Dear Michigan Fans – Part II
It was the season opener in 2007, where Michigan faced an overlooked opponent and expected to crush the competition. Most fans, as most Michigan fans tend to be, were cocky and saw no way that this Michigan team could lose this game. Little did they know, App. State had won the previous 2 FCS/Division I-AA Football championships, and would go on to win a third that year. Along the way to that third, they took out Mighty Michigan, in a game I don’t have to rehash beyond the previous statements, as we’ve all seen it every year, multiple times, as ESPN will never let it die – and they shouldn’t, it was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport.
Michigan found defeat under the leadership of Lloyd Carr. Lloyd had taken over the team back in 95′ on an interim, turned permanent, basis after pulling off his own improbable win, and taking Michigan to an 8-2 record since his taking over. From there he’d go on to win a National championship in 97′ and would compile one of the winningest records at the time. His record was 122-40 when his career was over.
You see, the big problem here is that fans, outsiders, insiders, and everyone not directly part of the Football team or Athletic program, do not see the big picture most times. Instead we take a very short-sighted point of view.
Following the disappointing loss to App State, below we have a few of the comments posted by “fans” and “Monday morning QBs” on an MLive Article you can find here.
“What’s there to be shocked? Some of us have been saying for the last couple of years that something like this was going to happen. Loser Lloyd Carr was an accidental coach to begin with – only reason he became head coach was because Gary Moeller was let go after a drunken outburst. Not to mention a freakish win over Virginia on a last second play in his first game as interim coach that led to permanent status. Accidental coaches don’t make good head coaches. Time for Loser Lloyd to go and time also for Moron (Billy) Martin our AD to go also. Think about it. Martin is almost making us remember Tom Goss favorably – and Goss was awful as AD.”
“We need a new coaching staff with a fresh look. How many of you are sick of seeing the opposing team with a quick quarterback take advantage of our guys. I feel terrible for Hart and Long.”
“Lloyd should Benoit himself. He not only embarrassed Michigan but the entire Big Eleven. He should make a public apology to the fans and the Big Eleven and promptly resign. This is a disgrace and totally unacceptable.”
So based on the fact that Lloyd, who started out with great success, beating his rivals early on (beat OSU on 5 of his first 6 attempts), had started to find more trouble doing so (lost 6 of his last 7 against them, 6-7 overall vs OSU), and the fact that he just went through this upset, fans were at wits end. Lloyd was also 5-4 against Notre Dame, and 10-3 against MSU, Michigan’s other top rivals.
None of this seemed to matter in the end – nor did his attainment of Michigan’s only National Title in nearly 50 years! Fans still wanted him out, blaming his boring play calling (which won games I might add) and his seemingly lack of success as of late, despite the fact that Michigan was consistently right around 10 wins each season. Sure, new OSU coach, Jim Tressel semed to have his number, but in hindsight we can see that this era of OSU football may not have been the most ethical either.
So they got their wish. Lloyd announced his retirement late in 2007, after the regular season had finished. Michigan would go on to hire Rich Rodriguez, the hot new coach with a potent spread offense, which would surely bring the creativity that fans craved. Right? Surely then Michigan would be this juggernaut that they should be in the eyes of the fans, right? Or is it that all that glitters ain’t gold? Haha, had to get that in there…
On his way out, Lloyd faced Tim Tebow and the Gators, under the leadership of Urban Meyer, and proceeded to throw in WR reverses, a few trick plays, and more on his way to a 41-35 victory over media darling Tebow. The play selection seemed to be almost a final thumbing of the nose at those who questioned Michigan’s ability to get creative under the current yet departing regime. It would also mark the end of a successful era, and the beginnings of a 10 year spiral into darkness.
So, Michigan fans, why am I bringing all this back up? Well, it’s pretty simple actually. Michigan just lost a pretty disappointing game to a rival, where they were expected to win. Expectations that while I even echoed, I held off on the blowout talk, as this year’s Wolverine team, has some clear issues to work out and Rivalries have a weird way of having weird things happen. Expectations should have been a bit tampered. The offense had struggled for all four of the previous games, fans questioned play calling all the way, and had yet to establish any sort of rhythm on offense, short of one half of football in the Purdue game. At points this season, the Michigan Defense was close to, if not, outscoring its offensive counterpart.
But in the short-sighted moment leading up to this weekend’s game, did fans see any of this? Some did, but I know my Social Media feeds were filled with “lil’ brother this and that”, “Offense will be fine, we have O’Korn now”, and all sorts of puffy chest comments created in the minds of us keyboard warriors who don’t even sniff the actual football field.
In the aftermath of the loss, my feeds are now filled with quite the opposite – not only are fans questioning the same things they questioned which should have given pause to their expectations as a whole for the season, they are now questioning Coach Jim Harbaugh, and some are even calling for him to be replaced already or in the near future.
“Why doesn’t he have a capable QB in year 3 of his tenure?”, “He’s had 3 full cycles to get his players in”, “Why are we getting worse not better?”, “Harbaugh needs to place more emphasis and passion on these rivalry games”, “As soon as the coach shows that he hates to lose, the team will follow”.
These are the types of comments I see, along with folks like David Pollack claiming Harbaugh will be gone if this continues for a couple more years and subsequent comments that he should leave or is leaving for the Colts job.
All of this is asinine. I will attempt to answer some of it anyway.
Michigan doesn’t have a capable QB because define capable? Capable of throwing accurately and ensuring WRs hold onto the ball in very windy conditions including torrential downpours? Wasn’t it just a week or so ago, that current QB O’Korn was anointed the savior after his performance at Purdue, and now because he wasn’t Superhuman in doing what most QBs cannot do, we write him off the same way we write off Speight? Speight, also a capable QB if you ask me, was also struggling to find chemistry with new weapons while under duress from an O-Line that struggled to protect him. Maybe injury issues have taken a toll, not only physically but mentally, as he seemed much less comfortable in the pocket this year. Go ahead and make your pleas for Peters, but do we know the whole picture there too? Maybe he has some growing up to do before he’s ready for the big stage. Maybe there are other reasons he isn’t playing besides his talent level, that are between he and the coaches at this point. Should they burn a red-shirt on Dylan McCaffery and put him behind this line, risking his health? Doesn’t seem like the best idea. And if we’re being truthful, Freshman and Sophomore (successful) starting QBs are more the exception than they are the norm.
Harbaugh has had two (2!) full cycles and a partial to get his players in, not 3 full. He came into a situation with a team who fell from grace to disparity and likely can’t just walk in and get whichever top player he wants just yet. That said, he is doing a tremendous job on the recruiting trail, but with a large class just graduating and many leaving for the NFL, there are big holes to fill. Yes the Defense has done a great job of filling many of these holes, but they also had some great talent in key spots which help mask any issues they might have. Senior LB McCray certainly helps, as do DL Brian Mone and Mo Hurst. Harbaugh brought in Gary who is a tremendous athlete, and they have Chase Winovich (Mone, Hurst, Winovich, Gary, and even Devin Bush all fall into that category of non-returning starters, but they are playing like returning starters due to talent level as well as experience in meaningful snaps last year). They also have the best D Coordinator in the game. The offense has not had that luxury. The O-Line is riddled with younger players who have not had that same experience in some cases. The skill positions, while talented, have been inconsistent, in part because it’s tough to get them the ball or to allow them to shine, when there isn’t much time for plays to develop. Harbaugh is getting his players and they will develop. Rome was not built overnight, nor will this program be completely rebuilt to the unrealistic expectations of our fan base.
This Michigan team is not getting worse. There are improvements on the offensive side of the ball, and the defense is #1 and reached #1 quicker than last year’s team. It would seem the defense has improved, not regressed. They are also under the same exact leadership for the second straight year. Offense on the other hand, has had some staff changes, has had to learn a ton of new terminology, and has 4 people potentially calling plays on Saturdays. There is some simplification to be done on that last point but we have certainly seen changes on the types of plays that are being called. I strongly believe the staff and team are still working hard to find what works. When it doesn’t, it’s easy for us to say “that was a crap call” but when it does, we all rejoice on how great the call was. Harbaugh touched on this in his recent press conference.
Finding what works is much harder to do, when you are in practice and are not facing your real live opponent, and unfortunately when you are behind in a game, often times you end up needing to pass more than you want to, especially when the opposing team is loading the box to stop the run. You may bust 4.5 yards per carry, but you are also susceptible to the 8.5 tackles for loss you have experienced per game to that point. Unfortunately, the weather too made this a difficult situation.
For the last two questions above, I will combine them since they are so similar. Harbaugh turned a game of catch with Tom Brady into a competition. It’s on record that he would go hard in basketball pickup games and intrastaff 1 on 1 competitions at Stanford and throughout his career. There are hundreds of stories about how competitive this man is, and yet some of you think he doesn’t mind losing? That’s some (less than) impressive logic! This man graduated from Michigan, we endow him as a “Michigan Man” through and through and went through the roof in joy at his hiring. But somehow he doesn’t understand the importance of the rivalry games? Or is it that in public he keeps calm and wants to treat it as any other game, as a political stance, to not give opponents poster board material where possible? Clearly the players were upset with the loss, you could see the emotion on the field and in post-game pressers. Yet they will not give up and will forge on, there is a lot of football left and goals are still intact. You people kill me!
Lastly, to David Pollack, Michigan loves Harbaugh. True fans love him. The community loves him. There is not a single coach out there who is better for this team, right now, or in the near future. He has it made here, aside from a few insane fans with dreamy expectations who find it within themselves to tweet stupid things at the coach. He’s not going anywhere. But if we give up on him, and we allow his welcome to wear out, prematurely, we could find ourselves right back in that deep dark spiral that Harbaugh helped pull us out of, as soon as year 1 of taking over.
Jim Harbaugh has back to back 10 win seasons, has a BCS bowl victory under his belt (not just the NY6 loss that I’ve seen in Hoke comparisons – did Hoke make a NY6 game?), and has been red hot on the recruiting trail. His current team is youth-laden, but also is full of talent and currently only has one loss. Michigan has the #1 defense for the second straight year and has been top 2 I believe, in all three years. Knock off the comparisons to previous coaches and quit with the act in terms of Harbaugh not getting it done. Is he above criticism? No, but be realistic.
What I ask of all of you, is to take a step back from the ledge, take a deep breath, and realize that this is a process. Michigan is a young team whether we like it or not, believe it or not, or choose to acknowledge it for one side of the ball but not the other. With a young team, there will be mistakes. With staffing changes, there will be some issues with play calling, especially as they try to find things that work, where you have a young team seemingly struggling with even simple things. It’s not easy. All it takes is one player to miss their assignment and an entire play can breakdown. Consistently avoiding this phenomenon throughout an entire football game, let alone season, is a tall task. But I can assure you, the team, the coaches, and everyone connected is trying their tails off, to figure it out and get it right.
If we are being honest, most of us didn’t see this year as the championship contending year anyway. We said next year or even the year after would be best for that. Many of us saw this team losing 2-4 games in 2017. News Flash: Michigan has only lost one of five games, and has plenty of games left. They could still lose more, but they could also win out (not saying they will).
I’m taking the position as I’ve done since the start of the season, that I will continue to hope for the best, I will expect some mistakes, I will expect more bumps in the road, and I will admire the team’s ability to persevere and to hopefully improve as we look at the beginning of the season to the end. Improvements may not correlate with wins but are we getting better at protecting upfront by season end? Have we had some stars emerge on offense? Have we started to move the ball consistently without turning it over? Is the defense still the number one defense? These are the questions I hope all end with yes and I will continue to support this team with all of my heart and passion, win, lose or tie – I’m a Wolverine till I die. Can you say the same?