Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lemonade Maker

What we need in Michigan football land is not a snake oil salesman, not a coach who installs a system and swears on the bible that it will never change. No what we need at Michigan is a coach who can take the lemons he is given and make sweet (but not too sugary) lemonade.

The concept of the lemonade maker is about as old as the forward pass in football, it just hasn't been called that. Which means i want a dime everytime anybody says lemonade maker for the rest of my life and once i get off my job, i'm hitting the blogs and checking to see what people are saying.

In my opinion the greatest lemonade maker in the history of college football was Bear Bryant the legendary coach at Alabama. Although many people forget this part, Bryant coached at three different schools prior to taking over the Tide, Maryland, Kentucky, and Texas A&M. At Maryland and Kentucky he ran a single wing type offense that was somewhat similar to what Crisler did here in Ann Arbor, however he changed that when he came to Texas.

Although the Southwest conference and Texas football in general was where the idea of throwing the ball out of the single wing really came to national prominence, by the mid 50s things had changed. And the Bear found himself coaching a team that was on probation as a result of some quite vile sins of their previous coach. He made the Aggies run a training camp in 1954 that might make Barwis queasy he made the team train in the desert for the whole summer and denied them water breaks during practice time. Even though that particular team went 1-9 the underclassmen on that team would go onto an undefeated 9-0-1 season in 1956, and the year after that John David Crow the Louisiana skyrocket who established the Aggies as the best running team in the nation, out of a T-formation!

Although Bear was only at A&M for four years, him and Crow helped establish the Southwest as a running conference that even the Big Ten had a hard time matching. Bur when he came to Bamma he took the lemons he was handed and once again made some delicious lemonade. In the 1960s Alabama was quarterback U as they sent Joe Namath and Ken Stabler out into the world of pro football prepared and ready to win super bowls.

In the 70s integration came and only the Bear could have pulled it off in the racist climate in the SEC at the time. He led the first integrated SEC championship team in 1971 out of a wishbone three yards and a cloud of dust offense with four backs (including the quarterback) sharing the running duties equally.

We all know about the success the Bear had over the years by adapting to changes and adding new things to do in new climates. The thing that many other people don't recognize was that Bo was a lemonade maker too, although it is possible he probably squeezed his lemons a bit tighter than the Bear for his system.

We all know that Bo ran a "three yards and a cloud of dust" offense throughout his time in Ann Arbor. What many non historians don't know is that when he came to Michigan he had the best receiving tight end in college football at the time in Jim Mandich on his team, and throughout the 1969 season, especially in the
Ohio State game, Michigan was at their best when they were able to balance out getting the ball to Mandich while balancing that out with their running attack.

After that season for the next ten years Michigan either lacked a quarterback or a receiver was as reliable as Mandich. That all changed under Anthony Carter, although he only averaged four catches a game he still made Bo rethink the forward pass as well as the reverse in order to get the ball to a player he needed to carry the team. Over the course of the 80s Bo proved to be the anti-matter of Woody by instituting a more balanced attack that at times resembled a hybrid of Woody Hayes and Bill Walsh.

Which brings us somewhat back to the present. Michigan has been running the Woody Walsh system since the eighties and while it may be good enough to have a winning record in the Big Ten it is not nearly enough to compete at the same level as the USC's, LSU's and most importantly that school down in Columbus. Rich Rodriguez brings in a system that may be different from things that the maize and blue faithful are used to seeing, but after watching the highlights of the Spring Game as well as watching Glenville State highlights i believe that he can take the defensive minded lemons and make bitter lemonade for the rest of the Big Ten to swallow, and for the offense, i'm not sure yet. Hopefully he won't need to add any more sugar than is necessary, in any case i hope he proves to be as much of a lemonade maker at Michigan as he was at Clemson and West Virginia.



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