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The Short List: Jim Herrmann

At most schools, an open coordinator position wouldn't be cause for serious contemplation. Coordinators come and go, in most circumstances. Iowa football isn't most schools, though; the program hasn't hired a new coordinator in thirteen years, and a full-on head coaching search looks to be years away. Defensive Coordinator LET'S TALK ABOUT IT.

If you thought we were done with these three weeks ago, it's OK. We did, too. Since we chronicled Juan Castillo on January 9, we honestly believed we'd exhausted the obvious options. Since then, there's been murmurs about Jack Del Rio and a couple of guys on the San Francisco defensive staff, but they didn't make a ton of sense. And then, a couple of days ago, Jim Herrmann's name bursted on the scene. This one is different than those. This one makes some sense.

Herrmann has spent the last six seasons split between New York's NFL teams -- three with the Jets, three with the Giants -- as a linebackers coach. He's been generally successful there, but it's not his time in the pros that makes him a contender here. No, it's Herrmann's previous gig as a twenty-year defensive assistant with Michigan under Bo Schembechler (for whom he played linebacker in the late 70s), Gary Moeller, and Lloyd Carr that has rocketed him to the top of the rumor list. After eleven seasons as a position coach under all three coaches, Herrman became defensive coordinator when Greg Mattison (oddly enough, now the Michigan defensive coordinator again) left for Notre Dame. In his first season on the job, Michigan won the national championship, its defense conceded just 114 points in 12 games, and Herrmann won the Broyles Award as the nation's best assistant coach. In his nine-year tenure, his defenses never gave up more than 24 points per game, and were under 21 ppg eight times. I suppose that's good, but finding historical conference defensive stats is tough. As far as basic scheme goes, Herrmann gradually moved Michigan from their 3-4/5-2 of, like, forever to a 4-man front, mostly by employing a "rush linebacker" which was just a defensive end with a cool name.

I suppose this is where we should talk about Lloyd Carr's role in this process. We've previously discussed the relationship between Carr and Ferentz: Carr took notice when Iowa rolled Michigan in the Big House in 2002, Carr eventually pegged Ferentz as a logical successor when he retired only to be trumped by Mary Sue Coleman, Carr sent a quarterback recruit and a well-respected receivers coach to Iowa after Michigan hired Rodriguez. The respect between the two is clear, and has been since Ferentz came to Iowa. Furthermore, Ferentz is a Pennsylvania guy, with a deep sense of the tradition of the upper Midwestern superpowers. Yes, Penn State holds a special place for him, but Michigan's within his holy trinity. If Ferentz reached out to Carr for a recommendation or a meeting, Carr would have as good a shot as any of luring Herrmann away from the pros.

This is the part of the profile where we discuss negatives. And, oh, there are negatives. For one, Herrmann hasn't been in the college game in six years. For another, he left Michigan for an NFL position coach job after a 7-5 season. I went into the MGoStacks to look for a reason why, and came out with this gem from the days after Herrman left:

Each thing you add to a defense must have some advantage. Otherwise you're just complicating things for you and not them. Jim Herrmann's final years were miraculous, wildly complex schemes that were dead easy to read. Merely discussing it makes my molars ache. How many times did you see members of the secondary pointing at each other and re-arranging themselves moments before the snap? How many times did befuddled linebackers pick the wrong place to go? How much of Michigan's conservatism was because an aggressive Herrmann defense would inevitably bust coverages at a rate better associated with the Wildcats? (Which Wildcats? Pick one.)

Guh. There was also this ruthless post on the day his departure was announced, this sarcastic link to a Scout profile on Jim Herrmann as some sort of defensive genius, and this reaction when his name was mentioned as a potential replacement for Greg Robinson in RichRod's final season. They didn't like him at all by the end, which is typical of a coach who has been at a school for twenty years, but there were larger reasons why Herrmann and the Michigan fanbase broke up beyond his long tenure in a high-profile position. Stop when this sounds familiar:

It would be disingenuous for me to adopt Vijay's all-class attitude toward the departure of a man who caused me disproportionate misery over the years, but all told Herrmann is probably less responsible for the bunched-panties phenomenon than the man in charge....All the excitement over Ron English will evaporate right quick if Carr glares at his new defensive coordinator every time a cornerback lines up within spitting distance of a wide receiver. The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding. We need aggressive, clever pudding. Or something. This metaphor died.

Essentially what Brian is saying is that Jim Herrmann possessed all the parts of Norm Parker that Iowa fans found infuriating -- tops among them a staid defensive philosophy and the unique ability to subsume himself completely to his hyperconservative boss -- with an added dash of completely unnecessary complexity that left Michigan actually going more conservative on both sides of the ball in order to prevent and/or fix the big-play lapses caused by his decided schematic disadvantage, the kinds of big plays that are the bane of Kirk Ferentz's football existence. And, if you have any question whether this was just the opinion of one blogger in the infancy of blogging, I suggest you read those links.

Herrmann has the pedigree and mentality that Kirk Ferentz wants. He's likely got the endorsement of a man who Ferentz trusts and respects. His timeline matches with the interminable waiting game of the last seven weeks. But that doesn't make him the man for the job, and on further review, it's pretty clear he's not.