Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bodies Upon the Gears

"There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!" - Mario Savio, December 2, 1964

Have you reached your moment where the operation of the Michigan machine becomes so odious, and makes you so sick at heart, that you can no longer take part?

I'm pretty much at mine, and I know I'm not alone. Because we cheer for a fundamentally deranged program that operates in an alternate dimension where up is down, down is up, cats and dogs live together, and disdain for the paying customers is an acceptable business model. We cheer for a program that for the better part of a decade now has seemed hellbent on jacking up alcohol sales in the state of Michigan because its specific intent each Saturday in the fall seems to be to inflict the maximum amount of psychic agony on its followers.

We cheer for a program which seemingly has but one single criterion for employment as head football coach: at some point, you must be connected to the university in some obscure fashion. No coordinator experience necessary, no winning record as a head coach required, just a stint as a position coach many, many years ago. This is Michigan, fergodsake!

...THIS is Michigan? For god's sake.

But of course even that is twisted to inflict suffering on us, because while that asinine, stupid-as-shit job requirement specifically excludes 99% of the available people, there falls in that exclusive 1% someone who could've turned this blown up train around, but in reality wants nothing to do with this program. Maybe Jim Harbaugh saw what we tried to ignore for so long, that there is some sort of black magic voodoo hex hovering over this godforsaken thing that cannot be removed.

Michigan has a shitty season, fires the coach, and fails to land the man who fit the job and time like a hand in a glove.

Ohio State loses their cheating coach, has a terrible season, and lands the perfect man for the job like it was nothing. If you recall, Urban Meyer's introductory press conference at Ohio State didn't even register as any sort of "breaking" news. It was such a fait accompli, such a foregone conclusion, that when news "broke" that it was happening, it was like, "oh, okay, they're doing it now. Whatever." Ohio State's "coaching search" lasted all of two days. The last two coaching searches by Michigan have been like watching a public stoning. One heinous body blow after another. From sailing Bill Martin to Dave Brandon's ridiculous "Process," the suits behind the scenes at Michigan reek of amateur hour. If you listen to Brandon speak very closely, you can hear the Benny Hill theme song in the background.

That's the world we live in. OSU operates like a Swiss watch. Michigan operates like week-old Swiss cheese that's been left out on the counter.

Speaking of Brandon...Jesus Christ. He despises the fanbase (are you one of the lucky ones to get a snarky email in response to a complaint about the product on the field?), is a raging egomaniac, and is in the process of strangling every last nickel and dime out of the paying customers he so derides, all while the product they pay for degenerates with each week.

Meanwhile, Brady Hoke still likes the play calling, thinks some Michigan fans should get a life, and calls even more Michigan fans fickle. For the record, his "get a life" thing is correct. But I find it amusing that the last guy said the exact same thing in nearly the exact same context, and was raked over the coals for it. I mean, I'm not surprised. The belief that a "Michigan Man" would automatically cure what Rodriguez did to the program was a laughable myth that is currently in some form of disrepair, but the belief that a "Michigan Man" would be insulated from the same media attacks that ravaged Rodriguez is now confirmed as real, in all its glorious hypocrisy. Hoke has done to the offense in three years exactly what Rodriguez did to the defense, but the chances of Hoke being fired are slim to none. Just as those who held the rope for Rodriguez laid the failure at the feet of Scott Shafer and Greg Robinson, now it's not Hoke's fault the offense has regressed into one of the worst we've ever seen, but instead it's Al Borges who is being scapegoated.

I ask: who is the one that turns the keys over to Borges each and every week? Who is the man who stands back and allows Borges full autonomy with this offense? The "why doesn't Hoke wear a headset?!" crowd is generally a bit kooky, but the fact is, Hoke is almost entirely hands off during a game, delegating complete authority to his coordinators. That does not absolve him from responsibility for what happens on the field; just the opposite. It makes him directly responsible, because he has hitched his horses to the Borges wagon all year, no matter how far into the water it goes. I'm not of the belief that Hoke should be fired, but if every head coach deserves one mulligan, than it's time for Hoke to use his with Borges, and the results must be immediate. Hoke's recruiting has been universally lauded as one of his very best qualities; but with that comes the expectation that you don't get worse with each season. Yes, the team is young, and young players make mistakes. Yes, Rich Rodriguez left nothing in terms of offensive line depth.

For some people, that's enough of a reason for this historic ineptitude. For me, I say this goes beyond simply being young. This is a combination of repulsive play calling that I'd wager upward of 90-95% of us can predict as we're watching on TV, and something very, very lacking in the coaching department. Fitz Toussaint is a 5th year senior playing for this coaching staff for the 3rd year, and looks like a true freshman in pass protection. The musical chairs on the offensive line ensured that nothing was going to be accomplished there. Kalis and Bosch and Magnuson are young, yes, and they're paralyzed by Borges's play calling and formations that wave flags at the defense, telling them what's coming. But again, that lands on Hoke. At no point did Hoke step in and take over this offense, even when it was painfully obvious that it was fundamentally broken. Can anyone say if a truly elite coach was in charge here, that this team, with this roster, would look so terrible? Jim Harbaugh inherited a 1-11 Stanford team and by year three, his running back was running for nearly 1900 yards, scoring 28 touchdowns, and finishing 2nd in the Heisman voting - while taking handoffs from a redshirt freshman QB!

None of it matters. Nothing beside remains. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. The Lions will likely find a way to biff their 10th Turkey Day in a row; a sort of perverse prelude to the pain that awaits us on Saturday. For the 4th time in 6 years, we trudge our way through Ohio State week like Soviet POWs in 1942; marched through the snow toward a shallow unmarked grave, just hoping the first shot puts us out of our misery and this hellish nightmare ends quickly. We felt confident in 2011, moreso because Ohio State's season was a brain-scrambled mess as a result of their mafia boss coach finally sleeping with the fishes. Last year most of us probably figured we'd lose, but it wasn't like this, or 2008, or 2009, or 2010, where it was just a matter of how bad it would be. We could squint real hard before last year's game and see an outcome favorable to us; not so much this year.

Instead we're treated to graphics like this...

...and the perverse indignity of watching our failed ex-coach slice and dice Oregon into little bits of confetti, while our current coach and his chum of an offensive coordinator put out obscenities like we saw against Michigan State and Nebraska, and turtle into their shells like cowards against Penn State, and lose a game at Iowa we all knew they would lose even when they led by two touchdowns at halftime.

What all of this tells me is Michigan is okay with institutionalized mediocrity. They're okay with 4-5 loss seasons, just as long as the coach losing 4-5 games is a "Michigan Man," a term I'd like to see nuked and pissed upon. They're okay with being a has-been also-ran as long as they lose in a way that's pleasing to those still living in 1975. It's okay for Michigan to suck, as long as they huddle, and the QB lines up under center, and they run out of the I. The righteous moral high ground of never bending any of the rules is what matters at Michigan.

Where is the breaking point? What percentage of the crowd has to be red on Saturday for this lunacy to be ended? What margin of defeat against Ohio State will finally be too great? What indignity will be too offensive, too shameful to endure? At what point will the gears of this machine be stopped by the bodies of those no longer willing to take part?

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