WARNING: Spoilers ahead for all eight episodes of the Amazon Prime program. Most are things we knew about the season, but come back later if you want to match with your own thoughts on the series.
Michigan Football and Amazon debuted the entire “All or Nothing” series on Friday with all the episodes being released to the public. A weekend without plans allows this binge-able series to be viewed in nearly a single setting, but it is also that good.
The football program opened up the doors to Schembechler Hall for an all-access look at the 2017 season and no shortage of storylines, players and moments from last year were left unturned. The debut episode opens with a story from head coach Jim Harbaugh while speaking to his team about how he liked ice cream as a kid, but did not like when people he did not know would try to buy it for him. It is this exchange that sets the tone for the entire series.
Harbaugh has drawn a ton of heat for the way in which he draws attention to himself and this series is as much a look inside the psyche of the man pulling the strings in Ann Arbor as any. The series begins with the team’s trip to Rome and takes us all the way through the bowl game loss on New Year’s Day. Most of the major storylines are covered and we get a behind the scenes peek at how most of it went down.
There is a lot to cover, so the discussion on Harbaugh and his coaching staff will be saved for last.
There is no true star of the series, but guys like Chase Winovich, Wilton Speight, John O’Korn and Rashan Gary receive a bulk of the screen time throughout the eight episodes. One of the biggest plot threads throughout the series as to do with the quarterback saga between Speight and O’Korn and the eventual emergence of Brandon Peters.
If you aren’t a Speight fan, this will not do much to change your mind about him. If you thought O’Korn stunk as a quarterback, this does not sugarcoat that either (and it often times is under a microscope). However, both handled themselves impressively during times of adversity that nobody would exactly think they would be able to capture on camera.
Fans had these two under a microscope, along with Peters, all season long and they saw and heard everything people were saying about them. The biggest misconception in the world is that these players, who come from a generation of social media, are able to tune out the negativity. It is nearly impossible and it takes some special character traits to be able to do that. Both carried themselves admirably, especially O’Korn, despite the lack of production that people outside of that facility felt they should have.
Speight sort of comes off as nonchalant and lackadaisical early on in the series prior to the injury he suffered at Purdue, which would cost him the rest of his season. However, he did have a fire in his belly on the road back and did everything he can to get back on the field. There definitely felt like a character progression in him throughout this past season that should suit him well wherever he decides to transfer to.
Speight had talent, but O’Korn had the attitude and was the leader this team needed, in a lot of ways and the show illustrates that. This was a player who’s skill-set and decision making had him in over his head, but he always kept his head held high and encouraged his teammates. Not only did he lose the job out of training camp, but he lost twice more during the season. When he had his rough outing against Rutgers, that was set to be it for his career at Michigan until he was thrown right back into the fire in the Wisconsin and Ohio State games.
Then he lost it for the bowl game to Peters again.
O’Korn is an insanely high-character kid that was not that good a player. It is as simple as that, but when the team watches this series, if they ever do, they will look back fondly on how his attitude and enthusiasm kept them afloat throughout the season.
What does get glossed over that is sort of frustrating is why Peters was never truly in the quarterback race earlier. It was not until Penn State week until he started getting serious reps in practice. Michigan coaches were caught on the show saying he needed to be more vocal, but it was never something that was truly addressed and it remains the biggest unanswered frustration of the 2017 season.
The next most interesting thing on the list was the dynamic between the members of the coaching staff. The average person did not really know how the duties were split up among guys like Harbaugh, Pep Hamilton and Tim Drevno and we spend a lot of time in the coaches box with the latter two men throughout this series.
Hamilton comes out of this show as perhaps the most misunderstood man from last season in terms of rage from the fanbase. The way that he coached the quarterbacks and interacted with Harbaugh really does paint him as a guy that knows what he is doing and you get to see his face and reactions to some of the most head-scratching quarterback plays from the season. The rage from fans was far overblown as it pertains to his role on the staff and people wanting him fired after only one year.
If there is one gripe, and this is easy to say as someone who either sits on the couch or in the press box for games, it is that the terminology this offense uses in the huddle is so damn wordy and complicated. It is no wonder these young guys were not on the same page this past season. Harbaugh has said he aspires for Michigan to be the “NFL’s 33rd team,” but as he says in the series, it has to be like a rocket ship that slowly builds and then takes off.
Michigan’s biggest problem was that it tried to put its young team in positions upperclassman would normally be in. That experience is going to pay dividends in 2018, but it speaks to a lot of the problems they had last season.
This series did not do Drevno any favors, either. It may not entirely be fair to say that due to the creative process and editing together of footage, but he spends most of this show sitting in the box next to Hamilton and not having a whole heck of a lot to say. He did move down to the field at one point to be closer with the offensive line, but, like having a dinner party at his house late in the season with the linemen, it just felt like too little, too late for a group that never was good enough under his watch at Michigan.
We cannot have a conversation about the coaching staff without defensive coordinator Don Brown. Simply put, the man lives and breathes college football and wears his heart on his sleeve and has no filter about it. His wife at one point says that he had interest from professional teams but has elected to stay in college so he can make a difference in young people’s lives.
He also has a potty mouth, but it is very easy to see where his defense get the emotion it plays with.
At the end of the day, the person who will be looked at most is Harbaugh himself when people are watching this. The enigma that is the man in khakis is under the microscope here and we get to see the “faith, family, and football” aspects of his persona that he often speaks so much about.
This is a guy who is never going back to the NFL. The way he is active in the community and cares for the university is something we see a lot of. He cares for and tends to his players in a way that you just cannot do in the pros and makes them and their families feel a part of his own.
A lot of people wondered why we saw a toned-down Harbaugh on the sidelines last season and in media sessions and there seems to be two reasons for it. The first is that he knew the type of team he had and that is was going to be a process, perhaps one that is still ongoing into 2018. The quarterbacks were not good enough and the offensive line was not good enough. Initially, that felt like what was going on sitting in press conferences and being at games last year.
However, it feels like we saw a PG-rated Harbaugh due to the fact that these Amazon cameras were around seemingly 24/7 for almost a year. One of the biggest misconceptions out there about him is that he loves to draw attention to himself, which seems like it could not be further from the truth. He rarely looks comfortable, or at least enthused, to meet with the media and a lot of that has to do with being pestered with the same questions week in and week out (sorry, it’s kind of one of the functions of the job). I’ve always compared him to Michigan J. Frog, who would dance around and put on a show until a large group of people surrounded him and he would sit there and groan instead.
It is a lazy take, and what media people will not always tell you is that no matter what Harbaugh does, he drives the hell out of clicks for them. That’s why journalists have literally followed him to the bathroom during football camps.
But that’s neither here nor there.
This is a guy who loves to have fun, loves to coach football, loves to win and hates to lose. There is a great sequence in there with his wife, Sarah, explaining what it is like at home after a win as opposed to after a loss.
He may be just a big kid, but he is “our” big kid.
Harbaugh is a father first and a coach second, but we see him treat all of his players like his own and, even the media’s chagrin, put the heat on himself as opposed his players. He is never going to chuck someone under the bus.
It is pretty apparent watching this series that changes somewhere were going to have to be made after 2017 and we will have to wait and see how those play out.
Here are some other quick thoughts before wrapping up this already-long thing:
- It was very cool to see the dynamic between Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black, who figure to be the team’s top two playmakers at wide receiver moving forward. People will realize just how much the real deal Black was before his season-ending injury.
- Grant Newsome’s story get some play during an episode and it would be surprising if a dry eye was to be had in anyone’s house while watching. He is such an insanely great person to root for in his return to the field.
- We get to see another layer of the type of guy that O’Korn is when the story with Larry Prout, who eats up the screen time he has in this show, appears.
- Both John and Jack Harbaugh gave speeches to the team in 2017 and the elder of the bunch is a tough act to top for anyone. His boxing story is excellent.
- Rashan Gary comes out of this as perhaps the most surprising personality. He seems like a quiet person, but his interactions with his mother, who has the quote of the series in “go get me some quarterback ass today” before a game, and teammates is terrific stuff and he will be a leader in 2018.
- Chase Winovich is essentially the mayor of Ann Arbor and is the team’s craziest personality. The way that he speaks to the guys he lines up against is great television and he should be mic’d up more often.
- Karan Higdon and his daughter and Mike McCray’s engagement go a long way in showing that these players are human beings, not football-playing robots.
This could be hindsight or just months of decompression talking, but “All or Nothing” shows that things were really never as bad as they seemed and that this was a young football team trying to find its way. The coaching staff messed up not having Peters playing earlier, but there is not a whole lot they really could have done differently. They had a worst-case scenario season where they played their third-best quarterback for most of it and still went 8-5.
Most of social media’s angry mob towards Harbaugh and this program will probably never see this show, either because they are too bitter towards the Wolverines or do not have an Amazon Prime account. But it really does add a human element to these players that we watch take the field each and every Saturday. They take this criticism with them. For some, it fuels them and for others, it eats into the other aspects of their lives.
It is fine to be upset about losses to rivals, but the biggest thing this show does it make it clear to people that these are still college students with class loads and their own things to do outside of football. They do not exist simply for your Saturday viewing pleasure. And, honestly, for a program that has been so tight-lipped over the years and unwilling to provide inside access, it is refreshing.
These players and coaches have the same expectations that you do and they work toward those goals. That work and that preparation has not been good enough, but they have left no stone unturned to get there. If this feels like an advertisement for the program, so be it.
If you want Harbaugh gone and think things will never get better, this show is not going to change your mind of that. But it does shed some light on some of our bigger questions and fills in the gaps of how players feel about how you felt about them or posted on social media.
As it was written above, it says a lot about a show if a person is able to binge it in a day.
Michigan needed a quiet offseason after the production of this show and how the 2017 campaign went. They have been successful in that regard, but this program will fill in the gaps of people wanting their Wolverines fix before the spring game or leading up to the fall.