By Ashley Dunkak
ANN ARBOR (CBS DETROIT) – You heard fifth-year senior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan say it over and over and over again throughout this past season, and athletic director Dave Brandon continued the chorus Friday.
Whatever the question is, that unequivocally confident statement is the answer.
During the season, it was why the offensive line would be successful in 2013 despite a dearth of experience there.
Friday, the rallying cry was lofted as the reason the Wolverines can be much better next season, despite conference foes that include juggernaut Ohio State and rising Rose Bowl victor Michigan State, and despite firing one coordinator only to retain another whose unit also had plenty of flaws.
To a certain point, Michigan still has a certain aura about it. A tangible aspect of that, to be sure, is the recruiting power the Wolverines still enjoy, even though nearly a decade has passed since its last Big Ten title.
“We have tremendous ability to recruit terrific kids,” Brandon said. “Some recruits we can talk about, some you report about that we can’t talk about, but you see the momentum this program has as far as the talent that’s being brought in.”
Also, of course, Michigan is willing to spend tremendous sums of money to recruit talent for the sidelines as well. Hiring new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier away from Alabama was surely an expensive move.
“We’re making adjustments to get the leadership in the program that we think is going to put us in a position to let those kids be as successful as they can be,” Brandon said, though he brushed off reports that Nussmeier will be one of the top three highest-paid assistant coaches in the country. “We’re willing to invest the resources we need.”
Recruiting power and money are nothing to scoff about. However, even Brandon seemed to indirectly acknowledge that the lure of Michigan might not be what it once was.
Brandon’s response when head coach Brady Hoke first approached him about hiring Nussmeier away from the Crimson Tide, the Nick Saban-run powerhouse that won three national titles in four years, was rather revealing.
“When Brady first called me and identified Doug,” Brandon said, “my first reaction was, ‘Wow, that would be great, but really?’”
It is not a far reach to see the latent query in that question: Why would a coach leave Alabama for Michigan?
The question sums up the difference between Michigan then and Michigan now, and the fact that even the university’s athletic director would hint at it suggests that the program sees the gap growing even if it will not acknowledge it.
Ignoring the last decade and looks at the entire history of the program, it is easy to see why so many have such a high opinion of the Wolverines, why those involved with it are so proud of that association. Since Bo Schembechler’s tenure with Michigan began in 1969, the Wolverines have played in 16 Rose Bowls.
“When you say Michigan, it’s synonymous with football,” Nussmeier marveled during his introduction Friday.
That connotation still exists, but the reputation is rooted in history. The Wolverines have not made it to the Rose Bowl since 2006. In the past 13 years, they only have three bowl wins. Michigan has not finished first in the Big Ten since 2004, and the odds do not look good for the next few years, the way Ohio State and Michigan State dominated the Big Ten – including the Wolverines – this season.
The athletes and coaches currently competing in this program should embrace the standard set by those who have gone before them, and internally they should absolutely strive to live up to that tradition. Being proud of a program’s tradition is perfectly understandable and healthy.
With all that said, until the team gets back on track with the glorious past it so often touts, it might be best to stop with the “We’re Michigan” bravado and let solid play and wins do the talking instead.