Some Notes on Concussions

Tag: Brady Hoke

30Sep 2014
Uncategorized 78 comments

Some Notes on Concussions

To offer some perspective, I hope it might be helpful to relay the concussion protocol in my school district. Coaches are required by the state to take concussion awareness training prior to each and every season. The training includes medical explanations, symptoms to look for, actions to take, and protocol for allowing players to return. I am not qualified to diagnose a concussion, but sometimes it’s obvious. However, a large part of the obviousness is in that I know my players’ mannerisms, how they react to hard hits, where they look when returning to the huddle, how they walk, how quickly they move, etc. That is one advantage that I have when watching my own players. Any player who shows concussion-like symptoms is automatically sent to an athletic trainer for an evaluation. He is not allowed to return to practice unless the trainer determines that he does NOT have a concussion. The initial test – which I have been present for numerous times – typically includes questions about symptoms, some long-term questions (Who’s the president? When’s your birthday? What’s the date today?), some short-term questions (repeat this sequence of numbers or items to me), and an examination of eye dilation/focus (How many fingers am I holding up? Can you follow my fingertip with your eyes?).

I watched the game on television, and the fact that Shane Morris was still in the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter was extremely frustrating. Not only was he ineffective, but in the middle of being ineffective, he sprained his ankle. And not only did he sprain the ankle in the middle of being ineffective, but Michigan also had a better option waiting on the sideline the whole time in the form of Devin Gardner. When Morris originally took the hit from Minnesota defensive end Theiren Cockran, I said, “And now our quarterback just got killed.” Upon a closeup review of the play, however, I noticed a couple things. First of all, the initial force of Cockran’s helmet hit the bottom bar of Morris’s facemask, which snapped his neck back. Secondly, the majority of the blow seemed to be taken by Morris’s upper left chest area. Is it possible that a concussion occurred from the blow to the helmet? Yes. Is it also possible that a concussion could occur from a hit to the chest/shoulder? Absolutely. Not all concussions require a hit to the head. Knowing that Morris had a bum ankle, his stumble into Ben Braden did not necessarily indicate to me that he had a concussion. Furthermore, the deep breath of air taken and released by Morris on camera did not seem consistent with concussions I have seen. I have seen concussions that ended high school seasons and careers, and breathing deeply is not something I associate with the injury. That looked more to me like a guy who may have had the wind knocked out of him and was trying to gather his breathing back together. When Morris finally retreated to the sideline, his behavior while sitting on the bench and being examined also did not indicate to me that he had a concussion. Again, people react differently, and I am unqualified to play doctor from my living room, but I’m just comparing it to what I have seen in my daily life.

I believe much of the heat he has taken has been unwarranted. First, we have seen his staff remove players for various injuries in the past, such as Taylor Lewan last season. Numerous players have missed time due to injuries of all kinds, and I have never seen or heard him challenge players to man up or play through injury. Just this season, players like Devin Funchess, Jarrod Wilson, Jabrill Peppers, and Raymon Taylor have missed significant time with injuries. Despite a strong need for Jake Ryan and Jake Butt, the Michigan staff has held to their plan of working them slowly back into games by using a predetermined number of snaps. Second, what would Hoke gain by keeping Morris in the game despite injury? Morris is not the best quarterback on the roster, and he had been playing terribly. Literally every other player listed above is/was more valuable to this team than Shane Morris is this season, so it’s nonsensical to believe that Hoke would put Morris in serious harm’s way while being cautious with Peppers, Butt, Ryan, etc. Third, this overwhelming vitriol directed toward Hoke does not support what we have seen on a regular basis from him. While many have questioned his ability to coach the sport of football, it has been widely acknowledged that he’s a man of high character who cares about his players. What sense would there be in risking his players and his reputation in order to keep his backup quarterback in the football game at that point? Fourth, this whole discussion would not have reached such huge proportions if not for Michigan’s current record. If Michigan were 5-0 or 4-1, Michigan fans would have let this incident slide already. It would have been a footnote or a follow-up question at a press conference or maybe an issue that would die soon. In its current state of disarray (a 2-3 record, a paltry offensive output, a quarterback controversy, dwindling attendance, etc.), the Michigan program has invited widespread criticism. But with issues like this, I think it’s important to think about “What would this look like if Michigan were winning?” and then calibrate accordingly.

I say that’s hogwash. It absolutely does matter. As I mentioned above, coaches know their players. Just like you know your coworkers and your mom and your son and your wife, coaches spend hours upon hours with their players in very difficult situations. I could tell by the way my dad walked in the door whether he had a good day or not. I can tell by watching my players if they have a slight hamstring pull. When they walk in the locker room, I can sometimes tell which player it is just by the sound of their footsteps. There were numerous players and coaches watching the game, and whether the two main guys (Hoke and Doug Nussmeier) saw his behavior or not, some people thought Morris was okay to continue. When Morris came to the sideline for a short stretch, he was still deemed ready to return for an “emergency” play when Gardner had to be removed. Fans and people watching on television thought he was concussed, but the people who know him best – the people on the sideline – thought Morris was okay to go. If the as yet unreleased medical results show that Morris was indeed lacking a concussion, then there are some people who owe Hoke an apology. According to Monday’s press conference, Morris would have practiced on Sunday if not for the ankle injury. That indicates that his head is not a hindrance to him playing at this time.
UPDATE: Dave Brandon released a statement revealing that Morris was evaluated during and immediately after the game, and no concussion was detected. A third test has determined that he indeed has a mild concussion. So it took three tests for medical professionals to determine that he had a concussion.

At this point there are too many people shooting first and asking questions later. People are smearing Hoke’s reputation and/or pleading for his firing when there’s at least a decent chance that what he did was completely fine. However, I do believe Michigan has mishandled the press up to this point. Athletic director Dave Brandon has failed to step forward with any authoritative take on the situation, and Hoke himself has been evasive. The easiest way to handle this would have been to release a statement saying “Shane Morris does not have a concussion.” Whether Michigan is trying to stick to its own policy about discussing injuries, trying not to violate HIPAA laws, or simply misjudging the public response, they are losing in the court of public opinion. The University of Michigan’s response has been subpar. As for Hoke himself, perhaps he should be fired. Michigan’s win total has been declining from 2011-2013, and it does not appear they will improve on their 7-6 record from last year. The offense is inadequate. Special teams and overall player development have been questionable. If you want to say that a 9-9 record over the last 18 games is unacceptable, that’s someone’s prerogative. I can’t make a good case for Hoke remaining at this point, even though I’m not exactly in favor of firing him right this moment. But I also believe the Shane Morris incident should not be the deciding factor, especially if Morris is not concussed.

28Sep 2014
Uncategorized 51 comments

Minnesota 30, Michigan 14

Should we go with the guy who was bestowed with Tom Harmon’s jersey, or the guy with zero career touchdowns?
(image via

End the Shane Morris experiment now. We have seen Shane Morris play a fair amount of football now that we’re five games into his sophomore season. In 2013 he played a respectable number of snaps against Central Michigan, Michigan State, and Kansas State; this year he has seen an appreciable amount of time against Appalachian State, Utah, and Minnesota. What have we learned? He’s not good at football right now. He can’t progress through his reads quickly, he’s careless with the football, and he’s not accurate, especially when throwing to his right. He finished the game 7/19 for 49 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception (returned for a touchdown), and 3 fumbles (1 lost). He now has a career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 0-to-5. The kid should have redshirted in 2013, or maybe even this season. He’s not even to the point where he should be an option for a big-time program like Michigan right now.

How about now? Devin Gardner has been the starting quarterback since 2012 for a reason. He is one of the best athletes in the country at his position, he has good (not great) arm strength, and he has the ability to put the team on his back for entire games (for example, last year against Notre Dame, Indiana, and Ohio State). He certainly has flaws – the interceptions, the fumbles, the ill-advised throws from his own endzone – but that’s not the point. The question Brady Hoke should be asking himself on a weekly basis is this: Which quarterback gives this team the best chance to win right now? The answer to that question is Gardner. The switch to Morris should never have been made in the first place. Sometimes you have to tell fans and media to suck an egg, that you’re going to stick with your guy. It’s okay to be Grady Little once in a while. In another dimension, Pedro Martinez held onto the lead.

Michigan should have recruited a quarterback in 2012. This doesn’t have much to do with this game in itself, but I just feel the need to point out that the Wolverines whiffed on a couple quarterbacks in the 2012 class and then said, “Eh, who cares? We’ve got Shane Morris in the pipeline.” I care, and I said so at the time. I was appalled that Michigan didn’t go after another signal caller, and that mistake is rearing its ugly head as the Wolverines are trying to field a competent starter and/or backup. This exact situation is evidence that a quarterback should be recruited in every class. They want to bench their fifth-year senior, the redshirt junior was terrible, the sophomore is in over his head, and the freshman is probably maizeing his pants in fear of playing behind Michigan’s offensive line.

Coaching tip #1: Put your damn helmets on. In the fourth quarter, Shane Morris was knocked out of the game with one or more injuries (more on that later). Devin Gardner was inserted for a couple plays, upon which his helmet came off and he was forced to sit out one play. Third-string quarterback Russell Bellomy, caught totally unaware, had no clue where his helmet was. He tried on one that didn’t fit, then another that didn’t fit, then turned to all his friends and said, “No, guys, don’t you remember Nebraska?!?!?!” Then everyone nodded and gently nudged the (allegedly) concussed guy out there for another play.

Coaching tip #2: You can’t punt when you’re down by 16 with four minutes left. I don’t give a hoot if it’s 4th-and-36 from your own 1-yard line. If you’re down two scores with roughly four minutes remaining, you go for it, especially with only one timeout left. Minnesota is a ball control offense who can certainly run the ball and keep the clock running for the remainder of the game. And that’s exactly what they did. That showed me that Brady Hoke didn’t want to win the game, and it also showed that he didn’t have faith in his team to make a game of it. He was trying to save face and prevent the team from giving up 37 points. If they don’t get the first down, everyone in that locker room knows that the final seven points wouldn’t really matter. There’s no discernible difference between a 37-14 loss and a 30-14 loss. At least if you go for it, you show your team that you believe in them and will keep clawing for victory until the end.

Shane Morris may or may not have been concussed. I know there’s a lot of hand wringing about concussions these days, and I know Morris took a nasty shot from Theiren Cockran (that should have resulted in an ejection, by the way). I have seen a fair number of concussions, and I have to say that Morris did not look concussed on the sideline. I know people saw him stumble and nearly collapse on the field, but I got the vibe that it was because of the obvious pain in his left ankle. The kid could barely put pressure on his left leg from the third quarter onward, and I’m sure the hit from Cockran was not pleasant. Morris’s demeanor on the sideline afterward appeared to be that of a coherent young man who needed an ice bath, a massage, and some pictures to make him feel better. I could be wrong, and there’s no way to play doctor from my seat on the couch, but that was my interpretation of what I saw. . .

[Note: Before anyone jumps on me for my thoughts on Morris, I should state that I am extremely cautious as a coach when it comes to concussions. Standard protocol is to remove a kid’s helmet if there is any suspicion of a concussion, until such time as he is cleared to return. I have forced several kids out of practice/games for precautionary reasons when they complained of head pain, only to find out that it was dehydration, a blow to the nose, etc. At the very least, Morris should have been examined by a trainer.]

However, Morris should have been removed from the game permanently. On top of the fact that he never should have started the game in the first place, Morris twisted his ankle and/or knee early in the third quarter. He was limping noticeably. It seemed to affect his play negatively. He then took a couple more hits and came up limping even worse. In my years of sports experience, people who limp are generally worse at sports than those who are not limping. If that weren’t the case, Verbal Kint would be in the Hall of Fame. Michigan fans can rest easy knowing that a sixth year of Brian Cleary eligibility is still a possibility.

What about Minnesota, though? They’re not bad. They have a very good offensive line, they have some hard-running backs, they have a quarterback who fits their system, and they have a fundamentally sound defense. Other than running back David Cobb (32 carries, 183 yards), nobody wowed me. Cobb is just a guy who refuses to go down on first contact, and he has some burst that a guy like De’Veon Smith lacks. Tight end Maxx Williams might be able to squeeze into that category of “wow” guys, too, but he wasn’t a game-changer in this one. When a guy – whether it’s a star or a scrub – makes a diving, one-handed catch like he did down the sideline while being well covered by safety Jeremy Clark, you just have to tip your hat and acknowledge that there are other guys who can make plays, too.

Who starts at quarterback? It has to be Devin Gardner. Even if Shane Morris travels to Elysium and gets back in time for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition  on a Sunday night in 2003, Gardner should be the starter. Always and forever. He’s wearing the #98 jersey for a reason. (The reason is that Dave Brandon is a greedy bastard; I didn’t say it was a good reason.) Unless he re-breaks his foot or tells everyone in the MUG to “f*** her right in the p****”, Gardner should be the one fumbling Michigan’s season away.

Who starts at head coach? I don’t know. I think every coach hits a point where you say, “Yeah, this just isn’t going to work out.” For whatever reason, I think Rich Rodriguez’s moment was “You Raise Me Up,” even though his defenses sent up warning flags. This game may have been Hoke’s moment. I’m not saying that I think he’ll be fired on Monday (who would you promote to interim head coach?), and I’m not saying that a 9-3 finish (hey, it’s possible) couldn’t save Hoke. But the handling of Gardner, the handling of Morris, and curling up into the fetal position at the end of game is a potentially lethal combination. If Doug Nussmeier or Jeff Hecklinski is the head coach sometime soon, I will not be surprised.

We’re totally going to beat Rutgers. This was all a ploy to sucker them in, like a McDonald’s with free wi-fi. They step inside, check their e-mail, order a sweet tea, and BOOM! That’s right. The cashier gave you herpes. Oh, and diabetes. You gotta watch out for that diabetes sneaking up on you like an, I dunno, Mitch Leidner bootleg. Wait, what was I talking about?

Rutgers has herpes.