As described by the Detroit News, when legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler (80% winning percentage) took over a struggling Michigan team in the late 1960’s, the more difficult practices and harsher coaching style drove 20-30 players to leave the team. For Michigan fans it is well known that he had a sign made reading “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions” and that he pretty much honored that claim by winning at least a share of 13 Big Ten titles in 21 seasons. What isn’t reported often is that one of the departing players added to the first sign: “And those who leave will be doctors, lawyers and captains of industry.” I think that’s an important part of the story.
Since Michigan had already lost it’s graduated running back and quarterback, as well as it’s top two receivers (juniors) to the NFL and then had it’s only experienced quarterback transfer to Arkansas of all places, it was upsetting in the past week to see the most veteran remaining offensive player — lineman Justin Boren — leave the team as well. Apparently a mix of a very different roll for offensive linemen in the spread offense and the crassness of the former West Virginia coaching staff didn’t sit well with him.
Even without the accusations and counter-accusations following coach Rich Rodriguez’s messy break-up with West Virgina, it seems like problems with such a major transition should be expected and it’s way too early to panic or lambaste anyone. Boren actually gave a press conference, however, where he said his main concern was a decline in “Michigan family values” which most of us took to refer to cruder language and harsher criticism on the part of the former West Virginia coaching staff. What strikes me as far more inappropriate was the interpretation of Matt Hayes, who seems to feel that Boren just isn’t tough enough.
My opinion on most sports writers is probably well known to most of the Lunchtimers (the intersection of failed atheletes and failed journalists). Even I was surprised, however, by a piece in the The Sporting News where Hayes berates Boren for being a player “who took his ball and whined all the way home.” Hayes argues that “Not all bosses motivate the same. Some motivate with positive reinforcement, others with fear and still others with goal-oriented benchmarks. Some use a combination of all three.” He goes on to to say that since every boss is different, you are supposed to just suck it up and take it. Now football is not the workplace, but I think this is a classic example of workplace machismo that continues to erode workers rights in the United States and causes us, for instance, to be offered, and use, far less vacation than the rest of the industrialized world. Instead of listening to Boren, Hayes decides to attack him — an unpaid college athelete no less — for not liking something he viewed as a change for the worse. Boren might be wrong. He might do worse in life for having left Michigan football. But I really think that it’s important to remember that he might also become successful elsewhere in football or in another profession all together. What’s important is that he actually had the guts to do something about it, rather than just be miserable and attack others for trying to do better.
Fotunately I am not alone in my opinion. Several people wrote The Sporting News to criticize Hayes for attacking Boren. As he represents it, however, just as many wrote to agree that Boren should have known his place and just accepted whatever was given to him. Given that our democracy and capitalist economy depend on people having the freedom to do right by themselves, I find the popularity of that sentiment to be frightening.
There is no sane reason for the jury to be anything but out on Rich Rodriguez, given that he won’t coach a football game for nearly five months and still has scores of players seemingly content enough not to leave. Stewie Mandel even has a great piece on the first open Michigan practices in forty years (where he notes that the exhausting “new”drills are pretty typical and wonders what the heck Michigan has been doing all this time). So far the only thing we can know for sure is that the catty behavior of people like Matt Hayes hurts everyone.