Rich Rodriguez: 10 More Reasons Why He Should Continue To Be Michigan's Man

Gerald HillContributor IDecember 29, 2010

Rich Rodriguez leading his Wolverines into battle
Rich Rodriguez leading his Wolverines into battleGregory Shamus/Getty Images

As I have mentioned before, my wife and I are both loyal Michigan alums (1968) and true-blue Wolverine football fans. 

Here are 10 more reasons why Rich Rodriguez should remain the Wolverines' head coach. 


No. 1: An Insider’s View

Jim Brandstatter played offensive tackle for the Wolverines under Bo Schembechler. Since the 80s, he has been the television host of Michigan Replay and the on-the-air analyst for Michigan football. There is no doubt that he is a genuine, high-profile Michigan Man with an insider’s perspective.

Jim also writes a blog for the Alumni Association. Here are some of his comments from his latest blog:

"The rumor that swirls is that Rich Rodriguez’s job is in jeopardy. That should not be the case. He deserves another recruiting class, and another year at least. The guy can coach! This offense that is his creation is innovative and dangerous.

"It's what Michigan fans craved four years ago, now they've got it. Let the kids grow with it and get even more proficient.

"Don't tell me the yards they put up were in games that were over, so they were meaningless. They weren't meaningless against Notre Dame, Illinois, Purdue, Indiana, and Connecticut were they? The offense worked when the game was in the balance. It worked when the game was in the balance against Ohio State too.

"Get off that argument, I am not buying it. The job is half way there. Rich fixing the defense will finish the job, and in my opinion, he deserves the chance to finish the job!"

No. 2: Michigan’s Greatest Coaches Were Outsiders

Fielding Yost, the ultimate Michigan Man, came from a small town in West Virginia just like Rich Rodriguez; Fritz Crisler, the genius behind the winged helmet, the “Mad Magicians” and two-platoon football hailed from Illinois; Bo Schembechler, who won a school record 194 games, was from Ohio and had a mentor named Woody Hayes.

Unfortunately, certain members of the Michigan fanbase have twisted Bo’s concept of a “Michigan Man” into a belief that only someone with a connection to him (e.g. Jim Harbaugh, Brady Hoke, Les Miles) should be head coach at Michigan. 

That is pure hogwash. If Bo were alive today, he’d be the first one to say so. Bo was an outsider who, like others before him, became a “Michigan Man” during his stay in Ann Arbor.

Cronyism and prejudice have no place within Michigan’s hallowed football traditions.

There is no evidence that any of the coaches with a connection to Bo deserve the Michigan job more than Rodriguez.

Harbaugh has less experience and less wins in Division I football. His first three years at Stanford parallel Rodriguez’s first three years at Michigan.

Brady Hoke floundered at Ball State for six years (22 wins and 37 losses) before having one big year and departing for San Diego State.

Les Miles struggled for four years at Oklahoma State before stepping into Nick Saban’s shoes at LSU. The “Mad Hatter” has had considerable success in Baton Rouge, but his bizarre play calling and embarrassing clock management have been ridiculed by fans and the media.

No. 3: A Lesson from “Little Brother”

Mark Dantonio was hired in 2007 to revive a Michigan State program that had been staggering since the departure of Nick Saban in 1999. His first two years showed progress but, in his third year, the Spartans fell to 6-7.

Did they panic in East Lansing? No, they kept him on for a fourth year.

Dantonio rewarded their confidence with an 11-1 record and a share of the Big Ten Championship.

The lesson is clear: If your program needs an upgrade, find the right guy and give him at least four years to turn things around before you hit the panic button.

No. 4: Inside the Numbers: Rodriguez vs Harbaugh

Rich Rodriguez has 10 years of Division I (FBS) coaching experience including seven years at West Virginia and three years at Michigan; Jim Harbaugh has only four years of Division I experience as Stanford’s coach.

Rodriguez’s records during his stay at West Virginia (3-8, 9-4, 8-5, 8-4, 11-1, 11-2, 10-2) proved his ability to build and sustain a successful Division 1 program.

Jim Harbaugh’s only head coaching experience prior to Stanford was at the University of San Diego, a Division I-AA school.

In his first three years at Michigan, Rodriguez's records of 3-9, 5-7 and 7-5 showed continued progress; Harbaugh put up remarkably similar numbers (4-8, 5-7 and 8-5) in his first three years at Stanford. 

The major difference was that Rodriguez needed time to recruit a team full of players who were appropriate for his speed-oriented transformation of Michigan football.

In his fourth year at Stanford, Harbaugh’s team made a big leap to 11-1. His only loss was a lopsided 52-31 defeat to Oregon, a team that uses a Rodriguez-style spread offense. 

In 2011, Rodriguez will finally have some depth on both sides of the ball, which should mean a big leap of his own in his fourth year at Michigan.

No. 5: Off the Field: Rodriguez vs Harbaugh

Many of those in the “Fire Rodriguez/Hire Harbaugh” camp have gone beyond football to attack Rodriguez on a personal level. 

He has been called a “hillbilly” because of his West Virginia background and a “crook” because he was the target of a couple of lawsuits.

They tend to forget that Fielding Yost, Michigan’s greatest coach, also came from West Virginia and that litigation directed at successful people and businesses has become an everyday occurrence.

This kind of character assassination was taken to new levels by a local newspaper. The Detroit Free Press went beyond journalistic ethics and printed exaggerated, incendiary stories about Rodriguez and his football program. These articles set off a costly NCAA investigation that unearthed nothing but the kind of petty infractions that are common at many other schools. 

Rodriguez was completely exonerated of the primary allegation that he “failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance.”

The truth is that Rodriguez is a class act. He is a man who is involved in charities (such as Mott Children’s Hospital) and personal humanitarian efforts (such as his compassionate assistance of the Mealer family).

As a football coach, he is not one of those “win at all costs” guys who will sacrifice the integrity of the program to gain an edge on the field. A perfect example of this was his suspension of our starting punter prior to the Ohio State game for breaking “team rules.” 

Other coaches might have let the punter play due to his key role and the importance of the game.

Rodriguez chose the high road because he believes in teaching character, not just football.

At the recent Michigan Football Bust, Rodriguez made it clear to an appreciative crowd that he is a man who cares deeply about his family, his players, his staff and Michigan football. He also engaged in some good natured kidding of his friends Jerry Hanlon and Gary Moeller, both Michigan icons.

Following the event, his critics misrepresented and ridiculed his comments in the media. The actual audio (link provided at the end of this article) paints a picture of a sincere Michigan Man.

On the other hand, Jim Harbaugh is unlikely to ever be treated as an “outsider” in Ann Arbor or Palo Alto. He grew up in Ann Arbor where he attended Pioneer High School, just across the street from Michigan Stadium. He finished high school in Palo Alto, right next door to the Stanford campus.

In 1983, he returned to Michigan and was a successful quarterback under Bo Schembechler before moving on to a 13-year career in the NFL. Like Rodriguez, Harbaugh is a family man who is active in community service. He has also been involved with the Riley Hospital, Uhlich's Children's Home and other causes.

There are those who claim Harbaugh should replace Rodriguez because of character issues. They tend to ignore a highly publicized incident in 2005, when Harbaugh was arrested in California for drunk driving after running a stop sign. 

Head coach of the University of San Diego at the time, he was put in detention for sven hours and later pled guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving.

I only bring this up because you can't have it both ways. It’s unfair to launch unwarranted attacks on Rodriguez's character while ignoring this dangerous lapse of judgement by Harbaugh. 

As far as I know, Rich Rodriguez has never been arrested or put the lives of others in danger—Jim Harbaugh has.
There is also concern within the Michigan fanbase about Harbaugh’s very public criticism of the Michigan Athletic Department in 2007. If he is really a loyal "Michigan Man," why didn't he make those complaints privately, instead of attacking his alma mater in the media?

No. 6: Never Give Up

Rodriguez is in the process of completing what he was hired to do. He has built the foundation for a new brand of Wolverine football that will take Michigan back to the top, if only the naysayers will let him do his job.

The bottom line is that coaches are hired to win and he has won more games each year at Michigan. His detractors can nitpick about the quality of those wins, but who's to say he won't continue to make progress and win more games next year?

In 2007, the Wolverines opened with humiliating losses to Appalachian State and Oregon. Michigan "fans" were openly ridiculing Lloyd Carr in the media and wearing "Fire Lloyd" t-shirts to the Big House.

Did Carr and the team give up? No, they won their next eight games and finished off the season with a stunning bowl victory over Tim Tebow and SEC powerhouse Florida.

The moral is: You should never give up on your coach and you should never give up on Michigan.

No 7: Offense

Under Rodriguez, the Wolverines have become one of the most exciting and productive offenses in college football. 

After years of being burned by dual-threat quarterbacks, we finally have one of our own in sensational Denard Robinson; two others, Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner, are also ready to step in. 

Our solid offensive line, talented skill players and innovative zone-read offense provide a daunting challenge for Michigan’s opponents. The addition of Dee Hart, the nation’s top-rated all-purpose running back, should create even more sleepless nights for opponents’ defensive coordinators.

No. 8: Defense and Special Teams

Michigan’s defense was a disappointment in 2010. An unexpected rash of injuries to key players forced Michigan to play many true freshmen before they were ready. 

The good news is that next year, we will have our injured veterans back and our former true freshmen will arrive as battle-hardened sophomores. What was a weakness should become a strength in 2011.

While our punting was solid, there were obvious problems with our placekickers. They performed well in practice but inexplicably failed to execute during games. 

To address this issue, Rodriguez recently received a verbal commitment from Matt Goudis, one of the top-rated place kickers in the country. Our kickoff and punt returns should be positives with the return of veterans Martavious Odoms and Darryl Stonum, along with incoming freshmen Justice Hayes and Dee Hart.

No. 9: Recruiting

In spite of the perceived uncertainty about his future, Rodriguez is assembling one of the Big Ten’s top recruiting classes. 

In addition to commitments from five of the top players from the state of Michigan, his 2011 class includes difference-makers on offense and an influx of talent on the defensive side of the ball. His pipeline into the talent-rich states of Florida and Ohio continues to bring in stellar commitments.

If Rodriguez is not retained for 2011, Michigan may lose many of these promising recruits.

No. 10: Dave Brandon’s Legacy

Michigan’s Athletic Director, Dave Brandon, has made it clear that he will evaluate the Michigan football program after the Gator Bowl and announce his decision about Rich Rodriguez’s future as head coach. 

He understands this decision will probably define his legacy at Michigan. It appears to have come down to two choices.

His first option is to simply announce that Rich Rodriguez will be Michigan’s head coach for 2011. That is not only the honorable and correct choice, it is his safest choice. If Rodriguez wins nine or more games in his fourth year, Brandon will look like a genius and the Rodriguez critics will all start jumping on the bandwagon. 

If Rodriguez fails to continue to make progress in 2011, Brandon can begin to consider other coaching candidates for 2012.

It’s a win-win situation for Brandon that would show that he cannot be pushed around by reactionary factions within the Michigan fanbase. It will also prove he is a man of integrity, who knows you don’t hire a man to renovate a house and then after he has spent three years rebuilding the foundation, fire him before he can complete the job.
Brandon’s second option is to fire Rodriguez without cause and bring in someone from the Schembechler Coaching Tree such as Harbaugh, Hoke or Miles. If he makes this choice, it will be a dark day in the proud tradition of Michigan athletics.

It will mean the hiring of head football coaches in Ann Arbor is based on cronyism, not qualification.

It will also mean the three years that Rodriguez has spent transforming the Wolverines into a potential championship contender will have been wasted. Michigan would likely struggle for years as the team goes through another difficult transition. The fanbase would remain divided.

At the end of the day, Michigan’s offensive system would revert to the same kind of dated, pro-style philosophy that has produced only one National Championship since 1948.

If Dave Brandon caves in to reactionary extremists and fires Rodriguez, his legacy as Athletic Director will be in jeopardy. Meanwhile, Rodriguez would be quickly snapped up by another school that appreciates his ability to build a modern, successful program. 

There are plenty of those who believe Rodriguez will contend for National Championships in the future. The only question is, will he be allowed to do it at Michigan?   

Regardless of the Gator Bowl outcome, Rich Rodriguez is an ideal coach for Michigan. His approach combines the dazzling creativity of Crisler with the determination and toughness of Schembechler. He is a hard-working, loyal Michigan Man who deserves to be our head coach in 2011. 

He is our best chance for Michigan to become, once again, the Leaders and Best.


Rich Rodriguez’s Comments at the Michigan Football Bust