Rich Rodriguez: If He's Fired, Where Does Michigan Go from There?

Ryan FallerAnalyst IDecember 7, 2010

Despite little support from fans, it appears Michigan will withhold a decision on whether to retain head coach Rich Rodriguez until after the Wolverines' bowl game on Jan. 1.
Despite little support from fans, it appears Michigan will withhold a decision on whether to retain head coach Rich Rodriguez until after the Wolverines' bowl game on Jan. 1.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Rich Rodriguez may want to send Dave Brandon an extra pair of Christmas tube socks this holiday season if this all works out in his favor.

If Rodriguez is retained at Michigan, it will be because of Brandon, the school’s athletic director; if he’s fired, well, that will be because of Brandon, too.

That much was made clear by university president Mary Sue Coleman on Tuesday, who told a campus newspaper that she trusts Brandon to adequately assess Rodriguez and the football program.

When should we expect a decision? Well, whether the hammer is dropped on Rodriguez or he is extended a vote of confidence, Brandon has been steadfast in upholding his initial time line, which doesn’t call for a verdict until after the Wolverines’ Gator Bowl appearance against Mississippi State on Jan. 1.

Conveniently for Brandon and Michigan’s financial interests, the first of the year is when the buyout of Rodriguez’s contract dips from $4 million to $2.5 million. This could be viewed as a shrewd business move by Brandon, the former CEO of Domino’s Pizza, just as easily as a chance being afforded to Rodriguez to save his neck with a win.

Regardless, we wait. While we do, the already exasperated Michigan fanbase grows more and more agitated by the possibility that Rodriguez may be given another chance to completely tarnish the Wolverine brand.

That, of course, is assuming fans feel he hasn’t done so already with an 8-16 Big Ten record, a score of historically wretched defensive performances, NCAA rules infractions and, most recently, his peculiar behavior at the team’s annual awards banquet.

Rodriguez’s tenure at Ann Arbor, though still in its infantile stages, has proven to be a disaster. So let’s assume he does get bounced on his rump. Where does Michigan go from here?

A pool of noteworthy candidates immediately comes to mind, but excluded are two of Michigan's own. Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh, a former UM quarterback, and San Diego State’s Brady Hoke, defensive line coach from 1995-2002, each recently signed contract extensions.

Gary Patterson would evoke some support, but why would he leave Fort Worth now that TCU’s defection to the Big East quadruples the odds that his program will reach the BCS every season?

Houston’s Kevin Sumlin is always discussed when a vacancy arises. And what about Temple’s Al Golden, Oregon State’s Mike Riley or even former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti, who recently held preliminary discussions with Colorado about its head-coaching vacancy and very well may lay down the ESPN microphone to step back on the sidelines?

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Les Miles. Remember, it was Miles who reportedly held a phone conversation with Coleman and then-athletic director Bill Martin about the last Michigan vacancy, despite having signed an extension with LSU days prior. Now under contract in Baton Rouge through 2014, would Miles, a former Michigan assistant, still be interested?

For whomever coaches the Wolverines in 2011, Rodriguez or otherwise, challenges lie ahead.

If Rodriguez is retained, what will be the psyche of the team? If he is not, how will the players adjust to what figures to be a new philosophical approach?

Will the errors, particularly on defense, get cleaned up? How will the program handle life in a reconfigured Big Ten, one that, perhaps thankfully, will not include annual dates with every conference power?

Michigan is no longer the beacon it once was, calling recruits by the dozens to come play at the Big House. Will the publicly documented instability and uncertainty of the coaching staff deter high school seniors from considering the Wolverines?

These are all questions that in one way or another have to be asked at Michigan, with or without Rodriguez.

Fans hope it’s the latter. If it’s the former, then Rodriguez might want to ditch the socks and reserve a seat at the head of the table for Brandon at Christmas dinner.