Where “Big four” athletes come from

July 30, 2011 - Leave a Response

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Christian Lopez is not a hero for donating Derek Jeter’s 3,000th-hit ball to the Yankee great

July 11, 2011 - 2 Responses

Christian Lopez and Derek Jeter
(Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News)

Christian Lopez didn’t do the right thing.

Maybe Christian Lopez did the right thing for him, but it certainly wasn’t the right thing.

Lopez, who caught Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit, gave the ball to Jeter after the game. I won’t even say he returned the ball to Jeter, because Jeter never had it. David Price’s threw it, Jeter’s bat touched it for a fraction of  a second, and Lopez pulled it away from the other scrambling hands in the leftfield seats.

In the aftermath, Lopez has been widely praised for doing the right thing.

Pardon me, but since when is donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to a multi-millionaire the right thing?

Unlike the Lopez bashers who consider him a fool, I think giving the ball to Jeter might have been the right move – for Lopez.

I certainly wouldn’t have given Jeter the ball (even if I were a huge Yankee fan), but maybe Lopez would derive more satisfaction from do that than from selling it.

If Lopez wanted to give Jeter the ball, good for him. But why are we making Lopez into a hero?

Donating to a millionaire isn’t heroic. Selling an asset to the highest bidder isn’t heroic, either.

This situation never allowed for heroism, short of Lopez donating the ball to a charity.

Derek Jeter is not a charity.

I understand the poetic justice of Jeter owning the ball. His hit, his moment, his ball. But the ball isn’t his right.

Baseball, to appeal to fans, allows its spectators to keep balls batted into the stands. Once the ball cleared the outfield fence, Jeter had no claim to it.

I respect Lopez for making a tough decision, just as I would’ve respected him for making the tough decision to sell the ball. By all accounts, he’s still happy with his choice.

I have no idea whether it was the best decision for him. I don’t know the man, and I won’t even guess at his motives, hopes and dreams.

I hope Lopez never regrets donating the ball to Jeter, just as I don’t wish ill-will on any stranger. But that’s where my cordiality toward Lopez ends.

Lopez made a choice Saturday. He’s not a hero. He’s not a role model. He’s not a saint.

He didn’t do the right thing.

He just, for whatever reason, gave an expensive gift to a millionaire.

So what?

Washington Redskins Senior Vice President Tony Wyllie compares Dan Snyder’s lawsuit against Washington City Paper to Egypt

April 28, 2011 - Leave a Response

(Victoria Hazou/Associated Press)

I attended a panel on ethics in sports journalism at the University of Maryland last night and – perhaps, besides Vince Doria, ESPN’s Vice President and Director of News,  saying he doesn’t consider Erin Andrews a reporter – the most shocking moment came when Washington Redskins Senior Vice President Tony Wyllie compared Dan Snyder’s lawsuit against Washington City Paper to the protests in Egypt.

I don’t recall Wyllie’s exact quote, but it had something to do with fighting for what’s right/standing up for justice.

The event’s live chat corroborates at 8:04 that Wyllie compared the lawsuit to Egyptian protests, but it doesn’t provide his exact wording. Someone, I’d guess for the school, was taping the panel. So video of the quote exists somewhere, too.

Wyllie also addressed the female students in the room (corroborated at 8:08) and said one day, when they get married, their husband will stand up for their honor. Snyder is doing something similar, and presumably as valiant, by suing Washington Paper.

Washington Post sports editor Matt Vita and USA Today columnist Christine Brennan sat on the panel. Maryland journalism students filled the audience. So, I’m extremely surprised you haven’t heard more about this – especially considering Brennan’s look of disgust during Wyllie’s sexist comment before she shot back by saying, (not quoting exactly) maybe the women will stand up for their husband’s honor.

I don’t know much about Wyllie, so I’m no going condemn him too harshly here. He has a boss, and to do his job, he must represent Snyder’s interests – regardless of how he feels personally.

But this is how the Redskins act? I thought the Lions were a comedy of errors.

I have no idea whether Snyder’s lawsuit holds merit. I haven’t researched his claims, but I know he’ll almost assuredly lose in court.

I’m not sure that even matters, though. Beyond hoping to receive damages, I think most plaintiffs in defamation lawsuits believe the suit will help repair their image.

So, why is Snyder continuing with this nonsense? He obviously has no self-awareness. The lawsuit has had the exact opposite result. He looks like more of a bully, a greedy elite, a heartless jerk.

He needs advisers who caution him against his self-destructive tendencies. Instead, he has aids who make his problems worse by comparing them to issues of actual importance, like Egypt.

In my short experience with him, Wyllie came across either as too much of a “yes man” or as foolish as Snyder. Neither bodes well.

Brady Hoke isn’t Bo Schembechler

January 14, 2011 - Leave a Response

(John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)

Dave Brandon wouldn’t have hired Brady Hoke as Michigan’s next head coach if it weren’t for Bo Schembechler.

On an obvious level, Brandon wanted a coach with Michigan ties, and Hoke came from Bo’s coaching tree.* In his introductory press conference, Hoke spoke of his conversations with Schembechler – a connection Brandon surely treasured.

*Although, Hoke’s branch on Bo’s coaching tree is on the same level as Rich Rodriguez’s branch. Both are “coaching grandsons” – Hoke because he assisted Lloyd Carr and Rodriguez because he played for and then coached under Don Nehlen.

But I think there’s another level, too. Schembechler’s success gave Brandon the confidence to hire the low-profile Hoke.

Hoke’s coaching résumé isn’t fantastic on face value. He’s never coached a major program, and he’s never won an outright conference title. And Bo hadn’t done those things when Michigan hired him, either.

I think it’s clear, whether intentionally or subconsciously, Brandon made his mentor and former coach the archetype to rate coaching candidates against.

Let’s say you’re Dave Brandon in this Process (TM). The first step is identifying a pool of candidates.

Bo came to Michigan from Miami (Ohio), and you want someone who has run a program. So, you narrow your field to sitting head coaches.

Bo coached Miami for six years, and you want a coach who has proven himself. So, to be generous, you narrow the field to coaches with more than two years experience as head coaches.

Bo was 39 when Michigan hired him and coached the team for 21 years, and you want someone who can near that longevity. So, you narrow the field to coaches who are expected to live for at least 21 more years.*

*Unfortunately, when comparing coaches between 1968 and 2011, comparing ages, although simple, isn’t accurate. The average lifespan was 70.5 years in 1969 and 78.2 years in 2010. Across the board, coaches were much younger in 1968 than 2011. So, expected years remaining to live (average lifespan minus age), although grim-sounding, presents a more accurate picture.

Bo always put his players first, and you want a coach who displays a similar lack of ego (as Brandon said many times during the press conference). So, you narrow the field to coaches at non-major schools.

To recap, your pool consists of sitting head coaches at non-major schools with more than two years experience who are expected to live for at least 21 more years.

Hoke fits every single one of those criteria. But there’s one element I haven’t mention, and it’s pretty important.


When Michigan hired Bo, no coach that fit the aforementioned criteria had a better record than him during the previous six years (how long he had been a head coach).

When Michigan hired Hoke, 13 coaches that fit the aforementioned criteria had a better record than him during the previous eight years (how long he had been a head coach):

Boise State’s Chris Petersen, Texas Christian’s Gary Patterson, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, BYU’s Bronco Mendenhall, Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, Air Force’s Troy Calhoun, Tulsa’s Todd Graham,* Houston’s Kevin Sumlin, Northern Illinois’ Jerry Kill,* Southern Methodist’s June Jones, Southern Mississippi’s Larry Fedora, Western Michigan’s Bill Cubit and Middle Tennessee State’s Rick Stockstill.

*I’m counting coaching who switched jobs after the regular season because had Brandon acted more swiftly, they could have been in play.

Would all of those coaches have come to Michigan? No. Would all of them have been better hires than Hoke? No.

But when Michigan hired Bo, he had the best record. He didn’t need excuses about rebuilding programs or maturing as a coach. He was the best when it came to fitting the profile, and he was the best when it came to winning.

Hoke fits only the former.

This doesn’t mean Hoke will fail. After his first his first season at Miami (Ohio), Schembechler held a meager 5-3-2 record with his lone contest against a major team (Northwestern) a 31-point loss. But if Michigan had interviewed him that year, Bo still would have impressed. If Michigan had hired him then, he still would have become a great coach for the Wolverines.

But to anyone finding comfort in Hoke’s hire by drawing parallels to Bo, please don’t. Schembechler’s credentials in1968 blow Hoke’s out of the water.

Happy about and for Brady Hoke

January 11, 2011 - One Response

(Denis Poroy/AP)

Most Michigan fans didn’t want Brady Hoke. Minnesota and Indiana might not have wanted Brady Hoke. I’m not even convinced the man who hired him wanted Brady Hoke.

But when Dave Brandon limited his search to three candidates and two of them don’t work out, he Hoke became his man. An overreliance on Michigan ties and an inexperienced athletic director caused a bungled search, but in the end, the result isn’t so bad.

I had already spent the last couple days bracing myself for the first Michigan coach since I began watching football whose integrity didn’t match the level I find appropriate. Frankly, the thought of such a coach at a school that claims to stand for so much more bothered me.

Sure, I’d give Les Miles a chance to screw up in Ann Arbor before condemning him forever. But if he continued the same less-than-savory practices he’s been using at LSU, could I support a Michigan program led by someone like that?

Thankfully, I won’t have to answer that question as long as Hoke coaches the Wolverines. Michigan has a coach who, despite his shortcomings, I want to support.

I’m happy for Hoke, because I appreciate how happy he must be right now. Like so many who grew up wanting to attend the school, including myself, Hoke knows the feeling of opening an acceptance letter to Michigan.

It’s absolutely a positive that Hoke wanted this job so badly. But it shouldn’t have been a job requirement.

Make no mistake, Hoke has done nothing to indicate he’ll fail at Michigan. He just hasn’t done enough to feel confident he’ll succeed.

He hasn’t prepared for nationally relevant games. He hasn’t dealt with high-profile athletes. He hasn’t faced constant media attention.* He hasn’t catered to a large community of rich donors. He hasn’t recruited against programs like Florida, USC and Texas.

*Although, his friend Jason Whitlock could probably give him a few tips.

But he’s met the challenges in front of him. He turned around Ball State, and then he turned around San Diego State. And please, don’t criticize him for losing for his first four years at Ball State – maybe the least-supported football program in the FBS outside the Sun Belt (and at least the Sun Belt teams get to play each other).

That’s solid résumé, even if it’s underwhelming for this opening.

But that doesn’t mean his job will be easy now that he has the position and all the resources Michigan offers.

Hoke must immediately face his biggest perceive shortcoming, and if he doesn’t handle it well, the negative momentum could cost him the job in a few years.

He must recruit 126 players – the 20 scholarships Michigan has open and the 106 players already on the team with eligibility remaining. Making matters more difficult, because of Brandon’s absurd timeline, Hoke has less time fill the scholarships.

I love Hoke’s reputation as a stand-up guy. His players grow to love him because he’s up front and honest with them all the time, and I think that’s much more important than the sizzle of hiring a hot coach.

But that doesn’t work in Hoke’s favor right now. He doesn’t have the luxury of cultivating relationship over a long period of time.

For years, the Michigan job has been easy.* The foundation Bo built stood so resolutely, his successors had a head start on their peers.

*Relative to other jobs. Coaching a college football team isn’t easy. Not anyone can do it.

Hoke’s job is more difficult. He must repair that crumbling foundation, rather than merely sustaining it.

I wish Michigan had hired a coach with a strong track record, someone who’d give me more faith in his ability to fix this football program. But that doesn’t mean Hoke can’t handle the task.

I hope he succeeds on the field, and as far as that goes, that’s all I have – hope and nothing more.

But more importantly, I’m glad Michigan hired someone I’m sure will succeed off the field.

Detroit Free Press inaccurately criticizes Rich Rodriguez

January 6, 2011 - 3 Responses

In its list of Rich Rodriguez lowlights, the Detroit Free Press wrote (in an un-bylined story):

Going 0-3 against Ohio State; he’s only the second U-M coach not to beat the Buckeyes.

In reality, six Michigan coaches didn’t beat Ohio State.

Frank Crawford, Frank E. Barbour, William L. McCauley and William D. Ward coached before the Wolverines began their series against the Buckeyes.

In his only season as head coach, Langdon (Biff) Lea tied Ohio State, 0-0, in 1900.

If you think this is nitpicky, it is. But I can be nitpicky, and I think news outlets should be, too.

A much better version would have been: He’s the only Michigan coach to lose all his games against the Buckeyes.

That sounds even worse for Rodriguez. How did the Free Press miss that opportunity?

Urban Meyer and Dan McCarney for Michigan’s football coach

January 6, 2011 - 4 Responses

(Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun)

I believe everyone is entitled to one off-the-wall suggestion in each coaching search. This is mine for Michigan:

Hire Urban Meyer as head coach on a leave of absence, and hire Dan McCarney as acting head coach.

Obviously, I’d prefer Michigan’s long-term coach begin his duties immediately. But I’d rather initiate a plan to bring in a top-tier coach like Meyer than settle for a second-tier candidate.*

*I haven’t made up my mind on him yet, but if you please, insert Brady Hoke here.

Meyer is a proven winner at multiple stops, including a major program in Florida. He has Midwest ties (coached at Bowling Green; assisted at Notre Dame, Illinois State and Ohio State; played at Cincinnati; born in Toledo). Plus, even though his health issues discount this, he’s only 46.

He’s a home-run hire, perhaps the only one available to Michigan.*

*Rich Rodriguez had home-run qualifications when Michigan hired him. His last three West Virginia teams finished 11, 13 and 11 in the final pre-bowl AP polls. Loosening the criteria, which coaches guided BCS teams to rankings in the final pre-bowl AP polls both this season and last season – and where might they stand with Michigan?

  • Nick Saban – Not a chance.
  • Les Miles – He’s the strongest possibility among this group, but with his zany coaching decisions, would he really be a home-run?
  • Bo Pelini – I think the former Buckeye safety would leave Nebraska for Ohio State, not Michigan.
  • Jim Tressel – Ha!
  • Mike Gundy – If it weren’t for his embarrassing tirade, he’d be one of my favorite candidates. But that press conference probably, and rightly, disqualifies him.
  • Chip Kelly – Phil Knight won’t let him get away.
  • Jim Harbaugh – Appears unlikely now, but I think there’s a better chance than most will acknowledge.
  • Frank Beamer – Way too old.
  • Bill Stewart – Well, he’s available.
  • Brett Bielema – He’d make for a decent candidate if it weren’t for this.

McCarney, who served the previous three seasons as Meyer’s defensive line coach, could help usher in the new era. He has head-coaching experience and would surely benefit from Michigan’s resources.

McCarney – Iowa State’s all-time leader in wins, games, losses and bowl appearances – raised the bar for the moribund program. When he could no longer meet the expectations that were only in place because he established them, Iowa State fired him.

As Gene Chizik has shown, struggling at Iowa State doesn’t necessarily preclude a coach from future success. And McCarney had a higher winning percentage with the Cyclones than Chizik did.

I think McCarney is a capable coach who could help install Meyer’s program in Ann Arbor in advance of Meyer’s return.

Whether he’d be interested in the job is another matter. North Texas hired McCarney in late November, and fewer than two months would be a short tenure. Would he feel comfortable leaving the Mean Green in this manner?*

*It reminds me of when Lloyd Carr left West Virginia after a month for Michigan, but I can’t find better information on that than this.

Also important would be how North Texas feels about the move. Rodriguez’s abrupt departure from West Virginia rubbed many locally and nationally the wrong way, and Michigan should look to avoid another poor first impression.

North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal has no direct ties to Michigan, so I’m not sure he’d appreciate the situation. I’m sure he’s aware Michigan out-everythings his program, but there’s a big difference between knowing that and quietly accepting another program poaching his head football coach before that coach has even conducted a practice.

If nothing in Villarreal’s history in athletics suggests he’d bow down to Michigan, maybe this does. Before becoming North Texas’ athletic director, Villarreal served as owner and operator of an eight-unit Domino’s Pizza group in Decatur, Ga. He’d almost have to respect Dave Brandon and a school that would hire him.

This move would also allow for three members of Florida’s staff last year with Michigan ties to return to Ann Arbor – former Michigan quarterback and quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler, former Michigan defensive backs coach Teryl Austin and former Michigan running back Chuck Heater (co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach with the Gators).

If the goal is a home-run hire with Midwest ties who could bring a staff full of Michigan connections, this keeps Harbaugh and Miles from being the only options.

Considerations for firing Rich Rod

January 5, 2011 - Leave a Response

image (Melanie Maxwell/ AnnArbor.com)

Michigan fired Rich Rodriguez today, and I’m fine with that. I didn’t expect to support a firing before the Gator Bowl, but 52-14 changes everything.

I hope Dave Brandon didn’t decide to fire Rodriguez before the bowl game, and I hope he weighed the appropriate factors after it.

Keeping Rodriguez would have satisfied me under the following three conditions:

1. Michigan’s embarrassing Gator Bowl loss could be explained in a way that doesn’t indicate Rodriguez is likely to fail at Michigan

Obviously, this would have been pretty tough to do, and I don’t believe it would have been possible. But I think there was a chance.

Here are a couple half-baked ideas:

  • Denard Robinson intentionally limited himself on the direction of the coaching staff. Because of Tate Forcier’s suspension, Michigan basically had no backup quarterback. Maybe it was a mistake by Rodriguez to order/allow Denard to play that way. But that type of mistake can be isolated to extraordinary circumstances. Managing quarterback play for a team without a backup isn’t something Rodriguez will have to do often, if ever, again.
  • Mississippi State clearly scouted the Wolverines well, and I think coaching for a bowl game requires a different skill set than coaching for a regular-season game. Before winning his first bowl game as a head coach, Dan Mullen was 5-1 in bowls as an offensive coordinator. Maybe Michigan ran into a tougher matchup than it appeared.

In the end, I doubt this first condition could have been met. It looked like Rodriguez’s players quit on him. They knew the stakes, and they still played dismally. If that were the case, the problems displayed in Jacksonville would have been nearly irreversible for Rodriguez’s program.

But I don’t know all the facts. Maybe the Gator Bowl wasn’t so bad. I doubt it. But maybe.

2. Rodriguez replaced Greg Robinson and Adam Braithwaite

I have little doubt this condition would have been met.

Robinson’s issues don’t to be rehashed here, and because losing an assistant coach for a portion of the season was a possible NCAA sanction, Braithwaite landed a better job than his résumé qualified him for.

3. A quick search fonnd no better coaches than Rodriguez willing to take the job

In light of Michael Rosenberg’s report Jim Harbaugh wasn’t interested in Michigan, this becomes more complicated.

San Diego State’s Brady Hoke, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel intrigue me, but I’m not sure any of those three are better coaches than Rodriguez.

Brandon couldn’t allow Rodriguez to twist in the wind any longer than he had. But I think it was important to know the likely next coach before firing Rodriguez. Obviously, that coach should be better than Rodriguez.

So, those were my three conditions. Unlike many, I wasn’t ready to rush and fire Rodriguez. It doesn’t sound like Dave Brandon was, either. I hope he took the right factors into play.

If the Gator Bowl loss could be explained, if Rodriguez was willing to fire Robinson and Braithwaite, if the next coach isn’t as good a coach as Rodriguez, then I’m not happy with the firing.

I’m not privy to all the facts, so I’m withholding the right to change my opinion as more facts become public, but I think Rodriguez’s firing was the correct call.

Rich Rodriguez isn’t done yet

January 4, 2011 - 4 Responses

(Melanie Maxwell/ AnnArbor.com)

Rich Rodriguez remains Michigan’s coach another day. Why?

Larry Lage reports it’s because no decision has been made. Michael Rosenberg still maintains the decision has been made to fire Rodriguez, but he doesn’t provide a reason for delaying the announcement. 

Obviously, Lage and Rosenberg can’t both be right. If Rodriguez is retained, Lage will probably have been right (I doubt the decision has already been made to keep Rodriguez). If Rodriguez is fired, we won’t know.

Maybe because I’m not firmly in the Rich-Rod-should-be-fired group like everybody else, and maybe because I think Rosenberg recently got burned using a seemingly reliable anonymous source (more on that later), I’m partial toward Lage’s report.

Here’s my guess best guess at the situation.

Before the Gator Bowl I think the scenario was:

  • Jim Harbaugh was Plan A
  • Rodriguez was Plan B
  • Rodriguez had a slight chance of becoming Plan A with an impressive bowl victory

Now, I think the scenario is:

  • Jim Harbaugh is plan A*
  • Brandon is determining whether Rodriguez or someone else is Plan B
  • Once Brandon has determined his Plan B, that will be Harbaugh’s deadline to commit to Michigan

*I don’t doubt that someone who would be in the know told Rosenberg that Harbaugh had ruled out Michigan. In fact, my gut feeling says it was Harbaugh himself.

But that doesn’t mean Harbaugh has ruled out Michigan. The quote came shortly after the Cardinal’s Orange Bowl victory. I’m sure Harbaugh felt emotionally tied to Stanford at that time.

When that feeling subsides, I think Michigan will re-enter the picture. That doesn’t mean Harbaugh will come to Ann Arbor, but I don’t believe he’s eliminated the Wolverines until he eliminates them out in a stable state of mind.

I find it difficult to believe Brandon envisioned such a debilitating Gator Bowl result. I certainly didn’t. So, that threw a wrench in keeping Rodriguez if Harbaugh turned down Michigan.

I think Rodriguez would have remained Plan B with a more-typical loss, but 52-14 is something else all together. I think Brandon has used his time since the bowl to evaluate Rodriguez and other Plan B options – probably beginning with Brady Hoke and expanding further.

Brandon might have been ready to fire Rodriguez today, but the fact that he hasn’t suggests their meeting went well enough to prolong the decision. That doesn’t mean Rodriguez will be Plan B, but I think whatever he said today gives him a chance.

Of course, that becomes irrelevant if Harbaugh chooses Michigan. Brandon must know he can’t wait forever for Harbaugh, although Brandon appears to continuously head in that direction.

My guess is Brandon will decide on his Plan B tomorrow, Thursday at the latest, and ask Harbaugh for a final decision at that time.

The Rich Rodriguez chronicles

January 4, 2011 - Leave a Response

Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez walks off the field after losing to Ohio State in Ann Arbor, MI on Saturday, November 21, 2009. Michigan lost, 21-10.(Clif Reeder/Daily)

(Original photo: Clif Reeder/ The Michigan Daily)

Every Michigan story needs a villain.

  • “The Victors” needed Chicago to lose its final game in 1898.
  • “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions” needed players to quit the 1969 team.
  • “A Michigan Man will coach Michigan” needed Bill Frieder to leave for Arizona State.

Rich Rodriguez, because too many people are only capable of or willing to view him in black and white, will become the next villain.

But the “Michigan didn’t win enough, so Rich Rod must go” refrain tires me. It overly simplifies the situation and fails to allow for the appropriate shades of gray.

He’s a fine man and a fine coach who has performed his job poorly overall the last three years. That doesn’t mean he deserves all of the blame for the losing, and that doesn’t mean his past mistakes necessarily indicate future inadequacy.

In a series of posts during coming days, I hope to explore the gray areas and deconstruct the man who is widely viewed as Michigan’s first failed football coach in more than 40 years.