Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shafer gone

Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer resigned Tuesday. While there's been some speculation that he was forced out, Shafer disputed that in an interview with the Detroit Free Press:

"I take full responsibility for the demise of where Michigan's program is at this time," Shafer said.

Coach Rich Rodriguez announced the move, calling it a resignation, and Shafer did not dispute that.

"Yes, it is accurate," Shafer said. "We just had a mutual decision. We had different thoughts on the way we did things."

The assumption from these comments is that Michigan will switch from the 4-3 to the 3-3-5 that West Virginia used so successfully under Rodriguez, and those assumptions are probably correct. Rumors indicate that the new D-coordinator will come from the current staff, and everyone else on the defensive staff was a former Mountaineers assistant except for linebackers coach Jay Hopson, who dabbled in the 3-3-5 as defensive coordinator at Southern Miss.

The real question here, though, is whether this will be a good thing for Michigan's defense going forward -- and I'm referring more to the coordinator than the scheme.

Shafer obviously was somewhat of a disappointment this year, but the numbers that are widely cited to demonstrate that -- 68th in total defense, 80th in scoring defense -- are clearly distorted.

Consider these numbers for Michigan's offense: 106th in turnovers, 118th in third-down conversion percentage, 109th in time of possession. The defense was put in horrendous spots and left on the field far too long to expect impressive statistics.

What disappointed me more than the numbers were the strategies employed at certain times. It seemed far too easy for opponents to take the defensive line -- this team's biggest strength -- out of the game and exploit soft coverage in the defensive backfield with short passes or rollouts. The horrific play at linebacker and safety only compounded this problem, as missed tackles and blown assignments seemed to be the norm rather than the exception.

But I'm not entirely certain whether this was a coaching weakness or a personnel weakness, and to be honest, I think Shafer deserved another year. I would have liked to have seen him back if only to find out what he could have done with a functional offense and a year of experience with the available personnel.

Alas, it wasn't to be. I think there may have been some tension all along between the outsider (Shafer) and the West Virginia position coaches. Keep in mind that Shafer had been primarily a 4-3 guy and hadn't worked with anyone else on the staff, with his D-coordinator experience coming at Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Stanford. And when you have a defensive coordinator who employs a different scheme than what the other coaches are used to teaching, you're going to have a hard time getting everybody on the same page.

In that regard, this switch might be best for everybody. At least I hope so.

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