What role did the administration play?
Tommy Amaker inherited a program that was in the toilet. Embarrassment and basketball were synonymous terms in Ann Arbor prior to his arrival. The recurring behavioral issues on the team and the looming specter of sanctions had Michigan supporters clamoring for a purge that the former Seton Hall coach soon provided.
Upon his arrival his most important charge was bringing respectability back to the program, especially off the court. He delivered in that regard, eliminating players from the roster that didn't fit the program's vision. He then proceeded to graduate 16 of his 18 players (so far) and kept his team's mention in the police blotter at a relative minimum. As positive those accomplishments were, they ultimately are looked upon like people do a father paying child support. It's the way it's supposed to be.
Coaching is a bottom line business. Wins, losses, and tournament appearances are the definitive measure. That underscores the importance of a coach doing everything in his power to obtain the tools he needs to succeed.
On one level, Amaker seemed to subscribe to the "we" aspect of promoting the program as opposed to the "me" aspect. What does that mean you ask? He didn't promote himself as much as was necessary.
For instance, whenever the locker room or weight room upgrades were mentioned by the administration as part of support given to the basketball program it's, "WE got that." When Amaker was subsequently castigated for not fundraising in recent years, he never mentioned that it was indeed HE that procured the funds for those upgrades.
In hindsight, it was a miscalculation not to highlight himself and his program's needs more. Sometimes it's necessary to raise public awareness about an issue to make it more of a priority not only for fans, but also for those in positions of authority. Other coaches have done this effectively. In Amaker's case, whenever talk of a practice facility was mentioned, he either offered no comment or gave a standard line like "we're working on it."
Let's put aside the fact that the importance of a practice facility was mentioned in his contract. The issue now is there were never any alternatives provided when it became clear money wasn't going to be set aside for one. Some argue that it's a luxury…that all you need is a ball, two hoops, and a good teacher. That again is overly simplistic, and it is the type of thinking that will continue to keep Michigan behind its peers.
What needed to be pointed out was how the lack of practice space has a tangible effect that goes far beyond disadvantages it presents in recruiting and practice logistics with other sports. The impact of even greater significance is that, in general, Michigan players don't spend as much of their own time working on their games as their contemporaries at other schools do. Furthermore, schools recruiting against Michigan use it as fodder for their position that it's evidence that there's a lack of seriousness with regard to player development in Ann Arbor.
Those that are looking for player improvement should be pulling their hair out about this. It'd be like expecting your son or daughter to reach his or her scholastic potential with only the benefit of their in-class tutelage and without the reinforcement of homework.
Not having a practice gym is an issue, but an even greater one is the failure to provide any alternative among the buildings already on campus. (More on this later).
Now let's consider the issue of strength and conditioning. One of Amaker's first moves as coach was to attempt to get his own S&C guy in place. He was denied that ability.
Looking back, a number of crucial injuries cost his squad games in recent years.
-There were 53 player games lost to injury in 2004.
-Dion Harris was hampered by plantar fasciitis his entire junior season and was one of a number of players that suffered through nagging knee ailments this past year.
Can any of that be tied directly to the strength and conditioning program? That's probably up for debate. What isn't, though, is the reality that many players don't buy into what they're doing because of the belief that they're doing football exercises as opposed to ones that might increase their explosiveness and agility as they relate to basketball.
There are certainly other structural issues facing the program (like upgrades to Crisler Arena), but the ones mentioned here are some of those that directly relate to performance. Does that mean Michigan has to throw a lot of money and these issues? In the long run, the answer to that question is yes. They can't keep pretending to be big time and expect to get big time results. In the short run, however, it's not as much a question of money as is it is one of commitment.
Stay tuned for part three coming later.