Ferrari’s, Fauxraris, and college staffing decisions

When I was in college, I remember driving down Broadway towards the University for some class that I needed to be that morning. I pulled up to the Broadway and Russel Street light and I saw in front to me what appeared to be a older model Ferrari. Had all the decals. Looked immaculate from the rear. Then as I passed the car, I began to realize not only by visuals, but by sound this wasn’t your regular run of the mill Ferrari. In fact it was a Fauxrari. Those kits were popular back in the day, where you could convert your four cylinder Yugo with a little time, effort and bondo into a sexy looking car that could get you all the chicks.

What has been telling about the firing and hiring process, to some fans, is that some still are under the illusion that University of Montana football program is a Ferrari or minimally a Cadillac. Maybe it is, but there are some elements maybe to the casual fan are obscured behind the nice body that prevent the program from being truly a high end sports car.

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Bobby Ball 2.0

Lets not pretend the potential rehiring of Bobby Hauck is all conference titles, playoff wins and packed stadiums. Bobby brings a lot of baggage. Should Bobby taken to task for things that happened nearly ten years ago? Certainly. This is the world that we live in, just sweeping things under the rug, or burying our head in the sand for the sake of victories is no longer tolerable.

Consider what happened to Greg Schiano at Tennessee in the past 48 hours. He was all set to become the next Vol head coach and was unceremoniously dumped on the side of the street because of lingering allegations of cover up of sexual assault while at Penn State. Should Bobby receive similar treatment? Probably not, but his potential hire should be paired with tough questions about program behavior, his own behavior and the relationship between football and the campus and community.

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A Sad Day in Grizzlyville…

The business of football was and is always a cruel one. Today that business got more cruel. Montana fired a football coach, fans abroad cheered, and I became a bit more hardened in my heart. For today, a man was fired for being good at his job.

His problem? He wasn’t great. Coaching is a hard sport to be in, because all the good advice you get rarely prepares you for those handful of people you can’t please. What Bob Stitt didn’t know when taking the job, he was going to walk into a stadium chalk full of people he couldn’t please. Constant pining for the next great quarterback. The next national championship.

I remember all of those days in as I listened to people joke about the obsessives in the Grizzly fanbase. Just laughed. Sending Tony Moss, Craig Haley and others hate mail for picking against the Griz.  Started to believe it a bit more when I heard it in the crowd during the Dennehy tenure, more so when Drew Miller limped off the field, the numerous throngs of Hauck haters. The cacophony negative nellies only grew larger and more emboldened after Pflugrad was let go.

Coaches don’t sign up for a job that treats them as some piece of replaceable merchandise. They don’t sign up to receive all sorts of hate mail. Verbal abuse from fans, boosters and parents. They sacrifice a great amount, in order to provide a product in the best way they know how. Only to be continuously second guessed by a bunch of drunk know-it-alls who can’t find their way in after half time.

Am I frustrated and angry that it came to this in Missoula? Sure as hell I am. Kent Haslam can say he wants to get the toughness back into Grizzly football. As fans applauded that, do they have the slightest clue what it looks like? I think there are a number of Grizzly football players who might have taken umbrage with that statement. The Gresch Jensen’s,  Justin Strong’s and Josh Sandry’s who played multiple games with injuries. To win games for their teammates, their coaches and the fans that support them.

I have been a supporter through thick and thin of the University of Montana football program. As long as we continue to chase ghosts, to chase the past, no one is ever going to be good enough. Hell Bobby Hauck wasn’t good enough. If we bring Hauck back, there is no guarantee that he’ll be as good as he was before.

So you can offer your platitudes to the coaches and their families. But they knew what they were getting into. Bullshit. I have experienced this twice in my life. Happened nearly the same way. You can’t prepare for this ever. What is worse is that people, even in administration, are never fully honest with you. They can’t.  You can’t fight back. There is no point. So you are generous, while at the same time you are angry and on the verge of tears.

If Skyline’s reporting is correct, and I don’t have a reason to believe that it isn’t, then it makes our program and the athletic department look pretty small and petty. The optics are bad. The luster is gone from the program, and Stitt wasn’t responsible for that.

Stitt obviously put himself into this position by not winning enough. He didn’t put the program into the stratosphere quick enough.  The adage is, if you didn’t do enough to keep your job, then you open yourself up to losing it. This was always a tough job, but it wasn’t unreasonable. Now it is. Montana puts itself in the company of Tennessee, Texas and Florida. Places where the incessant need to win has forced them into one bad decision after the next. I don’t think think this is a great decision, but time will only tell if my opinion of this transaction is vindicated or not.

That incessant need to win has a cost. In some ways that is how we got here. Coaches who weren’t acceptable in 2015 suddenly are?  We had ethics in 2015 and wanted a coach who would lead a program of fine young men. Now? F-it. Lets win. While that is overstatement, I don’t believe that it is far from the truth.

I just hope people can wake up in the morning and look themselves in the mirror. I am not talking about Haslam.  Today Grizzly football was defined by those who were timid and weak. I am sorry that Bob Stitt paid the price for that. Just makes me sick to my stomach. There is nothing to celebrate here. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Best of luck to Coach Stitt, his staff and their families. I can’t help but think they deserved a little better than they got.

Thanks again for reading.

GF24.

The Power of Silence

Here are a few tidbits for you to gnaw on as you try to recover from the Grizzly loss at Montana State yesterday.

  • Yesterday marked the first time since 02-03 that MSU had won two games in a row. That bridged the Glenn-Hauck eras.
  • The loss yesterday marked the first time since 2005 that UM lost to MSU in Bozeman.
  • The loss will most likely end up causing the University of Montana to miss the playoffs in consecutive years since 91-92.
  • Stitt is the first Montana coach to lose to MSU in consecutive years since Larry Donovan. (1984-85)
  • Montana suffered three or more conference losses in consecutive years for the first time since 86-87
  • Montana has not won the Big Sky Conference officially since 2009.

Those are the type of stats that make you want to start drinking at 7am on a Sunday morning. I’m not, but you can. Even with all of the those stats, Bob Stitt should wake up on Monday morning and be the head coach of the University of Montana football program. He should be the coach there until he isn’t anymore.

The words that fill my blog will likely never  include words, phrases, clauses that ask for coaches to be fired.  That doesn’t mean coaches should be fired, or have merited a second look into their performance by the powers that be. Again if Bob Stitt is the coach on Monday morning, he should be until he isn’t anymore.

I have to imagine the weight of the air, the power of the silence, inside the halls, lockers and offices of Washington-Grizzly Stadium is overwhelming this morning. That is NOT a comfortable feeling. You don’t want to be in those places that remind you of your shortcomings, failures, and inadequacies. Whether you are a coach or a player, you have to face them eventually, but the idea of being there right now is likely crushing under the weight of that failure.

For the coaches and the players, those returning, will use it to fuel their off-season. For those who are walking out for the last time, it’ll haunt them for many years to come. The weight of things not done, not achieved, are not easily lifted or erased away. That is baggage you don’t want to leave University of Montana as a football player or a coach with.

Yet while there is silence inside Washington-Grizzly, the cacophony of critics asking, wanting, demanding change is deafening. The barbarians are at the gate and Emperor Haslam has some tough decisions to make. There are omnipresent issues afoot that must be addressed. Declining attendance. Declining performance. Losing to the Bobcats. Department shortfalls. Booster Support. A new main hall administration.

Lets make this clear. Bob Stitt was a great hire in 2015, and still is. That results are less than overwhelming is something that you could not possibly have known. Some claim you can by looking deep into Stitt’s record at the Colorado School of Mines and know. Great coaches with pedigree fail, and fail all the time.  Bill Belichick and  Nick Saban failed. At this point, the only failure Bob Stitt has on his record at the University of Montana, is his inability to live up to the ghosts of Grizzlies past and the standards of an impatient Grizzly booster and fanbase.

Stitt has done A Lot of things right. That won’t matter in the end. Petulant fans and boosters have a way of getting their way. They shouldn’t, but the salvage yard of programs done in by hyper vigilant fan bases and super sensitive administrations is long and distinguished. Texas. Nebraska. Tennessee. Florida. The trail is pretty narrow and administrators have tough jobs. A great hire puts you at the top of the mountain. A bad one and you  fall off into the valley to do.

There are reasons to fire coaches. Stitt hasn’t done much to merit being fired. Yet he hasn’t done much to merit being kept either. Those points listed above matter to Griz fans, boosters and administration. The constant drive to meet an almost unattainable standard can wear upon not only players, but coaches and administration.

The problem is optics. Jeff Choate has 9 total wins in his first two years in Bozeman. He has a total of 7 conference wins. He only carries two significant victories and that is all that matters. He is 2-0 against the Griz, and has taken them to the woodshed like no other team has in Stitts tenure. Their rah-rah Friday night style sure contrasts rather sharply with Stitts cerebral and reserved style. Choate owns Bozeman now, and Stitt with largely a better resume may very well be looking for a job Monday morning. Administrations shouldn’t make decisions based upon narratives of fans but they do.

Rarely does firing coaches for better than industry performance work out well for the institution or the fan bases that represent them. Stitt is 8 games above .500 in his tenure, averages 7 wins a year, and even has a playoff win under his belt. His teams played maybe 7 bad quarters this year, and they resulted in 3 losses. They competed. Won games with three different quarterbacks at the helm. They improved the model from a year before. But. They missed the playoffs and lost to Montana State. That is enough to get Bob Stitt fired, and he probably knows it too.

If the decision is to retain Stitt, it’ll be the right one. I don’t envy the decisions that need to be made. Will there be sacrificial lambs (Semore, Neikamp?). Stitt made a ton of concessions last year. An uniformed eye saw the improvement. Yet, it might not be enough. There were maddening inconsistencies, continued flat play at inopportune times.

Coaches are deeply self-aware. The stuff not accomplished keeps them in their offices until 3am with  only the glare of the TV monitor lighting the room. They’ll replay the same clip a hundred times over, and over again to find the flaw. The mistake. Yet some flaws are not easily found within the film, nor are others correctable. Some only can be removed only by removing themselves. For the detailed oriented nature of Stitt, the meticulous nature of how and why he does everything, there are lingering details that seem obvious from the outside that seem to be ignored. Seem to be ignored. Maybe those details were addressed, but not successfully so.

Maybe those details are outside or even above the ability of this coaching staff. Doubt it, as at least with my limited interaction, this coaching staff is one of the most intelligent staffs I have encountered. Sometimes that doesn’t translate.

Lou Holtz said many years ago that ability gets you only so far. In the end it is attitude that determines how far and how high you go. There is some legitimacy to that assertion at least from a player perspective. I don’t think attitude replaces ability in coaching. Way too much success and failure in coaching is in the details. That it matters to fans that Choate is a rah-rah guy, personable, over actual results is revealing.  Both programs have similar roster make-ups, 2/3rds of the roster are Redshirts, Freshman or Sophomores. Both start similar amounts of seniors, collected in different areas or get playing time from upper classmen. Choate is 9-13 in two seasons. Bob Stitt is 13-9.

Again 0-2 and missing the playoffs are the only narratives that matter outside the offices of Kent Haslam and Bob Stitt. They matter inside, but there is substantively more. Ex-players can cry foul. Boosters can pull money. Fixing what ails Montana football isn’t as easy as bringing another coach in. You can replace Stitt with a rah-rah guy and end up in the same place in three years. You know what you have in the coaches offices right now. You don’t know what is walking in. You think you might know, but you really don’t. Ask Texas, Florida, and Tennessee.

Montana will be in a better place in three years with Stitt, than Montana State will be with Choate. Fans won’t like that. Wasn’t as if Ash left the cupboard completely bare. Many elements of his recruiting were elemental in winning these last two Cat-Griz games. All of those young guys still led Choate to 9 wins in two years. Choose your narrative and run with it. Gresh Jensen is a better quarterback as Freshman, than Murray is a sophomore.

Whether Stitt is the coach tomorrow or not, just replacing the coach isn’t a guarantee. The roster and that locker room are poised, and in a much better situation to build upon the success and failures of this season. There is a great foundation for the future. Whomever that leads them on the field in 2018, is likely inheriting or has a squad poised on potential alone capable of taking the next step.

The silence in Washington Grizzly is just as deafening as the clamoring outside of it today. That is problem and there isn’t an easy solution. Changes need to be made. Diagnoses are easy, prescriptions and cures aren’t. Who Haslam listens to over the next 24 hours will be interesting.  Here is hoping that he listens to common sense within room, versus the barbarians at the gate.

 

 

24 Hour Rule: Weber State

I went to Sea World with my family. Yesterday was maybe the 10th or so time I had been to Sea World in the last year. One of the advantages of living in San Diego is that you can frequent places like Sea World, and do so cheaply. So we went, while the Griz were playing Weber State.

I’ll clue you in on something. Sea World doesn’t change much from the first to the 100th time you visit. Same exhibits, same animals, rides and shows. I have watch Clyde and Semour the Sea Lion show at least a half dozen times this year, and it is the same stuff.

So why the discussion about Sea World? I had been clued into something about the Griz for a while now, nothing nefarious or anything, but what the Griz are.

What makes a person go back to the same place weekend after weekend, year after year? 

The players will change, so will the coaches, but the uniforms, the crowd, the experience rarely do. I had been going to Griz games pretty regularly since the late 80’s. I grew up with the Griz, went to college with the Griz and got into middle ages with the Griz.

On the literal eve of my 42nd birthday and watching twitter, egriz and maroonblood once again descend into utter chaos over the loss. Yes the Griz looked horrible in the first half, absolutely horrible. Wasn’t the first time it happened in recent years, or ever. I remember watching the Vandals run Dave Dickenson and the Griz out of the Kibbie dome in 1995. They gave up 49 points in the first half on that day.

I was on the escalator in the shark exhibit and watching the lemon shark lurk over the top of us. The shark only likely knew that exhibit. It just swam around and around. Was it happy? Did it swim to amuse the tourists? Did it somehow feel like it was letting us down by not zig-zagging or jetting in a menacing way towards an unknown object?

I don’t think my love for the shark exhibit would diminish if I knew the Lemon shark was going through the motions. That the Sea World attendant didn’t throw fish in the right way to get the most out of their charges for the day. We just don’t judge Sea World that way. We know it is entertainment, maybe we expect a little in return, that we enjoy ourselves. Yet there is no perfect scenario at enjoyment inside Sea World, it is up to you to determine how you want to experience it.

I don’t know if people enjoy Grizzly football anymore. Has the novelty worn off for some that all we see is those poor lemon sharks going through the motions? 

I’ll admit the product hasn’t been great inside Washington Grizzly for almost ten years now. Montana is no longer the banner program of FCS or even of its own conference. There are at least a dozen programs in FCS that claim to have a better pedigree over the past decade.

Is winning that all that matters? Is the enjoyment only rooted in how or who we defeat? Impatience is a human condition rooted in selfishness. That you demand a better product, even after you have been provided it, only to complain because it doesn’t fit your standards.

I won’t sit here and insult your intelligence, Stitt’s product over his three years in Missoula has been far from ideal. Yet, in comparison I just don’t know that his product was or is any worse than some of the stuff Read ran out pre-1995 or Dennehy ran out in 98-99. I just don’t know that it is.

If you walk into place expected to be disappointed, my guess is that you probably will. Oh they still have that damn Clyde in the sea otter show. How lame! Why can’t the dolphins do double twisting double somersaults? WTF?

For me, you can’t argue and you can’t debate unreasonable expectations. I have tried for almost ten years now and nothing seems to work. There are reasonable expectations and there are those who can’t unwind their own absurd expectations. I guess why spend money on something that is going to make you angry all the time.

I like Sea World in the same way that I enjoy Griz games. They are relaxing escapes from the drudgery of daily demands. If anyone tells me they’d rather grade 100 vocabulary assignments than watching a bunch of guys run around on a field for three hours or watch domesticated sharks swim around for the same, you are insane.

I get that people want the Griz to win, so do I. I just don’t see the merit in being a negative nancy either. I hope everyone has a great week. If I am not at work, I’ll be at Sea World watching the sharks swim in a circle.

 

 

 

24 Hour Rule: Eastern Washington

This is twitter, egriz and maroonblood currently:

 

The Nitty Gritty:

  1. Griz up 24-6 at half. Lose 48-41. Gage Gubrud threw for 550 yards, 4 touch downs and the Eagles put up 42 points in the second half.
  2. The Griz have 5 out of their last 6 conference games, and many of in the same excruciating fashion.
  3. Eastern Washington is now 7-2 over the past 8 years against the University of Montana. Eastern is clearly Montana’s superior at this point. Last night left no question as to who was and is the more superior team.

Can it get worse?

I don’t think it takes much to think the program at this point is trending in the wrong direction. Things could be worse, but for Montana fans it is hard to imagine how. In the last six conference games, the program has found new and excruciating ways to lose football games.

Last year it was one bomb after another in NAU, EWU, UNC losses. Last night, it was death by fast screen. Nick Splendorio is still catching passes, I believe he had 7,000 last night. Meanwhile UM receivers dropped key passes, sure touchdowns, and when push came to shove, the defense got shoved.

This is obviously not the Montana football program that most fans are accustomed. Not that roughly 10,000 would know, because they still haven’t returned from half time. Is this the basement?

Gresch Jensen played like a freshmen, and Bob Stitt appeared to manage the game with that in mind. There were 40 carries to moderate success, and a less than complex route combination that should have resulted in possession sustaining drives, but rather resulted in driving killing drops.

Next week the Griz travel to Portland, to play in a high school stadium that everyone agrees that they don’t want to play in. The Griz haven’t played well in Portland very often. Most often the games are closer, sloppy affairs that result in ulcer creating fans who try to medicate by drinking as much Deschutes beer as they can.

Can it get better?

Yes it can. Has to or this is yet another lost season. Hard to say that 4 games in, that when most Griz fans probably thought 2-2 after 4 games would be a reasonable result. A person almost has to think the Portland State as a must win. Last year the UM had one win on the road, and the prospects of the program playing well on the road is less than favorable.

What went well:

  1. Gresch Jensen despite hiccups looked the part of a college quarterback. He has a good to great arm, incredible touch. While his throws were a bit hyper last, night he’ll continue to grow into a position that is solidly his.
  2. The offensive line protected well again. Struggled  at times with consistency in the run game, but our OL is no longer on the list of concerns.
  3. The Diversity in the offense was great and Jensen does show that he can get the football where it needs to go.

What didn’t go well/What needs to be worked on:

  1. The defense. Whenever you give up 560 yards of passing, and 600 yards of offense, it is going to lead the list of concerns. The defense struggles to cover when pressure is added in. There weren’t tons of coverage break downs, but there isn’t a happy medium right now between the soft zone and man looks the team is giving. As a person noted last night, it was ‘death by a 1,000 paper cuts.’ For as talented as this defense is individually, we seem to have returned to the issues of the Gregorak era. There is such a wide gap between good and bad right now. I have some theories, but I am not sure I am qualified at this point to make some solid judgements.
  2. Kick Return game. It was tentative last night to say the least. It put the UM in deeper starting positions, sub 20 yard line for much of the night. If you want to take stress off the offense, getting the return game will always help.
  3. Drops/Self Inflicted Errors. The offense needs to play its part. For as much as we want to vilify the defense, the error prone element of the offense should get scrutiny. Whether it is turnovers, drops or whatever, for as great as the offense looked in games 1-3, those errors didn’t help the team whether the EWU storm last night.

Observations:

I made this point last night on twitter, and I will repeat it here.

Coaching might bridge the gap between Montana and Eastern, but it won’t put them over the top.

Since 2010 the cardinal reason for Grizzly defeat wasn’t scheme, or personnel, it is execution. Fumbles, special teams, drops, tackling have marred each of those losses. When Montana needs a big play, a big stop those events haven’t happened in any regularity.

You can place blame on coaching, recruiting, liberal bias or whatever, but on Saturday it comes down to whether you execute or not. Sometimes it may not matter, but when games are close as most of the EWU/UM games have been, it is the small things. Eastern Washington has put on a master class, at least against the UM, on how to do the small things.

Coaches are going to get the lion share of the blame, as they should, but you should give credit where credit is due. Eastern is the class in the league because they have found a way to execute when it mattered. Coaches can spend the off season changing how they practice, what they practice but sometimes the hardest thing to do is getting that vision and focus to translate onto the football field.

I fully support the staff. I like what I have seen so far this year. I do believe the program is incrementally getting better. That may not be enough for fans. The Griz were tantalizingly close last night. I thought the crowd, the environment would push them through, but those mistakes, those things not done were too much to overcome.

Washington-Grizzly Stadium is the worlds largest bar.

For what its worth, Reese Phillips is right. At some point either you are there to watch a football game or not. Showing up late in the third, early in the fourth, is a weird way to show your support for the program. Are you a fan? Or are you there to get wasted, swear at the coaches and remember nothing in the morning.

Griz fans are really good at saying how good they are and what the tradition is here. The minority even go as far to ridicule other fan bases and make outrages claims and demands of our own program. Yet they have a weird way of showing it, when it comes to game days in Missoula.

If the game is social hour, then fine. There is the first half advantage in Missoula, then it becomes a neutral setting for much of the second half. I am not going to argue for cleaning out tailgating before half, or locking people inside, but understand that fans do play a role. His criticism is dead on.

Short Memories, Entitlement and diarrhea of the mouth.

The program isn’t what it was 10 years ago. We have fans who have been supporting the program since the lean years in the 1970’s. There isn’t a lot of perspective, but I have absolutely no sympathy for the classless behavior that is exhibited in the stands, in social media and on the interwebs.

The calling out of players and coaches, regardless of their transgressions needs to be handled with more tact and class than some are willing to provide. Players are off limits. Period. You are entitled to opinions, but most of learn at a very young age there are things you just don’t say. You don’t.

Stitt is a public figure, so are his coaches, but we can handle our frustration with a more deft touch. We have the right to be frustrated, but were aren’t granted the protection to say whatever we want, whenever and where ever. You don’t get heat of the moment protections, just shut your damn mouth. Think before you type. Pause before you hit send.

We don’t spend all of our waking time preparing, scheming, practicing and playing the game. We drink our beer, we sit behind key boards, and we craft aggressive statements with no real recrimination for what we say. You can’t unsay those words, those words can inflict as much punishment as a punch can. Just because you have the freedom of speech, doesn’t mean you should always exercise it. As I said on twitter, sometimes you need to live in your own sad pathetic world, leave everyone else alone and not project to others how miserable your own life is and STFU.

Thanks for reading.

GF24.

 

 

 

 

Examining The Relationship Between Blitzing and Pass Coverage: Part II

As I noted in the first installment, I think on the surface cover 2 seems super simple. There are a lot of reasons for it, but when the crowd starts to utter a groan when another 7 yard hitch is given up, the reflexive response is for me to scream “that is supposed to happen!”

Playing pass coverage and doing it right is all about concessions and risk management. There are a lot of ways to get it done, but marrying scheme, the opposition, and your personnel in the secondary it creates a never ending gauntlet of issues to navigate. In regards to complexity and difficulty from a scheme standpoint, zone is much more difficult than man to continuously execute successfully.

Continue reading “Examining The Relationship Between Blitzing and Pass Coverage: Part II”

Examining the Relationship between Blitzing and Pass Coverage: Part I

Being a defensive coordinator, if a person would ask me what defense I would build my program around, that answer would have been different 15 years ago, and even 5 years ago. I went from a 4-4, to being a 4-3 wonk and now I am solidly in the camp of the 4-2-5. The reasons are numerous as to why I have changed my defensive philosophy over the years.

The biggest reason as to why my base defensive philosophy has changed, is in part because football has changed. At the college level, you can recruit to some degree, the types of players that fit your vision but at the high school you have to have a system that fits the personnel you have and is adaptable enough for the opposition you play. Not every defense is designed to handle whatever the opposition with throw at you any given week. Not every defense is created equal in adaptability  either.

When you discuss scheme it is an amalgamation of the fronts you use, the stunts, the blitzes, and coverages. Moreover it is every adaptation, every rule, and alignment adjustment you have to make every week to remain sound. Remaining sound is of importance, in that your scheme needs to answer what the offense challenges you with, and to remain sound and be effective scheme are a challenge sometimes.

Continue reading “Examining the Relationship between Blitzing and Pass Coverage: Part I”

Spring Game Wrap Up

I watched the film that Alpha put up in the #37 Club. Thanks for that Alpha.

I made my point about choosing to be an optimist over a pessimist, just a view point, here are a few limited observations. I wasn’t at the spring game, just followed it on twitter and saw limited clips. So this is hardly a comprehensive look, definitely a view point based upon a snap shot in time…

#1: I WOULD be concerned, if two things occurred this spring that occurred in regularity last fall. First from what I saw on film this spring the compete level, the attitude in a million times better than last fall. Whether that hangs around, I don’t know, but early reports the coaches attitudes along with players are at least anecdotally better. Second, I saw coaching adjustments. Limited film obviously, but Stitt has said every year that he would correct things. The spring both offensively and defensively I saw some things that I like. If we saw a repeat of last fall (2×2 formations, man coverage, etc) despite the increase of talent, I think we would have a right to be concerned. I think we see some continued evolution of scheme to match personnel.

#2: I get the lamenting over the QB play, but I think it will be fine. I saw three picks into disguised coverages. Two yesterday (Phillips both times) and Jensen the week before. Semore was throwing some zone drop scheme, tampa 2 and some switch coverages. Phillips, Jensen and Hill all showed significant upside, but their basement right now is lower. Phillips obviously struggles with pressing balls into tight spaces. That was a great play call defensively to run a zone drop. Phillips didn’t see him, and was baited into the throw. Hill is a bit like Chalich, in that he has happy feet and will run a bit even when the pressure isn’t there. If things slow down, Hill will be fine. Jensen makes a ton of heady plays but he isnt at times very good at diagnosing defenses. He is a freshman, and I do believe he has the highest upside of the three.

I didn’t see a lot of vanilla from the first team defense, and maybe that was out of design. I would, because I think it is a bit better to evaluate quarterbacks. Semore made the first team experience offense difficult, because that first 11 he has is at this point miles ahead of the offense.

#3: This defense can be really, really good. Remember it was missing several key elements of the defense this spring (including the whole linebacking corps) and all it did was show that it has some skill to go along with a further developed defensive scheme. I think there were a number of adjustments that had to be made.

  • Semore had to have known that staying in man, had to have been a significant weakness in last years scheme. The variance in coverages, the changes in alignments, position changes, and blitz concepts show that Semore and his staff spent a lot of time this winter creating a deeper and more diverse scheme.
  • A person might be apt to down play the offense, and that too would be appropriate, but the most significant part that I like about this defense is that it has the three A’s: assertive, attitude, and athletic. Moving Sandry put him in a position to be a better player. Reduces reads. Sims is going to be a force inside. He was already a FBS fringe player at end, but moving him inside permanently is going to make Semore’s defense much more the utility tool that he wanted it to be last year. Sims is athletic enough to play DT, DE and ILB.

#4: I would need more film to confirm it, but I really do think the O Line will show incredible growth. Schye/Sims are just plain freaks and I think it is good to remember that. Apparently Jace Lewis is too. A lot of the pocket break down wasn’t from blunt force 4 man pressure. Semore brought 5/6 man pressure with stunts, odd fronts and unique blitz concepts. What I saw on a number of the pocket breakdowns is fixed by film work. A lot of doubling a guy, but not getting their eyes right or following a stunt inside and getting beat with a loop.

  • The O-Line missed Reece, and yes Ralston and Beaver got waylaid by speed rushes by DE’s. I don’t think you can dismiss that, but a lot of that is fixed by two things. The first is a full depth offensive scheme that will slow down the d-line a bit. I think that showed on some of the third and long stuff, and neither really have had a tremendous amount of time at the position. The second is an increased emphasis on footwork. You can tell they were a bit tall on certain cases, or their kick steps weren’t as deep or as assertive as some OL coaches want.
  • From limited viewing the QB’s and RB’s will help as well. Spring games are sort of a perverse universe. You are repping 3 new quarterbacks, you don’t have your full allotment of RB’s and a scheme that is at this point a bit restricted. I think it creates an environment where the offense can be far more passive than the defense. Defenses are almost always miles ahead because you can cover up issues in spring ball by bringing heat. Heat was going to cause the QB’s problems, and the o-line too.
  • I also think we’ll see an emergence of two or three guys in fall drills, with an extra summer of footwork, drills and experience to increase competition on the OL. I think the group is attitudinally different, and I think will respond positively. At least that is at least what I am to gather from the word on the street. They got their asses handed to them at times this spring, but they played with good edge and competed.

Conclusions:

The pessimism reigns supreme. The offense wasn’t all that efficient, but I don’t think it is the island of misfit toys that it was the past two years. I think that we will see growth, in part because this at least from removed observers point of view, seems to be a much more cohesive unit offensively. I think the parts work better together. It might be rough early, but the upside for this group is higher I think than the past two  years.

To me Semore dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s on the checklist of things that needed to be tweaked in his scheme, personnel decisions from last year. There is a bevy of talent in the front 7 and an emergent group at safety that could prove to be a more comprehensive group than we have had since the 2011.

I don’t think I saw much of anything this spring, other than I hoped one QB would have taken control, that would lower expectations for the upcoming season. There is a whole summer to tweak, bring some new faces in over the summer and get back to doing work work in the fall.

 

Taking A Step Back Part III: Staying the Course

I know that much of what I will write here will alienate some people because that is what facts and information do these days. Why not build a narrative, support it with tangential and correlative evidence? Seems pretty easy these days, in and outside of the realm of sports. We elected Donald Trump in a post-truth era, so why not create a narrative that gets our venerable head coach fired.

Seems appropriate. Doesn’t make it right, but this is the world that we live in. Most of you that read this blog regularly know that I am a social studies educator as well as a football coach. For much of my professional career, I have always thought of myself as a coach second and an educator first.

That perspective affords me the ability to engage in coaching from an entirely non-emotive perspective. Just as importantly that perspective has allowed me over the years to take an evidence based approach in evaluating the programs, personnel and philosophies of the sports that I have coached.

Maybe the best piece of advice I ever received from a college professor was, “just because you want to believe it doesn’t make it true, just because you know its true doesn’t mean you can prove it.”

We should lock up Bob Stitt for another three years. 

Do it now. Without delay. Not because he is Vince Lombardi, Tom Osborne, Bill Walsh or Don Read. Do it because it is what is best for the program now, and for the future of it.

We want simple answers for complex problems and hence why we elected a man with grand answers but no solutions. Drain the swamp? Nope, he is going to flood it. Firing Bob Stitt right now or after year three is akin to electing Donald Trump president. Yup I said it.

We have arrived at this point in Grizzly football because many people, including fans, administrators and coaches put an emphasis on the present without a consideration for the future. We can spend the next twenty years debating how the cadillac became a Dodge Neon, but that doesn’t get us any closer of getting the vehicle in the shop and fixing it.

We want change without complete understanding what that change indicates. We want immediate results in a situation that cannot provide it. Firing Bob Stitt now or next year isn’t a plan to restore Grizzly football to its highest peaks, it is merely believing a narrative that isn’t necessarily backed up by the right information.

I’ll use a historical analogy. Andrew Jackson became convinced the 2nd National Bank was the implement of the rich to shackle the poor. Might have been partially true, in that it was nearly impossible for a common person to get loans of any significant amount in the 1830’s, but there were more things at play than the 2nd National Bank limiting access to wealth creation.

Despite cogent advice from his own political and economic advisors Jackson killed the bank. The result was as Jackson intended, allow common citizens greater access to capital, but there were a thousand after effects that did more harm than good. Jackson satisfied a short term goal, but with significant short and long term impacts. A run on banks, an inflationary spiral and a depression were the result. People had their money, but it came with a significant cost which was the destruction of the American economy that lasted nearly a decade.

Stylistically Bob Stitt was always going to provide a sharp dichotomy from the Delaney era, and maybe Stitt couldn’t offer as much early success as he promised. You can make an argument that Stitt’s ego might have been a big role in that, but the program frankly is no worse off than it was two years ago. In other words, it was highly unlikely the program would have been any better off or even worse off with Delaney or anyone else at the helm. Yet Stitt at least perceptively and narratively seems to be the nadir of the program when it was showing signs of decline far before it.

Not enough success, not enough Montana kids, not enough defense, not enough offense. Whatever your stylistic complaint might be, we get wrapped up in a narrative that you have come to believe is true even when it isn’t backed up by facts. Perceptively the same criticisms the same individuals have had of the last five Grizzly football coaches (Dennehey, Glenn, Hauck, Pflugrad, and Delaney) are levied upon Stitt. We like who we like, and we hate who we hate. Never mind the same criticisms are true of all.  I think it is high time people recognized that. Until the criticisms evolve beyond the standard and stylistic, there isn’t much merit to the removal conversation.

We can live in a post-truth world and just inundate our opposition in a litany of ‘facts’ but we have to trust those people who actually hold the cards and the information. I believe we have to trust Kent Haslam, and that he has a plan for the success of the program. If that part of the success of the program is signing up Stitt for another three years then we have to do it.

Firing Stitt at this point or a year into the future only fixes the short term problems, but it does nothing to fix the long term challenges of the program. Bringing in a power offense and defensive minded coach isn’t going to create immediate results. Again that is stylistic not substantive.

Just as many laud the Board of Regents for axing Engstrom in early December, again that is a largely stylistic fire that won’t correct the structural problems facing the University of Montana. Substantive issues that not only did Engstrom ignore, but President Dennison and the Board of Regents ignored as well. Sometimes you fire the guy to cover up your own ignorance and ineptitude.

That isn’t the case here. First there is a tremendous amount of supportive data that says Kent Haslam has a plan, he knows how to effect the type of change necessary and who to lead those individual programs. He has hired a bevy of office personnel, several coaches and overseen transformation of an athletic department out of a mom and pop operation into one that will help each of its individual athletic programs and mission succeed in both the short term, and in the long term. He doesn’t need to be muscled by a bunch of petulant boosters who have capital only in the monetary sense to promote a political agenda that isn’t backed up actual facts. At least facts that are defensible in an objective sense of the word.

Despite the impression otherwise, Stitt doesn’t win at Mines with the personnel he had without understanding how to make it work within the unequal academic expectations of his peer institutions. Stitt may not be everything and a bag of chips, he may not even Beau Baldwin, but he was longitudinally able have success in a place that was not the easiest place to have success. Stitt has shown a willingness to think outside of the box, to eschew traditional modalities (which makes him a fan in my world) and to take ownership for his and his staff’s own short comings.

He may not arrived at the UM with a scheme and style capable of producing immediate results, but again I don’t think you turn a Neon into a Caddy or high performance model car by merely replacing a few fenders and a new paint job. You don’t necessarily achieve it by buying a brand new cadillac either.

What made ‘Montana,’ Montana was there was an understanding that tradition and continuity made up a significant portion of the recipe of success. The tradition is only here in name only anymore and is spoken of in past tense and continuity was thrown out the window with three coaches in the past seven years, three offensive styles, the same defensively, and a bevy of turnover in staff and players.

I don’t think Stitt necessarily has the answer, but I think he should be given the opportunity along with his staff to see if his recipe works. Stitt has taken the car into the shop, whether we like it or not, and decided to overhaul the whole thing. Thrown out just about everything from the last two regimes and has decided to build his own model, his own style of vehicle. He doesn’t want a Cadillac, maybe he wants a Tesla. I don’t know.

When you commit to hiring a coach who advocates an overhaul you better let him complete the overhaul. I don’t see him taking short cuts or changing course midstream, rather he seems to have adjusted his methodology and willing to make some hard decisions about the factors of production here. Stitt won the job over a large pool of very qualified applicants because he convinced them (Administration and boosters included) that he could rebuild the program.

He recognized as many others did that a paint job wasn’t going to fix the program. Haslam did as well. Haslam has engaged in an all out offensive to help not only the football program be more competitive but the rest of the programs in the Big Sky. Montana used to be enough in basketball and football to win more than not. That isn’t enough to Haslam. He wants the program to be competitively regionally and he has a plan to achieve that goal. Stitt is a part of that, as is the champions center, student-athlete complex, and the myriad of other personnel, places and entities. I don’t think Haslam will cut-bait unless he sees a sharp deviation from that goal.

Stitt still has a mountain to climb, the disappointing end of the year makes it more difficult, and is mostly likely very aware the type of expectations that he has to meet. The best thing at this point is to allow not only Stitt enough time to fully show his chops but to give him the time to complete the overhaul. At this point, I am of the belief you can’t cut bait unless it is completely aware that his regime and his message aren’t working. I don’t necessarily believe the late season swoon was fatigue of message, though I am quite sure some have made that argument.

For the best interests of the program, I think you have to give Stitt and his staff five years to implement his vision. There are obviously things that will short circuit that plan, but I haven’t seen much over the past two years that is indicative of the type of institutional failure is imminent next year.