Sunday, January 20, 2008

Are there prescriptivists in sports?

The Ridger recently shared a link to Mitch Albom's column about Michigan's new coach. I started a quick response in the comments section but I kept writing so I figured I'd turn it into a post. Nothing linguisticky here.

In the piece Albom addresses his concerns with all of the Coach "Rod" mini-scandals. I don't share all of his concerns. He's being overly cynical. Album broaches the accusations that Rodriguez shredded files inappropriately. He comments with clear incredulity: "Rodriguez admits he destroyed some files, but says trust me, they didn't matter."

Every coach will get rid of files when leaving a school. I destroyed records, correspondences and other information about students and classes that were nobody else's business when I left my old school. And I was just a dinky English teacher. Rodriguez had personal files too. If he no longer needed his notes he should destroy them. No one has made a solid and substantiated claim that university files are missing or that Rodriguez shredded files that didn't belong to him. Let's move on.

Albom's comments decrying the importance of recruiting ring of overly opportunistic criticism. He didn't seem to hold Steve Fisher's highly valued recruiting of cagers against him. That famous quintet almost won a championship in 1992 and 1993 and I never heard any complaining that valuing such talented players was a step in the wrong direction.

One of Carr's greatest assets was his recruiting. He knew how to get players that would play for him. His recruiting classes were consistently highly ranked. He didn't mine his talent from the basement of Angell Hall.

Michigan has always recruited well--just not quarterbacks. And not mobile quarterbacks. But now that a new coach with a very different system has come in it's very important that the right players who look ready to carry out his methods get on board reasonably soon. And a highly recruited QB is always going to get more attention than a highly recruited running back or offensive lineman.

Albom also doesn't like that this whole process started because Athletic Director Bill Martin felt the need to recruit outside Michigan. As Albom sees it Michigan is courting trouble by tapping a coach who was too willing to leave WVU awkwardly.

"Michigan football used to be more special. It was never sullied with departure lies or shredding, because it promoted from within."

The history of Michigan men hasn't been spotless. Carr succeeded Michigan's own crop, Gary Moeller, who resigned because of a drunken tantrum at a bar. Is that what Michigan nurtures? No. That's one man's story and one mistake that doesn't reflect on a system.

Is the new contract problematic? Does the $2.5-million contract with a $4-million buyout look like trouble? If Rodriguez can command this from any other team should he simply respect some Michigan tradition of avoiding that game by keeping it in the family even tho he's not being promoted from within. And shouldn't any team work to attract and keep a coach it wants while protecting itself reasonably? Such a buyout clause could be intended as a deterrent to other teams than a trap for the coach. Of course I hope that Michigan will do all it can to make Ann Arbor a town that Rodriguez chooses to live in regardless of a contract.

I like a lot of Michigan's traditions. I love that they don't adorn the field with a gaudy logo. I like the conservative play calling. I like the low scoring games that show skill doesn't mean big plays and high numbers. I love that there are no stickers on the helmets. And I love that they win because of all of this.

Albom indicts Michigan for getting a coach who not only wants to win but also recruit players who will play as he asks.

"If so, Michigan has jumped in the same mucky waters as many other win-crazed schools, who are only concerned with BCS, not the BS it requires."

I don't get it. Should Michigan be concerned with "the BS [the BCS] requires"?

Well it requires winning. The Big Ten requires winning. Getting to the Rose Bowl requires winning. Beating OSU requires winning.

I hope Rodriguez is determined to win while begetting a future of winning. Michigan's last 3 coaches knew each other and worked with each other. And those 3 generations connected 1969 to 2008. But it all started because Michigan was willing to bring in an outsider. A coach who was trained and reared by the rival system.

Michigan has worked with and succeeded because of adaptation -- not in spite of it. And NCAA football is being played at a level that requires teams to change if they hope to succeed. I hope Rodriguez is unwilling to compromise many of Michigan's traditions. But some traditions do nothing for us.

We can lament that the program is moving in new directions. Or we can be OK with innovation.

For some reason I feel compelled to support the latter. Michigan didn't always have the winged helmets you know.

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