November, 2006. After a disappoining 2005 season highlighted only by The Braylon Game against Michigan State, Michigan fired Jim Herrmann and promotes DB coach Ron English. We started out hot in 2006 and stayed that way; going into The Game, we were 11-0, same as Ohio State. One versus Two. Armageddon. Camilla and I decided to go out to watch the game on a big TV and decided on the late, lamented Grand Rapids Brewing Company...not a sports bar, certainly, but good beer for her, good food, and big TVs. So we walked in and saw four people wearing MSU gear. Ok, fine - at that moment, if you wore State gear on a football Saturday you were a true believer, not one of 2010's hangers-on, so whatever. We eventually struck up a conversation, just casual stuff, me being falsely optimistic about Sparty and truly worried about Armageddon. I'd seen Troy Smith kill us once, after all.

Anyway, at some point the conversation turned to Ohio State, and one of the MSU people said "well, you have to admire Jim Tressel, right?" I hesitated, not sure what they meant. They elaborated. "I mean, the guy does it the right way."

"I really can't stand the guy, actually," I said.

"Oh, you just don't like the fact that he beats you. You have to admit, he runs a clean program and gets good kids."

And my head promptly exploded. Even at that point, anyone who had ever thought that Jim Tressel "did things the right way" wasn't paying attention at all. The list of transgressions was really, really long before Terrelle Pryor ever got a "mentor" and started getting inked. Before Tressell ever wrote "I'll check it out, Go Bucks" as an email response to someone giving him heads up on a federal drug investigation. My Lord, how could anyone have ever thought he was clean? EVER?

January, 2011.  Michigan, coming off a disastrous pasting from non-descript Mississippi State in some non-descript bowl, fires Rich Rodriguez...and hires...Brady Hoke.  My thoughts at the time:



If this guy had been an assistant ANYWHERE ELSE but here before he went to Ball State or Bowling Green or Akron or wherever he was, he wouldn't have gotten within a thousand miles of this job...but since he's part of the spectacularly-successful LLOYD CARR COACHING TREE (wait...never mind, there isn't one) we hire him despite the fact that he has shown zero talent for this job.  None.

Seriously, this is a complete, 100% toxic waste dump disaster of a hire.  The "Michigan Man" is dead.  Lloyd Carr and the message board morons killed him.

March 2011. The Tressel / tattoo stuff is coming to light. A work colleague - let's call him "Lyle" - knowing from my fall twitter feed that I'm a huge Michigan fan, brings it up. "What do you think?"

"Not surprised, a bit," I say, "the guy's always been a weasel."

"But there isn't a school in the country where that doesn't take place."

And my head, only just healed from the 2006 incident, exploded again. Damn. I think I need to just stop talking to people.

August, 2011.  Miami.  Nevin Shapiro.

Today.  It's Spring.

Before I begin, I want to point out that there were some things that Rich Rodriguez did very, very well.  Perhaps most importantly, he opened the windows and let some fresh air into a program that really needed it.  Anyone who looked at the last years of Lloyd Carr's time and thought, yeah, this is a vibrant, leading-edge program simply wasn't seeing things.  The strength program appeared to consist of ordering extra cheese on the pizzas.  The offense was utterly predictable, and there didn't appear to be any chance that it would change.  The defensive approach seemed to be "we've got better players than they do, that should be good enough."  Those things usually worked just fine...until we saw a team willing to take risks like USC or Oregon, and we'd get shredded.

There was always one game a year - Appalachian State, Oregon, Northwestern, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, et al - that we came out flat and / or conservative, and lost.  This program desperately needed someone to say, "you know what?  We've got more talent than you.  Prepare to have us stomp on your throat."  But it never happened...and worse, when we played someone of equal or greater talent, we'd get creamed early and not take the gloves off until it was too late.  For examples, see every Rose Bowl ever.

Once in a while we'd take them off earlier rather than Lloyd's last game, in which we killed Tim Tebow and Florida by opening things up and playing with some urgency for once.  Rodriguez had already been hired, and it wasn't a stretch to watch that game and think his offense might turn the program into a wrecking machine (or as once described LSU, "a gorilla with a chainsaw for a penis.").

It didn't work.  The Rodriguez approach fell on the alumni and ex-players with a resounding thud.  Rodriguez didn't respect the program, it was said - "This is Michigan, not the Big East.  We're different."  Rodriguez never seemed to respect the Big Games - the Notre Dames, MSUs, and Ohio States.  Oh, sure, he'd pay them some lip service, but it was always with an undercurrent of "you guys take those games too seriously."  The "some people need to get a life" comment gave some insight into his approach toward Ann Arbor.  So the body rejected the transplant.  Profoundly.  I will go to my grave having never seen an offense as explosive as Rodriguez' spread n' shred, but in all other respects he was a complete disaster.


It's the most overplayed meme in the Michigan universe - Brady Hoke Gets It.  I have to admit, I found the whole thing silly at first, but the more I see, the more I agree...the countdown clocks, the "Ohio" references, the pointing, the rah-rah stuff...Rodriguez didn't seem to care about any of that shit, but the simple fact is that it matters to this fanbase and to this group of ex-players.  College football is just about the hokiest thing imaginable, full of "traditions" and silly trophies and people who've had season tickets for 60 seasons and paint their cars to match the helmets.  But as a 2-time Michigan alumnus I can somehow twist my brain and convince myself that I'm connected to these kids...and I'm kinda embarrassed to admit that a coach that respects those silly traditions means something to me.

I don't know if this will work - I have serious doubts about Hoke's ability to be CEO of a huge corporation like Michigan Football and worry that we're slipping back into the calcification of Bo / Mo / Llo - but for the first time in three years, I can look at our coach and know that he (shoot me in the head, please) Gets It.  We might not challenge for a national championship every single year (then again we might, who knows), but I'm absolutely, 100% positive that the program is in the hands of someone who will be a good steward for the things that we care about; honesty, integrity, good kids...and, hopefully, winning and winning big.

It's a fresh start.  It's spring.
AuthorMatthew Riegler