Graham Filler on Growing Up Without TV, Big Ten Parity, and Brady Hoke

A couple weeks ago Graham Filler of Off Tackle Empire approached me about doing a short interview to celebrate the relaunch of Maize n Brew. That short interview turned into me rambling on about my love of Michigan football, my taste in music, my distaste for two quarterback systems, and my thoughts on the future for both Michigan basketball and football.

Once I finished I figured there wouldn't be any better way to return the favor than give Graham the same opportunity to introduce himself and OTE in his own words. Below are my questions and his responses.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself. I know that you are the resident Michigan fan over at Off Tackle Empire. Tell us a bit about how you came to love Michigan.

I grew up in a giant church in Ovid, Michigan (Photo here). We didn't have a TV, only radio. For big sporting events, we'd get a TV from my babysitters and I would glue myself to this little 9 inch TV. I was also a little piss ant, a contrarian; everyone around here loved MSU? I would love Michigan. So around the time the Fab 5 exploded onto the scene and Tyrone Wheatley was sprinting down fields, I fell deeply in love with Michigan sports. God, how I hated Lawrence Funderburke. And when Chris Webber made that rim shake against...UCLA(?) I almost passed out.

This is a bit of a controversy (you know the issues, anyone can root for State, but don't be a Wal-Mart Wolverine) because I did undergrad at Miami Ohio and law school at Detroit Mercy Law. But who really cares? We addressed it here on OTE - You love a program, you're dedicated to that team, etc.

Tell the readers about how OTE developed. Was the scope of the site different in the early days when it was still called The Rivalry Esq.?

Jon Franz (a Buckeye Law guy at the time, now an LA lawyer) and I are great friends; we'd argue college football nonstop. He called one day in 2007 and said - Graham, we're starting a college football blog. So we did, and one month later, Peter Bean from SBN decided that we would fit as the first "all Big Ten football, all the time" site.
The scope was different back in 07-08 on The Rivalry Esq...We stuck close to UM, OSU, and legal related things. But we swayed from this focus too; Jon and I love cigars, so you got articles like this. I love college football strategy and offenses, so you got this extensive look at option football here. (That's still my favorite headline - "Life's a Pitch.")

I know you guys focus on football over at OTE, but being a Michigan fan what are your thoughts on this year's basketball team and the future of the program?

Michigan basketball, if they keep getting the kind of leadership that Beilein seems to always cultivate, will be a rock-solid defensive team for years to come. You would think that Michigan would get run over by ultra-athletic teams, right? Wrong. That's what an active, trapping zone stops. So I have faith that as long as we keep pulling kids who buy into the system 100% (and the occasional four star recruit), UM will be among the B1G's elite for a good number of years.

Back to football, what are your thoughts on Brady Hoke's first year? What was your initial impression of the hire and in hindsight do you think you were too harsh or did you see something that made you think he was the right guy for the job?

Two things come to mind. Michigan, thanks to great defensive coaching and improved special teams, caught all the little breaks that a team needs to catch to go 11-2 last year. I'm reading the John U. Bacon book - all those little things that went wrong with Michigan football 2008-2010, went right for Hoke's first squad. But we cannot forget that the players were put in situations to succeed (a unit that gang tackles v. individuals on islands missing tackles). That's credit to the whole staff.

Initially, I'm not a reactionary, so I figured wait and see. One thing that bothers me - this flirtation with Les Miles in 2007 and Jim Harbaugh in 2010-2011. Our AD's flirt, but never pop the question, "Would you like to come to AA and coach?" How weird is that? Where is the executive leadership where you have your number 1 choice, and a great backup plan? But Hoke came in with low expectations, which I love, because it calms the fan base.

Obviously recruiting is big in the news right now in terms of the recent successes at OSU and UofM. As someone watching from more of a conference-wide vantage point, do you think the two schools are on track for another period similar to the Ten-Years-War?

There is too much parity to ever have a Big 2, Little 8.

Both programs shot themselves in the foot, both programs seem to be on the cusp of healing the wounds created. When both teams at 10-2 or 11-1 going into the final game, though, it brings a lot of positive attention onto the B1G. So that's good.

What about the rest of the conference. Is there a certain program you are especially impressed with recently and could see being a major factor in the conference title hunt for the next few years?

Michigan State has always been a sleeping giant. Money, recruiting pipelines, campus...but the coaching was always so bad or inconsistent. Now they're solidified there. The Spartans have developed a chip on the shoulder and a mean streak; those traits are annoying in the blogosphere, but helpful on the field.

Graham's last word:

I would like to say thank you to MnB and Zach for bringing back a big Michigan presence on SBN and for letting me answer questions. SBN is really top of the line in...everything blog-related, so a healthy Michigan blog will do big things.

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I would like to thank Graham for answering my questions and being so helpful in the relaunch of Maize n Brew. If you don't already check Off Tackle Empire regularly, I urge you to do so. It is one of the best Big Ten specific sites you will find on the interwebs.

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