Thursday, May 12, 2011

Reasons For Optimism: Musings in May

The Michigan football program after the Appalachian State debacle (and, eventually, the catastrophic Year 1 of the RR era) looked kind of like the Death Star at the end of A New Hope.


As of now, it looks a little more like this:

So, that's good. Of course, that one got blown up too, so let's just leave this analogy before we go someplace we don't want to. Either way, we're making progress (!). The speed with which we have reeled in commitments has made me wonder whether or not I unknowingly became a fan of the Texas Longhorns. Obviously that's a little hyperbolic, but things are looking up. Yet, we haven't played a game in the Hoke era. The third of September is a long way away, so let's take some time to do a little thinkin' and extrapolatin': why do we feel, as they call it, "good" about things? Some might call it delusion, a false sense of ease like antidepressants supposedly produce, or lobotomized crazy folks drifting in a cloudy haze of not good and not bad. I posit it that this "good" is actually, you know, good. With the way things have gone of late, on and off the field, the simple lack of bad news (minus the Stonum situation) is cause for celebration. Some of the following might be redundant or obvious, but in order to understand the massive, wholesale psychological shift  within the Michigan community--which includes the fans, the media, the athletic department, former players, current players, future players, etc.-- we must look at the reasons why Hoke has been good for Michigan so far, and why he will probably be good in the future. If the Michigan football community was a robot, it just executed REBOOT.exe, turning in their fancy but flawed operating system for an older, sturdier version. 


Some points for optimism:

1) Coach Hoke and Co. (especially Mattison) are absolutely dominating the state of Michigan right now. Now, I don't personally read any Spartan message boards, but I can imagine that most Spartan fans are monitoring the current recruiting situation with concern. 


Despite three straight losses to the Spartans, they are who they are: a team that will probably have trouble sustaining any sort of success (i.e., Big Ten title/contention) if Michigan is winning on the recruiting front. So far, Michigan has garnered ten commitments (to MSU's four), all from the states of Michigan and Ohio. "Winning" the instate recruiting battle essentially cuts down MSU's hopes of being a legitimate force in the Big Ten landscape like a Chaz Ramsey chop block. On Michigan's path to competence, MSU presents an important step that we can no longer overlook. However, at the end of the day they are simply the mildy challenging but mostly annoying dude you had to fight in any Zelda game in order to get the key to fight the real boss (ND, OSU, Nebraska?)*. With several guys nearing commitments or supposedly looking like decent-to-good bets for Michigan, including Godin, Thompson, O'Brien, and Richardson, it will only get worse for MSU, and we haven't even played any games yet [ed--Godin has committed as of this morning, the much talked about "silent" commit according to TomVH]. If Hoke can find a way to win 8+ this year, recruiting will get even tougher for Coach Dantonio, and things will probably go back to how they once were. This is the best-case scenario, and although said dominance might not manifest itself on the field right away, it almost certainly will in the near future. 

*OSU is obviously Ganondorf.

2) While it is unfair and a little bit of a double standard, the Michigan community has rolled out the red carpet for Coach Hoke. He can do no wrong, and is ostensibly building a shattered program from the ground up, despite the fact that the cupboard is far from bare.Although there were initial reactions of negativity in some circles (particularly, of course, in the cadre of staunchly pro-RR folks) to the hiring of Brady Hoke, they have seemed to dissipate over time, melting like an ice cube on a griddle. I don't know when or how this happened, but you can see it. When given the supposed options, I myself preferred Hoke over Miles (and took the tried and true "well we didn't want him anyway" course re: Harbaugh), but not at the expense of a 4th year for Coach Rodriguez. While I still wish that RR had been able to finish what he started, I sit here only a few months later mostly at peace with how things have happened. Hoke isn't a flashy guy and he probably never will be, but I think we could use a little vacation from the trials and tribulations of personalities clashing against the establishment over and over again like waves crashing against a stoic, unmoving rockface. 

3) The biggest putative supporter of Brady Hoke is of course Dave Brandon, the man who, after a long and fretful coaching journey into the frustrating belly of the dreaded coaching search, decided Brady was his guy all along. I guess we'll never really know what happened there, and while it certainly put a dent in this past recruiting class, it won't matter in the long run if the correct decision has been made. With that said, a precedent has been set; rather, it has not been set. RR's firing after just three years (and all the arguments against this practice's "fairness," practicality, and efficacy), combined with Hoke being Brandon's guy, makes me believe that Hoke should get at least four years, if not five, to cement himself as the head coach at Michigan for at least part of another recruiting cycle. Barring NCAA violations (uh, please no) or a complete and utter failure to win games, Hoke will be given some leeway that his predecessor didn't have. I only mention this because it is a good thing for Hoke; nothing I say here, now, or at any point in the future, will be explicitly in "defense" of RR. It's in the past. Hoke might have 99 Problems but his boss ain't one. 

4) At the risk of sounding incredibly cocky, especially after going 7-6 and getting detonated by Chris Relf and Manny Diaz's ridiculous blitz-all-the-time-like-Tenuta-except-I-know-what-I'm-doing defense, the 2011 schedule seems very, very manageable. Given the inevitable early struggles of the new offense, it is significant that the Wolverines won't have to enter a hostile environment until halfway through the season in East Lansing. I've been guilty of declaring wins in May before, but we're at worst 5-1 going into EL; we've seen this story two years in a row, so the back end will be the key. Purdue is Purdue and Illinois should be a win, so the difference between "decent given the circumstances" and "decent by normal standards" will be the OSU, Nebraska, Iowa triumvirate. Thankfully, we get the first two at home. Nebraska will be interesting and somewhat of a wild-card. They faded at the end of last year and certainly showed they could be beaten. Then again, I don't want to put too much stock in a bowl performance on the heels of a conference title game loss, you know. As of right now, the conference is looking a little bit underwhelming. 

5) Things are not looking good in Columbus, and that is a fairly huge understatement. The NCAA sharks are circling the OSU program, and while they aren't really doing anything of substance right now (not unlike Patrick Marleau BOOM ROASTED), we all know it's a matter of time. Tressel should/will get fired, and that's a pretty huge power vacuum you've got right there. The next couple of years (i.e., once OSU gets hit with sanctions) will be huge for Michigan with respect to recruiting in Ohio. Ohio State's malfeasance and inevitable punishment is bad for the conference long-term but obviously advantageous for Hoke right now as he tries to get this thing started, and it will be critical that he capitalizes while he can and before OSU can recover. Everybody notes that that rivalry comes and goes in swings (the 90s was Michigan's, the past decade has been OSU's), so a win this season would do wonders symbolically and practically. A win this year would give us all the chance to exhale the breath that we've been waiting to exhale for eight years. And, given the circumstances, a win this year is not all that ridiculous of a notion. The offensive and defensive schemes will have seen 11 games of game action and the greener guys will have some experience, and it'll be at home. It's really amazing how almost everything has come into place for Hoke; if he doesn't succeed then you really can't blame anybody else but him.

6) Perhaps the most important factor in Hoke's favor is one Greg Mattison. Although to a lesser extent, Al Borges is also a respected offensive mind who has had success at a number of places. A coach's ability to attract top-notch assistants to work with him is, in my mind, the greatest mark of a coach's likelihood to succeed. Very few head coaches these days do things completely on their own, so Hoke has scored a huge victory in this department. Mattison's recruiting prowess has already become a known and valued asset, and his football mind is unquestioned; while there were certainly some inequities in the Spring Game, the defense actually looked alright (sometimes even good!), which by recent precedent is about equivalent to being the second coming of the '85 Bears.

The fact is, there are still many more reasons to be excited, and the aforementioned only represent a small sample of said reasons. This is a work in progress, and while we may get there sooner or later than we may think (or, we might not get there at all), things are changing for the better. Almost everything has gone right for Coach Hoke and Michigan so far, and if we can make this a quiet summer that would be just great. I don't know how good we'll be this year, but I know there are reasons to be excited.


  1. I'm with you on most of this, but let's quibble a bit: (a) Before we annoit Hoke the great recruiter of coaches, remember Brandon's role in this. I can be a great head coach if I get to pay the Mattison's of the world $750k+ each. Would the world look different if RR was permitted to offer Casteel $750k? (b) Where and when, exactly, has Mattison ever BUILT a competent, much less great, defense? Has anyone beat a path to his door for his services? If you follow his career from WMU to TAMU to Mich to ND to FLA to the NFL you don't see any "I'm the brains behind this operation" situations, but you do see a lot of "let me keep this seat warm" situations. Mattison will bring very badly-needed consistency and competency at an average+ level (which is a god-send, to be sure), but "elite" is missing from his track record and we shouldn't expect it here.

  2. No argument here, RR would have probably done better if Old Michigan was willing to making it rain for coordinators...even with an increase in pay, there's no guarantee that Casteel would've come, though. Besides, I believe that RR actually had a solid DC in Shafer, so RR's inability to let the DC do his job was the bigger issue if you ask me (and this is from one of his biggest supporters).

    Your second point does have some validity, however, I think your assessment is a little harsh. Mattison oversaw some pretty good defenses at Michigan and Notre Dame for a decent stretch, and while there are things you could point at as not contributing to the perception of his excellence as a DC (namely, his involvement at Florida as a co-DC and with the Ravens, who are the Ravens), they're at worst non-positives. In the end, he can say he coached Ray Lewis AND a national championship defense (i.e., RECRUITING!). "Consistency and competency" as you call it will shoot us up in the defensive rankings as early as this season (I'm thinking in the ballpark of the top 70), and once the recruits that Mattison is reeling in get to AA we will be very good on a regular basis.

    I think a reasonable opinion of Mattison lies somewhere between yours and the general "he can do no wrong" slogan.

  3. "The NCAA sharks are circling the OSU program, and while they aren't really doing anything of substance right now (not unlike Patrick Marleau BOOM ROASTED), we all know it's a matter of time. Tressel should/will get fired, and that's a pretty huge power vacuum you've got right there."

    You forgot to add "unlike Patrick Marleau BOOM BOOM ROASTED ROASTED" after "we all know it's a matter of time." Anyways...

    The schedule is probably the easiest Michigan has had in many years. Iowa, Nebraska, and Ohio State are the only games you can classify as "likely losses" on paper, and thats a worst case scenerio. 8 home games (and 5 straight to open the season!) is a gift, pure and simple. This schedule should make 2007 Ohio State blush.

    Then there's Greg Mattison taking over what should be a good to excellent front 7. Assuming Campbell isn't crushed ala the 2009 Iowa game, and assuming WLB isn't DEATH (every Michigan fan should be mighy nervous at the prospect of Marell Evans starting), Michigan should have a run defense no worse then average. Van Bergen, Martin, and Roh are all upperclassmen and 3-yr starters. C. Gordon is a returning starter in his 3rd year on campus who's a perfect fit for the SLB position in Mattisons defense, while Kenny Demens appears to be the truth at MLB. Depth on the DL is a concern, but on paper, the 2011 run defense should be the best Michigan has had since 2006.

    HOWEVA, there's two big things that could blow up Hokemania this upcoming season: the secondary (duh), and the possibility that Borges does exactly what dickrod did in 08 and jams square pegs into round holes. Look, we all love Denards selfless attitute, dazzling smile, and ungodly running skills, but he is just not a good passer. That 149 QB rating is mainly a result of what mgoblog called "QB lead oh noes." When Denard was tasked with dropping back and zipping it, he was a painful-to-watch turnover machine, especially against "red letter" teams (his QB rating in Michigans 6 losses was only 124). If Borges forces Denard to be a pure West Coast QB, I have a hard time seeing how anything other then doom will be the result. Maybe not as bad as the 08 debacle, but bad nonetheless (think 07 Michigan under Ryan Mallett).

    Its hard to gleam exactly what Borges is going to run, but if the Spring Game is any indication, then an offensive system resembling 2005 Ohio State or 2008 Penn State is not in the works. Even if Borges runs the same kind of offense that VT ran with Tyrod Taylor, thats still not as good as putting Denard in the shotgun and letting him go to work ala Troy Smith and Darryl Clark in 05 and 08 (06 Troy Smith was a pure gunslinger, and that ain't Denard). I'm praying and hoping that Michigan comes out and runs a Spread HD, in which case Michigan might have the best offense in the nation. If not, well, the offense simply won't reach its full potential, just like it didn't under dickrod.

  4. Rodriguez is gone. Can't we drop the childish "dickrod" antics?