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The Case for English

No, I haven't gone crazy. Is Ron English a better candidate than Les Miles? No. Is he a better candidate than Greg Schiano? No. But English is not the catastrophic, absolute disaster candidate that many in the world of Michigan sports seem to believe.
The first criticism of Ron English leveled by most detractors is that he is not a great X and O defensive coordinator. Examples like OSU 2006, USC 2007, and App State 2007 are cited. Taking any of these into account, the talent that Michigan had at its disposal is certainly relevant. Ohio State and USC spread Michigan out, and without enough defensive backs to cover the elite athletes, there was little that "scheming defensively" could do.

Especially against Ohio State, the defensive coordinator can hardly be blamed. Jim Tressel coached a hell of a game, including a play-action bom on second and very short that everyone in the stadium except Ryan Mundy saw coming. Also, the Buckeyes scored on two long touchdown runs during which Antonio Pittman and Beanie Wells each broke tackles (poor technique, not the fault of the coordinator) at most levels of the defense to reach the grass that was painted red. While on some plays, Michigan had linebackers covering slot receivers, the Wolverines had very little adequate personnel at their disposal (and in a zone this shouldn't matter as much), leaving English in poor position to make something happen.

Against Appalachian State, players on both sides of the line admitted that Michigan was not ready to play against the reigning 1-AA champs. The Wolverines were destroyed by App State through the air. Part of this was personnel selection (Stevie Brown at FS and Johnny Sears at CB), which can be blamed on the DC, but the general attitude of blowing off a lower-division opponent to focus on later teams rests on the headman.

Another criticism leveled by detractors of English is the fact that he does not make adjustments for the second half of games. This is obviously untrue, as opponents have scored far more points on English defenses before the break. In 2007, 148 points were scored by Michigan opponents in the first half, as opposed to 97 in the second (60.1% scored in first half). In 2006, 95 ponts (46.3%) were scored by opponents in the first half, but this includes meaningless scores by many teams that already had no chance to win the game (nearly all except Vandy (scoreless in 2nd half), IU (scoreless in second half), Ohio State and USC (Ohio State scored 2/3 their points in the first half, and USC appears to be the only time English's adjustments were legitimately without reward). While a case may be made for English's defenses ceding more points than they should, halftime adjustments are not a huge issue.

The anti-English crusaders may state that, adjustments or not, English's defenses have given up too many points. However, while X and O proficiency may be part of the criteria, they aren't the most important criterion.

A head coach must surround himself with good assistants. While it is obviously too soon to know if English would do this, one must assume that, given the current sentiment among UM fans, he at least would not hold on to DeBord (huge improvement in one fell swoop!). It is unclear what other changes he might make.

The philosophy of the head coach, rather than his specific schemes, are the crux of his coaching identity. Ron English defenses, in both 2006 and 2007, have been aggressive. If there is one thing that Michigan fans have consistently complained about in the post-Woodson Carr era, it is a lack of aggression, both offensively and defensively. English would obviously continue to embrace an aggressive defensive philosophy, and it may be reasonably inferred that this would translate to his decisions on the offensive side of the ball as well.

The head coach must be a good recruiter. If nothing else, this is what has been English's calling card during his time as a coach of the Michigan Wolverines. Such players as Jonas Mouton, Boubacar Cissoko (as-yet unsigned), Donovan Warren, and Michael Williams were all recruited by English. All of these players garnered five stars from at least one recruiting service. Recruiting, perhaps the most important duty of the head coach, would not be a worry if English were named head coach.

The other key area in which head coaches are expected to excel is media relations. While English has limited experience, and in that experience he has often been coy, Lloyd Carr is a prime example of a head coach getting by without being cordial to the media. If anything, English would be a step up from Lloyd, and probably a significant one.

Am I advocating Ron English as head coach? If all the better prospects fall through, maybe I am. However, he is clearly a fall-back choice, if candidates such as Les Miles and Greg Schiano continue to rebuff the courting of Bill Martin. However, as fall-back choices go, Ron English is certainly not the catastrophe that many would like to believe.

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“The Case for English”

  1. Blogger Andrew Says:

    as a positive, there would be some continuity in terms of coaching (at some positions) and recruiting. however, i shudder to think of Randy Shannon II, but at UM North.