Three and Out

Word is starting to come out that Rich Rodriguez will be named the next coach at Arizona. I couldn’t be happier for the guy. I hope (and believe he can) make Arizona a dominant football school.

I bought John U. Bacon’s Three and Out on October 25th when it came out and it made me about as depressed as I was last winter. Rodriguez came into Michigan with strikes against him, dealt with a petty former regime, a hostile press, and an inept group of clowns in the Athletic Department. Certainly he made some mistakes, like bringing in Greg Robinson, but in the end I think it was the culture around Michigan and a few key individuals within it who bear the brunt of the blame. In the end, I think it was better for Rodriguez to go, because there was something fundamentally wrong with Michigan that would not let him succeed. The guy deserves to lead a football team that offers him their full backing. I don’t know that the rifts are really healed, but Hoke (of whom I was highly skeptical upon his hiring) has papered over them pretty well.

Rich Rodriguez and Michigan Football

The Rich Rodriguez situation makes me sick. Not the 37-7 loss to Ohio State, not the 6-18 record vs. the Big Ten. Not the 7-5 record this year. The calls for his head.

Michigan is too established and classy an institution — or should be — to fire Rodriguez Monday. I even think it’s questionable whether relieving him in January would be called for. Two bad and one mediocre season are not a tragedy. Michigan is the winningest program in college football history. Hell, they pretty much INVENTED winning in college football. By the beginning of the 1900 season, Michigan was 91-29-4. (See the records at the Bentley Historical Library website) They pretty much taught Notre Dame how to play. It took Ohio State 15 tries to get their first win. Not only that, even with wins in their last 7 games, Ohio State is still down 44-57, with 6 ties. Michigan won the first Rose Bowl and has the most Rose Bowl appearances by a Big Ten team. Simply put, Michigan is THE superior football program in the country, with the greatest history and tradition. That is worth something. That is worth a LOT. But that tradition, that class, and the attraction of that solidity can easily be wasted by panicking, by chasing one or two more short term wins, and by dumping a coach and program that was expensive in terms of both money and time to build. Not to mention, it is pretty clear that this program has not even had a full cycle to develop.

To see what demanding Rich Rodriguez’ head will get Michigan, look no further than Notre Dame. Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, Charlie Weis, now Brian Kelly — a revolving door of coaches who follow a pattern: big wins, good seasons, and unceremonious dumpings when Notre Dame failed to contend for BCS bowls. Does anyone fear them now? Who but the most devout Catholics would go there to play when the administration has demonstrated their ironic faithlessness?

The talk has been of Jim Harbaugh. This is a high stakes roll of the dice if David Brandon feels luckier than, say, Bill Martin in the head coach hiring game. Harbaugh has been impressive at Stanford and his bona fides are clear. Not to mention, he is a Michigan man. His comments in the spring of 2007, which in part implicated Michigan’s marginal academic standards for athletes, now seem to be forgiven and forgotten. However, the fervor for Jim Harbaugh illustrates my point — Michigan fans and players were pretty much as vehement in their criticism of Harbaugh then as they are in their ire for Rodriguez now. The way Lloyd Carr, Michael Hart, and Jamie Morris lashed out at Harbaugh, to varying degrees, in retrospect seems misplaced and defensive. Not only was Harbaugh basically right (just about anybody at Michigan has stories of major sports athletes), their responses were signs of a lack of confidence in what Michigan stands for that is as troubling as a middling season.

I think Harbaugh is terrific. I honestly think David Brandon would be wise to privately put out a feeler to Harbaugh, because he’s clearly a great recruiter and coach and still cares about Michigan. If I were Harbaugh, though, I would have mixed feelings about such a contact. He clearly has high standards and a respect for Michigan’s tradition. But he acknowledged that the words stung — not only because they were critical but because they illustrated a rejection of him, his values, and his contribution to Michigan. He has other options, as well — he’ll be one of the most in-demand coaches in the country this winter.

Firing Rodriguez pre-emptively is a stupid idea. Rolling the dice that Harbaugh is a done deal, as people seem to think it would be, is also stupid. So stupid it boggles my mind. When you don’t have a good recent record or a decent secondary, at least you can have class. Don’t show us that you don’t, Michigan.

1892 Michigan Fball

The goldbricking 1892 football team, which went a lousy 7-5 under the mediocre coaching of Frank Barbour.
Bentley Historical Library

Juris Luzins

While I’m preparing a killer power point presentation, I thought I would provide you all with another transcript of my Florida Track Club interviews from way back in undergrad. This is Juris Luzins, a William and Mary alumnus with at 3:58.1 for the mile and 1:45.2 for the 800. Luzins also ran for the professional International Track Association for a season, sacrificing his amateur status in the days before pros could compete at the national and international level.

The Return of Content

In the midst of a furious drive to finish my dissertation I thought it might be nice to revive this moribund blog.

Way back in the day my top priority used to be distance running and all things athletics. True story: when it was time to go to grad school, I applied to masters programs at Oregon and WMU. At WMU I would do public history and at Oregon, if I got in, I would do track and field history (I had in mind a research project on the development of amateur running clubs like the Florida Track Club, the Greater Boston Track Club, and the group around the University of Oregon). Long story short, Oregon admitted me but didn’t give me any money (my undergrad record was pretty middling and my research interests were not really in line with those of the broader historical profession, I don’t think), so I went to WMU.

However, I was a real go-getter, and even while I was an undergrad I started on a research project that I hoped would culminate in an undergrad thesis. It didn’t work out, but I did conduct several oral histories with prominent members of the Florida Track Club, including Jack Bacheler, Juris Luzins, Jerry Slavin, and a couple others. I thought I had lost the transcripts of those interviews I had done, but recently found them in the depths of the internet archive.

Check out the first, an interview with Jack Bacheler from January of 2000.

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

I had heard all the stories about Brian Dowling but until now had never seen film of the guy play. Kevin Rafferty’s new video film on the season-ending 1968 duel between the two Ivy League teams is chock full of Dowling scrambling, sidestepping, running for yards, and launching impossible passes for unbelievable completions. The guy was as good as the hype despite what seemed to be an average arm — amazingly accurate but surprisingly wobbly. Comprising talking head interviews and archival footage, this stripped-down production still manages to tell a compelling story. What’s even more fascinating is that Rafferty keeps the film on the topics of the game and the season without any of the sentimental “where are they now” efforts we’ve been trained to expect from such works. Worth a trip if it’s playing near you or a Netflix rental when it comes out.

Marathon Olympic Trials

Ryan Hall, a 25-year-old former miler won earlier this morning in 2 hours 9 minutes and change, while Dathan Ritzenhein, the phenom from outside Grand Rapids, MI was second and Brian Sell, running with the Rochester, MI, Hansons Running club, was third.

In the late 90s I was huge into distance running when the U.S. was no good at all (except Bob Kennedy). I drove to Pittsburgh in 2000 to see the marathon trials where Rod DeHaven was the only runner to qualify and I almost did an undergrad thesis on the effectiveness of European-style clubs in developing Olympic sports competitors. It’s great to see so many great marathoners these days.

UPDATE: Former Michigander Ryan Shay died during the race today. Before there was Ritzenhein, Shay was one of a handful of dominant high school runners in Michigan. A real tragedy.

Detroit Sold For Scrap

Remember this Onion article from a year ago? Ha, ha, we all morbidly chuckled at the nation’s finest news source taking a dig at our fair city.

Detroit, a former industrial metropolis in southeastern Michigan with a population of just under 1 million, was sold at auction Tuesday to bulk scrap dealers and smelting foundries across the United States.

“This is what’s best for Detroit,” Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick said. “We must act now, while we can still get a little something for it.”

Once dismantled and processed, Detroit is expected to yield nearly 14 million tons of steel, 2.85 million tons of aluminum, and approximately 837,000 tons of copper.

It’s not such a joke after all. Tiger Stadium parts to be auctioned off. Detroit City Council votes in favor of dismantling ballpark.

The long-debated issue of what to do with Tiger Stadium might finally be close to a resolution. On Friday, the Detroit City Council voted in favor of a proposal to grant authority to dismantle part or most of the ballpark and auction off its parts.

The matter, which passed by a 5-4 vote, is the first step in Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s plan to redevelop the property into a combination retail-residential complex. The hope is to preserve Tiger Staidum’s playing field for recreational and youth sports while possibly maintaining part of the stadium as a memorial.

The vote authorizes the city to auction off seats and other potential memorabilia, the proceeds of which could help pay for the demolition. From there, the city would be free to find developers. However, the council reportedly voted against transferring control of the stadium over to the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, a partnership of business, civic, labor and community leaders that has been a part of other development plans on the city.

Blast from the Past

From an editorial I wrote 4 years ago as opinion editor of the Western Herald.

The Detroit Tigers are in trouble.

The Tigers lost their Hall of Fame announcer to retirement. They lost almost two-thirds of their games this season. They have lost more than 20 percent of their attending fans from last season. The Tigers have lost nearly everything that makes the team special and exciting to the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan.

What the Tigers do have is an opportunity.

The Tigers, in the last three years, have drawn seasonal attendances ranging between 1.5 and 2.4 million fans, with an economic impact on the Detroit metro area upwards of $120 million, according to Major League Baseball and Detroit-based Comerica Bank, respectively.

In addition, the Tigers maintain a psychological hold on the state. The team’s history in American sports is so rich and runs so deep, that to speak of many aspects of our present life is to allude to the Detroit Tigers.

The development of the state, the city of Detroit, American sports as a big business and baseball as a leisure activity of enduring tradition all involve the Tigers in some way. The growth of the auto industry fueled the rise of the city of Detroit, after its origins and function as a main maritime port throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Of the forms of entertainment which arose to amuse the growing city, professional sports stands as the most prominent in modern society. One of baseball’s top teams historically (despite their current ineptitude), the Tigers contributed to the current free agent frenzy and hyper-commercialization of the game as much as any, with the possible exception of the New York Yankees. The behemoth that baseball has currently grown into is due in large part to its prominent stars and top teams, both of which Detroit has had many. Too, the prudent stewardship of John Fetzer for two decades brought the state a pair of world championships and enduring stars who provided summers of idyllic enjoyment to families throughout Michigan. The family ties which Detroit baseball helped knot still hold fast our memory.

As the city of Detroit has perhaps lost its grip on the country’s industrial artery, so have the Detroit Tigers slipped from their formerly dominant ways. Rumor has it that the club is in economic trouble, despite a beautiful brand-new ballpark and a bloated payroll. Perhaps most unbelievable of all is that the last winning season in Detroit was in 1993.

A shadow no longer looms over the institution of the Detroit Tigers. Dark clouds have enveloped the franchise, and rays of sunlight are few and far between.

However, with the interview of near-mythical Tiger hero Alan Trammell for manager, and the robust intentions of Dave Dombrowski as president and general manager, Detroit is perched upon a precipice of potential.

It has been said that the Tigers’ chief problem was that there was nothing to draw fans to the ballpark in the upcoming year. History, the Tigers’ chief asset in the past, was no longer on the team’s side. All of the homegrown fan favorites had either retired or been traded away, and even the seeming anchor of the Tigers, Ernie Harwell, just set down his microphone for good.

Dombrowski’s resolve and Trammell’s class and experience may be the necessary ingredients, along with the growing downtown renaissance movement and one of the premier parks in the country, to redevelop the Tigers club into a cultural icon and top tourist destination for the state, instead of the fallen organization it now is.

The next year the Tigers lost 119 games.  Then they signed Pudge Rodriguez and went 72-90 in 2004 and 71-91 in 2005.  I count the most important factor in the Tigers’ resurgence as the replacement of Randy Smith with Dave Dombrowski.  After that, it was the expansion of the Tigers’ payroll ($82m in 2006 vs. $55m in 2002) by a good decision-maker, eg not paying Bobby Higginson 7 million dollars a year to hit .260 or additional millions to Damion Easley, only to (rightly) cut him a year later.

19 Years


Comerica Park
Originally uploaded by SOUTHEN.

The return of the Detroit Tigers to respectability and even dominance (briefly) has been a long time coming. This observer is overjoyed at having seen all three wins against the damn Yankees in the division series, and has moderately high hopes for the series against the A’s. To all who cheered for the Tigers over the last two decades, living through the jackassery of the Randy Smith era in particular, I thank you. It has been too long and I hope this postseason doesn’t end too soon.