No players had a larger impact on last Saturday’s game than Jabrill Peppers.
The Michigan safety/linebacker/kick returner/running back dazzled fans in attendance at Michigan Stadium and a national television audience leading the Wolverines to a 45-28 victory over Colorado.
His performance launched him into contention for the Heisman Trophy and bagged him dual Big Ten player of week honors for special teams and defense.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has seen his share of great football players described Peppers as “special” during his Monday press conference.
“…I can’t think of another player like Jabrill. I know there’s not another player I’ve coached like him. The unique thing is all the positions– if you start counting them, it’d be safety, it’d be corner, it’d be nickel, it would be outside linebacker, it would be slot receiver, it would be wildcat quarterback, running back, kick returner, punt returner, gunner, hold-up. That’s 11 or 12 right there, and I know there’s others he could do and do well, but those are all the things he’s done already here for us…and that being said, he’s done them all well.”
But Peppers’ most important contribution to Michigan football may have come from not playing.
Flashback to his first season in Ann Arbor. Peppers came to Ann Arbor in 2014 as the center piece of Brady Hoke’s ultimately final recruiting class– one of most highly sought after recruits in the country.
He was compared Michigan great Charles Woodson and expected to be an impact player in every phase of the moment he showed up on campus.
Brady Hoke admitted that Peppers was in the mix to play more than offense– and seeing him play this season it’s not hard to imagine the impact he could have made as a true freshman.
But early season injuries derailed what might have been the difference for Hoke.
Peppers played in three games before being shut down for the season.
Michigan staggered to a 5-7 finish, embroiled in drama on and off the field that caused interim athletic director Jim Hackett to dismiss Hoke after the disappointing season.
To the surprise of many fans Hackett struggled with the decision.
“This was not an easy decision. Everywhere I go, there is zero question about Brady’s values…Brady’s peers, both active and retired coaches, really respect him. His players love playing for him. He’s done a great job of molding these young men and focusing them on success in the classroom and in the community.
“One could make the argument that we have a very young team and that we’re about to pivot next year into being an extraordinary team. It’s about making sure, then, that Brady has received adequate time to exhibit that arc of improvement that would come from his effort. And I believe Brady had enough time to produce results. And they’re just not there today.”
Hackett shocked the national media by convincing Jim Harbaugh to return to Ann Arbor and it’s been a whirlwind of national hype since.
Hoke, exiled to Oregon can look back at his former team and see that his recruits are leading the way during Michigan’s resurgence.
Could a healthy Peppers have made a difference in saving Hoke’s job? We’ll never know for sure.
Peppers absence due to injury helped put into motion Jim Harbaugh’s return and together they’re working to put Michigan back into national title contention.
Outsiders who question how Michigan football warrants three best selling books over four short years are completely oblivious to the fervent devotion of its fanbase. And readers expecting a short tome cashing in on Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in Ann Arbor will be surprised by the scholarly work in Endzone.
Don’t be fooled, this book is about more than just football. Author John Bacon has chronicled how David Brandon’s reckless mismanagement ran the Michigan athletic department into the ground.
Brandon made a rookie mistake easily identified by any first year marketing student— he treats the hallowed Michigan brand like a commodity.
Instead of focusing on the distinct characteristics that made the Michigan football experience unique he added things that made it just like everything else. In came the big game uniforms (even if they didn’t fit properly), the role of the band was minimized in favor of piped in music (Eminem’s Lose Yourself might be awesome when its 4th and 1 at the goal versus Ohio State but it’s embarrassing versus Delaware State) while the students were squeezed out of their seats by a combination of price hikes and byzantine seating policies.
Brandon whose goal was to make every game a “Super Bowl” like experience for fans instead emptied the Big House of paying customers. For Michigan’s final season game last season the athletic department padded attendance with nearly 17,000 tickets— more than the amount of free tickets given out for the entire 2010 season. Michigan’s vaunted waitlist for season tickets was also zeroed out by a combination of poor team performance and athletic department marketing blunders like game tickets with soda purchase.
Brandon’s megalomania is on display as he inserts himself between his coaches and their players.
A good manager hires good people and gets out the way— but not Brandon who sits in on game film study with Hoke and his staff. Brandon apparently is unfamiliar with the observer effect. We can only speculate on how his presence negatively impacted Hoke and his coaching staff but one thing is clear— his behavior was atypical for an athletic director at a major university.
Whether cutting the nets down after a critical basketball victory or sending scathing email replies to fans Brandon chose a path that caused his underlings and professional peers to question his methods.
Bacon repeats a story told previously how Brandon’s failure to be an impact player for Michigan during his playing career may have fueled his drive for business success. His return to Michigan and chest bumping with the team on the sideline gave him the acclaim he always yearned for. One wonders what lesson he’ll take from this latest very public failure.
What makes Endzone so compelling is that shows how the Shane Morris concussion-gate fiasco was a direct result of Brandon’s mismanagement of personnel. His atmosphere of fear resulted in experienced staff being shuttled out of critical jobs and being replaced with Brandon loyalists who weren’t up the to task.
His remaking of the athletic department in his image is the most depressing part of this book. Brandon may be gone but his employees live on. New athletic director Mark Hackett inherits a department populated with Brandon’s minions— like Yeltsin surrounded by apparatchiks who resisted the democratization of Russia.
Michigan has a mixed track record with business-minded athletic directors. Former AD Bill Martin filled coiffures beofr and hired basketball coach John Beilein before whiffing on Rich Rodriguez. Brandon’s failure is well documented in this book and now Michigan turns to another athletic director with no significant athletic experience.
Hackett has his work cut out for him.
Bacon also expertly details the orchestrations that brought Jim Harbaugh back to Ann Arbor.
Hopefully, the next book will detail Harbaugh’s march to the Big Ten title and National Championship.
But until then this book gives fans a lot to chew on.
Michigan fans will agonize reliving the Brandon-Hoke era while opposing fans will enjoy an insider’s take on Brandon’s self immolation all the while hoping their programs don’t follow a similar path.
Brady Hoke welcomes his team to fall camp this weekend. Michigan is looking to forget last season’s 7-6 finish that forced Hoke to shuffle his defensive staff and hire a new offensive coordinator. The changes have stopped the grumbling in Ann Arbor for now, but pressure is mounting for Hoke to deliver a Big Ten title.
The first question lobbed at Brady Hoke after he finished his opening statement at Big Ten media days was about a player who had yet to play a down at Michigan.
Given a tumultuous offseason that saw the hiring of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, the arrest of offensive lineman Graham Glasgow and a potential quarterback controversy, the question might have surprised Hoke if he hadn’t been fielding questions about top recruit Jabrill Peppers since signing day.