Now that the inevitable enthusiasm of the Hoke hire and the "Woooooooooo! Michigan Man! Woooooo!" has subsided a tad, it's time to get down to the X's and O's. While there are still a host of coaching vacancies to host to fill, we do know for a fact that Al Borges will be Michigan's next Offensive Coordinator. Markus has already reviewed Borges' resume and came to the conclusion that he's a good hire. He runs a pro set. He's more of a traditional Michigan offensive coordinator. He's had some past success.
Despite our initial enthusiasm, there are always two sides to every coin. And rightly so. Borges is going to be implementing a pro set in a team that has known nothing but the spread-option-run-whatever attack. As you may recall, Rodriguez' offense was predicated on a lot of screens and the occasional deep bomb. But all of it was set up by the run and the quarterback motoring around like Vespa on steroids. How Michigan and (more importantly) Denard Robinson will adjust to and implement these changes is anyone's guess.
To get another opinion on the whole Borges hire, we got in contact with our buddies over at California Golden Blogs, SBN's fine Cal Bears blog, and asked them some basic questions about their interaction with the Borg. As you may recall, Borges was Cal's OC for all of a season. A season that did not go well. 1-11 not well. Even so, the guys at CGB seem to have an okay impression of the Borg. However, they are quick to point out that so much was going wrong with the Cal team in 2001 it's truly hard, if not impossible, to appropriately parse out the blame.
As such, I posed a simple question to CGB about the 1-11 2001 California Season-Of-Which-We-Will-Never-Speak:
"Was the team that bad or was the coaching that bad?"
Ohio Bear and Kodiak delivered some great responses, so when you're done here, make sure you check them out at California Golden Blogs.
Ohio Bear: In 2001, the team was bad. The schedule didn't help -- the Pac-10 was strong that year and two of our nonconference games (Illinois and BYU) were against eventual conference champs -- but we weren't even competitive in most games. It was really bad.
So while the team stunk on ice, I think that if you look back with the hindsight of 20-20, you'd have to say that coaching was a VERY big part of the 1-10 result. I say that because of what happened in 2002 when Jeff Tedford took over, coaching ostensibly the same players. We were by no means a great team in 2002, but these same guys who had gone 1-10 in 2001 managed to win 7 games in 2002.
So what happened with the Al Borges offense in 2001? A perfect storm of crap, that's what. Remember that 2001 was Borges' one and only season as Cal's OC. He had taken over for Steve Hagen, who was universally despised among Cal fans. So there may have been a learning curve in Borges' one year with Cal -- I don't remember specifically if there was an issue with Borges installing his own stuff and guys having to learn a new system, but I suspect that was part of what contributed to the offensive woes in 2001.
More after the jump. Lots more.
The growing pains of Kyle Boller also contributed. Boller was a junior in 2001 and had not, to that point, progressed like we had hoped. (Boller didn't truly blossom until 2002 under Tedford.) Whatever the problems with Boller were exacerbated by injury problems. Boller missed at least one start due to injury and was benched for another game in favor of redshirt frosh Reggie Robertson. So there were some quarterback issues.
Another theme of 2001 was just the lack of team unity. There were grumblings that offensive coaches openly sniped with defensive coaches and that Coach Holmoe did not do a very good job of keeping that house in order. For what it's worth, the Cal blogosphere of the day contained some rumblings that Coach Borges was one of the few positives on the coaching staff.
Honestly, I don't think Al Borges should be judged by anything he did at Cal. He stepped into a Holmoecaust.
One note, FWIW -- Any reference to the use of players that "landed [Cal] on probation" doesn't really have a place in the Borges discussion. That didn't happen in 2001. Those players (Michael Ainsworth and Ronnie Davenport) were used in 1999 and the probation was for that. We sucked in 2001 with legitimately eligible players, thank you!
Kodiak: I've blocked most of the 2001 season out of my memory, so Ohio Bear is probably a more reliable reference.
I know the stats look pretty bad for that year, but I don't think you can lay that on Borges as the issue. Starting QB Boller missed two games with a serious back injury, and starting RB Joe Igber also missed a couple of games with an ankle injury. Backup RB Terrell Williams was serviceable, but backup QB's Holtfreter and Robertson(frosh) were legitimately awful.
Even when healthy, Boller was inconsistent with his accuracy and decision-making. The biggest issue with the offense tended to be turnovers with a sprinkling of keystone cop-like errors such as inopportune penalties or drops.
Borges favored an aggressive passing attack, but would also lean on the ground game for balance. In our one "win" that year, Williams had 185 yards rushing. He showed plenty of creativity using flea flickers to set up long passes and even some plays featuring a half-back option with a throw back to the QB.
I suppose you could argue that Borges did a decent job of playcalling, but struggled in coaching/teaching the offense to execute well as a cohesive unit. Hard to say. This team had so many problems with leadership, direction, chemistry, in-fighting, and just woeful incompetence that it's probably unfair to lay too much blame on any one position coach or coordinator.
Ohio Bear: Good point about Borges favoring an aggressive passing attack. Remember his teams at Ucla with Cade McNown? Very aggressive, with lots of vertical stuff downfield. Well, that wasn't a good fit with the personnel Cal had in 2001. Boller could throw deep, but wasn't accurate; we did not have great speed at WR that year, at least not until the late season shift of LaShaun Ward from defense to offense; and our offensive line did not do a great job of pass protection, so there wasn't an optimum amount of time to throw deep patterns on a consistent basis.
Besides Reggie Robertson, the other QB who played in 2001 was Eric Holtfreter (not "Hofstetter"). Holtfreter started the Ucla game that year and staked us out to a 7-0 lead! (Sadly, the game continued and we ultimately lost 56-17.)
So there you have it. Not the anti-christ! After a few years of misery, I'll take it. Thanks again to CGB. - Ed.