Sir, it is with heavy heart and troubled conscience that I write this letter, but the embarrassment can go on no longer. Brian Ellerbe must go. Right now.

Paul Wong
A Firestone tire on a wrecked Ford Explorer sits in a warehouse in Corpus Christi, Texas, until it will be used in a lawsuit against Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone.<br><br>AP PHOTO

Bill (may I call you Bill?), you have done a wonderful job in your short tenure as athletic director. The financial situation here at the the University has turned around 180 degrees and that Nike deal concessions and all was a stroke of brilliance. I”m not sure if I agree with the whole “luxury box” concept in the Big House, but I understand that the football program is this University”s cash cow and you will do what you have to.

Michigan is once again a premier athletic university. The football team is coming off (another) New Year”s Day bowl victory and will announce today what is arguably the best recruiting class in the country. But we are no longer just a football factory. No sir, this isn”t your father”s Michigan.

Our hockey team is once again a national title contender, as are the men”s and women”s gymnastics teams. The swimming/diving teams are top-ten, as always, and just handed the hated Spartans an ass-whuppin” of Biblical proportions. And to top it all off, our wrestling team beat Iowa this weekend. Iowa, Bill. Can you believe that? Probably the single most dominant force in the history of any collegiate sport was just sent packing back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena with its tail between its legs.

Yes, these are great days to be a Michigan Wolverine but there is a dark cloud hanging over our collective athletic consciousness. It is a dire shadow that troubles those of us that bleed maize and blue to the point that sometimes even the staunchest hearts shudder in fear and loathing.

The basketball team stinks, Bill. Bottom line and end of story. I”m not talking about a lack of greatness here no, this team has delusions of adequacy. And no, I”m not just pining away for the “good old days” of the early “90s. I realize that keeping this program clean is just as important as turning it into a winner. But Brian Ellerbe, whom I have met and is a very nice man, is clearly not the right man for the job.

I understand we”re not extremely talented, Bill. You know as well as I do that maybe only one person on this team could start for Michigan State University and that is a big maybe. But I understand that and can accept it. I realize that Ed Martin”s shadow is still looming over this program in the form of possible NCAA sanctions, a fact which makes recruiting extremely difficult. I do not doubt Ellerbe”s talent as a recruiter just his coaching skill.

There is an old adage in sports: “A team takes on the personality of it”s head coach.” You can look at every sport there is and find perfect examples of this. Look at the Dennis Erickson-led Oregon State Beavers, who”s trash-talking, blazing speed and unsportsmanlike conduct looked eerily similar to the Dennis Erickson-led Miami Hurricanes of the early “90s. Look at the toughness and tenacious defense displayed by Tom Izzo”s basketball teams. Look at tremendous work ethic and intensity of our own grapplers, led by Joe McFarland.

Taking this into account, let us turn a closer eye towards this basketball team. The team is inconsistent. They are disorganized. They play terrible defense. They have a minimal amount of heart and hustle. And when we are getting our asses handed to us, take a look on the sidelines and tell me what you see. You will NOT see Coach Ellerbe yelling and getting into player”s faces. What you will see is coach Ellerbe looking lost and staring at the floor with a sickly smile on his face. Do you see the connection, Bill? Is it any wonder we have no toughness and no intensity?

For the record, I do not have a shrine dedicated to Rick Pitino in my apartment. Maybe Pitino is the right guy and maybe not, but we won”t know until season”s end. What is important is the fact that this team will not make noticeable progress with Ellerbe at the helm, so I ask you: What is the use of keeping him? Get rid of the guy and promote an assistant coach for the interim period.

Associate Head Coach Scott Trost is very knowledgeable about X”s and O”s and the players respect him. Furthermore, when I watch a game I can actually see him coaching on the sidelines. Perhaps Trost is not the guy perhaps it”s Assistant Coach Terence Greene or Assistant Coach Kurtis Townsend. Regardless, none of them could do any worse than Ellerbe and we might just get lucky and find a diamond in the rough.

Bill, I don”t think I”m being unrealistic here. Like the vast majority of fans, students and alumni, I do not expect us to beat teams like Duke, North Carolina and Michigan State for a few years yet we just don”t have the horses. All I ask is that we play hard and compete with these teams. I don”t think that”s too much to ask.

Bill, we”re supposed to be the Leaders and Best, right? Then why is it I have to hang my head every time the subject of basketball is brought up? Please, do the right thing and help us all walk proud again.

Branden Sanz”s column runs on Wednesdays. He can be reached via e-mail at hamrhead@umich.edu.

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