Rich Rodriguez: Michigan Head Coach Is Smarter Than You or Me
Rich Rodriguez. It just takes those two words to get Michigan fans seriously fired up. Some Michigan fans want him gone and some think he's going to lead this program to great heights in the near future. I whole-heartedly fall into the second category. This slide-show examines a few of the things I like the most about our head coach.
Let's get right to it. The first thing I love about Rich is... The Vision. Read on to find out more.
Rodriguez Has Great Vision For Michigan Football. Exhibit A: Denard Robinson
Remember back when Denard was being recruited? He wanted to play quarterback, but Miami (FL) and other teams wanted him to play corner. It wasn’t just schools that didn’t view Robinson as a QB: Rivals.com listed him as an athlete, and Scout.com’s 2009 rankings (http://recruiting.scout.com/a.z?s=73&p=8&c=1&nid=3582324&pg=2) had him as a cornerback (16th best in the country).
RichRod had a different vision of the future. He saw Denard’s potential as a quarterback and quickly untied Shoelace from his home state. When Rodriguez says that he doesn’t pay attention to the scouting services’ ratings, not only do I believe him, I am immensely glad for it.
No RichRod = No Shoelace. Shudder and perish the thought.
Rodriguez Has Great Vision For Michigan Football. Exhibit B: The 2008 Offense
The offense in 2008? Yes, that horrible unit. RichRod could probably have eked out six or seven wins with a more conventional offense designed around Steven Threet’s strengths. However, Rich wasn’t about to start teaching the youngsters one system, and then try and recruit guys for the system that he really wanted to install in two years. When you think about it now, it sounds utterly ridiculous, but I clearly remember many fans saying that we should have run an offense more conducive to Sheridan or Threet’s strengths until RR got “his guys.” Hindsight is 20-20, but that clearly would have been the true waste of a year or two.
Make no mistake, while Rich badly wants to win right now, his real goal is to create a team that will not just compete, but truly turn the tide in that one rivalry game at the end of the season (you know the one). We all begrudgingly admit that the team down south has been playing at a very high level for a long time now under the Sweatervest. Wasting two years running a system he didn’t intend to keep running would not in any way help us start beating OSU. You better believe that Rich’s vision is to create a juggernaut that can compete for and win Big 10 and National Championships. He is our Coach, and I believe in his vision.
Rich Haters Say,
Yes, it's easy-pickings to go after the defense, but a little perspective is in order. The Sweatervest arrived in Clumsybus in 2001. In his seven meetings against Lloyd Carr, Tressell went an unbelievable 6-1. Remember, Michigan had pretty decent defenses under Carr from 2001 – 2007 (averaged 18.4 ppg on defense).
Out of those seven teams, the 2006 team had the best defense. We came into the OSU game giving up only 12.1 points per game. However, coming from the old Big 10, and built for the old Big 10, Coach Carr’s defenses were almost never good against mobile quarterbacks. If you remember how Troy Smith’s mobility allowed him to throw for four touchdowns and scorch our defense for 42 points, then you already know what Pryor would do against that system now. This is not your dad’s three yards and a cloud of dust Big Ten.
Rodriguez’s defense is designed to corral and control the aggressive passing offenses and mobile quarterbacks that rule the day in the modern Big Ten. Again, there is a vision. Let’s look at why there is also significant hope for the defense.
Vision: The D Will Evolve Over The Next Two Years Like The Offense Already Has
Due to the well-documented litany of injuries, defections, and non-admittals over the past 12 months, Michigan’s secondary has lost an incredible eight players who were either four or five star recruits. As a result, the secondary now features one redshirt sophomore, one redshirt freshman, two true freshmen, and a senior who was a backup receiver about nine months ago. Injuries are part of the game, but I have never seen such an intense run-off of talent from one position group in such a short time. None the less, for the first time in weeks, the defense started showing the ability to make plays against Illinois.
Against the Illini, Michigan’s offense and special teams had turnovers on three consecutive possessions in the first quarter. With Illinois starting at the Michigan 47, 33, and 32 yard lines, the defense stood tall to only yield a respectable 10 points on those three possessions. Considering how badly we had been losing at half time of our previous three games, it was huge for the defense to keep the score close early.
Also, not counting the kneel-down at the end of the fourth quarter, the defense held the Illini without points on eight out of sixteen drives in regulation. Considering that Illinois’ average starting field position for the day was their own 42 yard line, holding them without points on half their drives is impressive.
Two of the touchdowns came on total busted coverages against the exact same play. Guess what?You’re going to have some breakdowns with what seems like the youngest secondary in history. Speaking of the young secondary, true freshman Courtney Avery showed that he is a real competitor. Even the long TD pass against Avery was well covered – it was just an excellent throw.
Another very positive note for the defense is that Craig Roh’s return to full-time D-Lineman against Illinois was a definite success. I was skeptical of this move because I didn’t think that Roh could compete on the line at his current weight of around 250 pounds. However, he easily had his most disruptive game of the season. Finally, we got to see “Death Roh” in action. In the first eight games, Roh had only recorded 14 solo tackles. He had five on Saturday alone. He also forced his first fumble of the season and was coming hard off the edge all day long. After another summer at Camp Barwis, Roh will be a nightmare for offenses next year.
Other young talent is starting to make a difference. True freshman Ray Vinopal stepped up in the hole with RS frosh Cam Gordon to make an enormous third down stop on Illinois running beast Mikel Leshoure in the fourth quarter. Speaking of vision, the move to switch Gordon to defense this year was brilliant – the guy is a tough-nosed playmaker. RS soph Kenny Demens not only played tough against the run, but looked light-years better in space than in previous weeks. On top of all the young talent that is getting invaluable experience now, there are several other talented youngsters that haven’t even started contributing yet. Guys like Josh Furman, Marvin Robinson, and Richard Ash are all super-talented guys who should start earning playing time next year.
RichRod May Be Known For Offense, But His WVU Defenses Were Also Very Good
Don’t think RR is only about offense. Remember, he actually played linebacker in college.
Check out how good the West Virginia defenses were when Rich was the head coach. Notice they improved every single year except one.
West Virginia Scoring Defense under Rich Rodriguez
POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME
1st 3 Years’ Averages
POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME
Final 4 Years’ Averages
So yeah, there’s a plan on defense and we finally got to see the beginnings of how it can and will work at Michigan. Although I have been calling for a four man front to help this team stop the run, Rich is being consistent. He didn’t install some temporary offense in 2008 and he’s not installing a short-term band-aid on the defense now. As quickly as possible, he wants to lead this team to long-term greatness that will handle that scarlet-letter bunch from the four letter state. All great leaders have a vision of where they want to get to, and Rich definitely has this quality.
The Next Thing I Love About RR At The Helm Is The Big Play Capability
Particularly when Denard is in the game, defenses are so concerned with the run game that there is constant big play capability from every position not named center, tackle, or guard. I’ll put it this way: If I’m in the kitchen and I hear the offense coming back on the field after a commercial, I am sprinting back to the TV to make sure I don’t miss anything spectacular on first down. This team is an absolute threat from any spot on the field.
If you don't enjoy an explosive Michigan offense, then either you are an OSU troll, or just a plain ole negative nelly. Either way, as Michigan fans, we aren't exactly cupping our ears to hear you better.
The Team Has Quietly Rallied Around
They don’t talk about it directly, but this team clearly wants to win for and with their head coach. When Michigan players get asked questions by the media, they constantly include the phrase, “Coach tells us….” More importantly, they seem 100% genuine when they say it. This team is learning and growing with their coaching staff.
Players consistently talk about the cohesion of this team and being “All In For Michigan.” Big Will Campbell is a phenomenal example of this. The former number one recruit in the entire Midwest, Campbell never once complained after learning in the fall that he would not be getting much playing time. Instead, Campbell simply talked about how close this team is. Campbell also put his team first by embracing the switch to offensive guard. Big Will continues to be a great example of players buying into Coach’s “team first” values.
Detractors will point out that there have been a number of defections away from the program. Based on the unity and emotion this team has shown for each other, do you really believe that the coaches are not creating an incredible winning atmosphere at Schembechler Hall? I ain’t buyin it. Like Coach says, he only worries about guys that play for Michigan.
The Youth On Rodriguez's Team Has Incredible Potential
Wow, Look at what Rich is building. He already has the 12th ranked scoring offense in the country. Next year, for the first time, he will have a returning starter at QB. Every single wide receiver and running back on the team will be back. Leading receiver Roy Roundtree, who just smashed the Michigan record for receiving yards in a game, is just a RS sophomore.
Although I have been critical of Vincent Smith’s running this year, he seemed to really stay on his feet much better against Illinois. His performance reminded me that he is less than a year removed from serious knee surgery. Although Smith returned to the field quicker than expected, it usually takes 12 – 24 months for running backs to truly return to form after a major knee procedure. Smith is likely just starting to feel like himself. With all the skill position players returning, this team could, should, and hopefully will average around 45 to 50 points a game for the next couple of years.
The O-Line is equally well-stocked. Although we lose both Steve Schilling and Perry Dorrenstein, there are excellent replacements waiting in line. Next year’s offensive line should be even better than this year. Lewan is already a raging stud at left tackle as a RS freshman. Either Ricky Barnum or Will Campbell should be awesome next year at guard. Center Dave Molk and right guard Patrick Omameh are already excellent. Plus, there should also be absolutely no drop-off with either Mark Huyge or Michael Schofield next year at right tackle.
We’ve already talked about the youth on defense. Just like on offense, the defense will only have to replace two seniors: Defensive tackle Greg Banks and linebacker Jonas Mouton. Both these guys have played well this year (Mouton is currently the leading tackler in the Big 10). RichRod has recruited well and has replacements who should be able to step in next year and play well. The secondary will also get Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd back from injury. While this defense is currently giving up a ridiculous 34 points per game, look for major league improvement next year.
Rich Has Done A Lot To Show That He Is Becoming a True Michigan Man
On top of everything else, Rich has done some great things in the community. If you can’t appreciate what Rodriguez and Barwis have done for Brock Mealer, then please just stop reading. Rodriguez has helped to raise large amounts of money for the UM Hopsital. Families have gushed about how great he treated them at the UM hospital when there were no cameras around.
Of course Rich’s detractors will talk about the NCAA violations. However, with the NCAA dropping the failure to provide an atmosphere of compliance charge, Rodriguez was largely vindicated. Basically, it turns out that the guy is a not a major cheater, but just a human being who simply misinterpreted some rules about whether or not to count stretching as practice time. As long as nothing of the sort happens again, then we all need to move on.
No Matter How Much You Like Him, Rich Still Needs At Least One More Win in 2010
This team should win more than six games. We have a great chance to get a seventh win tomorrow against Purdue. However, it's a road game, and we better come ready to play. Purdue may be struggling lately, but they have the same Big Ten record as Michigan. Also, with three games remaining, they are two wins away from becoming bowl eligible.
This game is very close to a must-win for RichRod and Big Blue. Michigan should beat Purdue. It would be a serious setback to lose to them. Losing can spiral out of control, and with Wisky and OSU coming up, we need to make sure we put the pedal to the metal to knock out that seventh win and keep the momentum building.
I love where our beloved program is heading. With a big win against Purdue, we should continue to march on that path towards reaching Rich's ultimate vision: Michigan Wolverines, Multiple Big Ten and National Champions.