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Is Michigan Committed to Winning?

First: A few loose college hoops thoughts over at the Bangin'. (I still haven't worked out where I will be hosting Tournament coverage. We'll see.)

Second (and more importantly): In the comments section of yesterday's post, on-point contributor Chris wrote:

Let's look at this thing.....

Head coaches in the big two sports in the conference:

    * Carr/Amaker
    * Tressel/Matta
    * Smith/Izzo
    * Painter/Tiller
    * Hoeppner/?
    * Paterno/DeChellis
    * Ferentz/Alford
    * Mason/Monson
    * Alvarez (Bielsma)/Ryan
    * Zook/Weber
    * Walker/Carmody

How many of the other 10 combos would you take Carr and Amaker over?  Purdue, Indiana (I guess, since their basketball coach is departing), and....?  Zook is horrible but Weber is a hell of a coach.  Sad....Leaders and Best, indeed.

Amaker has been a flat out disaster and there is no reason not to fire him now.  Alex Legion?  No recruit is worth keeping on a lame duck coach, which Amaker is sure to be if he comes back next year as this team minus Horton and Brown won't even be on the NIT bubble.

I think it's pretty hard to argue with Chris's points. Michigan's coaching combo of Lloyd Carr and Tommy Amaker places it in the lower third of the conference (to say nothing of the nation, a stage on which UM should be competing). Carr is horse that has been beaten many times on this site but just won't die. In dude's defense, though, at least he has won on a consistent basis, even if he falls short of attainable greatness. What's Amaker's excuse? Sanctions? Injuries? I won't underestimate the impact those have on a program that, technically, hasn't been to a Final Four since 1989. But those are problems that partially account for limited depth and mediocre recruiting. They don't excuse consistent mental deficiencies; one-man recruiting hauls like Ronald Coleman; or maddening in-game errors like going to a zone that the payers don't know how to fully execute. I never wanted Amaker when Brian Ellerbe was fired five years ago because I didn't think he had distinguished himself as anything special at Seton Hall. Five years later, what's different?

In a macro sense, the common denominator among Michigan football and basketball is that neither program is on the cutting edge of its respective industry. The football team has a philosophical octogenarian calling the shots; the program is not (yet?) a revenue machine on par with those at places like Texas and The Columbus Minimum Security Prison; and Schembechler Hall is so media unfriendly that Michigan regularly cedes free recruiting advantages like televised practices to competitors like USC, LSU, and Georgia. Pete Carroll is hanging with Snoop Dogg; Jim Tressel is churning out first-round draft picks; and Lloyd still swearing by the out-of-date training methods of Mike Gittleson.

The basketball program is even further behind, relative to its competition. Crisler Arena is dark and old; there is no indoor practice facility; and the coach, of course, is completely unqualified. While Tom Izzo saturates the media and consistently produces organized, disciplined teams, Amaker is still trying to fully install an offense and beat Indiana. Roy Williams? It's insulting to even compare him to Amaker, because the former is practically in a different industry: big-time college basketball.

The discouraging state of both programs should inspire an obvious question: Is the University of Michigan committed to winning at the highest levels of football and basketball? And before you get it twisted, I'm not talking about buying athletes, handing out steroids, or recruiting kids who spend their free time auditioning for Oz. Leave the illegality and classlessness for the troglodytes in Columbus. I'm talking about raising the money and marshalling the resources and implementing the institutional leadership required for excellence. It can be done: Duke Basketball is a dynasty in an era of parity at a leading academic institution; USC has raised its academic profile through increased application volume, a trend that has coincided with its football preeminence. These are, by definition, exceptional places, but they have also laid out precedents that make otherwise impossible dreams seem feasible. Michigan, with its academic prestige, size, and ethos of excellence should be striving to be the absolute best.

And yet it's not. It may proclaim to count the leaders and best among its ranks, but when it comes time to evaluate the football and basketball programs, Michigan settles for anything from competent to good. Change comes about only when the winds of necessity blow over the latest embarrassment, and the pursuit of excellence is a cheapened notion whose significance has been eroded through capricious invocation and rare dedication to the ideal.

I the past, I have attempted to enlist athletic director Bill Martin as an ally in my fight against this deplorable inertia and melancholy mediocrity, but after reading about his reaction to the basketball team's failings and witnessing his sustained support for Carr, I am beginning to wonder if Martin isn't just another part of the problem and not, sadly, the catalyst for change. How can he allow this sustained not-quite-good-enough-ness to fester?

Meanwhile, it's finally softball season. And therein lies a problem for a university that should be excited about the spring and looking to the fall.