Sunday, November 23, 2008

I'm glad that's over

So Michigan got its ass handed to it by Ohio State yesterday, and the worst season in recent memory is mercifully over. It is not the worst Michigan team ever - Gerald Ford, yes Gerald Ford, captained a 1-7 team the year after winning the national title (actually, after losing one game in four years, four straight conference championships, and two consecutive national titles, the Wolverines went 1-7, 4-4, 1-7, and 4-4). Still, probably in the top 5 worst teams in Michigan history.

So what happened? Who knows. Anyone following Lloyd Carr's career can't claim to be terribly surprised - the team was on a slow decline despite a stellar 2006 season. The team's last four year-end rankings were 12, unranked, 9, and 19, and the multiple Rose Bowl losses to USC were pretty embarrassing.* While Lloyd was a good recruiter, the talent that left after last year was impossible to replace and the current roster has some considerable holes (especially on the present offensive line and defensive line in the near future). Given Lloyd's recent results, an 8-4 year would have been a best-case scenario, and a 7-5 or 6-6 year very realistic. So, in my estimation, the coaching change and attrition as a result probably cost Michigan three to four wins.

I think Rich Rodriguez will turn out to be a good hire for Michigan. I also hope that he takes a serious look in the mirror and does some real soul searching this off season to figure out how he needs to adjust. You can't take a program like Michigan's, with the talent that exists there even in a bad year, and pull of a 3-8 season. The rumors of team chemistry problems and coming attrition are concerning because of what they say about Rodriguez's leadership and the general atmosphere around Schembechler Hall. I guess a 3-8 season will strain anyone's patience and some blow-ups are bound to happen. But the honeymoon is over for Rodriguez - realistic expectations for me are a winning season next year (or at least 6-6), and maybe 8-4 the next year. A Charlie-Weis-style three-year campaign of excuses and arrogance will not be accepted.

So. What an awful, awful year to be a Michigan sports fan. Hey, I'm used to it - I grew up when the Georgia Bulldogs sucked during the Goff-Donnan years (although I always thought Donnan got a bit of a bum rap). The Braves were horrendous during my formative years, and then when they got good they kept losing in the playoffs. The Falcons, well, they've always been pretty awful (if you disagree, please wait until we have consecutive winning seasons before you complain). The Hawks were tantalizingly close to being good, but could never get over the hump. Being an Atlanta sports fan in the late 80's and throughout the 90's meant getting used to disappointment. So a 3-8 football team isn't that foreign to me. But man, it sure is to most Michigan fans.

* Obviously, getting to the Rose Bowl three out of four years is great - and Lloyd was a great coach, don't get me wrong. I think he was very underrated, and he held some teams together that could have fallen apart. Everything I have read leaves me with the impression that he cared deeply about his players, and that he knew how to motivate them without being a giant a-hole (contrary to what I read about Rich Rodriguez). My experience with sports coaches in middle and high school tell me that this is a rare talent. Still, the on-the-field results mean that this year shouldn't be a total surprise.

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