Saturday, December 15, 2007

I can't believe I'm actually defending Bill Martin

It seems like I've bitched about him virtually from the beginning. My dislike peaked with the quickly-withdrawn sponsorship offer to give SBC naming rights for the Michigan-Ohio State game, but really had momentum with his shepherding of the Michigan Stadium renovations. The anger there wasn't so much toward luxury boxes themselves -- they're a necessary evil -- but because he showed as much respect for dissent and process as Robert Moses at his worst.

The agendas of regents' meetings were manipulated to limit the speaking time of those who disagreed with him. Most egregiously, he used the memorial service for Bo Schembechler as an opportunity to pimp his stadium plans. I've searched for transcripts of his remarks, but I can't find them. Essentially, he recalled that one of his final conversations with Schembechler involved overhauling the stadium. He claimed that Bo supported the plans, which was evidence that until his dying day Bo wanted what was best for Michigan. Putting aside that such conversation can never be verified, Martin essentially used the funeral for a beloved coach to rally support for his pet project, and implied that people who disagreed with him were anti-Bo, and hence, anti-Michigan.

I think Martin's a manipulator and a dick.

Still, Martin's list of accomplishments is incredibly impressive, even if they don't all track my own agenda. A short recap from the top of my head includes the following:
  • Push through the aforementioned stadium renovation plans, despite dissent from regents and most of the faculty. He played dirty, but he got what he wanted.
  • Plans for a reconstituted baseball facility.
  • Retained a very popular and successful baseball coach right at the moment when it looked like he'd be poached.
  • Hired John Beilein. (I don't know about basketball or give a damn, but everyone seems to think this was a great hire.)
  • Hired a women's basketball coach.
  • Most importantly, fixed an Athletic Department that was in a financial mess following Tom Goss's tenure.
There's more that I'm forgetting. He's abrasive and manipulative, largely unlovable, but his job isn't to be loved, it's to keep finances strong and get shit done. Half-wits can give him grief for scheduling Appalachian State, but in his list of responsibilities and priorities, that falls somewhere around No. 63.

The problem isn't that he's fucked anything up, it's that most people literally have no understanding of what his job is. He could completely blow this coaching search. It would be a black mark on his record, but would only land somewhere in the top five flashpoints of his tenure. It certainly wouldn't be a firing offense. Taking the athletic department into the red, accounting irregularities, an NCAA investigation, hideous cost overruns: those would be firing offenses. Those are the things that his job is about. Not to serve as a figurehead or comforter-in-chief.

So far as I can tell, Bill Martin's sins in the Michigan coaching search are the following:
  • He sails. So did Don Canham.
  • He didn't land Les Miles. As stated in previous posts, I hate Les Miles, so I don't view this as a bad thing. If you think this non-hire is the product of sailing-related negligence, you're dreaming. Anyone with a position of even marginal responsibility in this world -- including yours truly -- is reachable at any time. Blackberrys are Satan's curse. If Michigan wanted to hire Les Miles, Martin would have been available. Michigan did not want to hire Les Miles. This angers people. That is a policy disagreement, which is not the same thing as incompetence.
  • He didn't land Greg Schiano. Greg Schiano has his own reasons for staying put. It's highly possible that no offer from any school other than Penn State would attract him. This wasn't a product of Michigan getting snubbed by lowly Rutgers. Look, I don't know how much experience people have in being recruited for jobs, or trying to recruit other people for jobs, but these decisions are made for about a dozen different reasons. Money and prestige are not always the determining factors, even for high achievers. By this rationale, Bo should've left for A&M when they dangled a fat paycheck his way. People don't always operate this way, and we're better off for it.
  • He didn't hire a search firm. Maybe this would have smoothed the process a little, but as we learned in the stadium project, Martin seems less concerned about process than getting the results that he wants. If he's got some kind of decision tree or list of candidates that he knows he wants, a search firm might have made things marginally easier but I don't see how it would have affected the end result. This leads to the following criticism:
  • This is happening too slowly. Bullshit. You're hiring somebody who's going to be there long term. This isn't a race. The goal isn't to hire the flashiest name as quickly as possible. It's a long-term investment, not day trading. Do your fucking diligence and take into consideration the dozen or so factors that you want in the next head coach. Nothing would be worse than a knee-jerk decision to hire the flashiest new thing (e.g., Pinkel) and bask in accolades, only to find out three years down the line that you've brought in a horrible mismatch. That's program suicide.
  • He had advance notice that Lloyd was likely leaving, and didn't do enough advance planning. Brilliant call. If there's been any actual problem with this goddamn search, it's that every time someone sneezes there's a leak and the latest turn is all over blogs and newspapers. If I were Martin, I'd have a Nixonian level of paranoia about leaks at this point. Say he uses intermediaries and starts putting out feelers to prospective coaches over the summer and fall: At this point, there's no doubt that such shit would've hit the press within five minutes. For all the people who seem to give a shit about nothing but recruiting, official rumors of the head coach's imminent departure sure wouldn't have been good for that, right? There would've been no season, only obsessive speculation about who was coming next, when that issue wasn't even ripe.
There are plenty of reasons why a person shouldn't like Bill Martin. I don't like him. But I have to acknowledge that for the length of his tenure, he's done an extremely difficult job really, really well. He singlehandedly righted the athletic department's finances, went on a building spree reminiscent of Robert Moses, handled the final stages of the fallout from the Ed Martin/Steve Fisher scandal, and generally gotten everything that he's wanted. He's nothing if not an extremely smart and capable of son of a bitch. He's not responsible for micromanaging the fucking basketball team, it's not his job to handicap Appalachian State, and the fact that he didn't hire a dream candidate that you've fetishized for months does not equate to a firing offense.


Cock D said...

re: the Martin quote. I remember the same. The actual quote may be down the memory hole now, but he did indeed make a statement with that general thrust.


Cock D said...

RR to AA.

Our long national nightmare is over.

crimenotes said...

Our long national nightmare is over.

My edit: Our brief episode of mild frustration appears to have resolved successfully.