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Archive for December, 2007

Here’s a question I’m hearing a lot: I’m an Alabama fan; should I feel slighted that Rodriguez took the Michigan job in ’08 after turning down Bama in ’07?

My answer? No. Alabama should definitely not feel slighted by Rich Rodriguez accepting the Michigan job.

Why? Because of the two primary factors involved:

  • West Virginia had a very good stock of returning talent for ’07 and Rodriguez knew he’d have a decent shot at a national title.
  • For ’08, WVU’s talent stock will be significantly lower, and the likelihood of competing again for the NC will drop significantly.

Basically, the time was not right for a job change in ’07, but it couldn’t have been better for ’08.
 
Additionally, Alabama in ’07 would have been a rebuilding project. Rodriguez likely looked at the two situations in hand (WVU or Bama for the ’07 season) in terms of what the hires could mean in a few years, rather than at their immediate benefits. When he was offered the Bama gig, he had a lot of stock as a head coach, but no National Championship. Looking at the talent pool at both schools, the chance of winning a NC at WVU was pretty good, but at Bama it was not. Realistically, the only situation for Rich Rodriguez in ’07 that might have improved his situation was with an Alabama-caliber school which was also in a position to compete for a National Championship. Alabama, clearly, was not. This little factor would effectively narrow the potential schools to: USC, Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan and the like, none of which were on the table at the time.

Championships being the primary motivation for any coach, it’s easy to see why he would remain at a school with inferior facilities for lower pay for another year or two. He realized his shot was happening at WVU, while accepting the Bama gig would have meant rebuilding the team, a prospect that is altogether likely due to the many benefits of coaching at a school like Alabama, but for immediate gratification as well as what a potential NC would mean for his future, it made sense to stay put.

Supposing he had taken the Bama job, the chances of his team being ranked #2 in the country going into the last week of the season would have been practically nil. He would have been stuck in the same 6-6 (or similar) season Saban has been stuck in, collecting talent and building for the future. As it is though, he had his shot and, though he failed, it could do nothing to his stock as a proven head football coach because based on his schedule alone he was virtually guaranteed a winning season. Combine that with the potential for a NC and it was a no-brainer.

Now, fast forward to ’08 and look at the motivating factors: Your star running back is gone next year and your talent stock is declining. You’re facing a potential rebuilding year regardless if you stay at WVU, and word has it your relationship with the WVU AD is strained. Plus, the promises made by WVU to keep him from leaving for Alabama have yet to even get a sniff at becoming reality. Time, clearly, was right for leaving. Since he stayed at WVU for that one extra season, taking his shot at the title and finishing the year ranked in the top ten if not top five, you knew someone was going to come calling. That someone just happened to be Michigan, who have a lot of talent in place, so rebuilding won’t be nearly as significant a project as it would have been at Bama in ’07 or WVU in ’08.

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What significance does the Rich Rodriguez hire have for Michigan? Well, if Michigan’s record this year is considered, it is once again the advent of the spread offense that has led to this move.

Michigan had a very good ’07 season, despite the pair of opening losses to App State and Oregon. After those losses they reeled off a bunch of wins before finally losing to Wisconsin and OSU for a not-bad 8-4 season and a bowl berth.

But the significant portion of this lies in the initial defeats they suffered, which had commentators around the nation speculating that Michigan couldn’t handle any offense that spread the field. Enter Rich Rodriguez, renowned for his spread offense, in a coup that I’m sure Michigan believes will set them up for the distant future. Uh, can Rich Rodriguez stop a spread offense? Who knows, he can certainly coach up some big offensive numbers himself, so maybe the plan is just to outscore the teams they face who spread the field. The ironic thing would be if they began having a lot of trouble with the traditional offensive teams, if three yards and a cloud of dust turns into seven yards and a shoestring tackle.

It could just be that Michigan has hired the coach of their future based on the old premise: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Just like an MLB team might trade for a pitcher they’ve had problems beating (see Mike Hampton to Atlanta).

To make matters worse, Michigan draws Florida in the Capital One Bowl, pitting them against the most dominant spread-offense team in the country. Rich might not be able to fix what’s wrong with Michigan quickly enough to beat Florida, but with his coaching style Michigan ought to be in good shape for the future, at least when it comes to facing teams that like to spread it out.

I’ve heard some speculation that RR isn’t a good fit with Michigan, to which I say: Boloney. We won’t know that for some time, and if the football gods decide to smile upon Michigan, then RR will be just fine.

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Baseball Bombshell

This is supposed to be shocking, but really, is anyone surprised at all?

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Mike Shula was a good recruiter, by all accounts. In four seasons at the Crimson Tide he recruited 24 four and five star Rivals ranked players. In less than one year, Nick Saban has recruited 27.

There’s been a lot of recent activity on campus lately, with recruits eagerly adding their names to the swelling ranks of the Tide’s ’08 class. Why? Because Nick Saban has sold the idea that Alabama will be winners soon, and the recruits are buying in.

The latest commitment, River Ridge (LA) cornerback Robby Green, a four-star recruit himself, had this to say about his commitment:

 “I know he’s expecting a national championship. The class we’re bringing in this year, we’re going to work hard to try to meet that ultimate goal. Coach Saban wants to win the national championship and win the SEC championship, which we’re going to bring to the table.”

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The arrival of two new coaches into the SEC today has made it official: The Spread Offense has arrived. Everyone’s been enamored with it for a while now, seeing the success of the schools that’ve been confounding opposing defenses with it. It was already here, you say? Yes, you’re correct, but two coaching hires today just ensured it’s here to stay, and that it may ‘spread’ to other teams as well.

The University of Arkansas hired “Power Spread” guru Bobby Petrino away from the Falcons today, and Auburn dumped its old-school OC Al Borges and is reported to be hiring Tony Franklin away from the Men of Troy, also a spread offense guru.

It’s been well documented that Urban Meyer runs the spread offense as well, but little known is the fact that Major Applewhite ran a spread offense at Rice in ’06. Why didn’t they run it at Bama in ’07? Likely because of personnel. It takes a specific brand of QB to run the spread, but when run correctly it can send shivers up a DC’s spine.

Watch out, SEC! There’s a new offense in town, and four teams will likely be running some variation of the spread in ’08. And now, you too can run the spread offense: Amazon lists 270 books about the spread offense, sometimes called the “power spread,” “shotgun spread” or the “spread bone.”

Have I said “spread” enough times in this article?

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Let me get this straight: The SEC, renowned for it’s strength of schedule and its list of A list coaches, dumps it’s worst coach (Orgeron) and now the University of Arkansas fills the void with Bobby Petrino, hired away from the Atlanta Falcons. Holy crap. The West just became that much harder to win.

And more news came into light earlier today, from the Huntsville Times:

Tony Franklin, the architect of the spread offfense that made Troy a juggernaut in the Sun Belt Conference, is poised to become Auburn’s offensive coordinator.

It seems old dogs can learn new tricks after all. Tommy Tuberville gets rid of Borges and hires Tony Franklin away from Troy, presumably to switch from smash-mouth football to the spread offense.

More to come…

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Sly Croom is doing good things at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have beaten Alabama twice in consecutive years, and this year added cross-state rival Ole Miss, Kentucky and Auburn to its list of wins, finishing with a satisfying 7-win season plus a bowl trip. Eight wins in Starkville? Yes, and with the QB problems they’re having, that’s quite an accomplishment.

And this upward trend of success the ‘Dogs are enjoying prompts the question: What if Alabama had hired Croom instead of Shula? After the Mike Price fiasco, already late in the year and suffering from the shock and awe penalties of the sanctimonious NCAA, the coaching pickings were slim. A proven head coach was out of the question during that time of year. And what it came down to was a choice between Sly Croom and Mike Shula. Croom was an Alabama product and champion as a player and as a coach, with lessons in coaching from Bear Bryant himself. Shula was a Bama product, son of Don Shula, and had great hair. As coaches, both were in the NFL at the time, Croom coaching the running backs in Chicago and Shula the QB coach for Miami.  

Ultimately the choice came down to who had the best hair. No, I don’t believe it was a black/white thing, but I’ll grant you it would have made vast inroads if Croom had’ve been hired. It’s one thing for MSU to hire a black coach, but for Alabama, with all its pride and tradition, it would have made a statement for the whole south, to the entire country. In the end, though, they hired the prettier Shula, and damn the championship rings on Croom’s fingers. Shula looked more like a head football coach, didn’t he? Surely if he went into a recruit’s home the parents couldn’t resist his boyish charm, those eyes, that smile, that hair! Oh, if only hindsight were 50/50! (in the words of Pat Dye).

In the following years Shula would have some successes as head coach, including a 10-win season and SEC crown, and I’m sure his gentle good looks won him the hearts of many a recruits’ dear mother. But in retrospect, looking at the complete package, who looks the most like a head football coach? Shula, who is now the QB coach for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, or Sly Croom, who has coached up a team of blue-collar no names into a 7-win season. Croom walks the sidelines with a scowl on his face, with a furrowed brow, and points and shouts. While Shula, when he was at Bama, stared with an often-dazed expression, and was routinely slow in making the wrong decision.

Sure, it’s easy to get on the Croom bandwagon when he’s winning, and I do remember last year, when the only thing he had to hang his hat on was a win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa. And I’m grateful for the job Mike Shula did; he took a tough job at a school still reeling, still with red butt cheeks from the NCAA’s almighty whooping stick. But Croom, who may not have boyish good looks, does have the classic coach’s stalk when he’s on the sideline, and he’s got rings, people. Championship rings on his fingers, won at the University of Alabama. Rings that I’ll bet shine brighter than Mike Shula’s baby blues ever did.

So in hindsight, maybe it’s possible Witt chose the pretty boy for the wrong reasons. Maybe he should have opted for the grizzled workhorse who is now building a reputation as a coach who not only demands excellence, but will not accept anything less. If he can win seven games at MSU, how many could he have won at Alabama?

Of course, if Croom had been hired and if had had success then Nick Saban would likely be somewhere else right now and all the excitement surrounding the program would be… what?

Few can match Saban as a recruiter, that much is certain. And as a coach he’s got few peers. But he’s not an Alabama product, and that’s his one big detrimental factor. One which, with Alabama fans, will be very easy to overlook if and when he brings home a championship. And it’s true that ‘hiring inside the family’ has bitten Alabama on the butt more times in recent years than the NCAA has. Saban is a gruff man, not personable at all, they say. The media despises him and most other college football fans in the country do, too. But we adore him, we’ve welcomed him, with all his faults, because he brings a foundation to build upon, he brings success, and he has won championships.

For Coach Croom, if he had been hired and not had success, the firestorm would not have been pretty. There’s certainly a faction of fans who would begrudge the decision of hiring a black man, although I believe it’s a small faction, and dwindling. But if Coach Croom took the podium with those rings on his fingers, few could have kept from being dazzled. He’s a product of Alabama and a Bear Bryant Man, a good man, for all accounts.

What happens if Saban bolts, which is been predicted by virtually everyone who isn’t an Alabama fan? What if Coach Saban sees the looming, potential LSU vacancy as a preferable job and grabs it up? For me, I believe Coach Croom would finally deserve the shot at Alabama. I hope him all the success in the world at MSU, excluding of course the one Saturday every year when they play Alabama. I’m not hoping for Saban to leave–God, no–I’m looking forward to this potential #1 recruiting class and I’m looking forward to everything that I think he can do at Alabama. But if he bolts, there’s a Bryant man waiting in the wing, if he’d still have us.

I believe he would.

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