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Monday, March 05, 2007

I'll forgo the microcosm bit: Saturday was not Amaker and Michigan writ small. It was in many respects the complete opposite. Michigan kept its turnovers under control, ran a semblance of an offense, and played what appeared to be generally smart basketball. Two small miracles happened: Amaker got a technical and Jerrett Smith, Brent Petway, and Courtney Sims completed a gorgeous pick-and-roll-extra-pass-dunk combo that looked straight out of actual basketball. Even though Michigan lost, it was perhaps the best game they played all season. The team looked competent. This was not Michigan basketball in a nutshell (Help! I'm in the NIT! What am I doing in this tournament! Sex me, Elizabeth Hurley!). Blaming Amaker for a mindbending missed Courtney Sims dunk and Dion Harris bricking the front end of a one-and-one is wanton. That was the universe being an asshole to me, personally, and not Amaker's fault. Michigan played well and Amaker deserves credit for that.

Where the condemnation comes in is in virtually every other game this season. For the sixth straight year, Michigan played stupid. They turned the ball over, gave up offensive rebounds, and wandered themselves into terrible shots all too often. They blew a huge lead and gacked up a win to Iowa. They got obliterated by an NC State team down to five scholarship players and missing their star. They were an awful, unwatchable basketball team most of the year; the OSU game was notable only as a remarkable outlier in the Amaker catalog, which stretches for six long years of head-pounding frustration.

But whether or not Tommy Amaker is a good coach or not is no longer all that relevant -- though for the record all available evidence indicates they he is not. He has had six years to produce a basketball team that fans are capable of watching for more than two minutes at a time without screaming something profane and punting the cat into the next room. This he has not done, and he must be fired, even if none of what's transpired over his tenure is actually his fault. The popular perception of Michigan is no longer the Fab Five, who are increasingly creaky old men in the NBA (or accountants or gym teachers or whatever). It is this:
You can't really mess with Duke, but Alex [Legion], we're like, do you know how many NITs they [Michigan] have gone to? Are you sure you want to play your college ball there, Alex?
Amaker, already tarred with NIT feathers, will labor under that perception until he forcibly changes it. It's yet another millstone hangs around the program's neck. Those who blame everyone except the actual people on the court for its problem must add it to practicing at the IM Building, OMG NCAA probation(!), Crisler Arena, Crisler Arena's lighting, the broken sign in front of Crisler, and Everything Ever when compiling their list of reasons that Michigan will never have a successful basketball program. Coupled with his obviously questionable ability to recruit and coach, Amaker's ability to get his teams to the NCAA tournament will only lessen in the near future -- and he's already 0 for 6.

Most of these excuses are not valid, anyway:
  • He has labored under NCAA sanctions. A 2003 postseason ban robbed Michigan of another NIT bid, most likely, but by the time Amaker arrived the NCAA had levied all the punishment it was going to. Michigan got a second year of postseason ineligibility lifted and weaseled its way out of a reduction of one scholarship for four years by counting three against Amaker's first year. Since Amaker's second year he has operated free and clear of any NCAA penalties.
  • Facilities kill recruiting. Many of Amaker's problems are of his own making. He offered role players Ron Coleman and Jarrett Smith as sophomores. Smith is the only point guard he's recruited since Daniel Horton largely because Michigan walked away from Tory Jackson, last seen helping Notre Dame -- not a program noted for its Billy-Donovan slickness -- to a nice seed in this year's tournament. He's blown scholarships on total nonentities time an again.
  • He's cleaned up the program's image. This is not an accomplishment. This is the lack of a negative. Michigan should shoot higher than "not Brian Ellerbe."
Allowing Amaker to stay on any further is tantamount to waving the white flag. Even his wife is a very nice lady who's obviously better at her job than Tommy is at his. Even though Crisler is not a new building. Even though he had all those injuries two years ago. It doesn't matter. Now that he's proven beyond a doubt that a new coach can't possibly find worse results, he must be replaced.

Side Note: I am going to miss Brent Petway. It's a shame he couldn't have been a celebrated role player on an actual team, but when someone busts out a winged helmet for Senior Day...

They earn my admiration forever. Godspeed, Brent, and please enjoy blocking the everliving hell out of 5'10" Europeans.

Side Note II: Do you know what the first hit for "Tommy Amaker" is in Google Images?

Do you know why? An Every Three Weekly article I wrote announcing a haiku contest:
Condoleezza Rice.
Do you know who she looks like?
Tommy Amaker.
Best ever.