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Let Us Now Seek Competent Men.

By       Message Lawrence Velvel       (Page 1 of 8 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to H3 11/24/09

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<Michigan football. In writing and talking about this phenomenally important topic in the past, I have often said that my friends, my wife and I attended Michigan during the worst period in the history of Michigan football. Most of us came to Ann Arbor in 1955 or 1956, stayed there for law or medical school, and were done there in 1962 and 1963. (I personally was there from 1956-1963.)

Now that (according to the TV announcers) Michigan just lost its sixth straight game to Ohio State and its eighth of nine to Jim Tressel, has lost 13 of its last 15 Big Ten games, with 13 also being the total number of Big Ten games it lost in the seven years before Rich Rodriguez, has had two straight losing seasons, for the first time ever has lost seven or more games for two straight seasons, and has finished last in the Big Ten (in a tie with Indiana) for the first time since 1962, the news media have trumpeted that the only other times Michigan had two straight losing seasons were 1958-59, 1962-1963 and, if I remember correctly, 1881 and 1883. (Michigan didn't play in 1882, it was said.) So two of the three times Michigan previously had two straight losing seasons occurred during my seven years in Ann Arbor. Bo Schembechler's greatest accomplishment, I wrote a few years ago, was to rescue Michigan football from the nadir to which it had fallen, a rescue begun in his very first season of 1969 when Michigan defeated one of Woody Hayes' greatest teams in a game that was one of the greatest upsets in college football history and perhaps was the greatest upset until Appalachian State defeated Michigan itself 38 years later in Ann Arbor in the first game of 2007.

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When Michigan was undergoing the years of its nadir from 1957-1968, it was coached by two men whom my friends and I considered not competent and even dumb. (Forget their names. I've mentioned their names before, why blast them by name yet again for being incompetent and stupid, and, anyway, the cognoscenti know who they were.) The horrid irony in this was that Michigan, then as now, paraded itself as, propagandized itself as, and elitistly drummed into its students' heads the idea that, it was and is a phenomenal academic institution. Here was an institution which lived for proclaiming its high degree of collective intelligence, accomplishment and competence, but was willing to countenance serious incompetence in its football coaching even though it had a stupendous prior football history. It was not as if Michigan, like the University of Chicago under Robert Maynard Hutchins around 1940 or so, said to hell with big time college football because it's assertedly inconsistent with being a great university, or like the Ivy League deemphasized football because of its adverse effect on education. No, indeed. Here was an institution which proclaimed itself academically elite, continued to think college football very important, but countenanced mediocrity in coaching that one at least hopes it would not have countenanced academically.

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It seems to me that that is exactly what is happening now. Michigan, while proclaiming itself academically elite more than ever (if such is possible), is simultaneously countenancing incompetence and stupidity in its football coaching while continuing to proclaim football to be very important. In this regard, I cannot do better at explanation than I did about a year ago in a post dated November 3, 2008, and so I have simply appended that post. The mistakes, stupidity and lack of attention to fundamentals that it complained of almost all continue to exist.

I suppose I could add a few things to last year's post, like hiring as the defensive coach a guy who did truly miserably at his last job, as head coach of Syracuse -- so nobody can really be shocked that the defense mainly sucked most of the time this year, as last. And I could make an addition to a sentence in last year's post that mentioned "the fumbles, the simple dropping of the ball as if it were the proverbial hot potato," a sentence that continued by saying that things like this bespeak that the coach "does not pay much attention to basics, to fundamentals." The addition I would make to that sentence would revolve around the fact that last Saturday, against OhioState, the Michigan quarterback simply dropped the ball out of his own hand when he was trying to run out of his end zone, resulting in an Ohio recovery for a touchdown. Can you believe it? -- just dropped the ball out of his own hand when running out of the end zone!

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What, then, will the University of Michigan do about the situation? The smart money probably bets that the answer is, "Nothing" (and in fact today's New York Times reports that Bill Martin, the Athletic Director who hired the coach, Rich Rodriguez, said Rodriguez will return again as head coach next year, so I imagine we should expect another miserable and incompetent season in 2010). All the expectable excuses will be made. It will be said that Rodriguez has only had two years. He should receive at least a third year, or maybe even a third and fourth year, to put his "program" into place. (In America we no longer have college football "teams." The word "teams" lacks sufficient gravitas. It is not "heavy" enough to denote the world shaking importance of college football. So instead of having college football "teams," now we have college football "programs.") He needs more time to bring in his kind of players, and more of them. He has a six year contract, so it would cost too much money to buy him out. Etc., etc. (Whatever happened to the concept of firing someone without liability, of terminating someone's contract without liability, due to his incompetence and consequent failure to live up to (an at least implicit) term of his contract?) And the fools who hired the guy in the first place, and who did so in a process that was highly questionable to put it as nicely as possible (see last year's appended post), are not going to want to admit that they went and hired a guy who is incompetent. (Notre Dame admits its mistakes. Michigan does not.)

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Lawrence R. Velvel is a cofounder and the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, and is the founder of the American College of History and Legal Studies.

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