Rays of Light: The “Michigan Man” Influence

Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett made waves when he shared his desire to do away with the “Michigan Man” term. It was a tone-setting statement about the coaching search and the future of Michigan football. But will it have the desired effect? Former Michigan All American and Big Ten Network analyst Marcus Ray, who is on Hackett’s “A-team” committee, shares his thoughts.

Sam Webb:  Good stuff Marcus.  Let us dive in to some of what Jim Hackett said in his press conference yesterday.  I was impressed by his leadership approach.  One aspect of the strong impression he made came at the end when he talked about he wanted to do away with the “Michigan Man” moniker (because of) the way it has been misinterpreted over the years.  Some former Michigan players took offense to that.  I am curious what your take on it was as a former player. 

Marcus Ray:  “I was neutral because the term has been misinterpreted by a lot of people.  You can ask 100 people what it means to be a Michigan man and you might get 50 answers.  Some people think it pertains to the football team.  Because Bo Schembechler started the term and it kind of came down to only the guys who wore the helmet or ran out and touched that banner; blood, sweat, and tears in the Big House.  There are some guys who think that.  There are others who think you just had to graduate from Michigan to be a Michigan man.  Some other people have interpreted it as, you coached here before so if you coach here long enough that makes you a Michigan man.  Jim Hackett said a Michigan man is when you cut a person open and they’re selfless.  That was one definition he gave.  The other one gave was a person who is all about the team and about winning.  The final definition he gave was continuing a legacy of great value and if you want to be honest, Michigan boasts and brags about being leaders and best.  They don’t have any leaders and they are not the best.  So, to me, people are going to still use it regardless.  I think it’s just been tossed around and misinterpreted.  Everybody has their own way of presenting their definition of a Michigan man.  I’ll never go against a guy who gives his own opinion.  I might agree or disagree but I’m not going to say Jim Hackett is wrong for having his opinion on why he wants the term to go away because it has been thrown around.  I think he makes a case.  He is not going to win that argument.  He’s not going to win that fight.  Too many guys that boast that they’re a Michigan man.  When you look at his reasoning, it does exclude women amongst other things.  I just think that in this reconstruction era of Michigan football, there are a lot of things that you need to change and there are some things that you need to keep the same.  If you going to boast about being a Michigan man, at least go back to its original definition or the original interpretation of why and how it was presented.  Like I said Sam, you can talk to a ton of people and you are going to get a different definition for those two words.” 

Sam Webb:  I think the concern is because as guys that play… and the Michigan man tag is often synonymous with guys that have played… you do set a tone. I’m talking about you guys collectively, what you do, what you say has weight.  It has influence.  It’s important, I think, the tone (Hackett) sets when it comes to how a Michigan man is interpreted because what if he winds up selecting the guy as the coach that doesn’t fit the definition of a Michigan man?  What if he picks a guy as a coach that hasn’t coached or played here before? What if he picks a guy that, as a coach that has coached or played here, that some “Michigan Men” don’t like.  Then that shapes or has undue influence on the perception of everyone else that follows what you guys think.  So don’t you think he needs to set a tone like that? 

Marcus Ray:  “The only reason I think he needs to set a tone for this Michigan man deal is that he doesn’t want people to assume that the head coaching job is reserved for a “Michigan man,”.  Other will beg to differ.  He doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into, hey, the Michigan job is open, I have to go hire a coach with Michigan ties, a Michigan man, a former player, a guy who coached here.  He is trying to eliminate it so that he can make the hire in peace and find the best coach, I think.  It has nothing to do with former players.  It has nothing to do with everybody’s definition.  If you are going to continue to use the term, you’ve got to go by the original interpretation but he just wants to find the best coach.  When I spoke to him yesterday, I could tell that he was not happy about how everything went down and he wished he had more time with Brady.  One of the things that I think is most important, it’s not about who you hire as the head coach, believe it or not.  A lot of people are going to get caught up and chase ghost and just run after the big name.  ‘Oh there’s Jay-Z, let me go talk to Jay-Z.  He has a billion dollars.  I love him!’ But you don’t understand that this head coach has to hire the right assistant coaches.  That’s where I stand with it.  Because Mark Dantonio is a great head coach, but boy he was a great assistant coach too.  Urban Meyer was a great assistant coach and boy I tell you what, he is a great head coach right now.  I don’t want to see a coach like Dan Mullen or all of these guys that just showed up as the first year head coach, won a couple of games and now their name is in the hat as a Michigan coach. Because what happens with those kinds of coaches, when they change cultures and they come to a place like Michigan and they don’t win, it becomes an experiment.  Jim Hackett does not want this to be an experiment.  He wants the right coach who can come in and fix this situation.  You shouldn’t hire a coach that is a fly-by-night guy.  They need a program builder, a guy who has a long tenure of winning and excellence.  To me, excellence is success over a period of time. They need a coach that represents excellence… that can recruit and bring in the right assistants.  His assistants are future coordinators and head coaches, not guys who are his friends, not guys close to family.  It’s not about that.  I told you two weeks ago, when Urban Meyer left the MAC, he left the MAC coaches in the MAC and when Urban Meyer left the WAC, he left the WAC coaches at the WAC.  When he went to Florida, he didn’t have very many of the same guys on his staff that were at Bowling Green.  So Jim Hackett wants to find the right coach who can find the right coaches.” 

Sam Webb:  I guess I need you to explain to me why you think you and others who have your credentials as former players… why you don’t think what you guys think and what you guys say has an impact.  Because I think it does… so why shouldn’t he try to affect that? 

Marcus Ray:  “Believe it or not, there is a small pocket, I think, of former Michigan athletes and players who do have a say.  I think we all have an impact in some way or form or fashion, whether it is a negative impact or positive.  The first thing Jim Hackett said when he got on that call yesterday was, ‘I invited this small group of people on this call because you’re the Michigan A-Team’, in his opinion.  There were about ten of us on there.  So trust me when I tell you that not all former players are going to have a say.  Some are and then there are some who run in different circles or cliqued up enough or have donated money or had direct line contact to certain people.  Then there are others who stand on the side and kind of have the old pep rally talk and, hey, we’re Michigan men, listen to us.  Believe it or not, former players are heard.  They are probably not responded to all the time so they think that, my opinion doesn’t matter.  So trust me, former players don’t have a lot of juice in decision making but they are heard, if that’s the question, they are heard and they are taken into consideration at the end of the day.  But no former player, no group of former players are bigger than Michigan.  At the end of the day, whoever wears the suit, whoever sits in the chair, he is going to listen to everything or at least listen to the voices that matter the most.  Okay, went to our former players, went to our administrators and people who help make decisions.  At the end of the day, he gets the big check because he has to make the decision, not sit around and listen to everybody’s opinion.  Former players aren’t always all on the same page.  Former players are going to speak up for their era.  They are going to defend the coach they played for. They’re going to brag about their teams, they are going to brag about their teams.  They are going to talk about their hay day.  Then, they’re going to say, okay, I’m a Michigan man and I believe I’m entitled to this, this, and this.  Man, you can’t make everybody happy.  At the end of the day, here is the bottom line Sam, if a Michigan coach would come and win games, then everybody should be quiet and be happy.  If he runs a great program, he beats his rival, and he wins a championship, you should be happy.  But, believe it or not, that’s the case.  There were people who weren’t even happy with Lloyd Carr won the national championship.  How could you not be happy as a “Michigan Man” and that is part of what Jim Hackett is talking about.  That means if you’re not happy because, no matter who the coach is that is having success, because you don’t like something personal about him or whatever your gripes are.  Then if we cut you open, then you’re not selfless, you’re really not about the team.  So you brag about being a Michigan man and you’re not selfless.  You can’t even be happy for a coach who won a National Championship. The other think I said on TV was, of course Rich Rod wasn’t given a fair shake.  I thought the cupboard was bare when he got here.  Rich Rod and Brady Hoke had to shovel the driveway while it was still snowing.  Nobody wants to talk about how both coaches had to reconstruct the offensive line as far as scholarships and still be expected to run the ball and go out and win.  Neither one of those coaches, really, I think, got a fair shake.  Brady had one year longer but if you want to be honest, he only technically had three recruiting classes by the time he got in in 2011.  That really wasn’t his class completely.  But that is neither here nor there.  All I’m saying is, the Michigan man term is going to be continued to be used because there are a group of people who live by it, who died by it, who will go to war for it.  There is a group of guys who see it the way Hackett sees it.  At the end of the day none of that matters for real because Michigan needs to find a head coach who can bring home the championship and fix the program.”

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