In the summer of 2008, Rich Rodriguez granted me unfettered access to the Michigan football program so I could write a book.
Three years later the book is finished, and not with a happy ending.
Similar to just about everybody else connected to Michigan football these past three years, I had no idea what I was getting into.
During my three years following the Michigan football team, the working title of the book changed from “All or Nothing,” to “All In,” to “Third and Long,” before Rodriguez’s last season, and after he was fired, to “Three and Out.”
Once in a while something happens that is so unusual, even those who don’t normally pay attention have to stop and take notice.
Haley’s Comet, for example, only comes along once every 75 years.
A leap year only comes around every four years. And Lindsey Lohan goes to jail – no, wait, that happens every week.
Well, this week, Detroit sports fans got Haley’s Comet, a leap year, and a clean and sober Lindsay Lohan all wrapped into one: The Tigers clinched the American League Central Division, and even more shockingly, the Lions won their third straight game.
The game attracted more than 114,000 people, an NCAA record.
To commemorate the event, Michigan wore “throwback jerseys” – which went back all the way to September 10, 2011. Michigan’s jerseys never had stripes – and when you saw them Saturday night, you appreciated just how wise Michigan’s founders had been. It was less about tradition than trade.
With a night game scheduled in Ann Arbor tomorrow for the first time in Michigan football’s 132-year history, the town is buzzing.
But it’s fair to wonder just how we got here. I think I understand why.
George Will recently wrote that when archeologists excavate American ruins centuries from now, they may be mystified by the Big House in Ann Arbor. “How did this huge football emporium come to be connected to an institution of higher education? Or was the connection the other way?”
It’s a fair question, one I’ve pondered myself many times. When I try to explain to foreigners why an esteemed university owns the largest stadium in the country, their expressions tell me it’s – well, a truly a foreign concept.
Ken Burns said our national parks are “America’s best idea.” If so, then our state universities must be a close second.
The longest lockout in the history of the National Football League is over. Now, what may be the shortest free agency period in NFL history is about to begin. The Detroit Lions are expected to be busy during the whirlwind of player trades and signings during the next few days.
Lions team president Tom Lewand released this statement yesterday on the deal agreed to by the players and owners.
“First and foremost, we are happy for our fans because all they ever wanted was for us to play football and, thankfully, that’s what we are getting ready to do. This agreement is a big win for NFL football and for all NFL fans because it helps secure the long-term health of our game.
“It is a fair deal for players and teams. We will be able to grow the game and appropriately share that growth with our players as partners. It is a deal that places a high priority on player safety and on the integrity of our game.
The Lions released this timetable detailing the off the field and on the field schedule between now and the kickoff of the fall 2011 season.
Desmond Howard stands about 5-foot-8 – I don’t care what the program said. When Bo Schembechler moved the Cleveland native from tailback to receiver, it virtually eliminated any chance Howard had to win the Heisman Trophy.
In its first 55 years, only one receiver had ever taken it home.
But then, just playing at Michigan practically knocked Howard out of the running in the first place. Only one Wolverine, Tom Harmon, had ever won the award – and that was back in 1940.
Schembechler never promoted any player for any award – Heisman or otherwise. Because, as he often said, “Nothing comes before The Team, The Team, The Team.” When Bo stepped down in 1990, Gary Moeller took over, and followed the exact same policy.
On Tuesday, the Michigan football family lost another beloved son, Jim Mandich, who died of cancer at age 62.
Regular readers of this space know I’ve had to write a few elegies already this year, and I’m not sure if we can bear another one right now.
I’m not sure Mandich would want any more, either, beyond his funeral.
As he told Angelique Chengalis of The Detroit News last fall, after he was diagnosed with cancer, “I said to myself, ‘No whining, no complaining, no bitching. You've lived a damned good life. You've got lot to be thankful for.’”
Jim Mandich was the captain of Bo Schembechler's 1969 squad that shocked Ohio State. He went on to star on the Miami Dolphins 1972 team that went undefeated. Mandich died last night after a long battle with bile duct cancer. He was 62.
U of M Director of Athletics Dave Brandon says Mandich was a Michigan Man "in every way."
"“Captain Jim Mandich led a team that changed Michigan football for decades to follow...He was a legendary player and an even better person. He will be missed."
The following is from U of M's press release announcing Mandich's death.
The NCAA sent Ohio State University's president a letter citing the "notice of allegations" against the school's football program.
In the letter to Ohio State, NCAA officials say, "Your institution should understand that all of the alleged violations set forth in the document attached to this letter are considered to be potential major violations of NCAA legislation, unless designated as secondary."
If you’re not a Michigan football fan, you probably haven’t heard of Vada Murray, but you might have seen his picture.
It’s one of the iconic images of Michigan football, along with Tom Harmon standing in his mud-soaked, torn-apart jersey, Ol’ 98, and Desmond Howard diving to catch a touchdown against Notre Dame -- two Heisman Trophy winners, winning big games.
But the photo I’m talking about depicts Vada Murray and Tripp Welborne soaring skyward to block a field goal.
They were a kicker’s nightmare, but even when they got a hand on the ball, it simply denied their opponent three points -- not the kind of thing that wins you a Heisman Trophy or an NFL contract.
They don’t even keep records of blocked kicks.
But, over two decades later, something about that photo still resonates, perhaps because it captures their effort, their intensity, their passion – all of it spent just to give their teammates a slightly better chance for success.
Scoreboards at the University of Michigan’s premier sports venues are getting a major upgrade. The U of M Athletic Department announced today that it has signed a deal to replace the aging scoreboards at Michigan Stadium, Crisler Arena and Yost Ice Arena with state of the art LED displays.
In a written statement, UM Athletic Director David Brandon says the department is excited.
“Our goal is to set a new, higher standard for our fan’s viewing experience and the game day atmosphere we create in our venues. These boards will be an important first step in achieving that goal.”
Demolition of the old video boards at the Big House began in March. New, larger LED video screens will be installed in both end zones by this August.
The total cost of the project is expected to be less than $20 million dollars.
Brady Hoke signed a six year contract Monday, that could average out to $3.25 million a year. The Associated Press reports Hoke will be paid $2 million in the first year of the contract:
Hoke will be paid $2 million this year and his base salary will increase by $100,000 each season. Hoke will earn a $1.5 million "stay bonus" after his third year and another $1.5 million "stay bonus" if he is still leading college football's winningest program in the sixth season of his contract.
The Associated Press also quoted U of M Athletic Director Dave Brandon expressing confidence in Hoke.
"It's a big job with a lot of expectations and we feel very good about how much we're compensating him to help us reach those expectations."
Brady Hoke replaced Rich Rodriguez who lost the Wolverine head coaching job after three lackluster seasons and an NCAA investigation. Hoke was an assistant coach under Lloyd Carr before becoming a successful head coach at Ball State and San Diego State University.
Hoke issued this statement on his new contract:
The contract was handled by my agent and the University. My focus has been on the football program and will continue to be on making this program the best in America. I couldn’t tell you what’s in the contract other than my signature. The University offered Laura and I an opportunity to coach at Michigan and that’s been my dream. Nothing will change my focus.
It looks like Jim Tressel has gotten himself into a bit of hot water.
That’s why his boss, athletic director Gene Smith, flew back to make sure everyone said they were “taking responsibility” – a phrase which changed some time in the last decade, and now means the exact opposite.
The violations involved five Buckeye players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The players allegedly traded memorabilia with a Columbus tattoo parlor owner in exchange for tattoos.
Yahoo Sports reported this week that Tressel was first notified of the possible NCAA violations last April.
But it was December before any action was taken involving the players. They were suspended from playing during a handful of games next fall. Though they were allowed to play in 2011 Sugar Bowl.
SBNATION reports Tressel's contract does include penalties if his program commits NCAA violations, including termination of his contract. Neither Tressel or university officials have commented on the allegations made in the Yahoo Sports article.
The current contract between NFL owners and the players association expires at midnight. Without a deal, Ford Field in Detroit will sit empty during the Lions scheduled pre-season and regular season home games this fall.
A study commissioned by the players association says $20 million is spent on average in NFL cities during regular season home games. In some cities, much more is spent. The Christian Science Monitor reports small businesses may pay a big price.
The crowd at a fundraising dinner for the Michigan Political Leadership program was maybe hoping Governor Rick Snyder would drop some clues on what’s going to be in his budget proposal next week.
The governor revealed almost nothing about his spending plan. But he did make a bold sports prediction. Governor Snyder said:
"Before I finish office, the Lions will be in the Super Bowl – how’s that?"
The governor did not say if that would be in the next four years – or if a championship season for the Lions would require a second term. The Lions record last season was six victories to 10 losses, following a winless season in 2009.
Tickets were only fifteen bucks for that first game, and they barely sold half of those, leaving some 40,000 empty seats in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
A 30-second ad cost only $42,000, and they weren’t any different than the ads they showed the previous weekend.
The half-time show featured three college marching bands, including one you might have seen from the University of Michigan.
Over the next couple decades, of course, the event became a veritable national holiday. Tickets now sell for thousands of dollars, and ads for millions. The game attracts more than 100 million viewers in the U.S. alone.
The University of Michigan's athletic department held a press conference to introduce the program's new head football coach, Brady Hoke.
David Brandon says he spent a lot of time in the past few days crisscrossing the country interviewing coaches. He said he spent hours interviewing coaches saying despite what is often reported in the press, "all that glitters is not gold."
Brandon introduced Hoke saying he's "a player's coach" and said he's someone who knows Ann Arbor and someone who loves the University of Michigan.
Former Michigan head football coach, Rich Rodriguez, just issued this statement:
"I am proud of the dedication and commitment exhibited by the coaching staff and student-athletes who have represented the University of Michigan football program over the last three seasons. While I am disappointed to depart Ann Arbor before we were able to reach the level of success we had in our sights, I am confident that the players who remain have the potential to do great things and to return the Wolverines to greatness. I would like to thank our fans and our student body for their tremendous support. There is great passion for Michigan football and I have made lifelong friends through this experience."
For the past three years I’ve had unfettered access to the Michigan football program, from the film room to the locker room, to write a book about what I’ve seen.
Before I walked into that first staff meeting, I thought I knew Michigan football as well as anyone. But after three years of seeing everything up close, I can tell you this unequivocally: I had no idea.
The football team has struggled on the field and violated NCAA rules off the field.
Now, the once premier football program faces years on probation and an uphill climb to become truly competitive.
Brandon says whoever he hires as head coach needs to be more than an average football coach:
“This individual has to be able to compete at the highest level. The expectations here are extraordinarily high. The passion for this football program is unbelievable. If you don’t believe me, you should see the email traffic. There are people out there who care. And it’s beyond just sport for them. It’s part of their life. That’s put a coach in a position where they have to have the ability. To stand up to that pressure and perform against it.
The press conference has concluded. Brandon entertained a lot of questions about potential replacements for Rich Rodriguez, but said he has yet to talk with potential candidates and plans to do so soon.
It appears Brandon plans to increase the amount of pay the next head football coach at the University of Michigan will receive. Rich Rodriguez had a six-year $15 million contract. Brandon feels Michigan has been in the "middle of the pack" in terms of coaching pay for top tier college football programs.
Lots of media outlets in Southeast Michigan reported yesterday that University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez had been fired. It wasn’t a surprise and everyone has been waiting for it to happen, and some listeners thought it was odd they didn’t hear about it on Michigan Radio.
Want to know why? Well, couldn’t nail the rumors down as true, so we didn’t report it. Turns out that was the right decision.
The University of Michigan is calling the reports that head football coach Rich Rodriguez has been fired "speculation." TheWolverine.com reports that the University released this statement:
"Everything that is being reported is media speculation at this point," Dave Ablauf, U-M associate athletic director said in a statement. "The definitive voice on this matter is Dave Brandon and he has not and will not speak publicly until a final decision has been made. I will let you know when Dave is prepared to comment."
The website reports that the players meeting that had been scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight was moved to 4 p.m. tomorrow.
UPDATE: 4:24 p.m.:ESPN analysts talk about the Rich Rodriguez firing. Say it was a "marriage [that] never started out on the right foot." Analyst Craig James says Rodriguez told him that people were not on the same page when he came to Ann Arbor.
The head coach of the University of Michigan's football team might learn about his future today.
AnnArbor.com is reporting that University of Michigan Athletic Director, David Brandon, will meet with the university's head football coach, Rich Rodriguez, this afternoon:
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon will meet with embattled coach Rich Rodriguez early this afternoon to discuss his future with the Wolverines football program, according to two people with knowledge of the meetings.
The Lions are reporting that due to "overwhelming" response, free tickets to tonight's NFL game at Ford Field are no longer being offered.
Update: 12/13/10, 9:30 a.m.:
Fans in downtown Detroit are lining up at Ford Field to get free tickets for tonight's NFL game between the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants. Detroit Lions President Tom Lewand said on WJR this morning that there going to work to make sure everyone can be accommodated, "but I think we're going to be a little oversubscribed."
The New York Times has put together an interactive before and after photo showing how the roof of the Metrodome deflated after heavy snowfall. The Giants and Vikings were scheduled to play there today.
The NFL moved the game to Ford Field and will be played tomorrow night (Monday) at 7:20pm. The Detroit Free Press reports it'll be the "first ever regular-season Monday Night game at Ford Field."
The Big Ten conference announced its plan to create two separate divisions in football. The conference started with ten teams, went to eleven with the addition of Penn State in 1990, and will now have twelve teams with the addition of the University of Nebraska. No name change, just some new matchups.