Saturday, January 30, 2016

This Isn't Tee-Ball, People

By now you've all probably noticed that I only write a lot when I've got something to say that I can't hold back. There's no editor pushing me against a deadline and no income making this little hobby a "must do" task. And nothing moves me more to write than frustration, irritation, or outrage...and I'm feeling a little bit of all these things as the recruitment of the 2016 class slowly moves toward National Signing Day. So, I'm back from my little winter hiatus to jump in about something that's been niggling at me for the past couple weeks.

What's got my panties in such a twist? 
The rash of recent decommitments?
The roller coaster ride of prognostication as NSD approaches?
Stage moms deciding what their sons will do?
Michigan pulling scholarships from "committed" players within weeks of Signing Day?

No. It's none of that!

It's the way in which the whole nation is shocked and appalled at the way Jim Harbaugh is constructing his team and running his program. A man and his staff who are not allowed to speak about the particulars of their strategies and decisions related to recruits are being vilified for 'breaking trust with these Michigan-loyal student-athletes,' They're 'just kids' and 'it's so unfair' and 'the only honorable thing to do is give them their scholarships and stick by our word to them.' And so on, ad nauseum.

There are (at least) four kinds of people murmuring or ranting about Harbaugh right now:
  1. ESPN and other sports news organizations who know that anything Harbaugh gets clicks. 
  2. Frightened trolls and total hypocrites from other schools who are probably pretty upset that Michigan is killing it with recruiting this year and the momentum is changing in Ann Arbor.
  3.  Michigan "fans" who want a National Championship but also want to make sure that everyone feels good and gets a participation trophy.
  4. The decommitted recruits themselves.

I'm going to start with the media and simply say, I don't care what they say or report. All they're after is viewers and clicks. No coach in the nation is as viewable or clickable as Jim Harbaugh. He knows that himself and he plays the media with professional acuity. He knows exactly what he's doing and I sure can't see where any of it is outside the NCAA rules. I'll admit it now. I love this man. He had me at 'Hello!" He completes me as a Michigan fan.

As for the jealous trolls and hypocrites, I see them as the primary source of all the Harbaugh-shaming of late. Spartans, who see their reign of terror ending, are full of outrage. The Buckeyes and SEC schools who are getting dumped by superstar recruits racing to Ann Arbor are decrying Harbaugh's tactics while they continue grayshirting and any other number of genuinely shady recruiting practices. It's not even the pot calling the kettle "black" here. There isn't a comparison to be made between letting a committed, yet unsigned recruit go weeks before National Signing Day and letting one sign up, start classes, play a game or two, and THEN say, "Sorry, buddy, but we can't keep you on the team." That is the definition of reprehensible. That's not what Michigan is doing.

With regard to our own fanbase - I feel most irritated of all with that. In my opinion, any Michigan fan who's whining about how dreadful Harbaugh has been to pull scholarships from commits should, in the words of Dave Brandon "Go find another team. We'll be fine without you."  This, people, is how Jim Harbaugh works. He's worked this way everywhere he's been. We knew what we were getting, and I'm damn glad he's exactly what I expected and so much more. If you want a kinder and gentler program that can't win 6 games a year and never beats a traditional rival, then you should find another team. God knows there are plenty out there that meet those criteria. Go throw yourself behind the Oregon defense, perhaps. Hoke will be there to clap for you. Michigan needs no more of the Hokensian "we're just having fun" kind of thinking. Harbaugh is purging that weakness and mediocrity from our collective memory. This will be a winning team again, not a national target of ridicule. 

And finally, we have these recruits themselves. I don't know how many of you have followed these kids on Twitter or Instagram or SnapChat... but I do and you know what? They are in no way the naive Pollyannas that so many seem to think. They've been worshipped and coddled and told how amazing they are, in some instances, since 8th grade. Sure, some may be taken advantage of by coaches and parents who use them for their own ends. But there are just as many who, after years of getting sunshine blown into dark places, have developed a sense of entitlement that astonishes me. We're all hanging on every move these 17- and 18-year old kids are making and they can play a coach just as easily as a coach can play them. 

The truth is, we don't know - and may never know - the full stories behind all these decommitments or flips. I'm pretty certain some have been legitimate "I've changed my mind about Michigan" on the side of the athlete. Others have been nudged out for reasons Harbaugh might call a failure to launch. Michigan under Coach Jim is not going to be handing out participation ribbons and trophies for wearing the uniform. No one is going to be able to commit two years prior and then coast into a cushy spot high on the Michigan depth chart. Harbaugh is a madman. He doesn't like things that don't have a winner and a loser. He's been competing and working to be the best at everything since the doctor slapped him on the butt at birth. Nothing less than total commitment to incessant improvement will do for guys who want to play in Ann Arbor. Any dejected recruit who says a word against this coaching staff is very likely not made of the stuff we're looking for anyway. 

I'm all behind the way Michigan has driven the road to National Signing Day and it's made me even prouder to be a Wolverine fan and alum. I'd say that Harbaugh and company are doing the best they can to halt the wussification of America, one kid at a time, by employing good old-fashioned ideas like hard work and the recognition of winners and achievers. 

It's not Tee-ball, Michigan fans. We're gonna keep score. And somebody is going to WIN. He's just trying to ensure that it's us.

Go Blue!