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January 11, 2011

Advice For The Despondent

A lot of Michigan fans are undergoing grief therapy right now, and my email in-box is filling up with messages from despondent alumni. It's hard to blame them, after a long, damaging hiring process ended in a hire few fans had at the top of their wish list. My first advice is: don't jump off that ledge. My second advice is, try to keep some perspective.

Comparison isn't fair. Michigan fans had been preparing to welcome the single hottest coach in all of football. Then they spent a few days preparing to welcome back a coach who had compiled a strong record in the toughest conference in America and had won the national championship three seasons before. That didn't work, either.

But keep in mind that Michigan only had the chance to hire either Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles because they're Michigan alumni. Most schools don't have the luxury of bringing aboard a top-ten coach for what, in unsentimental terms, is a downward move. Brady Hoke isn't Harbaugh or Miles. It's not fair to gauge him against that standard.

Hoke didn't design The Process. Coaches are generally hired quickly, with several weeks to build a recruiting class, and not after a series of crushing near-misses. That isn't Hoke's fault. He did nothing wrong. If you're upset with the process, keep in mind that Hoke's boss, not Hoke, is the one who ran it.

Resume isn't destiny. Selecting a coach is a lot like selecting a recruit. The resume is the equivalent of a recruiting ranking. With recruits, a high ranking correlates with success, but a correlation is only probability, not certainty. Sometimes high-ranking recruits flame out, and sometimes sleeper recruits turn into stars.

Hoke inherited a Ball State program that had gone 16-18 in the three seasons before he arrived, and he went 34-39 there. Comparing that to Jim Tressel, who won 70% of his games at Youngstown State, is a stretch.

But very little in Bill Belichik's record before joining the New England Patriots suggested he would develop into one of the great coaches in football history. Gene Chizik and Pete Carroll are both examples of head coaches with underwhelming resumes who have enjoyed great success. (It's true that they may have had, um, some help, but it's sour grapes to assume that only shady recruiting accounts for their winning.) Likewise, Rich Rodriguez brought a stellar resume to Ann Arbor, but oversaw shockingly poor results. Sometimes coaches placed into different circumstances can perform much better, or worse, than their resume would suggest.

Don't sink to the level of the Rodriguez haters. Even if you're not placated, don't follow the example of some so-called Michigan men who disapproved of Rich Rodriguez and took it upon themselves to bring him down so they could replace him with somebody in their own mold. It was a shameful episode, one that did long-term damage to Michigan and victimized players and coaches who are doing their best.

If you're not happy with what a faction did at Michigan, don't emulate them. Try to rise above them.


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