Rich Rodriguez had a hellish first year at Michigan. Playing with a depleted roster, he went 3-9 and 2-6 in the Big Ten. Fans of Penn State and Ohio State laughed as their rivals turned from Big Ten Powerhouse to doormat in a year. Fingers immediately pointed at the coach, and many feared that Michigan was doomed. Many asked, "why did we need such a drastic change?"
Penn State and Ohio State had what their schools may deem as successful seasons. What exactly does that mean? Both teams were humiliated by USC. Penn State only had one other loss, losing to Iowa, and Ohio State put up a good fight in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas. That's it? Michigan has bigger aspirations.
As the rest of the country evolved, with coaches like Urban Meyer and even Les Miles turning to more sophisticated offenses, the Big Ten was left behind in the dust. In 2006, Michigan sported the No. 2 team in the country. It went 11-1 in the regular season and appeared in the Rose Bowl, where it was dominated by a lower-ranked USC team. In other years, despite having the talent to do well, Michigan was seeing rather mediocre 8-4 and 9-3 type years.
Lloyd Carr was a great coach and an even better person with a sense of integrity not found in that school down south. But, the offense of Mike DeBord had become very predictable. Even against mediocre teams like Michigan State and Appalachian State, despite having a roster full of future NFL players, the offense struggled for large parts of the game because it was too predictable. By playing the same brand of football that Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler did, this is all that Big Ten teams can expect: the ability to beat teams from smaller conferences and get humiliated by top teams from power conferences.
Michigan did not want to continue on that road. People think Rich Rodriguez was hired to beat Ohio State. But he wasn't. Our sights are set much higher. At Glenville State, Rodriguez took a team from 1-7-1 to the NAIA championship. At Tulane, his spread offense turned Shaun King into Vince Young and helped the Green Wave to an undefeated season. At Clemson, Rodriguez's teams went to a Peach Bowl and a Gator Bowl.
In 2001, he was hired as head coach at West Virginia. Despite going 3-8 in his first year (personnel issues), Rodriguez turned the team around. In his last three years, Rodriguez went 32-5 (the team went 33-5), and his teams won a Sugar Bowl against Georgia, a Gator Bowl, and a Fiesta Bowl (the only game that Rodriguez did not coach that season) against Oklahoma.
Yet, Rodriguez lost Pat White for one game, which West Virginia lost to Pittsburgh. Has they won that game, West Virginia would have played for the National Championship. Instead, a certain team from Columbus was allowed to sneak into the game and embarrass themselves against LSU.
West Virginia would go on to defeat Oklahoma 48-28, with West Virginia's offense having no problem against the vaunted Sooners. That is what Michigan wants. To be a national contender.
Combining Rodriguez's sophisticated offense with the talent at Michigan (superior to West Virginia) should have great results. Case in point: Urban Meyer brought his brand of the spread to Florida, and took them from mediocrity to a BCS Championship (again, humiliating Ohio State on the way).
Despite being outmatched in terms of talent, Utah beat Alabama handily last year in the Sugar Bowl thanks to a creative offense (Alabama's is a conventional, run-heavy, "pro-style" offense).
If Rodriguez gets the chance to coach experienced, talented players (the only thing that could be considered a fair chance) and still does not deliver, then Michigan's risk will have backfired. However, I will say this: when they hired a coach, Michigan was not looking for another Jim Tressel. They were looking for an Urban Meyer.