35 years ago

Today in 1983, I was a freshman at UW–Madison. My first-semester schedule — a horrid screwed-up mess because, in the troglodyte days of assignment committees to register for classes — I had just one comparative-literature class and marching band practice on Wednesdays. That’s what I remember, anyway.

A lot of people on the politically overstimulated UW–Madison campus were discussing ABC-TV’s upcoming movie “The Day After,” which depicted the U.S. following a nuclear war.

Unknown to us this day, the day of the movie (which I missed because that was also the night of the UW Marching Band banquet, a far more important event) or for years afterward was that apparently the U.S. and the Soviet Union came close to preempting “The Day After” for the real thing.

The Economist reviews 1983: Reagan, Andropov and a World on the Brink:

The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was terrifying, but at least both sides knew the world was on the brink of catastrophe. As Taylor Downing’s snappily told account lays bare, what arguably made the near-miss of November 9th 1983 worse was that the West had almost no idea the Soviet leadership believed war was imminent.

East-West relations had been in dire straits for years. Ronald Reagan’s soaring anti-communist rhetoric, terming the Soviet bloc an “evil empire”, inspired freedom-lovers on both sides of the Iron Curtain, but panicked the Politburo gerontocracy. So too did his idealistic belief that missile-defence (“Star Wars”) might keep the peace better than MAD (mutually assured destruction). A hi-tech arms race spelled doom for the Soviet Union.

As communication had shrivelled, misunderstandings mushroomed. When the Soviets shot down a Korean airliner that had veered drastically off course into their airspace, nobody in the American administration could countenance the idea that the tragedy might be (as it was) a blunder, not an atrocity. The Soviets were certain the plane was on a spying mission.

NATO’s “Able Archer” exercise was also wildly misinterpreted. The Kremlin was convinced it masked war preparations. A routine change of NATO codes made the Soviets assume a nuclear first strike was imminent. In fact the KGB had an agent in the heart of NATO, Rainer Rupp. In response to an emergency request, he assured Moscow, with some bemusement, that everything in the alliance’s civilian bureaucracy was ticking along as normal. But the spymasters discounted the information, while “toadying KGB officers on the ground…sent back alarmist reports.” If the Soviet misreading of NATO intentions was a colossal intelligence failure, so was the inability of Western intelligence to realise just how jittery and ill-informed the Communist leadership had become.

As the Soviet Union put its nuclear forces on high alert, Lieutenant-General Leonard Perroots, the American air-force intelligence chief in Europe, reacted with puzzlement. A quid pro quo might have triggered an all-out nuclear war, which would, as Mr Downing puts it, leave only “cockroaches and scorpions” alive. Luckily, Perroots did nothing. After a sleepless night, the Kremlin leadership, huddled in a clinic outside Moscow with the ailing general secretary, Yuri Andropov, realised nothing was going to happen.

Mr Downing’s book gives abundant historical background, perhaps too much for readers familiar with the period. A useful later chapter depicts how realisation of the Soviet panic unfolded in the West, first in classified assessments and eventually, long after the event, in the public domain—not least thanks to Mr Downing’s television documentary, screened in 2008. He wisely avoids questions of the morality of nukes. Instead he focuses on the shortcomings that made accidental nuclear war far too plausible.

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A Packer what-if

The three greatest quarterbacks in Packers history in the Super Bowl era are Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, arguably followed by Lynn Dickey.

After Dickey comes, or came, the abyss. Fans who suffered through the Gory Years after Vince Lombardi left and before Ron Wolf got to Green Bay can recite with varying degrees of exasperation the list of starting quarterbacks after Starr and before Favre, including Scott Hunter (who at least won a division title by handing off to John Brockington and MacArthur Lane), Jerry Tagge (a Green Bay native whose skills as Nebraska’s quarterback in more of a passing offense than the Cornhuskers eventually ran didn’t translate into the NFL), Jim Del Gaizo (because the third-string draft pick of the Super Bowl VII champion Miami Dolphins should be worth two second-round draft picks, right?), Jack Concannon (perhaps because he was on the early ’70s Cowboys practicd squad), John Hadl (more about him momentarily), Don Milan, Carlos Brown (later known as actor Alan Autry of “In the Heat of the Night”), Randy Johnson and David Whitehurst produced little success.

That’s the pre-Dickey’s-broken-leg list. After Dickey came Randy Wright (one of UW’s best quarterbacks, but see Tagge), Jim Zorn (previously in Seattle), Don Majkowski (Magik for 1989), Anthony Dilweg (despite being the grandson of a Packer alumnus), Mike Tomczak (who was less effective in Green Bay than he was in Chicago, and he was no Jim McMahon with Da Bears) and Blair Kiel (formerly of Notre Dame, about which more later).

The worst part of this tale of woe is Hadl, the object of possibly the most idiotic trade in NFL history. Somewhere between Del Gaizo and Milan GM/coach Dan Devine realized he had no NFL-level quarterbacks on his roster. And so Devine panicked and sent two first-round draft picks, a second-round pick and two third-round picks to the Rams for Hadl. Starr, who replaced Devine as GM and coach after Devine left for Notre Dame, then had to send two more draft picks and a player to Houston to get Dickey.

That long preamble leads us to Cliff Christl:

Over a span of seven years, from when the newly formed American Football League held its first draft on Nov. 22, 1959 until a merger agreement with the National Football League was reached in June 1966, the two leagues held separate college drafts and engaged in expensive bidding wars to sign their picks.

The Green Bay Packers lost only one of nine No. 1 choices during that period and it proved to be no loss. Wide receiver Larry Elkins, selected with the Packers’ second first-round pick and 10th choice overall in the 1965 draft, signed with the Houston Oilers and turned out to be a bust. He played two years and caught a total of 24 passes.

Still, the Packers lost a quarterback who could have become Bart Starr’s heir apparent and four solid offensive linemen. …

The AFL held its draft on Dec. 1, 1962, two days before the NFL, and the Buffalo Bills announced 13 days later they had signed Lamonica, their 24th round choice. “I’m going with the Bills because they gave me a better one-year offer,” explained Lamonica. “I don’t intend to play pro ball the rest of my young life. I have other things in mind.”

The quarterback who became known as “The Mad Bomber” as a pro struggled as a senior at Notre Dame under Joe Kuharich much like Joe Montana did later under Dan Devine. In fact, Kuharich considered Lamonica a better runner, but thought junior Frank Budka was the better passer because he threw a better deep ball. So he had them split time.

1963 wasn’t one of Notre Dame’s more memorable seasons and Lamonica was the subject of one of the better stories that circulated in South Bend. Apocryphal or not, it went like this. One day a priest encountered him on a golf course and asked why he wasn’t at practice. Lamonica responded, “I don’t have to practice. I know both of Kuharich’s plays.” So the priest, in need of a golf partner the next day, asked Lamonica to join him. “Can’t make it today,” said the quarterback. “I have to find out which play Joe wants to use Saturday.”

Following a 35-6 loss to Northwestern, Notre Dame was scheduled to play Navy next. That week, the Midshipmen’s chief scout Steve Belichick told the Baltimore Sun that Notre Dame’s biggest problem was quarterback because four players were sharing the position. But Belichick added that he liked what he saw of Lamonica, despite the lopsided score, when he got a chance to play in the second half against Northwestern. “He gave them the best passing they’ve had all year,” Belichick said. Sure enough, against Navy, Lamonica outplayed sophomore Roger Staubach and triggered a four-game winning streak for the Irish.

After signing with Buffalo, Lamonica spent four years backing up veteran Jack Kemp, but went 4-0 in his only starts. Traded to Oakland in 1967, Lamonica led the Raiders to a 13-1 regular-season record, the AFL championship and a matchup with Green Bay in Super Bowl II. He also was named the AFL’s Player of the Year.

The week before the Super Bowl, Green Bay native Red Smith, who would win a Pulitzer Prize nine years later, interviewed George Wilson, who had coached Detroit from 1957-64 and also had faced Lamonica three times as coach of the Miami Dolphins. Asked to compare the two teams, Wilson said he thought Lamonica would be the key to the game. “I believe the two hottest quarterbacks in professional football through the season were Sonny Jurgensen with the Redskins and Lamonica in our league,” said Wilson.

Although Starr outplayed Lamonica in the Super Bowl, the latter compiled a 62-16-6 record as Oakland’s starter before being replaced by future Hall of Famer Ken Stabler in 1973.

When the Raiders acquired Lamonica, Ron Wolf was a 29-year-old scout in his fifth year with the team. Wolf has no doubt Lamonica would have eventually played for the Packers.

“He threw 30 touchdown passes his first year, 34 another year,” said Wolf. “The team went 13-1 with him as a quarterback. He had a strong arm. He could make all the throws. Plus, he was agile enough to get out of trouble.”

In Wolf’s eyes, Lamonica might have been the second best quarterback in AFL history. “Of his era, there wasn’t anybody as good as Joe Namath,” said Wolf. “Joe Namath was a cut above everybody else. He’s in the Hall of Fame. But Daryle would be No. 2. (Len) Dawson is in the Hall of Fame, but I think Daryle was better than Dawson. (George) Blanda is in the Hall of Fame. But Daryle could make all the throws.”

No doubt, Lamonica was better than any Packers’ quarterback between Starr and Lynn Dickey, but he would have been 29 years old when Starr’s shoulder problems signaled the end was near in 1969.

Keep in mind as well that most of Lamonica’s career was in the wide-open AFL. (The same applies to Hadl.) Raiders owner Al Davis coached under Sid Gillman, one of the architects of the modern passing game, and Davis loved throwing deep. (Here’s a big what-if: Davis apparently once considered trading Stabler, perhaps the most accurate quarterback of the 1970s, to Pittsburgh for Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw.) Even though under Bengtson quarterback Don Horn once threw for 410 yards in a game, no NFL team threw as freely as the Raiders with Lamonica or the Chargers with Hadl.

One big problem every Packer quarterback between Starr and Favre faced (often from their backs) was poor-quality offensive lines. Christl’s piece also discusses four offensive linemen the Packers drafted but lost to AFL teams who arguably would have been better than the offensive linemen the Packers had once the Glory Days offensive line retired or were traded away (Forrest Gregg to Dallas).

And while we’re talking about problems of Packer quarterbacks, we might as well add the quality, or lack thereof, of targets for those quarterbacks. The 1972 NFC Central champion Packers were so ground-bound that Hunter averaged less than 100 passing yards per game. Carroll Dale, nearing the end of his career, led the Packers with 16 catches for 317 yards and one touchdown. Those aren’t even good high school numbers today. (In fact the 1972 Packers were just 11th in offensive points per game, but were fourth in points given up per game.)

Other Packer receivers, if you want to call them that, of this era included 1973 first-round pick Barry Smith, who lasted three seasons because he didn’t like to catch balls over the middle, and a group of guys you’ve never heard of. (Jack Clancy? Jon Staggers? Leland Glass? Ollie Smith?) After Dale’s and Boyd Dowler’s departures, not until the Packers drafted James Lofton first in 1978 did they have a quality receiver on the team. (Dale and Dowler were more like spread-out tight ends than fast receivers, which Lombardi never had.) Meanwhile, Hadl was throwing to a Hall of Fame receiver, Lance Alworth, and Lamonica was throwing to another Hall of Fame receiver, Fred Biletnikoff; two other above-average receivers, Warren Wells and tight end Raymond Chester; and several running backs who could also catch.

231 years later

John York, one week after Constitution Day:

Americans should be thankful not only for the rare genius that assembled in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft the Constitution, but for the unique circumstances under which they met.

Not all moments in time are ripe for founding a nation. Nor is every citizenry equally prepared to receive new modes and orders. The Founders’ time and generation presented just such an opportunity. Our time would not.

Earlier this month, University of Texas law professor Sanford Levinson wrote that “not enough people connect the dots … between our political dysfunctions and the sacred Constitution of 1787.”

What dysfunctions does he have in mind? President Donald Trump’s “near dictatorial powers with regard to mobilization of the American military, control of immigration, or the imposition of tariffs against one and all countries around the world.”

Levinson is not the only person questioning the wisdom of our constitutional design now that Trump occupies the White House. Weeks after the 2016 election, in which Trump won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote by a small margin, the editorial board of The New York Times demandedthat we replace our “antiquated system” of presidential selection and impose direct popular elections.

Similarly, after Republicans took control of the Senate, Jacobin’s Daniel Lazare advocated abolishing the upper chamber, which he contends “grossly marginalized” voters in states such as California and New York.

It is difficult to reason about the proper structure of government in the midst of partisan tumult. This is true of Republicans as well. Immediately after the 2016 election, Republican support for direct election of the president dropped from 54 percent to 19 percent.

Both Democrats and Republicans know what institutional arrangements benefit their side and, if given the opportunity, would rig the system in their favor.

Thankfully, party conflict at the time of the founding was virtually nonexistent, and factional strife was tamped down. According to James Madison, going through the crucible of the Revolutionary War bound the nation together and “repressed the passions most unfriendly to order and concord.”

The unity born of this great existential threat “stifled the ordinary diversity of opinions on great national questions.” Hence, “no spirit of party connected with the changes to be made.” So too did the near universal experience of the failures of the Articles of Confederation.

This national unity did not last long. George Washington was still in the White House when the battle lines were drawn between the Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton and the Democratic-Republicans led by Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

Had the Constitution been drafted only a few years later, these inchoate parties already might have become sufficiently developed to give a partisan taint to both the convention and ratification debates that would have followed.

The revolution not only tempered factionalism and forestalled partisanship, it also elevated a cadre of universally revered national figures capable of effectively championing the Constitution. As Madison writes, the war imbued the public with “enthusiastic confidence … in their public leaders”—men such as Washington, Hamilton, Ben Franklin, and Madison.

If not for the public reputations of these men, citizens may have been understandably hesitant to accept a wholly new and untested form of government. Leaving the familiar shores of the status quo is always a dangerous risk. But, with trusted captains at the helm, the nation was able to face down the fear of the unknown.

Imagine if a constitutional convention were held in a political climate more like our own. Would the public have “enthusiastic confidence” in their political leaders—the delegates to such a convention? There is no public figure that enjoys the sort of near-universal public adoration that Washington did at the time of the founding. Collectively, our national politicians are less trusted than at any point since the beginning of scientific public opinion polling.

Trust in politicians is particularly low today, but political figures rarely enjoy widespread, bipartisan support. Even when politicians lead the nation through great existential threats, goodwill tends to evaporate very quickly—just ask former President George W. Bush.

Even the reputations of our Founding Fathers eventually were sullied as the revolutionary unity dissolved into partisan rancor. The election of 1800, which pitted Jefferson against John Adams, was famously vicious.

Adams’ supporters publicly claimed that Jefferson’s election would usher in an epoch during which “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced.” Jefferson’s allies retorted that Adams was a “repulsive pedant” who “behaved neither like a man nor like a woman but instead possessed a hideous hermaphroditical character.”

The fortuitous conditions Madison points to only set the stage for what unfolded in Philadelphia 231 years ago. Without the genius and public spiritedness of the Founders, the moment might have slipped by.

But at a time so taken with the idea of progress, among a people convinced that time confers useful experience, if not greater wisdom, it is important to celebrate both the men and the moment that gave rise to our Constitution.

The Crash: Another view

Matthew D. Mitchell has a different opinion about The Crash of 2008 and the resulting bailouts:

As the 10th anniversary of the historic bailout of 2008 looms, many people will undoubtedly say —as President Bush said at the time—that it was necessary to abandon“free market principles to save the free market system.” They will tell us that the government had no alternative. And they will say that the bailout “worked” because the economy didn’t go from a recession to a depression.

The truth is that there were alternatives. As our George Mason University colleague Garett Jones has written, a process known as “speed bankruptcy”—endorsed by economists on the left and the right—would have permitted quick conversion of bank debt into bank equity, recapitalizing the banks while avoiding the use of taxpayer funds.

We can’t be certain of what would have happened had something like speed bankruptcy been tried. But we do know that even with the bailout, the economy fell into the deepest and longest-lasting recession since the Great Depression. That is hardly proof positive that it “worked.”

Moreover, we know from the history of bailouts that the true cost of a bailout is not the taxpayer expense (which is often recouped) but the expectation it sets for future bailouts, an expectation that invites future disaster.

In 1971, the US government gave Lockheed Aircraft Corporation $250 million in emergency loan guarantees. It was the first time the federal government ever came to the rescue of a single firm. Shortly thereafter, the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad and other struggling railroads received hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency grants and loan guarantees. That was followed by $1.5 billion in loan guarantees for the ailing Chrysler Corporation in 1979.

The phrase “too big to fail” entered the American lexicon in the wake of a federal bailout of Continental Illinois Bank in 1984. Next, the federal government bailed out the creditors of hundreds of savings and loan (S&L)associations in the late 1980s and early 1990s at a cost to taxpayers of around $150 billion. In the late 1990s, the Fed orchestrated the private bailout of hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. No taxpayer money was involved, but the Fed’s keen interest in the case led many industry observers to believe that the Fed would not let large institutions—or their creditors—fail.

The record-setting federal bailout of 2008-09 showed that these expectations were accurate. First, the New York Federal Reserve made a $30 billion loan to J. P. Morgan Chase so that it could purchase Bear Stearns. Next, in order to save them from bankruptcy, the federal government took over mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Then the government paused, allowing Lehman Brothers and its creditors to fall on September 15, 2008. Two days later, bailouts resumed and the Federal Reserve made an $85 billion loan to the insurance firm American International Group. The culmination of this series of bailouts was the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), a $700 billion bailout that gave hundreds of financial firms and auto companies emergency government assistance.

Although proponents of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, passed after the 2008 meltdown, claimed it would help avoid future government bailouts, the perception that major financial interests are “too big to fail” remains an unfortunate reality. The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s “Bailout Barometer” periodically estimates the extent to which the financial industry’s liabilities are explicitly and implicitly backed by the federal government. According to the most recent estimate, the share of financial sector liabilities subject to implicit or explicit government protection from losses grew from 45 percent in 1999 to 60 percent in 2016, by which time they amounted to $26 trillion. The authors succinctly note that “This protection may encourage risk-taking, making financial crises and bailouts more likely.”

As the Richmond Fed researchers explain in an accompanying document, the Bailout Barometer includes “other liabilities [that] are believed by many market participants to be implicitly guaranteed by the federal government.” The expectation that a company and its creditors will be bailed out by the government, should they find themselves in dire financial straits, can be an extraordinary privilege.

Take, for example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Well before they were rescued by the federal government, Fannie and Freddie benefited from the expectation of government assistance. The firms were chartered by Congress and widely assumed to have its financial support. This assumption meant that compared with firms lacking support from the federal government, Fannie and Freddie appeared to be safer investments. As the Congressional Budget Office explains, this expectation, in turn, provided the companies a competitive advantage against private competitors:

“Because of their implicit federal guarantee, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could borrow to fund their portfolio holdings at much lower interest rates than those paid by fully private financial institutions that posed otherwise comparable risks, and investors valued the GSEs’ credit guarantees more highly than those issued by fully private guarantors … The advantages of implicit federal support allowed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to grow rapidly and dominate the secondary market for the types of mortgages they were permitted to buy (known as conforming mortgages). In turn, the perception that the GSEs had become “too big to fail” reinforced the idea that they were federally protected.”

The federal government’s history of bailing out creditorsmade this expectation especially strong.

Now that the summer of 2008 is a decade in the rearview mirror, we should be mindful that bailouts– and expectations thereof–encourage risky behavior, inviting crisis and further bailouts. Notwithstanding Mr. Bush’s assertion, one cannot save free enterprise by abandoning free enterprise. And free enterprise runs on market signals. Just as firms need profit signals to encourage good decision making, they need loss signals to discourage mistakes.

Unfortunately, just as the bailouts of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s begat the massive bailouts of the 2000s, the likelihood of further–and perhaps even larger–bailouts in the future remains disconcertingly high.

 

The Crash: One view

The New York Times’ Neil Irwin writes about the financial meltdown of a decade ago, and reactions to the fixes:

It’s hard to overstate how deeply Americans despised their government’s response to the global financial crisis. It has helped shape the last decade of American politics, fueling distrust of powerful institutions and speeding a drift toward ideological extremes.

But for all that anger, the engineers of the American crisis response got the economics mostly correct, and more right than most of those — including leading economic thinkers and prominent politicians — who were second-guessing them.

I was a beat reporter covering the events at the time and the key players — including the former Treasury secretaries Hank Paulson and Tim Geithner, and the former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke — and then wrote a bookon the crisis. Looking back on it a decade later, I’m struck by the way that I, and they, misunderstood what “success” would actually mean.

The engineers of the response succeeded in their immediate goal, to preserve the financial system. But they — or, more precisely, they and their political leaders at the time — also left fissures that threaten to undermine the system they sought to preserve. The very underpinnings of modern capitalism are being questioned from all sides. A Republican administration has gleefully cast aside trade deals, for instance, and the energy among Democrats is around democratic socialism.

To understand the challenges and ultimately the failure of the politics of their response, it helps to put yourself back in 2008 and 2009, when the financial might of the United States government — trillions of dollars, cumulatively — was deployed to try to contain the crisis.

Mr. Geithner, Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke are centrists in the context of modern American politics, but they are conservatives in the traditional sense — people trying to preserve a system they inherited.

Their strategy was to patch things up as quickly as possible. The goal was not to try to reinvent Wall Street on the fly, but to keep the flow of capital coursing through the global economy while minimizing the depth and duration of the recession that the crisis had caused.

Some 230 academic economists signed a letterattacking the bank bailout legislation that Mr. Paulson proposed as unfair and a potential threat to the vibrancy of private markets.

Mr. Geithner’s disinclination to nationalize banks drew fierce criticism from liberals who argued that the government was essentially funneling money to banks with little assurance they would resume lending.

“Whatever its merits, his bailout plan offers generous subsidies to banks and private investors while protecting bank management and creditors,” John B. Judis wrote in 2009 in a New Republic article titled “The Geithner Disaster.”

Mr. Bernanke’s efforts to pump money into the economy by buying up bonds also met opposition. A group of conservative economists wrote a letter in 2010 arguing that the Fed’s plans to engage in quantitative easing “risk currency debasement and inflation, and we do not think they will achieve the Fed’s objective of promoting employment.”

These attacks were misguided.

Mr. Paulson’s financial rescue package did not herald an era of socialism on Wall Street; nor did it come at a huge continuing cost to taxpayers. By many measures, it made money.

Mr. Geithner’s stress tests achieved their goal of restoring confidence in major banks without the cost and political damage of nationalizing them. They were successful enough that similar stress tests are now a part of regulators’ tool kits both in the United States and overseas.

Mr. Bernanke’s aggressive monetary policy probably played a role in getting the expansion on track starting in mid-2009. Quantitative easing and low interest rates did not cause a collapse of the dollar or spiraling inflation.

Nobody would argue that the United States economy is perfect, or that the policymakers got everything exactly right.

If Mr. Paulson had secured financial rescue legislation before Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, perhaps the most severe phase of the crisis could have been avoided altogether, though it is a puzzle how he could have gotten the votes for such a plan before the crisis became more severe. If Mr. Bernanke had moved faster — putting an open-ended quantitative easing program in place in 2009 or 2010 instead of waiting till 2012 — maybe full recovery would have come sooner.

It’s not clear how the recovery might have looked had Mr. Geithner embraced a more activist approach to replacing management and taking greater government control of the most troubled large banks, notably Citigroup and Bank of America. Or if he had welcomed a larger program to help relieve borrowers who were underwater on their homes.

The tactics the men chose can be second-guessed, but the result of their efforts speaks for itself. The expansion has lasted nine years, the second longest on record. Although job gains were disappointingly slow for years, the unemployment rate is now 3.9 percent, among the lowest in decades.

From 2007 to 2017, per-person inflation-adjusted G.D.P. rose 6.3 percent in the United States, compared with only 3 percent in the eurozone, where similar policies were embraced more slowly.

In exhaustive research of the history of financial crises, the economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff found that it takes eight years on average for a society to return to its level of per-person income. The United States did so in 2013, only six years after the peak of the crisis.

The political price

It was Feb. 19, 2009, less than a month into the Obama administration. Mr. Geithner and his colleagues had introduced plans to assist struggling homeowners, which many liberal critics considered deeply inadequate.

The human cost of the foreclosure crisis was indeed immense; there were 2.8 million foreclosures that year alone. But the politics of helping troubled homeowners were more toxic than the crisis managers had foreseen.

From the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the CNBC broadcaster Rick Santelli began a rant for the ages. “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?” Mr. Santelli said, as traders cheered behind him. “President Obama, are you listening?”

“We’re thinking about having a Chicago tea party in July,” he continued.

The term stuck, and was embraced by the conservative activists who propelled Republicans to victory in the 2010 midterm elections — driven, in no small part, by opposition to economic stimulus, financial bailouts and the work of the Federal Reserve.

The policymakers knew history’s warnings about economic policy that reacts too sluggishly to financial crisis.

Mr. Geithner spent some evenings in the darkest days reading in Liaquat Ahamed’s “Lords of Finance” about how an earlier generation of policymakers bungled the response to the Great Depression. Mr. Bernanke is a scholar of that era in his own right.

But they seemed to assume that if they got the economics right, popular support would follow. As Mr. Bernanke wrote in his memoir about the Santelli rant, “I remained perplexed that helping homeowners was not more politically popular.”

There’s a reason, of course, that they were in their roles as appointed technocrats and not politicians. But it isn’t clear that George W. Bush or Barack Obama had any better ideas for bringing along the public than did the men they chose to lead financial policy. The crisis response may well have been a Rubik’s Cube of political and economic challenges too complicated to solve.

It was foreseeable, perhaps, that many on the left would view the Geithner-Paulson-Bernanke strategy as too friendly to Wall Street interests. It was also foreseeable that the libertarian right would loathe the bailouts. More surprising were the ways in which some of the biggest beneficiaries of the strategy became vocal opponents.

The Geithner strategy was based on rescuing Wall Street, using hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars — while building a more rigorous regulatory system to try to prevent a similar crisis.

But by the time what became the Dodd-Frank Act was on its way to passage in 2010, the financial industry and nearly all Republicans in Congress had committed to all-out opposition of industry regulation. Only three of 178 Republican House members, for example, supported the bill.

Even as Mr. Bernanke’s easy money policies pushed the stock market upward and coincided with a gradually improving economy and low inflation, the drumbeat of commentary was overwhelmingly negative.

You could turn on a financial network at nearly any hour of the trading day and hear complaints about how quantitative easing and zero interest rates were distorting markets. When Mr. Bernanke left office in early 2014, when the stock market was soaring and the unemployment rate was falling fast, only 28 percent of Republicans approved of his performance, according to a Gallup survey.

Success has rarely been so unpopular.

How the crisis broke our politics

In July, Mr. Bernanke, Mr. Geithner and Mr. Paulson were together again. They invited a handful of reporters to interview them in a conference room at the Brookings Institution, where they will be participating in a crisis retrospective in September.

Might the rise of anti-establishment parties around the world — not least Donald J. Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders-esque socialists on the left in the United States — be traced to their work as crisis responders?

“We know from history that financial crises, particularly big ones, do tend to get followed by a populist reaction,” Mr. Bernanke said. “I think we all tried our best to explain what we were doing and work with the politics, as difficult as it was. I think back to the crisis, we were very focused on preventing the collapse of the financial system. And developing our communication to the broad public wasn’t always our first priority.”

He argued, though, that longer-term trends — like stagnation in middle-class wages, social dysfunctions, rising mistrust in government and hostility to immigration — were a bigger explanation for the rise in a politics of extremes.

This analysis seems both correct and incomplete. Of course, the embrace of anti-immigrant nationalism on the right and of socialism on the left have roots considerably deeper than a bank bailout or a quantitative easing program.

But it was the experience of the crisis, and the sense among Americans of all ideological dispositions that they were being asked to foot the bill for someone else’s mistakes — whether by Wall Street C.E.O.s or by Mr. Santelli’s neighbor with the renovated bathroom — that helped make those long-simmering problems boil over.

The response to the crisis was in many ways the high-water mark for a mold of centrist, technocratic policymaking that seeks to tweak and nudge existing institutions toward better outcomes. It also undermined any widespread popular support for that mode of governing for the foreseeable future.

It turns out, when you throw trillions of dollars at rescuing a system that most people don’t like very much in the first place, the result isn’t relief.

It’s anger.

Watch this space for another opinion on this subject.

 

242 years ago

Declaration_Pg1of1_AC

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
Georgia:
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

Column 3
Massachusetts:
John Hancock
Maryland:
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross
Delaware:
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

Column 5
New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Massachusetts:
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery
Connecticut:
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
Matthew Thornton

30 years later, Steve says …

This showed up in my email earlier this week:

This unscarred (except the appendectomy scar you can’t see and I’m not going to show you) youngster was a couple of weeks removed from UW–Madison, living on his own for the first time and working full-time for the first time.

I certainly don’t lack for self-regard based on my quotes. (I did not write that story.) “I am dually trained for whatever the world might have in store for me.” Of course, I wasn’t trained for the Internet, but neither was anyone else in those days.

Thirty years later, I did own a newspaper, and I have done sports play-by-play, though my chances of announcing the World Series are about zero. (Because I haven’t done much baseball, baseball is probably my worst sport in terms of play-by-play skill.) I have never worked in broadcasting full-time, and I have learned over the years that that’s probably a good thing, given what I’ve learned about broadcasting over the years.

I have a few Great American Novel ideas, and I’ve started some, but as I’ve written before if the plot of a novel goes from A to Z, I get stuck around F. (And I write so much that sitting down to write more doesn’t exactly sound like fun.)

If you write opinions for a living, or at least as part of your job, you frequently give advice, whether that advice is sought or followed. If you cover high school commencements, as I’ve done for decades (and listened to enough renditions of “Pomp and Circumstance” to actively hate it), you’ve listened to more commencement speeches than you can count, from which often come advice from the adult speakers to the imminent graduates. (Even though, as frequent commencement speaker George Will pointed out, the only thing generally remembered about commencement speeches is their excessive length.) I’ve written a couple as well, and delivered one to graduates, though not at a graduation.

One of the three points in the aforementioned speech was that your life is taking place while you’re waiting for your idealized life to begin. That may have been what baseball broadcaster Harry Caray was thinking about when he observed, “Live it up, boys; it’s later than you think.”

The funniest segment of a commencement speech I have ever heard came from the local high school in 2013, in which a student said, “Four score and seven years ago, I had a dream that one day in this decade we would do things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. The only thing we had to fear was fear itself, and through struggle we learned that perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. For courage is not the absence of fear, but eather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The best way to guarantee a loss is to quit. In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure, but remember this: The complacency of success is the first step to mediocrity.” Sources were, in order, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Antoine Saint-Exupery, Dwight Eisenhower, Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby and the student’s uncle.

Not that I’m an expert, given that there is a gap in my full-time employment (for which I’d like to thank, he wrote sarcastically, Barack Obama and a few former coworkers), but it seems to me that the best way to remain employed is to work at what you do well, not what you “love” or in your “passion.” (I’ll get to that subject shortly.) I had two work choices that didn’t work out because I was much worse at the business end than I was at the job end. (Or at least the business end went worse than the product/service end, and in a business the business is most important. That is something almost no one who never owned a business understands.)

If you can follow your “passion” as a hobby, that’s good, assuming said hobby doesn’t suck up too much money. (I am still pining for a Corvette that as I age I am less and less likely to be able to own.) If you can have a hobby that actually pays you money instead of the other way around, even better.

A famous phrase about Washington, D.C. is “if you want a friend, get a dog.” That is good advice applicable to anywhere and beyond dogs, though dogs remain the most loyal pet you can have. Cats’ “love” is situational based on what you do for them — chiefly, feed them. Most people’s relationship with each other is also situational.

About “love,” a horribly overused word today: You should never love your job, because your job does not love you back. Everyone is replaceable, though some are more difficult to replace than others. Unless you had a really bad employment experience, your current job will compare unfavorably to your previous jobs, but that’s OK because you will be compared to your predecessors (and often unfavorably), and your employers and coworkers look on you better as a former employee than they did when you were working there.

Readers know that I am an Eagle Scout. The Scout Motto is “Be Prepared,” and the Scout Slogan is “Do a Good Turn Daily.” Lesser known, but advice I’ve tried to follow in at least my professional life, is “Leave a place in better condition than you found it.”

I’m not sure if this counts as advice, but it is undeniably true: Life is unfair. Life will always be unfair. That’s because life — your life, everyone’s life, and every human institution — is full of flawed humans.

There is one additional ironic point that I have to make since I am from the Ironic Decade of the ’80s. Had I read this 30 years ago, I would have been unlikely to have followed any of this advice. Some things people must learn for themselves.

 

A bunch of Big Red what-ifs

This week is the 50th anniversary of one of the strangest incidents in the history of UW athletics, summarized by Madison.com:

In 1968, the University of Wisconsin interviewed seven finalists for its vacant head basketball coaching position, before choosing Army coach Robert Knight, 27. The UW Athletic Board was searching for a replacement for John Erickson, who resigned to accept the position of general manager of the NBA’s new franchise in Milwaukee.

Knight, announced as the new coach on April 25, renounced his selection in anger 2 days later, over the premature release of his acceptance.

John Powless, the number two choice, and an assistant under Erickson since 1963, was then selected after an emergency meeting of the Athletic Board.

The rest of the “first four” besides Knight were UW–Milwaukee coach Ray Krzoska, Southern Illinois coach Jack Hartman, and Earl Lloyd, who played in the NBA in the 1950s and after this coached the Detroit Pistons.

Hartman might have been a good choice. (Read on for why I write “might.”) He got Southern Illinois from the NCAA’s Division II to Division I, moved on to Kansas State, and between junior college, the Salukis and the Wildcats won 578 games in 24 seasons, getting to the D1 Elite Eight four times and the Sweet Sixteen twice at K-State. Krzoska went 86–87 in seven seasons at UWM, and left two seasons after applying at UW. Lloyd went 22–55 with the Pistons.

The “last three” included two UW assistants, John Powless and Dave Brown.

Also included was a guy with some similarities to Knight, Jim Harding, the coach at La Salle in Philadelphia. Harding coached one season at La Salle and went 20–8, though La Salle was then placed on NCAA probation over two players’ revoked scholarships, and Harding was fired. One of his players, eventual American Basketball Association player Roland “Fatty” Taylor, said, “Forty years later, if I saw him today sitting in a wheelchair, I’d walk over and smack him.”

Instead of going to Wisconsin (or to the Bucks, where he reportedly was a candidate for their coaching position), Harding then went to the American Basketball Association’s Minnesota Pipers, and, well, here’s what happened there, according to Stew Thornley:

The Pipers would open the season in Minnesota with a new leader. Vince Cazzetta, who had coached the Pipers to the championship, resigned after Erickson and Rubin refused to give him a raise to cover moving his wife and six children to the Twin Cities. Hired to replace Cazzetta was 39-year old Jim Harding, who had compiled a 93-28 record in five seasons at LaSalle College in Philadelphia.

Harding had been equally successful in coaching tenures at two other colleges, but he left behind a trail of NCAA violations and endless turmoil, the latter a pattern that followed him to the professional ranks. …

The tension between Harding and the players came to a head after an altercation between the coach and center Tom Hoover. Unhappy that the incident was reported in the newspapers, Harding ordered his players not to talk to sportswriters and closed all practices to the press. The Minnesota management, in turn, refused to back Harding and all restrictions on the press were lifted.

During the next week, Harding began experiencing chest pains and underwent an electrocardiogram. Just before the team was to fly to Houston for a December 20 game, it was announced that Harding would not be making the trip. Concerned by the coach’s chest pains and dangerously-high blood pressure, doctors ordered Harding to take an indefinite leave of absence.

[General manager Vern] Mikkelsen assumed the coaching duties in the interim. The Pipers won only six of thirteen during that time but still maintained the lead in the division. Originally, Harding was to be gone for six weeks, and the Pipers said Mikkelsen would take his place as coach of the East squad in the All- Star Game. Harding, however, returned three weeks early and was back on the bench in mid-January. …

Harding was angered, however, by Washington and Williams absence at a banquet the night before the All-Star Game and attempted to fine them $500 each. His anger increased when he was overruled by team officials, and he sought out part-owner Gabe Rubin.

The result was a bloody midnight confrontation that left Rubin with a welt on his temple (and Harding with a scratched face). Harding was immediately relieved of his All-Star duties by Commissioner [George] Mikan; two days later, he was fired as coach of the Pipers.

Harding then spent four years at Detroit Mercy (after being the Titans’ second choice when first-choice Don Haskins of Texas–El Paso quit two days after he was hired — yes, there’s a theme developing here), going 55–45 while apparently alienating all his players due to his methods to the point where, at the beginning of his second season, all of his players quit. Harding, who had coached high school basketball in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa before going to La Salle, had only one losing season in six years of college coaching, but never coached after leaving Detroit Mercy. (Harding’s eventual replacement: Dick Vitale. Really.) Harding eventually became athletic director at UW–Milwaukee from 1975 to 1980 and is in the Gannon University Athletic Hall of Fame.

So apparently Wisconsin had two, shall we say, volatile coaches to choose from. Their choice was Knight:

Here, however, is where things get murky. Madison.com’s version is that Knight quit due to anger over reporting of his hiring before he had a chance to tell his wife and his bosses. (That would not be the last time Knight had a run-in with the media, of course.)

A slightly different version comes from a coach named Bo but not Ryan — Bo Schembechler, a candidate to replace Milt Bruhn as UW football coach in 1967:

After we won our conference title in my third and fourth seasons at Miami–1965 & 1966–Wisconsin called. From the outside, it seemed like a pretty good job. Wisconsin’s a good school in a great league. It was about ten o’clock on a Sunday when I walk into this meeting room to face twenty guys sitting around–and some board member falls asleep, right there in front of me! Now what does that tell you?

They also had a student on the committee, and this kid asks me how I would handle Clem Turner, a Cincinnati kid, who was always in trouble. Well, how the heck do I know how I would handle Clem Turner? I’ve never met him! And that’s exactly what I told that kid. But I’m thinking, Who the hell’s running this show?

The whole thing lasted maybe forty minutes, and the second I was out that door I walked to the nearest pay phone and called Ivy Williamson, the Wisconsin athletic director, and told him to withdraw my name from consideration.

Jesse Temple adds:

“They brought in all the candidates at the same time but put us up at different hotels,” Schembechler said in the book. “Real secret agent stuff. They asked Johnny Ray and me to come down together, and he goes in first before the committee. I guess it’s about 10 (p.m.) before it’s my turn.

“You have to picture this. They’ve got 20 guys sitting around, and one of them — a board member, I guess — is sound asleep. He is sitting there asleep. I mean, how the hell would you feel? I’m mad. Really mad. I don’t even want to be there. I don’t want to answer any of their questions.”

According to author John U. Bacon, the entire interview lasted all of 40 minutes. Schembechler also wasn’t thrilled that a student seemed to relish asking smart-aleck questions during the interview. He promptly walked out the door, found the nearest pay phone and called Wisconsin athletics director Ivy Williamson to withdraw his name from consideration.

“I really got miffed when I got there,” he said. …

The story behind Knight’s near-hire is equally maddening for Badgers fans. In 1968, he was a coach on the rise at Army and arrived in Madison as one of seven candidates to appear before the athletics board for the vacant men’s basketball coaching position. The previous coach, John Erickson, had resigned to become general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Knight wowed the board and was offered the Wisconsin job. There is some dispute as to whether he outright accepted the position or whether he asked simply for more time to think about it upon his return to West Point — which he claimed was the case in his book, Knight: My Story. Either way, he was not prepared for school officials to leak any news of his hiring to a local newspaper. That move, however, is exactly what happened.

“Almost as soon as I left, they announced me as their new coach,” Knight said in his book. “When I arrived home at West Point, I heard what they had done. Now, I was in a hell of a spot. I was up all night trying to figure out what I should do.”

The only person Knight could think of to run his decision by was Schembechler, who was still coaching at Miami (Ohio). Schembechler had served as an assistant to Woody Hayes when Knight was in school at Ohio State, and Knight was aware of his situation one year earlier at Wisconsin.

“I told him how Wisconsin had released my name as the new coach before I’d had a chance to talk to them about what was necessary for them to do — that I’d have liked to take the job but I didn’t think I could, under those circumstances,” Knight said. “He listened to everything I said, then told me, ‘Just call them and tell them you have no interest in the job.’ I did.” …

Knight recalled that about 20 years after he spurned the Badgers, an alumnus of Wisconsin approached him at a golf course and asked for his version of what happened when he almost became Wisconsin’s coach. He told the man about his situation and the one a year earlier with Schembechler

“If Wisconsin had handled both situations a little better, Bo and I might have been coaching there together for a long time,” Knight told him.

After relaying the story, Knight could sense disgruntlement on the alum’s face. “I think the football part bothered him the most,” he said.

And so …

So did Knight quit over the premature notice or because of what Schembechler said about why he turned down UW? We report, you decide.

This was not the last time UW had to get coach choice number two, or failed to hire the right coach. After Coatta was fired …

… UW offered the football job to North Dakota State coach Ron Ehrhardt, who turned UW down. (Ehrhardt went to the pros instead, becoming an assistant coach, then head coach of the New England Patriots. After his firing, he was hired as an assistant coach for the New York Giants under Ray Perkins, then Bill Parcells, then going to Pittsburgh, getting him three Super Bowl appearances and two wins as an offensive coordinator.)

UW ended up hiring UCLA assistant John Jardine, who had one winning season in eight years, but it was exciting:

Jardine was replaced (though to his credit he remained a UW football supporter until his death) by Dave McClain, who coached Wisconsin to the Badgers’ first bowl win …

… plus two other bowl games …

… including the only bowl game I got to march in …

… before his death of a heart attack at 48 in April 1986.

McClain was replaced by defensive coordinator Jim Hilles. UW had most of its starters back, including eight players who were drafted by the NFL — running backs Joe Armentrout and Larry Emery, linebackers Rick Graf, Tim Jordan (who was one year ahead of me at Madison La Follette), Michael Reid and Craig Raddatz, and defensive backs Nate Odomes and Bobby Taylor — plus five players who would be drafted in the next year’s draft.

That 1986 team might be one of the biggest what-ifs in UW athletic history. They played four nonconference games that were winnable, but went 1–3 instead, and they won only two games after that.

Would that have happened had McClain lived? Hilles was the logical choice to replace McClain since he was assistant head coach, but what if Hilles had, as some head coaches do, focused on his side of the ball and let the offensive coaches run the offense?

Hilles was quoted in the UW media guide that “I will take the responsibility for the offense, and I will also take the blame. We will definitely be more aggressive physically; we want to knock some people off the line of scrimmage — let them know who we are. Since we feel our strengths are in the offensive line and our running backs, we will first set out to be as strong a running team as we can be. An effective running game will open up the throwing game for us, and that’s how we’re going to approach things.”

That is not different from the approach UW had under McClain once McClain switched from the option to the pro set when quarterback Randy Wright transferred in from Notre Dame. They had the same two quarterbacks, Mike “The Springfield Rifle” Howard and Green Bay’s Bud Keyes, though they were minus their top two receivers from the 1985 season, tight end Scott Sharron and wide receiver/kick returner Tim Fullington and one of their offensive linemen, Bob Landsee, who preceded Gruber and Derby into the NFL.

In a sense, though, Hilles’ offensive problems predated Hilles’ one year as head coach. Wright was a good enough quarterback to play for the Packers. His best receiver was Al Toon, who also played in the NFL. The season after Wright graduated, the Badgers had Toon, plus two other good wide receivers, Michael Jones and Thad McFadden, plus tight end Bret Pearson, who was drafted (though did not play) by the San Diego Chargers. None of them arguably were capably replaced, and when a team can’t move the ball through the air, defense becomes easier for their opponent.

Once the 1986 season started going south, UW started looking for a new coach. The five semifinalists included Hilles, Wyoming coach Dennis Erickson (right after Wyoming beat Wisconsin in Madison in Erickson’s first season), West Virginia coach Don Nehlen, Northwestern coach Francis Peay (a former Packer offensive lineman), and Tulsa coach Don Morton.

That list includes one coach who won two national championships, Erickson, and another who coached in a national championship game, Nehlen, winner of 202 games in his career. Neither were finalists for the job. Morton was hired over Hilles, and it could be argued that neither choice was the right choice. Morton won six games in three years, and his ineptitude resulted in the death of the UW baseball and gymnastics teams and nearly the rest of the UW Athletic Department.

If that seems like a mess, the mess of four years earlier was even worse. Erickson’s (and Knight’s) replacement, Powless, had only two winning seasons in eight seasons as coach. Powless’ replacement was Virginia assistant Bill Cofield, who had only one winning season in six seasons as coach. (Cofield died of cancer two years after he coached his last game.)

The options to replace Powless included Boston College coach Tom Davis, who grew up in Ridgeway and graduated from UW–Platteville. UW should have hired Davis, but didn’t. Davis went to Stanford, then to Iowa, where he beat on UW with regularity until he retired in 1999. Instead, UW hired UW–Eau Claire coach Ken Anderson, who then backed out of the job three days later. (One version of the reason was that he got wind of NCAA rule violations that resulted in the Badgers’ forfeiting all eight of their wins the next season; another is that he was making too much money as a landlord to UW–Eau Claire students to leave.) UW hired Ball State coach Steve Yoder, who at least got UW in a couple of NIT tournaments before he quit in 1991.

It should be pointed out that the fact that Schembechler was highly successful at Michigan (though he has two fewer Rose Bowl wins than UW), Knight was highly successful at Indiana (as in three national championships), Hartman was successful at Kansas State, Davis was highly successful at Stanford and Iowa, Nehlen was highly successful at West Virginia, and Erickson was highly successful at Miami (though not so in the NFL) does not necessarily mean any of them would have been successful at UW.

Two years after Schembechler declined to go to UW, he went to Michigan, replacing Bump Elliott (who ended up becoming Iowa’s athletic director and hiring football coach Hayden Fry as well as Davis). Michigan wasn’t at its usual standards, but Schembechler inherited the remainder of a team that had gone 8–2 the previous season. UW was five seasons removed from a Rose Bowl trip, but had finished tied for seventh in the three previous seasons before Schembechler was not hired.

Three years after Knight changed his mind about UW, he went to Indiana, inheriting a team that had gone 17–7 and had long-standing basketball tradition, though they had slipped in the seasons before Knight arrived. Erickson left of his own accord after two 13–11 seasons, but he had had only one other winning season in nine seasons.

UW had issues in the late 1960s that Michigan may not have had. In addition to more intense turmoil over the Vietnam War, The Cap Times chronicles 1968:

After threatening to boycott the final game of the season against Minnesota, 18 black Wisconsin football players skip the team’s season-ending banquet. The group earlier filed a list of grievances with the UW Athletic Board, saying the coaching staff lacked rapport with the black players and that coaches stacked black players at one position. Assistant coach Gene Felker resigns, complaining of “weak, frightened administrators, black athletes and their grievances.” The Athletic Board recommends establishment of a coach-player committee to address grievances, but it also gives unanimous endorsement to John Coatta, who was 0-19-1 in his first two seasons as head coach.

I’m sure Schembechler and Knight would have been successful somewhere besides Michigan and Indiana. I’m not sure they would have been successful at Wisconsin over the long run. I could see them sticking it out at Wisconsin for a few seasons, butting heads with faculty and administration because of their different views of who should be in charge (i.e. themselves) and, in Schembechler’s case, academic standards preventing certain players from admission (Knight never had that issue, but Michigan is not really a strong academic school, contrary to what Wolverine backers would like you to think), and leaving for greener pastures elsewhere. Irrespective of Knight’s late-1980s comments, I wonder if two big personalities like Schembechler and Knight could have coexisted on the same campus, given battles for resources.

Davis turned things around at Stanford somewhat (though his career record was 58–59), and inherited a better situation at Iowa than Yoder did at Wisconsin. Morton was a disastrously bad hire, and should have been fired after his second season. However, UW’s Athletic Department was a financial mess that was bolstered by decent football attendance before Morton got there. Once Morton drove the football program into the ground, the Athletic Department’s financial issues got exposed. (Read Rick Telander’s From Red Ink to Roses and you’ll see how bad things were.)

Nehlen probably would have been a success at Wisconsin. I’m not sure Dennis Erickson would have, given that his formula for revitalizing a program involved junior college transfers, something unlikely to work with UW’s academic tradition. Erickson clearly had the next level in mind since he left Wyoming after that season for Washington State and left Washington State for Miami after two seasons.

Here is a demonstration of how things eventually work out. Jardine hired as one of his assistants Madison Edgewood’s George Chryst. Chryst’s son, Paul, played for Wisconsin, was an assistant coach for Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema, and then was hired by AD Alvarez to be the Badgers’ coach. Cofield hired William Ryan as an assistant coach. You know Ryan as Bo, who was chosen to coach the Badgers in 2001 over more well known coaches including Milwaukee’s own Rick Majerus. Ryan had one more Final Four trip than Majerus.

 

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