4E - The Michigan Daily - New Student Edition - September 8, 1998
F rom the day he arrived in Ann
Arbor, Brian Ellerbe's job
whatever it was - drew con-
troversy in enormous proportions.
After all, in just 12 months, his job
title changed four times.
The story of the Michigan basket-
ball team is well-documented.
Dirty dealings emerged in the
summer of 1997, yet went unproven
as the NCAA and a Kansas law firm
sought the truth.
Coach Steve Fisher lost his job
amidst rampant suspicion and the
Michigan players rallied to his side.
Now, a year later, where does
Fisher sits home in Ann Arbor
without a job. The damage to his
reputation as a man of integrity who
ran a clean program is forever tar-
nished. Big-time jobs have come and
Fisher out of the
despite its best
season in three
years, lost four
of its top five
MARK players and the
SNYDER other - Louis
Mark Bullock -
My Words rarely ventures
inside of 15 feet.
average recruits signed with
Michigan, but neither is expected to
revitalize what is expected to be a
The defending Big Ten
Tournament champion, Michigan
will be lucky to compete for a bye in
the this season's tournament - an
honor bestowed upon the season's
top five finishers.
Yes, this is a doomsday forecast
for Michigan fans who hunger for
victory and consistency.
But before negativity overcomes
Michigan fans, present coach Ellerbe
throws a wrench into the problem
proposal, for his next move may be
his most crucial.
Last season, he did everything he
could to right a sinking ship. Instead
of the program tearing apart at the
seams as might be expected after the
firing of a loyal coach, Ellerbe
maintained a steady hand.
His ascension to the head position
was uneasy and awkward, but he
handled it with class.
His job remained in limbo on
numerous occasions, but day-to-day
activities remained consistent in the
In essence, Brian Ellerbe did
everything right. Unfortunately for
him, 'everything' goes better with an
NBA-caliber front line and a play-
maker willing to sacrifice life and
limb for the team - both of which
he had last season.
The names of last year - Traylor,
Baston, Ward and Conlan - may be
fresh in fans' minds, but at Michigan
they make up the past.
Throughout his first campaign at
Michigan, Ellerbe liked to talk about
how critics of the program knew lit-
tle about his team and the game they
Right or wrong, Ellerbe always
has been sincere and honest.
After a loss, his excuses were
minimal. After a victory, his emo-
tions were tempered and optimistic.
That consistency should make
Ellerbe a Michigan success story.
But potential is a fleeting proposi-
tion -- especially in Ann Arbor.
Regardless, he'll get his chance to
Despite a four-year contract, the
guarantee of a long-term future
remains fleeting in college sports -
no matter the campus.
Ellerbe has the opportunity to do
things his way. Starting from
scratch, he has built a coaching staff
of his people.
Administrative assistant Tom
Sorboro assumes a role new to
Michigan basketball. He will deal
with most of the paperwork (i.e.
travel plans), freeing the other assis-
tants to concentrate on the floor
But ultimately, recruiting will
determine the success of Ellerbe's
tenure - and how long he lasts.
The shroud over the Michigan
program for the past 15 months has
left the cupboard nearly bare and the
only proven player with All-Big Ten
skills -- Bullock - is a senior who
thus far has been one-dimensional.
Talented recruits, afraid of possi-
ble penalties, committed elsewhere,
After a year as coach, Ellerbe shows it's his team'
By James Goldstein
Daily Sports Writer
His car isn't packed with belongings
from his previous address like some of
students' cars. The rooms in his Ann
Arbor home are no longer jumbled with
boxes that are crowded inside dormitory
pads. And he has his own Michigan e-
mail address which new students will
soon have the opportunity to use.
But Brian Ellerbe who has one full
year under his belt as coach of the
Michigan basketball team - the same
squad that finished the season 25-9, cap-
tured the inaugural Big Ten Tournament
title and advanced to the second round of
the NCAA Tournament - is treating his
second season at the helm like a rookie.
Like a 34, soon-to-be 35 year-old
"Although I've been here for one year,
it's like being in the job for the first
time" Ellerbe said.
It all started for Ellerbe on May 29,
1997 when he joined the Wolverines as
an assistant coach. But it was one
October afternoon that truly signified the
beginning for Ellerbe.
Athletic Director Tom Goss called a
press conference on October 11, follow-
ing the Michigan-Northwestern football
game to announce the firing of then-
coach Steve Fisher. The announcement
came days after the University received
the report from a Kansas City firm it
hired that revealed minor NCAA viola-
Ellerbe was the newest member of the
team, but in that press conference, Goss
said Ellerbe and not 10-year assistant
coach Brian Dutcher, would lead the
team's practices until a new coach was
This was news to Ellerbe, who was
still in the process of settling into his
Ann Arbor home with his wife, Ingrid,
and their four-year-old son Brian Jr. and
two-year-old daughter Morgan Ashleigh,
after Ellerbe spent the last three years as
coach of Loyola (Md.). Because his
radio and television were in boxes, he
had no way of knowing his fate.
"I had just moved and we hadn't
unpacked our boxes yet," Ellerbe said.
"So I was looking for a radio to listen to
the press conference. That was the quick-
est thing I could do was to turn on my
ignition and listen to it in my car."
After a two-week coaching search that
involved Goss talking to numerous can-
didates in person and over the phone,
Goss decided to go with Ellerbe, but just
as an interim coach.
Consider the situation Ellerbe was
thrown into: he took the reins of a team
that was completely recruited by and had
total respect for Fisher, his top assistant,
Brian Dutcher, who had been with the
team for nearly a decade, was passed
over for the job, an NCAA investigation
of the program was pending, the
Wolverines hadn't won in the NCAA
Tournament in three years and recruiting
would be all but impossible with the
recruits knowing that the coaching situa-
tion at Michigan was not a stable one.
So not only did Ellerbe have to be a
coach, but also a crisis management
expert, a public relations man, a psy-
chologist and a basketball doctor.
He had to do all those things knowing
that if he didn't do his job well, he would
be the next victim of a Goss press con-
ference. And movers would be back.
He was not the man, but the man for
Through the entire season, Ellerbe and
the Wolverines had many successful
moments, highlighted by a December
win over then-No. I Duke, winning the
Puerto Rico Holiday Classic champi-
onship, a 112-64 thrashing of Indiana
and three wins in the Big Ten tourney,
including a victory over tenth-ranked
Purdue. But there were lowlights such as
losses to Western Michigan, Bradley and
Ellerbe attributed the success to his
old coach's even-keel philosophy.
"I was always taught from (Rutgers
coach) Bob Young, you can never be too
high, you can never be too low," Ellerbe
said. "You never beat the team down,
you never take a loss out of proportion,
and you never look at a win as the great-
est thing in the world, because you've got
to come back tomorrow and prepare."
And prepare he did, adjusting to old
players - guards Travis Conlan and
Louis Bullock, forwards Maceo Baston
and Jerod Ward and center Robert
Traylor - as a new coach. But the play-
ers who began the season feeling hurt by
the Fisher firing adjusted quickly to
Ellerbe's coaching style.
Or the lack thereof. Ellerbe let his vet-
eran team do its own thing instead of
breaking in something new.
Staying with the game plan, not forc-
ing new ideas into a system that the play-
ers were used to, was the Ellerbe way.
And it's a philosophy that he will stick to
with the 1998-99 team, a squad that only
returns Bullock and point guard Robbie
Reid from last year's top six.
"I think you coach according to what
your personnel is able to give you,"
Ellerbe said "I'm not going to stick a
round peg into a square hole. We're not
to the point where there is a set system
and we're just going to plug kids in."
Baston and Traylor turned the paint
into a black hole for the opposing players
where opponents would rarely come out
alive without a bump and a block.
Conlan and Reid showed their full
support for Ellerbe following
Michigan's second-round NCAA
Tournament loss to UCLA in March.
Goss said after the defeat that he would
sit down with Ellerbe and then make a
coaching decision in the following few
weeks. Goss interviewed several candi-
dates and reports had Goss choosing
between Ellerbe, Seton Hall's Tommy
Amaker and Oklahoma's Kelvin
Traylor helped Ellerbe's cause by say-
ing he would definitely not return to
Michigan if Ellerbe was not hired. Of
course, Traylor left to enter the NBA
Draft, anyway, but Ellerbe says the sup-
port was especially kind.
This was the second coaching search
circus for Ellerbe in five months.
Yet, he had no gut feeling if he thought
After serving as head coach or assistant coach at five different schools in the past 10 years, Brian Ellerbe was selected as
Michigan's head coach last fall. Ellerbe hopes his stay In Ann Arbor will be an extended one.
Goss would give him the nod.
"You can sit in your office and ago-
nize but that's not going to change what
is ultimately going to happen one way or
the other" Ellerbe said. "It was just a
waiting game, there was nothing we
Then, on March 20, Goss met with
Ellerbe and they talked for three hours.
Goss had made up his mind, Ellerbe was
his guy. They would sign a four-year
contract that would carry Ellerbe
through the beginning of the 21st centu-
And finally, after a full season and
two coaching searches, the Capital
Heights, Md., native, a man who served
as an assistant or head coach at five dif-
ferent schools in the last 10 years, had
something any coach craves. Stability.
"It's more of a real relief to know and
understand that you have some stabili-
ty," Ellerbe said.
So now he doesn't worry about mov-
"The good news is you have a job,
now let's get to work," he said.
What Ellerbe has been doing to keep
himself busy is remaining active in the
recruiting process, coaching sopho-
mores Josh Asselin and Brandon Smith
on the Big Ten All-Star team, and hav-
ing his players go through a spring and
summer conditioning program.
It's fitting that the official beginning
of the Brian Ellerbe era will get under
way with a new start. Gone is his expe-
rienced senior class and Traylor is in the
Dutcher, Fisher's top assistant, is off
looking of a job, while Ellerbe has
brought in his own assistants.
But also vanished is the tarnished
NCAA investigation, one of the bask
ball program's low points in sever
years. And with it's finality most likely
comes the shift of the media from the
off-court problems to on-court results.
Still here is the backcourt of Reid and
Bullock, a duo Ellerbe calls "as good as
any backcourt in America."
He's not moving out, but moving for-
"My family loves Ann Arbor. and
we'd like to stay around a while:'
Ellerbe said. "I've moved my family.
good bit over the past years and
want to have a chance to establish some
roots and hopefully have a great, great
career at Michigan."
Tumultuous season ends with
first Big Ten title in 13 years'
By Dan Stillman
Daily Sports Writer
A second-round loss to UCLA in
the NCAA Tournament left
Michigan men's basketball fans won-
dering what could have been after a
surprising 1996-97 season.
Despite a tumultuous offseason
leading up to the campaign, which
culminated in the firing of head
coach Steve Fisher in the wake of
numerous allegations, Michigan's
season was its best since the depar-
ture of the Fab Five.
The leadership of Robert Traylor,
emergence of Jerod Ward and the
addition of Robbie Reid helped
coach Brian Ellerbe's Wolverines to
a 25-9 record, the first-ever Big Ten
Tournament championship and a
No. 3 seed in the . NCAA
Ellerbe was appointed interim
coach less than three weeks before
the start of the season.
But the 34-year old Capitol
regular season championship since
The Wolverines followed with an
important win at Iowa, however, and
later capped off their season with an
unprecedented, 112-64, annihilation
of Indiana in front of a raucous
home crowd and a victory over
Purdue in the championship game
of the inaugural Big Ten
Tournament at Chicago's United
The Wolverines rode their wave of
momentum into the postseason with
a first-round NCAA Tournament win
over No. 14 seed Davidson.
But any hopes of a Cinderella
story out of Ann Arbor were
destroyed when UCLA ended the
Wolverines' season with an 85-82
The game was the final in a
Michigan uniform for seniors Travis
Conlan, Maceo Baston and Jerod
Ward, as well as for junior Robert
Traylor, who declared himself eligi-
The newly created position of
administrative associate will be
filled by Tom Sorboro, who aided
Ellerbe during his tenure as head
coach at Loyola (Md.).
Lorenzo Neely, an Eastern
Michigan product, will fulfill.t
role of restricted-earnings coac,
bringing his local experience to the
Dutcher's spot as Ellerbe's right-
hand man will be held by Kurtis
While Michigan loses the nucleus
of its team for the upcoming season,
center Josh Asselin and guard
Brandon Smith showed potential in
their freshman seasons.
With sharpshooter Louis Bulld
and Robbie Reid anchoring the
perimeter, the Wolverines should
remain strong in the backcourt. Bqt
the Wolverines will be hard-pressed
to replace the 300-pound Traylor in
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