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Why Michigan and Florida fans should stop supporting terrible coaches

What are fans supposed to do when their favorite program is horribly mismanaged? Fight the impulse to place loyalty above all else.

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Florida football was, if not the most successful program in the country over the two-decade period from 1990 through 2009, certainly one of the best. The Gators won three national titles and finished first in the league nine times. Florida had the best winning percentage in the country, all despite playing a difficult schedule with perennial powers Tennessee and Florida State and often an SEC Championship opponent.

Florida now sits in the aftermath of a 4-8 season. The Gators have started with a win over hapless Eastern Michigan, an overtime win over Kentucky, and a rout at the hands of Alabama in which the Gators allowed the biggest yardage total in school history. Yes, Will Muschamp has surpassed Steve Spurrier in one significant way: he produced a team that gave up more yards than Spurrier's Gators did against '95 Nebraska. And defense is Muschamp's strength.

Michigan is sold on looking farther back into the past, but it's not like all of Michigan's success came under Fielding Yost and Fritz Crisler in the days before facemasks and 40-yard dashes. From the hiring of Bo Schembechler in 1969 to Lloyd Carr's retirement in 2007, Michigan was the second-winningest program in the country.  Michigan won one national title during that period and went to Pasadena 16 times.

Michigan football is now such a disaster that Florida fans can look at the mess in Ann Arbor and say to themselves, "Well, at least we aren't that!" The Wolverines are 1-9 in their last 10 games against power-conference opponents, with the one being a triple-overtime win at Northwestern. To really drive home the point that the program is abysmally disorganized, Michigan allowed its starting quarterback to play with a later-confirmed concussion during its latest loss and could not offer straight answers as to how this embarrassing breach of protocol happened:

To summarize: This is a 1 a.m. press release admitting that a player was allowed to play with a concussion. Its contents contradict the statements that player's head coach gave about 12 hours before, and boils down to saying those who were watching couldn't see the quarterback take a massive hit.

Florida and Michigan are programs that have sustained success in the recent past, but are struggling. Both are coached by defense-minded coaches whose offenses have struggled, whose results have declined, and who appear to be overmatched in their positions. Michigan's disastrous Saturday has heightened the contradictions with respect to the Hoke regime, but Muschamp isn't far behind on his march to the abyss.

So what is a Gator or Wolverine fan to do when confronted by a situation in which his/her program is badly in need of change? Don't be an enabler. This is where the definition of codependence rears its head:

Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person's ... under-achievement. ... People with a predisposition to be a codependent enabler often find themselves in relationships where their primary role is that of rescuer, supporter, and confidante. Codependency can occur in any type of relationship. .... Codependency may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, or control patterns.

Or just let Phil Hartman explain the concept in four lines:

In college football terms, a fan who continues to support a mismanaged team financially by buying tickets and concessions, renewing season tickets, and so on is enabling the mismanagement process. Like an addict, a college football program usually needs to bottom out in order to be compelled to change. Brian Cook from MGoBlog reached this point in the aftermath of the Minnesota game:

I'M NOT GOING TO THE MARYLAND GAME. (Unless Hoke and Brandon are gone.) This is going to break a home attendance streak dating back to the 1997 opener, when I was a freshman, but it's the only thing I can do to show my disgust at the state of the program. I'm not selling my ticket-not that I could sell it for anything. I am eating it. I urge you to do the same. Yeah, it sucks for the players. I am more concerned about sending a message about the program as a whole than making anyone feel bad.


Do it for all of us. I hate it with the fury of a thousand suns, but this is the only thing we have left.

The problem for a fan is that this concept sounds an awful lot like abandoning one's school. Fans build up their identities around the concept of loyalty. We want to be able to say that we stuck with our teams through thick and thin. When times are good, we want to be able to relay a story about that game we attended when the team was 4-6 and the weather was dreadful.

This line of thinking serves the emotional needs of the fan rather than the needs of the program. What an underperforming program needs is a kick in the pants, a reminder that there will be significant consequences if it continues to flounder. Athletic directors sometimes need an object lesson in the difference between what a stadium looks like when the team is well-coached and what it looks like when the team is coached by Hoke or Muschamp.

The classic sports example of a codependent relationship between a team and its fans is the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs draw well despite playing in a small park and having a history of losing. And not a "we come so close and choke in the end" history like the Red Sox had between 1918 and 2004. No, this is a "we rarely make the playoffs or finish over .500" level of losing. The Cubs now have a respected general manager and are making progress, but over the long haul, it's easy to conclude that their famously loyal support reduced the incentive of ownership to make every effort to produce a top-level team.

There are a pair of recent examples in college football of fans enabling mediocrity from their beloved programs. The first is Texas, which allowed Mack Brown to meander through a four-year decline in which the Horns, a program with every conceivable advantage, went 30-21. Texas fans continued to line the pockets of their athletic department, which reduced the pressure to make a change. And the result? The program rotted, leaving Brown's successor to employ radical measures in an effort to make Texas competitive again.

The second is Iowa. Like Texas, Iowa fans have been loyal to their program despite mediocre results, thus producing an athletic department department that is firmly in the black. As a result, Iowa's Gary Barta has not been forced to weigh the cost of Kirk Ferentz's ludicrous buyout against the cost of fans no longer supporting a mediocre product.

And that's the lesson for Florida and Michigan fans. They need to fight the impulse to show their loyalty to teams coached by guys who waste possessions, figuratively trying to use sandwiches as cell phones. They need to be impervious to appeals to support the troops. It's unfortunate that a show of dissent or apathy can be transposed from being directed at management to being directed at the players, who are generally blameless, but the right response is that the show of dissent or apathy today will lead to a situation in which future Gators and Wolverines will be coached by more competent leaders.

As college football becomes more and more of a business, fans are going to behave like consumers. Maybe in an era of $25 tickets, unconditional loyalty was a legitimate expectation of a fan. It most certainly is not in an era of $75 tickets and required donations for the privilege of buying those tickets.

Florida and Michigan fans should refuse to let the emotions of an enabler rule their behavior and should instead behave as the rational consumers that are described in their schools' microeconomics courses.