Rich Rodriguez Rumors: Gator Bowl Won't Get Him Fired, Body of Work Will
Will Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez be fired following today's Gator Bowl?
That's the question burning up everything from the bars in Ann Arbor to newspaper pages to the blogosphere.
The Wolverines' performance in today's embarrassing loss to Mississippi State should be enough to convince athletic director David Brandon that he needs to go in a new direction.
But, really, it wasn't the Gator Bowl. Frankly, a closer loss (or even a victory) might not have saved Rodriguez's job.
Add it all up, and the body of work is what will end Rodriguez's tenure at U-M.
Rich Rodriguez: Contract Woes Not a Good Start
Rich Rodriguez was hired away from West Virginia following the 2007 season, replacing Lloyd Carr. Carr was a Bo Schembechler assistant, a Michigan man, and although he took his share of criticism during his time at U-M, Carr did something that Schembechler and a host of other coaches couldn't: win a national championship.
When Rodriguez was hired away from West Virginia, it ended up coming with some baggage: a nasty contract dispute with WVU, which decided to sue the coach in order to collect a $4 million buyout agreement.
The University of Michigan had never really been embroiled in such a thing before with its football program (although, to be fair, Gary Moeller was let go after a drunken episode at a Southfield, Mich., establishment in 1994) and some school officials and alums were not only concerned, but chagrined when the school ended up picking up part of the contract.
Not a good start.
Rich Rodriguez: First Season Doesn't Bode Well
Michigan opened the 2008 season with a 25-23 home loss to Utah in Rich Rodriguez's first game. Old Blues were already up in arms.
That game was just a harbinger of things to come. While many defenders of Rich Rod complained that Lloyd Carr left the cupboard bare and that's why the coach got out, it's too easy to say that.
It's tough to believe that in the 33 previous years of winning football at Michigan and a record 33 consecutive bowl games, that the "cupboard" wasn't bare at some point during those years.
Yet the Wolverines still found a way to win.
Not this year, though. Rodriguez was adamant that he was taking a stodgy team out of the 1970s "three yards and a cloud of dust" and into the era of the spread offense.
So after a 3-9 first year, he got a bit of a break since he was installing a new system.
Still, 3-9, was 3-9...an embarrassment for Michigan football.
Rich Rodriguez: The NCAA Investigation
There was much optimism in Ann Arbor for the second year of Rich Rodriguez's regime. Quarterback Tate Forcier looked promising, and the players had a year of Rodriguez's system under his belt.
But, days before the season opener, the Detroit Free Press reported that current and former players on the team said Michigan violated the NCAA's rule on the number of hours players could commit to practice time.
While there was much backlash against the Freep for using mostly anonymous sources, there was much embarrassment in the U-M community (again) when it turned into an NCAA investigation.
Michigan had prided itself for decades on running a program free of NCAA violations. Now here was a new coach and already the program was being investigated a year into his reign.
While the NCAA did find violations regarding the practice hours, they were minor. The school and Rodriguez escaped the more serious issue of whether the coach had failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance.
RichRod was spared; but not everybody was happy about it.
Rich Rodriguez: Year 2 Wasn't Much Better
Year 2 of the Rich Rodriguez regime started out on fire. The Wolverines won their first four games, including a thrilling 38-34 win over Notre Dame that vaulted U-M back into the Top 25.
Then Michigan lost at Michigan State and at Iowa, before coming back to defeat a non-conference opponent in Delaware State. That put the Wolverines at 5-2 overall, needing just one victory in the final five games to qualify for a bowl game.
Michigan lost to Penn State, Illinois, Purdue (after blowing a lead), Wisconsin and Ohio State to finish the year at 5-7 and out of a bowl berth for the second consecutive season.
Rich Rodriguez and Michigan Football: Not a Player in The Big Ten
Michigan has an awfully proud history of competition in the Big Ten Conference.
A charter member of the league, Michigan has won or shared 42 conference championships. It has won more games in the history of college football than any other school. It has 77 consensus All-Americans.
And in the last three years, the Wolverines are 6-18 in the Big Ten.
For a program that, year in and year out, has always put winning the Big Ten championship at the top of its goals, this has been unacceptable.
Rich Rodriguez: He's Not a Michigan Man
Now, this obviously is not Rich Rodriguez's fault, but there are many factions at Michigan that want a "Michigan Man" as the head coach of the football program.
Now, what's a "Michigan Man?" Well, the great Bo Schembechler himself defined the term. Back in 1989, after Bo had stepped down as football coach, he became the athletic director at the school.
On the eve of the NCAA basketball tournament, hoops coach Bill Frieder took the job at Arizona State but informed the school that he would coach in the NCAA tourney.
Not so fast, Schembechler said. Schembechler booted Frieder right then and there, and famously said, "A Michigan Man will coach Michigan."
Basketball assistant Steve Fisher then won six straight games to lead the Wolverines to the NCAA title.
Rodriguez came from outside the family. Then athletic director Bill Martin hired Rodriguez away from West Virginia. He had no Michigan ties whatsoever.
It's doubtful that new A.D. David Brandon will go down that road.
Rich Rodriguez: Gator Bowl Is The Final Straw
Michigan has played in 40 bowl games in its illustrious football history, and while the record isn't sterling -- the Wolverines are now 19-21 -- there has never been a bowl game like this.
Michigan lost the 2011 Gator Bowl to Mississippi State by the score of 52-14. The 38-point loss was the worst beating the school has ever taken in a postseason game.
Michigan might have a losing record in bowl games but it was always -- ALWAYS -- competitive. Of the 21 losses, 13 were by seven points or less and six of those were by three points or less.
The school has never had a performance like this. It lost to Tennesse by 28, 45-17, back in the 2002 Citrus Bowl, but you have to believe this 38-point loss to MSU is the final straw of the Rich Rodriguez Era at the University of Michigan.