Thursday, July 30, 2009

Procrastination Reaps It's Reward

Michigan's September 4th, 2010 stadium dedication football game has finally been scheduled. The opponent will be Connecticut. The Huskies and Wolverines have agreed to a home-home arrangement whereby UConn comes to Michigan Stadium in 2010 and Michigan agrees to travel east to Hartford, CT area in 2013 to play the Huskies at Rentschler Field. Rentschler Field has the stadium capacity of a whopping 40,000 seasts.

Folks, this is what happens when you don't do your homework and you cram for final exams.

Sure, sometimes you get lucky and you totally slam dunk it. You don't know how, but you get away with a B+ or better. Other times you can tell you're so screwed before the test is even handed out and you proceed to fail in embarrassing fashion. And yet other times you just make it by a butt hair. You pass the test, but you feel like crap the rest of the week.

UConn under head coach Randy Edsall has been doing fairly well with 9-4 and 8-5 seasons in 2007 and 2008 respectively operating out of the make-over prone Big East Conference. No offense to the Husky football program when I say this, but Michigan's athletic department missed a golden opportunity here.

The new stadium inauguration game was an important opportunity to bring in a quality BCS opponent with some historical tie-ins and strong football traditions. And the time to start searching for this Michigan opponent was not April 2009, but rather 2 years ago when the Michigan stadium reconstruction first commenced.

In general, Michigan's lack of creativity and decisive policy in terms of non-conference game scheduling is starting to hurt the program in my view. I simply refuse to buy into the "Michigan must play only home games"-schtick. That's just ridiculousness to the thousandth power. Let's pretend for one moment that such arrogant thinking holds water, somebody explain why it's financially feasible for USC and Texas to do home-home arrangements with Ohio State and Virginia? Or for Georgia and OK State to schedule a home-home? Or for Nebraska and Virginia Tech? What makes Michigan so special in this regard? Don't say "cash", because in terms of the bottom line EBITA number, the Wolverine athletic program is absolutely rolling in it to such a sickening degree while other Division 1 schools struggle to survive. I'm sure I'm missing something.

For now Michigan's athletic department leadership appears to be content to go through the motions and wait until the last freaking moment to sort out the non-conference slate. This can and must change.

Monday, July 27, 2009

No More Marshmallows

I'm going to be out the remainder of the week on foreign travel, so I apologize in advance that posting will lie somewhere between "light" and "non-existent" until next week.

In the meantime, good news from the Big Ten Media days escaped the lips of Rich Rodriguez in that the Wolverines' opponent for September 4, 2010 will indeed by a BCS level team, not something consisting of corn syrup, water,and gelatin.

I love the fact that UM has surrendered a home-home to bring in a quality opponent. This really opens up the options for the Wolverines. I previously explored in some detail potential opponent options that offer either substance, historical significance or both to the new stadium inauguration game.

For what it's worth, I kind of missed the good ole days when Michigan rained down marshallows and toilet paper after touchdowns scored on game day. That was sort of neat to watch.

Must have been hell to clean up though.

Also, a nice interview article of Shaun King, Rodriguez star quarterback at Tulane in 1997 and 1998.

Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Injury Bugs Bite

The annual Big Ten Media day is taking place this week in Chicago, and the 2009 fall practice for the Michigan Wolverines is only a little over 2 weeks away (August 14).

It’s about this time of year that sports bloggers, mainstream sports media, and partisan fans begin to ratchet up their predictions for the upcoming fall college football season. A good portion of the content centers around what everyone expects to happen. For example, Ohio State is the favorite to win the Big Ten again this year, with Penn State, Iowa, Michigan State and Illinois making up the top half of the Big Ten.

Yet it is not until fall practice begins, when the pads and helmets are strapped on, and the hitting commences that we can start to get real about what’s expected to happen. One of the things college football fans have grown to expect are team injuries. Michigan’s football team has been no exception to this rule. Michigan has already had one injury during Spring Practice this year when veteran quarterback Nick Sheridan went down with a minor leg fracture. The injury bugs were like a plague of locusts last year for Michigan:

Guard Cory Zirbel (knee)
Elliott Mealer (auto accident)
Junior Hemingway (mono)
Carlos Brown (hand)
Brandon Minor (wrist)
Terrance Robinson (knee)

All of these before kickoff of the first game last year versus Utah.

Michigan fans are right to be excited about the 2009 season. There are a lot of young, talented players hitting the Wolverine roster this season, and preliminary indications suggest that a good number will receive early playing time.

There are so many contingencies this year to Michigan’s success on the football field. More of Rich Rodriguez’s spread read option playbook must be unfurled. The Michigan defense, under it’s 4th defensive coordinator over 5 years, must play with greater confidence and competence under new coach Greg Robinson. The quarterbacks must use the talent and experience around them to win and not carry the weight of the entire game on their shoulders alone.

But perhaps the most important thing for the Michigan Wolverines football team in 2009 is that they need to be fortunate. Luck needs to be on their side in the injury department - particularly at quarterback, along the defensive front, the linebackers and secondary positions. Injuries are going to make or break the 2009 football season for Michigan due to the lack of depth at most positions, especially on defense.

If there is any good news to find in terms of future injuries it is that this Michigan football staff is at least coaching for that eventuality by preparing a higher number of players to fit multiple positions, and by coaching up freshmen and sophomores to plug the gaps should they be needed.

I’m very excited that kickoff versus Western Michigan is getting closer by the day. Fans should be mindful of the importance of fall practice developments. I submit that if the Michigan football team can somehow escape the high velocity fall practice sessions injury free, then reasons for optimism this season should be high. If Michigan can stay injury free much of the season, then no rival will be safe, not even those most favored at this week’s Big Ten Media Days.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

All Your Quarterback Are Belong To Us

It figures that I'd say something incredibly stupid at the very end of an earlier post about Michigan fans abstaining from panic until such time that Rich Rodriguez's own 2008 and 2009 football recruits hit the exits. Well, this particular recruit has been actually shown the exits by the coach, so it's not exactly the same thing as the AHhhh...RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!-tactic employed by Boren and Wermers.

Former backup quarterback and slot receiver Justin Feagin has been dismissed from the Michigan football team for violating team rules.

The loss of Justin Feagin is probably not going to impact Michigan's upcoming football season one iota.

The Wolverines are not exactly stacked at quarterback, but with Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson and Nick Sheridan, there's enough talent or experience to get by well enough this fall. Feagin was a 2 star, 93rd ranked QB in the freshman class of 2008.

The slot receiver position, which had become Feagin's new football vocation ever since Nick Sheridan beat him out for the second string QB role last year, is stacked. The Wolverines still have Roy Roundtree, Terrance Robinson, Je-Ron Stokes in the lineup, plus a long laundry list of outside receivers and backup running backs that could play slot.

I liked Feagin as a quarterback, but by about the 3rd game of season I decided to stop wasting all of my time thinking about why in the hell Sheridan was getting so many reps under center while Feagin was wasting away on the sidelines.

It's a shame to see poor judgement take Mr. Feagin away from Michigan. Wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Magnificent Seven

Over the last 40 years the University of Michigan has been blessed with several fine football teams. I’ve identified below what I like to call the "Magnificent Seven" of these teams below. I highlight the main reasons why these 7 teams stand far above the rest:

It’s hard to believe this team last played a football game over 12 years ago, because the memories are fresh in the minds of many Michigan faithful as if the Wolverines had knocked off Penn State 34-8 just last weekend. The thing that stood out about this team was the staunch, star-studded defensive unit, anchored by DTs Glen Steele and Rob Renes, LBs Dhani Jones, James Hall and Sam Sword and Heisman Trophy Winner Charles Woodson. The 1997 Wolverines were not a flamboyant team offensively. However, there were so many little weapons that, when mixed and matched together, they'd really pack a punch. It all started and stopped with quarterback Brian Griese who hit 63% of his passes, 2,300 yards, 17 TDs and only 6 INTs. Michigan did not have a 1,000 yard rusher, but came damn close with TB Chris Howard. Griese relied heavily on TE Jerame Tuman and SE Tai Streets as the chief targets for the air attack. As stellar as Michigan’s defense was in 1997, the Wolverines managed to shutout only 1 opponent (Indiana 37-0). They also gave up a comparatively high 9.5 points per game. The Michigan offense, coached by OC Mike Debord, was the weakest of the “Magnificent Seven”, scoring only 26.8 points per game. As a result, Michigan won it’s football games in rather indecisive fashion, with an average margin of victory of just 17.3 points per game. The most impressive thing about the 1997 football team, aside from the defensive unit, Charles Woodson and the championships, was the Wolverine schedule. Michigan faced 7 teams with winning records in 1997. Of Michigan’s Magnificent 7 football teams, none traveled a rockier road than the 1997 team in terms of opponent strength.

Exhibit 1 - Michigan vs. Penn State 1997 (by WolverineHistorian):

Those with longer memories may regard the 1985 Wolveirne football team as one of Michigan’s finest ever. They were better than the 1997 squad in virtually every category, except for total victories. Michigan finished 10-1-1, finished second in the land in scoring defense behind Oklahoma, and would have finished unbeaten had it not been for last second field goals made by Iowa (10-12 loss) and Illinois (3-3 tie). The 1985 Wolverine defense was relentless, led by defensive lineman Mike Hammerstein and Mark Messner and linebackers Mike Mallory, Andy Moeller and Jim Scarcelli. The Wolverine secondary was one of the best in years with Garland Rivers, Tony Gant, Brad Cochran and Ivan Hicks. If you are fortunate to ever watch any of the 1985 Michigan football games, it’s really hard not to notice the devastation being wrought all along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The penetration of the defensive lineman of Hammerstein, Messner and Harris, for example, was just sickening to watch. They were usually eating quarterbacks and sipping tea in the opponent’s backfield game after game. I had seen this kind of line dominance once earlier. It was during the 1984 Sugar Bowl versus Auburn when Michigan neutralized Pat Dye and Bo Jackson’s wishbone attack with outstanding line penetration by the DTs and DLs. But the 1985 Michigan defense played like that in almost every game! This defense gave up a meager 8.2 points per contest and had shut out 3 opponents. The offense was led by quarterback Jim Harbaugh, speed merchant tailback Jamie Morris and the massive mitts of tight end Eric Kattus. Offensively, Michigan threw everything at opponents from I-formation ISO, to triple option wishbone sets, to pro-set split back and even some spread pass formations with Sean Higgins, John Kolesar and Paul Jokisch spread wide. The Wolverines scored 28.5 points per game and won games more decisively than the 1997 team ever did with an average margin of victory of 20.3 points per game. Like the 1997 crew, the 1985 team played 7 opponents that had winning seasons.

Exhibit 2 - Michigan vs. Nebraska Fiesta Bowl 1986 (by WolverineHistorian)

The 1978 season was punctuated by 4 key events. 1. A historic Michigan victory on the road versus Notre Dame, 2. an upset home loss to Michigan State, 3. Rick Leach finishing 3rd in the Heisman balloting, and 4. the infamous Phantom Touchdown by USC tailback Charles White in the 1979 Rose Bowl game. The Michigan backfield may have been the most talented ever in Michigan history, as it included senior quarterback Rick Leach, fullback Russell Davis, tailback Harlan Huckleby, wingback Ralph Clayton, and a slew of capable backup runners Roosevelt Smith and Butch Woolfolk. The Wolverines passing attack under Don Nehlen broke school records as Rick Leach passed for nearly 1,300 yards, 17 TDs and just 6 INTs. The offensive line would have been Jerry Hanlon’s finest had the Wolverines not lost OT Bill Dufek to injury for most of the season. The Wolverines ran primarily an option-I offense and some wishbone on occasion as well. The Michigan meat grinder offense blasted opponents for an average of 31 points per game. Defensively, Michigan fielded hands down the best team in the Big Ten, surrendering just 8.8 points per game. Michigan’s defensive line was devastating, led by DT Curt Greer, Mike Trgovac and Chris Godfrey. The Wolverine linebackers from 1978 are remembered as some of Michigan’s best ever: Ron Simpkins, Jerry Meter, Andy Cannavino and Tom Seabron. The secondary was talented and experienced with Mike Jolly, Michael Harden and Mark Braman. Michigan won it’s games much more decisively than the 1997 or 1985 teams did with an average margin of victory of 22.2 points. The 1978 team had certain flaws however, particularly with pass defense. This aspect was exploited early and often in key defeats to Michigan State (QB Ed Smith) and USC (QB Paul MacDonald) in the Rose Bowl. However, unlike the 1997 and 1985 teams, Michigan faced just 6 opponents with winning records in 1978.

Exhibit 3 - Michigan at Notre Dame (by WolverineHistorian)

The 2006 Michigan football season helped to remind everyone that championships are won with great defense. In 2006 Michigan pretty much blasted through 11 opponents with impunity. The Wolverine offense was incredibly balanced with an effective, albeit predictable and unimaginative, rushing attack led by tailback Mike Hart and behemoth offensive tackle Jake Long. The down field passing attack had seemingly come back to life at Michigan for the first time since 2003, led by junior quarterback Chad Henne and a plethora of talented receivers like Mario Manningham, Steve Breaston and Adrian Arrington. The 2006 offense was the highest scoring unit seen in Ann Arbor since 1976, averaging 31.7 points per game. Defensively, the 2006 Michigan squad featured a great defensive line, led by Alan Branch and Lamar Woodley, plus hard-hitting middle linebacker David Harris. The Wolverine defense allowed just 9.5 points per game, but did not pitch any shutouts. The average margin of victory was 22.2 points per game. This statistic is more impressive than it loooks because Michigan’s performance in 2006 actually appeared to go downhill quickly during 3 of the last 4 games versus Ball State (8 pt win), Ohio State (3 pt loss) and USC (14 pt loss). Like the 1978 Michigan team, the 2006 Wolverines played 6 opponents with winning records.

Exhibit 4 - Michigan vs. Wisconsin (12-1!) 2006 (By WolverineHistorian)

There were very good reasons why Michigan was ranked No. 1 most of the year in 1976. Head to toe, this Wolverine team was a very talented bunch. The offensive line featured probably the most talented group in Michigan history: Mike Kenn, Mark Donahue, Bill Dufek, Gerry Szara and center Walt Downing. Bo Schembechler’s offense scored a jaw-dropping 36 points per game by simply running the ball down opponent’s throats. The Wolverine backfield comprised of 4 players with over 500 yards rushing each, and over 40 rushing touchdowns combined: tailback Rob Lytle, fullback Russell Davis, tailback Harlan Huckleby and quarterback Rick Leach. There was also wingback/split-end extraordinaire, and future Pittsburgh Steeler, Jim Smith. Linebacker Calvin O’Neal led the defense alongside DT Mo Morton and DE John Anderson. Michigan gave up a measly 7.9 points per game. The 1976 Wolverines pulverized the opposition, shutting out 5 opponents and scoring an average margin of victory of 28.1 points per game. Only the 1971 team would defeat its’ enemies in more resounding fashion. Michigan finished 10-2 including a road shutout of Ohio State (22-0), a freakish road loss to Purdue in West Lafayette late in the year (14-16), and a close Rose Bowl defeat to USC 6-14 (11-1). Michigan’s steamroller performance in 1976, however, can be attributed to a somewhat weaker schedule, as only 4 Wolverine opponents had winning records (Stanford, Minnesota, Ohio State and USC).

Exhibit 5 - Michigan at Ohio State 1976

Bo Schembechler was in his 3rd year at Michigan, and by this time must have been feeling quite comfortable on the bridge sitting in the Captain Kirk swivel chair ordering up some whupass from Engineering. Offensively, the Wolverines were the opposite of flashy, particularly when you consider starting quarterback Tom Slade attempted just 63 passes over 12 games. It did not matter. Michigan trucked over opponents like a grader. The first thing opponents met and the last thing they forgot was the Wolverine offensive line, led by guard Reggie MacKenzie, center Guy Murdock and guard Tom Coyle. Michigan ran a multiple offense that featured the OSU full-house T, power I and even some Wing T formations, blasting opponents for 35.1 points per game. Bruising tailback Billy Taylor led all rushers with 1,358 yards, 13 TDs and a 5.2 average. Fullback Ed Shuttlesworth added 877 yards and 6 TDs, while tailbacks Glenn Doughty and Cowboy Walker accounted for 490 yards (5 TDs) and 407 yards (5 TDs) respectively. The 1971 Michigan defense suffocated opponents, holding them to 6.9 points per game, blanking 3 opponents. The Wolverines finished the regular season unbeaten at 11-0-0 before losing to Stanford in the Rose Bowl by one point 12-13. The 1971 team won it’s football games in more decisive fashion than any others, with an average margin of victory of 28.2 points per game. Like the 1976 team, Michigan only faced 4 opponents with winning records in 1971 (Northwestern, Michigan State, Ohio State and Stanford).

Exhibit 6 - Michigan vs. Iowa 1971 (By WolverineHistorian)

Michigan was the preseason No. 1 football team in 1976 and had spent some time atop the 1977 polls as well, but an unimpressive 14-7 win over Navy cost Michigan their No. 1 ranking as voters moved them down to No. 3 in the land. Enter stage left the Texas A&M Aggies into Michigan Stadium for the first time since 1970 with head coach Emory Bellard, inventor of the wishbone offense, monstrosity fullback George Woodard, electron tailback Curtis Dickey and the barefooted Howitzer kicker Tony Franklin. This was to be the second biggest non-conference game of the year in the Big Ten (OSU vs. Oklahoma was probably bigger) and well-hyped by Sports Illustrated during the preseason. Both Michigan and Texas A&M had finished 10-2 in 1976, and expectations were just as high for 1977.

Following a 3-0 Franklin FG, the chain of events that followed were rather shocking. ABC’s color analyst at the time, and former Arkansas head coach, Frank Broyles turned to announcer Keith Jackson during the broadcast, as Michigan fans in the stands began a deafening chant in unison of: “We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1!”.

Broyles: “Just listen to them, Keith! It’s 34 to 3!!!”

Exhibit 7 - Michigan vs. Texas A&M 1977 (By WolverineHistorian)

Following this decisive victory, Michigan rode the No. 1 ranking for a few weeks more before being shutout 16-0 by Big Ten upstart Minnesota in Minneapolis. Bo Schembechler later recalled that the 1977 team was not his most experienced or talented. In fact, Bo was very concerned about the 1977 team defense all year, as they had to replace a high number of great defensive lineman and linebackers. Nevertheless, the 1977 squad makes the company of Michigan’s “Magnificent 7” because the Wolverine offense scored 29.4 points per game that year and gave up only 10.4 points defensively. Michigan won it’s football games on average by a margin of 19 points, though they shutout only 1 opponent (Wisconsin). The 1977 squad faced tougher opposition than the 1971 or 1976 teams did in that 5 opponents in 1977 had winning records (Texas A&M, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Washington).

YearRecordScoring Offense: Points/GameScoring Defense: Points per GameMargin of VictoryShutoutsOpponent Above .500

(I would like to close with my sincere thanks to WolverineHistorian with some recognition for his long hours of work to put all of this classic Michigan football material together on Youtube for fans to enjoy. His Youtube channel page can be found here.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gluttons for Punishment? LSU vs. Michigan

Now I know only 349 people have voted so far, and it’s not exactly a scientific sample, but I’m just amazed that the vast majority of voters want to see the Michigan Wolverines to play the LSU Fightin' Tigers in a home and home non-conference game series. (By the way, 10 days left to vote. See right margin!)

These two teams have never met before on the gridiron. Ever.

It'd be Rich Rodriguez vs. Les Miles. Hmmm, very interesting. The last SEC opponents to play Michigan during the regular season were Vanderbilt in 2006 and South Carolina in 1985.

I'm not sure how this young Wolverine team would fair against the Tigers these days. The good news would probably that Michigan would be asked to wear their home blue jerseys in both games.

Well I fully endorse this kind of non-conference match up. Now if only Mr. Martin were listening to important things I had to say.

Geaux Bleu!

The Schembechler Transition

In 1968 Michigan’s football team finished the regular season 8-2 overall and 6-1 in conference. It was a rebound year for the Wolverines after a 4-6 finish in 1967.

The Wolverines started and ended the 1968 campaign on similar down notes, losing to California 7-21 in Ann Arbor for the season opener, and then getting utterly humiliated by a powerful Ohio State team in Columbus 50-14 in the final game. Of course, this was the infamous OSU-Michigan contest where Buckeye head coach Woody Hayes answered a post game interview question as to why Ohio State went for a 2 point conversion after a late touchdown score with the game already well out of reach.

Woody’s flippant response?

“Because I couldn’t go for three!”

And with those words the fires of rivalry hatred were successfully stoked for another 100 years.

At the conclusion of the 1968 season Michigan coach Bump Elliott retired to become the associate director of athletics at Michigan between 1969 and 1970. Bo Schembechler, an unknown football coach at the time from Miami (Ohio) with no historical ties to Michigan, had been hired by Michigan Athletic Director, Don Canham, to take over for Elliott as head coach of the Wolverines in 1969. Schembechler played for two extremely different coaches in his own career at Miami (OH): Sid Gilman, the inventor of the West Coast passing offense and Woody Hayes, a militaristic-style disciplinarian and proponent of “three yards and a cloud of dust”, i.e. unapologetic smash mouth football.

Clearly, Schembechler had been most impressed by Hayes’s approach.

At Michigan, Schembechler introduced his own merciless approach, coaching his players through in-your-face confrontation, an explosive temper, and rigorous conditioning. Bo demanded nothing short of perfection from his players in the fundamentals of the game, particularly blocking, tackling and hustling to the football on every play.

There have been many different accounts of what exactly happened during the change over from Bump Elliott’s system to Bo Schembechler’s system. Schembechler’s first spring camp in 1969 was apparently so physically strenuous and mentally exhausting compared to Elliott’s, that out of 140 players who entered spring camp, only 70+ remained standing at the end.

In 1968, Michigan had 143 players on the roster. 22 players graduated in 1968, leaving 121 players from 1968 available to return to the 1969 Wolverine roster, plus Bo’s own incoming freshmen. I’ve analyzed the 1968 roster, subtracted the seniors and counted up those 1968 players with eligibility that were “missing” from the 1969 roster. This would tell us how many players in total “defected” during the 1969 Spring Camp that Schembechler hosted and perhaps some from fall practice.

My count showed only 37 players left the team between 1968 and 1969. This is pretty much half of what circulating legends have implied. I received many critical comments about my analysis of attrition under Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia (and rightly so) because I included walkons in the analysis. I probably should have centered most of the attention on actual starters (typically scholarship players). It’s difficult to determine who was a walk on and who was on scholarship back in 2001-2002, let alone during the Lyndon Johnson Administration.

I think it it safe to assume that “no walkons became starters at Michigan in 1968 and 1969”. With that assumption, for the 1968-1969 transition to the Schembechler system, I found zero player defections in terms of 1st team and 2nd team starters for both years. Players with eligibility that started for Elliott in 1968, or were in the two deep in 1968, stayed on the team in 1969 to play for Schembechler and/or made the two deep depth chart.

What’s interesting about this finding is that no matter how hellish Schembechler’s practice and coaching methods may have been, a good number of players stayed. Furthermore, there were no career- or season-ending injuries in spring or fall practice in 1969, a la Cory Zirbel, or Terrance Robinson.

Players in bold graduated in 1968.

1968 Offense

Pos1st TeamNo.Yr2nd TeamNo.Yr
QBDennis Brown22Sr.Brian Healy24Jr.
FBGarvie Craw48Jr.Bob Wedge38Sr.
TBRon Johnson40Sr.Tom Curtis25Jr.
TBJohn Gabler18Jr.George Hoey12Sr.
TEJim Mandich88Jr.Mike Hankwitz81Jr.
TEJerry Imsland86Jr.William Harris80Jr.
OTBob Penska76Sr.Tom Goss65Sr.
OGRich Caldarazzo56JrTom Stincic90Sr.
CDavid Denzin52Sr.Jerry Miklos94Sr.
OGStanley Broadnax61Sr.Lance Scheffler45So.
OTDan Dierdorf72So.Daniel Parks74So.
1968 Defense

Pos1st TeamNo.Yr2nd TeamNo.Yr
DEPhil Seymour91Jr.

DTTom Goss65Sr.

NTHenry Hill39So.Jerry Miklos94Sr.
DTDaniel Parks74So.

DECecil Pryor55Jr.Jon Kramer84Sr.
LBTom Stincic90Sr.

LBEd Moore97So.

CBBrian Healy24Jr.Jerry Hartman26Sr.
STom Curtis25Jr.

SBob Wedge38Sr.

CBGeorge Hoey12Sr.

1969 Offense
Pos1st TeamNo.Yr2nd TeamNo.Yr
QBDon Moorhead27Jr.
FBGarvie Craw48Sr.John Gabler18Sr.
TBGlenn Doughty22So.Billy Taylor42So.
TBBryan Healy24Sr.Preston Henry44So.
TEJim Mandich88Sr.Mike Keller90So.
TEWilliam Harris80Sr.Paul Staroba30Jr.
OTJack Harpring71Jr.Fred Grambau92So.
OGRichard Caldarazzo56Sr.Al Carpenter94So.
CGuy Murdock53So.Peter Newell82Jr.
OGBob Baumgartner60Sr.Henry Hill39Sr.
OTDan Dierdorf72Jr.Marty Huff70Jr.
1969 Defense
Pos1st TeamNo.Yr2nd TeamNo.Yr
DEMike Keller90So.
DTFred Grambau92So.
NTHenry Hill39Sr.
DTPeter Newell82Jr.
DECecil Pryor55Sr.
LBMary Huff70Jr.
LBEd Moore97Jr.Mike Taylor33So.
CBBarry Pierson29Sr.
STom Darden35So.Frank Gusich14So.
STom Curtis25Sr.
CBBrian Healy24Sr.

Bo brought in a hard-nosed approach that probably shocked many of the 1968 players. However, most of the veteran, scholarship players stuck it out. Bo was fortunate not to have lost many players to injury during the transition. Michigan was 3-2 at one point in 1969 preparing to play Minnesota, a team that won share of the Big Ten in 1967. The Gophers possessed Little Brown Jug from the 20-15 win over UM a year earlier. Under Schembechler the Michigan team decked the Gophers 35-9. I’m not saying that was THE turning point, but following the road loss to Michigan State one week earlier, one can imagine the Wolverine team finally starting to believe in this new Bo character after such a decisive win.

Perhaps it is ridiculous to think we can compare 1968-1969 with 2008-2009. College football has changed in so many ways over 40 years time, not all of them good. I suspect that the biggest differences have been the amount of sensationalist media coverage of college football, and the amount of money that has saturated the sport. The glorification of high school athletes and college football recruits, and the multi-million dollar salaries of the head football coaches would probably have appear rather strange to Bo and his contemporaries back in 1969.

Rodriguez isn’t exactly running a country club at Michigan either. Including injuries, medical leaves and players transfers, Rich Rodriguez is approaching year 2 at Michigan. Two of the fourteen were injury related, which leaves the remaining 12 for “other reasons”. All 14 were scholarship players.

So should Michigan fans be worried?

The time to start worrying is whenever Rich Rodriguez’s own 2008 and 2009 crop of scholarship recruits would begin heading for the exits.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Big Performance Turnarounds in Year 2

How many currently active head football coaches were lucky enough to witness a major change in on-field performance by the second year of their program?

I compiled a list of the top current and active college head football coaches in the land and recorded their career record to-date at that school, winning percentage at current school, and their team records in Year 1 and Year 2. I then looked for the largest delta in number of victories between Year 1 and 2 for each coach.

I counted 22 individual cases where the new and currently active head football coach demonstrated:

A. A greater number of football victories from year 1 to year 2 (+1 win or more)


B. The ability to get to a post-season bowl in Year 2

This approach excludes some pretty good coaches and some good football teams (like an LSU, Tulsa, Boise State) that may have had a brilliant 11-2 record in year 1 and a good 10-3 record in year 2, as an example. They’d be excluded from the count because they did not technically “improve” in the win column the second year.

Also, what I am showing only takes into consideration active head coaches at their current head coaching positions, not past jobs the coach might have held. Therefore, Rich Rodriguez’s 3-8 to 9-4 miracle work between 2001 and 2002 at West Virginia is excluded here because his current job is at Michigan.

Here's what I found (sorted by highest delta in year 2 victories):

CoachTeamYear 1Year 2Year 2 Win Delta
Jim TresselOhio St.2001: 7-5 Lost the Outback Bowl2002: 14-0 Won the Fiesta Bowl (NC)7
Bobby StoopsOU1999: 7-5 Lost Independence Bowl2000: 13-0 Won Orange Bowl (NC)6
Pete CarrollUSC2001: 6-6 Lost Las Vegas Bowl2002: 11-2 Won Orange Bowl5
Mark RichtGeorgia 2001: 8-4 Lost Music City Bowl2002: 13-1 Won Sugar Bowl5
Bobby BowdenFSU1976: 5-61977: 10-2 Won Tangerine Bowl5
Bronco MendenhallBYU2005: 6-6 Lost Las Vegas Bowl2007: 11-2 Won Las Vegas Bowl5
Nick SabanAlabama2007: 7-6 Won Independence Bowl2008: 12-2 Lost Sugar Bowl5
Urban MeyerFlorida2005: 9-3 Won Outback Bowl2006: 13-1 Won BCS NCG4
Gary PattersonTCU2001: 6-6 Lost Bowl2002: 10-2 Won Liberty Bowl4
Chris AultNevada2004: 5-72005: 9-3 Won Hawai'I Bowl4
Mark ManginoKansas2002: 2-102003: 6-7 Lost Tangerine Bowl4
Butch DavisUNC2007: 4-82008: 8-5 Lost Meineke Car Care Bowl4
Dan HawkinsColorado2006: 2-102007: 6-7 Lost Independence Bowl4
Joe PaternoPSU1967: 5-5-01967: 8-2-1 Tied Gator Bowl3
Skip HoltzECU2005: 5-62006: 7-6 Lost Bowl2
Brian KellyCincy2007: 10-3 Won Bowl2008: 11-3 Lost Orange Bowl1
Kyle WhittinghamUtah2005: 7-5 Won Emerald Bowl2006: 8-5 Won Armed Forces Bowl1
Jeff TedfordCal2002: 7-52003: 8-6 Won Bowl1
Ralph FriedgenMaryland2001: 10-2 Lost Orange Bowl2002: 11-3 Won Peach Bowl1
Charlie WeisND2005: 9-3 Lost Fiesta Bowl2006: 10-3 Lost Sugar Bowl1
Steve SpurrierS.Carolina2005: 7-5 Lost Independence Bowl2006: 8-5 Won Liberty Bowl1
Tom O'BrienNC State2007: 5-72008: 6-7 Lost Bowl1

It’s kind of interesting to take note which coaches faced the fire of year one and survived the hate storm long enough to tell about it. Some coaches never faced any such fire their first and second year out.

There were three cases where a national championship was won in Year 2: Ohio State (Tressel 2002), Oklahoma (Stoops 2000) and Florida (Meyer 2006).

I'll revisit the list again at the conclusion of the 2009 football season in January 2010.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

History Suggests More Will Leave

I posted earlier about Michigan’s own illustrious history of both returning player and recruiting class attrition, and the impact it can have on a football team’s depth chart. When players leave a football team, it can thin depth chart in dramatic ways that are not immediately evident. After Rich Rodriguez conducted 2008 post-season interviews with all of the Michigan football players to make sure they were really on board and “All in for Michigan”, several players still decided to part ways with the Wolverine football program including wide receiver Toney Clemons, and offensive lineman Dann O’Neill and Kurt Wermers.

I guess this is the part in the movie where Wolverine fans everywhere are supposed to be frozen in terror at what must surely be the systematic destruction of the entire football program from within.

There’s only one minor problem with all of this flailing about in uncontrolled panic.

It’s not news.

That football players end up leaving when a new regime takes over should surprise no one. It doesn’t happen universally with all coaching changes. But we know that player departures have been a common occurrence in Rich Rodriguez’s coaching past - and at far more worrying rates that what the media is currently observing at Michigan.

Players leave college football teams for all sorts of reasons. Many times these athletes leave because they don’t see eye-to-eye with the head coach and his staff. Other times players leave for reasons that have nothing to do with the head coach at all. Injuries, academics and personal issues can all lead to similar outcomes.

It might be interesting to look at the player defections that occurred when Rich Rodriguez first arrived at West Virginia in 2001 when he took over the reigns from long-standing Mountaineer head coach Don Nehlen.

It might very well surprise that unimpeachable squad of sports journalists at ESPN to know that there was a lot of player attrition at West Virginia during Rich Rodriguez’s tenure there. I carefully reviewed West Virginia’s complete football rosters between 2000 and 2007. Normally such rosters are posted around the August time frame shortly before the college football season begins. These fall rosters included incoming freshmen players (new recruits). In West Virginia’s case there were a very high quantity of players on these historical rosters, which no doubt included a good number of walk-on players (non-scholarship). I also analyzed the West Virginia depth charts during Nehlen-Rodriguez regime between 2000-2007 to consider key players on the two deep (first and second team offense and defense). I took into consideration graduating seniors each year, and made sure to capture those players with remaining eligibility. By comparing player names on back-to-back annual August football team rosters, one can fairly easily deduce which players left the football team each year. I did not factor in those player defections that may have taken place between 2007 and 2008 after Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia to coach at Michigan. All of this took a good amount of time to work through. I totaled up the numbers, and came up with some pretty shocking results.

It would require an incredible amount of time that I don’t have (and access to a lot of hidden or expensive information) to determine the exact dates when players left the WVU football team under Rodriguez, or to determine their individual reasons for doing so. The numbers below indicate the quantity of players that left.

This is not an indictment against Rich Rodriguez nor against any of the players who left the team while he was head coach. It’s simply an estimated tally.

Here are the totals of player departures by season, by class, and taking into consideration graduating seniors (Player Departures with Eligibility).

If we assumed that 50% of these players left the WVU team each year for reasons other than hating the head coach and his ways, i.e. personal issues, family issues, want to concentrate on academics, health issues, debilitating football injury, doesn’t want to play football anymore, wants to move closer to home, then the remaining 50% still seems like a rather high number (to me at any rate).

Again, these numbers take into consideration freshman recruits and walk-ons for each year.

Rich Rodriguez 2001-2007

YearFr.So.Jr.Sr.Total Player DeparturesPlayer Departures with EligibilityTotal WVU Roster Count% Roster Attrition

Below I add some more detail as to quantity of player defections by position group. It’s interesting to look at this chart and then consider which position group might have struggled most with the workout regimen of Mike Barwis. It would appear that offensive lineman, linebackers, receivers and secondary position players dropped off the team most frequently during this period of time:

Rich Rodriguez 2001-2007


I submit two more detailed examples of the above analysis.


West Virginia finished 7-5-0 and won the Music City Bowl game vs. Mississippi 49-38.
There were 14 graduating seniors in 2000. Players with eligibility (Freshman, Sophomores, Juniors) from 2000 who were not on the 2001 team roster are shown below. We see 32 players departing the West Virginia roster (46 if we include the 14 seniors). Apparently 12 of these 32 had scholarships. The remainder may have been walk-ons. Some detail of the Nehlen players from the 2000 season that were not found on the 2001 Rodriguez team roster:


NamePosPos GrpClassComments
Aaron CochranRBRBSo
Adam LangLBLBFr
Anthony NolenCBSECFr
Anthony WilsonCBSECFr
Brian HummerDTDLSo
Colin TuckerRBRBSo
Cortez McNeilDEDLJr
Jamien HarveyLBLBSo2nd Team LB
Jared HostetlerQBQBFrNephew of NFL QB Jeff Hostetler and former WVU QB.
Jay GarrettLBLBSo
Jeremy ShermanGOLJr2nd Team OG
Jerome TaylorGOLSo
JeVon IknerWRWRSo
Joe ScritchfieldCBSECFr
Jon ShafferKSTFr
Jonathan BrittonWRWRFr
Josh KellyCOLSo2nd Team C
Josh TetrickLBLBFr
Justin JohnsonGOLFr
Kevin RookerCBSECFr
Michael VernilloRBRBFr
Nathan WaltersLBLBFr
Rondrick SmithGOLSo2nd Team OG
Scott McBrienQBQBFr2nd Team QB. Transferred to Maryland.
Sean BertonTETESo1st Team TE. Transferred to NC State. Not happy with the new coach?
Shannon WashingtonDEDLJr2nd Team DT
Shaun PiperLBLBSo
Steve TerleskyTETESo
Terrance MartinDEDLJr
Todd MosbyLBLBFr
William PerryDTDLSo2nd Team NT
Yulkeith BrownCBSECFr

West Virginia will finish 3-8-0 in Rodriguez’s inaugural season. The Mountaineers will be coming off their worst college football season results since the 2-9-0 record in 1978 under then coach Frank Cignetti. More veteran players (26) with remaining eligibility decide to hit the road:


NamePosPos GrpClassComments
Adam CantoniRBRBFr
Bo GrahamWRWRFr
Bobby WoodsWRWRFr
Brian CholpDTDLSo
Caleb CooperTETEJr1st Team TE
Cecil HagwoodDEDLFr2nd Team DE
Chad LavenderLBLBSo
Chris KnapperWRWRJr
Danny EmbrickQBQBFr2nd Team QB
Derek JonesWRWRFr
Greg MittleiderTOLSo2nd Team OT
Harold LeathWRWRFr
Isaac IrbyWRWRSo
James WoodruffCBSECJr2nd Team CB
Jason ParmerGOLSo
Jeremy WilliamsKSTFr
Josh RomeoWRWRFr
Justin WilliamsCOLFr2nd Team C
Marlon BurnetteWRWRFr
Matt AmeriDEDLFr
O'Rondai CoxCBSECJr
Pat MorrisonCBSECFr
Quentin SwainLBLBSo
Robert SpencerCBSECJr
Sedrick LewisDTDLJr2nd Team DT
Tim FrostTOLJr1st Team OT

And on and on it goes.

Again, I will not pretend to know why these players left the football team. Whether they hated Rich Rodriguez or Barwis or simply had better plans for themselves and their lives, I cannot say. Don't know. I simply find it interesting to see this number of player drop offs year-to-year and have begun to ask myself what this means for Michigan football. This does provide some new perspective for Michigan fans as to just what in the hell Rich Rodriguez means when he says things like “when we get our numbers back up” in terms of the future Michigan football rosters.

Some Conclusions
All I can say is “wow”. I didn’t expect to find this. I admit that I might be “missing something” in my analysis. Like the whole eligibility deal. A kid could be listed as a junior on some college football roster, but have sophomore eligibility, etc. There could be errors there. But this doesn’t explain why players obviously and completely “disappeared” from one season to the next.That can only be explained by players leaving the team. And a lot of them clearly did.

Again, without conducting thorough player interviews it’s difficult to tell why these players left. It would however not be surprising to find out that a significant number of players from the Nehlen era left the WVU football team either due to Rodriguez’s coaching methods or style, or to his hellish conditioning boot camp under Drill Sergeant Barwis. Or both. Furthermore, the player attrition did not cease or level off once Rodriguez’s program became more firmly accepted and established at West Virginia. It is clear that even new WVU recruits and walk-ons departed the program early.

A Word About Rodriguez’s Coaching Style
Much has already been written about Rodriguez methods to motivate his football players. Rodriguez is confrontational, demands perfection, and swears like a trucker during football practice. For some WVU players, this would have been a dramatic change to the Don Nehlen’s coaching style. For some players the change must have been extremely upsetting, particularly those on the receiving end of such tirades. Players that screwed up in practice were chewed up and torn down in front of everybody. No exceptions. No favoritism.

Is this tactic effective to achieve desired results on the gridiron? There are different schools of thought on coaching style and discipline. Some players really respond well to the less confrontational, but still demanding, approach of Jim Tressel, Pete Carroll, Steve Spurrier and Tom Osborne, as examples.. Other football players excel under the fear of totalitarian retribution akin to the leadership of Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes and Rich Rodriguez -the “Three yards and cloud of profanity” approach.

I’ll close with a quote from a former starting linebacker at West Virginia 2001-2004, Scott Gyorko, who was quoted in this Freep article back in December 2007:
After enduring a rough season, Rodriguez is less abrasive yet still firm. With time, he has gained a better understanding of his players and vice versa.

"When he first got here, he was really strict and wanted things his own way," WVU sophomore linebacker Scott Gyorko said. "Now, he's more laid-back and is settling down. He's different on and off the field. Off the field, he's really approachable and is nice. On the field, he's a head coach and he wants things done his way and he's going to have his way."

Rodriguez hears the comments about him being more relaxed and chuckles. According to him, the change comes from how his players are performing.

"One reason I'm so-called mellow is because we're doing what I want," Rodriguez said. "Sometimes, it's not bad when you have an edge when you're trying to get something going. I tell our kids, 'The only time we get on you is when you screw up. If you don't make as many mental mistakes, we won't yell at you.' They understand us more as people and we understand them better as people. It's like a family. The more you're around each other, the more you understand and love each other."
I suspect things will change at Michigan when the team performance improves. However, given past data, it would be a mistake to assume that football player departures at Michigan will decline under new head coach Rich Rodriguez.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"I'm tackling you!"

Going to be on the road this next week. Be back next week.

Here's a youtube clip of Old 98, Michigan's Tom Harmon, bowling past a drunk California Bear fan on his way to another touchdown during the 1940 game in Berkeley. Michigan won the game decisively 41-0.

Harmon (running toward the end zone): "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Drunk Cal Bear fan Harold Brennan: "I'm tackling you."

We've seen drunken behavior like this with European football (soccer) games, but I wonder if we'll ever see it in college football any time soon.

Hope I'm alive when it does. It would be hilarious.

Friday, July 10, 2009

And They Shuddered In Fear At The Foot of the Great Space Emperor

Michigan enters the 2009 football season with one dandy punter named Zoltan Mesko. Mesko has been named the Playboy All-American punter. He was an All-Big Ten first team punter in 2008. He's also on the Ray Guy award watchlist for the 2009 season.

Now Michigan has had some good punters over the years. But Mesko's career at Michigan has been interesting in that his personal achievements as a punter have kind of been the inverse of the football team's success. Over the last three seasons, Mesko's punting average and net punting average (punt team coverage) have steadily improved. At the same time, Mr. Mesko's stage appearances certainly have shot up as well over this period reflecting Michigan's rather unimpressive 3rd down success rate under recent offensive coordinators Mike Debord (2006 and 2007) and Calvin Magee (2008):

Michigan Punter Zoltan Mesko       
YearRankPuntsYardsAverage per PuntNet Punting Average3rd Down Conversion %Record

I say unimpressive here because, well, in terms of moving the chains, possessing the football, and keeping opposing defenses on the football field, Michigan has been hovering around 50th place or worse in 3rd down success rate for quite some time now. Michigan football will have "arrived" when this aspect changes considerably.

Now third down success rate doesn't mean teams are torching opponents on third down alone. It's more of a signal as to how successful offenses have been on both 1st and 2nd down during football games. A high 3rd down conversion success rate (i.e. 50%+) likely means that these teams are so potent and effective on 1st and 2nd down, that they're typically facing 3rd and short yardage most of the game. When you think about it for a moment, that's a pretty demoralizing circumstance for opponents to find themselves in.

Nat. RankName3rd-down Attempts3rd-down ConversionsSuccess Rate %WLOffense
1Tulsa19311056.99113Spread Option
2BYU1769855.68103Pass Spread
4Texas Tech1699254.44112Pass Spread
5Missouri1638753.37104Pass Spread
6Penn St.1739052.02112Spread
9Oklahoma19710151.27122Pass Spread
10Rice1809251.11103Spread Option

If Michigan's 3rd down success rate does improve this year, then I think Mr. Mesko's punting excellence will probably become even more meaningful for Michigan in the win column, as it has proven to be for the teams noted above.

Now look, I love the idea of Zoltan Mesko, Spacegod and Destroyer of Worlds, heading out onto the Michigan Stadium Fieldturf and "demoralizing opponents" with 45+ yard punts. That's cool enough.

I'm personally very impressed with Zoltan Mesko's work ethic on and off the field (Academic All-American going after his MBA), and his improvement punting over the last 3 years. I really hope he beats his 2008 punting average this fall, takes home the Ray Guy award and spends lots of time with Hugh Hefner at the Playboy mansion when the season is over.

But dammit, he punted the football 83 freaking times for Michigan last year! Eighty-three!!!!

I mean, what if instead we had seen K.C. Lopata kicking half that amount in PATs and field goals?

This fall I want to see Zoltan Mesko on the field a lot less frequently. But when I do see him, I hope he continues to terrify opposing coaches with his omnipotent left leg.

All Hail Zoltan, Space Emperor and Destroyer of Worlds!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Revisiting Former Michigan Defensive Coordinator Scott Shafer

I seem spend an awful lot of time on this blog looking in the rear view mirror, over-analyzing the living crap out of stuff that happened in the past. I would apologize for this if past events were not so damn interesting with 20/20 hindsight.

Rich Rodriguez himself frequently quotes the classic line of the Disney movie “Lion King”:

“It doesn't matter. It’s in the past”.

Rodriguez is right. Dwelling on the past is unwise. You’ll miss what’s happening in the here and now. Oh and there’s probably more than a few opportunities and threats up ahead, by the way. Looking backward, one can quickly forget to make important adjustments and make things right next time around. The least anyone can hope to do is learn something from the past. This rule applies whether you’re a national championship caliber college football team like the Florida Gators, or a 3-9 Michigan Wolverines football team.

Great Expectations
Soon after accepting the head coach position at Michigan, we know that Rich Rodriguez decided to fire all of Lloyd Carr’s staff save one, running backs coach Fred Jackson, and bring in his own guys. The services of Michigan’s defensive coordinator Ron English were not retained. Instead Rodriguez brought in Scott Shafer. Shafer had served as a defensive secondary coach and defensive coordinator at several division 1 schools including Northern Illinois, Illinois, Western Michigan and Stanford.

The responses to the Shafer hire in the college football community were universally positive. Stanford head football coach Jim Harbaugh (Shafer’s previous boss) described him as "One of the most creative and innovative defensive minds in the country." As we’ll explore below in some detail, there were some very compelling reasons why Mr. Harbaugh would hold such an opinion.

In early 2008, it was said that Shafer would bring his own opportunistic brand of defensive play to Ann Arbor in the form of a higher-risk, 4-3 “flex” defensive set that would blitz frequently and force gobs of turnovers. Wolverine football fans suddenly grew nostalgic from this news, reminiscing about those hard-hitting, bulwark Michigan defenses of the past - those coached by Bill McCartney, Gary Moeller and former head coach Lloyd Carr. Sacks galore, interceptions, fumble recoveries and memorable reversals in game momentum that gave 98% of Ann Arbor residents acute laryngitis. It all sounded so familiar and welcoming.

But perhaps what excited Michigan fans most about Scott Shafer at the time was the sort of “coming out of nowhere” results at places like Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Stanford. This is made most evident when we review the numbers during Shafer’s career. These were football programs that seemed to have been literally “switched back on” defensively upon Shafer’s arrival. From these great stories, it was believed that Shafer, combined with Rodriguez’s offensive ingenuity, would bring the much needed breath of fresh air to the “stale” Michigan football program.

This was an interesting slice of time, in my view, that many fellow UM fans, I suspect, would just as soon forget. I took a closer look at some of the key defensive achievements during Scott Shafer’s career as a defensive coordinator up to his brief stint at Michigan, including:

• Total Defense
• Turnovers Gained
• Scoring Defense
• Rushing Defense
• Passing Defense
• Sacks (I only found data from 2005 on)

So just what do I intend to prove by revisiting former defensive coordinator Scott Shafer, who presided over the worst defensive performance at Michigan in a generation?

I wanted to show that it was reasonable for expectations of Scott Shafer to be very high as he joined Rodriguez’s football staff for the 2008 season. High expectation always comes with this territory at Michigan - the college program with the most football victories on the face of the planet. At Michigan championships are won with great defense first. I also wanted to remind people that Scott Shafer was a proven, successful defensive coordinator well before he arrived at Michigan. There was every reason to believe that this guy would take Michigan’s talented roster of defensive players, shape them into exponentially better football players, and turn the Wolverine defense into something goddamned scary on the gridiron.

Of course, we all know this did not happen. And there is plenty of speculation as to why it did not. Some state that Shafer never meshed well with Rodriguez and the rest of the new Michigan football coaching staff. Some refer to Shafer’s accountability for the defensive team discipline, which was sub-par by Michigan’s traditional standards (missed assignments, giving up many big plays, inappropriate sideline behavior). Others mention that Shafer was way too hands-off in the first place, that he coached the defense from the booth and would have been much more effective coaching the young, inexperienced Michigan team from the sidelines. Still others try to excuse Shafer because of the horrendous performance of Rodriguez’s first year offense, which frequently placed near impossible demands on Shafer’s defensive unit game after game.

In my view, Michigan’s 2008 results were probably a function of all of the above. There’s a lot to consider here.

Scott Shafer as Huskie DC
Huskie head coach Joe Novak certainly took his sweet time to turn things around in DeKalb, but the UNI administration apparently had patience-a-plenty, or they didn’t know any better. Well either way, it turned out ok, because Novak gradually built Northern Illinois football into a respectable football program that no one would take lightly anymore. Scott Shafer was there with Novak from the beginning, first as the Huskies’ defensive secondary coach from 1996-1999, and then as defensive coordinator from 2000 to 2003. Checking out UNI’s defensive numbers as defensive coordinator, it’s easy to see why Shafer’s efforts early in his career would raise more than just a few eyebrows:

Total Defense

YearTeamTeam RecordTotal Defense Rank
2000Northern Illinois6-553rd
2001Northern Illinois6-570th
2002Northern Illinois8-473rd
2003Northern Illinois10-216th

Turnovers Gained

YearTeamTurnovers GainedTurnovers Gained Nat. Rank
2000Northern Illinois2723rd
2001Northern Illinois2167th
2002Northern Illinois2840th
2003Northern Illinois3114th

Scoring Defense

YearTeamPts Allowed/GameScoring Def Rank
2000Northern Illinois25.560th
2001Northern Illinois26.568th
2002Northern Illinois24.849th
2003Northern Illinois21.531st

Rushing Defense

YearTeamRush Yrds/GameRush Def Rank
2000Northern Illinois150.760th
2001Northern Illinois157.666th
2002Northern Illinois131.838th
2003Northern Illinois140.355th

Passing Defense

YearTeamPass Yrds/GamePass Def Rank
2000Northern Illinois210.0953rd
2001Northern Illinois227.8269th
2002Northern Illinois254103rd
2003Northern Illinois162.55th

Notable Wins




2002Beat Wake Forest 7-6, Beat Miami(OH) 7-5, Beat Bowling Green 9-3

2003Beat Maryland 10-3 (OT), Beat at Alabama 4-9,

Northern Illinois’ 2003 season would be Novak’s finest. Shafer’s Huskie defense was spectacular in almost every respect except perhaps rushing defense that year. Over his 4 year career at UNI we see steady improvement in scoring defense and forced turnovers, while the passing defense seemed to worsen each year until the glorious 2003 season. With Shafer’s defensive unit and Novak’s improved running game, UNI knocked off Alabama on the road and Maryland. (This was not the best ‘Bama team ever seen, but this WAS the same Maryland team that dismantled WVU twice in one year 34-7 and 41-7 in the Gator Bowl.

Shafer left UNI to become the defensive secondary coach for Ron Turner at Illinois in 2004. The Illini proceeded to go 3-8 in 2004. Turner was fired at season’s end. Replacement coach Ron Zook told Shafer to hit the road.

Scott Shafer as Broncos DC
Shafer landed softly, however, into the welcoming arms of new MAC coach Bill Cubit of Western Michigan in 2005. The Broncos had just fired long-standing head coach Gary Darnell who suffered 4 straight losing seasons (2001-2004) in Kalamazoo. Shafer would be replacing former WMU defensive coordinator J.C. Harper (current head coach at Stephen F. Austin). A lot has been written about Bill Cubit’s explosive, +400 YPG offenses at WMU. Cubit and Shafer would introduce a major step change at Western Michigan that is still being marveled today by many in the college football media. The Broncos’ national defensive rankings under Scott Shafer broke several school records. We see a dramatic turnaround in defensive performance the moment Shafer arrives at work:

Total Defense

YearTeamTeam RecordTotal Defense Rank
2004WMU (DC J.C. Harper)1-10115th
2005WMU (DC Scott Shafer)7-4108th
2006WMU (DC Scott Shafer)8-511th

Turnovers Gained

YearTeamTurnovers GainedTurnovers Gained Nat. Rank
2004WMU (DC J.C. Harper)1697th
2005WMU (DC Scott Shafer)2532nd
2006WMU (DC Scott Shafer)343rd

Scoring Defense

YearTeamPts Allowed/GameScoring Def Rank
2004WMU (DC J.C. Harper)39.6114th
2005WMU (DC Scott Shafer)32.1829th
2006WMU (DC Scott Shafer)19.939th

Rushing Defense

YearTeamRush Yrds/GameRush Def Rank
2004WMU (DC J.C. Harper)215.4108th
2005WMU (DC Scott Shafer)147.556th
2006WMU (DC Scott Shafer)76.16th

Passing Defense

YearTeamPass Yrds/GamePass Def Rank
2004WMU (DC J.C. Harper)165.18108th
2005WMU (DC Scott Shafer)303.1116th
2006WMU (DC Scott Shafer)199.3157th


YearTeamSacksSacks Nat. Rank
2004WMU (DC J.C. Harper)??
2005WMU (DC Scott Shafer)3123rd
2006WMU (DC Scott Shafer)461st

Notable Wins



2005Beat So. Illinois 9-4, Beat Bowling Green 6-5, Beat Central Mich 6-5, Beat UNI 7-5

2006Beat at Virginia 5-7, Beat UNI 7-6,

While there may have been fewer victories of note while at WMU, the statistics of Shafer’s WMU defenses, particularly total defense, turnovers, sacks and rushing defense were impressive in a conference that by this time was notorious for being rather “WACish” (i.e. lots of offense, not much defense).

The Cardinal DC
Following the 8-5 season at WMU in 2006, Schafer joined Jim Harbaugh at Stanford for the 2007 season. How did Harbaugh choose Shafer? He discovered the internets. Harbaugh was replacing former Cardinal head coach Walt Harris who had finished 1-11 in 2006. Shafer would be take over the job of former Stanford defensive coordinator A.J. Christoff. Like Western Michigan, the Stanford job from the outset looked to be a major overhaul project. On paper, at least, it would not be difficult for Shafer to improve upon the god awful defense exhibited by Stanford the prior year:

Total Defense

YearTeamTeam RecordTotal Defense Rank
2006Stanford (DC A.J. Christoff)1-1197th
2007Stanford (DC Scott Shafer)4-898th

Turnovers Gained

YearTeamTurnovers GainedTurnovers Gained Nat. Rank
2006Stanford (DC A.J. Christoff)15108th
2007Stanford (DC Scott Shafer)2639th

Scoring Defense

YearTeamPts Allowed/GameScoring Def Rank
2006Stanford (DC A.J. Christoff)31.4108th
2007Stanford (DC Scott Shafer)28.365th

Rushing Defense

YearTeamRush Yrds/GameRush Def Rank
2006Stanford (DC A.J. Christoff)210.5117th
2007Stanford (DC Scott Shafer)169.377th

Passing Defense

YearTeamPass Yrds/GamePass Def Rank
2006Stanford (DC A.J. Christoff)17723rd
2007Stanford (DC Scott Shafer)266.17107th


YearTeamSacksSacks Nat. Rank
2006Stanford (DC A.J. Christoff)14111th
2007Stanford (DC Scott Shafer)3811th

Notable Wins



2007Beat No. 1 at USC 11-2, Beat Cal 7-6

In almost every individual category, Stanford’s defense excelled - and not by just a little bit. It is interesting to note, that in terms of total defense, Stanford actually worsened under Schafer. Stanford’s total yards surrendered per game in 2006 was 387.5 (5.51 ypp) but 435.5 per game in 2007 (5.82 ypp).

But when your team “comes out of nowhere” beating No. 2 ranked USC on national television in the Coliseum (USC was favored by 41 and had a 35-1 record at home up to that point), and then you end up shocking your top rival Cal, and all the while you increase Stanford’s overall sack total by an unheard of factor of 3 from the previous year, well, let’s just say you’re gonna get noticed. All of this helped raise Schafer’s stock considerably as a proven defensive coordinator.

The Wolverine DC
Schafer entered a very different situation at Michigan. Although Michigan defensive staffs since 1998 were now infamous for wholesale incompetence when it came to holding a candle against read option spread offenses with mobile quarterbacks, the Wolverines still managed to field comparatively high ranked defensive units by both Big Ten and national standards. Shafer would replace Ron English, who had demonstrated a strong start as Michigan’s defensive coordinator for the first eleven games of 2006. However, Michigan’s defensive performance seemed to erode down the stretch versus opponents like Ball State, Ohio State, USC. This lackluster play continued versus Appalachian State and Oregon in 2007. With 7 returning starters for 2008, it was believed (incorrectly) that Michigan’s team offered more tools for Scott Shafer to work with than he ever possessed at UNI, WMU or Stanford.

The on-field results at Michigan were surprising:

Total Defense

YearTeamTeam RecordTotal Defense Rank
2007Michigan (Ron English)9-424th
2008Michigan (Scott Shafer)3-967th

Turnovers Gained

YearTeamTurnovers GainedTurnovers Gained Nat. Rank
2007Michigan (Ron English)2920th
2008Michigan (Scott Shafer)2077th

Scoring Defense

YearTeamPts Allowed/GameScoring Def Rank
2007Michigan (Ron English)21.423rd
2008Michigan (Scott Shafer)28.984th

Rushing Defense

YearTeamRush Yrds/GameRush Def Rank
2007Michigan (Ron English)156.858th
2008Michigan (Scott Shafer)136.9250th

Passing Defense

YearTeamPass Yrds/GamePass Def Rank
2007Michigan (Ron English)178.858th
2008Michigan (Scott Shafer)23087th


YearTeamSacksSacks Nat. Rank
2007Michigan (Ron English)3233rd
2008Michigan (Scott Shafer)2933rd

Notable Wins


2007Beat PSU 9-4, Beat NW 6-6, Beat Illinois 9-4, Beat Purdue 8-5, Beat MSU 7-6, Beat Florida 9-4

2008Beat Wisconsin 7-6, Beat Minnesota 7-6

There were games where Michigan’s defense played well enough to forgive the anemic performance of Wolverine offense (Miami, Wisconsin and Minnesota games). In other games, one wondered if the repertoire of opponent big plays would ever come to an end. Michigan’s defense in 2008 did not “come out of nowhere” with incremental aggressiveness. There were fewer sacks and fewer turnovers gained from the prior year.. Michigan’s scoring defense worsened considerably. While the rushing defense did improve under Shafer: 157 yards per game in 2007 versus 137 yards per game in 2008 (50th rank nationally in 2007 to 58th!), this would be completely cancelled out by the sieve that was the Michigan pass defense: 179 yards per game in 2007 to 230 yards per game in 2008 (8th rank nationally in 2007 to 87th!). Poor emphasis on pass defense appears to have been a recurring theme for all of Shafer’s defenses at WMU, Stanford and Michigan. This might be the resulting tradeoff when you utilize a defensive set that involves incessant blitzing.

Lessons Learned
We know the rest of the story. The three and nine record, Shafer’s resignation, and another new sheriff in town named Greg Robinson.

I don’t profess to know all of the reasons why Scott Shafer did not succeed at Michigan. I do know this: Michigan returned an experienced defensive line, and known trouble-spots at linebacker and a vulnerable secondary. As coach of the defense, one would have hoped Schafer could have easily identified Michigan’s obvious weaknesses right off the bat, fortified those areas appropriately, or taken some other corrective action, just as he appeared to have done while at UNI, WMU and Stanford.

Michigan’s youth, poor depth at key positions, poor tackling fundamentals and angles of pursuit, poor coverage communications, and lack of chemistry no doubt all contributed to the 3-9 record. But weren’t such challenges and attributes also present at UNI, WMU and Stanford? They must have been present there too.

Perhaps Shafer recognized all of the defensive team weaknesses, but was not given freedom to make the changes he felt were needed? Or perhaps he used trial-and-error to implement such changes only to encounter significant resistance from players – and/or from fellow assistant coaches?

I don’t know.

My suspicion is that faith was lost in Shafer early on in the season, and the situation only worsened as the year progressed. I welcome readers to offer their own views.

When I look at the numbers and still consider Scott Shafer to be a good defensive coordinator. He may be the kind of coach who excels under certain circumstances like those present at UNI in 2000, WMU in 2005 and Stanford in 2007 – i.e. recovering programs under reconstruction, where the pressure to succeed is still high, but for different reasons: Trying to build something exciting and new out of nothing. The new construction project that lies before Scott Shafer today at Syracuse might be right up his alley.

More power to him.

A Final Word
The Scott Shafer episode reminded me that

a. College football is a business.

b. We live in a Drive-Thru society.

As Americans we seem to feel entitled to ours, and we want it now. Instant gratification - or there will be consequences. There are certainly some merits to this within our American experience. But there are drawbacks as well.

In college football, the gradual and time-consuming rebuilding projects that took place at Indiana under Bill Mallory, or Kansas State under Bruce Snyder, or Iowa under Hayden Fry, tend to get short shrift in today’s media. Hayden Fry’s first years at Iowa were 5-6 (1979) and 4-7 (1980). In year three Iowa beat UCLA, Nebraska and then Michigan in Ann Arbor, and was playing in it’s first Rose Bowl in something like 30 years. By today’s threshold of administrative patience, Fry would probably have been kicked out on his ass after the 1980 season.

Some wanted the very same for Shafer and Rodriguez after last fall.

My petition would be that before any more boos start raining down on Greg Robinson and this young Michigan defense this coming fall, maybe fans could pause for a second and consider what Scott Shafer said when he first accepted the offer to come coach at Michigan:

"It was tough leaving Stanford. Working with Coach (Jim) Harbaugh, we had a blast. I felt like we were doing something special there. But I'm really excited to be here. There are a few jobs you drop everything for, and this is one of them. My wife, Missy, my family - they're fired up to be here."

I wish Mr. Shafer great success in the future.