Michigan Football Fans, Please Remember the Team
In 1969 Bo Schembechler was brought in from Miami University (yes, that Miami) to be the 15th head coach at the University of Michigan. He was to succeed Bump Elliott, a former Michigan alumn who had played on the un-defeated 1947 team under Fitz Crisler and won the Big 9 MVP. Schembechler was a protege of the great Ohio State coach Woody Hayes and was, understandably, not a popular hire.
It was really time for change. Michigan was pulling in a guy from outside to take over for a guy who was barely better that .500 in his 10-year career. Before that, Bennie Oosterbaan was the heir of the legendary Fitz Crisler (for whom the basketball court is named after) and was not only a Michigan alumn, he received nine letters in three sports. Oosterbaan won the national title in his first year and went to the Rose Bowl in his second year but, after Crisler's team had graduated, Oosterbaan's record started to slump and Elliott was named the new head coach.
So now we're back to Bo. If you follow Michigan football at all you've heard this name time and time again, especially when it related to the search for the 19th head coach of football. Schembechler was a legend and only Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne have recorded 200 victories in fewer games as a coach in major college football. While he never won a national championship, Bo Schembechler is widely regarded as the greatest coach in Michigan football history.
In high school I always wondered why we studied history. It's in the past, why don't we focus on today and tomorrow and let what's done come to rest? I was always told that we can learn great lessons from our past so that we might not repeat the same mistakes we made yesterday. While that wasn't the answer I was looking for, I understood the logic of that statement and continued on my day.
2008 and 1969 were very similar. Lloyd Carr was from Michigan and had been an assistant under Bo; he was a "Michigan Man." He had won a national championship and a few Big 10 titles but, in recent years, he seemed like he was losing his touch. He couldn't manage to beat the hated Buckeyes and his team lost to a Division 1AA school for the first time in program history.
It felt like it was time for change again. Michigan fans were no longer happy with going 9-3 and beating Ohio State 30 percent of the time. Enter Rich Rodriguez.
Rich Rodriguez was a guy from outside the program that was brought in to install his new hip and cool offense and return the program to the forefront of the national scene. Since he lacked any sort of ties to Michigan or Bo, many Michigan fans were not happy. Why not Jim Harbaugh? Why not Les Miles? These were Michigan men and understood the program traditions and the pressure. They were proteges, in one aspect or another, of Bo.
The main differences between Bo and Rich-Rod are that Bo had a winning record in each of his first three seasons and that media coverage in 1969 wasn't what it is present day and Rich Rod couldn't discipline his children without it being front-page news on the Detroit Free Press (freep).
Rich Rodriguez never had a chance as far as Michigan fans were concerned.
I'm not saying that Michigan was wrong to fire Rich-Rod but I am saying that maybe we should have looked to the past a little bit and gave the guy a chance (cue the "yeah, we gave him three years" response) before we ran him out of Ann Arbor.
So we tried the new guy, what now? Now we bring back Brady Hoke. A lot of fans ranked their coaching dream sheet differently than I did but he was (and maybe still is) near the bottom of my list. Brady Hoke seems to me like a desperate attempt at bringing back a "Michigan man" to appease the masses and unify Ann Arbor (which is still important but that will come with wins, not heritage).
By now you've all seen the run-down of this guys career (mediocre) so you know this isn't the sexy pick. This guy isn't even a proven winner at a big-time school. So why is everyone in the freep and Ann Arbor.com behind this guy when they weren't Rich Rodriguez?
Brian Cook puts it best:
**WARNING: This next part will be extremely difficult to swallow for Michigan fans. Read at your own risk.
"...But I think the way this went down proves that all the things rivals say about Michigan are true. This is an unbelievably arrogant program convinced its past glories are greater and more recent than they are, certain outsiders have nothing to teach it. We will enter bowl games against opponents that say "boy, that Michigan just lines up and comes after you," and we probably won't win many of them. We never have, and trying to out-execute Alabama or Oregon seems like a tall order these days.
I hoped we could be block-M Michigan without that, that we could have an exciting, modern offense that pumped out Michigan Men and maybe shredded Oklahoma for 48 points in a BCS game. I hoped we could reboot the program, keeping the things we treasure about it but maybe leaving the dismal bowl record and recent inability to compete with Ohio State behind. For a lot of reasons we can't. We are who we are."
I do think there is a measure of truth to that. It would seem that Michigan fans are more concerned with hiring someone that has ties to their great "legacy" than hiring someone that might be more qualified for the job. It's like when Dave does his job better but, because the boss like Carl more, Carl is going to get promoted. It's not right or fair but neither is life.
There's a million other names out there that I would have rather have seen than "Brady Hoke" just on a qualification standpoint. People will argue (and have argued) that "well, he's turned programs around" but there's a lot of hypocrisy in that statement that needs to be evaluated right now before you posters start firing away rebuttals.
**If you wish to use that argument please read this first:
No. 1: If you are someone who said "The Big East is not the Big 10" when Rich Rodriguez was coach just do me a favor and navigate away from this page right now. Brady Hoke's coaching experience comes from the MAC (the Big 10's traditional whipping-boy) and the Mountain West.
No 2: It took Hoke four seasons to get a winning record at Ball State. Michigan gave Rich Rodriguez three seasons and fired him after his first winning season.
In spite of myself, I do really wish him the best. Regardless of whether or not I like this hire remains irrelevant. Brady Hoke is now the head coach of football at the University of Michigan and that's just something I'm going to have to live with. I'll still be at football games in 2011, I'll still wear my customized jersey with "WALKER" printed on the back every Saturday, and my block-M Michigan flag will still fly from the front of my house, rain, snow, sleet, or shine.
I do believe that Michigan fans need to rally around Brady Hoke, but not because we didn't do that with Rich Rodriguez, but because we should have done that with Rich Rodriguez. I don't like being wrong but I sincerely hope I'm wrong about this guy. I hope he makes me look like an idiot and wins the Big 10 over and over again. I hope Brady Hoke makes Dave Brandon look like a genius. I hope somebody digs up this article two years from now and says, "Man, you were way wrong about this guy."
And now we've come full-circle. I think it's wrong to compare Hoke to Bo because Bo was the outsider and Hoke is the insider. I think the more accurate comparison to make and maybe the one that will come true is: "Is Hoke going to be the next Carr?" I think he might be. He's inheriting a team that's returning just about everyone and has a significantly softer schedule in 2011. I think he'll be good enough to go 9-3 every year and maybe beat Ohio State 30 percent of the time. But if Michigan was looking to win National Championships then I don't think this was the droid you were looking for.
If you were at Michigan football games in 2010 you probably heard clips of current and former players reciting one of Bo Schembechler's famous speeches. I think this was maybe a little bit of a ploy by Rich-Rod to try and save his job by making us think that there's more to a program than just one man but it's apparent that people didn't listen.
As a fan, as a fellow sportswriter/blogger, as someone who has a voice in this program, however small it may be, think of yourself as part of the team. Everytime something was written or said about Rich Rodriguez in the news it almost always came with some reference to "the fans" and what they thought about what was going on at the time. All of us here on bleacher report, on our blogs, on twitter, made enough noise to drown out 110,000 cheering fans at the big house to have an impact on the coach and, therefore, the program.
Because of that collective noise, all of us are a part of the team. We have a say in what happens to Brady Hoke in the next couple of years. Yes, we are Michigan, but I think we need to curb our expectations for the first couple of years and actually give this guy a shot. I know it's a cliche but we've proven that we cannot win when we are so divided. If we are truly part of a team, if we truly want to continue on Bo's legacy, if we want to win we need to listen to Bo's message, the same message that Rich Rodriguez was trying to pass on to us at Michigan's football games this past year:
"We want the Big Ten championship and we're gonna win it as a Team. They can throw out all those great backs, and great quarterbacks, and great defensive players, throughout the country and in this conference, but there's gonna be one Team that's gonna play solely as a Team. No man is more important than The Team. No coach is more important than The Team. The Team, The Team, The Team! And if we think that way, all of us, everything that you do, you take into consideration what effect does it have on my Team?"
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