Why Rich Rodriguez Has Done His Job at Michigan
It seems as though the Michigan fanbase is split down the middle on Rich Rodriguez.
Some feel as though he was never the right fit for Michigan. Others feel like his style of play was exactly what Michigan needed in order to excel to the next level in college football—playing for an NCAA championship each and every year.
But since his arrival, many have discussed how he has gone about molding this Michigan program into one that he believes can be consistently successful—something all would agree he has not yet accomplished.
These are five reasons why Rich Rodriguez has done his job at Michigan to this point, and why this year will be his best yet with the Wolverines.
In just his second year at Michigan, with barely two recruiting classes under his belt (one of those was partly Lloyd Carr's), Rich Rodriguez implemented his high-powered spread offense at Michigan.
With a freshman QB at the helm, Michigan ranked third in the Big Ten in scoring offense (29.5 points/game), up from dead last in 2008.
You'd have to go back to 2004 to find a more effective Michigan football team in terms of scoring points. That team had only a couple well-known Michigan football players (current NFL players), such as Braylon Edwards, Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Jake Long, Jason Avant, and Steve Breaston. Okay, more than a couple.
This year, the offense has more depth, is physically stronger, and is faster at almost every single position. Anything less than the highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten would be a surprise. Expect them to average over 32 points a game this year.
This isn't your three yards and a cloud of dust Michigan football team, and that's what was hoped for when Michigan hired Rodriguez.
Let's be honest. When is the last time you felt like Michigan had a dominant, attacking defense? 1997 comes to mind.
A solid defense has been lacking for a long time now at Michigan—one of the main reasons Michigan has simply been unable to beat its arch-rival, Ohio State.
So Michigan decided, if we can't beat them on defense, let's pummel them on offense and hope that the defense can simply hold its own.
Under Rich Rodriguez, Michigan never expected a dominant, attacking defense. With an offense like his, who needs defense? The word serviceable comes to mind, adequate perhaps, when describing a defense that would well complement a Rich Rodriguez offense running on all cylinders.
But even that modest goal has been difficult to achieve since his arrival in Ann Arbor, primarily due to letdowns in the defensive backfield that have been outside of Rodriguez's control.
Boubacar Cissoko was kicked off the team, Justin Turner left the team, Demar Dorsey didn't meet academic requirements, and most recently, Troy Woolfolk got injured before the season even began.
This year, Rodriguez and Greg Robinson are moving more towards a 3-3-5 defense, as was the plan since the beginning. The hope is that the change will help Michigan confuse Big Ten offenses by giving Michigan's defense the ability to install different blocking and blitz schemes in an effort to keep opposing offenses off the field, and Michigan's high-powered spread on the field, long enough to win.
Status quo, Rich Rodriguez.
When Michigan lost virtually all of its team leaders following the 1997 season, they seemed to have also lost their swagger, their confidence.
That confidence was completely missing in 2008 but re-emerged in 2009 during the Notre Dame game.
You could certainly hear it in the crowd as Tate Forcier threw the touchdown pass to Greg Mathews. You could see it in Forcier with every move he made. But more importantly, once again, you could feel the confidence, the swagger coming back to Michigan at that very moment.
One of the things you hear a lot about from this year's camp is how this team has come together; how the seniors, while a small class, have really taken vocal ownership of this team; and how the difficult strength and conditioning program is actually bringing players closer together.
But what is more important is the attitude that they can win and that they are tired of people calling Michigan an underdog, a lost program, no longer a powerhouse.
It's hard to pinpoint all the things that a coach does to create a certain attitude on a team. We're never behind closed doors with the team ourselves. But things like "earning your wings" and being "All In" seem to be taking effect on Rodriguez's team in a positive way.
That's the environment you want your head coach to create, and that seems to be the culture Rich Rodriguez is fostering at Michigan.
According to Scout.com, Michigan had the sixth best recruiting class in 2008, the 14th best in 2009, and the 12th best in 2010 (last year OSU had the 20th-ranked recruiting class).
From day one of being hired, Rodriguez was right in the running for the No. 1 recruit in the nation with Terrelle Pryor and has landed the No. 1 recruit in Michigan two years in a row with big Will Campbell a year ago and Devin Gardner this past recruiting season.
He's competing against teams like Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State (in other words, rivals) in their own backyards and is winning recruiting battles.
Rich Rodriguez has accomplished this in the midst of an NCAA violations controversy, two consecutive losing seasons, and a divided Michigan fanbase.
Coming into Michigan, Rodriguez was widely known as an excellent recruiter, capable of landing high-caliber recruits and also finding talent where others didn't necessarily see it.
Rodriguez has stuck to his end of the deal in recruiting at Michigan.
There is not a football fan in the world that wouldn't tell you they wish their team would win more often.
There is no doubt, that Michigan fans are less than patient in this regard. They want to win, and they want to win now.
But people also have short memories—short enough to forget the amount of scrutiny Lloyd Carr faced after his first two years as the head coach at Michigan.
Carr lost four games in 1995 and 1996, following up two four-loss seasons by Gary Moeller, and people were even then questioning whether Michigan was any longer a powerhouse in college football. We all know what happened in 1997.
Now I'm not saying that Rodriguez is going to go out and win a national championship this year. But it is fair to say that this year's team should be better than either of his previous two seasons. That's what you want to see most from a team and their coach: progress.
Expect progress from this year's team as well.
The 2010 Michigan football team should continue the trend of winning more games than the year before, getting deeper at each position than the year before (with the exception of CB—see previous discussion), and regaining that Michigan swagger.
Rodriguez is a winner. Given time, he finds a way for his teams to win consistently.
Stick around to see how the 2010 season unfolds, because "those who stay will be champions."