Rich Rodriguez: Career at Michigan Depends on Winning Now
To say Rich Rodriguez has tested the patience of the University of Michigan would be like saying the World War II was a bit of a tiff: huge understatement. From the extremely ugly split with his Alma Mater to a housing investment scandal… from large numbers of quality players leaving the program to the first major NCAA violations in the storied program’s proud history… from a sector of Michigan fans never wanting Rodriguez to be hired (because he didn’t come directly from the Bo Schembechler coaching tree) to a terrible Big Ten record, few coaches anywhere have ever faced such a litany of well-documented troubles in their first two years.
Now, midway through year three, we’ve reached the Rubicon. We are clearly at the most pivotal juncture of RichRod’s tenuous tenure as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. The next three Saturdays will have an enormous impact on whether or not Coach Rod will continue to be at the helm in 2011. It is really very simple: WIN NOW. If not, Athletic Director David Brandon will be doing his best Donald Trump impression (aka, “You’re Fired”).
2008 Was an Utter Disaster for the Wolverines
When you look at Rich’s tenure, it was obvious that unless he pulled a Detroit Lions move and drove buck-naked through a late night drive through, he wasn’t going to get fired after year one. Let’s face it, Michigan had gone to over 30 straight bowl games and then Rich comes in, loses to a MAC team for the first time in Michigan history, loses to ND, MSU, PSU, and OSU by a combined score of 158 – 62, got whipped by 25 against Illinois, and even lost at home to Northwestern. Ugly? Try Coyote Ugly. Clearly, his job was not on the line in year one, or he would have been long gone.
While most Michigan fans had never seen anything like the disaster of 2008, the pain was somewhat mitigated because Rich had gone from three wins to nine wins in his second year at West Virginia (as well as other similar successes). Whether or not you supported Rich’s hiring, one year of terrible results was almost expected. We all hoped that terrible at Michigan would mean five or six wins, but despite the three win debacle, there was relatively little talk about firing the coach after one year because he clearly didn’t have a quarterback (or much else) that was well-suited for his vaunted spread offense.
To put into perspective how rough things have been for Coach Rod in Ann Arbor, even though we just called 2008 a “disaster”, we haven’t even got to the bad stuff yet. Ouch.
2009 Was One of the Most Painful Years in Michigan's History
At the beginning of fall practice 2009, hope sprang anew in Ann Arbor. Tate Forcier was a highly recruited quarterback, and we also heard about an ultra-fast kid from Florida, Denard Robinson. Then, at the end of August, just one week before the season opener, that’s when the Detroit Free Press reported the infamous NCAA violations and everything started coming unglued.
Oh boy, no matter what seemed to be happening on the field, chatter about the violations was non-stop. For the first few weeks, of the season, Michigan was scrappy enough to fight to be 4-0. That, my friends, is when the wheels fell off. Michigan didn’t beat another FBS team the rest of the year and missed a bowl game for the second straight year. If 2008 was coyote ugly, 2009 was like at atom bomb tearing at the fabric of our beloved program.
There is one additional horrific memory that closed out the 2009 season: the flippin OSU game. I am literally crawling with nasty goose-bumps as I’m writing this. It wasn’t the result on the field, it was what happened in the stands. Watching massive swatches of red-clad fans taking over the Big House is easily the ugliest, most vile, disgusting thing I have ever endured as a Michigan fan. Huge sections of our beloved Michigan Stadium being desecrated with scarlet and grey is the most sickening thing I have ever seen in all of sports. Yes, for me, it’s worse than even App State and Oregon 2007 or the Ron Artest brawl at the Palace. The whole thing makes my scalp crawl. Please insert your own obscenity-laced tirade here. Urgh.
By the end of the game, it seriously looked like there were more freakin OSU fans than Michigan fans at Michigan Stadium. Video of that disgusting scene in the stands should be shown to every Michigan player before they ever take their first practice snap; burn it into their retinas like it is burned into mine. Talk about motivation! Understandably, after compromising the program’s flawless record of integrity, completely falling apart down the stretch, and allowing the Big House to become a scarlet house of horrors, the calls for Rich’s ouster grew to a fever pitch after the failure that was 2009.
A Small but Vocal Group of Wolverine Fans Never Wanted Rich from Day One
Out of all the reasons to fire Rich, the least understandable comes from the stodgy old fans who say that Rich should not be the head coach here because he is not a Michigan man who came from the Bo Schembechler coaching lineage. This is utter nonsense. Just about everyone knows that Bo did not go to Michigan as a student. In fact, he coached under the hated Woody Hayes at one point. Yet Bo is the ultimate Michigan man.
Although it should not be any pre-requisite to coach at Michigan, RichRod does in fact have a couple of ties to Bo. For one thing, former Bo assistant Don Nehlen was Rich’s college head coach. After Rich graduated, he joined coach Nehlen’s staff as a voluntary coach on two occasions. So Rich does have a good tie-in to the legend. Also, somewhat close to the time of his passing, Bo told Michigan historian John Bacon that he would like to see either Kirk Ferentz or Rich Rodriguez take over once Lloyd Carr stepped down. So please, don’t use this foolish crutch as the reason why Rich should not be the Michigan head coach (you’ve got plenty of live bullets, you don’t need the duds).
2010: Deja Vu, or Does RichRod Start Turning the Corner Toward Legendary?
Well… 2010 opened much the same as 2009. With the NCDS (NC Double Slow) still conducting their seemingly never-ending investigation, the Wolverines raced out to a blazing hot start. Once again, after beating Indiana in the Big Ten opener, Michigan was undefeated going into the Michigan State game. Adding to the déjà vu factor, Michigan followed up a loss to MSU with a second straight Big Ten loss to Iowa.
So that’s where we are today. Since 2009, the only Big Ten team we have beaten is Indiana. My gosh, in my first 25 years of watching Michigan football, I never would have thought something like that would be possible.
So now, it has come down to this: Rich must win NOW. The roster is still young in 2010, but the time for excuses has run out. The next three opponents give Michigan winnable games.
For Maybe the First Time at UM, the Stars Are Aligned Nicely for RichRod
In Happy Valley, Joe Pa will either start a true freshman quarterback who missed some practice with a concussion, or that true freshman’s backup (who happens to be a former walk-on). Michigan, on the other hand, had a perfectly timed bye-week. Three of Michigan’s stars, Denard Robinson, David Molk, and Mike Martin were unable to play in most of the Iowa game. Following the bye-week, all three guys are, as Shoelace put it, “Ready to rock!” Both Michigan and RichRod have excellent records coming off bye weeks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any team get a bye as perfectly placed in their schedule as Michigan this year. We must take advantage.
Now, I’m not saying that Penn State is an absolute must-win for Rich. Let’s say Michigan falls to PSU and then beats Purdue and Illinois. That’s seven wins. With Wisky, Scarlet-letter and gray, and a bowl game still to come, there would still be a legitimate shot for eight wins. There is almost no way that Rich gets fired with eight wins. Seven might get him through, but six? Six probably earns Rich a visit from Mr. Trump.
Read on to see how I believe this is all going to play out.
Will Michigan Fold Like Last Year? Will Rich Rodriguez Get Fired?
No and no.
I am totally sticking to my guns with this team. I love this team and the direction that RR and company have us heading. Before the season, I said, “2010 is the beginning of a golden era of Michigan football” (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/439047-denard-robinson-david-molk-2-reasons-michigan-is-back). I have not seen anything to change my mind. I certainly hope I’m right because scrapping the current regime will basically set the program back another year or two as the players struggle to adapt to a whole new coaching staff.
In the above-mentioned article, my number one rationale was that “Denard Robinson is electric.” If Shoelace stays reasonably healthy against PSU, I believe Michigan will score 30+ points. PSU’s scoring defense is ranked 22nd in the country, giving up 18.4 points per game (ppg). However, against legitimate opponents Alabama (minus Mark Ingram), Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota, they have given up 25.5 ppg. Michigan averages more ppg than any of those teams and Denard is going to electrify in prime time.
Penn State’s scoring offense, on the other hand, is ranked a dismal 99th in the country. While Michigan is ranked 79th in scoring defense, it’s been much worse than that lately. In the past five games, the Wolverines have given up at least 34 points to every team other than Bowling Green. The good news for Michigan is that PSU’s offense is more like Bowling Green’s than any other opponent. Just like the Falcons, the Nittany Lions will be trotting out an inexperienced qb and a good running back. As long as Michigan doesn’t let running back Evan Royster go crazy, PSU has no chance of hanging with the Wolverines on the scoreboard.
Michigan rolls 38-24.
Also, I still stand behind what I have been saying for quite a while: As long as Denard is healthy Michigan will end the year with a January Bowl Game and nine wins.