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The Michigan football mess

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Updated below.

On Saturday, Michigan’s beleaguered football coach Brady Hoke decided to start sophomore Shane Morris at quarterback against Minnesota, over fifth-year senior and long-time starter Devin Gardner. In the first half, Morris was very ineffective against a weak team over whom Michigan is favored by double digits, despite the Wolverines’ poor play this season.

Early in the third quarter, Morris injures his ankle. His play goes from ineffective to catastrophic, as the injury appears to grow progressively worse. By early in the fourth quarter, Morris’ mobility seems seriously compromised, yet Hoke makes no move to replace him with Gardner. With about 11 minutes left to go in the game, Morris is subjected to vicious helmet to helmet cheap shot a full second after throwing yet another wild pass downfield.

(The key sequence starts at around 2:30 in the video).

The 80,000 or so remaining fans in the stands and a national TV audience see Morris wobble back toward the huddle, and then appear to be kept from collapsing to the turf by an offensive lineman, who props him up while other players in the huddle signal frantically to the bench, apparently in an effort to get Morris pulled from the game before he suffers yet more serious injuries to his brain. The coaching staff appears to ignore these gestures; in any case Morris runs another play. At this point Michigan’s offensive coordinator starts signaling to Morris to go down to the ground, probably to give the disorganized Michigan sideline enough time to finally put Gardner in the game without incurring a delay penalty.

In any case Gardner enters, and 90 seconds later (in real time) loses his helmet while scrambling. Under college rules he has to leave the game for at least one play unless Michigan uses a time out. Instead of using a time out, the staff tries to insert third string QB Russell Bellomy, but Bellomy can’t find his helmet. Someone then decides to send Morris back into the game instead of using a precious time out (Michigan trails by 23 at this juncture and the game is effectively over). Morris goes in, hands off, and then is replaced by Gardner again, who promptly leads the team down the field for a TD, incidentally producing more offensive effectiveness in one drive than Morris was able to generate all afternoon.

During all of this sequence much of the crowd has been booing loudly, in protest of the recklessness of keeping an obviously injured and probably concussed Morris in the game. Even the usually docile announcers on ESPN express something like outrage and disgust.

After the game, Brady Hoke is asked why he didn’t take Morris out, given the ample evidence that the sophomore QB, who celebrated his 20th birthday last month, had suffered a concussion. This was Hoke’s answer:

I don’t know if he had a concussion or not, I don’t know that. Shane’s a pretty competitive, tough kid. And Shane wanted to be the quarterback, and so, believe me, if he didn’t want to be he would’ve come to the sideline or stayed down.

This response helps fuel a firestorm of criticism, to the point where by Sunday evening the story is being reported in the national news media.

Meanwhile, some time between the end of the game and at some point on Sunday (more on the timing of this below), Morris is officially diagnosed as having suffered a concussion by the Michigan medical staff. Remarkably, at his lunch time press conference on Monday, Hoke appears not to be aware of this, even though:

(a) The team practiced on Sunday, and it’s standard for the coaching staff to receive injury reports from the trainers and medical staff after a game and prior to the next practice; and

(b) Hoke acknowledges speaking with Morris on both Sunday night and Monday morning, prior to the press conference.

Hoke says that as far as he knows Morris only suffered a high ankle sprain, and if not for that sprain he would have practiced on Sunday with the rest of the team. He also says he hasn’t spoken, at all, to Michigan’s athletic director Dave Brandon, at any time since the incident, even though the incident has now been a national news story for almost 24 hours, and Brandon normally reviews film of Saturday’s game with the coaching staff on Sunday morning.

Finally, at 1:30 AM this morning, Brandon — a multi-millionaire former CEO of Domino’s Pizza, former Michigan regent, and prospective GOP candidate for Michigan’s governorship — releases a statement admitting that “as of Sunday” Morris had been diagnosed as suffering what Brandon termed a “mild” concussion, and that Hoke’s apparent ignorance of this at the Monday press conference was due to a “mis-communication.”

Later this morning, Brian Cook and John Bacon, two journalists with various sources inside the Michigan AD, separately imply strongly that Brandon spent much of the time between Sunday and Tuesday morning trying to strong-arm the Michigan medical staff into covering up, or at least soft-pedaling, their diagnosis that Morris had suffered a concussion before he was sent back into the game.

Some questions:

(1) When was Morris diagnosed with a concussion? Brandon’s middle of the night statement is phrased in a suspiciously weasel-like way on this point, noting that “as of Sunday” Morris was determined to have been concussed. This phrase sounds loaded with truthiness, as surely Morris would have been examined for a concussion immediately after the game by medical personnel — he was taken off the field and into the locker room on a cart — and if he was diagnosed on, as opposed to “as of” Sunday, why not just say that?

(2) When precisely did Brandon find out Morris had suffered a concussion? Did he have any contact at all with his head football coach between that moment and the Monday press conference? If not, why not?

(3) Did Brandon, or anyone else associated with the athletic department, attempt to influence any aspect of the medical report regarding Morris’s injuries?

(4) Did Hoke attempt to contact anyone, either in the AD or among the medical personnel, about Morris’s condition prior to the press conference? If not, why not?

(5) What does this previous incident tell us about Hoke’s attitude toward his players?

Ball State reprimanded two coaches after a football player suffered frostbite during a disciplinary workout in subzero temperatures.

Ball State’s athletic director issued letters of reprimand to head coach Brady Hoke and football strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman [Wellman now holds the same position at Michigan] after the workout, associate athletics director Joe Hernandez said Friday.

Redshirt freshman receiver Chris Jackson suffered frostbite to several fingers during the 40-minute workout Jan. 31, Hernandez said. Jackson recovered following medical treatment and has returned to workouts.
During the Jan. 31 workout, Jackson and several teammates carried a 25-pound sandbag up and down steps at the school’s stadium, athletic director Bubba Cunningham said.

(6) How long is it going to take for the university’s president and regents to fire Brandon and Hoke?

. . . see also Jon Chait for more background on Brandon’s history of megalomania, and the perennial stupid/evil epistemological puzzle.

Update: Students march on the president’s house. The whole world is watching . . .

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