Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why Les Miles will never be my coach

I can't stand the guy.

It's not just that I'm a Lloyd "apologist" or "loyalist," whatever those things are. There's a real possibility that Les Miles wooed teenage athletes by telling them that Michigan's head coach (beloved in my circle though not everywhere) suffered from a chronic neurodegenerative disease. If I'm the Marques of Queensbury because that makes me hate him, so be it. I'm loyal to my school, not a prospective head coach to be named later.

The qualities that seem to draw Joe Michigan to Miles are the same things that make my stomach roil. "Excitement" and "aggression" make sense when they're value-added. Miles is Steve Fossett in a ballcap. Cool shit to watch from a distance, but not so cool when you're scraped across the desert because adventure ballooning sounded fun. At LSU, he's had talent but still only won by razor-thin margins. To call his on-field playcalling "risky" would be an understatement. In The Deer Hunter, Christopher Walken did well for a long time playing Russian Roulette. He made plenty of money, and then it came to an end.

But it's more than all of this.

The University of Michigan is not a football school. It's a vast, great academic institution that happens to have a football program.

Michigan losing to Appalachian State didn't change my life. It ruined a three-day weekend and briefly prompted ideations of suicide, but a week later life was back to normal, even after Oregon's ass-kicking.

The team can lose on the field, and I'll be pissed and traumatized. I have nightmares about losses, condemn my lifestyle choice, scream to my friends that I wish I'd gone to Middlebury or Amherst or some other liberal arts school where kids spend Saturdays high, reading Keats in the woods somewhere. But that, I can divorce from my overall feelings about Michigan as an institution. When I walk into work and a millionaire in his sixties gently mocks me about losing to Appalachian State, I can laugh uncomfortably and concoct a rationalization.

What I could not rationalize is having a head coach whose public behavior is a consistent embarrassment. It's why Gary Moeller managed to get himself fired. Unfortunately, Michigan's head football coach is linked to how the public at large views the school. Lloyd was terse, close-mouthed, careful -- he might have been abrasive with sideline reporters and he might have been a dull interview, but you never feared that he'd utter words to embarrass you as an alumnus.

Michigan's unofficial spokesperson cannot be someone who would say, "We have a new rival in fucking Michigan State." He can't get choked up in press conferences. He can't rationalize a two-loss record as tantamount to being undefeated in regulation. He can't storm in front of television cameras and deliver a UFC-style rant.

That shit's fine at Oklahoma State or LSU. Alabama coaches can call people "coon-asses" and compare losing a football game to September 11. At some places, football plays a role in the hiring of college presidents and is a principal fundraising motivator. I did not go to one of those schools. Mary Sue Coleman, Lee Bollinger and a $7 billion endowment have nothing to do with a team.

I can handle losing to the Appalachian States of the world. I could even handle the program decaying into a Northwestern-style mediocrity -- that would surely suck and require years of pain and adjustment, but it would not make me renounce my degree or tarnish my feelings about the school.

I wouldn't feel the same way if the school's highest-profile employee were perpetually uncorked and verbally reckless. Michigan has always kept sports in its place, and that's no easy achievement. You can spend four years at the school, ignore its athletics, and not feel like you're missing anything. You can be on faculty without giving a damn about football. If you're a major donor wanting to give $20 million for cancer research, your decision of whether to donate to the hospitals at Duke, Michigan or Columbia will not incorporate coaching behavior.

This is why big-time athletics at Michigan have always been risky. By and large, they're good public relations and enhance the undergraduate experience. They also open up the school to forces that have nothing to do with its institutional mission, which, if kept unchecked, risk overshadowing everything else.

And then one day there's a clip repeated ad nauseum of some dumb-ass head coach popping off in a press conference, or in headlines because he said something dumb about the Pac-10, and Michigan starts to look like a football school. As an alumnus, you have a hard time explaining the person away. As a prof, maybe you feel embarrassed to be affiliated with a circus. And as a donor, the football program still doesn't mean jack shit to your decision, but if you're looking to do something serious with your legacy, quite possibly there's an itch somewhere about not wanting a new rival in fucking: Michigan State.


J. Businger said...

But Lloyd Carr did have a chronic nondegenerative disease: Losing to Ohio State.

dmbmeg said...

This could very well be my favorite thing you have ever wrote. You know I don't give compliments that regularly (especially on your blog).

you're only semi an asshole for leaving that comment, but I did crack a smile (not an LOLz though).

dmbmeg said...


country roads said...

I always liked Lloyd's comments to the sideline reporters...That's how a coach should be.

Cock D said...

no one effs michigan state like we do.

oh yeah!

CrimeNotes said...

Businger: Does your OCD count as a chronic neurodegenerative disease?

dmbmeg: Thx.

Country Roads: Agreed. It bugged people and it bothered some of my friends, but I sorta love that about him.

Cock D: Now and forever. Hopefully.

sam said...

Great post, and I agree that class should be an essential part of any coaching hire, but if you think that winning football games is not important to donating alumnus you are being somewhat naive. For instance, The University of Texas, which is endowed with billions as well, doubled the prior year alumni donations after winning the National Championship. Most endowments are resticted against funding athletic programs, so the revenue from the football program is in most cases, required to fund all the other sports programs the college fields. This insures that all the endowment money is available for educational programs, which is why the University exists. It is a proven fact that a happy alumnus with a winning football team will give a lot more money to their school. It doesn't excuse hiring an embarassing idiot for a head coach, but University Presidents will continue to take chances on bufoons with winning records, because as we all know by now, it's all about the money!

J. Businger said...

There's actually a term for what the previous commenter noted: "The Flutie Effect," coined in 1985, when applications to Boston College surged by 39% in the wake of little Doug Flutie's Heisman season in 1984 (and the Miracle in Miami pass to Gerard Phelan at the end of the season).

It happens to all schools, even thoe ones whose alums comport themselves with Crimenotes' snootiness: Duke has been transformed in many ways by its basketball success; Northwestern reaped a windfall in its Big 10 title years; and I doubt I need to even mention the impact basketball has had on North Carolina.

For goodness sake, Florida Atlantic has already gotten TWO presidential debates out of its 2007 Sun Belt Conference title.

CrimeNotes said...

but if you think that winning football games is not important to donating alumnus you are being somewhat naive.

No, I'm not being naive, but I think the degree and effect varies across institution. Michigan gets a ton of donations thick and thin, but the bulk of their focus is always on major-gift donations, not on me writing a check in the low-three figures. Cumulatively, small donations count for something, especially with an alumni base as big as Michigan's; and they'd love everybody to chip in about $20 because the methodology of those benighted U.S. News rankings factor the percentage of alumni donations.

But say 50,000 donors give $100 each because on some level, conscious or not, they're so pleased with the football team. (I gave a nice check to the Athletic Department late last year because I was so jazzed about the 11-1 run.) That's a $5 million total. Not chump change, but for a school that rakes in as much dough as Michigan, it's still marginal.

The psycho-coach-hurts-donations hypo is the weakest part of my argument, but I think it's for different reasons. Honestly, I have no idea whether a person or entity who writes $20 million or $50 million checks cares about such a thing. I just don't know the mechanics of landing and pleasing those donors. Worrying about that is a hunch, maybe even a stretch. I'm not sure. But an increase in alumni giving still amounts to less than one medium-sized major gift.

For instance, The University of Texas, which is endowed with billions as well, doubled the prior year alumni donations after winning the National Championship.

Texas is rich because of some kind of oil bequest or investment, although, again, I'm sure more small donations pleases the school.

applications to Boston College surged by 39% in the wake of little Doug Flutie's Heisman season in 1984

I remember Michigan having an application up-tick after '97 as well.

J. Businger said...

And pardon me for pointing this out, but I think you might be overstating the Dignity Factor in Michigan's coaching standards just a bit: This is the same school that employed Bill Frieder and Steve Fisher for 16 years.

As I recall, there were plenty of higher-ups at UM who happily looked the other way when Ed Martin started hanging around -- until the Fab 5 left and the team started losing.

crimenotes said...

Now you're just making shit up. This is why everyone around here but me hates you, and now I'm coming close.

As to point one: That shit pretty much chastened and traumatized everybody involved. Coleman and B. Martin were around at the tail-end of it, and, if anything, explains why this hiring process is like selecting a pope. Also, I'm not qualified to talk about basketball, but if you want an explanation for why the school then had a decade of bland mediocrities and that sport is perceived is treated as an insane widowed aunt, that's pretty much it.

On point two: That's, like, factually incorrect and fully insane. If you recall, that festering wound got exposed the night that Mo Taylor flipped an SUV coming back from Detroit. Things started to fall apart quickly thereafter. And if there was anybody who was gonna shut that shit down, it was Duderstadt. He's basically made a second career out of criticizing big-time college sports how they've fucked up universities. The wrongdoing happened under his tenure; I'm sure he would've been more than happy to do something to hack up that program if presented the opportunity. The report had it all circling back to Fisher and his cohorts.

That said, I know better than to try to counter anything you say with irritants like "fact" and "reason," so I'll look forward to the half-cocked baseless response.

Apology accepted nonetheless.

crimenotes said...

Predicted Businger response: In the end, none of this matters anyway because as long as there's no playoff, all coaches and programs are spiritually and morally bankrupt.

J. Businger said...

Your response calls to mind a rabid Mitt Romney supporter, frantically making excuses for his candidate's flagrant opportunism.

First, let's get our history straight: The shit may have come to light thanks to Mo Taylor, but it started LONG before then and it was abetted by an administration that at best was disengaged and at worst looked the other way while the basketball program brought in more and more money for the school.

Actully, Dan Wetzel summed it up much better than I can when he took exception to the UM line that "it's all Webber's fault":

"Michigan was operating a renegade basketball program long before and long after Webber did his stint in Ann Arbor. He wasn't the only one walking campus flush with cash. Others drove brand new SUVs around campus, lived in luxury off-campus apartments and dressed in expensive clothes.

And Michigan did nothing. No one asked about it. No one cared about it. At least until the federal government, investigating Martin's gambling operation at Detroit area Ford plants, made them."

-- Dan Wetzel, 1/15/2007

And that's not even mentioning Bill Frieder.

I'm bringing all of this up because you seem to think Michigan has somehwo treated athletics differently than other big time D-1 schools. The record says otherwise.

You still think your shit don't stink?

crimenotes said...

Uh, the record says that when things went south, the school flipped the fuck out, cleaned house, and has been embarrassed by it ever since.

J. Businger said...

Yep...just like Minnesota after Clem Haskins, Georgia (and UCLA and Rhode Island) after Jim Harrick, Maryland after Bob Wade, UMass after Calipari/Camby, NC State after Valvano, and on and on and on.

My point is Michigan is no different -- better or worse -- than virtually every other program in the country.

My objection is to fans of big-time programs claiming they somehow support the The Program That Actually Does It Right when, in fact, this label only applies to Penn State, Texas Tech, Hawaii, and Florida Atlantic.

crimenotes said...

Once again, you're having a conversation with yourself, attributing views to me that I don't hold, and hijacking a comment thread with a mix of successful goading and arbitrary rant.

Seriously, I think it's time to take this routine elsewhere.

22280 said...

One quick thing:

The Flutie Effect = Urban Legend

Carry on ...

sam said...

Now that you bring up my alma mater, I'll give you an example of what I thought was a terrible hire of a classless coach that turned out great for the University. When Texas Tech hired Bobby Knight, I thought they had lost their minds. To me, he was the antichrist, but that decision has been one of the best things Tech has ever done. It gave them instant recognition and TV time, he runs a squeaky clean program, he has personally donated over a million dollars to the library, he has for the most part not embarrassed himself or the institution and he gets Tech to the big dance most years. The Alumni love the guy and the TV exposure has spilled over to the football program. It doesn't hurt that we throw for a million yards every year, but it all started with Knight. A bad hire that turn golden.

dmbmeg said...

That throws chairs too!

CrimeNotes said...

You remind me of Dane Cook.

Richard said...

Interesting post, Crime Notes, but I respectfully disagree.

Is this a coach search, or is this a Republican election? Not since Rick Santorum have folks focused more on values -- Does the coach swear? Is he good in press conferences? -- and less on competence. Regardless of whether you're for or against Miles (a moot issue at this point), you have to recognize that this mentality is killing Michigan athletics. It contributed to the Amaker hire, and it permitted years of football cronyism that we're finally paying for.

Whatever we wind up doing with the hire, I hope the decision begins with stuff that matters (rules adherence, recruiting ability, strategic proficiency) and not nonsense that doesn't (the post-game presser performance). While we all agree that of course we want a coach who represents U-M well, what are you more willing to take a chance on with your hire: that the coach might say something silly occasionally? Or that the coach might not be able to coach?

dmbmeg said...

[more twitching]

CrimeNotes said...

Richard -- That's a false choice. It basically requires picking between a well-behaved incompetent and a baboon who knows how to coach.

I guess I'd put the "say something silly" point on a kind of scale. As in, I thought Urban Meyer's conduct last year was tawdry (even though I thought he was right) but it's not that big of a deal. Same with Weis's bluster. Even the Mike Gundy fit was sorta understandable. Guys like Saban, Callahan and Miles don't just say stupid shit, they say shit that's flat-out embarrassing on a pretty regular basis. They could win championships; it wouldn't matter. It isn't worth it. But I also think it's more than my whims, I think they'd be run out of Ann Arbor. It's hard to overstate how conservative and cautious the school is.

As far as "football cronyism" and "paying for something," I think that's crazy hyperbole. This time last year many fans who are now damning the program were up in arms that Michigan wasn't going to the BCS game. In 2007, the team gets felled by a series of dramatic injuries and a green defense; jughead and Carlos Brown were too inexperienced to step up; and somehow it managed to leave 8-4. Most teams would've ended up looking like Iowa. (No offense to Iowa readers, of course.) The idea that this program is calcified or in disarray is divorced from reality. It needs a check-up and some new blood, yes, agreed. Lose Gittelson, lose DeBord, loosen up the playcalling. Yes, agreed. But to frame it as a situation where the team is paying a price for some kind of ineffable managerial problem, I find nuts.

As to Amaker, I'm in over my head. I don't follow basketball except when people are getting indicted or investigated. I do remember that Amaker was a hot hire at the time. He was a Pinkel-like flavor of the month. He didn't pan out, but that also was a program that just went through some serious trauma. Admin. was probably happy to have a caretaker who wasn't making a mess, and as a result was given a long leash.

Businger was right to bring up Fisher and Frieder but I think it was for the wrong reasons. It's not that Michigan has a self-image that it's somehow purer than everyone else, it's that it got burned really, really badly by a loose cannon who ran his own fiefdom unchecked. It caused injuries to the school that can't be compensated with national titles. Problems with the football program would be far worse. Ultiamtely, they want to hand the reins to someone who they can leave unsupervised, and who won't be responsible for a bunch of pointless headaches. That's a pretty far cry from mimicking Rick Santorum.

crimenotes said...

Also, I don't think this is exactly a matter of lace tablecloths and polished silver and old ladies getting the vapors about swear words. I see reference in some places to "changing the culture." That's not something that happens at places, assuming that's even desirable, which I don't. That only happens when an institution has collapsed.

The archives of the Wall St. Journal are full of former CEOs who thought they could change a culture; see also Bill Callahan, Nebraska head coach; Laurence Summers, Harvard President; Jimmy Carter. Those things don't happen. People who try to change a successful culture end up leaving in disgrace. Someone comes in with that mindset, and people a lot more important than I am will start rebelling on day one. The ideal person will be a modernizer, yeah, but he can't be politically stupid.