Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines
My wife, Sharon, and I are both loyal Michigan alums (class of '68). We are also knowledgeable and passionate fans of Wolverine football. If David Brandon were to fire Rodriguez, it would be the biggest mistake by a Michigan Athletic Director since Tom Goss wrapped that ridiculous “halo” around the Big House. Here are the top ten reasons why:
No. 1: Rodriguez Is Building a Championship Team
When plans were announced for a major upgrade to Michigan Stadium, there was a great deal of criticism from those resistant to change. After years of construction and controversy, the Big House was finally reborn this year as a spectacular, state-of-the-art facility.
In 2007, Bill Martin, the Athletic Director behind the stadium project, made a bold move by hiring Rich Rodriguez to revolutionize Michigan football. As with the stadium project, the renovation of Michigan football has experienced resistance to change, controversy and construction issues. In the 2011 season, Rodriguez will finally have all the pieces in place for a championship team.
After winning 11 national championships from 1901 to 1948, the Wolverines captured only one national title in the next 59 years. During that time, Michigan was known for its brand of solid, Big Ten football but only Lloyd Carr’s 1997 team (with superstar Charles Woodson) brought home the trophy.
Martin chose Rodriguez, one of the brightest minds in college football and an architect of the successful spread-option offense, to take Michigan back to the top. There was no question that it would take a few years for Rodriguez to restructure the team with players to fit his system. He is in the final stages of completing the process.
No. 2: Jim Harbaugh Is the Wrong Guy
A great player at Michigan under Bo Schembechler, Harbaugh is currently enjoying success as Stanford’s head coach. There are those who feel that he should replace Rodriguez in Ann Arbor. However, there is nothing that indicates he would be any more successful than Michigan’s current coach. Harbaugh’s record in his first three years at Stanford (4-8, 5-7, 8-5) is nearly identical to Rodriguez’s first three years at Michigan (3-9, 5-7, 7-5). Stanford’s existing pro-style system was a natural transition for Harbaugh, but Rodriguez faced a greater challenge. Many of the players he inherited at Michigan were inappropriate for his innovative speed-oriented system.
In his fourth year at Stanford, Harbaugh posted an 11-1 record but we have yet to see the results of Rodriguez’s fourth year. The nature of Harbaugh’s one loss this year is significant. His pro-style team was crushed 51-32 by Oregon, a team that employs a Rodriguez-style offense and will be playing for the National Championship in January.
Harbaugh’s traditional, pro-style strategy is unlikely to bring any national titles to Ann Arbor. His public criticism of Michigan’s Athletic Department in 2007 has also raised serious questions about his loyalty to his alma mater.
No. 3: The Witch Hunt Is Over
Vindictive West Virginia fans, disgruntled Les Miles advocates and a Detroit newspaper with an agenda (but little regard for the truth) have spent three years demonizing Rich Rodriguez in the media. Eventually, a lengthy NCAA investigation ensued but, in the end, no actual scandal was uncovered in Ann Arbor. The issues were primarily the same kind of minor bureaucratic errors that occur at most programs.
The most serious allegation, that Rodriguez “fostered an atmosphere of non-compliance,” was found to be false. After years of being harassed and vilified, Rodriguez has now been vetted and exonerated by the NCAA. In spite of his critics, Rodriguez is a good guy who runs a first-class program with a family atmosphere. His players are solidly behind his leadership.
No. 4: The Myth of the “Michigan Man”
In 1989, Bill Frieder announced that he would be leaving his position as the Wolverine’s head basketball coach to take over the Arizona State program. Bo Schembechler, Michigan’s Athletic Director at the time, fired him immediately and installed assistant coach Steve Fisher to lead the team into the NCAA Tournament. Bo famously said only a “Michigan Man” should coach Michigan.
Through the years, this concept became distorted to suggest that only coaches and players with some historical connection to Bo Schembechler should coach football at Michigan. That’s nonsense. Michigan is not a “good old boys club.” A “Michigan Man” (or “Michigan Woman”) is simply someone who is a loyal and positive representative of the University of Michigan. Fielding Yost, the Wolverine’s greatest coach and ultimate “Michigan Man” came from a small town in West Virginia, just like Rich Rodriguez.
No. 5: Anonymous Internet Posters Have No Credibility
Back in the day, in order to state your opinion in the media, you needed to provide your real name for the world to see. Today, online comment pages, blogs, forums and websites are overflowing with negative, aggressive posters who hide behind deceptive screen names. It’s impossible to know whether the postings come from those who care about Michigan football or those who only care about tearing it down. Hopefully, Dave Brandon will ignore all of this anonymous advice and listen only to Michigan players, alums and fans who are unafraid to put their names alongside their opinions.
No. 6: Other Coaches Around the Country
Rodriguez was not the only head coach to finish the 2010 regular season at 7-5. Other notables included Urban Meyer at Florida, Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, Joe Paterno at Penn State, Bill Snyder at Kansas State and Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern. The venerable coach of Texas, Mack Brown, won only five games. Should all of these great coaches be fired? Of course not. Least of all Rodriguez, the only one of them who actually has his team headed in the right direction. Meanwhile, Les Miles, the “Mad Hatter” at LSU, won 10 games this year but was widely ridiculed for bizarre coaching decisions and embarrassing clock management.
No. 7: The Future Looks Bright at Michigan
It’s been a difficult transition period but Rodriguez has won more games each year with his exciting brand of football. Despite a rash of injuries to key players this year, he will be leading the team into in a bowl on New Year’s Day. The team will benefit greatly from the 15 extra practices bowl team receive. In 2011, our injured players will be healthy and the true freshmen who had to play early on defense in 2010 will be stronger, faster and more experienced.
Recruiting is the most important factor behind championship teams. Experts agree that Southern states, such a Florida, excel at producing premier high school players. Rich Rodriguez and his staff have had extraordinary success in recruiting and developing blue chip southern recruits such as Denard Robinson. These speedy and talented student athletics are critical factor in bringing Michigan back to national prominence. Rodriguez is currently poised to bring in a stellar recruiting class that includes Dee Hart, the number one all-purpose running back in the country.
No. 8: A Coach Who Is Passionate About His Team
At a recent awards banquet, Rich Rodriguez was unafraid to show his emotions when expressing his feelings about his team and his future coaching at Michigan. Some critics have mistaken this passion for weakness. Dick Vermeil was another coach who didn’t hide his emotions about his teams. All he did was win a Rose Bowl, multiple NFL Coach of the Year Awards, two NFC Championships and a Super Bowl.
No. 9: A Team That Is Passionate About Its Coach
This recent quote from Ryan Van Bergen, a starting defensive lineman, says it all:
"All people see is the stuff that goes on camera, that goes out to the television sets, and they can't understand what happens over at Schembechler Hall. Coach Rodriguez is a hard-working man who cares about his players as much as any other coach in college football cares about his players. That’s what we like about him and that’s why we embrace him.
"We can see why we have to work so hard because he’s working just as hard. He's just a great guy, and when you recognize somebody that has those leadership qualities, that's somebody that you're going to want to follow. I think the whole team takes up that attitude."
No. 10: The Time to Act Is Now
The longer we wait to reconfirm Rich Rodriguez, the greater the impact on Michigan football. Our current players, our verbally committed recruits and our coaches on the recruiting trail are all being affected by the uncertainty in Ann Arbor. Our team is being distracted by the controversy as it prepares for the upcoming Gator Bowl.
Key recruits who want to play for Rodriguez, including Dee Hart, are beginning to waver in their verbal commitments. We are at the top of the list for other blue-chip recruits around the country but, unless Rodriguez is reconfirmed soon, Michigan may lose them to the competition.
It’s time to end the speculation and move forward. Rich Rodriguez is doing exactly what he was hired to do. He is making progress and has the support of his team. He has the most exciting player and most entertaining offense in college football. Only injuries to key defensive players have slowed Michigan’s return to championship football. Rich Rodriguez should be reconfirmed as head coach of the Wolverines for 2011 as soon as possible.