Friday, August 14, 2009

While you were gone

Our annual look at the off season just passed for our readers who aren't as obsessive about following Michigan football as we are.

Bo used to say that only three things could happen when you passed the ball, and two of them are bad. In the last couple of years, it seems like you could say the same thing about our off seasons.

In mid December, it was announced that Defensive coordinator Scott Shafer would be leaving. In January, Greg Robinson was hired to take his place. All indications seemed to suggest the Shafer ust didn't mesh with Rich Rod and the rest of the staff. The Purdue game, where Rich Rod supposedly took over control of the defense from Shafer, was seen as a sign that the relationship could not be repaired. Robinson appears to be an upgrade. Despite his dismal record as a head coach at Syracuse, he was defensive coordinator for Texas when the won the national championship, and for the Denver Broncos when they went to the Super Bowl.

The early part of any off season is dominated by recruiting news from January until signing day in early February. This year was no exception, as Michigan pulled in a class ranked between 8 and 14 in the country, depending on who you asked. The class was headlined by a block-out-the-sun defensive tackle from Detroit, a quaterback prodigy from California whose family has a history with Michigan, a top cornerback from Ohio, and lots and lots of speed, some small, some not so small. Of particular interest was the fact that several members of the class, graduated from high early and enrolled in January so they could go through spring practice.

Despite this successful class, much of the news during the season was about decommitments from Michigan. No less than nine players decommitted at some point. Some decommitted to take visits to other schools and then later recommitted. Some chose to decommit after Michigan recruited other players at their positions. And some decommitted because they are no different than most 18 year olds, and aren't completely sure what they want to do with their lives. More than anything, this trend illustrated a changing dynamic is the way recruiting works. With the growth of social media and recruiting websites, more and more information is out there about recruits, and more recruits are committing early. But some local sources, many of whom criticized Rich Rod for taking kids last year who decommitted from other schools, chose to use the decommitments as evidence of his lack of fitness to be coach here at Michigan. And of course, those up the road in East Lansing jumped all over that and used as part of their recruiting pitch, in and out of the media.

The other major source of news during the off-season involved player departures. About a dozen players left the team since the end of the last season. Some left early for the NFL. Most were backups unlikely to play a significant role this year even if they had stayed. But there were two that played significant roles last year that left, QB Steven Threet and RB Sam McGuffie. Both likely would have seen playing time this year, but its not clear if they would have started, or for how long. Threet had the most experience of any QB, but he clearly doesn't fit the spread option as well as the two freshman, Forcier and Denard Robinson. McGuffie started the year strong at RB, but faded as the year went on and he suffered some concussions and Brandon Minor came on strong.

Most of the players departing transferred to other schools quietly, praising the coaching staff, or simply saying they were moving on. Two players made a bigger splash. OL Kurt Wermers left, saying that "the kids on the team now weren't his kind of crowd" and the team was less like a family now. It later turned out that Wermers was academically ineligible when he left. I guess not his kind of crowd meant kids that actually went to class.

The other player who made a splash was WR / former QB Justin Feagin. In late July, he was dismissed from the team for violations of team rules. It would be revealed later that his violation could have included some criminal activity. In short, Feagin was approached by a friend last spring who was short on cash and agreed to broker a drug deal for him with a friend of his down in Florida. Feagin took money from him, and then never followed through on the drug deal. The friend responded by trying to set Feagin's dorm room on fire, but he got the wrong room. Feagin was questioned by police in late July. Later that day he was dismissed from the team. Of course our friends at the Free Press responded by declaring Michigan a win at all costs team and blamed Rich Rod for not doing proper research on Feagin. Of course the Free Press missed an obvious parallel with a team up the road that had a player convicted of felony assault after the last season, serve almost six months in jail, and then let out early so that he wouldn't miss practice time. The double standard, and other obvious problems with the Free Press article were pointed out by bloggers more accomplished than I.

After the worst season of Michigan that any of us can remember, we were treated to a horrible off-season, despite a decent recruiting class with some exciting players (more on this later) and the continued construction on the big house. So you see, the season can't get here fast enough.