Saturday night was a horrifying end to a great rivalry in South Bend.
Saturday was the worst Michigan game I have ever watched. Worse than The Horror, worse than Oregon 2007, worse than anything I ever saw in the Rich Rod era. I say this because Michigan was shut out for the first time since the Reagan administration. What felt even more terrible was, as Michigan was down 21-0 at halftime, I stupidly still held this odd, Miller Lite-fueled hope that maybe this team would come back and make the game competitive. Instead, Michigan did what they so often do under Brady Hoke in these “red letter games” – they showed utter incompetence and were an embarrassment to the maize and blue faithful. It’s fitting that Michigan wrapped up their series vs Notre Dame with a game like that, because Michigan has morphed into pre-Brian Kelly Notre Dame. Coaches like Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis led the Irish to decent records and even bowl games, but the team was mocked for being nothing like the teams of yore. Michigan has turned into this. Over the last dozen or so years, I have seen a perennial Big Ten contender turn into a former shadow of itself. There are a variety of reasons for this, from management, to history, to the ever evolving nature of college football. Let’s dive in and see why Michigan is where it is.
1. Bo Ball and Michigan Men (1969-2007)
Bo Schembechler alongside his successor Gary Moeller at the 1990 Rose Bowl (Bo’s last game).
I love Bo Schembechler. I’ll probably name my second dog after him. He retired before I was born but he will forever be the most revered coach in Michigan history due to the great memories and games from his era in the 1970’s and 80’s. Common Michigan etiquette is to conveniently block out the fact Michigan never won a National Championship under Schembechler, but the fact the polls were in control and definitely had a hand in that. More importantly, Bo brought in many traditions that still stuck with the program long after his retirement – a tenacious defense, ball control, west coast style offense and a strong running game. After Schembechler retired, his replacements/disciples Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr both found success at Michigan while keeping Bo’s style of coaching and play in place. It worked, it kept Michigan as one of the biggest, most successful programs in the country for almost forty years. Towards the end of the Carr era, there was one game that changed everything, which leads us to -
2. Michigan vs Ohio State 2006
This is one of those games that every Michigan fan remembers exactly where they watched it and who they were with. I was at my parents house with some friends from high school. The game was 1 vs 2 for the first time in the history of the rivalry, and Bo died the day before, which added more emotion to the proceedings. Had Michigan won that game, they would have played in their first BCS National Championship game against Florida and in reality, could have beaten the Gators. Not to dive into a revisionist history but this certainly would have led to Lloyd Carr’s retirement and most likely the hiring of Les Miles from LSU, and we would not be having this conversation. Instead, Michigan ended up in the Rose Bowl and lost to John David Booty led USC 32-14 (Damn you Dwayne Jarrett). There were rumors abound that Carr wanted to retire after the 2006 season, but then athletic director Bill Martin insisted that he stay around for one more year to ensure the $226 million dollar stadium renovation would be approved by all parties involved. In turn, if Carr was burned out, that may have explained Michigan getting bamboozled by Appalachian State and Oregon to start of 2007. With Carr’s retirement, this led to the next landmark moment in Michigan history
3. The hiring of Rich Rodriguez (2008)
Noted Josh Groban fan Rich Rodriguez was doomed the moment he stepped foot in Ann Arbor
If you talk to some Michigan fans, they disdain Rich Rodriguez like Tennessee fans speak about Lane Kiffin or LSU fans about Nick Saban – with the fire of a thousand suns. Really, I liked the hire in 2008, I didn’t like the growing pains it came with, or his weird penchant for singing Josh Groban at team dinners, but the spread offense was what was hot in the streets at the time, and Rodriguez wanted to bring Michigan up to speed (literally). This was met with immediate opposition by Michigan fans and boosters. It also didn’t help that Carr was more than willing to help players transfer away from the program once Rodriguez was hired. RichRod was set up to fail from the beginning and managed to do so, but his recruiting turned out to be his strong suit by the time he left. Bringing future NFL players like Denard Robinson, Taylor Lewan, Michael Schofield and a variety of others, plus current stars like Devin Gardner and Jake Ryan. By the time Michigan was done getting blown out by Mississippi State in the 2011 Gator Bowl, Rodriguez knew his pink slip was waiting. The issue was when Rodriguez was fired, there wasn’t exactly a huge talent pool of college football coaches available. Jim Harbaugh was dead set on going to the NFL, Jon Gruden was not planning on (nor will he ever) leave the broadcast booth, and really the best coach to come from all the major college changes of 2010-11 was the James Franklin hiring at Vanderbilt. Franklin obviously was an unknown commodity and Dave Brandon needed a name people could recognize and associate with which leads us to…
4. The hiring of Brady Hoke and current state of Michigan Football (2011-2014?)
Hoke assuming the pose – he may or may not have no idea what he’s doing.
I liked the Brady Hoke hiring in 2011, and at the time I thought he could help turn around the program. Really though, he was the last-second prom date so Michigan didn’t show up to the dance stag. I quickly realized that I was drinking the wrong kool-aid once I was in Dallas watching Michigan get blown out by Alabama only 19 months later. When Hoke was hired, people loved his prior connection to the program (he served as defensive line coach from 1995 to 2002) and the fact he spoke of being “A Michigan Man” and other things that make Michigan fans giddy for the days of Bo Schembechler. Hoke’s horseshoe year in 2011 using Rodriguez’s recruits to win the Sugar Bowl even made him well respected in many circles. Three years and many horrible big game road losses later, it’s proven that Hoke has no idea what he is doing. The in game adjustments are impossible as he isn’t wearing a headset. His method of “coaching” involves cheering on his players and clapping a lot. The primary reason Hoke was hired (at least behind closed doors) is because he would be a yes man and puppet for Dave Brandon. Hoke has been someone who has said the right things, but really it’s been a lot of dumb luck that has kept him employed this long. Also it cannot be overlooked, Hoke’s record in games away from Ann Arbor is 7-12. Yes, including bowl games, neutral sites, and road games, Hoke has won a meager 36% of his games not played in Ann Arbor. That is probably the most telling stat, is that while Michigan was racking up wins in The Big House, including 19 in a row to start his tenure, they have been poor away from the corner of Main and Stadium.
Not only are the road games bad, but in terms of “Red Letter Games” against opponents like Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame, his record has been equally bad. Hoke’s combined record against those opponents is 1-3, 1-3, and 2-2 respectively (4-8, .333), all of those wins coming at home. The last time Michigan won in East Lansing was 2007, Columbus was 2000 and South Bend was 2010. These facts precede his coaching tenure but still, Hoke’s claims of grandeur that Michigan would be competitive and beat those opponents has so far been unfounded. Also, someone please explain to me why he insists on calling Ohio State, Ohio?, that bothers the hell out of me.
Nuss praying that he will succeed Hoke next season?
2014 was supposed to be different but looking at the season so far, it’s a continuation of the middling nonsense of 2013. Michigan is 3-7 in their last 10 games with wins coming against Indiana, Northwestern, and Appalachian State. That is ridiculous, unacceptable, and dare I say, MAC-like. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was supposed to be the savior, it is certainly too early to judge him but last night’s performance was not a good start for the Nuss era in terms of big game performances. Some people believe Nussmeier may be the head coach in waiting, but the offense will have to have a good year for the administration to justify his hire.
Looking down the rest of the schedule, this Michigan team could finish anywhere from 6-6 to 9-3 and that is a big fluctuation. Games against Rutgers and Maryland that seemed like gimmes will probably be more difficult than anticipated. Michigan State is going to wax the Wolverines in East Lansing (that is not an opinion, that is fact) and Ohio State could be a toss up depending on their performance. If Hoke loses to both MSU and OSU – he has to go, those could be the teams only three losses but it further proves he cannot coach the team to the fullest of their abilities. Great recruits have come in and not lived up to their hype. Meanwhile, I am envious of the green and white in East Lansing as Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi took an entire defense of 2 and 3 star recruits to a Rose Bowl victory last January. Speaking of the Spartans, ever since Mike Hart’s comments about Michigan State being “Little Brother,” Michigan State has racked up three double digit win seasons in the last four paired with three bowl game wins. Rather than rest on State’s lesser credentials, Dantonio has transformed them into a powerhouse that will be relevant for years. There also is the fact Michigan State has beaten Michigan every year since 2008 barring 2012, which was one of the worst games of football I have seen at Michigan stadium. Spartan jealousy aside, we can now look ahead to what Michigan may due to stop the bleeding.
If Michigan does choose to fire Hoke, they are left with fairly slim pickings in terms of coaches who will be looking for a job. It would require the money to pry a coach away from another program. Some of the coordinators that come to mind include defensive gurus like Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi (0.000001% chance that happens) or Kirby Smart from Alabama (Raid the Crimson Tide cabinet!) Perhaps offensive minds like Chad Morris of Clemson, or in what could be an interesting throw back to the Bo hire, Tom Herman of Ohio State. However, if Michigan decides to bring in an unproven commodity, they would probably hire from within and bring Nussmeier to the top. He came in 2nd to Chris Petersen for the Washington job this past off-season. Chance of bringing in a coordinator not named Nussmeier as the next head coach: 10%
Perhaps Michigan tries to go towards the NFL or bring in someone with previous ties to the program. This is where the Harbaugh brothers would come into play. Both having grown up in Ann Arbor and Jim having played at Michigan, here is a quick look at both.
John Harbaugh would be a safe and sensible hire for Michigan. It would appease the fans and give the program a new identity.
John is certainly the more level headed of the two siblings and has attained more NFL success, including 5 trips to the playoffs in 6 seasons and a Super Bowl win in 2013. Some say John has a better shot at the job because he has won everything he can at the NFL level, and with the Ravens defense in transition and the team handcuffed to QB Joe Flacco, Harbaugh may seek out a new challenge at the college level. Odds he comes to Michigan: 10 to 1
“Captain Comeback” has been transformed into arguably the NFL’s most psychotic coach. He has taken San Francisco
Jim Harbaugh would be the wildcard hire, but I would be a fan of him returning to Ann Arbor
to the playoffs every year he has been in charge including 3 straight trips to the NFC Championship game with one Super Bowl appearance where he lost to big brother John. The wheels are beginning to fall off in San Francisco as players and the front office are growing weary of Jim’s attitude. Some say the team even tried to trade him to the Browns before this season but he turned down the opportunity. While I would love to see Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, I think he turned down the job once for a reason and is committed to staying at the NFL level. On the flip side, he has more college experience than John does and turned Stanford into a Pac 12 powerhouse in a short amount of time. Odds he returns to Michigan: 35 to 1
Between the two Harbaugh siblings, it is far more likely Michigan could make a play and hire John over Jim, but the difference maker would be if Dave Brandon still has his job after this year. As MGoBlog pointed out so well, while Brandon has done brilliant things for the athletic department, it is quite the trick to get so many people to hate you. The regents already shut down the fireworks idea, publicly, and more and more people are growing weary that the department has more focus on off field branding efforts than on field results. If Brandon is fired by university president Mark Schlissel, the chances Jim Harbaugh comes in are much higher. Like I said, Dave Brandon likes having yes men around, but what this team needs is a coach who is one tough SOB and a disciplinarian. Look at Nick Saban at Alabama, he cares less what you think of him, but his program runs like a machine. Similar with Steve Spurrier both at Florida and South Carolina, the HBC doesn’t care what people say or think, he lets the results do the talking, as well as his mouth during media days. Brady Hoke does so much talking in his Fred Flintstone like voice because he is supposed to be providing answers but instead gives us gibberish Hoke speak and phrases like “This is Michigan” instead of providing the wins this rabid fan base craves.
In the end, the team is only 1-1, and there is a long season in front of us, but allowing the Notre Dame game to get so out of control, to show so many fundamental flaws and lack of adjustments, does not bode well for these Wolverines. Combined with the weak schedule and a waning interest from the fans, Michigan Football has gone from a time honored tradition to a good way to burn 500 bucks on a Saturday afternoon. I hope for the best, but am expecting the worst, and think there will be some wholesale changes implemented in Schembechler Hall come 2015.
My Final Prediction: The team finishes 7-6/8-5 with losses to Michigan State and Ohio State again – Nussmeier is brought in as the new head coach. DC Greg Mattison retires and is replaced by a handpicked successor of Nussmeier’s and a proper rebuilding process begins for 2015.
This may be a more common sight if Michigan continues on their trajectory that Saturday’s Slaughter in South Bend showed.