Book Review: Three and Out

M Man's picture
October 25, 2011 at 2:20p
39 Comments
 Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football

Ed: Bumped because M Man was nice enough to review three of the most painful years of his life. Also, because this review is thorough and well-written.

Happy Tuesday and welcome, to your Eleven Warriors Skull Session – Book Review Edition. 

Today marks the release of Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football, by John U. Bacon.  (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).   It is the most interesting college football book in years, and it just might be the most important college football administration book in a generation.  While loving care has gone into the telling of the Rodriguez story, this is not a fan’s ode to one team that is very much loved in Michigan and very much hated in Ohio, but rather a very clear-eyed look at the sport we share in common.   In working on this book, John U. Bacon was given what no other writer has been given in recent history; complete, unrestricted access inside a major college football program.  The result is remarkable.

I suspect that most of you would happily sit down with a cold glass of Schadenfreude and spend a few minutes confirming your worst suspicions that Rich Rodriguez was an incompetent buffoon, and more generally your worst preconceptions about your football rival.  And I imagine it would be a relief for just about all of you to dig into a nice football story without any mention of the names Tressel, Pryor or Rife.   Well, I have good news, and also better news.  With one very small (and needless, in my view) exception, there is not a page of Buckeye-bashing in this book.  But the better news is that for most of you, your (mis)perception of Rich Rodriguez will never be the same.  And Buckeye football fans, as good as there are in all of sports, will be the better for it.

Basically, this is a book that every Buckeye who is deeply interested in The Rivalry should read.  And it is a book that every Buckeye who might be involved in a future coaching search should be required to read.

John U. Bacon is known to many of you through his semi-regular appearances on the Big Ten Network’s feature presentations.  (You've seen them; "Leaders and Legends of the B1G"; "B1G Legends and Leaders"; "Leaders and Legends and What Have You")  Bacon is technically a Ph.D. candidate in American Culture in Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts.  He is also a non-tenured Instructor in the school, and the small series of courses he teaches (History of Sports writing, etc.) feature the longest waiting list of any class in the college.  He’s a past Golden Apple Award winner as the best teacher in the University, and he’s been blowing away audiences in speeches since the publication of his last book, Bo’s Lasting Lessons.  He’s now doing some teaching at Northwestern’s Medill School, in addition to a weekly Ann Arbor radio program gig.

All that of course is some great Michigan-Man-crap, but we come back to the question of why should any self-respecting-Buckeye-bother?  The answer is, because you’ll be better, smarter supporters of your own program when you understand what has been going on at That School Up North.  Nobody, but nobody, has ever had press access like this to Michigan’s football program.  I dare say nobody’s ever had access to your program like this.  Well, maybe Bobby DiGeronimo…  I kid.  M Man is such a kidder.

So what are the deliverables here?  What will you get out of a Michigan book fergodssakes?  Here’s a list.  Eleven points, for Eleven Warriors.  It’s something of a spoiler list; except that it totally isn’t.  If you want to win arguments with your friends from Up North (admit, you’ve got some) or it you want to dazzle your fellow Buckeye tailgaters with your oppo-research, you have to read this book.  Anyway,  here’s what you’ll find out:

1. Michigan’s coaching search following the departure of Lloyd Carr was messed up.  Messed.  Up.  And process, it seems, matters.  When your football season comes to and end this year, there are some things that you are really not going to want to do.  This book tells you what those things are.  You’ll hear a good bit about that in excerpts; and the conclusion, if you don’t read the book, might be, “Well the process screwed up, because Michigan ended up with Rodriguez.”  And if you don’t read the book, you might believe that.  You'd be wrong to believe that, and I don't think you want to be wrong, do you?  But when you find out that Les Miles was never really a candidate, and Greg Schiano of Rutgers was a kind of a committee-pick, and Tony Dungy(?!) was apparently on the Wish List of an unprepared Athletic Director, well… 

2. Rich Rodriguez got screwed.  Rodriguez was treated badly – almost unbelievably badly – in Ann Arbor.  If you are set in your belief system that Rich Rodriguez was a bumpkin who was being dishonest when he wasn’t being dumb, strap yourself in for this ride.  Treatment of Rodriguez that is merely fair, as this book is (it is not particularly flattering to anyone apart from the student-athletes themselves), is sadly enough to make people’s heads spin.  It has been that bad for Rodriguez, and this book is a welcome breath of fresh air.

3. There are some villains in this book.   Oh yes indeed there are some villains.  Meet Michael Rosenberg, columnist for the Detroit Free Press, and Mark Snyder, the Free Press’ assigned beat-reporter for Michigan sports.  For virtually the first time in paper-print outside of the blogosphere, the lid is totally blown off the Free Press hackery that led to the 2009 NCAA investigation of the Michigan football program.  Known to the hippies at MGoBlog as “Stretchgate.”  Indeed, your favorite MGoHippy Brian Cook is featured in the book, and he ends up looking very good, thank you very little.  The triumph of the blogosphere.  Yay, MGoElevenWarriors.

4. You boys (and Pam) may need an antacid for all of the discussion of “Michigan Men” in the book.  Sorry.  Pam can take it, I know; but I’m a little concerned about the rest of you.  (Full disclosure: Michigan Man = no direct relation to this author.)  As unpleasant as that may be for you, this story is a real tutorial on the clash of tradition-laden program insiders and outsiders with fresh ideas.  And no matter what happens with the Buckeye program this year and next, it is a cautionary tale for all of you.

5. One might think that if “familiarity” and “continuity” were coaching criteria to be prized above all, and if The Ohio State University were to use that as its own takeaway lesson, that somebody like Mark Dantonio might be an ideal future candidate in Columbus.  Hilariously, Bacon points out that at a Conference meeting in Chicago, Jim Tressel “could not have been more pleasant” in interacting with the Michigan contingent.  Mark Dantonio said not a word.  Until he arrived at Michigan Stadium for the 2010 Michigan-Michigan State game.  A Stadium official assigned to greet opposing team buses offered his hand to Dantonio and welcomed him after Dantonio’s brush with a heart attack a few weeks earlier.  “Get the hell out of here” was Dantonio’s response.

6. Bacon does a fantastic job of explaining the almost incomprehensible pressures (in time and exhaustion) on Michigan football players.  Those pressures are assuredly no different from the same pressures felt by student athletes at The Ohio State University.  These kids, all of them, are something special.  As fans and boosters of our respective programs, we should be in awe of them, not for W-L records, but for what they do all year long.  Hail, to the players.

7. Did I mention yet the villainy of the Detroit Free Press, and how effectively it is chronicled in this book?  I did?  Okay.  I don’t suppose that you boys can relate to problems with the press.  Or maybe you can.  The Freep’s Michael Rosenberg is also a contributor to Sports Illustrated.  You may remember Sports Illustrated from such reportorial hits as Storm Klein’s nonexistent tattoos.

8. Rosenberg is also the author of a perfectly fine book, and one that ought to be of considerable interest to all of you: War As They Knew It was the story of the Ohio State and Michigan campuses at the height of the Hayes-Schembechler rivalry and also the Viet Nam war.  Quite rightly, Rosenberg’s book was reviewed most favorably by Jon Chait of the New Republic for the New York Times Book Review.  (Chait and Rosenberg are both former editors of the Michigan Daily student newspaper.)  But in the fall of 2009, Chait coined the term “journalistic malpractice” to apply to the Free Press’ willing assignment of Rosenberg, an anti-Rodriguez columnist, to an investigative story on supposed NCAA practice-time violations.

9. One of the blogosphere’s reactions to the Free Press hatchet-job was a mass neg-bombing, with one-star reviews, of Rosenberg’s book at Amazon.com  I had thought it an odd little prank; it was one in which I naturally (and to this day, unapologetically) participated.  Turns out, as you’ll see in Three and Out, the stunt really hurt Rosenberg, who was nearly in tears over the online trashing of his “three years’” worth of hard work on his book.  That, my 11W friends, is what you call crocodile tears.  Three years, you say?  Trashed?  Sheeesh.

10. There are some sterling reputations that take a beating in this book.  And you are going to hear about how the high priests of Michigania (AD David Brandon, President Mary Sue Coleman, Lloyd Carr, etc.) are so pissed about this book, and how it is leading to World War IV in the new press box at Michigan Stadium.  Maybe I should have just told you how many people in Michigan are angry about this book and left it at that; that alone might be enough to sell copies on High Street.  Anyway; be careful about those reports and rumors.   I urge you to read this book for a much more nuanced appreciation of the story.

11. There have been, I think, three really important Athletic Directors in the Big Ten Conference in this young century.  And the best, in my humble opinion, was Andy Geiger of Ohio State.  No one in the country can match his success in the three areas of financial productivity, athletic campus improvement, and coaching hires.  There is also the undeniable power of Barry Alvarez in Madison; who could possibly have done more with what they have in Wisconsin, than Alvarez.  Then there is Bill Martin, Michigan’s AD from 2000 to 2010.  Martin does not fare well in this book, because the book focuses so closely on the football program alone, for which John U. Bacon got his extraordinary access.  Martin's awkward handling of almost everything related to Rich Rodriguez is exposed in this book in a way that even the Michigan cognoscenti probably did not previously appreciate.  But Bill Martin was a very good AD on balance, one whose legacy will be secured not by wins on the football field but by the financial soundness and the magnificent physical plant he left for the University.  Those of you coming north on November 26 will see what I mean; and virtually all of what you see is owed to Bill Martin.  On time and on budget.

That does it, Men of Eleven Warriors (and Pam).  Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football, by John U. Bacon; available now if you go to MGoBlog.com and follow the links and instructions there, or at Amazon.com.  Please don’t vandalize your local bookstore if they decide to stock it.  Have a great few weeks, right up until about noon on Saturday, November 26.  Hope to see some of you in Ann Arbor.  There will be a quiz.

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
#1 in Books > Nonfiction > Education
#1 in Books > Sports > Coaching > Football (American)
#1 in Books > Sports > Football (American) 

[Amazon numbers as of noon on Ocotber 25, 2011.]
 

Comments

BucksfanXC's picture

First of all, a bumped blog post?! Sweet!

Second, I have been debating all week about whether or not to read this book. I think you may have convinced me. On the one hand I want to read it because I love me some behind the scenes access to BigTen football. I did read War As They Knew It (it was my prize for winning the tourney bracket challenge on here a few years ago -Thanks 11w!) and I loved it, because it informed me and took me inside OSU and Michigan back in the 60s and 70s. On the other hand, I didn't want to read it because I was afraid I'd develop a tiny bit of pity for Denard and the boys. I wouldn't want that, now would I?

But I think you are right. I need to be informed so I can debate with the Michigan fans that surround me. I'm sold.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

Maestro's picture

War As They Knew It was great. Everyone here should read it.

M Man, a sincere thank you for being a really bright and helpful Wolvie.

vacuuming sucks

William's picture

War As They Knew It is easily the best book I have ever read about the OSU-UM rivalry.

Denny's picture

Fantastic write-up, sir. Recommendation noted.

Taquitos.

M Man's picture

Book trivia. Re: the iconic Heismanesque dustjacket photo of Denard stiff-arming Te'o Manti in the 2010 Notre Dame game.  (Manti actually hauled Denard down on that play but Denard has had the last laugh; twice.)

In a remarkable coincidence, it is author John U. Bacon who is crouched in the bottom right hand corner of the image, directly in front of #20 RB Michael Shaw.

painterlad's picture

Michigan...Michigan...

Never heard of 'em.

To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.

ArTbkward's picture

Nice write-up, I might have to see if I can locate a copy of this book.  I agree that being well informed can be very aggravating to an adversary, and I certainly enjoy winning arguements.

I'm also trying to decide if I should be offended as I am neither male nor named Pam.

We should strive to keep thy name, of fair repute and spotless fame...
(Also, I'm not a dude)

Baroclinicity's picture

I'm sold.  Thanks for the heads up, M Man... just finished a book a couple days ago, and was looking for another to start on.  Great write up!

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

ArTbkward's picture

So Three and Out is currently priced on Amazon at $16.66.  Coincidence?

We should strive to keep thy name, of fair repute and spotless fame...
(Also, I'm not a dude)

Maestro's picture

Nice

vacuuming sucks

TheHumbleBuckeye's picture

I'm sold. I'll read it. It seems very interesting.

But I still don't give a damn for the whole state of Meatchicken.

But I seriously will read it.

theDuke's picture

reading?...on paper?... whaaa?  Have I died and gone back to 1993?

theDuke

ArTbkward's picture

Not if you have a Kindle....

We should strive to keep thy name, of fair repute and spotless fame...
(Also, I'm not a dude)

Doc's picture

OK M Man give us the the scoop on the OSU bashing, and why you think it was uncalled for.  I've got a neighbor who is a UofM fan, and his wife is a Buckeye fan.  He has RichRod signed and Denard signed Helmets and foosballs.  I'm going to plant a seed in her ear for him for Christmas, then maybe I can read it too.

Go Bucks!

Doc

"Say my name."

M Man's picture

Yeah, there is one little anecdote, in which John quotes someone whom I presume to be a Washtenaw County Sheriff's Deputy (John calls him a "U-M police officer" which may be correct but I doubt it) who accompanied the team to Columbus for a game -- you know how they run across the field with coaches after the game for coaching handshakes? -- and the unnamed deputy makes a comment that is probably supposed to be funny about all of the verbal insults being yelled at the team on the field.

That's all.  It's a total throwaway story.  If I had been John's editor, I'd have taken it out.

{The officer says something about how if he'd been allowed to shoot, he'd have run out of bullets.  I think that John was trying to dramatically demonstrate the hostile stadium environment, and I think that the one-liner just came off very poorly.}

Denny's picture

I thought 'thou shalt not plant a seed in your neighbor's wife's ear' was one of the Ten Commandments?

Taquitos.

Maestro's picture

Is "ear" code for something in Denny's World?

vacuuming sucks

Denny's picture

Nah, I just haven't really retained much from the Intro to World Religion course that I took 7 years ago, that's all.

Taquitos.

Maestro's picture

Must have been all that "meaningless crap" that you spent your money on in college.

vacuuming sucks

Doc's picture

Yeah, I thought I would get some flak for that particular verbage.

 

Thanks for the recap M Man.  I'm sure they had to take some sort of shot at tOSU, just like we would fire something your way in the same context.

"Say my name."

Poe McKnoe's picture

Honestly, this whole saga would have been a nonstory if Rich Rod won games. Turns out, he didn't and he was what every Ohio State fan predicted he would be: a read option spread offensive coach with no clue about defense, would jam players into his system, would recruit the same as at WVU and offer package deals, and ultimately fail by doing so.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Excellent book review, M Man. Any book in which media hacks are the chief villians is alright in my book (no pun intended).  

To be fair to Dantonio, though (btw, I'm lukewarm on him as a possible Buckeye HC): you (and/or the book) cite only two anecdotal examples. We don't really know the context leading up to those two occasions. Maybe someone had said something to Dantonio just prior to him giving the cold shoulder to Michigan people. Also, Ohio State and Michigan have a hate/respect relationship, whereas Michigan people tend to look at MSU as lower-class citizens, upstarts, etc. The two Dantonio anecdotes almost fit too neatly within Michigan's longstanding general perceptions of the MSU institution. Does the book really capture Dantonio the man or a caricature of the (fill-in-the-blank) grumpy proletarian MSU coach? 

M Man's picture

As you may know, the defining characterstic of Mark Dantonio is his hatred of Michigan.  Like nobody else I have ever known or seen in the game.  There have been some great, engaging characters at MSU over the years.  The legendary Biggie Munn had been one of Fritz Crisler's assistants at Minnesota.  Duffy Daugherty was widely loved all across the state.  Darryl ("Arrogant Asses") Rogers was fun.  George Perles was a spirited guy; sometimes laughed at but never really hated.  All of those guys had at least a bit of success versus Michigan; Munn and Daugherty had some streaks of domination for a few years each.  But none of them were ever truly hated.

Dantonio hates Michigan.  And the feeling is mutual. 

Quite honestly, I picked two of the very few mentions of Dantonio in the book.  There really isn't any portrayal of Dantonio.  Bacon is the kind of writer who wouldn't use those two stories if he wasn't confident about their context.  And indeed the final edit of this book was whittled down from a couple thousand pages of manuscript. 

More than anything, I mentioned the Dantonio references because of the vague rumors of passing interest between Dantonio and OSU these days.  (About which I won't even speculate.)  I was only trying to be topical for this group of readers.

BucksfanXC's picture

I would like to see the unabridge version of this book. All the cool but not really cool enough to be included stories, would still be cool enough that I would probably want to read them. Stories like interactions between players and coaches, etc. Speaking of which, any details in there about the Danny Hope/RR exchange? Does it shed light on why Josh Groban was RR's musical choice?

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

M Man's picture

The Danny Hope/Reckman-suspension thing is in the book.  It was, as was mostly known all along, a totally false allegation against Rodriguez and a minor freakout on the part of Danny Hope.

There was more than enough Groban for my taste too. 

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Thanks for the clarification. You've convinced me.

But if Dantonio were to become Ohio State HC (a big if), I wonder if his resentment toward Michigan would transition into more of a peer-to-peer hate/respect thing. I mean, did he hate Michigan that much when he was DC at Ohio State? Is it partly an act that he puts on as coach of Michigan's "little brother"?

Sorry to devote so much attention to that one item, but as you mention, it's "topical" for us these days.

M Man's picture

Yeah, no problem. 

I really try to stay out of some matters here at 11W.  You don't need me to tell you about your program; and no blog needs trolling from rivals.  But personally I do hope that Dantonio is not the next choice at OSU.  I don't know a whole lot about Dantonio's tenure as DC under Coach Tressel.  Dantonio was DC when Robert Reynolds choked Jim Sorgi; was he Reynolds' position coach?  Jim Tressel's handling of Reynolds appears to have been qualitatively different from Dantonio's handling of Will Gholston.  

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I appreciate your input.

I'm not aware of how Dantonio handled the Gholston thing. Strictly in terms of suspensions, both Reynolds and Gholston got one game each, yet Reynolds' act was probably worse, since punching a guy who is wearing a helmet usually doesn't do much damage. Did Dantonio resist suspending Gholston?

M Man's picture

Dantonio did, and said, almost nothing about Gholston.  And his DC, Pat Narduzzi liked it; "60 minutes of unnecessary roughness is what we're after.  We're just happy it doesn't get called every down."  Mark Hollis later rebuked Narduzzi.  Probably under pressure from Delany.

Dantonio didn't suspend Gholston; the Conference did.

Compare Reynolds.  Tressel suspended Reynolds himself, sat him down, and had what I gather was a pretty serious talk with him.  Tressel also made a very admirable public statement about Reynolds' team punishment.

Now part of that is a change in times.  The Reynolds thing occurred before the Conference started inserting itself in suspensions.  (See, Charley Weis complaining to Delany about Michigan's Jonas Mouton.)

But as those of you who saw that amusing little item in the Wall Street Journal a week ago know -- the past five years of the UM-MSU rivalry has become one of the handful of the nation's dirtiest games in terms of personal fouls, with the widest margin (80% of fouls) going against one side: MSU.

biggy84's picture

Great stuff M Man! 

bucknut24's picture

Nice rightup M MAN and I always appreciate your opinions.  I shall read this book for sure and I have a few RR fans that would like to read it too.

Rfahncke's picture

I just downloaded the preview (first 37 pages) onto my Ipad.  I had it read in a snap and had to purchase the full book (17 bucks).  Quite an interesting read so far and I look forward to the rest of it.  I cant wait to have some inside dirt on a few of my up-north friends.  That being said, can you actually brag about National Titles that were won before actual helmets and when only about 8 schools fielded teams? Lol!

"Have you earned your buckeye today?"

Bucksfan's picture

Nice review.  Good to have you here, M Man.  You can still throw this book and your football program off a bridge.  Anything with Denard Robinson doing his Heisman impression AND Notre Dame on the same cover has no place on my shelf.  I don't care if it's a book about how Michigan Stadium burned down.  The only way I would buy it is if all of the proceeds went to the Jim Tressel Retirement Fund.  Screw Blue!

ysuosu1's picture

I also am not male and not named Pam...there are a few more females on here than one might think! Can't wait to get the book! Thanks for the great blog!

LP

ArTbkward's picture

We may not be the majority, but I know several ladies who read this site.

Glad to meet another!

We should strive to keep thy name, of fair repute and spotless fame...
(Also, I'm not a dude)

M Man's picture

I am going to resist all temptation to make a gender-insensitive remark about all of the "ladies" on this site (this ain't the Red Cedar Message Board, after all) and instead I'd like to take my "M" hat off to all of the Ladies of the Scarlet and Gray at 11W.  Although I'm getting a little weary of helping all of you bond and have fun weekends in November.

ysuosu1's picture

You mean a gender insensitive remark like- why don't you leave us boys alone and go bake a pie or something...LOL...kidding.. anyway... FYI...us ladies can bake pies AND watch football...muti-taskers. And BTW- we' ll take all the great 3 rd weekend in Novembers you want to give us! GO BUCKS

LP

M Man's picture

No, no, not that at all...

There is a repetitive meme on the Red Cedar (MSU) Message Board in which all-feminine pronouns are used in reference to Michigan. I think they kick you out, or paddle you, or something if you mess that one up.

We'd probably need to explain "pronouns" to them, but they pretty much know what they are doing.

And we're not "giving" you anything in November; mostly, you've been able to take things on your own.

ArTbkward's picture

Touche on both points.

We should strive to keep thy name, of fair repute and spotless fame...
(Also, I'm not a dude)