You’ll probably see this as a bit of a stretch, but using Jim Collins’ How the Mighty Fall(HTMF) to analyze the demise of the once mighty Michigan Football program might be a good learning opportunity for you and an excellent way to vent my frustrations about things.

You see, I’m a true blue Michigan Fan. I became a fan in 1969 when a less than prominent football coach named Glenn “Bo” Schembechler was hired in Ann Arbor. He turned around a losing team in one season and ended the season by whipping the what many people believed to be the best Ohio State Football team ever, the Rex Kern Buckeyes (undefeated National Champions the season before and undefeated going into the 1969 game season ending game with Michigan).

Thus began the longest string of winnings seasons in NCAA history (40) and the longest string of continuous bowl appearances (30+). I attended and graduated from Michigan (’79). Only one national championship season during that time, but a consistent display of excellence on the field and off the entire time. The Michigan Way of winning was established and sustained. No star system, the team and University always first, senior leadership, tough physical play, and a commitment to excellence all the way around. No cheating, no scandals, no monkey business. And when we lost, it was always close, and the other team always felt like they had been beaten up by the Wolverines and were lucky to win.

This extended beyond Bo through Gary Moeller to Lloyd Carr. In fact, Bo never won a National Championship, Carr did. But the championship culture created by Bo –“Those who stay will be champions.”– carried the program. In my humble opinion the Schembechler Era ended with Carr’s retirement.

The last years of the Carr tenure you could see that the program was struggling a bit, losing to Ohio State regularly and looking a bit unprepared at times, and a bit old fashioned as well. And the administration may have been in denial a bit about things (stage three of HTMF, denial of risk and peril). After all, how do you fire a national championship winning coach. The administration fumbled hiring his replacement, two excellent coaches turning Michigan down. Lots of pressure existed to get a new coach who would really change things and make the program more “modern” by bringing in the latest and greatest offense, the spread.

Succumbing to pressure and trying to make a “big” hire, Michigan hired Rich Rodrieguez the current coach. RichRod is an spread offense guru who surely could turn things around. (Stage four of HTMF, grasping for salvation). They hired him quickly and it certainly created a buzz about Michigan Football. The New and Improved Michigan Football program is on the way and a National Championship just around the corner. But it appears the did it without thoroughly checking him out, and without concern about the havoc the hire would create.

Like most guru’s coming into declining situations, he cleaned the house. Fired all the coaches, ignored the established traditions and culture, and ran out players that didn’t see things his way, the New Michigan Way. And as Collins chronicles in HTMF, the change accelerated the slight decline, making it a big one. Michigan is the doormat of the Big Ten two years running. Michigan is on a two year streak of losing seasons without a bowl game. They play inconsistently at best, and miserably at their worst. They no longer know how to win or even display the desire to win. Unforced errors abound. Teams that haven’t beat us at home since the Johnson Administration have beat us, Teams that haven’t beat us two years in a row have beat us two in a row. Too many of the wrong kind of firsts.

Collins documents, that in the decline of great to failure, bringing in the guru with his game changing ways, almost never works. What works in going back to what made your great, and making adjustments and innovations that make what you did great even better. It’s what works.

It’s not going to get any better. The program is in disarray. It’s hurting recruiting, always the key to excellence. Next year will be no better than this year. RichRod is starting from scratch to establish a winning culture when he didn’t have to. He should have embraced the culture and adjusted his spread offense to match it. He’s destroyed the culture in two short seasons because he didn’t respect it. It’s what superstar guru’s do, they know better, they’re the superstar. When a company hires the outside superstar guru you should sell your stock in that company as soon as possible, failure is on the way. Does Carly Fiorino sound familar?

To get back to excellence Michigan needs to follow some of Jim Collins’ advice from Good to Great: Hire slow and fire fast. Fire RichRod as fast as they can. And go slow in hiring a coach that can go back to what made Michigan great the previous 40 years. Doesn’t have to be a Michigan Man, but it needs to be one the respects the culture, and can bring it back and build on it.

Okay, I know that this post is full of sour grapes. My Maize and Blue Blood is boiling. But being an aficionado and disciple of both Collins and Schembechler (I think they would love each other), I really can’t see it any other way. And neither should you. Pick up a copy of HTMF. And while you are at it, pick up a copy of Bo’s Lasting Lessons. They cover the same territory in different ways. And they might just help you succeed and avoid failure.

Go Blue!
It’s Good, To Be, A Michigan Wolverine!