Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Washtenaw County

Once upon a time, Mark Twain wrote a story about a frog.

The narrator of the short tale is sent by a friend to inquire after one Leonidas W. Smiley. The narrator ventures out to inquire at the residence of one Simon Wheeler, an old and perhaps crazy man. Upon reaching the place, Wheeler pulls the narrator to the corner and begins to tell an unrelated tale, wide-eyed and serious.

He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice from the gentle-flowing key to which he tuned the initial sentence, he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasm -- but all through the interminable narrative there ran a vein of impressive earnestness and sincerity, which showed me plainly that, so far from his imagining that there was any thing ridiculous or funny about his story, he regarded it as a really important matter, and admired its two heroes as men of transcendent genius in finesse.

Simon Wheeler goes on, telling a curious tale about a gamblin' man named Jim Smiley. Jim would bet on everything: dog fights, cock fights, horses, and so on. One day, Jim caught a frog, and seeing as it could jump unlike any frog he had ever laid eyes on before, he figured he'd make a bet off of it.

Soon after, a man approached Jim, who was keeping the talented frog in a box. The man inquired as to what was in there, and Jim told him, also explaining the particular nature of the frog; it could jump unlike any other frog. The stranger was unconvinced, and so, naturally, Jim challenged him to a bet. Seeing as the stranger didn't have a frog of his own, Jim went off to find him one in the mud down the way. While Jim was gone, the stranger picked up the frog and decided to sabotage the whole darn thing.

So he set there a good while thinking and thinking to hisself, and then he got the frog out and prized his mouth open and took a tea-spoon and filled him full of quail shot -- filled him pretty near up to his chin -- and set him on the floor.

Jim finally returned with a frog for the man, and when they executed the parameters of the bet, the celebrated frog of Jim's couldn't seem to jump as it could before. Jim, confused, wondered what the matter was, and upon picking up the frog and seeing the liquid that had weighed the frog down pour out of its mouth, realized that the man had cheated him.

And then he see how it was, and he was the maddest man -- he set the frog down and took out after that feller, but he never ketchd him.

Wheeler intends to continue, but is called out by someone outside the place, and tells the narrator to wait. After he returns, he fixes to expand upon the tale of Jim Smiley.

Well, thish-yer Smiley had a yeller one-eyed cow that didn't have no tail, only jest a short stump like a bannanner, and...

The narrator, realizing that he would not glean any information from this man relating to his original purpose, opts to leave altogether.

"O, curse Smiley and his afflicted cow!" I muttered, good-naturedly, and bidding the old gentleman good-day, I departed.


Let us project. Who is who in this tale? The principle characters:

The narrator is the average Michigan fan, irritated and looking for answers, having had enough of this. He only wants wins (i.e., information about Leonidas W. Smiley), and when he is deterred from these ultimate aims, leaves confused and possibly irritated. Jim Smiley represent the reasons for (or the excuses, if you're so inclined) for the failure to consummate these goals; he might also be the staunch, pro-RR advocate, looking for the reasons for failure, an opportunity to explain. 

Rich Rodriguez might be the talented frog, but he's also the encumbered, weighed down frog, too, which also happens to be a symbol for everything that has failed him: Greg Robinson, Jay Hopson, Tony Gibson, the Decimated Defense, the media, the fans, himself. Rich Rod is what makes him good. He knows offense like very few people do. On the other hand, he is also what makes him bad. After Jeff Casteel rebuffed his proposal to coach at Michigan, he has chosen his defensive coordinators poorly, and after realizing this, has handcuffed them with schemes they don't understand and position coaches that present a disjointed, kaleidoscopic semblance of defensive philosophy, where many things are attempted and nothing is done well or even in an adequate fashion. Rich Rod is the Celebrated Jumping Frog that we all heard about circa 2008, but he is also the weighed down frog, whether by his own devices or not. That is to say...he's not perfect, and nobody rightly is. All things considered, without even mentioning timelines for firing, or parameters with respect to the "How many wins does he need to stay here?" meme, it is important to realize that success--this bet we've made--can only be achieved when we are at our best, when we are not weighed down. 

Can Rich Rodriguez field a competent or above average defense? I think so, given that the appropriate position coaches and/or coordinators are in place. Is the stranger Tony Gibson or Greg Robinson? Maybe. Perhaps they are the ones weighing this whole thing down, keeping the offense from jumping freely to Big Ten wins. There is certainly a case for that. The well-documented, much discussed remedy for that is, of course, to replace these people. This is more difficult than it seems, given Rich's past with guys like Tony Gibson. However, we've come to a point where the whole operation is in danger, a point where RR's celebrated past will be remembered as an outlier, a historical blip on the radar.

Unfortunately, a more disconcerting interpretation of the tale logically follows that perhaps Rich is the stranger, pouring the quail shot down his own throat. Loyalty is a personal, emotional thing, and thus cannot be truly or effectively quantified or explicated to people outside of the proceedings. If this is true, then the program has a basic structural flaw that will see to it that our opportunities for success are sunk in the end. 

But, when money's on the line, when you've got to feed yourself, maintain a reputation, keep a job, you've got to make things understandable to people, lest you go down with everything you helped build, looking like a crazy old man telling tales of how things once were. When push comes to shove, I think the right decisions will be made, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. We've seen flashes of how this thing can really jump, and I think everyone with a say realizes what is at stake, in the short-term and the long-term. However, as explained above, sometimes things aren't so cut and dry. Problems often have many solutions, many facets to consider; this is once such problem. 

As frustrating as it may be, all we logically can and should do let the season unfold and hope for a win or two, if not for the sheer mathematical desire to stockpile wins then to hope we are reminded why our guy was the one man chosen above all others to make this thing jump. 

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