Coach Jim Harbaugh’s Semi-epiphany

Part 1-Introduction

A new series delving into the recent actions and perceived changes in Head Coach Jim Harbaugh’s approach to “reforming” Michigan football will be upcoming. Ever since early last fall, the urge has built to expand in detail previous articles identifying Coach Harbaugh’s worldview and preferences for running a football program. This would now and previously did entail how Michigan’s identified problem areas remain after two seasons.

The effort was aborted due to the author having no stomach or inclination to kick old but still smoking embers from before last season, during the season, and certainly after the season back to life, resulting in even more unneeded vitriol. The final coffin closure for the described venture happened as a result of the play of the Michigan team during the Outback Bowl. Five turnovers, blowing a 19-3 lead, misfortune for a new quarterback trying to make things happen and coughing the ball on a stretch effort at the goal line, and on and on. The game was a nightmare, a perfect storm of conditions and factors that turned what should have been a win into a gift to South Carolina. The vitriol was predictable, the “villains” publicly identified and chastised by the ever present day-after quarterbacks. The analysis of and the disappointment in the poor play was warranted, perhaps not so much the personal attacks initiated by a season of tough results that did not match the expectations of all, including the coaching staff.

It was mentioned here, that as the season progressed, it was becoming quite obvious that a mass plan of program evaluation and direction was greatly needed and that the number one mission in December would be to analyze the overall program, derive intelligent strategies for improvement, and get going. There are ways this could have been done. But it seems that, based on recent comments that will be identified later, Coach Harbaugh, as he stated in an interview with Sam Webb, started to think that a process for improvement would eventually be needed as the season progressed. Most of the movement for program change appears to have been thought through and carried out in January and February.

Two factors provided a change of mind, concerning a topic revisit. First, Sam Webb, in his series of interviews with various members of the Michigan coaching staff gleaned comments that can best be described as very telling; a near trove of insights for educated inferences. Secondly, a well respected poster on The Victors Club asked a pertinent question: “Ok you folks with PhD’s in between the lines reading… “ The response was “OK-I can help.”

Psychology is a collection of many sciences and a means of offering explanations for actions. One field is the study of psychological style and typing. Many of you are familiar with the various personality types that have derived from the theory of Carl Jung, enhanced greatly by the additional longtime work of Myers-Briggs. In addition, personality traits have been shown to demonstrate a relationship between personality, and other type theory, and choice of profession. Jim Harbaugh was destined to be a football coach by his life experiences. Whatever his type and preference of worldview, Coach was destined to coach.

One once overlooked, but now highly in vogue, is the theoretical framework of worldview preference as a means of analyzing decision making and actions within a profession, including coaching.

The purpose of this series is to offer potential insights into how preferences may have influenced past actions and future plans. Like all realms of the psychological knowledge base concerning style , pepper’s framework is not foolproof, nothing in the analysis of human action and decision choices is near foolproof. Social science is not nearly as accurate as pure science, that is, for example, the level of significant difference would be very low in experiments regarding bacteria in comparison to determining a significant difference for how color affects adolescent mood.

A stated purpose is not to place blame on any coach, team member, or affiliated staff member. This is not an effort to beat a horse, or provide fodder for those who hold the horse in low regard. The view here is that the program suffered setbacks last year, some setbacks that were clear and correctable, some due to simple personnel shortcomings, and a little bad luck that most teams incur. But, all in all, the recent comments and actions contained within the interviews and announced changes speak to a serious potential for effecting future outcomes.

The methodology of doing analysis through theory interpretation is a start. Such a venture would benefit from anecdotal discourse from primary and secondary sources, who first hand experienced last season’s decision making process and flaws. This is all that can be gleaned, Coach Harbaugh and staff members it may be inferred wanted to send a message to everyone about the direction of the program. The staff clearly would not want to go overboard and turn the information about program change into an inquisition. The decision was clear, provide a framework that acknowledges past difficulties, end the discussion and move on with a positive spin. Not a bad method from this point of view.

This concludes Part One-Introduction. The series continues with: (2) a short description of Pepper’s theory that can elaborate on Coach Harbaugh’s preferences and possible effects on program tenets; (3) a discussion of Coach Harbaugh’s likely worldview preference and concludes with (4) direct evidence of change and inferences gleaned from staff interviews.

Note that inferences are above the level of mere guess if informed by evidence or source. Note further that an inference is merely an informed statement and is subject to fallibility error and changing/fluid conditions (variables). Still, there is value in informed analysis, even if some fallibility is certain. Nothing going forward is meant to disparage the program or assign blame, responsibility, or fault for perceived fanbase shortcomings.

Coach Harbaugh’s Semi-epiphanyPart 2-Revisiting Program Status and Initial Discussion of Preference Theory

Many have quipped that it is hard to fully grasp the actions, words, and program development of Coach Jim Harbaugh. To a large degree, Coach is a little more difficult to read than the average person going about their work and daily life. There are times that what he states and does seems puzzling and complex, and then there are times that what he states is as pointed and direct as a spear. Coach Harbaugh is simply more complex than the average person. To understand why, read on.

Two theoretical models of looking at Coach Harbaugh and the recent evolution of the program will be detailed and explained. They are (1) Myers-Briggs type theory (M-B) based on the work of Carl Jung, and (2) Stephen Peppers’ worldview preferences. Of the two, the belief here is that Pepper’s theory offers the most accurate window of insight. Beforehand will be a first section revisiting program status lending to setting a solid preliminary foundation for linking program problems, preference, and decisions.

Type theory and related preference is not a perfect predictor of human behavior. It is also not worthless rubbish, being used in many academic and professional situations successfully. Humans act like humans, which means that an intuitive may have common traits, but a clear intuitive does not always act or respond like an intuitive.

Section 1-Statement of the Problem-Revisiting Program Status

The Michigan program suffered tough losses, untimely injuries, critical turnovers, and a deflation of public efficacy/respect. The explanations offered by outsiders are numerous, including (1) insufficient recruiting of top-tier talent, (2) ineffective scheme, (3) insufficient coaching ability, (4) program leadership and direction, and (5) infighting.

Like most programs, the internal bad laundry will not be subject to much public view or intense explanation. Instead, lately, much as a result of Sam Webb’s staff interviews small tidbits has been offered for readers to make inferences of past problems and future direction. The inferences, if correct, are useful for observers to explain, and potentially useful for staff to foster new direction. What matters far more is program improvement, whatever the chosen philosophy and implementation strategies. Parts matter, go recruit: scheme matters; work hard and improve it; coaching matters, and here Michigan is in good shape. Leadership, good parts, smart scheme, crucial play calling victories, and cohesiveness will be the tools to dig out of the rut. Some improved physical status allowing the team to play four quarters without let down would be helpful as well.

The Harbaugh model of the tight end and fullback combos has been chastised as caveman-like and many in the base have called for a transition to more spread, passing, and flavor of the month offense. This may be a faulty underlying assumption.

With the right combo of power linemen, effective tight ends, a group of capable backs that grind and move the chain, and a quarterback that can transform scheme into production, the Harbaugh model would be effective and lauded by others. Indeed this did happen not so long ago. Overpowering an opponent is more parts-oriented than science.

Harbaugh is a parts and machine guy. Without an above average line and strong quarterback play, his offensive preferences are in trouble. Turnovers slow down some offenses. With a power team, turnovers equal a great waste of effort and limited opportunity. Most offensive schemes fail and coaches look dumb with inferior parts and mistakes. Play calling is called into question, but little may work with an offense suffering the above liabilities.

There are offensive schemes that attempt to circumvent talent liabilities, Phillip Rivers at North Carolina comes to mind. Deficiencies when playing a superior parts team was a primary reason for some early spread like offenses that attempted to negate power with speed. Small, quick slots, quick release quarterbacks, and basketball on grass became a phase. Today’s top tier teams have parts, have coaching, have power, and have speed; that is why such teams are on top.

The parts are really not there for a massive Michigan reinvention that would yield instant get to the playoff this year type of results. Taking this team and creating, say an air raid/spread attack like described above is not an option, unless the decision is made to blow up the offense. The philosophical will to execute a 180 degree change is likely not present or palatable. And in honesty such drastic, knee-jerk, reactive measure is not needed.

Still, clearly the parts are there for a workable, specific, and precise transformation that aims to correct weaknesses in scheme structure and execution: read this as tinkering and undergoing logical retooling that uses what is present and what will be recruited in the future. Settle in on the mechanism, get a quarterback up to snuff, and make the long awaited call for offensive line improvement a reality.

Coach Pep Hamilton has to be as frustrated as any living human regarding the offensive unit shortcomings of 2017. The talk before the season was quick quarterback release, more use of the slot, and incorporating some west coast flavor via Hamilton’s pro experience. By and large, little of that came to fruition. Why so is again a mixed bag of mumbo jumbo one that now is in the past must be remembered to improve the future.

Coach Harbaugh, ever the Mechanist who values parts, has made coaching hires he believes will enhance the retooling effort. When a Mechanist has a machine breaks down, parts are replaced. When the machine functioning at a high level, the status quo is the preferred choice. His stated public comments evoking self-evaluation and collaboration as processes to retool are somewhat surprising but on target.

The ultimate question remains how Coach Harbaugh will address offensive scheme. He could give the public lip service and keep his current model intact. That option seems unlikely as he and other offensive coaches have detailed self-evaluation and collaboration to produce improvements. Coach has settled in with basic processes. While the venture may not be successful, it certainly has been undertaken.

Harbaugh has hired coaches he believes can secure and machine the parts to accelerate development and results. Initially the venture looks successful, solid coaching choices with a good mix now in place. One can infer from the timeline, comments, and approach to staff building this past January, that (1) there was most likely at least a plan for staff and program change even before the bowl game, and (2) Coach Harbaugh spent energy and time covering for his staff hunting new assignments.

Coach Washington is young, energetic, in the Michigan mold that Harbaugh values, and seeks success. His new status as a Michigan coach should play well in recruiting. He will work hard to meld with Coach Brown, who should be a very welcome mentor to Coach Washington. All indications lead to future success.

Now when it comes to new tight ends coach, Sherrone Moore, pretty much the same description can be applied as with Coach Washington. He has a short amount of experience but all past sources state he has the work ethic and skills to be successful. Sherrone was a lineman at Oklahoma, spent several years as a tight end coach at Louisville and Central Michigan. Coach Moore was also recruiting coordinator at Central Michigan.

So, with the new up and comers in place, and the decision of Chris Partridge to stay on board, the mission of securing energy and youthful guys that can recruit and coach hard was accomplished. The newbies will hear negatives on the recruiting trail and will need to have persistence and a strong message to place Michigan back in the top tier recruiting schools. These guys have seen the difficulty of recruiting against big timers in places like Cincinnati and Western and will now approach the recruiting craft from a position of strength.

Coach Harbaugh now needed to address the offense and its structure. Coach Pep has been discussed and is here. All the drama, the Enos’ reversal, must be forgotten, there is work, plenty of work ahead. By his nature, and by his involvement in the offense, Coach Harbaugh is joined at the hip with Coach Pep. Any concerns he has toward Pep must also be directed at himself, perhaps even more so.

So, having himself in place and having Pep in place, Coach Harbaugh turned to clear areas of need; the offensive line, tight ends, and receivers.

Coach Warinner has a clear and undisputed history of developing offensive linemen. Those in the woe is us crowd complain Coach Warinner’s history also indicates he is not a stand on his head circus type of pure charismatic recruiter. What matters is that somehow Michigan recruits high level linemen and Coach Warinner and others develop the talent.

Coach Jim McElwain had some difficulties at Florida, to this observer in large part because of injuries to key offensive personnel including at quarterback, where he never found the chosen one to lead the assent, somewhat like Michigan. Coach Mac has seen the block, many blocks, as such he is valuable as not only good coaching but also brainstorming. Mac was offensive coordinator at Alabama. Mac has served as a quarterback coach (which he played in college), a wide receiver coach, offensive coordinator, a very successful special teams coach, and a head coach at several schools. His offenses, sans Florida, have been productive.

Mac’s role at Michigan will be to develop a nice, young wideout group and help with game planning. Both areas are in need of major improvement. Mac holds a large chunk of pocket change from Florida. So, he could come in without a ton of pressure and simply enjoy a renewal from hard teaching and coaching, a sort of mid-life revival. Mac will have the luxury of being supported by Roy Roundtree, a class guy who is being provided a nice opportunity for professional growth.

Section 2-Type and Preference and Understanding the Semi-epiphany

Remember, regardless of how this discussion on Coach and preference turns out, Jim Harbaugh, by his personal background and related success, was literally tracked by his environment to be a football coach; tracked more so into a profession than most or all of us. Because of Harbaugh’s leadership role as a quarterback, and being the team leader for a head coach who was the penultimate leader, Bo Schembechler, his preference was clearly to be a head coach, one to lead, define and build a football program.

As theory describes preference traits, the reader may wish to stop on occasion and think of specific instances where the presented descriptors of Myers-Briggs and Pepper Worldview match real life happenings.

Myers-Briggs Preference

There is no precise assessment known (most have taken indicator instruments) here concerning Coach’s surveyed Myers-Briggs (M-B) personality type. The informed guess is that he is an introverted intuitive (known as IN), a complex personality type, The professoriate ranks, known by some to be a little far out, have far more introverted intuitive (IN’s) types than the normal population.

So, how then can a football coach who talks, plans, corrects, and guides others all day, every day, be an introvert and sometimes appear to welcome the spotlight? Introversion, in Carl Jung’s ground breaking type theory, refers to an inner world preference, as opposed to the external world of the extrovert. Labeling one as an introvert does not necessarily mean a person says little or nothing. Many introverts are very quiet, some are not. Introverts talk and react well with those deemed to be within an inner circle. With others, perhaps not so well, as many times happens with Coach Harbaugh’s interactions with media and others who may be perceived as non-trusted or even threatening outsiders.

Introverts gain momentum and energy from their own inner thoughts, they can be assessed by other types to be complex and for some difficult to understand the basic essence of the IN’s. IN’s practice inner reflection when making important decisions, making choices and decisions becomes a process more than a reflex.

Intuition preference relates to how information is processed, information that will be needed for strong decision making. Intuitives value the big picture, the glorious vision; they are theory-oriented (as are thinkers), interconnections and perception are important. As such IN’s can be idealistic (which perhaps can contribute to stubbornness). Intuitives value perfection and are not keen on excessive planning or doing the legwork after creating an idea or theory. As a head coach, the latter is not a choice, football coaching always involves legwork. Practice seems to be a joy for Coach Harbaugh, it immerses him into the external world, one could say, but he is also with his favored circle doing what he likes.

Take into consideration the need for a superior/perfect machine derived from the intuitive type with a worldview of a Mechanist and Coach Harbaugh’s idealistic view of the machine (too many times blamed on Bo) makes sense.

The machine last year was wounded, the parts missing or incomplete, so Coach is as frustrated as anyone else with last year’s shortcomings. Parts can be improved but the real missing link is the blueprint for the machine, in football terms the offensive philosophy/scheme. And so the machine bogged down and change, although slow, was inevitable.

Change for the introverted intuitive involves deep inner reflection and other characteristics: (1) no need to impulsively make change; (2) not really caring as much as other personality types what is thought of problem solving decisions; (3) a reluctance to seek out outsiders, and (4) a need to trust himself/herself, also known as the gut feeling. But the thinker in Harbaugh throws a little curve into the decision making process by trusting logic and valuing the naked truth probably more than a simple intuitive gut feeling.

Back now to self-evaluation and collaboration, two of Coach Harbaugh’s verbal bits of evidence that an epiphany has evolved. Reflection is self-evaluation, so it becomes no surprise that Harbaugh evoked this strategy.

In a business setting, a strong introvert if given a choice of working within a “collaborative group” or doing a piece assignment by himself/herself, would choose the later option and retreat to a quiet room to engage in inner thinking, idea creation, future visions, etc, far away from the banter of fifteen other people offering solutions.

Coaching does not hold this luxury of choice. Collaboration is an everyday event in coaching, without this the result is friction, disorganization, and chaos; willing coordination is a pure necessity. The deep, theory-heavy, minimal communicating, keep to yourself, individual may not last long in coaching. So, no real surprise that Harbaugh involved other staff members in the process. This strategy spreads the work, creates agreement, and makes the entire staff stakeholders.

Take note: the fact that Coach Harbaugh announced and discussed self-evaluation is a little more difficult for the inner world and reflective intuitive introvert, it may or may not be an uncomfortable public mini-confession where the outer circle is informed of problems and solutions. Thus, a semi-epiphany is accurate. Something stirred Coach and caused this course of action, obviously the breakdowns and conditions that negatively affected the on-field results of last year.

Reports of internal strife within last year’s staff may or may not be overblown, but the pronounced effort at revamping a staff with new members that appear to “correct” obvious weaknesses speaks to the obvious.

Stephen Pepper Worldview

The final section of Part 2 explores the Worldview preference (World Hypotheses) theory of Stephen Pepper, a mid-20th Century philosopher sought to explain actions through Worldview. preference. The Myers-Briggs type theory speaks to preferences that have a range. For example, a person may be indexed as almost equal in introvert and extrovert traits. Such a person would be labeled a hybrid. Not so in Pepper’s theory, each person is believed to have a clearcut preference. He stated that attempting to overhaul or change preference leads to confusion and perhaps failure.

Theory is metaphysical and therefore does not consider the physical nature of football. Football is physical and talent is critical, but football, like all professions, is not immune to the influence of underlying theory of the metaphysical world. Worldviews can explain actions regarding the genesis and execution of program philosophy, organization, management strategies, flexibility, ability to adapt, and vision.

Pepper identified only four supported world hypotheses: Formism, Mechanism, Contextualism, and Organicism that have survived with validity the span of human history. The first two, Formism and Mechanism, are analytical. The second pairing, Contextualism and Organicism, are synthetic. The strength of Formism and Contextualism is scope; seeing the entire picture and making sense of all the interrelated components. The strength of Mechanism and Organicism is precision.

Worldviews are not to be viewed as competing or one being declared superior to another according to Pepper; all have strengths and all have weaknesses; some are linked together and some are more polar opposites in design. Each has a sole purpose, keeping with the historical nature of philosophy, namely to seek truth. But what is truth to one viewpoint may not sit well with another.

So, as the reader browses through the article, continue to look for Coach Harbaugh descriptors and clues intertwined within the theory discussion, for example the Mechanist seeks perfection, the Mechanist metaphor is the machine.

And yes, Pepper’s work becomes very useful to explain human actions of football coaches since football coaching almost mandates frequent trips into the realm of all four Worldviews.

The coach with a Formist preference likely has slogans, sayings, underlying foundation, goals, etc., visible everywhere; ideas and words count! A living philosophy takes on more value for a Formist.

The Mechanist values parts and creating and maintaining a precise machine. All parts must function and the eventual success of the machine counts. Maintaining a strong machine counts, if the machine breaks, replace the parts, fix it, more so than create a very different machine. Throwing the machine away and bending to the pragmatism of the Contextualist or the invention of the Organicist may become a near last resort.

The Contextualist is pragmatic, has simplistic but clear objectives, and uses strategies and actions that cause the program to work, whatever it takes. What counts is that the venture works, how it comes to success is less important, just make it work.

The Organicist loves and welcomes change, tinkering, becoming an inventor, and creating systems that can be fluid and not too static, like the Mechanist. Even if something is fine, working well, the Organicist loves change and creating other options.

The position here is that Coach Harbaugh is a Mechanist. The clues and dots line up that way. As such, a little more will be offered about the Mechanist coach before continuing on to the Part 3.

Many coaches are strong Mechanists, not just Coach Harbaugh. Bob Knight, Vince Lombardi, and Bill Belichick come to mind. All coaches, regardless of Worldview preference, engage in Formist planning and Mechanist practice. The symbol and metaphor that is assigned to the Worldview of Mechanism is the machine. Football, having 11 independent parts reacting as a working unit on every play, automatically becomes attached to machine metaphor. To those coaches who value the machine and parts more than others, the label of Mechanist is appropriate.

The only fly in the theoretical ointment of Pepper’s Mechanism’s attachment to football is his stated underlying assumption that in the machine metaphor the parts are independent, unrelated, and function on their own: there are no real relationships, the final conglomeration results in a machine, a form made for a specific purpose.

The Mechanist’s game day performance has always been a hot topic of discussion for fans. It is an observable coaching trait, success is observable, and lends well to Monday armchair quarterbacking. The Mechanist is less inclined to change the game plan when the machine and parts are up against the wall. Fans complain about a limited playbook, poor play selection, and on and on, but the Mechanist believes in the machine and how it was prepared and put together. This may be called stubborn by some, or loyal and having belief in the machine.

Coach Harbaugh’s Epiphany-Parts 3 and 4
Doc 4Blu

The series will conclude with parts, 3 and 4: Part 3-Coach Harbaugh’s likely worldview preferences and (4) final inferences and program change. Part 3 is to some degree an extension, a summary of Part 2, that detailed type and preference; Part 4 is taking evidence and inferences and discussing how program direction may change and evolve.

Part 3-Coach Harbaugh’s Preferences

As mentioned in the opening, all humans must navigate into and through the worlds of introversion, extroversion, intuition, sensing, thinking, feeling, perception, and judgment. Humans also must navigate through Pepper’s Worldviews of Formist, Mechanist, Contextualist, and Organicist. No preference is considered superior or inferior: all have strengths and shortcomings.

Still, it is important to remember is that people have preferences. These preferences spill over into the professional world and effect decisions, information gathering, worldview, and attitude.

Coach Harbaugh is almost certainly a coach with a preference for the Mechanist Worldview and there is reasonable evidence he also has an introverted/intuitive preference regarding personality type.

Harbaugh’s discussion of reflection fits both of the above preference groupings (Myers-Briggs IN type and Pepper Worldview of Mechanist). His methodology of self-evaluation/self-reporting, reflection links directly to the IN (introverted intuitive/personality) type. The introvert is innerworld, the Mechanist simple wants a better machine, regardless if the emphasis for change is internally or externally driven.

The IN may move slower on change, but is calculating more than impulsive. The introvert will announce and discuss the change process (confession stage) later, rather than sooner (if at all). The intuitive sometimes has a slow finger to pull a trigger when faced with important decision making.

Coach Harbaugh spouts out little Formist philosophy, a minor surprise considering Bo was a true Formist. Coach Harbaugh states simple foundational thoughts and moves on. He does not have the fluidity and tinkering desires of the Organicists. And not synthesizing (largely changing) an offensive system the last few years (or slowly doing so) rejects synthetic Contextualism for the analytical preference of the Mechanist. Analysis is intended to create a better product, but synthesis is creating. This little paradox is nothing coaches have not faced since time immemorial.

Now, if Pepper is to be taken with pure literal belief, two contradicting scenarios arise. First, Pepper states that changing Worldviews is a dangerous proposition and leads to confusion. The second scenario is that Harbaugh remains a Mechanist, one who wants a better machine, and to get his machine will rely on change derived from internal planning and strategy.

The second scenario seems more likely, as football coaches, more than almost all others, must enter and successfully navigate all four Worldviews. The Mechanist who also is an IN would prefer the analytical approach: identity the problems and logically plan a remedy: just fix it and enjoy the results. Coach Harbaugh realizes this is not a one-man show; the situation is too broad and too complex. So share the work, share the processes and hence infuse collaboration a trait attached to. Reflection, which is self-evaluation, and collaboration offer potential to initiate smart change. Smart change usually is derived from smart people.

Part 4-Inferences, Evidence, and Program Direction

Some say that Jim Harbaugh has reinvented the old Michigan football tradition of “The Fort.” Well, that would describe an introverted intuitive who wishes to keep everything in house. Or it could simply be attitude, or it could be a learned preference. A couple of summers ago Coach Harbaugh used another metaphor, that of a submarine rising out of the depths at selected times, to provide the populace with informational tidbits.

So, this recent flow of warm and fuzzy, feel good explanations and a peek at future course comes as a mild surprise, but this fits the IN’s tendency of reflection and minimal epiphany, Many reasons may help explain, but suffice it to say the submarine went into a short dry dock mode.

There were revealing statements made to Sam Webb and his staff members by Jim Harbaugh and his coaches in TMI’s mini series “Spring Football Preview.”

From the collective discussion, several common threads emerged that help to connect dots.

Theme 1-This effort, using the process of reflective self-evaluation is collaborative, as are the strategies and changes moving the program into the 2018 season. The public pronunciation is that all voices and analytical input are welcome in creating the future blueprint of the Michigan offense, in particular, and indeed the entire program.

This theme of collaboration was parroted throughout the series of coaching interviews. There is always a guy in the room that may have the least input, but may offer the most valuable point. The collaborative strategy is beyond reproach and not worth even surface debate. What counts is the ideas and consensus derived and the eventual success or lack of success that can be linked to coaching organization and administration more so than pure talent.

Now theme 1 brings up some dots, inferences, and questions. It collects the most overriding concern of the program going forward: how Coach Harbaugh and the offensive staff will address offensive shortcomings? This goes beyond mere recruiting of superior talent.

The Mechanist’s preference is to get the parts and get the people who can machine the parts. In offensive football, the quarterback is a seminal part of overall function, but if other parts don’t function, and the scheme is either deficient or poorly fitting, then the machine becomes locked up; dysfunctional. The Mechanist may stay the course longer with his machine worldview, and be a little less willing to pull an early trigger on key parts not functioning at a peak level. Michigan’s offensive problems were/are a collection, not a mere summary judgement upon Tim Drevno and last year’s Michigan quarterbacks. Some problems are obvious and some others can be correctly or incorrectly deduced. But the obvious conclusion is that all areas can be improved upon.

Michigan needs both the recruitment of parts and a meaningful offensive blueprint. One hint as to the offensive blueprint is from recent interviews with assistant coaches noted in Theme 2 stated below.

Theme 2-The Run-Pass Option within the Offensive Blueprint.

The RPO offensive scheme is not new. It has been used in colleges for many years and some pro teams (notably the Eagles) have recently used it with success. The RPO has been used successfully by Urban Meyer and quarterback J. T. Barrett. Essentially, two plays are ready, the complicated changes between checks are minimized, and taking what is the best option given by the defense becomes the trigger for play calling. Coach Harbaugh simply likes more meat on one side of the line against less meat in contrast to the RPO option. In its most simplistic form, the RPO suggests run the ball with seven or fewer defenders in the box and pass with eight or more defenders in the box. Identify the box, call the play, call the line, and go. Ohio State has taken this a step further by having a quarterback run to a spot and then select pass or option, placing great pressure on the near instant decision making of the defenders. On passing plays opponents have complained about offensive linemen downfield. The quarterback’s execution and overall ability, matched with sound play calling, are two musts for the RPO to function.

Theme 3-Staff Changes

Head coaches do not without cause bash those who recently departed the team, and the reverse is expected. Coach Greg Frey was brought in to straighten up the offensive line play as a second line coach, a position that could well have been used for an exemplary wide receiver coach. Connecting the dots and reading the public tealeaves from those within, indicates a philosophical coaching difference in blocking schemes between gap/power and zone broke out. Both line coaches are now gone, Frey to his alma mater, Florida State, and Tim Drevno back to the comfortable confines of Southern California.

Experienced coaches joined Coach Harbaugh’s staff, as did relative young newcomers. Already discussed in a previous section, only short comments will follow about the new staff members.

Now on board is a proven veteran of developing line talent, Ed Warinner, who seems energized with his new task. There will be no season long discussion of gap versus zone, he has primary say, but seems adaptable enough to bend to the staff’s scheme whims. It would be smart to let Warinner have great leeway in implementing his vision of line improvement.

Coach Warinner appears to have little doubt he can plug in protections regardless of the direction "collaborative” and “self-evaluating,” process-analysis yields. One of Ohio State’s biggest strengths the last few years has been to neutralize pass rush and blitz packages. The O-line group had the benefit of great conditioning oversight, but the ability to stand ground and recognize what was coming was obviously in large part due to Coach Warinner. When the protection did break down, a smart quarterback with good timing broke the defense with scrambles.

Coach McElwain offers an outside view of Michigan’s offensive strengths and weaknesses. So could, perhaps, Coach Warinner. Mac has been around the block, and not just any block. His forte is offense. Like any other good offensive coach, provide talent and good scheme and he will look smart.

The current staff has many coaches capable of offensive play calling duties and brings up the oft labeled “too many cooks in the kitchen” debate. The view here is the mission of developing a workable offensive scheme outweighs the concern about the number of participants. This is the time of year to engage in what Harbaugh calls collaboration. But when the real play calling starts, the system must have quick and efficient communication, whatever the methods and number of participants. However the scheme is derived, the communication is improved, and precise preparation is initiated, the effort must yield a better product. Success or lack of success may well define Michigan’s overall football fortunes this year and beyond.

It is not germane to only Michigan to have penalties and time outs due to clumsy communication mechanisms and a prolonged decision process. Many times the viewer places instant fault on a young quarterback, especially when a timeout is taken at the line of scrimmage and the young quarterback looks confused and guilty, slinking over to the sideline. When the same happens with an established quarterback, the “diagnosis” is he saw something he did not like about the defense. Now the combination of good minds, more player experience, RPO options, and designed simplicity is what Michigan is hoping will clean up complexity, confusion, and play calling breakdowns.

Two new coaches, Al Washington and Sherrone Moore, join the staff, both bring energy and intensity. Both bring a high desire to climb the professional ladder. Enough said, these two are in good hands with the veteran staff and look like very good hires. This duo will participate in the overhaul collaborative process and bring to the table outside experiences and ideas from other programs. Both are here because of energy, recruiting potential, and strong personal characteristics. Each should grow as a position coach as time passes.

Theme 3-Simplicity

Comments from the interviews of Webb and other staff indicate a stated desire for achieving simplicity. The common assessment has been bandied around that the Michigan offense is too complex. That underlying assumption is partly rejected. There is nothing immensely complex about what Michigan does on offense. What the underlying problem appears to be is a complex and indeed confusing chain of command in the decision making and play calling mechanisms that slow down and confuse both the play calling/execution and the players. The underlying uncertainty of complexity makes teams look slow, uncertainty causes confusion, confusion causes mental and physical errors, errors of all types turn victory possibilities into losses.

One comment was “play as fast as we are.” Another was “use the same language.” Playing as fast as possible brings Michigan State to mind. That group is never given credit for being fast (an untruth), but both sides of the ball know exactly what to do on the snap, no doubt, no confusion; the Spartans must be out executed, out whatever it takes. Using the same exact language and teaching methods in coaching is a proven positive commodity, as is not overloading the vocabulary to create massive opportunities for confusion.

Rip 26 on two, was a common call fifty years ago, not so today. But the inference from the interviews is that Michigan simply was engaging in a chess game with the opposing staff; and in using shifts, formations changes, check options, etc, simplicity is lost and the extended vocabulary and chain of events becomes more than the practitioner can handle.

Each time a change is created, the entire thought process shifts. Each time a link is added to the play call, the chances of forgetting or other cognitive error increases.

In a system such as the RPO of Ohio State’s power spread, there are two pre-calls, and a minimum of blocking choices. The system may look complex, but it is not. The system may look fast, and it is, due in large part to elite skilled players, but also by minimizing mistakes.

Coach McElwain made comments concerning uniting the staff and playing to the strengths of the team, one of which he acknowledged is the defense. This means making correct scheme choices and taking into consideration the needs of the defense when creating and implementing the offensive scheme. Coach Jay Harbaugh said as much in discussing the need for simplifying the playbook and creating staff chemistry.

Final Conclusions and Summary

Coach Jim Harbaugh has opened up the staff to newcomers, good ones it seems. The need for simplicity has been stated over and over. The processes for initiating said philosophy are self-evaluating (self-scouting), reflection, and collaboration. The first two are not surprises for a Mechanist with IN traits, the third is not that big of a surprise. The other two possibilities for action are (1) outside advice and (2) a complete change of the program. How much Director of Athletics Warde Manuel has been involved within this “epiphany process” is undetermined, and probably should remain that way.

The coaching staff has correctly decided to bury the laundry and accentuate the positive. Although it is spring, and in spring football the positives abound, this group of coaches seems very upbeat and confident; this does not appear to be public lip service or smoke. The positive energy is starting to carry over to the players who struggled through a tough year. Perhaps this energy started with the hiring of proven conditioning guru Ben Herbert. Harbaugh announced this change quickly after the bowl game stating the team was not strong enough; maybe so, probably so. The team indeed faded in every fourth quarter against any decent team: that is linked to strength, but also a sign of other systemic difficulties like mental toughness, how to put an opponent away, and stepping up to make plays on both ends of the ball. Teams and coaching staffs both must find ways to win against tough competition.

The Wolverines will again start the year without a proven and logical offensive scheme that fulfills the objectives of the staff. The difficulty is more than mere parts. To the author, if the scheme development and implementation alone is fixed, the process of reflection and change has produced a better product.

There will be another first year full time starter at quarterback. One could be a dynamo veteran with skills but minimal time in the system. The other a guy everyone was clamoring for last year until he was hurt and led a turnover parade in the bowl game. The quarterback position will have plenty of coaching possibilities, as will play callers and coordinators. The staff needs to decide on duties, shared or individual, and get going full speed with the transition plan.

There are unproven receivers who will be learning, at least in part, some new offensive options. Coach McElwain could be extremely valuable if he helps the group obtain potential. But the success of this group, like the entire offense, will be determined by scheme design and proficiency.

The offensive line has one returning lineman who could reach all-conference level, two/three guys with potential who have previously started, a bunch of career backups, and young developmental guys going after starter status.

With all of the above shortcomings, the improvement of the Michigan offense is plausible. To the author, improvement will come down to the new evolving system, assuming this to be more than lip service like last years’s “promised" changes that were derailed by many factors.

How Coach Harbaugh negatively or positively impacts the stated end-goals and processes to effect change in the offense, allegedly in the name of simplicity, is paramount. There will be simple and familiar plays on short yardage, do not expect some cute new era of Oregon spread or Washington State air raid. Do not expect a blanket of trick plays, expect to see what the staff believes gives them a better chance. The rest will be up to the players; literally how the guys get it done on the field. With all the talk about coaches, this is still a players’ game.

Once the staff completes this venture of collaborative planning, it will be important to stay the primary course and not deviate off into tangential actions. That is just one problem that reared up last year. Stay the course, work hard, correct what needs corrected, be positive, and create schemes that work. And yes, once again, good recruiting never hurts.

There will be bumps ahead, the difficult schedule being one. The staff must stay on course and maybe absorb some tough times. But everything offered up in the interviews makes sense. As Ed Warinner reminded us: this is a work in progress. For those who do not see this or refuse to accept this given, it may be a tough year and one to jump off the wagon.

Finally, remember at the start of the series it was started that the analysis and inferences derived from Coach Harbaugh’s style and preferences are metaphysical. It was also stated that inferences can certainly be incorrect. Football is a physical endeavor. Still, it is fine to understand how decisions are made and preference affects choices.