In a recent interview, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen essentially said that there’s no such thing as a good coach. All that matters, he insisted, are the players. Guillen then cited Joe Torre, who had a losing record until he joined the Yankees, and Phil Jackson, who won with Jordan in Chicago and Shaq in Los Angeles but now struggles to survive with just Kobe, as examples.

Jessica Boullion
Sharad Mattu: The Sports Monday Column

While Guillen goes too far, I do believe that coaching doesn’t make all that big a difference – at least when it comes to the professional ranks.

In college sports, however, it’s all about the coaches.

Lloyd Carr and his coaching staff don’t just pick the plays. They also pick the players. The players on the field five years ago, this year and five years from now were, are and will be completely different. But the coaches can stay the same.

It’s why, when you think of Duke basketball and Penn State football, you first think of Mike Krzyzewski and Joe Paterno instead of J.J. Redick or Michael Robinson. Redick and Robinson will be long gone next year, but Coach K and JoePa aren’t going anywhere.

And this is why, as soon as Tyler Ecker was tackled to end the Alamo Bowl, one thing mattered more than anything else: What would happen to the Wolverines’ coaching staff?

It took an entire month-and-a-half, but everything finally seems to have sorted itself out.

Last season’s offensive and defensive coordinators, Terry Malone and Jim Herrmann, are leaving to coach tight ends and linebackers for the New Orleans Saints and New York Jets, respectively. It’s not clear whether Malone and Herrmann chose to leave or fled before they could be fired or demoted, but the two have deserted Ann Arbor nonetheless.

Defensive backs coach Ron English, widely viewed as an excellent coach and recruiter, was on the verge of joining the Chicago Bears, but instead will step into Herrmann’s role.

Mike DeBord, who was the Wolverines’ offensive coordinator in 1997 when they won the national title, will replace Malone. The past two seasons, he has served as Michigan’s special teams coach and recruiting coordinator.

And, perhaps most importantly, quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler isn’t going anywhere. There had been rumors that the New England Patriots had contacted him to be their quarterbacks coach.

On the surface, these changes seem pretty underwhelming. Although Carr never ended up having to fire or demote anyone, I had hoped that if changes were necessary, Carr would find someone new who was daring enough to shake things up.

But to call the changes that did happen a mere reshuffling wouldn’t be fair, either. And in English and Loeffler, Carr might have two up-and-coming coaches who have already done a lot and have the chance to make a difference for years to come.

In 2004, on his way to becoming an All-American, safety Ernest Shazor often credited English for helping him develop into a star. Last season, Michigan’s secondary was young and banged-up all year long, yet English’s unit found a way to put together a solid campaign.

And without Loeffler, Michigan’s Rose Bowl run in 2004 may not have been possible. When Chad Henne was forced to start at quarterback as a freshman, the Wolverines seemed destined for an up-and-down year. But instead, Loeffler helped Henne not just survive, but thrive. Henne’s numbers that year were about as good as senior John Navarre’s were the year before.

When last season ended, everyone on the message boards said that Malone and Herrmann had to go. In the end, the two did just that. But it may end up being the two coaches that aren’t going anywhere who make 2005 nothing more than an aberration.

– Sharad Mattu can be reached at smattu@umich.edu.

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