The Hiring A Michigan Coach Debate Verdict

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Babe Ruthless.

Optimist Prime makes a good point. He is a Michigan State fan. I am, by virtue of my birthplace of Columbus, Ohio, an Ohio State fan. Yet, here we are dispensing advice on what the right choices are for Michigan as it searches to replace its head coach.

Optimist Prime starts off his argument with an obvious statement that cannot be overlooked. It is true that RichRod was no Michigan man.

Perhaps we could have another debate about how to define “Michigan Man.” My friend Captain Obvious tells me that being a Michigan Man isn’t that complicated – it boils down to being tough on the offensive and defensive line, preaching a penchant for taking care of the ball, and playing disciplined football with an emphasis on eliminating stupid mistakes. It was exactly what RichRod’s two predecessors embodied, and it’s also the reason he is now part of more than 13 percent employed in Michigan.

To Optimist Prime’s point, Michigan has hired the big name and it didn’t work out. Perhaps it is a lesson learned.

If we examine the other recent head coaching hired in the Big Ten it is clear that Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, Mark D’Antonio at Michigan State – and even Jim Tressel at Ohio State almost a decade ago – were not big name, splashy hires. There is a reason that theme has developed over time. Simply, it works. Finding a coach who has a strong understanding of what it means to be a part of the Big Ten is important if the athletic director is following the blueprint for success in the Big Ten. A splashy name simply does not equate to success in the Midwest.

Optimist Prime made an excellent point about Mark D’Antonio. He may not be Midwestern bred, but he understands it very well and committed to that region. And he was not a big name at the time he was hired either. I think Optimist Prime is on to something here, and that’s why he wins the debate.

Babe Ruthless really lost me when he stated that college and professional football are very similar. They are not. They are not even close. The needs of a college football program include recruiting across the country, a major understanding of politics internally within the program and externally with boosters and the respective Boards of Regents, coaching and motivating young players, hiring the right assistant coaches and managing inevitable turnover, and the list keeps going.

Babe Ruthless does made a solid point. It is true that a lesser known coach does not guarantee success. There are risks with either a lesser known name or a splashy name option. There is no guarantee that a Southern rooted coach like Les Miles can recruit in the Big Ten. There is no guarantee that a coach with little name recognition but Big Ten roots can coach his way out of a paper bag and handle all of the complex rules and responsibilities of a modern college head football coach. But, the odds are that a coach with a philosophy rooted in the conference he is going to coach in stands a better chance for success than a splashy name who is an outsider. Big Ten history proves that out.

Michigan’s coaching search is more about regionalism and roots, and less about experience. Splashy names are long on experience.

I am interested to see what Michigan does. It seems clear, though. If Ohio State and Michigan State fans are supposed to fear Michigan again, it’s best if fans are unfamiliar with the new coach’s name.

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2 Responses to The Hiring A Michigan Coach Debate Verdict

  1. Babe Ruthless says:

    SHANANIGANS!!!

    Sports Geek, you took my NFL comparison out of context. I was not comparing the whole of the NFL to the whole college sports or even the whole of the Michigan Wolverines to the whole of the Carolina Panthers. I was comparing their similarity in what the hiring of a new coach communicates to the fan base.
    You also failed to even acknowledge my first and primary argument that bringing in a nobody to take over the program sends a clear message of hitting rock bottom. And what of my other options besides Les Miles (which would be a GREAT choice regardless of where he came from) for head coach? Running from the truth are we???
    Finally I reject your premise that there is anything special about the needs of Midwestern football coaches. A successful coach can make it happen anywhere. I seriously doubt that any Midwestern recruit would take into account whether their coach was a “Big 10 Coach” or a “Michigan Man”. They would care if he had a record of winning football. His philosophy of being tough on offense or defense or special teams probably does not enter the mind of a kid who is just fighting for his chance to play college football.
    Long story short, this verdict is just another example of favoritism of the underdog and the continued perpetuation of the fallacy of “specialness” and “uniqueness” of the Midwest.
    But that’s just how Babe Ruthless sees it. Then again, I’m always right so what does that tell you?

    • Sports Geek says:

      I find it entirely unpredictable that you have called shenanigans on this verdict. Allow me to explain why.

      Even the comunication of a new coach to a fan base is different between the college ranks and professional. The constituents in the college ranks – from boosters to powerful fans and influential political groups – change how, when, what, why, and who a college coach addresses. It just isn’t the same. Not apples to apples at all. What drives boosters and a board of Regents is entirely different that what motivates business interests. And that’s okay.

      I did address your main point of a coach besides a splashy name is a message of hitting rock bottom. Ohio State fans didn’t believe Tressel indicated rock bottom. That same is true of Northwestern and Pat Fitzgerald and Mark D’Antonio and Michigan State. Those weren’t sexy names, but effective coaches and smart hires.

      You don’t think recruits take into account how successful a coach is in his current surroundings? You bet they do! Even Hoke, who was announced as the new hire for Michigan today, is 47-50 in his 8 seasons as a head coach. You think players notice that? You think recruits notice that? You think opposing coaches who recruit against him notice that? All three notice, and will bend that stat to their favor. For Hoke – who has a gimmicky offense like his predecessor – the leash is short because he’s not a Big Ten coach.

      I don’t favor the underdog. I favor being smart. Hoke, Miles, and any trendy name in coaching is not smart. It’s like a tattoo – a permanent solution to a temporary emotion. Michigan was desperate and a sexy name was needed. It’s a mistake.

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