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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Devil Speaks: Lo' Thy Name is Genius

This appeared online today about Michigan Defensive Coordinator Jim Herrmann. I added the emphasis.

Rumors of his demotion have been greatly exaggerated. Rumors that Herrmann has been talking to NFL teams are true, however.

NFL coaches, apparently, are smitten by what they consider to be Herrmann's defensive genius and his elaborate schemes that sometimes are difficult to translate to the college game.

The author is being ironic, right? This is off the sports page for The Onion, isn’t it?


It’s out of the Detroit News.

Surely, there’s been some sort of mix-up resulting in stories being swapped between the two sites. Michigan fans call Jim Herrmann a lot of things, but “defensive genius” isn’t exactly one of them. Hell, I don't think Michigan's opponents consider him a "defensive genius" either. Are NFL coaches even watching Michigan games?

Now, let’s just assume for the sake of argument that this assertion is correct and Jim Herrmann does in fact create these brilliant defensive schemes that would actually work all the time if he only had players who weren’t just college athletes. This happens from time to time; some coach is hailed as a genius, but fails because his schemes are above the heads or the talent level of his players.

Now, I’m going to use an analogy that I’m familiar with, the military. When one is planning to conduct a military operation, one of the factors to consider is simplicity. A simple plan—one that’s easily understood and executed—is considered superior to a complicated one. The reasons should be obvious. A brilliant plan that is too complex to execute properly, too complicated to be understood, too reliant on multiple variables to work is—to put it simply—NOT BRILLIANT. It’s called a failure.

The inverse is also true, if it’s stupid but it works, then it’s not really stupid.

Jim Herrmann has been coaching at Michigan since 1986. You’d think that after 20 years he’d be somewhat familiar with the capabilities of college level athletes. To continue to try and force players to execute defenses that are beyond their capabilities is just pigheaded and stupid. And that’s generously assuming that those said defenses are actually the result of genius.


Anonymous said...

To be fair, he's come up with some very effective schemes over his time at Michigan. Sadly, along with keeping supposedly 'high powered' offenses 30 points below their average, his defenses too often gave up 200+ yards rushing or just disappeared late.

surrounded in columbus said...

i'm still stunned by this "revelation". how can anything that works so poorly be considered genius??

after reading the News and then your post, i did a little "independant" research. the NCAA web site carries stats back to '99.

our D's rankings are as follows:

2005- 36th total D; 24th scoring;
2004- 33 total; 42 scoring;
2003- 11 total; 11 scoring;
2002- 42 total; 26 scoring;
2001- 12 total; 9 scoring;
2000- 74 total; 15 scoring; and
1999- 32 total; 24 scoring.

based on the years for which the NCAA has stats posted, we average a 34th ranking in total defense and an 18th ranking on scoring D.

if Herrmann is a genius, why isn't the NFL beating down the doors of the 20 to 30 other coaches whose D usually rank ahead of ours???

i don't have rankings for Herrmann's first two years, but i'll go out on a limb that '97's D was highly ranked statistically. i'd also guess that '98's D was fair, but not a top 20 in either category. if we had the actual rankings for these two seasons to include in the average, it's unlikely they would alter the average significantly.

summing the 9 seasons up subjectively, i count 3 seasons that i'd say the defense appears to have been coached by a "real" genius and six seasons coached by a "wylie e. coyote" genius.

i don't think we can afford to continue to be so smart.

BaggyPantsDevil said...


The 1997 Michigan defense was ranked as follows:

Rushing Defense: #7
Passing Defense: #1
Total Defense: #1
Scoring Defense: #1

Michigan allowed an average of only 8.9 points per game and only five total touchdown passes. Michigan also intercepted 23 passes in the season. This team had arguably the best defense of the 90’s and perhaps the best passing defense ever.

The inconsistency of Michigan’s recent defenses is indeed puzzling. I was probably being too harsh in my criticism of the schemes—I have a tendency towards sarcasm—in that there are times when Michigan’s defenses do look impressive. You made some good points earlier about Michigan sometimes looking really good on defense. Just this last season, Michigan stifled Northwestern who was #1 in Passing Offense and #1 in Total Offense for the Big Ten. All Big Ten quarterback Brett Basanez looked completely confused by Michigan’s defensive schemes. Northwestern was averaging 37 points per game until Michigan shut them down and allowed only 17.

This brings us back to the seemingly eternal question of why is Michigan able to suppress opponents until the last half of the fourth quarter? One possibility that I’ve been thinking about lately is poor conditioning. Perhaps these schemes work fine until the end of the game, when fatigue takes its toll and the blown coverages and sloppy tackling pop up more frequently. Maybe the lack of depth on MAC teams and teams like Northwestern mitigates Michigan’s fatigue at the end of games. Maybe back in 1997, Michigan’s conditioning was on a par with other programs, but has lagged behind in recent years as other schools have adopted more advanced methods.

Who knows. It’s a mystery to me how Lloyd Carr and Jim Herrmann have been unable to duplicate anything approaching the defense of 1997 in recent years.