Hot Rod: Rich Rodriguez Brings Change to Michigan

Andrew SmithCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2007

IconThe Wolverines couldn’t get a different Carr with Les Miles on it, but they did get a shiny new Hot Rod—replacing their clunky 1969 AMC Ambassador with an innovative 2008 Cadillac CTS. 

Michigan officially ended a grueling coaching search Monday morning, as former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez was introduced as the Wolverines' next head man.

The hire is already sending ripples of change throughout the Michigan athletic department in multiple—and mostly exciting—ways.

Rodriguez stated in his press conference “what you’ve seen on television over the last few years is exactly what you’ll see, because that’s all we know,” which means goodbye to the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust, smashmouth, cold-weather, Bo-style, I-formation football...and hello to the fancy, “spread-n’-shred”, 400 yards of total offense (maybe 500 in the Big Ten) kind of football.

And that is definitely a good change.

As wonderful as the pro-style offense is when it is run well (see 2000, 2003, and parts of 2006), it is rather uninspiring when bad play calls are executed worse (see 2005 and November of 2007).

Rich Rodriguez has had success on offense wherever he has gone, and if anything, success should be more likely with the kind of athletes the block M, winged helmet, and Hail to the Victors can bring (*cough* Terrelle Pryor *cough*).

Rodriguez will bring a new, exciting brand of football to the Big House, and when he finds the right players for his system, the Michigan offense should be a high-flying and high-scoring juggernaut.  

No more “zone left”  running plays on every first down. No more running behind the fullback shift every time. No more stubborn blind handoffs into eight-man defensive fronts. No more five-step drops against persistent blitzes.

No more predictability. A fresh offensive philosophy—namely that of “win” and “score” points. Lots of points.

What a novel concept.

The offensive philosophy isn’t the only thing that has gone stale over the last few years. The Strength and Conditioning program, run for thirty years by Mike Gittleson, has come under fire recently from Wolverine fans who claim that it has become outdated.

One major indictment against the underachieving Michigan teams over the past few years has been that they do not seem fit to play football in the 21st century. They seem big and strong, but slow.

This is a difficult accusation to contest after watching quarterbacks Armanti Edwards, Dennis Dixon, and even Tyler Donovan weave their way through the Wolverine defense at times this season.

The proverbial nail in the coffin came from former Michigan safety Ryan Mundy, who after graduating from Michigan following the 2006 season, was permitted to transfer to West Virginia to play one more year of football (see details here).

No one has a better perspective of the two programs than Mundy, and what he had to say about the two S&C philosophies is revealing:

As far as the strength and conditioning program is concerned, Mundy says West Virginia’s program is much more intense than Michigan’s. Other players that have transferred to West Virginia have said similar things in the past, explaining that at some other places the players coming into the program are physically bigger and more explosive. West Virginia develops it.

“Down here we do a lot of Olympic lifts – squats, power clings, hang clings and things like that – and I hadn’t done that type of stuff since high school,” Mundy said. “I had to get my body back used to doing those types of movements. As far as the practice down here we run after practice and we never ran after practice at Michigan.”

Mike Barwis, the West Virginia Strength and Conditioning Coach, is following Rich Rodriguez to Michigan, according to multiple sources. So Mike Gittleson is likely gone. The Michigan training program will now sound more like this:

“I listen to people and they don’t understand what it’s like until they get here. They get here and they say, ‘Oh my God, what I was doing was a joke,’” Barwis said. One of those, Florida State transfer Barry Wright, has exceeded all of his personal training bests since he joined the Mountaineer program last fall as a walk-on. “He told us he had never been through anything like this,” said Barwis. Today’s strength and conditioning program is much more than simply lifting weights, says Barwis. It encompasses nutrition, flexibility, speed, agility and even psychology. (courtesy WVU Athletics)

As for the offense, West Virginia offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, along with recruiting coordinator Tony Gibson, joined Rodriguez on his trip to Ann Arbor for the introductory press conference.

Which means that current Michigan OC Mike Debord, who was rather offensive with his playcalling (in a very bad way), will not be rehired, or at least not in the same capacity.

I’m not sure Michigan fans will be missing him.

In fact, reports suggest that the only coaches who will be rehired would be quarterbacks coach Scott Loeffler, running backs coach Fred Jackson, and wide receivers coach Erik Campbell.

That’s it.

Everyone else will either come from outside the program, or will follow Rodriguez from West Virginia.

Michigan football has been put on the operating table and almost completely gutted of the style of football it has run for the last 40 years. As a result, Coach Rodriguez has brought a level of excitement to Ann Arbor in just three days that has not been seen since Charles Woodson roamed the defensive backfield at Michigan Stadium.

Joining Rodriguez in Ann Arbor could be the nation’s top recruit—Terrelle Pryor (allow me to indulge you once again; just turn the sound down to spare yourself some language).

On his plane ride to Ann Arbor on Sunday afternoon, Rodriguez called Pryor, a Vince Young-like five-star quarterback who had narrowed his choices to Ohio State, West Virginia, Florida, and Oregon—with Penn State having an outside shot for his services.  

Immediately after speaking with Rodriguez, Prior called recruiting analyst Bob Lichtenfels with some surprising news (article here). 

“Add Michigan to my list,” he told Lichtenfels. “I just spoke to Coach Rodriguez ten minutes ago and he told me he is going to Michigan.”

Later, Pryor added, “He told me he would keep the offense. I told him I was very interested.”

It will likely take Rich Rodriguez a year or two to get Michigan to buy into his system. With Terrelle Pryor (one more Superman video) possibly as his quarterback, it might not be so long. Imagine him in the same backfield YouTube legend and Michigan commit Sam McGuffie.

Going outside the program to find a coach does have its drawbacks, however.

Rich Rodriguez knows very little about Michigan tradition, especially compared to Michigan’s previous coach—Lloyd Carr. He doesn’t know The Victors, he’s probably never heard of Bennie Oosterban, Bennie Friedman, Bob Chappuis, Ron Johnson, Fritz Crisler, Jim Mandich, and Rick Leach; he was given Bo Schembechler’s book on Sunday night to help learn the Michigan tradition, and he’s been to Michigan Stadium once—and that was on Monday morning.

When Coach Rodriguez was asked about the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, he responded with “it is certainly one of the greatest rivalries in college football.”

What? Just one of the greatest rivalries? This has made more than a few Michigan fans queasy that he might follow in the footsteps of infamous rival coaches like John L. Smith and John Cooper.

So Coach Rod needs to be reminded of a well-known fact of Michigan Football: To be successful at Michigan, one has to do just one thing—beat the Buckeyes.

Do this, and everything else will fall into place.

He can start by nabbing Terrelle Pryor from the steps of the Ohio Stadium rotunda. 


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