Thursday, September 3, 2015

Elysium


In 2011, Brady Hoke declared "this is Michigan, fergodsake", and thought referring to Ohio State as "Ohio" while refusing to wear the color red was some sort of high and mighty insult. It was the football equivalent of a WWE wrestler taking the mic and saying, "it's great to be here in ________." A cheap pop designed to reach the lowest common denominator of fans without providing anything of substance whatsoever. Four years later he was apologizing to Mark Dantonio 24 hours after Dantonio's team finished off their second straight skull-raping of the festering corpse that was once Hoke's program. A month later, Hoke was again the bug on Urban Meyer's windshield; a mild nuisance but in no way an obstacle. It may legitimately take over a decade for Urban Meyer to lose as many games at Ohio State as it took Brady Hoke to lose in four years at Michigan - including the 11-2 2011 season.

And now, an anecdote:
“After we take some pictures, we start talking, just the two of us,” Beamer said. “Jim says over and over how much respect he has for Georgia Tech. He must have said it five times. I’m just looking at him like, ‘Are you serious?’
“Finally, I’m joking with him and I say I can’t wait to tell my team that you called us Georgia Tech. Because, you know, we’re Virginia Tech.”
Harbaugh then threw his infamous shark expression at Beamer: mouth agape, eyes on fire, looking poised to chomp. Harbaugh’s assistants have seen this look for years; he sometimes holds it for about 30 seconds without speaking, causing everyone in eyeshot to wonder what is flowing through his mind -- if anything.
Beamer continued to lock eyes with Harbaugh for a few moments, waiting for him to say something, anything. It may have been the most uncomfortable silence of Beamer’s life.
“Well,” Harbaugh finally told Beamer. “I can’t wait to tell my players that you said you were going to play Samford, not Stanford!” He then turned and walked away.
We have yet to see that "infamous shark expression" from Harbaugh in a Michigan hat and shirt, but we all know what it looks like regardless.

As MGoBlog might say: a window into the mind of a twisted soul.

Of all the awesome analogies and metaphors Brian has made over the years, I thought the one he made about Hoke in this post was perhaps the best. Brady Hoke was Wile E. Coyote, running over the cliff and suspending himself in midair before realizing he's no longer on solid ground, and there's nothing for him to do but fall; nowhere for him to go but down.

It says here that Jim Harbaugh is some amalgam of Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, and The Joker from The Dark Knight; a menacing psychotic who brings destruction to those who get in his way.

Would anyone really, really be surprised if Jim Harbaugh jogged out onto the field in Salt Lake City tonight with maize and blue paint on his face in the style of The Joker? Jim Harbaugh is not interested in your thoughts, your opinions, or your questions about Jake Rudock or Shane Morris. He only wants to watch the world burn, preferably after he has shifted his offensive line a couple times and run power into your face. Jim Harbaugh may not care who kills who now, but I bet you he believes that whatever doesn't kill you simply makes you...stranger.

I, like many of you I'm sure, like to binge watch old football games/highlights on YouTube to get the juices flowing as the season approaches. This year, over the last week or so, I've taken a slightly unconventional approach. Instead of watching old Michigan games, I decided to watch Michigan State instead. A bizarre practice, I know. That included the hardcore prison-poundings MSU has demolished Michigan with the last two seasons. I tell ya, that 2013 game was paradigm-altering. Hindsight, sure. But I don't believe Devin Gardner ever truly recovered from what happened to him that day. That game didn't truly slip away into blowout territory in terms of the score until the 4th quarter, but Michigan never had any chance of sniffing the endzone that day. That game was a special type of medieval torture, the type of football porn that surpasses even what Michigan's defense did to Penn State in 2006.

This game was the moment where MSU passed Michigan. Michigan beat MSU in a vintage 1970s-style Big Ten 12-10 slugfest in 2012, and while U-M finished a mediocre 8-5 that year, MSU finished a worse 6-7, and everyone, from the deranged lunatic pizza man AD down to the fans, believed that U-M had corrected the balance that had been derailed during the Rodriguez years. During the course of that 60 minute bloodletting in East Lansing in 2013, MSU violently dispelled us of that notion. Michigan fans who still use the "Little Brother" slur or point to all-time records or ancient history are fools. There is every reason to expect Harbaugh to elevate U-M to meet the challenge; but to ignore the situation that exists right now is a practice in ignorance. In the last five years, Michigan State has three 11-win seasons and a 13-win season. Their last two squads have matched or surpassed almost any Michigan team that many of us have ever witnessed in our lives. They remain to date the only Big Ten team to beat Urban Meyer's OSU outfit.

They are not a fluke, a flash in the pan, or lucky. There was a moment where Mark Dantonio's tenure at MSU could have been smothered in the crib, but they successfully squashed the video from the Rather Hall incident. Dantonio remains an unrepentant hypocrite and asshole who hides behind his Bible, but that doesn't matter, because he has surpassed even MSU fans' expectations on the field. He has turned State into everything Michigan used to be, and everything Michigan deluded itself into believing it could become again under Brady Hoke. Their defense has reached a point where graduations and early departures do not harm them in any significant way; it's next man up. Jerel Worthy and William Gholston leave, Shilique Calhoun and Malik McDowell step up. Greg Jones is followed by Max Bullough, followed himself by Darien Harris. Eric Gordon leaves, Denicos Allen steps up. Allen leaves, and Ed Davis racks up seven sacks and a dozen TFLs in his first year as a starter. Trenton Robinson is replaced by Isaiah Lewis and now Montae Nicholson at safety. MSU has sent cornerbacks to the NFL in the first round in two straight years. Wanna know the last time Michigan did that? I looked it up, and unless I overlooked it somewhere, it's never happened. Johnny Adams was a great college corner for MSU, and everyone wondered how they'd replace him after he left. In the first year without him, Darqueze Dennard - a former 2* recruit with offers from Middle Tennessee State and Utah State - was a consensus All-American, won the Thorpe Award as the nation's best DB, and was drafted in the first round by Cincinnati. Without Dennard last year, Trae Waynes stepped up to become an All Big-Ten corner and saw his stock explode to the point where he could leave early and go #11 overall to the Vikings.

While Michigan dithered and chased their own tails, a juggernaut emerged within our own borders and eventually we woke up to realize that the world we had convinced ourselves would wait for us to get our shit together had in fact moved on without us, apparently tired of standing around while we sat on our own thumbs and rotated. Michigan has been in quicksand for almost a decade now. Every attempt they made to right the ship only served to sink them further. The twilight years of Carr saw a sort of stale complacency constrict the program to the point of destruction - that flashpoint occurring on the first day of the 2007 season. Michigan took the courageous step of stepping outside the box to try and correct their course, and for three years everyone spent Sunday through Friday cringing whenever Rich Rodriguez stepped in front of a microphone - the pain of those moments being surpassed only by the steaming pile of shit the team put it on the field on Saturdays. Michigan then turned the athletic department over to a megalomaniac; a genuine lunatic with no concept of anything except advancing "the brand." Dave Brandon was the right man for the moment in dealing with the stretchgate nonsense, and the wrong man for basically everything else that came with his job. He gave the head coaching position to someone who never should've been near it. College football is not exceptionally complicated; it relies on elite coaching perhaps more than any other American sport. Very rarely do you see a career mediocre coach suddenly become elite. Brady Hoke being completely out of his depth at Michigan was not a surprise; it was him regressing to his mean after pulling off one of the luckiest seasons ever in 2011.

As the final incompetent moments of Hoke's tenure wound to a close, the adults in the room decided that enough was enough. The man running the athletic department like his own little dictatorship was toppled; his patsy of a coach shown the door right behind him. For six weeks, we held our breaths as we waited for the white smoke to billow from Schembechler Hall; the signal that the one man we all universally coveted for the position was coming home. Up until the moment he got off that plane and the photo emerged of him carrying his kids out of that SUV, there were NFL types who swore he would never defy the fabled "Shield". One of the best football coaches in the world "taking a step down" to go back to college?! A laughable notion. This wasn't Nick Saban floundering as coach of the Dolphins. This was a coach with one of the highest winning percentages in NFL history about to hit the open market and have his pick of essentially any job in the league. How could he even consider going to Michigan?!

None of those squawking voices considered the man. They never considered what resided in Jim Harbaugh's heart, or Jim Harbaugh's soul. They viewed the situation through the restrictive perspective of material computations; in their eye, there was no human element to consider. They never placed any value on how much Michigan meant to the man. They dismissed the story of the cocky little kid sitting in Bo Schembechler's chair, declaring that one day that kingdom would be his. They had no way to imagine how important this place was to Jim Harbaugh.


Stanford meant nothing when Harbaugh arrived on The Farm in 2007. They were one of the absolute worst programs in college football, and no one saw any reason for that to change. The most restrictive and elite admissions department in the country whittled Stanford's pool of players down to a sliver before anyone could do anything. Harbaugh's battles with that process are well-known. Dealing with internal resistance and external forces should have been enough to keep Stanford in the Pac-10/12's cellar.

Instead, Jim Harbaugh took a 2* running back from Portland, whose only other offer was from Portland State, and turned him into one of the most successful two-way players in recent history - Owen Marecic. Jim Harbaugh took a 2* wide receiver with no offers from anyone, and now Doug Baldwin is an NFL wideout. A 215-pound 3* tight end from Illinois with no Big Ten offers is now in the NFL after starring at Stanford - Coby Fleener. A 3* from Georgia racked up 50 TFL and almost 30 sacks at Stanford - Chase Thomas. A 3* wideout from Compton may have conflict hardwired into his DNA, and he may hold an eternal grudge against Jim Harbaugh, simply because some men are programmed to clash with others, but Richard Sherman is one of the best players in the NFL now thanks in large part to Jim Harbaugh. Jim Harbaugh and his assistant Tim Drevno took lightly-recruited 3*s David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, and from them formed one of the most fearsome offensive lines in football. The soul-destroying physicality that Stanford is now famous for in college football was cultivated by Harbaugh and Drevno.

There are some detractors who point to the fact that Harbaugh has never won a championship in college - a laughably basic black-and-white interpretation. Does anyone who is serious about analysis believe that Stanford reaches the heights it reached in 2011, 2012, and 2013 without the foundation that Jim Harbaugh laid? Stanford went 34-7 with two Pac-12 titles and three BCS bowl appearances in that three-year span on the backs of Harbaugh recruits and Harbaugh's former assistants. David Shaw is not a bad coach - but do people really believe he could've built that juggernaut by himself? As Harbaugh's imprint on that program gets further and further in the rearview mirror, Stanford becomes more and more mortal - case in point, their 8-5 stumble last season. Harbaugh took every facet of the Stanford program and launched it into the stratosphere. He installed a culture of no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners physical destruction. He made Stanford a buzz destination for recruits, and just as he reached the zenith, he left for the NFL, passing all of that off to a trusted assistant who would reap the rewards. Does Stanford land that epic 2012 offensive line class of Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy, and Josh Garnett without the foundation laid by Harbaugh and Drevno with players like DeCastro and Martin? Stanford's coaching search after Harbaugh left consisted of his staff left behind at Stanford, because they sought to maintain everything he built.

The results here may not be immediate, of course. Jim Tressel won seven games in his first year at Ohio State. Mark Dantonio won seven at MSU. Nick Saban was 7-6 at Alabama in 2007. Pete Carroll's first year at USC ended 6-6. Bob Stoops was 7-5 at Oklahoma. Urban Meyer at Ohio State is the glaring exception to this rule, but it's a general truth that the first season tends to be a transition season for the new coach. The job of instilling that sense of toughness into a roster that has been soft and disorganized for years won't be done overnight. The leviathans that Harbaugh faces at Michigan State and Ohio State won't be toppled in a day.

But the success that lies ahead is almost assured. Elysium awaits, as the heir to Bo's chair finally takes his rightful place on the throne.

5 comments:

Harry Bashir said...

great stuff!!!

James said...

Great column as usual. I hope you continue to periodically chronicle the Harbaugh's era.

archangel2k12 said...

Love it. Welcome back.

Michael Miller said...

Good stuff Brian! Hope you're doing well.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this. I'd say welcome back but I also left. So I guess the feeling is more It's Good to be Back, you know?. My heart still recovering from the wounds, the romanticism of the program long gone and replaced by a fragile pragmatism. But I am here again. I am watching.