Monday, December 29, 2014

Cloak of Indifference, I Renounce You!

When I was first acquainting my boyfriend Dave to my group of friends, it happened to be at a birthday party held at Arbor Brewing during the Michigan-Notre Dame game in 2008. With the game on a TV above us, we all watched and drank with hope in our hearts. We had a hot new coach, Rich Rodriguez, and we were interested to see where he would take us. The crowd was comprised of Michigan grads and a few strong Michigan fans. Dave was one of the latter. As the game commenced, it didn't take long for us to realize that we were going to get stomped. Not a group to wallow in self-pity, we just turned our minds back to sweet, delicious beer and enjoyed the party. All except for Dave, who was left rather confused by the reaction of so many Michigan alums and hardcore Wolverine fans to a demoralizing loss-in-the-making. I think he was actually put off by it for a while. He was screaming and yelling at the TV. Then he'd look around and the rest of us were drinking and looking at him like "Buddy, get a grip. It's just a football game." He thought we were all horrible Michigan fans and a shame to our alma mater. 

I told him something to this effect sometime after that day, as other losses steeled my resolve to feel nothing: "Dave, we've become numb to games like this. We love Michigan football but it hurts to watch it right now. You lose to Appalachian State and Toledo and most of your Big Ten opponents and you stop caring. We've become the butt of jokes all over the country. So we all have to put on a cloak of indifference. If you win, fabulous! It's a great surprise. If you lose, you haven't spent an ounce of emotional energy on it."

He was skeptical and rather disgusted with the idea. I'm sure he swore he'd never, ever get to that point because no true fan could do that. Well, until the last year or two of the Hoke regime when he was finally broken down. We fitted him for his own cozy cloak of indifference and he wore it with the rest of us. The long years of horror, loss, pain, shame ... and so much more, finally got to him, too.

Today, the University of Michigan will announce that Jim Harbaugh has returned home to Ann Arbor to take the reins of the Wolverine football program. This can hardly be described without cliche. Slam dunk. Home run. Other terms that are oddly not related to football. I call it universal justice. From Carr's final season up until the OSU game this year, Michigan has been knocked down, kicked in the gonads, broken, laughed at, belittled, and humiliated in the eyes of the rest of the football world. All that time, the program lauded as the "Winningest in CFB History" was being taught a tough lesson. Accused since time began of being arrogant and entitled, Michigan was being shown what it was like to be on the other side. What it was like to be the Northwestern of the 1970s... and all the other teams it used to beat into submission with regularity. And we didn't like it.
photo of Bo Schembechler shouting at Jim Harbaugh
The once and future heroes - Bo Schembechler makes a

point with quarterback Jim Harbaugh (AP)

I think, perhaps, that "The Horror", as I think of these past years, was something we all had to go through, fans, players, coaches, and administrators alike. It had been a long time since we'd felt the sting of mediocrity ... before Bo came and raised hell and gave us our pride back. The Horror has centered us a bit and given us perspective. It gave us humility. And if anything could prove "Pride cometh before the fall," the Horror would be it.

So when Jim Harbaugh takes the podium today to tell us his hopes and dreams for the rebirth of Michigan football, remember that all the pain, shame, anger, and failure we've endured were necessary steps in reaching this singular glorious moment. The moment when the words flow haltingly with near disbelief off our tongues: Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. 

It's what we've always wanted but were denied because we never got it right. Or the stars just weren't aligned. The Herbstreit revelations. The drama over Les Miles. Lettermen factions. The seduction and jilting of Rich Rod. Hoke's "This is Michigan" dream season that deteriorated into a nightmare by 2014. Player discipline issues. The sheer madness of Dave Brandon. Every single moment of all that insanity got us to 12:00 noon today. When Jim Harbaugh will become Head Coach of Michigan Football. (I can't stop saying that.)

I know it could take some time. I don't expect miracles, though he's already managed one for me. He's given me hope when I thought we were beyond it. I feel excited for Michigan Football again based on nothing more than just the thought of him on the sidelines taking charge. And if I shed a little tear watching or listening to his press conference, it will be the first one I shed in joy over Michigan football since 1997. I'm no longer comfortable being numb. 

It's time to torch that dirty, ragged old cloak of indifference and put on my best maize and blue again. 

We. Are. Back. Long reign The Harbaugh. Hail to the Victors indeed.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Precious. We Must Get It Back: Tolkien, Harbaugh, and the Return of the King

Is the Michigan coaching search done yet? I'm ready, Jim. And you can take that to mean Hackett or Harbaugh. After weeks of wild speculation and irresponsible sports journalism, I'm maddened by the contradictory stories coming from every direction. Each word that can be spoken about it has been said with the exception of one little word that most everyone is anxious to hear: "Yes." Spoken by Jim Harbaugh when asked if he's on his way to Ann Arbor. With his 49ers out of the playoff picture, the way becomes a little clearer and the answer, whatever it will be, seems close enough to touch. His team's season is two games from over. An eerie quiet has settled over the search process and even the media have settled down into a watchful, questioning wait.

So what to write when every list has been made, every rumor has been circulated, and there's nothing to do but sit impatiently to see what happens? In analysis you definitely won't see on ESPN, I'm going to mash-up some of J.R.R. Tolkien's wisdom and foresight on the subject of Harbaugh watch. Strange? Guilty. What can you expect of a Michigan-educated literature nerd? But at least you won't walk away feeling that you've read the same old thing about the same old people involved in Coach Search v.3.0. 

As it happens, weird Michigan fans like me can find solace in Tolkien's words as we look for an end to darkness after years of battle in which all seems lost. The quiet watch taking place now is the deep breath before the plunge. Focus on Harbaugh now is as intense as the Eye of Sauron. He carries our dreams on the path he chooses, the future gold rings of championships, the souls of good men who could defeat evil wizards like Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio. Tolkien, in the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings is quite clear on the subject.

On the hopeful calm coming over the search process:

“The world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air.” 

"The Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little, and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while the Company is true."

"Something draws near. I can feel it."

"A king will come and this city will be as it once was before it fell into decay."

Don't you feel it, too? The stars are aligning too perfectly for this not to happen.

On Harbaugh coming to Ann Arbor:

“The winds of wrath came driving him, and blindly in the foam he fled from west to east, and errandless, unheralded he homeward sped.”
Weary of the troubles with the 49ers, Jim will come with stealth to surprise us all with his introduction to the media as our new coach.

“A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship.” 
Come home, Jim. To friends and good times.

“His old life lay behind in the mists, dark adventure lay in front.” 
A clear reference to the fogs of San Francisco and the battles ahead of him in Columbus and East Lansing. 

What's going through Harbaugh's mind:

When he thinks of the NFL trying to keep him from Michigan: "Authority is not given to you to deny the return of the King."

Michigan Fans: You're late.
Harbaugh: A wizard is never late, Wolverines. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.

Hackett Makes a Case

"Fight for us, and reclaim our honour! What say you? What say you?"

Hackett: Why do you fear the past? You are Schembechler's heir, not Bo himself. You are not bound to his fate.
Harbaugh: The same blue blood flows in my veins. The same weakness.
Hackett: Your time will come. You will face the same evil (in Columbus), and you will defeat it. 

"The man who can wield the power of this job can summon to him an army more deadly than any that walks this earth. Put aside the NFL. Become who you were born to be. Take I-80."

Who could resist us?

Fans Dream

Michigan Fans: Do you remember when we first met?
Harbaugh: [musing on his first game in the Big House] I thought I had wandered into a dream.
MF: Long years have passed. You did not have the cares you carry now. Do you remember what we told you?
Harbaugh: You said you'd bind yourself to me...
MF: And to that we hold. We would rather share one lifetime with you, Jim, than face all the ages of this world alone. In our sad state.
[MFs hand him the headset]
MF: We choose a mortal life, but your name will become immortal.
Harbaugh: [regarding the headset] You cannot give me this.
MF: It is ours to give to whom we will. Like our hearts.

"From the ashes, a fire shall be woken. A light from the shadow shall spring. Renewed shall be blade that was broken. The crownless again shall be king."

At the Announcement:

Hackett, on his success: “It is precious to me, though I buy it with great pain.”

Harbaugh: "Well, I'm back," he said. “Was I chosen? Such questions cannot be answered. You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But I have been chosen, and I must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as I have.”

The collective relief of Wolverine Nation:

“All's well that ends better.” 

And ain't that the truth. 

Time will tell, but the day of reckoning draws near. I think it's happening. The silence, to me, seems a deafening YES! But if things go awry, it may change to "LES!" 

And if that single word is not the one we want to hear, I'm certain Tolkien will have plenty to say about that, too.

Come home, Jim.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Where Dreams Go to Die - The End of the Brady Hoke Era

Well (the word former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke used to start every statement), I just used the words "former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke" in a sentence that isn't filled with additional words of fervent prayer. The deed is done. The era is over. The process of getting Michigan football back to being the elite program we expect has accomplished an important first step.

When I was driving to work this morning, I had kind of a sad feeling thinking about what was going to happen this afternoon. It was a bit strange because I absolutely wanted Hoke out and had no doubt that "out" would be the verdict. I think it was weird for me because from Day One, he had me sucked in. I really wanted this jovial, lovable lunk to be the guy who would stay, do things the right way, make us champions again, and then in 15-20 years, cut the ribbon to open an athletic building with his name slapped on the side. I confess, a bit sheepishly now, he had me eating up that chest-thumping This is Michigan rhetoric with a spoon.

Successfully avoiding all media today while working (only because I'm a new employee trying to be good!) I got into my car and drove home just in time to hear Jim Hackett's press conference. In the minutes prior to that, I'd heard about the parting gifts Coach Hoke would be entitled to after four years of steady decline. I was pretty much over being sad at that point. First, because his firing moved along the process we've all mused about for weeks. Let the search begin! And mostly, because I refuse to feel sorry for any single human being who made $11.4M failing to do at least 75% of his job, got fired, and will continue to be paid more per month in the next two years than I may earn in three years. Where was my high school guidance counselor when I needed to hear about coaching as a career choice? I would be willing to suck at coaching football here for <5% of what they paid Hoke to do it. (And I think I might actually have done better. I would at least have known what to do with Denard Robinson and with the time-outs allotted me in each half.)

I know his players are upset. I understand that committed or wavering recruits are creating some distance from Ann Arbor right now. It's expected. That 25% Hoke didn't fail at? It was the feel-good stuff. Winning the hearts of top recruits. Helping instill values in young men that will serve them well throughout their lives. He saw this team through adversity and gave us players that, with few exceptions, we can be proud to have representing the university in whatever they do after leaving it. It's unfortunate that he was unable to lead them to equal success on the field of play. Would he have been more successful without Dave Brandon chained to his hip for the bulk of his tenure? Hackett expressed his wish that he'd had more time with Hoke and the program to help him in areas where he lacked "mastery". Maybe that would have been the difference. We won't know. In the end, Hoke was over his head in this program. I'll blame Brandon for some of that. He hired him knowing that Hoke's desire was greater than his resume. He should never have been offered the job. It was his dream job and it was probably his only chance to snag it. I'd have said yes, too. People like Brady Hoke are not going to think twice about "can I do this?" 

Now the impatient waiting really begins. I liked the way Hackett carried himself at the press conference today and I think he'll be much better at this process than his predecessor. He was respectful to Hoke and his staff. He was direct about how the search would be conducted and what he considered important. Everything leads me to believe it will all be done as quietly and carefully as possible. It will be given the time it needs to be done properly, unlike the last two search processes. No Herbstreit. No Lloyd Carr personal dramas. With the stakes impossibly high, the program is on a knife's edge between untapped potential and irrevocable irrelevance. The man who becomes Michigan's 20th head coach since 1879 will determine which way we fall for a long time to come.

Who will that man be? I have my feelings, but I think I'll save that for my next visit to the MGoGirl keyboard. Good night!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Finding our lost Wolverine pride. Does it start after The Game?

Tweet quote: Anything lost can be found again except time

I was thinking about the upcoming end of the Michigan football season the other day when I saw this quote my nephew retweeted. While it should have made me think of things in my personal life, like my new job after a period of unemployment, what it really made me think of is how this phrase applies to Michigan football and those who love it. It brought to mind everything we've lost since 2008 (or even a little earlier than that if you count the Appalachian State Horror, as I do.)  It's not just the games or this year's vanishing recruits or the coaching merry-go-round. We lost precious time and those are years we can't get back. They're dates that will never appear on championship trophies and seasons our rivals will point to and mock ruthlessly for years to come. There's no fixing the time we've lost. Perhaps the most important thing we've lost as fans is our pride in the program. The love of it remains, but the pride we had? Well, there's that eerily apropos proverb to consider. And what a fall! Luckily, the pride is something that we can find again. 

Unless the gods of football orchestrate a miracle, however, it will not happen this Saturday in Columbus. I don't want to be a downer. There's nothing I would love more than to watch Michigan drive a stake (tent or otherwise) into the heart of the Buckeyes' playoff dreams and to see our team and its seniors win one of the biggest games in their Michigan careers. But I'd be lying if I said I believed it would happen. The Meyer-driven OSU football machine is running strong and little in what I've seen of Team 135 gives me confidence, especially playing in the Horseshoe. I just hope they can play a game they can be proud of when that miracle doesn't come their way. Win or lose, I expect these players will do what they have all year: face both success and adversity with sportsmanship and grace that is a point of pride to claim.

This weekend is going to be a lot bigger than just "The Game." I don't have to brace myself for a loss on the field. My cloak of indifference is fitting quite nicely and I've been wearing it all season. (It makes Saturdays easier.) Whatever the result, this weekend will be the peak of anticipation for the changes on the horizon. By now we know what end it signifies. We also imagine with hope the beginning it might become. 

It will very likely be the last game in which we'll see Brady Hoke clapping on the sidelines, dressed as though he coached in Florida, working without a headset. Although I know this is the right thing, it still makes me feel a bit sad for him. He so clearly loves Michigan and the players in his charge. When he says he coaches because he wants to make them better men, better fathers, and better citizens, I completely believe him. I respect that. I just wish he knew how to make them better football players. Unrealized potential is another loss we can't get back and Hoke carries the responsibility for that. He's everything Michigan wanted in a coach, except the get-us-back-to-elite part. It was over his head and this is not a program where learning on-the-job is an option. It'll be hard to watch the painful end of a good man's dream job. It would be harder still to watch him continue in it.

As this weekend passes, AD Jim Hackett will also be free to do whatever it is that he's planning to do. Rumors already abound. Flights are tracked and their itineraries mused upon. Lists of candidates and the odds of their ending up at Schembechler Hall will be fodder for TV, radio, blogs, and dinner tables until the truth is revealed. Will it mean tremendous joy or disappointment? Will it give us hope to find all that was lost while time ticked away in the most unsatisfying and soul-sucking manner imaginable for the past 8 years? 

Time will tell and sadly a lot more of that will pass as we wait impatiently for the next coach's results. It's not going to be an easy wait. I hope whoever he is, he can come in swinging and make things happen at a pace the mob can accept. If a Jim Harbaugh, a Les Miles, or a Dan Mullen can't satisfy us, it'll be hard to find the man who can. We're a smart fan base, but we aren't an easy one. 

It's too soon to start worrying about Team 136's coach and his first year body of work. It's enough for me to know that, unless we're all blind, change is coming and hope will soon return to the Big House. It's a start and the only way forward to realizing that anything lost can be found again but time. Like our Wolverine pride.

Go Blue! Beat OSU! Be proud -- and don't let Uncle Urban have the satisfaction of torturing, eviscerating, and hacking you in four quarters as the world expects.

The drawing and quarter scene in Braveheart

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bye Week #2 offers no help to Hoke

Bye weeks for a head football coach are supposed to be quiet weeks. They give blessed relief and recovery to the injured and two weeks of time for the staff to analyze and prepare for the next opponent. For an embattled coach, it might be a few days in which rewording a resume's most recent position is set aside for a rare night with the family. A cold beer and a movie. And one would expect, a bye week would offer a brief respite from the glare of camera lights and the inquisitional wall of reporters. 

This was not Brady Hoke's bye week.

Not long after closing the door on the farcical win at Northwestern on November 8, Hoke was pulled into the spotlight again defending the academic record of student-athletes under his watch. In what has become Apology Central, this time Hoke was the recipient when President Dr. Mark Schlissel apologized for his earlier comments questioning the academic qualifications of student-athletes compared to admissions standards for other students. It's not that Schlissel was wrong in his assessment or that Hoke was wrong in defending his players. It was just another off-the-field exchange that gained broad media attention at a time when little more of that is really needed or welcomed.

The actual bye weekend came along and what do you know? Northwestern (inept victim of the previous weekend's said farcical 10-9 Michigan victory) racks up 43 points to Notre Dame's 40 under the glare of Touchdown Jesus and goes back to Evanstan a national hero. What does this have to do with Brady Hoke's bye week? Maybe I'm stretching it a bit, but this is what I see. I see Notre Dame kicking the bejeezus out of Michigan earlier this year, 31-zip. It was early, you say. The team was still developing. OK. Let's consider that true. In November, it's later in the season and the team must have developed a bit. They rush onto the field in Evanston and then proceed to play in what some have called the best "worst game ever". It took four quarters for Michigan and Northwestern to come to a 10-9 decision in a game that highlighted the amateur nature of amateur athletics... and not in a good way. If last year's loss to Ohio State felt like the biggest of moral victories, the win at Northwestern had a stink about it. The high point, besides the tick mark under the "W" column, was the defensive play of Jake Ryan and Frank Clark. It sure was nice to have some players to count on! And so great to see Frank Clark overcome his difficult childhood and earlier legal problems at Michigan to come into his own as a possible high NFL draft pick. 

And then Sunday happened. And Frank Clark, faced with a weekend off to do whatever he wanted to do, chose to get himself into a predicament that landed him in an Ohio jail charged with domestic violence. It's alleged that he hurt his girlfriend in an altercation at their hotel. (In retrospect, hanging out with Devin Gardner at the C.S. Mott event might have been a better choice.) Hoke did the right thing and announced this morning that Clark has been dismissed from the team. Although he's innocent until proven guilty, the university and Hoke would face a poopstorm of criticism if they allowed Clark to play, especially after his earlier suspension for theft and the high profile attention being given to the growing problem of violence against women in both the NCAA football ranks and the NFL. It's sad that it came to that. His victim has suffered. Frank Clark's future will suffer. Team 135 will suffer. Losing Clark won't make the Maryland game any easier and Vegas is probably already reviewing their line on the Ohio State game. 

At this point in the season, Brady Hoke must be mentally and physically exhausted. There would be no bye weeks for him this year. There's no hiding. There's no break from the wilting glare of the spotlights or the wall of microphones in his face. There will always be something dragging him from the private refuge of Schembechler Hall or his own living room to answer or apologize for the next negative that surfaces. I don't even know if a 50 point win over OSU would stop the train that's moving down the tracks out of town now. 

The "bye" week he's most likely feeling on the horizon is the quick version of "bye-bye". And he must know it will be longer than a week.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

SOL: Variations on a Theme

For some reason that must border on masochism, I choose to listen to sports talk radio on Sunday mornings after Michigan games and most of the week after, too. I guess I like to hear the variety of opinions people have, especially after games like yesterday's that didn't feel so much like a win as, perhaps, something just short of a loss (SOL). Maybe this should be a new stat in team records? W-SOL-L. A new take on 'same old shit'. And more frustrating than the 'same old Lions,' if that's possible.

Anyway, I was rather surprised this morning to hear so many people calling in to stand behind Brady Hoke and Doug Nussmeier. I'll leave Mattison out of this because I think the defense, led by Frank Clark and Jake Ryan, played their butts off. Yes, they were defending against one of the most pitiful offenses in Division 1, but it was a solid performance that showed me the D is making improvements and has a spirit that the rest of the team does not. 

I heard callers this morning spouting the same verbal tripe we've heard for years. To paraphrase: 

"These are young players. They don't have the experience."
"Hoke is a great coach and needs more time to develop his scheme."
"He got all these bad players from Rich Rod and needs to have his own to develop."

"If Hoke goes, they should give Nussmeier the job."

Yada yada yada.

I about choked on my coffee. Me. A reformed Hoke-apologist. (Hi, my name is Jill and it's been 18 months since my last shiny, happy post under Hokemaniacs.)

The real deal is, Nick Saban, Mark Dantonio, and Urban Meyer have young players, too. They have players who lacked experience at the beginning of the year and have gone on to do great things. Ask Braxton Miller how much fun he's having watching a freshman steal his job quarterbacking at Ohio State. When Miller went down for the season, J.T. Barrett stepped in with almost no experience in that high pressure program. With the exception of one loss to Virginia Tech, he's led his team to perfection. And he humbled Michigan State this weekend. This would be the Michigan equivalent of Devin Gardner being out for the season and bringing in Garrett Moores or Wilton Speight off the bench. (That's digging down the QB depth chart.) How would that go? We can't even count on Shane Morris or Russell Bellomy and they've played. Its NOT youth or inexperience. It's coaching the high level talent we're constantly reminded that we're getting every year. Were Rivals and ESPN wrong about all of the 4- and 5-star recruits Michigan snagged? Doubtful. Were we romanced into believing in the abilities of Hoke and Nussmeier? I know I was. Ate that hope up with caramel sauce and sprinkles.

Hoke has had ample time to develop his own players and run the offense he wants to run. Plenty of coaches take over programs and make them better. It takes time, but they make progress every year. Like him or not, Brian Kelly came to Notre Dame about the same time Hoke came to Ann Arbor. He's made them a national power in about the same amount of time it took Michigan to go from a regional to a national joke. This isn't on Rich Rod or what he left for Hoke to mend. It's on Hoke and the decisions and choices he's made since he walked in the door. He didn't inherit bad players. He inherited talent that didn't fit his scheme and rather than try to make the most of it and adjust, they stuffed square pegs into round holes and expected miracles. Robinson and Gardner have gotten jerked around more than any two players I've seen. Overcoached almost. Run. Drop back. Leave the pocket. Stay in the pocket. Do. Don't. Start. Stop. That, with injuries periodically added in, makes for QBs who don't know what to do next and are almost afraid to do what comes naturally.

There are some who say if Michigan wins out, Hoke and company will be saved. I heard someone today say he should be saved no matter what. Hush. After yesterday's offensive masterpiece, in my mind, there is no combination of wins or SOLs that could save this regime. When I look at the sideline and see Meyer, Dantonio, Saban, and other premier coaches, I see intelligence, determination, sternness, and mental "chill" that I don't see on our sideline. We have confusion, lack of creativity, lack of focus, and a little bit of clapping. It's all well and good to have your players like you and think you're a great guy. It's admirable that a coach wants to make young men into outstanding people off the field as well as on. In a world of college athletes assaulting women, stealing, cheating, and blatantly ignoring NCAA rules, that's an aspect of Hoke's coaching that I greatly respect. There's a difference between love and tough love, though. I have no doubt that players love Meyer and Dantonio. I have even less doubt that they also have a healthy fear of them. 

It's that love/hate/respect fine line you could feel during the Schembechler years that we're missing now. I don't feel we need a carbon copy of Bo or Woody or Bear or Ara to be great again. We need someone who's going to be tough, sometimes hated, often loved, and always respected. Who that is, I don't know. Jim Harbaugh would certainly have some of those traits. I'm sure there are others who would, too. 

All I know is that these fans who wish for another year of what we have now are wrong. No one wants upheaval again, but anyone who watched that "win" yesterday and saw this as an acceptable future for Michigan football should turn in their fan card. Being thrilled with efforts just "short of a loss" and having goals like B1G championships bowl eligibility... that's not what Michigan Football or Michigan Athletics is all about. It's the kind of thinking that will ensure we remain a middling member in the B1G, at best, has beens, and storytellers of the glory days of yore with no hope of creating new stories for generations of fans to come.

SOL in more ways than one.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Embrace the Suck - Michigan vs Northwestern

I love football coaches who aren't afraid to say what they really feel and can be honest about the status of their programs.

Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald knows his team is not great this year. After beating Wisconsin and Penn State earlier, the Wildcats have lost their last three games by steadily increasing margins and they are only favored by about 2 points over Michigan on Saturday, likely because the game is in Evanston. After their recent 48-7 loss to Iowa, Fitzgerald made an interesting comment, as shown in the tweet above. He wants his players to harness their frustrations -- embracing the suck -- and turn them to their advantage as a motivational force.

I've read the transcripts of some of Fitzgerald's press conferences and if you have any imagination at all, you can almost envision the same talking points coming straight from the mouth of Brady Hoke. They share many of the same struggles week-to-week. They recruited talented players who, for whatever reason, are not consistently living up to their potential on the field this year. If you look at a word cloud of both coaches' last few pressers, it's pretty clear. Their vocabulary is the same, it's just that we're used to hearing it from the Hoke perspective only:

We need to play better. Great practices not translating to game day. It all comes down to coaching. My responsibility. I'm accountable. Kids working hard. Making progress. Need to compete. Execute. Tackle. Be physical. Seize opportunities. Be confident. Keep developing. Young. Injured. The ball (hold on to it, move it, protect it, strip it, throw it, run it.) 

"Embracing the suck" is one of the only concepts these two men don't share in their public statements. Brady Hoke will try to motivate his struggling team in any number of ways -- tent stake analogies, for instance -- but I don't think he'll ever have the courage to utter his own equivalent of "The kids and all of us coaches are trying to embrace our suck". That would be admitting something that no Michigan coach would ever, ever allude to. That our team is bad with more consistency than it's good.

Michigan and Northwestern have records that are nearly identical. Both are struggling to achieve a .500 season and gain a post-season invitation. The team that loses this Saturday will have a difficult time pulling off a bowl bid. Michigan still needs to face Maryland and make a very tough trip to Columbus. Northwestern follows up Michigan with a potentially mortifying trip to South Bend, then Purdue and Illinois. Saturday's loser would need a miracle to win out the rest of their schedule, essentially closing the door on a holiday bowl trip anywhere ... even to the new Ford Quick Lane Bowl in downtown Detroit.

I think Saturday's game is a toss-up in which the home field favors Northwestern, but momentum and confidence must favor the Wolverines. Both sides suffer from inconsistent special teams, weak offensive lines, and sketchy offensive production. Defense is the most solid element for both, though after a long day on the field propping up the offense even that may become problematic by the second half for either team. If both play like they have the past couple weeks, it may look a lot like last year's chaotic 3OT affair to determine a survivor.

Ultimately it may depend on which coach can get his team riled up and hungrier for the win on what promises to be a cold and possibly rainy day by Lake Michigan. Let's hope that the Wolverines stake their claim in Evanston and that Fitzgerald and his Wildcat team have another long week of embracing their suck.

MGoGirl! heart and mind:  Michigan 28  Northwestern 24 

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Nightmare on State Street

It's Halloween and Michigan fans, weary of getting their pumpkins smashed for years by AD Dave Brandon, received the trick or treat equivalent of a metric ton of Peanut M&Ms today. The Mr. Burns of the Athletic Campus turned in his resignation to Dr. Mark Schlissel, who then told told a nation of downtrodden Wolverines about it in a press conference that also introduced interim AD James Hackett. Given the slew of public relations gaffes and miscommunications during Brandon's athletic reign, it's up for discussion whether it was a heartfelt resignation for the benefit of the university he loves or an unwilling surrender accepted to save his own face and his golden parachute. I think we can deduce which is more likely. After all, we're Michigan fergodssake!

The scene at 1000 S. State St where blood flowed regularly during
Brandon's tenure, only today reaching the executive suite.

All over the Wolverine football nation there was a deep, collective sigh of relief. The overlord of Michigan's problematic football program was gone, $3M in his pocket and moving "on to other challenges". And with thanks to the John U. Bacon, the Michigan Daily,, and the populist revolt of students, alumni, and season ticketholders, it's unlikely that "other challenges" will include a high profile run at the 2018 gubernatorial seat. Imagine those snarky emails fashioned into negative campaign ads. 

Well, Dave, we thank you for all the good times. For the fodder that fueled hours of fascinating sports talk radio, thousands of Twitter and Facebook rants, and some of the best blogging we've seen related to Michigan sports. It may not always have been good news, but it was always riveting. Kind of like driving by an accident scene and not being able to look away. We thank you for firing Rich Rod and hiring Brady Hoke, for ensuring we weren't encumbered with a modern, successful coach so we could excel under a real Michigan Man. We appreciate your creative efforts to keep the most important stat of all intact, the 100K ongoing attendance record. As an alum and former football player for Bo, you cared enough about the university to preserve that precious number over silly things like our national reputation and institutional pride. Every time we have a Coke and a smile, we'll be thinking of you. 

There. That's out of the way. 

I'm not one for long goodbyes, so I'll end it here. Think of us fondly, your Michigan brothers and sisters, as you kick a can down State Street toward your new opportunities. No hard feelings, please. If you love the university as we know you do, I'm sure you'll do the right thing and give that $3M right back to help the children or the student/athletes in some meaningful way.

You may have thought you got the last jab in by ruining everyone's Big House "white out" in your honor tomorrow, but I think I can speak for everyone who fought for your "resignation" and give you our final words on the subject:

Thanks for all your help. We really appreciated all your input! But we'll be fine without you. Have a happy life! Really!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Add one more alumna's voice the swell of discontent with Michigan Football

The Alumni Association posted an article about alumni reactions to the Athletic Department announcement that they will lower 2015 student season ticket prices to $175. It seems that we alumni weren't shy in voicing our opinions about that and other issues plaguing the football program of late. The association was able to break down the comments into four main themes. The alumni thought that: 

  • Students were being overcharged
  • Regular season ticket prices and the mandatory seat donation are too high for the product received
  • The corporatization of football has gone too far
  • Weak schedules and seating priorities are a problem
As someone who gave up a pair of season tickets long ago, I can relate to many of their concerns. I relinquished my tickets before the time of seat "donations" and prices that exceeded $60/ticket. I had to work and it was hard to make it to all the games. And not all the games were with quality opponents. Perhaps that pathetic C+ I earned in Econ 201 belies my true understanding of basic economic principles. I got enough out of that class to understand that plenty of people would pay to see a top opponent at any price, but no one would give face value to see a disemboweling of the then weaker teams like Minnesota, Northwestern, and Purdue. Every game like that which I couldn't attend meant I lost money. I finally made the tough decision and didn't renew them. I knew I'd probably never get them back. At the time, thousands stood behind me waiting for my empty seats.

Decades later, I have no regrets. I almost feel like they should change my old Econ grade to at least a B. I can see any game I want with the money I've saved by not buying season tickets myself. I have generous friends who often share their seats or sell them reasonably. It's also easy to find tickets on the secondary market. While the big games can be more expensive, they're still not as much as buying them directly from the university packaged with the other low-interest games. This year, with no real marquee teams at home (including our own), a fan could go to StubHub or to the corner of Stadium and Main before the game and get tickets for a relative pittance. I had free tickets offered to me on more than one occasion and I couldn't summon the interest to even take them. That's the persistent problem Dave Brandon has dealt with all season with thousands just like me.

As for the concerns raised in the Alumni Association article, I agree with most people.
  • Students have been overcharged, and worse, treated like unruly children rather than well-educated adults. They've sucked the fun out of going to games. When I was a student, we never missed one, even if it meant sitting knee deep in snow at an OSU game in November. It was a blast. It's not just the availability of HDTV and cold, cheap beer that keeps kids home. It's the POW atmosphere. 
  • Prices for regular ticket-holders are too high for the current return on investment. Seat licensing is employed by most major Division 1 schools. It wasn't Dave Brandon's brainchild. He has, however, regularly raised prices for tickets, donation levels, and every item sold in the Big House even though people were getting less for their dollar each year. Michigan fans aren't stupid, unless you consider how long they've put up with it. Everyone has their breaking point and Brandon finally pushed the edge of that envelope this year.
  • Corporatization, I agree, is a problem but it isn't just happening in Ann Arbor. It's all about money and less about tradition everywhere. I'm not opposed to some changes in how a Saturday afternoon looks. The demographics of the crowd change and so will some of the "traditions". Flyovers, fireworks, and Beyonce just feel like tricks without a winning team. Hey, look at the shiny stuff up above (not the steaming mess on the field.) I do like that the stadium is loud. I like the echos of screaming fans and pump-up music mixed in with the band. Michigan Stadium has always been too dead. Too polite. Loud is not a bad thing when the opponent is trying focus on a drive. The corporate money grab is, however, driving away the cheering "little people" in favor of donors and corporate sponsors with big cash. Donors don't make much noise. What will they soon realize? The serfdom contributes a lot in smaller amounts every football Saturday, both in money and as the 12th man on the field. Brandon is now experiencing the peasant revolt. Instead of storming the Bastille, they're evacuating it.
  • The weak home scheduling is the last straw for most. You can't raise prices across the board while delivering an anemic home slate, then LOSE to some theoretically anemic opponents and not expect the masses to get unruly. These are the tickets people can't unload for any price. Especially when potential buyers have no faith they'll even witness a resounding victory. Michigan has signed some future opponents of interest - UCLA, Oklahoma, Texas. Some of those games are more than 10 years in the future. That's far too distant to entice a fan now considering a pair of season tickets for next year that will likely total more than $100/seat/game plus the donation extortion fee.
The answer seems to be "Fire Brandon. Fire Hoke!". It's the correct answer, but it's a dicey one, too. It means another four years, at least, of painful rebuilding. What if fan patience doesn't survive that? Do we become the school that eats coaches and spits them out in four year cycles until the second coming of Bo? (Who is dead, by the way, and not coming back.) I don't know. I fear it'll be a long time before we're back to the way we remember being. There may be a generation of fans that won't remember how it was. The natives are restless and desperate and out for blood. Even the anointed Jim Harbaugh himself would become a persona non grata if he came here and wasn't embarrassing Dantonio and Meyer within four years. I have no doubt.

And to sum up what this alum truly feels right now? I'm really kind of scared for us.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Simple Recap of the Michigan-MSU Game

There's not much good to say so here's the recap of the travesty in East Lansing as I saw it today. Without the benefit of adult beverages, which proved my biggest mistake.

The Offensive Line 

Yes, it was Offensive, but only in the sense that stinky cheese is offensive (and full of holes.)

Figure 1

The Running Game

Today, the University of Michigan moved this 250 year old oak tree 100 yards from its original location near the Ross School of Business. Officially, the old oak rushed for 35 more yards than Michigan did the entire game. Slow, strong as, well, oak, and right up the middle. Old school Michigan style. Michigan offensive player of the week? Yes, I think so.
Photo: Tyler Stabile | The Ann Arbor News


Gardner was on his back much less than last year, so at least it was stronger stinky cheese. The receivers tried to catch stuff. Mostly they didn't when it really mattered. Except for the MSU defensive receivers who snagged two nice catches, one resulting in Gardner's only TD pass of the game. For MSU.

The Defense

I really don't know. I tended to look away when they were on the field and they were on the field A LOT. Something about all the MSU domination and scoring just wasn't interesting to me. Although highly ranked at the start of the game, the defense spent much of its time looking like the stinky cheese in Figure 1.

Special Teams

Dancing. There was no dancing. This is a game that could have used some Atomic Dog. We could have smiled once, just once, during this game. Was that too much to ask?

The Final Analysis

Brady Hoke said it best in his post-game press conference. He was speaking about his knowledge of the incident in which a Michigan player planted a spear tent stake (sheesh, overdramatic much in East Lansing?) in front of the Spartans before the game. Hoke said he was aware, "but not fully aware." And that folks, sums up the last four years of the Hoke era in Ann Arbor. Aware, but not fully aware. Awake but not fully awake. Playing, but not fully executing. Developing but not fully getting there. Young, but never maturing. Growing but never leading. For Hoke that means employed, but not much longer. 

And now, about that adult beverage...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Michigan vs. MSU: Humble pie tastes like brussels sprouts

I used to look forward to this weekend with so much joy. From 1979 to 1983, when I was a Michigan student, the Michigan-Michigan State series was a tasty, meaty slab of victory sandwiched between the two Wonder Bread Spartan wins in 1978 and 1984. Some of my best high school friends had left me behind in Ann Arbor to study at MSU. It was a time before personal computers, email, smartphones, and texting. We fed our friendly rivalry with long distance phone calls on rotary dial phones and my occasional handwritten letters addressed to them at the Pioneer Land Grant College. They usually contained a long list of the traditional MSU jokes. You know, the pizza delivery guy genre. The fun was mostly on my side in those days.

The Wolverines had some good runs after that, but the Spartans managed to eek out a win or two every few years. It gave them something to hang on to until the next time a 'W' came along.  Michigan still owned them and the series, but ask any Spartan and they could recite in detail the last time "we beat you!"  It was irritating. Like little gnats flying around your head. Michigan would kick MSU to the curb. Again. And my Spartan friends would in unison chant "But we really got you in [insert year]!" The last great Michigan campaign came in the series from 2002 to 2007 under Lloyd Carr. It was SO great to be a Michigan Wolverine. And it REALLY sucked to be a long-suffering Spartan. What a glorious time it was. 

And now it's all a distant, somewhat foggy memory, so far from the current state of affairs that it seems more like a myth than how it actually used to be. Since the last "good" win in 2007, the Wolverines have snagged only one victory from MSU (2012). At first the losing seemed like a fluke. Another occasional lapse that Michigan would overcome the next year. Except they didn't. Each year Michigan continued to beat its chest like the cocky Xerxes at Thermopylae, shouting "Little Brother!" while facing 300 angry Spartans with something to prove. And each year, the Spartans would send the Wolverines home in abject shame. Even the 2012 victory, 12-10, was unconvincing, won only by the kicking game. It gave some Wolverine players enough confidence, however, to revive the "little brother" moniker. The Spartans didn't take it lying down.

Last year's game, a 29-6 beat down, may finally have established the new order of things in the Wolverine mind. It took a while. In the two weeks before this year's contest, the Michigan players and their fans have been quiet - models of moderation and discretion. No one has resurrected the "little brother" taunt. No one has guaranteed a victory. I don't know if it was the Spartans or Hoke or their own good sense that served up the humble pie, but I'm glad they've eaten heartily of it. I think all of Wolverine Nation understands now. The table has turned and we are what Sparty used to be. It's tough to swallow that. It goes down like brussels sprouts or lima beans, which I like, but suspect most of you don't. Wouldn't we all eat brussels sprouts, though, if it meant Michigan would regain its rightful supremacy?

My memory isn't what it used to be and I am often hard-pressed to tell someone what I had for lunch the day before. I wish it was as simple to forget what Michigan vs. Michigan State has become. It's hard to be humble when the tradition of Michigan greatness, both academic and athletic, is almost part of your DNA. We are told all the time how great we are. The best program in "this" or the Top Ten in the world in "that". What we're forced to swallow is, we're not among the best in football anymore. It may come again, but it won't for a good long while. 

So this weekend, I'm feeling a little quiet. A little numb. I don't expect a Michigan win, but I wouldn't rule out an upset if the emotion Michigan (and Devin Gardner) showed at the end of the Penn State game is there. If our offensive weapons are healthy and if Gardner plays the game of his life. The game that may be his coach's life (or at least his living.)   

One thing I won't be doing is wallowing in the past. I'll try to be quiet and humble no matter what happens. I'll try not to grope for past glories like Spartan fans did in their own dark times. Win or lose, all I can do is sit back and watch what unfolds in Ann Arbor at the corner of State and Hoover. A win or a loss here can change everything or nothing. One thing is true. The two quietest weeks of Brady Hoke's 2014 season are about to come to an end in either a blaze of glory or the noxious couch-fire smoke of a Spartan win. Let the football gods decide. For my own part: 

MGoGirl Brain: MSU 38 Michigan 17        
MGoGirl Heart: Michigan 24 MSU 21

Miracles can happen. Go Blue!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ugly Michigan fans don't help anyone with their hate

There are a lot of cowardly and narrow-minded people in this world and, unfortunately, many of them have social media accounts.They make statements on their own pages and post comments on those of others that are so cruel and inhuman it makes me shudder with anger. They stir things up and divide people, often by playing on the deep-seated emotions, beliefs, and values of those they've targeted and the people who follow them. As an intelligent, open-minded person raised by intelligent, mostly open-minded parents, I often find it hard not to get drawn in to some of these verbal battles to argue the other side or call out people as the fools they are. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't. A fight is what many are looking for and just gives them more fuel and electronic real estate to spew their negativity. I think many of them only show their stupidity so freely on Facebook and Twitter because they have a sense of anonymity and distance from the person or group they're attacking. It's bad enough they think it at all, but would they say these things to a person's face, staring him right in the eye? Many wouldn't, but for some, it wouldn't be troubling in the least.

I bring this up because of a tweet I read earlier today that linked to an October 20, 2014 Detroit News interview by Angelique Chengelis in which Michigan QB Devin Gardner admitted receiving hate mail and tweets regularly, from the time he started for the Wolverines into this current season. He says in the article that he's been called the N-word "so many times this year" and estimates about 1000 instances of negative Facebook and Twitter posts. 

It would be easy to say that these weren't Michigan fans and were just trolls from rival Spartans or Buckeyes. I don't believe that's always the case, though. Gardner's admission reminded me immediately of the 2011 ESPN 30 for 30 episode The Fab Five. A segment of that documentary absolutely shocked me. It was about the hundreds of vitriolic and racist letters sent to the athletic department complaining about the Fab Five, their cockiness, their playing style, even their baggy shorts. The letters were not from rivals. They were from U-M alumni, many signed with full names and graduation dates. They were from "intelligent" people with a Michigan diploma hanging on their wall somewhere. Yeah, the leaders and best. They showed actual portions of these letters and I was so struck with shame that these should come from Michigan graduates that I could have cried. I must have had a different experience during my tenure in Ann Arbor in the early 1980s. I thought I had an open mind when I got there, but after meeting so many people from all walks of life and from places all over the globe, it actually gave me an even larger appreciation of the differences and similarities between us.

I know there are racists and "haters" of all kinds in places where we would least expect them. The University of Michigan is no different. One would think it might be a changed world by 2014, but it's clearly not. People are a product of their upbringing and some will never make the change of heart or mind regardless of the level of their education or exposure to new experiences. Freedom of speech is something I believe in strongly and while these people have an absolute right to say or write what they believe, I think they would do better to keep their ignorance to themselves. There is no good purpose or excuse for these kinds of unproductive, incendiary comments. They don't educate the reader or eliminate perceived problems. They don't increase a quarterback's completion percentage or a guard's accuracy from the 3-point range. Fans who write hatefully about or directly to Michigan student-athletes aren't helping anything at all. No real fan would do that. No real human being would do that. 

To combat this in my own way, instead of arguing with the angry mob, I now direct something positive to their target. I did it for both Shane Morris and Russell Bellomy when they had rough times replacing Gardner in the past few games. I didn't lie and say they did great. I just kept my sentiments kind and encouraging. I've done it for some slumping Tigers this past season, too. It makes me feel better. And if it catches the eye of someone who needs more encouragement than empty criticism and hate, I hope it gives them a needed lift.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Pearl Jam, the Joe, Chelios, and Change

My boyfriend Dave and I had a big date night in The D on Thursday: dinner and beers at Slow’s Bar BQ, then more beer at Nemo’s before taking their shuttle over to the Joe for the Pearl Jam concert. It was a perfect evening and an incredible show. This afternoon, my best friend and former college roommate asked me, “So are you going to review the Pearl Jam concert for your blog?” I told her no, it’s a sports blog, not an entertainment blog. But then she challenged me with a sports angle. Et voilá!

I’d been waiting to see Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam again for over 20 years, since a friend and I won tickets from a local rock station to see them at the acoustically wondrous Masonic Temple in Detroit. We were 5th row left of center back in 1994 and two of maybe 4000 people in the crowd. Loud, dark, and angry, the band was young. We were young. Mangy flannel was cool. And there was no Chris Chelios, the hated Chicago Blackhawk. (Yeah, that did kind of come out of left field, didn't it?)

At the Joe last night, of course many things had changed from the 1994 experience. We were two of 19,000 and seated way back in Row 11. (Well, that is, Row 11 of section 207, upper bowl center ice in Wings seating terminology.) Twenty years older, we drank slushy daiquiris instead of beer so that we wouldn't be the over-50s running out to the loo all night. Halfway through, I switched to water and Dave and I passed a soft pretzel instead of what everyone else was passing. The girl next to me said “Wow, I wasn’t even born when you went to see Pearl Jam in ’94.”  Hmmph! I missed the sound at Masonic, too. Although the concert and set list were all I wished, the second greatest voice in rock didn’t reach our ears in anything near its brilliance after bouncing from the cavernous rafters of the Joe, dozens of sound-buffering championship banners notwithstanding. There was no swinging from ropes or diving into a mosh pit, just dozens of hard rocking anthems and soaring ballads we could sing along with. Wearing lines on his face and a few gray hairs, Eddie Vedder’s only nod to his wild stage presence of the past came in energetic rushing around and the endless bottles of red wine, plucked from behind stage that he frequently passed on to the audience below after a few swigs of his own. A bottle even made it to one of his good friends, a fellow Chicagoan who was in the crowd. You guessed it! Chris Chelios. And the crowd went wild.

Surrounded by banners and retired numbers detailing the storied history of the Red Wings, Eddie talked a lot about Chelios and their friendship, singing “Man of the Hour” in his honor. It made me think of how something else had changed between 1994 and 2014. Chelios, a man despised in Detroit as a nemesis of the Red Wings became a beloved member of the winged wheels and helped bring two Stanley Cups to the city during his 10 year stint on the team. If you’d have asked me in March 1994 what I thought of him, I’d have been ashamed to write here the things I said then. I think at one point I declared I’d never accept him, even if he was traded to Detroit. (Kind of like I say now regarding Sidney Crosby.) Well, I ate those words long ago when Chelios’ contributions made him impossible to hate any longer. It even seemed that Detroit living over time made him a little more attractive. I hardly ever think of Chelios now as the hated Blackhawk of my early adulthood -- the player-turned-friend remembered by Chicago sports-loving Eddie Vedder.

I’ll add this concert and even this glimpse of the wine-chugging off-ice Chelios to my list of great Joe Louis Arena memories, joining a string of Wings victories and a 2012 Red Hot Chili Peppers concert that featured an onstage visit by Wings retiree Nick Lidstrom.  (And the crowd went wild!) I don’t mind that a new stadium will mark this old venue for the wrecking ball. Although I love nostalgia, I also enjoy comfortable seats and cupholders, bars and restaurants within walking distance, and not walking up 1000 steps just to enter the building wheezing like an old woman. In people, rock bands, sports legends, and stadium venues, change isn't always a bad thing.

And to finish a couple thoughts – the number one rock voice in the world? Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame. Brilliant. A must see. And yes, I would still revile Sidney Crosby if he became a Red Wing. I loathe him more than I ever did Chelios. Luckily I don't think I'll ever have to worry about eating those words. They would go down like that dry pretzel we ate last night.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Can Stephen Ross save Dave Brandon?

I listen to a lot of sports talk radio, especially 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit. Yesterday afternoon, part of the discussion on the Valenti and Foster show was about U-M athletic director Dave Brandon and the swirl of rumors surrounding today's University of Michigan Regents meeting. Among the topics the Regents are reported to be discussing are Dave Brandon and the recent Shane Morris concussion incident. The moment these topics came out, supposition about Brandon even surviving the week started to brew and everyone began debating the possibilities. There's even a rumor that the university has reached out to three potential candidates for the AD position. 

On the show, host Mike Valenti surmised that both Brandon and Hoke would, without a doubt, be gone at the end of the season if not sooner. His co-host Terry Foster was somewhat less confident. The one thing he felt might prevent the university from firing Brandon was his friendly relationship with mega-donor Stephen Ross. Foster felt that it was possible U-M President Mark Schlissel and the Regents would be compelled to maintain Brandon's employment because Ross, in his lifetime, has donated over $300M to the university and continues to be supportive of Brandon in the media.

Well, the more they talked about possibility of Stephen Ross controlling the actions of U-M with his wallet, the more irritated I (by comparison, an impoverished alumna) got. I understand very well what major donors mean to the university and its budget; it can't rely on state funding alone to maintain being the leaders or the best. I also understand that the university has to continually curry their favor to keep the cash train rolling. What I don't believe is that an institution of U-M's stature, led by very talented, intelligent, and ambitious people, will allow a single man wielding a checkbook to tell them how they're going to run their enterprise. I may be naïve in that, but I don't think so. 

Stephen J. Ross is a generous man and I applaud his contributions to the university. If he has a notion that it's made him the Chairman of the Board of U-M, though, he has another thing coming:
  • Ross is just one of over 540,000 living Michigan alumni. That's "one of" not "number one among". The other 539,999 or so may not all contribute as much as Ross, but the aggregate of what they do give back is significant. They also make their feelings about university matters known to the administration and to the Alumni Association. From what I can ascertain from social and traditional media, a lot of the feelings alumni share these days are very anti-Brandon. They want a winning football program. And even more so, they want the Michigan name to be respected again, not just a brand sold with a couple Cokes or written over the skies of East Lansing.
  • Ross is not the only major donor. The names of other philanthropic men and women grace buildings all over the campus and the medical center. I haven't heard a peep out of the Taubman, Munger, or Frankel families, pro or con, regarding Brandon yet. I doubt we will. No Michigan donor who cares about the university as a whole would cease giving to it just to spite the administration over the firing of an athletic director or coach. And I doubt any of the buildings Ross or the others funded will be razed in retaliation for another multimillionaire losing his job. It's just business. That's what Brandon would tell you if he cut your job at U-M.
  • One rich man can't support the entire Michigan Athletic machine on his own. If Ross was the only fan left sitting in the Big House on future football Saturdays, most other varsity sports would suffer or disappear. They get their operating funds from jam-packed games in the Big House and Crisler Center. Fans paying high prices for seats, souvenirs, meals, and drinks, along with TV revenues, are what keep Michigan Athletics going. It's the contribution of "the little people", not just the fortune of a man like Ross. Families and students with season tickets cycle to become the next generation of families and students who buy them and all the food and gear that go with them. The cycle of growing the next fanbase is critical in filling the Big House over time. When the AD alienates a future fan's season ticket-holding parents or treats the student section like unworthy punks, he's killing the fanatic desire of the program's future customers. And mediocre teams and empty stadiums don't exactly entice ESPN Game Day to your backyard, either.
These are just a few reasons I think people are wrong to fear the influence of Stephen Ross on the AD situation. I believe that Brandon and Hoke will lose their jobs eventually this year. The administration and the Regents value Michigan's reputation and traditions almost as much as its income. Almost. The idea that they would value one man's money over all other considerations is ridiculous to me, especially when so many other members of the Michigan family are screaming for change. 

So, I'm fairly certain that Stephen Ross will not be able to save Dave Brandon's job. Without a miracle, I doubt anyone could try and succeed. If he wants to hang with DB and plot to take over the world, perhaps they can ply Brandon's "If it ain't broke, break it" mantra seeking the governor's office in Lansing in 2018. He couldn't possibly screw up a whole state, could he? I know he'd get the Spartan vote.