No part of Brian Ellerbe”s Weidenbach Hall office is left undecorated. Of course, the 1998 Big Ten Tournament championship apparel stands out the furthest, but other treasures line the walls and cover his desk.
My favorite: A simple framed photo of the “98-“99 team, dressed in beach gear at the Maui Invitational in Hawaii. (Especially amusing is Ron Oliver, clad in an NIT sleeveless shirt, but we”ll let that go for the time being.)
This photo is all you need to know about Brian Ellerbe. He”s only had one real winner in four seasons, and the “98-“99 squad, at 12-19, was no juggernaut.
Some coaches would bury that photo deep in their desk drawer and never bring it out. Maybe they”d have their wives conveniently misplace it.
But not Ellerbe. He knows what that particular group faced in terms of adversity, and he respects them as students and as athletes for giving it their best shot. He wants to remember them as a group of hard workers that were fun to be around. 12-19 or 7-24 no losing record could spur him to put that picture away.
He”s a coach who”s fiercely loyal to his guys. He may get on a player during a film session, only to shield him from a media member who lobs the same criticism just an hour later.
Ellerbe has been remarkably consistent in this approach throughout his Michigan tenure. Releasing some frustrations, as he did after Saturday”s home loss to Minnesota, is a rarity. He”s made a commitment to avoid placing blame on his “kids” and he”ll stick to it, regardless of the consequences to him personally.
Bill Martin”s “at the end of the season” pronouncement means Ellerbe”s fate will be decided fairly soon. The Big Ten Tournament is three weeks in the distance, and with no postseason forthcoming, the day will arrive even faster.
If Martin decides that a new coach is the prescription for the program, then so be it. No one will argue with him. Wins and losses have been more than a struggle. Even the most fervent Ellerbe supporters realize the end might be near.
Whatever decision Martin makes, the University community must afford Ellerbe respect over these final three games of the season. Ellerbe is owed respect because he has conducted himself in such a manner for four years here.
The “Fire Ellerbe” chants resonating through Yost and Crisler Arenas this past weekend represent a sickening freedom of expression.
You don”t have to applaud when the Crisler public-address announcer says “And your coach, in his fourth season … Brian Ellerbe!” You do, however, owe it to the man and his family, which sits in the Blue seats, game after game not to boo.
I would consider it a black mark on the face of this University if outsiders described Ellerbe”s final days as shameful, or if it were said that Ellerbe left Ann Arbor on his hands and knees, dodging the dirt that fans were throwing at him.
We all fail at something. We”ve all taken on a challenge at one point or another, failing to produce the desired, required results.
And we”ve all been thankful for the opportunity to leave gracefully, without malice, to retain our self-respect. We”ve graciously accepted second chances to prove ourselves.
Brian Ellerbe deserves a second chance. Maybe here, maybe not, but that”s not my decision and I don”t want any part of it.
Some will remember him as a Michigan coach with a 62-56 record. I”ll remember him by the picture he keeps: Exemplary of a respectable man, loyal to those who were loyal to him.
Chris Duprey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.