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We'll be the first to admit that Rich Rodriguez's tenure at the University of Michigan was an unqualified bust. In three seasons, Rich Rod led the Wolverines to an abysmal 15-22 record, including a 3-9 finish in 2008—the worst finish in Michigan football's now 134-year history.
But the reasons for Rodriguez's failure at Michigan is part of the reason he makes it onto our list of innovative offensive minds.
During Rodriguez's career at West Virginia, the Mountaineers averaged nearly 32 points per game. West Virginia also increased its points-per-game average every year from 2003 onward under Rodriguez until his departure after the 2007 season where the Mountaineers averaged just shy of 40 points per game.
Rodriguez's style of spread, run-and-gun offense was instrumental in beginning the modern crazy of scoring a ton of points as quickly as possible. Rodriguez took an approach pioneered by Steve Spurrier, put it on steroids and built an entire program to support it. West Virginia went from mediocre, ho-hum Big East team to a perennial BCS contender in just a few years under Rodriguez.
He's now doing the same thing at Arizona. Once, in the very recent past, a laughing stock of the Pac-12, other teams are suddenly taking notice of the Wildcats and their team that scored 496 points in 2012 while beating teams like Oklahoma State and USC.
Clearly, Rich Rod can take his high-octane show on the road and make it work away from the back hills of Appalachia. So what was the deal with Michigan?
If West Virginia and Arizona—and even Division II Glenville State, where Rodriguez first built a winning program from next to nothing—are the incubators of Rodriguez's innovation, then Michigan is whatever the opposite of an incubator is. Michigan is an institution where changes take years or even decades, and even then, aren't easy. Michigan loves Big Ten football, and the West Virginia spread just wasn't “Michigan football” enough for Michigan fans and alumni.
Add in a wholesale change of recruiting strategy overnight, and suddenly there's a hodgepodge of players suited for different styles of football all trying to learn to play the spread while simultaneously trying to defend against the rest of the Big Ten and its grind-it-out style of play.
That's not a problem Rodriguez had at West Virginia, nor is it a program at Arizona. Take away the pressure placed on any Michigan coach and replace it with the time and resources needed to build that high-flying spread offense, and Arizona fans may very well be in for something special out in the desert.