Defending Dave Brandon, "The Process," and the Direction of Michigan Football

Well done Dave. Your hire just brought in 20 great football players and students. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Yesterday the University of Michigan Football program welcomed 20 new young men into the fold. Head Coach Brady Hoke and his staff did a phenomenal job bringing in a 20 person recruiting class, much of which filled some dire needs for the program. Michigan stocked up on defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs as though they would cease to exist in the future. Michigan secured an elite tight end, top of the line running backs, a monster of an offensive guard, and a talented center. All in all, it was a great day for the Michigan Football program.

Yet, despite this, there are rumblings out there that this class should have been better. Why didn't Michigan have an elite defensive tackle or another offensive lineman? Why is Michigan only 21st on Rivals' list of recruiting classes. Someone is to blame for this. Someone has to be to blame for this. Oh, I know, it's all Dave Brandon's fault.

As far as the end result of The Process: Michigan is two scholarships short pending tomorrow's Willingham commitment, which right now looks like it won't go M's way. In addition, they're carrying Mike Williams—a likely medical redshirt—and at least two more players who could have not gotten fifth years after graduating this spring. Michigan forewent up to five additional recruits thanks to the awkward timing of The Process. (emphasis mine)

And somehow this tunnel-visioned narrative has gained a likewise ill-informed national voice:

Best salvage job: Michigan's Brady Hoke. Given that AD Dave Brandon left Rich Rodriguez hanging in the wind until after the Gator Bowl and did not hire his new coach until Jan. 11, Michigan's 2011 class seemed destined for disaster. The Wolverines went more than a month after the regular season without adding a new commitment.

Michigan comes away with a top 25 class that addresses some of it's most crucial needs (re: all of our defense) and yet supporters of the program and national voices are saying it underachieved. Maybe Mgo was right about something:

This program will eat itself alive if given half a chance.

Well, we agree on that. But not much more. Over the last month I've largely held my tongue regarding criticism of the program, the coaches and the AD. I understand that there was and is some frustration over how things went down in the hiring process and attempted to assuage those concerns with a lengthy explanation of what actually happened in comparison to our predispositions. Recently, however, I've noticed that attitudes haven't gotten better. In some instances they've gotten worse. And when Michigan inks a great recruiting class and people are blaming the AD for it not being better, something is really, really wrong.

And I think I speak for a number of people when I say we're sick of it.

 

 

As a fan, and as someone who intently covers Michigan athletics on a daily basis, this irrational need to parse out blame, especially when there is no blame to be parsed, is one of the most frustrating and irrational aspects of this endeavor. What I also don't get is how in God's name people can look back at the hiring process and blame Dave Brandon for doing his job. And even more puzzling, how you can blame Dave Brandon for a coaching search that netted a good hire and a good recruiting class. If you do this you fall into two categories:

1) I believe Rodriguez was fired after the Ohio State game and Brandon needlessly held up the process by going sailing with Bill Martin or something like that; or,

2) I can't believe we hired Hoke when we could've had Harbaugh, Miles, or some other hot coordinator as our new head coach.

If you fall into either, or both, of those categories nothing that Hoke or Brandon does will ever be good enough for you. You detest your AD for, in your mind, stupidly holding up a crucial process that determines how Michigan will perform on the field in the years to come. In your mind he doesn't understand how the recruiting and college football process works or he would've just gotten it over with and fired Rodriguez after the OSU game. While you are welcome to your opinion on this matter, here are some factors you may want to consider before start ranting on your message board.

First, Dave Brandon WAS a college football player. A Michigan college football player. He played for Bo. He knows what it's like to be recruited (to an extent, he was recruited when everything was still being photographed in black and white). He understands the pressures on the kids making these decisions. Second, he's been involved in recruiting as an adult in a passive voice and assistant in the process for years. A man who played for Bo, is unquestionably one of Bo's most successful non-football alumni, and a generous donor to the program over the years, has undoubtedly been used as a resource in this process before. Third, he understands what recruiting means. He's been trough it as a player and seen it as an athletic director. He understands and knows how much time and effort go into the recruiting process. Fourth, he understands what deadlines and time frames mean. He knew that recruiting was a priority, and he knew what kind of time crunch Michigan was under.

Fifth, and this is probably the biggest thing to consider, he most likely DIDN'T WANT TO FIRE RODRIGUEZ. Think real long and hard about this folks. Michigan was projected by most sources to go 5-7, 6-6, or 7-5 with all aspects of the team improving over the year in 2010. Michigan won seven games and lost it's last two game to the two best teams in the conference. Michigan was at 7-5 and in a bowl game. A good bowl game. Rich had done, to that point, what he needed to do to save his job. They'd finally beat the teams they were supposed to. Michigan had recruited decently over the last two years. Michigan had a number of players coming back. Michigan had been plagued by injuries which Rodriguez could not control. How in the world could he fire Rodriguez after the regular season was over?

He couldn't. Rodriguez had done his job. If we are to believe the proposition that Michigan was just a respectable turnover margin away from being awesome, then the proposition that Rodriguez was largely secure after the OSU loss is even less of a stretch. Rich had achieved bowl eligibility and was going into a bowl game that would likely solidify his status as Michigan's head man. I mean Michigan was playing Mississippi State. Mississippi State! One of the prominent doormats of the SEC. A respectable showing in the Gator Bowl and all was going to be fine. He had a month to get ready, players were coming back healthy, they could finally run the complete offense and fix the defense. We'd finally see the UConn game again, except this time on New Years. He had a month.

Instead, Michigan was completely embarrassed on national television. Michigan was incompetent on offense and might as well have not shown up on defense. This after a month to get healthy, to practice, to prepare. And Michigan was playing against a spread option offense it sees every day in practice. And they were blown out by 38 points. Michigan's OMG INCREIDBLZ offense scored 14 points. 14. But hey. It was a 100% improvement over it's prior game. They'd only scored 7 points against OSU.

21 points scored in Michigan's last two games while surrendering 89. 0-6 against Michigan's biggest rivals in games that were less competitive each year Michigan played them. One winning season in three years. A defense that not only got worse year to year, but got worse game to game. And a 38 point loss to an SEC doormat. These aren't opinions folks. They're facts. And when Michigan got shellacked in the Gator Bowl it forced Brandon's hand. There's only so long you can look past obvious problems before you have to make a change.

Had Rodriguez' coached Michigan to a win or a close, competent loss in the Gator Bowl I have zero doubt he would still be Michigan's head coach. A respectable game would've shown his coaching chops, that the team could improve with practice, and that two losses to BCS bound schools were anomalies. He could've shown that the team was getting better. And that's what Brandon was counting on. That's why Rodriguez was still there for the Gator Bowl. Brandon didn't keep him as the head coach for that game because he's a nice guy, or because he was busy with a complicated sukodu. Brandon kept him because prior to the bowl game it was the right move. All Brandon had to wait on was a decent game.

But he didn't get it. Rodriguez' last game was an embarrassment. So, whether I personally like the guy or not, he had to go. That's why "The Process" didn't start until January 5th when Rodriguez was fired. There's your delay folks. At most a whopping three to four days. None of this month BS. At worst Brandon waited for the team to return, Rodriguez to gather himself, and fired him within three days of returning to Ann Arbor. I don't know about you, but I find that reasonable.

And here's one other thought on Rodriguez' firing as pointed out by the Detroit News' Bob Wojnowski. Can you imagine the hell that would've been raised if Michigan canned Rodriguez and immediately announced Hoke's hiring? I'll let Wojo's take on this stand by itself:

But for all the doomsday predictions, the Wolverines recovered just fine. I never had a problem with athletic director Dave Brandon's timetable, firing Rodriguez after the bowl game. If he'd made the move for Hoke in early December, cripes, just imagine the divisive clamor from those who wanted Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles.

There was no decision to fire Rodriguez before the bowl game just like Hoke wasn't a guaranteed hire until he was announced as Michigan's head coach. When you break it down, even a little, it's clear that there wasn't some crazy lag in the decision making process. Brandon did what he had to do when Rodriguez forced his hand.

For the Second proposition, that Michigan should've hired a big name, I've also addressed this previously. Let me save you some time. Harbaugh was going to the NFL. Period. Full stop. It was a nice thought while it lasted, but Jim wanted NFL money, not to have to recruit, to stay in California, and to continue doing things his way. He wanted to be in the NFL and Michigan is not a stepping stone to that job for head coaches. This is it. There are no other jobs. As for Miles, he was never offered the job. No one even knows for what was discussed or if Miles and Brandon actually met (though it's pretty safe to assume they did). You can follow flight tracker all you want, but Miles burned any chance of being Michigan's head coach when he was in Ann Arbor the first time.

This brings us to the next part of the question: who else was Michigan supposed to go after? I've heard people bitch and moan about how Michigan should've hired a good coordinator as their head coach. Okay, who? Who was an available top-flight coordinator? Who could've salvaged the defense and made it... okay? We just had one offensive genius, did we want another who'd install a new system and pay no attention to defense? On defense, who could Michigan have gotten? What big name without Michigan ties was available and had legitimate coaching chops?

So Brandon set out to answer those questions. From the moment he fired Rodriguez until the day Hoke stepped up to the podium he was out looking for the right head coach. He interviewed coaches with other jobs, he kept it quiet, and he delivered the best coach he could find in six-bleeping-days. And he got it right. "The Process" as you call it, worked. "The Process" delivered Michigan a good man, a decent head coach, a stellar recruiter, and a Michigan Man in less than a week.

And yet Michigan fans, and others, sit there are blame Brandon for doing things the right way. For instance:

This is a stupid hire. It will always be as stupid hire and David Brandon just led the worst coaching search in the history of Michigan football. He managed to chase off half of an already iffy recruiting class, hired a Plan C coach on January 11th, probably ensured the transfer of the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, and restricted his "national search" to people who'd spent at least five years in Ann Arbor. Michigan just gave themselves a year of USC-level scholarship reduction voluntarily.

There are so many things wrong with this sentiment that I can't even begin to parse them out without my eyes bleeding. To be fair to MGo, this was written right after the Hoke Hire on January 11, 2011. Also to be fair, I wrote this before Hoke was hired, but during the time he "first came under consideration." On the morning of January 11, 2011, I was ill-informed and ill-tempered. I also had the courage to either admit that I was wrong or at least put aside my biases to welcome Hoke back to Michigan.

But instead, there's a constant string of jabs, complaints, and recriminations. There's even complaining about the ethnicity of the coaching staff. Now we're blaming the AD because Michigan didn't sign five other highly touted recruits in a recruiting class that would've struggled to hit 20 even if Rodriguez had been retained!

Enough.

"The Process" got Michigan through a tough situation. "The Process" hired a qualified coach, Michigan faithful, excellent recruiter, and all around good human being in six days. The results of "The Process" are 20 kids who want to play at Michigan and some kids that actually play defense. I'm pretty satisfied with "The Process".

I'm sorry if "The Process" didn't turn out the way you wanted it. I'm sorry if "The Process" means we're going away from the yardage rich, scoring poor spread offense. I'm sorry if "The Process" means we're going back to the old pro-set, boring Michigan football you didn't like. I'm sorry if "The Process" means you're going to miss telling us how many yards Michigan racked up in the second half of games in an attempt to scream "REMAIN CALM! ALL IS WELL!" I'm sorry if "The Process" means you'll miss all those things.

You know what I miss?

Winning.

And I'm banking that  "The Process," Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke deliver what Rodriguez' offense and missing defense couldn't.

Wins.

Because we now know he can deliver recruits.

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