02 March 2007

Disgruntled Michigan fan cheers for Ohio State

As a Michigan alum, former Michigan basketball beat writer, and diehard Michigan sports fan, a big portion of my Saturday is blocked off in order to watch the Wolverines take on man child Greg Oden and the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes. While the chances for victory are remote at best, a Michigan upset would give the Wolverines a huge boost upon their faint NCAA Tournament hopes.

I only have two words to say: Go Bucks!

While you may scratch your head at the sentence above, let me explain how I have become the college basketball equivalent of Randy Quaid’s character in Major League II (if you haven’t seen the movie, he attends every Cleveland Indians game only to violently cheer against The Tribe).

It all revolves around the head of the program himself, Tommy Amaker. While Amaker is a nice guy, and he has led the program out of scandal and probation, the reality is that he has to be one of the worst coaches in college basketball. The players pretty much admit that the Wolverines run absolutely no set offense, giving them no chance to get themselves out of jams that often end up causing seven-minute streaks without field goals.

That’s why for about the last three years I have pulled for the Wolverines to lose, and lose and lose. While my Michigan friends have wavered, giving in to the urge to pull for Blue, I have staunchly fought against it. The sooner Michigan gets a new basketball coach, the better off the program will be.

I admit that there are many other reasons why Michigan hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998 (scandals and facilities to name a couple), but the inability of Amaker and his staff to develop players and coach in games is pretty much unacceptable.

The problem, however, is that the word on the street is that University President Mary Sue Coleman is a gigantic Amaker defender because she likes how the Amaker family represents the school. When Amaker first came to Michigan in 2001 from Seton Hall (where he also massively underachieved), he installed five virtues for the program. Let’s look at how the program is doing in each of them:

Passion – While the Wolverines have played hard during Amaker’s tenure, the passion is certainly not there within the fan base. Attendance this season is at its lowest in 25 years and down almost ten percent from last season. The mystique is all gone from a program that was culturally relevant in the early 1990s.

Patience – Amaker and his crew have likely done the best in this area, considering they have thrown out their vaunted “point-a-minute” offense in big conference games (The Wolverines put up 44 against Michigan State and 42 against Illinois). They are more than ready to showcase the four corners offense and take the 1957 Indiana State High School Basketball Championship.

But, to put Michigan’s NCAA Tournament drought in perspective, in 1998, Lindsey Lohan starred in the Parent Trap. She’s since gone from child star to budding actress to US Weekly’s dream to rehab in same time. How much longer do Michigan fans have to wait?

Be Honest – Year after year, Amaker has failed to be honest with himself in terms of putting his team in position to win. Amaker claims to call his offense a “motion” offense, whereas you would find better diagramed plays at Rucker Park. While criticizing play calling and strategy in any sport is normally for a fan is normally just a way to blow hot air, Amaker is lying to himself if he thinks the team has an offense AT ALL.

Have Fun – There are very few coaches that showcase less of their personality than Tommy Amaker. Ask a Michigan fan what they know about Tommy Amaker. Beyond possibility knowing about his wife, you would be hard pressed to find someone who knows what he does when he leaves the office. The reality is that he could spend 30 hours a week playing “World of Warcraft” and we would have no idea. He’s certainly not spending his free time coming up with an offense.

The best example of this is that during an interview with the Detroit News a couple years ago, a reporter asked him what he likes to do in this spare time. After attempting at all costs to change the subject, saying that fans don’t care, he spoke about how he likes to fix old cars and how that is much like trying to fix the Michigan basketball program. Basically, he could not come up with an answer unless it HAD to do with hoops. Maybe Amaker needs to spend more time having fun.

Be Michigan As part of an athletic program that is constantly ranks in the top-10 each year, is part of a university that has one of the best reputations for a public school worldwide and calls itself “the leaders and best,” the basketball arena might as well be demolished to build a lacrosse field. Then at least the school could amass all the kids it draws from New York to build a championship program.

If Mary Sue Coleman wants to create a school that makes other schools feel good about themselves, than Tommy Amaker is the right coach. Maybe next season they can give out teddy bears to opposing teams. But if she wants the school to really best represent the University, it’s time for the change direction now.

That is why I am cheering for the Buckeyes on Saturday. I have to cheer for the Michigan program to look bad any chance it gets with the prayer that the school will come to its senses and let Amaker go. If Michigan somehow made the tourney this season, it will likely be seen as a catalyst for hope (and thus Amaker employment) for the next 3-4 years.

I think I should stop before start reenacting the script Ohio in my living room.