Sports

All is not well in Ann Arbor

The circus of failure that’s three years old now continues in Ann Arbor. It’s painful to watch the disintegration of a once proud football program, but that’s what this is. I’m not the most avid football fan anymore, but i was raised to be one. Specifically, a Michigan football fan. And i’ve always considered myself a lucky Michigan football fan. Thanks to my grandmother’s mid-life BFA at the UofM, my family had season seats when i was little. Imagine being a five year old at Michigan Stadium sitting in the row behind the band…and the trombone section no less. I was there for the video below. I remember chaos as the band tried to turn their hats and play “The Victors” while 100,000 people went absolutely crazy.


I still have the commemorative mug for the 1980 season and the 1981 Rose Bowl victory. It was a gift from my first grade teacher. I was there when Elvis Grbac and Desmond Howard exorcised the demon of Notre Dame, about 15 rows up in the corner that Howard caught the pass to be exact.

And i was there for Bo’s last home game against Ohio State.

Now i’m just embarrassed. A semi-literate, blundering jackass was hired to coach at the UofM three years ago. So far his only accomplishment has been to get Michigan its first major NCAA violation in program history. Everything else has just been losing something. Players he inherited, recruits, games…lots and lots of games, especially the important ones.

The faithful want Harbaugh, but his criticisms of the program are all too accurate. I don’t think he’ll do it. More importantly, his criticism of Michigan football is all too accurate about college football in general. Only a tiny handful of these kids will ever have a successful NFL career, and a degree in “sports communication” is little consolation. Clearly there’s no rule that only idiots can be good at football. Look at Harbaugh’s Stanford team. I watched the end of the Orange Bowl and just about fell out of my chair when his breathless players talked to reporters. They sounded like student-athletes, that is, they spoke in complete sentences with proper tense throughout and other signs of an education. Michigan’s current coach can’t even manage that. Which makes me wonder how he can teach his players a damned thing, even just to value the education they’re earning.

I want to be clear. I don’t think that only kids with a 32 on the ACT should be allowed to play football. I don’t even have a problem with athletes entering under a slightly less rigorous admissions process, because i realize that for a lot of kids in America, playing sports is one of the only tickets to a better life. That’s why it is so important that these young men get the most out of the education they’re earning on the football field. And i think that it’s the coaches job to make that a priority. Coaches are no different than professors in their role and relationship to the students.

So i guess i don’t really care who will be the next coach at the UofM. I just care whether or not he has integrity. I care that he takes his role as a mentor to hundreds of kids with big dreams and slim chances seriously. I understand that it’s big business; teach those kids that big business can be done ethically.

In short, a little less American decadence and a little more of this please:

8 replies »

  1. Hats off to you, Lex. You’re right about the state of football in Michigan and, in some cases, in general.

    Thanks for including the last video–I had not heard that speech before. It’s almost enough–almost–to get me to say “Go Blue.” But I’m a Buckeye. My grandfather went to Ohio State (don’t know if he graduated), my dad went for a year and then joined the Air Force. When it was my turn to go, I couldn’t afford it–but I’ve always been a Buckeye at heart.

    When Jim Tressel was hired by Ohio State, a Michigan fan said to me, “Jim WHO? From Youngstown State? Couldn’t you get a REAL coach?” The same person used to regularly rib me about the Michigan Alumni Association paying the salaries of John Cooper and Earl Bruce to keep them around so Michigan could keep winning. So I understand your pain.

    On the one hand, I REALLY enjoy winning. For Pete’s sake, I’m a Cleveland fan, too–it’s good to cheer for one winning team, anyway. But, on the other hand, I’d like the game to mean something again.

  2. In the interest of full disclosure: I’m a total U-M homer and employee of the University.

    Football is a mess at U-M. Not only is the team bad, but now we have the specter of NCAA violations looming over us. Lex, I absolutely agree with your statements. We need a coach who will be a community leader as well as a football leader. We need a true Michigan Man.

    BUT, saying we need a Michigan Man is loaded. What is a Michigan Man? Lots of people think of it as someone with the appropriate ties to the University. I disagree. I think being a Michigan Man (or Woman for that matter) is about having the right attitude and priorities. I can’t say it any better than Imran Syed did in the student operated Michigan Daily (http://www.michigandaily.com/content/imran-syed-next-michigan-man).

    We need someone who will bring respectability back to the program, and that’s about much more than wins and losses.

    • It’s important to remember something that way too many programs in crisis (such as my own U or Colorado and Denver Broncos) tend to forget. That whole “Michigan Man”/’Colorado Man” kind of meme is severely limiting. Had Michigan thought that way back in 1968 it would never have hired the ULTIMATE Michigan Man, Bo Schembechler, who was prior to his hiring was pretty much an Ohio State Man.

      Go find the Best Man, is my advice to the Maize and Blue….

  3. Official announcement came out today that Les Miles is not The Man. I think this is good for U-M.

    Samuel, you’re absolutely correct! The Michigan Man thing can be very limiting. I think as long as they keep in mind that it’s an attitude and state of mind, they’re fine. If it goes back to who knows who and coached where, we might be screwed.

    I have faith that David Brandon is searching for the right person for this job, and not just the hot name on ESPN’s latest list. I think the Wolverines are in good hands with Mr. Brandon.

  4. Thanks, Matt.

    I’m ok with Hoke. He’s not the hot property but he may be the best possible choice. First, he wants the job because of the job it is. That’s a big part of what will make a true, Michigan Man.

    He’s a players’ coach and the guys in the pros who knew him at Michigan love him (i’ve heard quotes like “favorite coach ever”). IIRC, he runs the spread at SDSU so he’ll be happy using the players RR recruited…that is, this isn’t another monumental change over. He’s also a strong defensive coach…big problem at UM the last three years. And he’s big into fundamental football.

    His head coaching record may not be amazing, but he’s got a strong resume as an assistant. To my mind that makes him a step up from a coordinator brought in to be a head coach.

  5. Samuel, I do. I like this hire. I like what I’ve read about Hoke. The people I know who know way more about college football than me have been saying he’s the guy since the star of the speculation.

    Lex, I think he’ll fit in well. The biggest problem RR had coming in was that he didn’t do his homework on the program. He didn’t learn about what it mean to be the Michigan Football Coach. That made a lot of people think he didn’t care.

    I think Hoke knows the landscape better, and understands what he’s getting into. If he comes in and makes a show about restoring the traditions that RR snubbed he’ll win over a lot of the skeptics. I’ve got high hopes. I’m cautiously optimistic about the whole thing.

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