Where Does the Offense Go From Here?

Much to the delight of Michigan fans (or maybe just bloggers), Smart Football has taken a fairly serious interest in Michigan since Rich Rodriguez has been the headman. Of course, part of the reason that the Wolverines get mentioned time and again is the fact that everything is not all sunshine and lollipops in Ann Arbor. Of course, Rodriguez has never taken a significant interest in the defensive performance of his teams, so surely the focus of Smart Football is on that side of the ball, no?

Not So Fast My Friend. It is in fact the offense that Chris has taken an interest in. More specifically, it is the idea that Michigan’s offense is not as diversified or systematic as perhaps it should be. This is not an old issue for Chris, who has brought up the point before that the passing game is not conceptually designed. In the more recent post, he goes a little more in-depth:

If Rodriguez wants his offense to be truly elite again, it’s the passing game that has to be the source of innovation. The run game tools are largely in place. There’s some room for improvement all around, but, last season with general inexperience — and without a legitimate running threat at quarterback — the lack of a viable downfield passing attack worked to help cripple the Rodriguez offense. But the fact that this aspect never developed over the course of the season was what really troubled me.

There’s much more to say on this topic, but for now suffice to say that Rodriguez is in danger of falling behind in the spread offense arms race in terms of sophistication. I discussed that phenomena with Purdue as a pass-first spread team over the last decade, but it’s of a slightly different order with Michigan.

Let’s break this down, shall we?

Passing Game
Smart Football sez:

But Rodriguez is a bright guy and his passing game originally derived from (though is a long way now) the old run and shoot. So you’d think he could remedy this. Yet with nothing but true freshman, that evolution will have to wait. The longer they wait, however, the farther behind they fall. The only hope is the increased athleticism masks these deficiencies.

Brian’s take on the matter is that Rodriguez hasn’t been forced to have a complex passing game, because with Pat White at the helm, a dominating run game and simple pass game will work just fine, thank you. I tend to agree with that assessment, and it better be true, because, as noted by Smart Football, the Wolverines are likely a year away from being able to add any complexity to the passing game.

With Pat White able to run the ball like he did, and probably not able to pass well enough to have a full pass game installed, it’s easy to see a potential reason the pass game stayed stagnant. Rodriguez’s recruiting has shown that he’s more interested in being able to throw the ball, however, and Tate Forcier may even be a better passer today than White, if not quite the runner:

Running Game
Smart Football:

Compare their offenses with Rodriguez’s: there’s not much difference from a run-game standpoint (though Meyer and OU mix up their sets a bit more and use more tight-ends now), but the passing games have seen a wide departure.

All due respect to Smart Football (and I may be wrong here, because he knows a hell of a lot more about the game than I do), but I’d be willing to say that even Rodriguez’s ground game, at least as implemented last year, is simpler than other spread teams, most notably Florida and Oregon. Again, part of that might have been players who were less-than-optimal for the spread offense, particularly at the quarterback position.

In the future, however, a diversification of the offense, perhaps including innovations like Meyer’s use of the H-back as a shovel option, or more counters, even the triple option/throwback pass that WVU used in the Meineke Bowl. Having better fits at the QB position, and not having to install just that base offense all offseason, will certainly help that in the future.

The Future

Perhaps Pat White got a bad rap as a passer, or maybe Bill Stewart actually knew what he was doing for WVU’s offense, thoughthe stats don’t agree – and that’s in a year where a senior Pat White was supposed to lead WVU to one of the most prolific offenses ever. However, with White looking more like a quarterback than a wideout or return man at the NFL (for better or for worse), it looks like Rodriguez’s schemes will be able to develop more complexity down the road.

As far as diversifying schemes goes, Chris points out that Oklahoma is an example of a spread team with a much more complex (and effective) passing game than Michigan’s. The use of the tight end is pointed out specifically. In fact, Rodriguez has reportedly planned to visit Oklahoma’s coaches in the offseason to trade information on the passing game, particularly the use of tight ends (of which Michigan has many who aren’t getting very much use).

In the future, I would love to see visits to Florida as well, for diversifying the running game a bit, along with figuring out other ways to use the tights ends effectively in the spread offense.

And, as pointed out by Smart Football, Oregon’s offense is one of the best-designed as well. I’ve pointed out in the past that I don’t think Michigan’s schemes are as creative as Oregon’s, and that’s one area where there is room for improvement. Perhaps in the future, Rodriguez can pick the brain of Chip Kelly.

And, most importantly for the future comes recruiting. Rodriguez has more resources available at Michigan than he ever did at West Virginia. White’s emergence as a possible NFL QB has to help recruiting as well. Even if he didn’t tweak his offense at all, if he continues to recruit like he has for the past two classes (or, more likely, improves it by having more success on the field), He could be able to usurp the quality of his offenses in Morgantown. With minor improvements to certain aspects of the offensive side of the ball, an outstanding offense is likely in the future of Michigan football.

Posted under Coaching, Football

Recruiting Catch-up Post

Last week TheWolverine’s Josh Helmholdt had a recruiting chat on the Freep website, and I was aware of it but without anywhere to put it. So, I’ll dedicate a post to it, parsing out all the details I think are relevant.

Michigan definitely has a good shot at Inkster QB Devin Gardner. He dropped Ohio State this past week and that was the team he grew up following, so that increases Michigan’s chances that much more. Right now they have a better shot of landing Gardner than [Robert] Bolden. I personally like Gardner’s upside best. He truly does have some of the characteristics that made Terrelle Pryor the No. 1 recruit coming out of HS in the 2008 class. Gardner is also one of the QB prospects who Michigan has the best chance of landing.

I spoke with Austin [Gray] last night and Michigan is definitely high on his radar. Michigan State and Illinois look to be on the verge of offering and Indiana, Toledo, CMU and others already have. He is not listing an outright favorite right now

I was down in Florida with Marvin [Robinson] last week, and I still feel good Michigan is the team to beat. Several others in Florida agree with me on that.

William [Gholston] did favor MSU and really still does, but he has been adamant in the last couple weeks that he does not want to make an early commitment because he has not visited very many schools.

Gholston, Derrick Bryant and Darryl Baldwin from Solon, Ohio, [are the main targets] at defensive end. At DT, there is a kid in Georgia they are taking a look at, but all in all the talent nationally at that position is weak this year. Most of those offers will come later in the process.

[Regarding adding players to the 2009 class] They took a look at Carolina ATH Larry Raper, but have not offered. There are a few three and four-star guys still left uncommitted and if they can get in with one of them, then maybe they add one more. I keep in close contact with Raper, and he has not been offered yet by Michigan. As the days go on, there is less of a chance he does get that offer. The lack of available talent at the DT left in the 2009 class makes it unlikely they will add another one in the 2009 class.

I really believe [Nick Hill] will [end up in Michigan’s class] Joe, and likely even before Michigan’s summer camp. Hill is short (5-6), but he has such unique abilities and brings more to the table than most HS backs. I am really high on Hill and rank him as one of the top 5 players in the state for 2010.

Most of that falls in the range of “not at all surprising if you pay attention,” but it’s still worth noting when there’s good recruiting content for free.Michigan State has since offered Gray, and I’ll try to sleuth out who the Georgia DT is.

And while I’m catching up on old recruiting information that wasn’t likely to end up having a home, DocSat talked most successful recruiting schools over the past two classes, and it’s pretty encouraging for Michigan fans:

Bama has reeled in 40 players rated four or five-stars by Rivals over the last two Signing Days. By comparison, the only other schools with more than 30 are USC and Michigan, with 31.

The big difference for Michigan, of course, is the lack of 5-star guys. USC and Bama have 6 and 7, respectively, while the Wolverines have only 1. Hopefully, more success on the field will allow the coaching staff to continue and accelerate the super-positive recruiting momentum they’ve managed to gain despite a 3-9 year.

Posted under Coaching, Football, Recruiting

Coaching Grades

Back in November, The Blue-Gray Sky made a post evaluating Charlie Weis, whether he had reached his ceiling, etc. While not particularly interesting to the non-ND fan on the whole, there was an interesting idea contained within, and that is giving a coach grades in several key categories. Those chosen by Jeff were Offensive Mind, Defensive Mind, Recruiting, Fundamentals, and Motivation. Their comparison was between Charlie Weis and Lou Holtz, which ended up looking like this:

Category Lou Holtz Charlie Weis
Offensive Mind B B
Defensive Mind C C+
Recruiting A A
Fundamentals A D
Motivation A++ C

This is a pretty good representation (though Weis’ offensive mind is clearly overrated – see games against Boston College, Syracuse, San Diego State, USC, etc. – all in his fourth year and with his own recruits). However, I’m obviously not here to talk about Notre Dame coaches, I’m here to apply this concept to Rich Rodriguez.

Offensive Mind – A-

Of course, Rich came to Michigan as an offensive genius, the father of the zone-read offense, engineer of the West Virginia Spread n’ Shred, etc. So how do I not give the man at least an ‘A,’ if not an ‘A+?’ Rich is a very good offensive mind, but he’s very much married to his offensive system, and while he can adapt it somewhat, I don’t see in him the creativity that someone like Chip Kelly brought to Oregon’s (very similar) offense. Maybe down the road, when he gets the personnel he needs, he’ll be a little more creative. however, I’m not sure there was tons of evidence for that in his time at West Virginia, and it remains to be seen if there are many tricks up his sleeve.

Defensive Mind – D+

Rich has never really worried much about defense. He’s put his focus into offense, and hired a defensive coordinator he trusts (or doesn’t trust and fires after one year) to be the “head coach” of the defense. This can be construed as a negative if it doesn’t work out, or a strong positive if it does. Coach Rod does have a reputation for being loyal to his friends from West Virginia, rather than surrounding himself with the best assistants available, so it is something of a weakness.

Recruiting – A-

When you take into account all the media-fueled “turmoil” around the Michigan program, and the negative recruiting that has stemmed from it, Rich has had a great pair of recruiting classes. He’s been able to pull down a pair of top-10 efforts with all the uncertainty around Michigan and the headhunting in the press. Just that alone is worthy of a grade in the A-range. If he’s able to start pulling in annual top-5 or top-3 classes once Michigan starts winning, this grade certainly has upward potential.

Fundamentals – B-

The coaching staff stresses fundamentals, and from everything we know about Rich’s past, he’s very very into teaching fundamentals. However, with Michigan’s play on the field last year, how can he get any better a grade than this? The offensive line in particular improved over the course of the year (and indeed, Greg Frey has the biggest “fundamentals guy” reputation among the coaches), so maybe as the system is installed more, and as the coaches settle in, the fundamental focus will improve.

Motivation – A

You’ve seen the Barwis video. I’ve seen the Barwis video. Barwis may not be Rodriguez, but the two are definitely an inseparable unit, and the motivation that Barwis brings is amazing. Rodriguez himself isn’t such a bad motivator (though, from the sounds of things, he was a little too focused on the stick, and not the carrot at times last spring), and the tandem is amazing motivationally.

When broken into units, it’s easy to see why coach Rodriguez is considered one of the top football leaders in the country. As long as he has a good defensive coordinator to take care of that side of the ball, he should be able to build any team and any program to success in due time.

Anything you don’t agree with? Debate in the comments.

Posted under Analysis, Coaching, Football

Why Michigan 2008 isn’t Notre Dame 2007

The final part in a series that I started (and accidentally abandoned) a long time ago. The other teams of comparison were Minnesota 2007, Alabama 2007, and Nebraska 2004.

Notre Dame and Michigan’s 2007 and 2008 seasons, respectively, were somewhat similar. Does that mean Michigan is doomed to follow in the Irish’s footsteps and finish 6-6 in their next season? Let’s take a look at why or why not. First, there’s a comparison between the actual teams. As Brian explored on MGoBlog, despite the same record, Notre Dame’s season of terror was much more… terrible… than Michigan’s. So, although this post is primarily predictive, it’s important to note that Michigan’s year was nowhere near the disaster that ND’s was.

Another key difference between the two teams: 2007 was Weis’ third year in South Bend. He was playing with mostly his recruits (after doing all of his winning with Willingham’s oddly-lamented recruiting classes), at least the ones who hadn’t left after committing to Weis, spending two years in his program, earning starting jobs, and STILL hating the whale enough to ditch his program.

The Better

Michigan’s offense, though significantly better than Notre Dame’s, was full of first-time starters (every single player except for one – Steve Schilling), many of whom were never expected to contribute. The offensive line, in particular, didn’t have the accolades or experience of Notre Dame’s comparable unit, and they still managed to perform much better (as in “didn’t give up an NCAA record in sacks”). When you take into account that every single offensive player who had a meaningful role on the team (except Sam McGuffie, who missed much of the year with injury and was out when the offense started to, like, function) is back, and Notre Dame didn’t have quite that luxury between 2007 and 2008, it’s certainly a good sign for Michigan.

Michigan’s defense was supposed to be its strong suit in 2008, and that didn’t quite come to fruition. However, Michigan will be returning some of its most talented players on defense – defensive end Brandon Graham, corner Donovan Warren, and linebacker Obi Ezeh – and they are loking to build on that success.

The Worse

The quarterback situation for Michigan coming off 2008 is much wore than Notre Dame’s was the previous year. Though Jimmy Clausen had a horrible first year in South Bend, he was still the #1 overall recruit in the nation for a reason. Steven Threet, on the other hand (should he choose to stay) is a more limited, though still talented, player. If Michigan has to start a true freshman (or even a sophomore Threet), it will be a step down from a sophomore Clausen.

Michigan also lost its defensive coordinator, which can be seen as a blessing and a curse. Scott Shafer’s defense wasn’t the world-beater it was built up as before the season, but Michigan’s defense will still have to learn from its third coordinator in as many years, which certainly increases the likelihood of missed assignments, etc. Of course, GERG did beat the Irish in their house last year.

The Verdict

Halfway through last year, emulating ND’s two-year stretch might have been a pretty good goal for Michigan. The head-to-head win in the series, and a path to an 8-4 record (and therefore, ridiculously, a BCS bowl) seemed to be well within ND’s grasp. Then, of course, they fell flat on their faces, getting GERGed and not even registering a first down against USC until the third quarter. Rich Rodriguez’s noted track record of success and actual support (in the form of opinions) from people in the know would certainly seem to imply that the Wolverines aren’t headed for an extended down period like the Irish may be.

With Michigan’s fairly unique situation last year, particularly for a first-year coach, they were set up for a pretty special kind of suck. Notre Dame’s 2007 team, in all honesty, shouldn’t have been. With a year under the RR regime, a hell of a lot more experience, and some new recruits coming in, the Wolverines should be disappointed with a season like Notre Dame’s. Of course, expecting much better might be setting up unreasonable expectations (8 winsis a reasonable goal).

Posted under Analysis, Coaching, Football

Press Conference Themes

Rich Rodriguez uses his press conferences much like a politician does. He takes the attention, especially on big days, and uses it to shape the message and control the commentary. There were 3 major themes that he came back to and stressed throughout the press conference. It seems like a lot of his responses were directed to local columnists who, for some reason or another, seem hellbent on proving he’s a current or future failure.  This was put together from my recollection and the tweets I banged out during the conference. Statements in quotation marks are actual quotes. The full press conference can be viewed on MGoBlue.com.

Recruiting the State of Michigan

Coach Rodriguez came back to this point 4 or 5 times during the press conference, which seemed fairly telling. A lot of the local papers have accused the new coaching staff of forsaking the state of Michigan in favor of Florida and other southern states in which the coaches had connections during their tenure at WVU (or, for many of them, South Florida).  On first look, that may  appear to be valid, since there are only 4 players in the class from Michigan, and MSU snagged the better half of the state’s top 10 recruits.

Rodriguez addressed this bluntly a few times. At one point he said “people who say we don’t recruit the state of Michigan are way off-base,” and  “it’s the first place we look.” He mentioned that Michigan is the place where the first targets on the board come from.  He also said that he’s not going to take a Michigan kid just because he’s from Michigan. They’re going after guys who fit their system, and they’ll look in Michigan first, and go national if they can’t find what they need in the home state.

One reason for the lack of commitments from kids in Michigan is that the coaching staff hasn’t had the time to develop the relationships with the high school coaches. Coach Rodriguez’s coaches clinics have a good reputation, so this should turn around quickly. Expect Michigan to push hard after the big name in state prospects (Devin Gardner, William Gholston, et al).

Effects of a 3-9 Season/Negative Recruiting

This was another recurring theme during the press conference.  He said that some of the recruits had some questions about the season and the issues that the team faced. The struggles made some people a little wary, but Rodriguez also said that because of some of the weaknesses on the team, he was able to promise every recruit the opportunity to come in and immediately compete and make an impact.

He also said that negative recruiting often comes back and bites the person spreading the rumors. One example he gave was southern schools trying to scare kids by talking about the weather in Michigan. A lot of kids from Florida were braced for an Arctic expedition only to find it wasn’t as bad as they thought.

Obviously Rodriguez didn’t name any specific coaches, but at the beginning of his statement he made a statement to the effect of “there was a lot of negative recruiting out there we had to fight through.” He kind of pulled back a little bit and said that, in general, most coaches don’t do any negative recruiting. Usually it’s a young, over-ambitious assistant trying to reach.

Rodriguez, predictably, stated in no uncertain terms that neither he, nor anyone on his staff recruit negatively. He said, “if you got a good enough program to sell, why bash someone else’s?” Also, as previously mentioned, there is a real chance of backlash when recruiting goes negative.


This got brought up more than once, a lot of times by the reporters asking questions. Rodriguez said he “wasn’t surprised by anything on Signing Day.” This may be spin, but it was apparent that he had a pretty good idea of what was going down, especially with the two defensive tackles. He basically conceded that a commitment from a kid who is still taking visits doesn’t really mean anything; you still have to recruit him hard, since the commitment basically doesn’t exist.

He also said 2 or 3 time that “sometimes you want people to decommit, sometimes you don’t.”  I’m pretty sure he didn’t want both DTs to decommit, but it makes sense in the case of Jordan Barnes, DeWayne Peace, and their ilk. The offer still stands, but the communication and constant salesmanship flags until eventually the recruit realizes he is no longer wanted, and chooses someone else.  Seems a bit ethically dubious, but better than the alternative of over-signing. Recruiting is, in essence, seamy, so it’s all shades of gray to a certain extent.

If you have any specific questions about Rich Rodriguez’s portion of the press conference, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Posted under Coaching, Football

Why Michigan 2008 isn’t Alabama 2007

Dan Wetzel on the Rich Rod at Michigan and Nick Saban at Alabama analogy. I’ve done posts before where I analyzed why Michigan’s popular comparisons to other teams was a little off, if not completely bogus. Ohio State 2004=Michigan 2005 was one, and so on. Essentially, the point is that you shouldn’t, on the basis of all the available evidence, expect Michigan’s 2009 season to be the success that Alabama’s ’08 ended up being.

In 2007, Alabama had a season that can only be described as “trying.” In Nick Saban’s first year, the Tide went 7-6, which was not exactly a historical low in comparison to other recent years, but was far from the expectations among fans in Tuscaloosa. However, Saban righted the ship in 2008, blistering out to a 12-0 start before succumbing to Florida in the SEC championship game and finishing 12-2.

Saban, however, had a much better framework in place for second year success than does Michigan (perhaps through no (or little) fault of Rodriguez). First, let’s take a look at the most obvious: the way season 1 turned out:

Saban’s Crimson Tide started 6-2, before losing their next four. In the bowl game, they got a bit of redemption by beating Colorado. Michigan, on the other hand, started 2-4 through the easy part of their schedule. The rest of the year would have been a scramble just to make a bowl game, whereas Saban’s team had one locked up a little more than halfway through the year. Of course, both Rodriguez and Saban failed in their first attempts against the team’s #1 rival in the last game of the regular season. Making a bowl at all, however, is a huge positive for a first-year coach. It establishes a baseline of success, and more importantly, it give him another month to install his system to the team. Rodriguez doesn’t have that luxury, and from the offense’s performance over the course of the year, he could have desperately used it. Alabama, while disappointing, was more ready for success the next year than most acknowledged coming into this season.

Another key factor is that of personnel. Both Rodriguez and Saban fielded fairly young teams in their first year at their respective schools. However, it looks like Saban may have the edge here as well:

Rodriguez will return a redshirt sophomore quarterback who started most of 2008. However, Steven Threet is regarded to be an imperfect fit for the Rodriguez offense, and two highly-touted freshmen are coming in for spring ball, and are expected to challenge for playing time, if not a starting role. Saban, on the other hand, returned a two-year starter (who also got playing time his freshman year) in senior John Parker Wilson. The Tide’s offense also returned four starters along the offensive line. While Michigan also returns several starters along the offensive line, their performance through 2008 certainly indicates that there will be changes, likely including some redshirt freshman starters next year. Alabama had highly-recruited players ready to step in, whereas Michigan lost nearly all of its best linemen (including the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft).

Defensively, the Tide returned few starters in 2008. Two players in the secondary and one each in the linebacking corps and along the defensive line is nothing to champion. Michigan, on the other hand, will likely lose at least 3 of its defensive linemen (the undoubted strength of the team), one linebacker, and its #2 corner. It appears as though Michigan’s defense, though it is looking to experience significant losses, may be depended upon to carry the team again next year. Of course, with a change in the defensive coordinator position, a sense of continuity from the defense cannot carry the team.

Regardless of returning personnel, Saban was more able to recruit immediate help with junior college players, a luxury Rodriguez will have in a much more limited capacity, if at all.

Aside from perhaps John Parker Wilson (a returning multi-year starter at QB – the most important position on the offense) or freshman phenom WR Julio Jones, Alabama’s MVP in 2008 was Terrence “Mount” Cody, a junior college transfer who stepped in and played a huge role for Alabama on the defensive line. Michigan may have some instant-impact players in their 2009 recruiting class, but they are undoubtedly less proven commodities than Cody, and are all but guaranteed to be less productive.

Coaching philosophy plays a role as well. Saban and Rodriguez have their similarities, but there are key fundamental differences as well.

Rodriguez is a believer in his system above all else, and believes he can win with whomever is on his team. Down the road, this may work well, especially once he gets some of his recruits in place. Saban, on the other hand, is a strong believer in “recruit, recruit, recruit” as a method for achieving success. Saban’s philosophy is less dependent on developing players and (especially when combined with the JuCos mentioned above) is more ripe for achieving instant success. Rodriguez’s different philosophy may in fact be more sound for long-term success, but it doesn’t mean the same thing for quick turnarounds that Saban’s does.

Alabama’s 2007 was less difficult than Michigan’s 2008, and the Tide were far more primed for second-year success than are the Wolverines. Don’t expect a miracle turnaround next season in Ann Arbor.

Posted under Analysis, Coaching, Football

Why Michigan 2008 isn’t Nebraska 2004

The first in a series of dispelling comparisons to other historically bad teams at major college football programs. If you have a suggestion of a team with whom to compare the 2008 Wolverines, leave it in the comments.

In 2004, Nebraska’s legendary football team was under the tutelage of first-year coach Bill Callahan. Callahan was replacing Frank Solich, who was a lifer in Nebraska, first coaching high school there, then being an assistant for 19 years under legend Tom Osborne, before replacing him in 1998. Solich was a multi-time Coach of the Year finalist, but after the huskers faded in 2002 and 2003, he was fired when AD Steve Pederson infamously stated “I refuse to let the program gravitate into mediocrity.”

This sounds similar to, if not quite the same as Lloyd Carr’s departure from Michigan. After several strong years with the program, the final days of his tenure saw 7-5 and 9-4 seasons, bookending an 11-2 year, and highlighted by losses to Minnesota and Appalachian State. Carr, though he was the protege of a legend, has become something of a Michigan legend himself, and left the Wolverines on his own term through retirement, rather than being fired and returning to the sidelines in Athens, Ohio.

Now that we’ve seen Rodriguez and Callahan entered their respective schools with somewhat similar situations, let’s take a look at what each man did before. Prior to becoming the headman in Lincoln, Bill Callahan had been an offensive line coach for Wisconsin in the early 90s, before becoming a coach in the NFL for 10 years. He was cited as an offensive genius in the west coast system, becoming offensive coordinator and eventually head coach for the Oakland Raiders. After two years as the Raiders’ had coach, Callahan was fired after going 4-12 in 2003. Rich Rodriguez’s situation here is entirely different. Rod has never coached in the NFL, and has been a head coach at nearly every college level. Most importantly, Rodriguez has never been fired for lack of performance by his teams. He has won at every single coaching stop.

In their first year at their respective schools, both men failed to achieve a bowl – which the fans, alumni, and administration found to be unacceptable. Even in the previous coaches’ worst years (a 7-7 effort in 2002 for Solich, and a 7-5 2005 for Carr), they had managed to make it to bowls, though neither won. Both were trying to install new offensive systems, coincidentally going in opposite directions (Callahan replacing the option with a pro-style offense, and Rodriguez replacing a pro-style offense with option schemes). The Nebraska offense was a cornerstone of their program, and even ingrained into the state identity. Was Michigan’s pro-style offense the same way?

The fundamental difference between Callahan and Rodriguez is an inability (or lack of desire) by Callahan to embrace tradition and run his team like an NFL franchise. Rodriguez, for all his faults, has done everything he can to try not to step on the traditions of Michigan, even if he’s needed a little prodding at times. He invited the 1968 team to speak to his Wolverines this summer, in contrast to Callahan’s ordering the removal of all the All-American plaques from Nebraska’s football offices. Even if Rodriguez doesn’t quite know all of Michigan’s traditions, he understands that they are important in the college game, and is trying to catch up as fast as he can.

Michigan is also upgrading its football program in numerous ways concurrently with the takeover of the Rodriguez administration. New facilities are going up, luxury boxes are being added to Michigan Stadium, and Rodriguez himself replaced a stagnant weight training program with one of the nation’s best Strength and Conditioning Coordinators in Mike Barwis.

In 2004, Nebraska as a program changed its whole identity. However, unlike the Huskers, I Michigan’s change is far more likely to be successful.

Posted under Coaching, Football

Recruiting Update: 12-26-08

Recruiting Boards, as always, are here:
2009 & 2010
and in the sidebar to the left.

Standard RichRod recruiting fluff from the Freep.

This is a little late, but Shavodrick Beaver has been moved from committed and completely removed from the board in the wake of his bizarre decommitment to Tulsa. His player page has been removed from the 2009 Commit HQ (also available to the left).

So what’s the upshot for the rest of the class from the Beaver commitment? Most likely a more intense focus on FL QB Denard Robinson, the only remaining quarterback on the board. The Sun-Sentinel had some kind things to say about his fit in the Michigan offense, and mentions his upcoming visit (more on that in a moment). The header of a Scout article by Allen Wallace is a little more specific:

Denard Robinson still plans to visit Michigan on Jan. 9, Kansas State on Jan. 16 and Central Florida on Jan. 23. “I like Michigan because the old coaches from West Virginia are there,” Robinson said. “Coach Rich Rodriguez is trying to install his system there and I think I’d be a good fit. They need a good dual-threat quarterback like me. I won’t be making a final decision until after my visits.”

…so it certainly sounds like Michigan is much more involved than they were a couple weeks ago, and are back to recruiting Robinson as a QB. Finally, there’s another Scout article, entitled “Is U-M near the top for Robinson?” This is the type of teaser to which the answer is almost always “yes.”

If Michigan doesn’t land Denard Robinson, there’s a good chance that guys like Tajh Boyd, Eugene Smith, and Raymond Cotton come back into play.

…and while we’re up in arms about who will fill the second QB slot, don’t forget about the quarterback still committed in this class. Tate Forcier was recently interviewed on WDFN (audio | transcript). What did he have to say about Beaver?

It didn’t really phase me, I wasn’t worried about him. I knew I was going to have to come in and compete regardless of whether it was against him or against Threet. Him leaving it didn’t phase me.

He’s also ready to go at Michigan, having already enrolled (as detailed here earlier this week), and he’s ready to learn and help Michigan win:

I’m actually heading out there in less than two weeks. Right away right when I get out there, coach Smith and coach Rodriguez both told me I’m going to be spending most of my time with them learning that playbook. And with coach Barwis getting me prepared for next season – that’s the main goal right now, to get ready and hope to lead Michigan to a good season next year.

And how is he going to help Michigan win?

I have everything you want in a quarterback. I’m not the tallest guy, but I know how to get the job done. I have a feel for the game. I feel the pressure. I have a great feel for everything. I have great arm strength. I have good enough speed. Overall it’s just the balance of me as a quarterback. I’m not over the top on anything, but that’s what the Michigan coaches are going to try to get me to do – be the best of the best… My goal is to be a little bit like Colt McCoy. It’s almost nearly the same size and speed. It’s possible I may have a stronger arm than him. That’s kind of a lot to say, but I think if I worked hard I could maybe follow in his footsteps and be the type of quarterback that he is.

And that should be just about everything in regards to 2009. Let’s stick with the quarterbacks theme, however, and move along to 2010.

Sometime early next week, I should (finally) have some video up of 2010 MI QB Devin Gardner‘s performance in theDivision III State Championship game (and of course, some film on his teammate, Michigan commit Cameron Gordon, but that doesn’t really fit with the QB theme, now does it?). Look forward to that somewhere within the next round of updates.

Virginia Tech’s inability to land Kevin Newsome this year may lead them to more heavily pursue another local product next year, in Phillip Sims. Despite his good speed, Sims insists that he wantas to be looked at as a pro-style QB. His current schools of interest (including UVa, BC, and Tennessee) seems to bear that out. Hell remain on the board until he says he’s no longer interested in the Wolverines or a spread offense.

Speaking of other QB prospects Michigan may be a little behind in recruiting, 2010 OH QB Spencer Ware will likely end up at a different position in college, but he’s an electifying athlete either way that Michigan would certainly love to have. The current list for Ware is Ohio State, some SEC schools (including Georgia, his favorite), then a bunch of slightly lesser-tiered schools (including the hometown Bearcats).

…and before I wrap up the QBs-only edition of the Recruiting Update, I may as well take care of a couple things not related to signal-callers:
Removed 2009 MD DE/LB Jason Ankrah. He has committed to Nebraska.
Removed 2009 PA LB Dan Mason, who will choose between Pitt, WVU, and Penn State.

Posted under Football, Recruiting

Discussing Michigan Football with the Family

At Thanksgiving Dinner this year the talk flowed into Michigan’s disappointing football season. Almost all the siblings on my dad’s side went to Michigan for some amount of time (only one graduated). My aunt brought up how East Grand Rapids coach Peter Stuursma inherited nothing and is now going to the state championships every other year (for the sake of this story, we’ll overlook how Kevin Grady’s dad finds “housing” in the district for some talented athletes).

When my uncle brought up the fact that he lost 6 games his first season (that’s a 2-6 season which is the same winning percentage as 3-9 fyi…), she said “Yes, but after that they won a lot of games every year.” At that point my hand was firmly attached to my forehead. When I said what the difference was between Peter Stuursma’s first year and Rich Rodriguez’s, she said that something was, but she couldn’t explain it to me.

Then I explained how Rich Rodriguez generally had a rough first year followed by a fairly good second year and then BECOMES A MACHINE. I told them how at WVU he had one bad year followed by four years of 8+ wins and 3 years of 10+ wins*. After I said that, another uncle said “10 wins won’t cut it at Michigan.” At this point I’m trying to resist the urge to fly over the table with a butter knife. Lloyd Carr was a great coach and only had 5 of 12 years with double digit wins. Bo Schembechler, THE Michigan coach in the modern era was only slightly better at 10 of 20 seasons of 10+ wins**.

I’m hoping he just doesn’t really know football. If Michigan fans think 10 wins is unacceptable, we’re worse off than I expected. 10 wins is a great season. 8 wins is a good season. Sure we’re Michigan and our team should always be in contention for a championship, but you can’t expect to be a game or two away every year. With limited scholarships, you don’t have hegemonic powers. There is more ebb and flow. It’s time Michigan fans learn to appreciate what we’ve had, have and will soon have.

*People are mature. From Rich Rodriguez’s Wikpedia entry:

**It’ s a little hard to compare the to eras given Bo only had 10 games with a much harder to reach bowl up until 1975, but Lloyd’s whole tenure was within the era of limited scholarship era. I’m not sure if the factors balance out or not.

Posted under Football


Everyone knew Michigan was going to struggle this year. Maybe nobody thought the Wolverines would fall to Toledo, but everyone except the most fanatically-blind Michigan supporters knew that a Big Ten title was likely out of the question, and a bowl game might be a reasonable goal. There was always the future to look forward to. A year of learning under the spread system. A year of Barwis. A good 2009 recruiting class. The future was looking bright, because Michigan fans certainly weren’t planning to bail after one trying year under Rich Rodriguez. The members of that 2009 recruiting class, on the other hand? Some may not stick around to help clean up the carnage.

There are competing schools of thought on the link between winning and success on the recruiting trail. On one hand, you have the fans who hope prospects see the opportunity to come in and compete right away (and, realistically, some recruits do follow this train of thought). On the other side, one can find those who think a recruit will want to stay as far away as possible from anything that could be perceived as a “sinking ship” (again, some recruits think this, as well).

I personally think, from my trials and tribulations in following recruiting, that there is something of a hybrid between these two schools of thought. We’ll start when a recruit is young. If a child grows up watching a program succeed regularly, he might become something of a fan of that program. More likely, however, it may become “familiar” to him, if only on the most shallow name-recognition basis. Actual wins and losses (of course, except in the case where a recruit grows up a diehard fan of a certain program) probably don’t really become a factor until a high schooler becomes something of a potential recruit. Once a young man realizes that he might have an opportunity to play division 1 football (brother), the attention becomes a little more focused on the programs who might be potential destinations. This typically happens around a prospect’s junior year.

Senior year, however, is not likely a time for recruits to radically alter their perceptions of a program. If a team struggles during the 2008 season (this is completely hypothetical, of course), a young quarterback from San Diego or Wichita Falls (again, completely hypothetical, and I randomly selected those cities) will see that as an opportunity to come in and compete for a starting position right away. This is especially true of those hypothetical recruits who intend to hypothetically enroll early hypothetically. Hypothetically. Only the more loosely-committed players, or those who look at depth charts and realize that, although there is playing time up for grabs, it is not at their position, are the ones who might be swayed from the 2009 class.

So, who might fall into the category for this class? Bryce McNeal, Brandin Hawthorne, Anthony Fera, and DeWayne Peace have taken or plan to take visits elsewhere, along with former commitment William Campbell. DeQuinta Jones has been heard from very little since he committed, and his status is a virtual mystery to Michigan fans. As long as Michigan’s coaches continue to do a good job recruiting these players, they should retain those that they want. McNeal seems to be the most likely to decommit at this time.

So, let’s bring this back to the 2010 recruiting class. If high school juniors see a program lose, and form their perception from that, it means Michigan’s 2010 class could be pretty bad, right? Well, yes and no. Michigan already has 2 commits, both of whom are likely to be 4-star or 5-star prospects. A third is presumably on the way, another 4-star or better player. All three of these players have Michigan ties from long before their junior years of high school, and their perception of the Wolverines isn’t bound to change radically. Joining a class of highly-ranked prospects is one of the antidotes to a less-than-stellar year. Jeremy Jackson, Ricardo Miller, and hopefully Marvin Robinson all will be an incentive for other good recruits to join the class.

This may be one of the factors in some of the more inexplicably-good recruiting classes in recent memory. Notre Dame can sell its tradition, but one would think a 3-9 year would deter top prospects from joining the class of 2008 in South Bend. At the end of the day, however, the Irish finished with the #2 class in the nation. The only team that finished ahead of the Irish? Alabama, a team that had a recent history of mediocrity, despite its history. Nick Saban, in his second year in Tuscaloosa, and coming off a 7-6 record that didn’t exactly scream “WOO PROGRAM ON THE RISE” pulled in a stellar group of players to help turn the Tide’s fortunes around.

So, can Michigan, with its young, exciting coach pull in top classes in 2009 and 2010, despite a 2008 season that will likely end well below .500? The recruits aren’t stuck with Michigan, but we fans are hoping that Rich Rod can keep the snake oil flowing.

Posted under Coaching, Recruiting

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