Rambo fires back at Mitch
By Mike Kennedy
DETROIT, MICHIGAN DECEMBER 9, 2004
[Editor’s note: This is a letter to Detroit Press sports writer and author Mitch Albom in response to Albom’s December 1, 2004 column criticizing Notre Dame for firing coach Tyrone Willingham. You can read Albom’s column Here]

Mitch,
I read with great interest your column in the Free Press with regard to the Tyrone Willingham firing. While I commend you for not playing the obligatory race card like most other pundits, I must take issue with the general premise of your article.

You call the move coldhearted, but if you have followed the Notre Dame Football program closely during this tenure, you would notice some glaring problems that resulted in Notre Dame’s program slipping to mediocrity, with no tangible evidence of recovering. Sub-par recruiting efforts, horrible overall technique exhibited by the players, lack of player development, a general lack of game preparedness, and non-existent game day adjustments are but a few of the problems that have led to the regression of this program and the subsequent firing. Further, a multimillion dollar buyout is hardly the coldhearted equivalent of Joe Six Pack getting a pink slip from the mill. If the acceptance of mediocrity at a program as storied as Notre Dame is your idea of normal, then I suppose you have made an accurate appraisal. For those of us who follow this program closely, the move was warranted.

Dr. White was correct in his assessment of the scholastic values Ty brought to the table, and there is no doubting the integrity of this man. The fact is the university administration demands this from any coach for all varsity sports, as it always has been and always should be. These are, after all, student-athletes. But that being said, Saturdays do matter, as they always have and always should. This football program is in the very fabric of this institution. Striving for excellence on the playing field had always been important at Notre Dame. What set it apart from the norm was that excellence on the field was matched in the classroom. That will not change. Until very recently, Notre Dame had the highest winning percentage of any major college football program. If you didn’t notice, it has been relinquished to your beloved University of Michigan.

I’m not sure what you are implying regarding the Colorado and Ohio State recruiting and violation issues. Do you believe that no one but Ty is capable of running a clean program? Please. And, call me an ignoramus, but what the heck is your point regarding TV coverage? You go on to mention there were “some” blowout losses? Some? Try this on for size: He lost eight games by 31 or more points in points in just 25 games. His team is getting crushed every three games; Davie and Faust combined for seven such losses over their ten years. This is simply unacceptable, unless Notre Dame would like to join the Ivy League.

This one really got me: “The same school that kept a miscast Gerry Faust for five tough years because it believed in honoring contracts, now fires a perfectly capable Willingham before he has a chance to see one recruiting class complete its cycle.” Perfectly capable of what, exactly? Perfectly capable of staggering losing and winning records around a .500 winning percentage, so every other year we get to play on December 26 in the Weedwacker Classic? No offense to the young men he’s gathered in the fold, but his recruiting classes will not yield too many guys playing on Sundays. His kids are not being developed, and it’s clearly evident to those who closely follow the program.

Further, Willingham was not “fired” despite the news reports. The university had a buyout clause that could be executed after the third year, which they chose to exercise. And please, don’t compare the Willingham era to the Faust era. Faust was hired on the heels of a successful Dan Devine, who followed a legendary Ara Parseghian. The misery index was nowhere near where it is today. We’re now 11 years removed from winning a major bowl. We’ve been embarrassed in the last two bowls to a wolf pack and beavers (granted, the beaver loss was under Davie, and unfair as it may be, it contributes to the overall mood). This is hardly the stuff of Notre Dame Lore.

Finally, would this performance be tolerated at Michigan? I hate using a hypothetical in an argument, but hear me out. Following the legendary Bo, Gary Moeller averages four to five losses per season, and misses a couple bowls along the way. Much to the chagrin of the suffering UofM alumni and fans, the university honors his five year contract before letting him go. Coach Carr comes in, and despite a promising start in his first year, the Wolverines stumble, let a sub-rival (MSU) ruin their run, get embarrassed by their main rival (OSU) to close the season, and get blown out of a BCS Bowl (oh wait, that’s not hypothetical, Rocky Top comes to mind…). They finish 5-7 his second year, including another loss to MSU and blow-out to OSU. They show life his third year, despite opening the season with a loss against BYU, lose once more to MSU, and yet again get blown out by OSU, ultimately finishing at 6-5, and gain a bid to the coveted Microprocessor Bowl. Now, under that scenario, wouldn’t UofM cut bait and hire a new coach while several top candidates are available? I’m sure you would agree that Michigan would not accept this type of mediocrity with their football program. That’s guaranteed. You sir, are a hypocrite.

Regards,
Mike

10. November 2006 · Comments Off on Wolverines Bully Illini, Reviewing the Big Ten Race · Categories: Archive 2004, Big Ten

Michigan forced to comeback again, escapes Champagne
SALINE, MICHIGAN OCTOBER 16, 2004
No, this won’t be remembered as a classic weekend of Michigan football. It is just another game that M was supposed to win and did win. Perhaps not as easy as Coach Lloyd Carr would like.

What he definitely likes is the remarkable performance of his true freshman, bite size Mike Hart, who ran for a remarkable 234 yards. He made both extra-effort type yards (scoring a touchdown with an incredible stretch), and nifty jukes and cuts and acceleration down the sidelines. The running game that was such a concern at the beginning of the year appears to be one of the most solid facets of M’s game. Not only for this season, but for the next few!

The other freshman and USA Today story-boy Chad Henne did not impress this week, but again, got it done. He threw a few bad passes and made some big mistakes that killed drives for the Wolverines.

Overall the game was similar to last week’s comeback over Minnesota Golden Gophers. Michigan was clearly the better team on offense and defense, but made some untimely mistakes (interceptions) that made the game close. Illinois just didn’t have enough to stop Hart.

Big Ten Shaking Out in 2004, Here’s an analysis of team’s that are left:

– Spartans. While probably not going to be a direct factor in the Big Ten race, these guys really whipped Minnesota & suddenly appear to be a tough team with the emergence of QB Drew Stanton. October 30 should be a great game in Ann Arbor. The Spartans may hold the key to the Big Ten race as Wisconsin visits East Lansing in November which could be critical.
– Buckeyes. 0-3 in the Big Ten and reeling. Nothing is working and it seems like all the luck and karma of years past has worn off.
– Purdue. In one of the biggest games in their history, the Boilers blew it. The remarkable final few minutes of that game may have ruined their season. We’ll see how they look next week against Michigan.
– Wisconsin. Here we go again. Another Wisconsin team is looking good but doesn’t play Michigan. My nerves. Get out your old “Wisconsin’s a Fraud” takes.

What will Happen next week:
– I saw some of Purdue/Wisconsin and wasn’t that impressed with the Boilers. That said, Michigan isn’t that good either. I see Michigan struggling on the road again and losing to Purdue in a tough game.

10. November 2006 · Comments Off on Michigan Retains Jug in Thriller 2004 · Categories: Archive 2004, Fans, Little Brown Jug

Lloyd Carr devises a Plan to keep the Jug

Michigan wins thriller, takes Little Brown jug home another year
SALINE, MICHIGAN OCTOBER 8, 2004
As I like to do, I brieftly visited Mr. and Mrs. Crouse on the way into section 22. I cheerily offered to Mr. Crouse that it was a beautiful day for a game. Mr. Crouse quickly replied, “Aren’t they all?”.

Indeed they are. But some football Saturdays inside Michigan Stadium are better than others. You can go ahead put this version of the brawl for the Brown Jug right up there with the greatest I’ve ever seen.

Exhausted of all timeouts, 87 yards away and needing nothing less than a touchdown, led by a true freshman QB. And what did they do? You know darn well what they did, but it was something to experience.

They actually showed the highlight (along with Bob Ufer’s call) of the Johnny Wangler to Anthony Carter on the scoreboard during the game, reminding the crowd of great homecoming finishes. Obviously this win pales in comparison to the Wangler to Carter play, which is probably the greatest single play in 125 glorious years of Michigan football. [Side note: As the started the film of this highlight, the guy sitting next to me in the stands said to his buddy “I’ve seen this play before”. No kidding man – I’ve only seen that play 1,000 times. Hey pal, there’s this new video of O.J. fleeing in a white Bronco].

Michigan won despite 3 turnovers – all in the second half. The story line, besides the final drive (and the Tom Brady-like calmness) of true freshman Chad Henne, was the overall performance of Henne, but also of fellow true freshman TB Mike Hart, who ran very hard and ended with over 200 total yards. The two ‘utes led this team to victory.

Meanwhile, Michigan did a decent job of stopping Minnesota rushing powerhouses Marion Barber and Laurence (not-so-phony)* Maroney. Maroney did get loose on an incredible 80 yard run and he was flying.

Other quick takes:– I’ve heard a few people comment that there seems to be more room in the always tight Michigan stadium seats. After some analysis, I’ve concluded that this must be the result of the Atkins craze. Your thoughts?
– Ol’ Michigan still has a lot of work to do. I haven’t seen much of Purdue, but I’m thinking that they are going to have a lot of trouble in that one.
– Re: some of the boos. I don’t understand why people boo the plays by the individual players. I can understand maybe booing the play calling, the refs, and the other team, but why people needed to rain boos upon the Michigan punter, Adam Finley, after a couple bad punts escapes me. Finley is one of the best punters in the league if not the country – he made a couple bad kicks. Don’t you think he gets enough grief from Coach Grumpy Carr? Don’t you think he puts enough pressure on himself to support his team? Come on.

10. November 2006 · Comments Off on Big Blue Thug: Michigan Dominates Brown Jug Series · Categories: Archive 2004, Big Ten, Little Brown Jug, Lloyd Carr

Little Brown Jug owned by Ann Arbor crew
SALINE, MICHIGAN OCTOBER 7, 2004
It was November 15, 1986. The Wolverines, led by All-American quarterback Jim Harbaugh, were undefeated heading into the final home game of the season. Blue was ranked 2nd in the country and looking ahead to a possible national championship for coach Bo. The Golden Gophers shocked the Wolverines 20-17 in front of 104,864 cold and bitter M fans, and then took the Little Brown Jug home to Minnesota. The stunning upset remains one of the biggest games in Minnesota football history; to Michigan it is just another hiccup that denied Bo Schembechler a national title.

The next year Big Blue took the Jug back, and back it’s been since. Michigan has won 15 straight games against the Gophers, who have not found their form since the 1980s. Of course last year’s miracle win for Michigan was the closest the Gophers have come – and they’re still probably stinging from giving up 31 fourth quarter points to the John Navarre-led Big Ten Champions.

Saturday Minnesota comes back into Ann Arbor, hoping to take home the Jug and add this game as a defining moment in their modern football history. Michigan enters the game a 4 point favorite, with the #1 rushing defense in the country which will be tested against the Gophers, who have the #3 rushing offense.

A win would put Minnesota in good position for a Rose Bowl berth, as they avoid Purdue and Ohio State on the schedule this year. A win for Michigan means nothing other than preserving a decent season – they’ve still got a lot of work to do with games versus the Spartans, at Purdue and at Ohio State.

Looking over the home M schedule each year, you usually get a nice surprise like this. I remember thinking this would be a good game, but not the hyped-up match-up it is. Last year it was Purdue.

So what will happen? Look for a tight game, but I think Michigan is too tough at home on the turf. Henne looked great against Indiana, so let’s see how he does in the Big House. Make it Michigan 27 – Gophers 17.

Related:  The Little Brown Jug Lore Series:

Part I: What Really Happened in the 1930s
Part II: Spinning Myths
Part III: Getting it Right
Part IV: 2013: A Space Quandary
Part V: Red Wing Roots
Part VI: Is the Greatest Trophy in College Sports a Fake?
Part VII: Open Questions

10. November 2006 · Comments Off on Irish Expose Michigan in 2004 · Categories: Archive 2004, Notre Dame, Road Trips

The Golden Dome: Notre Dame Indiana

Notre Dame shows Michigan where it hurts
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA SEPTEMBER 12, 2004
I arrived home late Saturday night, threw down my bags and dug into my pockets where I found the crumpled ticket stub. I looked at it a moment then tossed it into the trash. Another great trip to South Bend that goes unfulfilled, another Michigan loss with a team that looks as though is has more talent than the Irish but doesn’t get it done. Hmm. Even Timmy Adams (left, with throwback jersey) could help us out.

So what did Michigan do well on Saturday?

Tackling: I can’t recall a game where we tackled better. The Wolverines made several open field tackles on defense and on special teams. Overall I thought the defense played well – good enough to win. ND started several possessions in Michigan territory in the second half.

Rivas: The Michigan place kicker got it done. What more can you ask of this guy? – he nailed 4 field goals in the game off the grass.

Henne: While he didn’t do enough to move the ball, the guy showed he’s a warrior and will stand in there when it is tough. They are doing things they couldn’t do with John Navarre, things such as rolling out and throwing on the run. I think that Carr will put Gutierrez back when he is 100%, and maybe play Henne in certain situations.

Tailgating: Some Michigan fans represented well at the tailgate, punishing beer cans and chicken before the game, listening to neurotic Irish fans complain about the state of their football program. FYI – your tailgate party in South Bend is known as a “tailgater”.

Here’s where Michigan failed:
Punt block: Lloyd Carr and new special teams coach (and recently fired CMU coach) Mike DeBord need to figure out how to protect their punter. They easily blocked one punt and had a chance at a couple more. Maybe it is me, but something just does not look right on their punt formation. It looks like they are too tight.

Vertically Challenged: Best receivers in the country? How about we throw to them down field? Before Michigan got down, we only challenged the Notre Dame defensive backs a couple times. One yielding a long reception by Braylon Edwards.

Catching the Ball. Speaking of Braylon – he dropped at least 3, maybe 4 balls. One caused an interception. One maybe 2 drops is acceptable, but beyond that – come on!

Running Game. I really feel it comes down to this. If Michigan can’t run the ball – and has not yet this year, this type of thing will happen. We will lose 4+ games if this is not worked out. Michigan teams must run the ball to be effective. There’s no getting around that while Carr is the coach, so get used to it. We must be able to control the ball on the ground and we are not. Jerome Jackson and Mike Hart looked ok replacing David Underwood who went down in the first series, but we did not get it done.

10. November 2006 · Comments Off on Michigan Football 2004 Preview · Categories: Archive 2004, Pre-Season

What you need to know about the 2004 Wolverines
SALINE, MICHIGAN AUGUST 15, 2004
Update for you 8/31/04 – As predicted here (see below), Carr confirmed that Matt Gutierrez will indeed take the first snap at quarterback this year. Other tidbits – CB Marlin Jackson will be on the depth chart as kickoff returner, and Lloyd advised that high school standout Mike Hart will not be redshirted, and will get some carries. Unknowns right now – who is the back-up? Clayton Richard or Chad Henne? Will Henne be redshirted?? Stay tuned.

Ah yes – it is that time of year. Here’s an insider’s look at the season:

Marketing- This year’s theme is Michigan’s 125th Season. The tickets are adorned with M players throughout history. Tom Brady is notably displayed on one of the tickets. Despite an average QB career at Michigan, I guess two Super Bowl rings and pop-icon status will take you off the back page of the media guide right onto the ticket next to ‘ol 98 Tommy Harmon. (more info can be found on mgoblue.com – Michigan’s official site).

QBs in NFL – With Drew Henson now a Dallas Cowboy, Michigan has sent its last 7 starting quarterbacks into the NFL.

Navarre Gone – Everyone’s favorite excuse, John Navarre, is gone to the NFL. So to all you neurotic fans, you’ll have to find a new whipping boy. It looks like that is going to be Matt Gutierrez although coach Carr still insists that the competition is wide open. Well, you can cancel out true freshman Chad Henne; there’s no way Carr would start a guy right out of high school. That would leave 6-4 left hander Clayton Richard as the only other option – but look for Gutierrez to take the first snap. Gutierrez is more mobile than Navarre, but so is Timmy Adams. He probably doesn’t have quite the arm strength but he’ll be more accurate.

Expectations? Not much of a surprise, but most folks have picked Michigan to win the Big Ten, with Ohio State and Iowa right behind. Speaking of Iowa, the Hawkeyes have beat the Blue 2 years in a row and now come back to Ann Arbor to try for three. There always seems to be one non-MSU/OSU Big Ten game on the schedule that is a biggie – this year it is Iowa. At any rate, I think everyone in Ann Arbor would like another shot at the USC Trojans in this year’s Rose Bowl.

Warmer Weather coming Soon. This year the Michigan State game is Oct. 30th, on the same weekend it has been for a while. Next year and in 2006, the games move to early October (10/1/05 and 10/7/06). A few weeks make that much of a difference? Believe it – Just ask the Dooley Brothers crew!

3-4 Defense. Michigan has made it known that they will move to a 3-4 defense this year, meaning they’ll have three down linemen and 4 linebackers. They hope that they can put enough pressure up front with their three talented linemen, but more importantly, confuse defenses by moving and shifting their linebackers around the line. Look for second year Lamar Woodley to often be used like a pro-style defensive end.

Special Teams. The Blue should be looking good. Kicker (Garret Rivas), Punter (Adam Finley) and star punt returner (Steve Breaston) all return. This is good news, as this has been a struggle in recent years.

Receivers. Best in the country? Edwards, Breaston and Jason Avant all return. Wow.

Replacing Perry. Look for David Underwood to assume the tailback duties, backed up by Jerome Jackson. We’ll see how this goes. Obviously Michigan has turned up the passing game in recent years, but Michigan’s season still comes down the same thing: The ability to control the game by running the football. That’s it. Dominate the line of scrimmage, push guys back and advance the ball on the ground.

Outlook? With a new quarterback, it is just tough to think that this team will run the table. I’m thinking Michigan will have 2 losses heading into a major bowl game. The most likely source of these losses? Road games at Ohio State, Notre Dame and Purdue.

10. November 2006 · Comments Off on Hippies Displace Michigan Hoops Team · Categories: Archive 2004, Hoops, Jokes

SALINE, MICHIGAN MAY 31, 2004 The Wednesday May 26 issue of the Ann Arbor News had a piece on the disturbing state of Michigan’s basketball facility. Check out this excerpt:

“At the center of Michigan’s issue is a practice facility. The men’s and women’s teams share the Crisler arena court with each other – and whatever other events are scheduled. Before leaving for the NIT tournament last March, Michigan was forced to practice at the IM building because of the 32nd annual Dance for Mother Earth PowWow at Crisler Arena.”

Are you kidding me? This is the state of Michigan basketball?

10. November 2006 · Comments Off on It’s Official: Required Donations for Big House Tickets · Categories: Archive 2004, Fans, Michigan Stadium, Pre-Season, Tickets

Beginning in 2005, premium seat holders will pay $115-$500 per ticket
SALINE, MICHIGAN MARCH 1, 2004
In what is being called a “preferred seating program”, starting in 2005 the M will start peppering folks with premium seats with up to $500 per seat. Even Endzone seats will be required to fork over $50 per ticket. This is expected to raise an additional $9.5 million each year.

Athletic director claimed that if they didn’t institute the required donation they’d have to cut eight sports (right). Folks who don’t want to pay the donation will have the option to move their seats to a place where they aren’t required to plunk so much cash. 80% of the “donation” will be tax deductible.

10. November 2006 · Comments Off on Spartans Rule, Down Michigan in 2004 Hoops · Categories: Archive 2004, Hoops, Michigan State

Michigan State takes Wolverines in Ann Arbor
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN FEBRUARY 25, 2004 Coach Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans never lost their cool. Despite being on the road and facing a double digit deficit in the second half, MSU methodically worked their offense and put on a lock-down defense to defeat the Blue. They maintained their poise, which cannot be said for Coach Tommy Amaker’s squad. As their lead slipped away, Michigan’s offense could not seem to get off a good shot at the basket. Meanwhile the Spartans, with their sharp passing, seemed to get an open look each time down the floor, including several dunks and lay-ups.

From a seat in the Maize Rage, their was no question who was the better team and the better coached team. Amaker’s critics are growing but he still deserves some slack due to the youth of the team. But Michigan will never win a Big Ten championship by simply out finessing teams with individual effort (see Fab Five). It is hoped that Amaker was taking notes.

10. November 2006 · Comments Off on Tom Brady Betrays Ann Arbor Liberals? · Categories: Archive 2004, Jokes, Media

 

 

Nobody Loves Raymond
SALINE, MICHIGAN FEBRUARY 3, 2004
Yes, above is another brilliant letter that was recently printed in my hometown fish wrap, the Ann Arbor News.

This is what I like to call a “stopper”. A stopper is something that appears in the newspaper that once you read it, you are unable to read or do anything else for several minutes. You kind of just stare off into the distance, trying not to freak out. Here’s another example of a stopper as reported here a few months ago.

“What happened to ‘Go Blue’? !! My nerves! I believe big Ray’s last name is pronounced PISS-ant.