Friday, August 22, 2008

While You Were Away

This post is mainly for my dad, who unlike the rest of us, has a life, and doesn't obsessively check the blogs, message boards and RSS feeds for news everyday of the off-season.

Michigan has had a pretty active off-season, perhaps the most eventful in 40+ years. A little synopsis for you. Please take notes as there will be a quiz before you enter the stadium for the first time this year.

Lloyd Carr retired the Monday after the OSU game. Said most of the usual retirement press conference stuff (had a great time, will miss lots of people, no opinion on who the next coach is, trusts Bill Martin to get it right, etc). The coach search was a wild ride of rumors, non-denial denials, plane tracking, and all out meltdowns on various message boards. At one time or another, the following coaches were rumored to be coming here: Les Miles (2 or 3 different rumors), Kirk Ferentz, Greg Schiano, & Jim Grobe. Finally, when it looked like all hope was lost, Rich Rodriguez was announced as the new coach. He dismissed all of the prior assistant coaches, hiring only RB coach Fred Jackson back. He brought a number of his coaches from West Virginia with him, and hired a new LB coach and defensive coordinator.

People in West Virginia were not happy that Rodriguez would leave his alma mater to come here. The University sued Rodriguez shortly after he left to collect his $4 million buyout. Rodriguez vowed to fight it. A six battle ensued, which included a lot of name calling, some silly posturing, and eventually ended up with Rodriguez paying WVU $1.5 million over two years, and the UofM paying $2.5 million. Some people in the local media saw this settlement as indicative of a character flaw on Rodriguez's part.

A number of players left the team after the bowl game. Receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington declared for the NFL and were drafted. QB Ryan Mallet transferred to his home state of Arkansas, stating that he didn't feel that he was a good fit for Rodriguez's new spread offense. Rumor around the blogs was that he might have transferred even if Lloyd had stayed. Offensive lineman Justin Boren, who started 12 games at center and guard last year and is the son of former linebacker Mike Boren, announced he was leaving after the first day of spring practice, stating that he felt that the "family values" of Michigan were eroding under the new staff. He subsequently enrolled at Ohio State, along with his younger brother Zach, who was offered a scholarship there only after Justin transferred. Despite comments from former players, like Desmond, who supported Rodriguez and cited rumors that Boren left because he wasn't guaranteed his starting spot back, some people in the local media saw this as indicative of a character flaw on Rodriguez's part.

Recruiting went well. The Wolverines received commitments from nine players after Rodriguez took over, including a number of players who committed on or right before signing day. A couple of players actually decommitted from other schools to commit to Michigan. This prompted a tirade from Purdue coach Joe Tiller, where he chastised Rodriguez for breaking a "Gentleman's Agreement" between Big Ten coaches not to recruit players who have publicly committed to other Big Ten schools. Tiller referred to Rodriguez as a snake-oil salesman in a wizard hat. Some people in the local media saw this as a character flaw on Rodriguez's part, even though recent history shows that just about every big ten schools has poached recruits from other big ten schools in a similar manner.

Rodriguez brought with him Mike Barwis, the strength and conditioning coach at WVU. After getting a big upgrade to the weight room facilities, Barwis has proceeded to totally revamp the strength and conditioning program, and has become somewhat of a folk hero among the Michigan blogosphere. Depending on which urban legends you choose to believe, he owns a couple of wolves for pets, he used to be an mixed martial arts participant, has never had a player miss an entire season due to injury, and will turn mere mortals into superhuman football machines. He has gotten rave reviews from all of the current players, a whole host of former players now playing in the NFL, both from here and West Virginia, who came to Ann Arbor this summer to work out with him. The hype about him got so deep at one point that MSU had to put out a story about their S&C guys, and how they were just as good as Barwis.

In March, the Ann Arbor News unvailed a huge four part story about Academics and Athletics at Michigan. The articles claimed, among other things, that the athletic department steered kids to certain easier majors (general studies), certain professors who were friendly to the AD, and encouraged independent study programs, and athletes were admitted to school who normally wouldn't go to college. The University of course quickly refuted the report's claims. The reaction from the national media was was one of indifference. When I saw Golden in April, he wondered why this was even a story. This is just standard operating procedure at Division I schools.

Our stadium is undergoing some significant upgrades. Despite some initial skepticism, most reaction seems to be positive. The AD has been warning people to arrive to games earlier, however, do to longer lines to enter the stadium. Construction of the $250 million project is due to be completed prior to the 2010 season. Also under construction is a new practice facility.

After signing a multi-million dollar in July 07, Adidas introduced the new Michigan jerseys. The home jersey remains virtually the same as the last Nike jersey, with the swoosh replaced with the three lines. The road jersey contains large yellow stripes along the sides that has not been warmly received.

So there you have it. Despite all the negativity from the main stream media and national pundits, the Michigan blogosphere seems somewhat upbeat about there chances, with predictions centering around 8-4 or 7-5, with promises of death and destruction for Michigan's enemies in 2009 and beyond.