as enemy tanks and winds of change close in.

I predicted after the end of last season that 2010 would be the end for Rich Rodriguez. A year later, my prediction remains the same. And my heart is heavy.

10 comments:

Jim15032 said...

Thanks and well said.

I feel sorry for the players, who doubtless have worked hard, but without direction. The coach's first job is to help the player develop his skills. The Xs and Os are, as they say in the South, less important than the Jimmies and Joes.

And RR has not realized this. Where did the juniors and seniors go? What of the vaunted S&C program?

M wants another Tressel. Someone like that is out there somewhere.

Alex Bean said...

I've been a supporter and defender of Rodriguez since he arrived at Michigan three years ago, and I still think there's a lot of good and a hell of a lot of potential in his (potential) future as Michigan's coach.

That being said...it's become increasingly difficult to shake the feeling that his tenure has been snake-bitten from the start and that we have passed the point from where that could be overcome. The negative press, endless speculation, and seemingly retarded development of the team are all incredible burdens for a program as proud as Michigan and the idea of Harbaugh coming in and wiping it away with his hubris and drive is...comforting. I can already see the masterful media narrative that would be and it makes me feel both happy (at the prospect of positive light being shined upon M) and queasy (at the endless lack of justice or anything like that in the universe).

Brian made a comment on Mgoblog a few months ago, mentioning the possibility of some tell-all about Rodriguez's time at Michigan if he is fired this year and I cannot even fathom how rough a read that would be. The man has obviously thrown every bit of himself into this team and it has done nothing but turn around and bite him. Maybe Rodriguez leaving Michigan for somewhere like Miami will be the happiest outcome for all parties? I'm afraid I'm past knowing for sure.

James said...

You said it perfectly. I was in RR's corner for a long time and really wanted it to work out. I now think we need a change, but I feel pretty sad.

Thomas said...

So if Harbaugh doesn't want/accept the job.....then we're screwed for at least another 3 years. I'm sorry, but I am willing to give the man another year before we pull the plug. I also don't understand people who think Harbaugh even *wants* this job. Firing RR right now could very well doom us to Notre Dame/Miami scenario and I can't even fathom that right now.....

Ed said...

I am also finished with the Rich Rod experiment. I wish it had worked out, however, I have no faith that Rich Rod can win here.

People keep bringing up next year, they cite the youth and stats... especially the stats. As if you can win games by piling up empty yards. They point to all the 1st and 2nd year players and say, "Wait till next year, they are going to be much better". Better?... one would think they would have to, considering they can't get any worse.

The 2 and 3 star players this year that are undersized, will still be undersized next year. The front 7 were not filled with young players... so what excuse do they have? It wasn't the back end that was being bulldozed, game in game out.

People then say, "Well it's the scheme... all we need is a new DC". As if a new DC will solve everything. You can bring in a new DC, but the same issues will be there. People got on Rich Rod for not spending enough time with the Defense. Actually the problem is he spent to much time with them. Instead of letting GERG bring in his own people and run his own scheme... he saddled him with mostly bad coaches, and made him run something he didn't know... and something he didn't believe in.

So GERG becomes the scapegoat. Rich Rod gets a new DC, and makes him run this inept whatever it is... with this same staff...and we are right back were we started from. These 2 and 3 star players, who will still be small next year... as compared to the rest of the conference... will be adjusting to a new DC running the same garbage... oh joy. This a recipe for success.

Lets talk about the Chernobyl that is special teams. Again... how exactly are special teams going to get better? Rich Rod kept sending the same player out to return kicks and punts... why? Every time that kid was back there, doom was waiting. How about putting in somebody else, like a kid whose red shirt you already blew... like Dileo. A simple adjustment was needed, yet none ever came. Could it have been worse? Rich Rod kept trotting out the same kicker, game after game. He said, "well... he makes them in practice"... yeah great. Guess what... he can't make them in games. How about this... why not try the other guy? You know the one... the one you have on scholarship. Let him try to make s chip shot. Again, though... no adjustment came, although it would have been a simple one.

So, that leaves us with the Offense. These fervent Jihad warriors of Rich Rod... point to the stats, and say... just wait till next year, you'll see.

Denard turned the ball over last year. He turned the ball over this year. Somehow, during the course of one off season, and during this season... he apparently learned nothing about ball security. So.. next year, I guess the light will come on, and he is going to learn to take care of the football in year 3. I suppose Denard will also get more durable.

Of course, with the arrival of Demetrius Hart next year, everything will be terrific... oh wait, he will be a freshman. Get ready for that excuse.

I am amused by the people that say with Harbaugh, Michigan will not be competing for National Championships, rather only B10 Titles... unlike Rich Rod who has his sights on higher goals. Exactly how is Rich Rod supposed to win a National Title... when he is getting killed in the conference?

Part of me almost hopes Rich Rod comes back. 1. Because he is a good man and I do like him. But 2... I will be fascinated by what excuses the fanatics will have next year.

Nedved963 said...

"that means I'm ready to abandon this wild experiment".

I assume by experiment you're referring to the part where Michigan realizes there is no magic secret to beating a great coach (Tressel) at an established program at home doing the same thing that school already does, and tries what the national champions do. Is the answer to all of this really to out-ohio state ohio state? That doesn't seem to be a credible strategy at this point, just like it hasn't been since he got there and started his streak against Carr.

Doesn't history show you that by copying an incumbent's strategy with inferior resources (local talent, recent success, no scruples, bigger athletic budget at OSU) basically concedes the crown? The Big Ten at large is trying to do that and how successful have they, and Michigan, been at beating Ohio State in dozens of tries? Michigan would be waiting until Tressel is gone and hope that Michigan can capitalize if they've got any credibility left (I assume Tressel will be there for awhile still, with that defense, winning the Big Ten's game by Big Ten rules for the foreseeable future).

Unless Harbaugh or another Pro-Style coach is so much better than Tressel that he can overcome all those obstacles and fast enough to give people hope. Especially when Harbaugh won't have the leeway to recruit 40 kids and let the non-qualifiers fade away without consequences. But as you said things might be more friendly with someone besides Rodriguez, maybe not even Harbaugh.

Basically, Michigan (and I am a fan) has gotten what it deserved given it's modus operandi before and while Rodriguez has been here. And regarding Rodriguez it's going to get what it deserves as well, for better or for worse. But trying to be better and different, with Rodriguez or Harbaugh or someone else, seems like a much better idea than trying to recreate more 13-7 fourth quarters that Michigan has no business (structurally) being on the favorable side of.

Lankownia said...

The article is a fun read, is well thought out, and the author does make a solid effort to be fair to RR. BUT, despite its length, the meat of the criticism boils down to a only few key points, each of which is highly debatable.

For example, the attention to Detail ting.

Re: special teams, the punt unit has been great; why? personnel. the kicking unit has been awful; why? personnel. Its not liking Michigan's never had to resort to walk-ons kicking the ball.

Re: fumbling. I'd feel more comfortable about the assertion that RR team's always fumble if it was backed up by stats. I'm not even sure this team, on a per carry or per possession basis, fumbles more often than UM teams of years past. If they do, how much of it can be explained by youth (primarily sophomores carrying the ball)? And if it is, shouldn't we let the man that turned Chris Perry from a fumbling fool into a reliable rock his senior year (Fred Jackson) do the same for Denard/Smith/Gallon?

Re: Attention to Detail under Lloyd: I recall Navarre repeatedly throwing into his OL throughout his career. I recall many awful INTs and overthrows when Navarre was a sophomore QB (and even a junior). I recall plenty of key drops and fumbles from a variety of players. I recall plenty of missed tackles and boneheaded Shawn Crable errors. Theres some revisionist history going on here.

Finally, the notion that the defense just serves as a practice squad for the offense just comes off as unbelievable and unfair. I think it undermines the entire passage. There's no way ANY successful head coach views defense with such disrespect. RR may not emphasize it as much as we'd like, but the author is exaggerating here.

....

It's the best case I've seen for firing RR and yet... it's still not very convincing.

James said...

Alex Bean: I'm not so sure a tell-all about RR's tenure would be as favorable to him as you make it sound. The expression "bull in a china shop" has been used a few times by knowledgeable people to describe the way he arrived on the scene.

Hemlock Philosopher said...

Here's the "ting" about statistics: They don't mean a damn thing. You can talk all you want about "per carry basis"; it's folly. We have one of the worst TO margins in the country. We fumble way too much.

We just got humiliated by our biggest rival and smashed by Wisconsin. There has been no progress versus our conference foes. None.

kevin said...

Wow, very long but I needed to read this to be sure and guess what, I am still unconvinced. What can I say? lord knows I don't want to be labeled a sheep, but I just can't say he has got a fair shake in 3 years. Absolutely the biggest challange to my "All in for Michigan" especially with the Bush comparison. Politics aside I will be watching this Gator Bowl with a close eye albeit through maise and blue glasses. I am guilty of throwing out those youth and offensive statistical numbers but I am so in the "you can't out Ohio State @ Ohio State" camp nothing seems to shake it. I do sense a little anti Rich Rod in your article and am concerned with some quotes particularily the one about Denard, but this was tough to read and not go all in for Harbaugh. I want one more year and yes I expect some magical thing to happen to improve the defense and get us our ten wins and beat the best the Big Ten has to offer, if, in fact this doesn't happen I am at the table with you and no heavy heart necessary.