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.

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