Friday, July 17, 2009

Was it "the crowd" or was it playing time?

I originally included this in yesterday's post, but I decided to pull it out because I wanted to delve into the issue a bit further.

After one-time stud recruit Dan O'Neill announced last week that he's leaving Michigan to transfer to Western Michigan (he was simply unable to crack the depth chart and has a brother in Kalamazoo), fellow offensive lineman Kurt Wermers joined the MAC exodus by announcing Wednesday that he'll transfer to Ball State ... and he took a few parting shots at the UM coaching staff on his way out the door.

Wermers, much like former Michigan (and current Ohio State) guard Justin Boren, cited the coaching staff and some other vague issues in an interview with an Indiana newspaper:
"I really didn't get along with the new coaches," Wermers said. "They were bringing in a lot of different kids that were not my kind of crowd. Coach Carr's staff was a whole different ballgame. It was like a family. But when Rodriguez came in it was a whole different feeling. It was more of a business. I figured I'd get out while I could."
Yes, because once Rodriguez has you in his grasp, there is NO ESCAPE. Seriously though, there are a couple of things in his statement I just don't understand.

First, it's odd that Wermers calls the new staff "a whole different ballgame" from Lloyd Carr's "family" atmosphere considering that Wermers was still in high school at the end of the previous regime. Carr had retired and Rodriguez had been named coach before Wermers even signed his letter of intent, so it's not like he didn't have a choice (Boren did NOT have a choice, but that's a different story that I'll get to in a minute*).

But what really bothers me is the "not my kind of crowd" statement. Considering that Rodriguez's first recruiting class consisted almost entirely of Carr holdovers, the only guys Wermers played with who were Rodriguez-specific recruits (guys Carr's staff hadn't expressed interest in) were the following: Ricky Barnum, Justin Feagin, Martavious Odoms, Patrick Omameh, Terrence Robinson, Roy Roundtree, Vlad Emilien, Vincent Smith, Brandin Hawthorne and Mike Jones.

Roundtree and Omameh were both low-profile Ohio kids who could have been roster fillers in any recruiting class; it's doubtful that those are the guys Wermers was referring to. Everyone else on that list has two things in common:
  1. All are black;
  2. All (except Texas native Terrence Robinson) are from Florida, mostly from either the Orlando area or a dirt-poor town called Pahokee.
I have never met any of these players, so I have no particular insight into their character or their "type of crowd," but I don't see how I can interpret Wermer's statement as anything other than blatantly racist (and if that was truly the reason for his transfer, that's a little frightening).

In reality, though, I don't think it was the coaching staff or the "crowd" that compelled his departure -- it seems all too convenient that he decided he didn't get along with anybody right after the end of a spring practice in which he was unable to crack the two-deep, instead being passed over by a number of players in his same class.

I have no problem with a player who simply gets beat out by better players and decides to head for greener depth-chart pastures -- as I think was the case here -- but there's no reason to throw your former school, coaches and teammates under the bus while doing so.

* Boren's comments caused more of an uproar (probably just because of the shock value), but his situation was a little different. Boren had not only played for Carr but had earned a starting spot as a true freshman, and his father, Mike, is a Michigan alum. So when he spouted off before last season about the decline in "family values," his comments carried some weight.

UM offensive line coach Greg Frey had some interesting information, though, that he shared with an insider at a recent fundraising breakfast. It was widely known that Boren had an agreement with Carr that he could miss some team functions in order to help his dad with the family snowplow business, but Frey said that Rodriguez felt this privilege was being abused, which created some tension with the family. Frey also mentioned that Boren wasn't a big fan of running -- something Michigan emphasizes over strength training in order to keep offensive linemen quick and agile -- and that he once walked out of a difficult training session.

Again, these are third-hand facts that I have no way of verifying, but it's worth noting that there may have been just a bit more than "family values" involved in his decision.

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