The State of the Program (Part One)

The Tommy Amaker era of U-M basketball is officially over. Between the celebrations and "I told you so's" by those in favor of the move and the sadness and despair by those opposed to it, there still exists the hard truth that much of what ails this program has absolutely nothing to do with who's coaching it. In part one, we take a look at the part Amaker played in falling short of expectations.

Looking back at Tommy Amaker's six-year tenure at the helm, it's very clear that not everything was done right.  Many of the things within his control were not handled as effectively as they should have been.  One of the unfortunate consequences of his mistakes is they obscure many of the detrimental factors that also share in the blame.  As a result, many believe that changing the coach will rectify most of what is wrong.  That simplistic way of thinking could have Michigan on the path to continued mediocrity if some honest assessments aren't made

The problem is not that Tommy Amaker was fired.  It's that the commitment that that firing would seem to signify is actually faint if not totally non-existent.  Many of those that believe coaching is THE issue fail to lend enough credence to the limiting factors that are in place for ANY coach... not just Amaker.  Now that a new coach is to be put in place, give him the tools necessary to succeed (and by succeed I mean "top three in the conference and contending for the national championship every few years.")

Why did it go wrong?

There are many opinions regarding the reason/reasons for Tommy Amaker's demise.  The obvious answer is he didn't win enough games.  Observers attempting to look deeper cite explanations like "he didn't sell the program," "he wasn't accessible to the media," and "his players don't get better."  When it gets right down to it, though, the single greatest factor in his removal may have been loyalty.

In any leadership position the first course of action for the person in charge is to assess his or her own weaknesses.  The task then becomes surrounding one's self with subordinates that offset those shortcomings. 

With the structural limitations that exist at Michigan (i.e. facilities, recent tradition, and fan support) it was imperative that a staff be put in place that could compensate not only for Amaker's deficiencies, but those intrinsic in the program as well.  While his staff was always comprised of great guys, it wasn't one whose members always complemented one another as much as was necessary… a problem that was exacerbated as the years progressed.  That was especially apparent on the recruiting trail.

Coaches from past regimes took shortcuts academically (Prop48's) and ethically when it came to recruiting.  Under Amaker, the call was for everything to be done above board.  That meant assembling a host of dynamic recruiters that were capable of casting a broad prospect net… one even broader than that of their immediate competition. 

Too often in recent years, that net wasn't broad enough.  The prospect stream generally flowed from the ace recruiters on staff.  Unfortunately, regardless of the recruiting prowess of a particular coach, even he is going to miss on players from time to time. In addition, some of the ones he lands are not going to pan out.  Under the best of circumstances, when one of those scenarios happens, there are others there with options to pick up the slack.  That hardly ever was the case.  There weren't always enough guys bringing viable options to the table.  Ultimately, there was a reluctance to change that.

With regard to the players, particularly in this past season, there was too much loyalty to a crop of upper-classmen that could not be the steadying force that Amaker tried so desperately to make them be.

The overall roster composition was poor for reasons other than talent.  This team had poor leadership, lacked toughness, and in some instances internal accountability.  Amaker relied on his upperclassmen to provide those traits, and despite being good kids, this group just didn't have it in them.  Despite the youth and inexperience of some of the newcomers, a few of them did provide those traits.  As a result they began to play more toward the end of the season.

None of that means that there were bad kids on this year's roster. (For the record, there weren't).  It just highlights the fact that this team was severely lacking in areas other than talent and that that too is a recruiting issue.  You recruit toughness and you recruit leadership.  When talent isn't at a premium, it makes the other two all the more important.

To Amaker's credit, those are areas that were seemingly addressed in his final two recruiting classes.

Stay tuned for part two coming later in the day

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