The pioneer of the no-huddle, run-based spread offense, Michigan was ecstatic when they signed Rich Rodriguez away from West Virginia. Rodriguez had gone 60-26 in seven seasons with the Mountaineers including a 32-5 mark in his final three years. However, Rodriguez has thus far failed to reach those heights with Michigan.
In October of 2008, Rodriguez signed a six-year contract worth $15 million, but has struggled to a 15-21 record over three seasons. This year things looked to be different as the uber-athletic Denard Span was seemingly the perfect fit to run this unique offense. And while Robinson did post a phenomenal season (2,316 yards passing, 1,643 yards rushing and 30 total touchdowns), the team ended the season by losing five of their last seven games—setting up a New Year's Day matchup with the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Can a bowl victory over a ranked team save Rodriguez’s job? Does Rich-Rod deserve another shot? And if Rodriguez isn’t the man for the job, who is? Read on as we examine all this and more.
If you are judging Rodriguez’ success based solely on his poor win-loss record, you are failing to see the entire picture. His run-heavy spread offense requires very distinctive players, specifically a scrambling quarterback (a la Pat White at West Virginia) and dynamic running backs (Noel Devine and Steve Slaton at WVU).
In Rodriguez' first season, he was still stuck with former coach Lloyd Carr’s players, who were poor fits for the offense. The results were ugly as the Wolverines limped to a 3-9 record. Michigan improved in their second season, winning five games but still failing to crack the .500 threshold.
This season, with his recruits being implemented in the offense, the team won seven games and earned a spot in the Gator Bowl. It takes time to completely re-tool an offense and update the player personnel, so it would be short-sighted to fire Rodriguez now.
Michigan has a long and storied football heritage and have set their standards incredibly high. In fact, former head coach Lloyd Carr had a career record of 122-40 when was opted to retire following the 2007 season.
During that season, the Wolverines won nine games including a victory over Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators in the Capital One Bowl. Rodriguez took over a nine-win team and managed a meager three wins the following season. That’s enough to put most coaches on the hot seat.
In Rodriguez first season with Glenville State, the 47-year old coach won just one game. The following season he won only four games. He then posted a 38-16 record over the final five seasons for the Pioneers.
After taking over for West Virginia, Rodriguez managed a paltry 3-8 record in his first season. The following season the Mountaineers went 9-4, winning at least eight games in each of the ensuing six seasons.
That trend is already appearing again with Michigan as the team has improved by two wins each year. The Wolverines would be unwise to fire Rodriguez without seeing the final product.
On February 22, 2010, the NCAA accused Michigan of five major rules violations after it was revealed that the Michigan coaching staff had failed to abide by practice time rules. The violations included attending unofficial scrimmages and requiring players to work out more hours than NCAA rules permit during the offseason.
It was also revealed that Rodriguez used several graduate assistants in coaching positions in breach of NCAA regulations on the limits of the number of coaches. This marked the first time that Michigan football had even been charged with violating NCAA rules.
When Michigan was looking for a new head coach to replace Lloyd Carr, they were so enamored with Rodriguez that they not only signed him to a lucrative contract (six years, $15 million) but they spent another $2.5 million to help buy-out Rodriguez’ previous contract with West Virginia.
Rodriguez is only three seasons into the contract and Michigan would have to pay the former Mountaineer defensive back the remaining $7.5 million on his contract. I realize that Michigan has the funds to pay multiple head coaches, but it’s an irresponsible principal to set.
Although Rodriguez has been an effective recruiter, his foul language and abrasive behavior is a turn off for many players. Offensive lineman Justin Boren described Rodriguez and his staff as suffering from “a lack of family values,” which caused the guard to transfer to Ohio State (where he became an All Big Ten performer).
Detroit Free Press writer Michael Rosenberg commented on the situation saying, "Rodriguez's staff uses some of the foulest, most degrading language imaginable. I know coaches curse, and I'm no prude, but this goes way beyond a few dirty words. He belittles his players. This is a big part of why offensive lineman Justin Boren left the team. He felt his dignity was at stake."
Some players don’t like the personality; some simply don’t like the system. Arkansas’ phenomenal quarterback Ryan Mallett transferred from Michigan because he felt he was a poor fit for the run-oriented spread offense—which by the way, he absolutely is.
You can’t win without players and Rodriguez has certainly had his fair share of problems in that department.
Each year Rodriguez has been at Michigan the offense has improved. With more mobile lineman, the Wolverines have been able to implement the spread offense and the results speak for themselves.
This season the team averaged over 500 yards of total offense per game and just a shade over 34 points per game. In fact, the Wolverines totaled 3,013 rushing yards on the season—good for 11th in the nation, ahead of the dynamic rushing attacks of Wisconsin and Virginia Tech.
There may be problems with this team, but the offense is not one of them.
In Rodriguez’ three seasons with Michigan, the ineptitude of the defense has been one of the team's biggest shortcomings. This season the Wolverines surrendered 34 points per game on nearly 450 yards of offense. Perhaps the most ironic part is that former assistant Scott Shafer has whipped the Syracuse defense into the nations 13th-ranked unit.
Rodriguez lured Shafer away from Stanford, but overthrew his defense in favor of the unorthodox 3-3-5 he ran at West Virginia. After losing Shafer, Rodriguez hired former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson as the defensive coordinator. Robinson struggled to grasp the 3-3-5 defense as the package requires aggressive blitzing and Robinson is typically more conservative.
Rich-Rod was hired for his offensive mindset, but the fact that this defense is has been horrid and the team is already on their third coordinator is an indicator that it may be time to get rid of Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is the two-time Big East Coach of the Year and four-time Big East champion. Even with his slow start at Michigan, Rodriguez has a 120-83-2 career record and has utilized the zone read to produce some of college football’s most exciting offenses.
Following the 2003 season, Rodriguez lost eleven starters from an 8-5 team yet managed an 8-4 mark the following season. His teams have finished the season ranked within the top 10 on three occasions and helped the Wolverines crack the top 25 earlier this season.
At 8-4 the Mississippi State Bulldogs should provide a tough test in the Gator Bowl. Chris Relf is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback while running back Vick Ballard quietly turned in a nice season.
However, even if the Wolverines knock off their SEC adversary I believe Rodriguez will be fired due to his…
Michigan fans have been furious about Rich Rodriguez tenure and with good reason. The team is 0-12 against teams with a winning record in their conference under Rich-Rod and this incompetence has spurned websites like firerrod.com.
This season the team managed just three conference wins against Illinois (in a game they surrendered 65 points), Purdue (who went 4-8 on the season and lost by 11 at home to Toledo), and Indiana (who managed just one conference win this season).
Michigan football has a proud and storied heritage and they’ve come to expect national championships, not .500 seasons. With rival Ohio State constantly playing in BCS bowls and in-state rival Michigan State steadily improving under Mark Dantonio—proving to be both a good person and a superb coach—Rodriguez’ exodus is starting to feel like an inevitability.
Many knocked the Rodriguez hiring, as he is not a “Michigan Man,” so perhaps the ideal hire is former Wolverine Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh was crucial to the development of Andrew Luck (the projected No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft), and led the Cardinals from mediocrity to an 11-1 record and a spot in the Orange Bowl.
The biggest question isn’t whether Harbaugh would consider leaving Stanford, but rather is Harbaugh done coaching at the collegiate level? He’s done a phenomenal job running a pro style offense and could be one of the leading candidates for a number of soon-to-be-available NFL head coaching gigs.
Rodriguez has the lowest winning percentage of any coach in Michigan history and will inevitably be looking for a new job next season.
Beloved by opposing fans, it may be time to fire Rich Rodriguez.
A win against Mississippi State on New Years day would give Rodriguez an 8-5 record on the season and his first big win at Michigan.
However, even if the Wolverines upset the Bulldogs (MSU is currently a 4.5 point favorite) it may not be enough for Rodriguez to keep his job. Rodriguez’s results have been underwhelming and he has alienated both players and coaches around the program.
Although part of me would like to see Michigan give Rodriguez one more year to fine-tune the offense, the ineptitude of the defense combined with their lack of improvement should spell the end of the RichRod era in Ann Arbor.