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Friday, December 14, 2007

Dear Brian,

I'm a Notre Dame fan, but my wife's family has a lot of Michigan grads. (We are both from Michigan.) I've drawn my 11-year old brother-in-law to give a Christmas gift to and I am thinking of buying him a DVD about Michigan football. I've seen one called Michigan Football Memories that looks pretty good. I was wondering if there are other DVDs you or other Michigan fans can recommend.

Thanks in advance for any help.

I'm useless here. Perhaps commenters can offer some suggestions?

Now on to the usual: soup recipes.
Pat Forde reported this morning on ESPN2's First Take show this morning that Michigan should "rebuild bridges" and pursue Jim Harbaugh. I have been rather surprised that there has not been more talk about Harbaugh being a candidate, despite the comments that he made about Michigan's admissions policy earlier this year. In my opinion, Harbaugh would be an outstanding hire, and he would bring passion, intensity, and offensive ingenuity back to Michigan football. Have you heard any whispering about Harbaugh's name being mentioned, and wouldn't both the "Miles" and "Anti-Miles" camps endorse his hire?

IMO, Jim Grobe would be a terrible hire and set UM's recruiting efforts back five years.
More on Grobe later. First: Harbaugh. There's no way. Even leaving aside the blowup this summer, his first year at Stanford he was 4-8. That's not terrible considering Stanford was historically awful a year ago, but it's not good either. Yes, they beat USC, but they also lost to Notre Dame. His youth, NFL and Michigan pedigree, and promising initial returns as a coach don't go far enough to offset his tendency to shove his foot in his mouth and lack of proven ability.

And then there's the fiasco -- we do have a lot of those, don't we -- this summer. If Miles has problems getting the job because he's done wrong by the program in the opinion of key decisionmakers because he privately told some recruits Carr would be retiring, how on Earth is a guy who publicly shamed the program going to work his way into the discussion? I mean, Miles is best-case scenario goes as far as potential hires and they managed to screw it up based on years-old animosity. Harbaugh's offense is much more recent, more public, and more flagrant, and he'd be a total flier of a pick. There's no way.

Meanwhile, many took issue with my dismissal of Grobe. Jeff Brock of State Fans Nation writes:

I wanted to respectfully submit that I think that you are way off in your judgement of Jim Grobe as a coach and wanted to encourage you to take a quick step back and maybe refresh your thoughts.

Remember…I am NOT a Wake Forest fan. I just represent a school with SIGNIFICANTLY more resources, more talent and more support than Wake Forest but who loses to this guy every year.

Grobe may not be flashy or have the pizzazz of some names (nor is he an attention whore)…but I promise you - as someone who has to compete against the guy - there are few football coaches in America better than this guy…and maybe even fewer with the integrity and standards of this guy.

You commented that he "Runs a crazy offensive system that may or may not translate to higher levels with (possibly) better talent. A huge, huge risk to anyone who has performance foremost on their mind. Obviously, this is not the case here."

I hold a different opinion that your conclusions in this statement are in stark contrast to the actual facts. I've got a few rebuttals if you would allow:

* Instead of running a 'crazy offense', Grobe runs an extremely effective and efficient offensive system that wins football games no matter whom the opponent. Isn't that they goal. I haven't seen much 'crazy' about it other than how he takes players that FSU, Clemson, VPI, UNC and NC State didn't want and then turns around and beats those very teams with lesser players.

* Additionally, don't confuse these 'lesser players' as an example of how he 'can't recruit'. The guy doesn't recruit top talent because he is at Wake Forest…not because he 'can't' recruit.

* Grobe won an ACC Championship at Wake Forest in a year that he beat Florida State 30-0 IN Tallahassee. I can't begin to explain how amazing that is. Wake has one of the five SMALLEST enrollments in division one football. They play in a glorified high school stadium with a fanbase that looks like they are preparing for a J Crew photo shoot. And, it isn't as though he took over something that was decent and made it better. The program he inherited from Jim Caldwell was on par with Duke it was so bad. Yet Grobe immediately became competitive and now is winning championships with some of the smallest resources in the country.

* "Translate to Higher Levels"? The ACC may not be the top football league in America the last two years…but it certainly is a 'higher level'. Over the last three years the ACC has put more players into the NFL than the Big Ten and two years ago the league set a college football record with more first round draft picks than any conference in football history. An ACC vs Big Ten comparison is irrelevant to the conversation. What is relevant is that you don't get much 'higher level' than a competitive landscape with the most NFL talent in America. Therefore, Grobe's performance ALREADY 'translates to a higher level'. You just need to acknowledge it.

* No offense…but you may be a tad biased as it relates to this 'higher level' thing. Friggin Duke hasn't won an ACC football game in 4 years yet beat the Big Ten's bowl-bound Northwestern AT Northwestern this year. The same FSU team whom Wake beat 30-0 last year played Florida a helluva lot closer than Ohio State did last year. Didn't that same OSU team beat Michigan in a game that was played at this so-called "higher level"?

I think that you get my points…and, I hope that the fact that I am not even a Wake fan exemplifies how respected that Grobe is for both his performance and his behavior.

I hope that you didn't read any of my comments as critical. I just had a few minutes this afternoon and thought that you may be interested in a different perspective.

Thank you very much for your time.

Responses point by point:
  • Jeff's right that a "crazy offense" based entirely around misdirection is not a negative. This blog has complained about a lack of cleverness from the Michigan coaching staff for years.

    But while Grobe does well with what he has his offenses have never been actually good. Total offense in the Grobe era: 98 (this year), 96 (2006), 68 (etc), 76, 76, 24, 51. Disturbingly, Grobe's offense seems stuck in a multi-year decline perhaps for the same reasons Michigan's zone running game imploded this year: once they've seen it it's just not that imposing. It would be nice if Grobe had one year in the past five in which his offense was even average despite the Wake talent gap.
  • It's not that Grobe "can't recruit," it's that we have no evidence whatsoever about his recruiting ability. Jeff's right that Wake Forest is an entirely different world. This means his crappy recruiting should not be held against him but it also adds a significant risk factor to his hire.
  • Wake Forest -- Wake Forest! -- won the ACC last year. Yes, that was the most remarkable championship run since Northwestern's Rose Bowl year, but it was a house of cards. Made of smoke and mirrors. In fact, Wake Forest's 2006 season was SQMB's muse when he created the brilliant 'Life on the Margins' series:
    Wake has to be the first 11-game winner to be actually outgained on average over the entire season (323-307). Duke drove 60-plus yards on its first possession and missed a field goal, then drove 60-plus yards on its last possession and had the winning kick blocked. UConn dominated statistically, completely shut down Wake’s offense (the Deacs had 209 total yards) but gave up two “cheap” touchdowns, on an 86-yard interception return and a one-play, six-yard drive after a last gasp fourth down attempt. The margin in the N.C. State win was a Wolfpack fumble that somehow rolled 20 yards into the end zone for a safety, but it also required each of three 50-plus-yard field goals by Sam Swank and a failed two-point conversion to tie in the dying minutes. North Carolina allowed a blocked punt in the first quarter and was looking for the tying touchdown at the Wake 12 with seconds remaining before being – surprise! It was Joe Dailey – intercepted.
    When Wake's fortunes returned from the Robert Varkonyi stratosphere, so did their results. Credit is due Grobe for keeping Wake competitive, defying SMQB's grim "Wake is a textbook first-to-worst candidate" summation, but Wake 2006 was a very fortunate team in a very, very bad conference. As a testament to coaching skills go it's not a stirring one.
  • The "higher level" thing was not meant as a shot at the ACC. It was a clumsily-phrased attempt to clarify the different expectations the Michigan and Wake Forest programs have. At Wake you can go 4-7 a couple years and get your scrappy bunch together and scrape out some wins and blow some games and steal some games and etc etc. At Michigan that won't fly unless you're coming in after the glorious five-year Debord Era. What Grobe has done at Wake is take a large number of virtually unrecruited smart guys and craft a competitive football team out of them. This is only somewhat similar to taking heavily recruited, oft baggage-laden guys with questionable work ethics and turning them into angry zoo animals with power tools where their dangly bits go.
A common meme on Michigan message boards is that Grobe is the football equivalent of Beilein. Even if this didn't sell Beilein -- way more successful and consistent at West Virginia than Grobe has been at Wake -- short, Beilein is a good hire for a Michigan basketball program that hasn't been to the tournament in a decade. The Michigan football program is not the Michigan basketball program.

Grobe appears to be an excellent coach but, like Paul Johnson, a very poor fit for Michigan. He's an enormous risk; if Michigan is going to take an enormous risk it makes sense to do so with a guy who's young. Grobe either has five bad years or ten good ones. Someone like Kelly could have five bad years or twenty-five good ones.

A dissenting opinion from a Michigan fan:

Long time reader, first time emailer.

I think you should give Grobe a little more credit than you have been. Like you, I'm disappointed that UM didn't get Miles because I think he had it all: passion for Michigan, proven recruiter, and, best of all, no misplaced loyalty to assistants who don't know how to compete in the brave new world of college football.

I think that Grobe (although clearly a riskier choice than Miles) is the candidate still available who is most likely to deliver all of the above. What he's done at WFU is very impressive and leads me to believe he's a better tactician than Miles. What really sold me on him was when I called one of my best friends, who is also a UM alum ('93) and happens to be one of the team doctors at Wake. My friend said he was hoping UM would get Les, and when I asked him about the possibility of hiring Grobe, he said another reason he wanted UM to get Miles was so that Grobe would stay at Wake. My friend has the utmost respect for Grobe as a person and a coach. Mind you, my friend is a die hard Michigan fan--he's been going to games since the 1970s. His family likes to tell the story of how his little brother was born the day before Anthony Carter's catch beat Indiana in 1979--and his mom was pissed that she had to stay in the hospital with the newborn while the rest of the family saw one of the best games in UM history! And this guy, who interacts with Grobe on a daily basis, now thinks Grobe would do a great job at Michigan.

Also, regarding Petrino and Kelly, I think there's enough publicly available evidence to disqualify Petrino (aside from his perpetually wandering eye, apparently the attrition rate at Louisville was terrible). I haven't seen enough evidence to disqualify Kelly but I think there's probably a very good reason the athletic department is not considering him.

Having said all this, I want to make it clear that I'm not apologizing for the botching of the search so far. It has been embarrassing. In the end, however, I think Grobe would be an excellent Plan B. Don't let your disappointment over the Miles situation color your take on Grobe.

One final thought: don't you think what has transpired over the last year, from the '06 OSU game to the Horror to the botched coaching search, was inevitable given that, as you've pointed out, what we have been witnessing are the death throes of the Bo dynasty. It was inevitable that the athletic department would be a house divided between the old guard who wanted to preserve Michigan's entrenched culture and a new guard who recognized that, in a post-Tressel world, UM needed to set a new course (pardon the sailing metaphor). Few athletic programs have enjoyed as long a stretch of excellence as Michigan has since Bo arrived in 1969. But tactically the game has changed, and so we need a coach who understands how to compete at the highest level in this new environment. We also need a coach who has the character attributes that you so often praised in Lloyd. Given that Miles slipped through our fingers (which probably does not happen if WVU takes care of business against Pitt!!), I think Grobe is the second best choice out there.

Take care,

P.S. The situation Michigan faces right now is a lot like what UNC faced when Roy Williams (Miles) decided to stay at Kansas after Guthrie (Lloyd) stepped down. The good news is that hiring Grobe would not be akin to hiring the unproven Matt Dougherty. The other good news is that Miles, like Williams, will still be there in 3-5 years if the next coach flops.
MOTS: my objection remains the overrating of Grobe based on one year when Smiling Demon Deacon Loving God transported a team that was outgained on average in its conference games to the BCS. Many people will look at that and declare Wake "found a way to win" ex post facto; to me that's a ton of luck. 50-yard field goals and defensive touchdowns do not a program make except maybe Virginia Tech.

Grobe, IMO, is just as big a risk as any of the hot young guys out there but has a far smaller upside and would be a questionable hire at best.

Who would I hire?

1. If you were the Athletic Director the day Carr stepped down, how would you have proceeded, and who do you think you would have hired? Why?

2. If you took over as AD now (Petrino is at Arkansas, etc.), what do you do? Who would you pursue as you first, second, etc. choice? Again, why?

Just a thought.
Well, we don't really know what went on inside the AD. So we'll have to make some initial assumptions:
  • There are two major factions inside the athletic department with goals as close to polar opposites as you can get. One wants change, the other hates it.
  • The first group pushes Miles, the second group Ferentz and Hoke and Grobe.
  • You are trying to make both sides happy.
Uh... does not compute. You cannot do both of these. Martin's first error: trying to do both of these. Okay, I'll talk to Miles indirectly but I'll make sure LSU gets the first and so far only move. Okay, I'll call Miles with Mary Sue and talk but after being publicly shamed. Okay, we'll offer the job to him sorta but he has to keep some assistants and can't get enough money for others and he'll report to Carr. (Previous sentence speculative.) Meanwhile in between we'll dance the safety dance with Ferentz.

The way the search has been handled indicates Martin and I have very different ideas about what needs changing in the football program. Martin: the nameplate on the coaches' door. Me: nearly everything. So this is in no way feasible if I am playing Bill Martin. But if I'm playing me...

1. Put Carr on a boat to China. Have a nice vacation. See you in February. Carr is way too close to the situation and has too many animosities with key players to be a close advisor. He is also deeply invested in that perpetuating his culture thing; we want to change it and he'll be really annoying to be around.
2. Fire Mike Debord.
3. Re-hire Mike Debord.
4. Fire Mike Debord again. He symbolizes everything that's wrong with the program: cronyism, incompetence, entitlement, more incompetence, sloth, and guys who look like Gomer Pyle. This wouldn't do anything productive, but neither did hiring him after his CMU debacle.
5. Hire a search firm. It's mindboggling Michigan didn't do this. You haven't looked for a football coach in 40 years. It's time to bring in consultants.
6. Call Miles, Tedford, Schiano, Stoops, Meyer, Spurrier. Gauge interest. The latter three will laugh in your face and hang up, but whatever. Maybe Spurrier's having a pissy day.
7. If any of the above agree to come, give them total control of the program and get out of the way. I do not think Michigan offered Schiano or Miles this. A tipster indicates the offers had some riders: keep at least a few assistants, one of whom will act as a liaison (read: snitch) to Lloyd Carr, assistant AD in charge of football operations.
8. Oh, and if there isn't enough money to pay for coordinators... raise ticket prices two dollars and shower John Tenuta in golden honey.
9. Hire Brian Kelly otherwise.

As for what I'd do now: if Martin has been deposed by a pitchfork-toting mob presumably Michigan would have the flexibility to pursue Miles again. I would go for Tedford first -- I still think he's the best option -- and if that got shot down I would go hat in hand back to Les, making it very clear he can choose not to retain any and pay his coordinators whatever the hell he wants to. Assuming Les and Tedford are off the table... well. Damn. It's at this point your outside search firm comes in. Past those two guys the track records get thin and you're basing your decision on something other than onfield performance.

At this point you look for someone relatively young, like 40-something, and take a major risk. If Kelly's problems are minor he's the top candidate. (No, I do not care if the head coach is kind of a dick.) English would get a serious look with the proviso that a big-deal OC is brought in. Petersen from Boise State becomes viable, as do NFL coordinators du jour. At no time do the words "Brady Hoke" ever threaten to assemble.