Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Mailbag question: Coach Barwis and last season

Posted at 8:00am -- 2/2/2010

Mailbag question: Coach Barwis and last season

Guys -- love your blog. Appreciate your honesty.

My question is about Barwis and his training methods. I haven't seen this topic discussed anywhere, and it might be controversial, but here goes.

Like every other UM fan, I was totally gun-ho before the 2008 season, relieved that Gittleson and the pizza diets were gone, and excited about having "the best conditioned team in America," etc. Seeing evidence of the benefits of those training methods early in the '08 season -- e.g., how much in better shape we appeared to be compared to our opponents in the 2nd half vs. both Utah and Wisconsin -- was encouraging. Then the season went puff, and the opposite happened. That is, UM fell apart in the second half of nearly every game after the 2-2 start.

This past season, 2009, the team was 4-0 and looking stronger in the second half of every game to that point, except in the opener vs. WMU, when it appeared RR deliberately shut down the offense a week before the ND game. After the near miraculous comeback vs. MSU, the same thing started happening again, more and more, as the season went along -- that is, we'd either be close behind or leading at half time, then unraveling completely in the second half.

So, after two seasons under RR and Barwis, two seasons in which the team a) gets worse in the second half of games as the season wears on, and b) just gets worse, period, as the season wears on.

Why is the team running out of gas, if not physically, then certainly emotionally, competitively and spiritually? Are the players physically spent from all the running and training of the previous nine months? Does it all catch up to them by October? Was it just the upperclassmen that fell victim to this, as they weren't used to ANYTHING like the Barwis methods earlier in their careers, and they just hit a wall? Or, is Barwis overdoing it with all of the players? Or overdoing it DURING the season more than other teams do that you know of?

Or is it just a matter of other teams' coaches figuring us out by half time on both sides of the ball, and going for the kill in the second half?

I have no inside knowledge, nor any ax to grind. I've just been trying to find a reason beyond X's and O's and empty cupboards for the unraveling of 2008 and 2009. One season is an anomaly. Two seasons seems to denote a trend -- of something. Thus, I write about my concern on this issue.

Bottom line: How much, if any, of the late-season collapses the past two years are attributable to a Michigan team that is just plain run down by mid-season, because of Barwis' methods?

Melinda M.


Thanks for the question.

The lack of depth is the number one issue with the team running out of gas, along with the competition level of the teams Michigan played increased over the second half of the season. As a result, over the course of the season a lack of a quality player rotation caught up with the team.

If you check out Ohio State, Florida , or one of the other upper echelon teams, many young, talented players are getting reps and contributing. This rests the starters and gives the back-ups valuable experience, all of this helping and not hurting a team.

This has two advantages as hinted above: number one is that the young players get work, which makes replacing seniors easier, and keeps the starters fresh for crunch time when the game is on the line. Second, the team gets good quality of depth that can help the team and not just have on the team “bodies” to make the numbers look better.

Concerning the part of the question about how the season went. Well it started off well by UM going 4-0, but one must look at the competition. Notre Dame was the only team that broke even (6-6). Lou Holtz, the ultimate Notre Dame homer, had the Irish in the BCS National Championship game before the season started.

Continuing on, the great start was made possible by playing Eastern Michigan, a team that did not win one game last year, along with Western Michigan, a team that had a bad season, and Indiana, a team that Michigan tied with for last place in the Big Ten.

As far as Coach Barwis goes, he is one of the better S&C guys in college football. He has raised the program to a new level and actually has Michigan on par with all the rest of the elite programs in college football, all of which have equally good S&C programs.

The biggest thing that Coach Barwis has done is that he has brought accountability into the S&C program and is part of the reason for the "practice gate" stuff that has come up. The players are expected to show up and be around in the off-season. Remember, in the reports some of the “discussion” had to do with off-season workouts, a responsibility assigned to Coach Barwis. He actually spends more time with the players than the coaches are allowed to by the NCAA rules (he and Michigan are certainly not alone, although do not expect programs to line up and confess to the NCAA).

We believe that Coach Gittleson wanted more control and also wanted the players to be working out more than they were at the end of the Carr tenure, But one of Coach Carr's core beliefs towards the end of his career was that he wanted athletes in the football program to be student-athletes and enjoy a normal college life. He also wanted players to consider voluntary workouts, defined by the NCAA, as just that, voluntary. So under Carr players had to take more of a roll and be the source of decisions regarding showing up for extra workouts, even if it was not asked of them. Some players did take on the extra work, while others took the voluntary part as an excuse and did not put in the extra to become extraordinary.

Whereas, Coach Rod and Coach Barwis have both said things that will insist on players looking at it completely different. Voluntary becomes mandatory without actually coming out and stating this to the players. Again, in contemporary time in big programs, players stay the summer on campus. Coach Rod said "your playing time is also voluntary if you do not show up in the off-season program" and Coach Barwis said "breathing is also voluntary as well, but we do not see you stop breathing".

We have heard rumors that Coach Barwis has cut back some on the running aspects in the off-season and will use more of a getting bigger and stronger approach. This, if so, could mean several things: (1) that the players are nowhere near where the coaches wanted them; as a result (2) the staff is now trying to bulk the players up: or (3) the coaches have conceded that indeed they need a little bit different type of player in the Big Ten and need the players to be bigger and stronger. We have heard the players are spending more time lifting weights, and continue the fun in the Barwis beach carrying other players and continue to pick up and move the old tractor tires. Yes indeed, not a place for the meek or unmotivated.

Still, taking into account everything above about the possible changes in the S&C program, GBMW continues to believe that the biggest concern and goal is adding more quality depth and talent. This should help reduce the second half blues (game and season) this team has demonstrated all too many times. There are certainly other factors involved in the second-half collapse phenomena, such as good adjustments, but again talent rules.

Written by GBMW Staff

Go Blue -- Wear Maize!

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