ESPN’s Herbstreit Far From “Expert” on Michigan Head Coach Drama

Call me suspicious.

A friend of mine phoned me New Year’s morning, in anticipation of that afternoon’s orgy of college football showdowns across America’s south and southwest. It’s the familiar football scenario — teams from the country’s hardy Midwest trek to grassy sites stretching from Florida to southern California, usually to be humiliated by teams used to playing in those climes.

My first sports-related call of 2011 centered on the University of Michigan, its current (as this is written 14 hours later) coaching crisis, and the national college football reporting of one Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN’s “College Game Day.”

My friend had just observed Herbstreit discussing the job status of Michigan coach Rich Rodriquez as the Wolverines were about to be disgraced by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl down in Jacksonville, Florida. The fresh-faced Kirk had just, my pal reported, voiced his opinion that Rodriquez is one hell of a head coach, and that unless — and only unless — Michigan could land the widely sought-after Jim Harbaugh to coach the team next season, the Wolverines should continue to place themselves under Rodriquez’s guidance.

Additionally, Herbstreit offered the really eye-opening observation that while Rodriquez has been roundly criticized for not fielding a defensive team on the Wolverine side this season … he should NOT be held responsible for that failing because many of the Michigan starters are freshman, and their relative inexperience ain’t the head coach’s fault.

My friend thought these Herbstreitian views made a lot of sense.

I blew up … as much as I can blow up at my age and before noon.

I told him, as I’ll now tell you, that I flat-out do NOT trust Herbstreit as an allegedly objective college football reporter. I think the term I used to describe him was “double agent,” which amused my disagreeing friend. Oh come on, said he, the network wouldn’t hire a guy who would purposefully lie or favor one program over another.

Yes, I said. They would, and they have in hiring and continuing the employment of Herbstreit. Smilin’ Herbie, football fanatics will recall, was the starting quarterback — and a mediocre one at that — for Ohio State University in 1992. The Buckeye co-captain, he threw 28 completions for 271 yards that year in the Buckeyes tie in Columbus against Michigan. After graduation, he went on to play professional football for nobody. His father was also an Ohio State co-captain, and later assistant coach under Woody Hayes. Herbie now lives in Columbus (where the only thing they hate more than Michigan is civil behavior) with his wife and four young sons.

Wonder what school they’ll attend? Purdue?

You may recall that Herbstreit threw Michigan’s search for a replacement for head coach Lloyd Carr three seasons ago into a major tailspin by erroneously reporting — exclusively and breathlessly — that former Michigan assistant Les Mile was about to be named the Wolverines new coach. Without doubt. The confusion caused by his bizarre “exclusive” helped to throw Michigan’s search into chaos … a chaos that spooked Miles, among others, and resulted, directly or not, in the hiring of Rodriquez.

Now, three failed seasons later, with the proud Michigan program in tatters (after fielding a defense that seemingly took a group vow against tackling), Smilin’ Herb is leading, as he has done for most of the season, the call for more ’patience’ with coach Rod, who has yet to field even a competitive team against Ohio State in three humiliating walkovers.

Do you recall Ohio State coach John Cooper, who lost to Michigan with wonderful consistency, and how Wolverine fans used to call for continued ’patience’ on behalf of coach Coop? As I tried to explain to my friend, Rich Rodriquez may be a good guy and a fine offensive coordinator. But for a head coach, at any major school — hell, even a minor one — to put forth a team with virtually no defense, young or not, and LITERALLY no kicking game … none … well, it has to call his qualifications into question.

But not to Herbie. To him, coach Rod is apparently the new Vince Lombardi.

After Michigan’s sloppy season opener, Rodriquez — who actually gave the impression he had forgotten to work out a field goal kicker over the summer — asked if there was anybody in the vast UM student body who knew how to place-kick. And, if so, would he come forward and make himself known to the coach?

I’m just a fan, albeit a longtime one. But that ain’t good coaching, not to me. It does appear, though, to be the kind of leadership and organization admired by, and worthy of praise from, Columbus civic leader and radio host — two shows! — Kirk Herbstreit.

Apparently they don’t do it at ESPN … but if you’re studying the football chaos currently extant in Ann Arbor, and if you’re weighing the advice being rendered by one of broadcasting’s leading college football “experts” … you surely need to consider the source.