What the Deuce: October 2007

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Les Miles is Ryan Howard

The needle has moved. If the Miles mobile has a top speed of 120, initially I was going 65. After Saturday night, I'm going 85-90. Throughout the game, the needle kept moving, steadily, like when my mom is driving. It didn't jump wildly like when I was 16 and trying to impress the head cheerleader at Troy High. There's no need to go any faster - I'd rather get there safely (successful transition) than wrap myself around a tree (returning to glory every 4 years).

Athletic Ability: It's been hammered into our heads that team speed is main reason for the SEC's superiority. Although I don't think speed is unique to the SEC, I do think its a foreign concept around Schembechler Hall. It wasn't LSU's speed that impressed me, it was the players' versatility and athletic ability. One play that I still remember came early in the game: LSU LB Ali Highsmith was lined up to Tim Tebow's left. Tebow recognized this and looked for the slot receiver on his right. Tebow threw to what appeared to be the open spot in the zone and was almost picked off. At the snap, Highsmith ran parallel to the line of scrimmage right to the spot where Tebow threw - and this play was by design.

Unfortunately, like speed, versatility isn't unique to LSU, but is a foreign concept at Michigan. I like to cook and my favorite instructor has to be Alton Brown who has taught me never to have unitaskers in my kitchen. Lloyd Carr needs to watch Good Eats - Michigan's roster is filled with unitaskers. For some inexplicable reason, Carr still believes that you need space filling defensive tackles, plodding linebackers, and a secondary that doesn't give up big plays (instead of making some from time to time). LSU's roster is filled with players in the mold of Bob Sanders, Troy Polamalu, Alan Branch (rare Michigan player who fits the bill), and Brian Urlacher.

While making a comparison to current NFL players may not be the best, my point is LSU has players that have freakish athletic ability for the positions they play. This includes the offensive players too. It's a misconception that you have to be big to win. The Denver Broncos, even with a lighter offensive line, are one of the best running teams in the NFL. Their success is because of guys who are strong and can get down field quickly to take on 2nd and 3rd line defenders. College coaches have realized this and the game now favors agile, versatile players. For some reason, the staff at Michigan hasn't realized this or refuses to accept it.

If Miles ends up in Ann Arbor, in this regard, my wish is twofold. I hope he keeps recruiting versatile players and implements a strength and conditioning program that takes advantage of this characteristic rather than eliminates it. Remember what Herbstreit said earlier this year - Michigan has cornered the market on making 4 and 5 stars slower. I'm confident with the success he's had at LSU using players like this, Miles will try and assemble a similar roster at Michigan.

Confident Play: From Bruce Feldman's article on LSU's win against Florida:

He scanned the room and observed his teammates talking about the No.1 Tigers' 28-24 victory, then looked back at the board. FOUR QUARTERS OF MEAN, NASTY, TOUGH ASS FOOTBALL. To Jackson and his teammates, those words serve as their mission statement. 'That is LSU,' he said. 'This is a four-quarters program.

LSU played with confidence throughout the game, even though the Tigers trailed until scoring the final touchdown of the game. On both sides of the ball, the players never looked frustrated or unsure of themselves. They played like they knew were going win and it was just a matter of time. The defense remained relentless even as Tebow stepped around on rushing lineman, found receivers open for 1st downs, and scrambled for a touchdown. The offense looked confident even with the interchangeable quarterbacks. The players in the huddle believed that they were going to succeed with Perrilloux or Flynn. I'm convinced Miles was as aggressive as he was because he had confidence in his offense and vice versa.
LSUs defenders looked natural in their movements. It never looked like the players were thinking about what they were doing or had to do, they just did it, almost instinctively.

Contrast that with the Wolverines against Eastern. Even after seeing the spread thrice this season, the defense looked tentative and unsure. The defense started slow and allowed EMU to stay in the game. Bradent Englemon was quoted as saying "I think we've gotten a lot better at understanding what types of plays we're going to get. We've definitely made strides in that area and have to continue to improve on that aspect of the game." It's half way through the season and this defense looks unsure of what it's supposed to do on individual plays. Literally, it looks like the players are evaluating a mental decision tree before reacting. Unfortunately, by that time, coupled with the lack of speed and athleticism, the opposition is in the endzone.

I'm convinced many of Michigan's problems are because of Carr's lack of confidence and this is well documented. I'm also positive he'd have botched the quarteback situation Miles had to deal with. Instead of taking advantage of Perrilloux's abilities, Carr would have gone with Flynn the entire game and, as a result, lost. Carr just doesn't seem sure of himself and is a terrible game day coach and this spreads to the players as well. One of the best things that can happen with Miles coming to Michigan is this program having a coach who is confident in his players and, more importantly, his own abilities.

Playcalling: Enough has been said of the playcalling at Michigan. If this were The Office, Lloyd Carr would be Michael Scott and Les Miles would be Ryan Howard. On last week's episode, Ryan comes back to Scranton to tell the employees how Dunder Mifflin is going to launch a new website, amongst implementing other technology, to help keep and gain new customers. Michael, fearing he is on his way out, decides to prove to Ryan that technology will ruin the business. To prove his point, Michael decides to win back lost customers with gift baskets that contain some of Scranton's finest food products. Needless to say, Michael is unsuccessful, ends up driving into a lake, while reminding the viewer that he is horribly unqualified for his job as regional manager. I don't think I need to tell you how this relates to Michigan football. If I do, just read the rest of Englemon's comments regarding the spread: "We try to stay in our base defense and make them adjust to what we do instead of trying to adjust to what they do..." Hey Lloyd, I'm sure there are a lot of local Ann Arbor businesses that have yummy things you can put in those gift baskets.

Don't let the Boyish looks fool you, Ryan Howard is a force

I'm going to wrap this up by saying that I'm a lot more in favor of Miles being Michigan's next head coach than I was a week ago. I'm also making an conscious effort to watch more LSU games until the season ends in order to get a better idea of Miles' coaching abilities. In the meantime, I've got my directions to Baton Rouge ready to go.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Les Is Not Sexy

One of the more enjoyable reads on the Interwebs is MGoBlog. Since, in his own words, The Horror, Brian created Profiles in Heroism, a segment that evaluates the individuals who are likely candidates to take over the head coaching job at Michigan after Lloyd Carr leaves. The latest edition profiles ex-Michigan letterman and current LSU head coach, Les Miles.

Miles has proven to be a polarizing figure amongst the usuals at MGoBlog's comments section. His detractors say that Miles has a penchant for running his mouth, question his success at LSU, and most importantly, cite the rumors that Miles is a coach with "loose morals," a phrase that reminds me of the legal opinions from the early 1900s that I read a few weeks ago (don't ask why).

The only reason Miles should not be considered is if the rumors of his "loose morals" come to light. There's very little evidence, besides these comments, that point to Miles running a dirty program. In fact,
many are of the opinion that a lot of negativity is coming from the old guard that's still at Michigan. On a side note, if that is true, and current members of the staff and athletic department are making unfounded claims about Miles, I don't want them to coach this team. And how does spreading unsubstantiated rumors about a person mesh with the whole "Michigan Man" philosophy? I guess it only applies when its convenient for those who are currently part of the program.

Also, commenter WolverBean made a good point. Calling Miles dirty is the pot calling the kettle black. This team has had its fair share of off the field problems, including Mario Manningham missing the EMU game for violating a team rule. So really, all of the people who keep going back to the "Michigan Man" argument, please take off the rose colored glasses and see the program for what it really is.

The remaining criticisms are lame excuses for not considering Miles. Although I also want a coach who is a better public speaker, I don't think this should prevent him from being a candidate. A lot of Miles' speaking problems appear to be a function of his passion - sometimes, Miles just can't find the words and says something inappropriate. I've seen Lloyd curse plenty of times - he's just been lucky there hasn't been a microphone or camera in his face when he did. And let's not forget Lloyd's penchant for being arrogant, dismissive, and belittling reporters in interviews.

I can't defend Miles' comments during his speech with the LSU boosters, but maybe, just maybe, it was Miles attempt to fit in. LSU fans and boosters expect information from the coaches, at least that's what I remember talking heads saying when Miles got the job. It's the norm there, not like at Michigan where information about an ankle sprain is treated like information about troop movements in Falujah.

My point is this: if the worst thing you can say about Miles is that he is not a good public speaker, you'd be an idiot not to hire him. He's not Bobby Knight. Plus, I'd rather have an coach who is an average public speaker that wins the games he's supposed to than a coach who regularly blows winnable games and, when asked a
legitimate questions about the strategy employed, stares down reporters with a "how dare you question me" look. If his ability to speak is such a concern, there's nothing stopping Bill Martin from hiring a pr coach to help Miles.

Actually, I'm excited at the potential of having a coach that is angry after loss rather than a coach who looks, sounds, and acts beat. Lloyd just doesn't seem to have the energy anymore and it shows in the way the team plays. When Carr is up for a game, so is the team and when Carr is not, you get games like Northwestern and Appalachian State. Over the last few years, the team has taken on the personality of the man who leads it - and we've all seen the results. Bill Simmons once addressed this saying that there are more young coaches in the NFL because of all the energy the job requires. These newbies want to show they belong and put everything they have into the job. To an extent, the same can be said about college coaches. Compared to coaches like Carroll, Stoops, and Belotti, Carr looks tired. He just doesn't seem to have the same fire as the aforementioned coaches and it shows in the way Michigan plays. This in itself is a reason to make a change, but that's another topic for another day.

I'm not going to address the argument that Miles is winning with Saban's players because Brian has done a great job debunking it. And for those who think Miles doesn't have enough experience, remember Bo wasn't Bo until Bo was Bo (sorry to sound like a bad Nike commercial).

Instead, I'm going to focus on Miles' decision to surround himself with great coaches. I think his willingness to do so is his biggest positive - it shows that Miles knows his limitations and won't let his ego get in the way of success. Larry Bird, while coaching the Pacers, said that he wasn't sure that he could be a great coach, so he hired guys who had the know how to be his assistant. This is a stark contrast to Carr who either has an incredibly large ego or the inability to recognize his own weaknesses and neither one is good. So far, this formula has worked for Miles. The only reason this model wouldn't thrive at Michigan is if the AD doesn't pay for guys like Bo Pellini and Jon Tenuta.

Even with what Miles' has going for him, I still feel "eh" about him. I want to feel like Homer Simpson looking at a plate of bacon when the new hire is made/announced. The question now becomes why Miles doesn't make me feel that way. The answer is simple - he's not the sexy choice. He's not Uncle Pete, he's not the young up and comer, and he's not the offensive genius (Tedford, not Weis).

I really believe but for Miles' ties to the program, fans wouldn't bring his name up as a potential candidate. There's nothing unique or shiny about Miles. He's a good coach and that's that. He's a good fit, will be a solid coach (or at least I hope so), and brings a relatively fresh outlook to this program (assuming he sticks to his CEO model). He understands Michigan better than most candidates would because he played under Bo and I think he'll keep what's good about this program(the overarching philosophy) and get rid of what's bad (play not to lose attitude and cronyism). When I look at it that way, I feel a lot better about Miles being the next head coach and I welcome it.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

It's Not Magic, It's Film Study

I'd known for a while that I was going to miss at least the first half of Michigan's game against Northwestern. My friend was getting married and the ceremony started at one. Still, I wasn't too upset - I knew exactly what I was going to miss.

Even though Northwestern provided the coaching staff with an opportunity to rest Mike Hart, expose Ryan Mallet to more of the playbook, and get the subs some meaningful game experience, it wasn't going to happen. Instead, Mike DeBord would mindlessly run the ball in the first half allowing it the Wildcats to keep it close. In the third quarter, the offense and defense would make the minimum amount of plays to take the lead and keep it. In the 4th, Mike Hart would still be in the game because it was close. A couple of players, instead of sitting on the bench because of a blowout, would be lost to injury. Northwestern would make a last ditch effort that would come short and Lloyd Carr would flash that arrogant smile that says "screw you" to those who question his ability to game plan. Oh, and how can I forget, we'd hear quotes from players saying "we came out flat" and "we didn't play Michigan football in the first half."

So I wasn't too surprised by the way the game unfolded. Northwestern was leading at the half. Michigan regained the lead in the third quarter and extended it in the fourth. To their credit, the defense caused 4 turnovers on 4 straight possessions. Still, Michigan lost 3 players to injury - Tim McAvoy, Chris Graham, and Mike Massey. And after Michigan narrowly won 28-16, we heard about how "it wasn't Michigan football in the first half."

Brian, on Monday, wrote brilliantly about Michigan's offensive playcalling. Let me add my piece. If the opposition's defense is a round hole and Michigan's offense a square peg, Mike DeBord is the slow child playing the game. Once again, DeBord wasted a chance against an inferior opponent to get the offense some reps for plays other than zone left.

It's no surprise that this offense struggles year after year. While most teams' offenses are starting to gel and find a rhythm after 5 games, Michigan's is still inconsistent. Granted, there have been injuries this year, but essentially, the story is the same. Instead of improving over the course of the year, Michigan's offense will be as unpolished as it was against Appalachian State. And this phenomenon is a function of Mike DeBord's inability and unwillingness to change.

Honestly, I can't take it anymore. Against Penn State, the coaching staff went deployed a prehistoric offensive strategy because he wanted to protect Ryan Mallet. Instead of keeping the defense guessing, DeBord decided to run on obvious running downs and pass on obvious passing downs. Apparently, DeBord's idea of protection is playing into the hands of the defense.

Still, even after the offensive outputs against Penn State and Northwestern, there are people who brush aside DeBord's ineptitude. They say "well, the coaches did what they had to do." What the hell does that even mean? Either it means that the coaching staff completed something that was unfinished (I had homework that was due, so I did it) or the coaches acted in a manner as a result of necessity (the guy was not breathing and I had to give him CPR). In the football context, I'd assume that "doing what you have to do" is the latter and not the former.

If this is the case, Michigan did not have to run over and over to win that game. They could have passed on first or second down. They could have opted not to kick field goals with a kicker who is terrible. They could have used play action. Let me say this clearly: they did not have to run the ball 44 times with Mike Hart. And if they did, it's their own damn fault for not coming up with a more deceptive game plan or developing more than a basic high school passing game.

Most egregiously, they didn't have to give Penn State one last chance at the end of the game. Instead of going for the first down that would ice the game, the coaching staff thought it best to run the ball and call timeouts. Why stop the clock for your opponent?

Similarly, they coaches didn't have to run the ball repeatedly against Northwestern, especially when the Wildcat secondary being as bad as it is. The most frustrating this about this coaching staff is that it doesn't seem to understand the concept of tendencies. Football is a game of tendencies - that's why coaches and players spend countless hours studying film. Bill Belichick said the reason the Patriots were so successful was because the didn't have tendencies and, if they did, they would go against them, catching the opponent off guard. A simple concept that neither Carr nor DeBord understand, or worse, simply ignore.

What scares me more than anything is that if Michigan keeps winning, there's a good chance that the entire group comes back. And with no Mike Hart, Jake Long, Chad Henne, and possibly Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington, next season could be worse than this one. With an offense that young, DeBords archaic offense becomes even more ineffective. Deception, something this coaching staff loathes, can only assist a young team. Still, assuming they return, we can expect more zone left, zone left, shuffle, punt.

This program has become Texas North - a team with tons of talent that typically underachieves. Only so much blame can be put on DeBord - blame has to be put on the man who hired him, Lloyd Carr. As terrible as DeBord is, there is a chance that Carr is worse. He refuses to change and with time, he has become more conservative and more indecisive. If Henne was okay to play, he should have started the game, helped Michigan open up a big lead, and rested the second half. Instead, Henne plays one series and is pulled for the rest of the half.

The last thing I have to say about all of this is that Lloyd Carr has never been a good head coach and it angers me people suggest that. Family friend suggested Carr was good early in his career as evidenced by his 10-0 start against Top 25 teams. While that may be true, Carr was aided with tons of talent. Before Michigan won the National Championship in 1997, Michigan had posted two consecutive 8-4 records. Carr has always employed the run, run, pass, punt formula. He's always relied on his defense even in seasons that the defense was not good. Most importantly, although Carr has one of the highest winning percentages of active coaches, he has pissed away countless games against lesser opponents. His teams have constantly underachieved. Now, he appears tired and so do his teams. His teams take on his personality, for better or for worse. Carr is a terrific representative of this program and a great recruiter. He should realize this and ride off into the sunset after this year.