Rich Rodriguez: Michigan Coach Has To Be Fired After Gator Bowl Loss, Right?

Adam HirshfieldFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2011

Courtesy of the Associated Press
Courtesy of the Associated Press

Many fans felt like Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez had sealed his coaching fate with the Wolverines' embarrassing 37-7 loss in the regular season finale against Ohio State.

But if that loss to the rival Buckeyes didn't prove to athletic director David Brandon that Rodriguez is incapable of successfully leading the Michigan program, it's safe to say that the 52-14 Gator Bowl debacle against Mississippi State should.

Sure, the offense started strong. In 10 plays and nearly four minutes, Denard Robinson drove the offense 78 yards—including 46 yards of his own on the ground—to take an early 7-0 lead on Robinson's 10-yard toss to Roy Roundtree.

They looked dominant offensively, and Robinson seemed primed for another huge statistical day.

But it was all downhill from there. And by downhill, we're talking "Hermann Maier crashing at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics" downhill.

Not only did the defense give up 52 points to the 60th-ranked scoring offense in the land, but it looked horrendous in doing it.

From defensive players running onto the field late for a goal-line play after a time out (shockingly, Mississippi State scored a touchdown) to looking like high schoolers trying to defend Bulldogs quarterback Chris Relf (18-for-23 passing, 281 yards, 3 touchdowns) and tackle tailback Vick Ballard (77 yards rushing, 3 touchdowns), it was an absolute embarrassment for the Michigan defense.

Sure, a good portion of that blame falls—quite deservedly—on defensive coordinator Greg Robinson. Robinson must be shown the door after what Chris Spielman has called the worst Michigan defensive season ever.

"It is the worst Michigan defense in the history of Michigan football," he said on his radio show prior to the Ohio State game. "They're so bad. They can't tackle. ... I don't know how they got this bad on defense.

"And everyone says, 'Yeah, they're all young, they're all coming back.' Well, yeah, they're all coming back, they're on the worst defense in the NCAA. Is that so exciting for ya?"

But let's be fair to Rodriguez. The defense has stunk from the beginning. Entering the Gator Bowl, Robinson's crew was ranked 102nd in the FBS, 94th against the run and 111th against the pass.

But with four-plus weeks to prepare, still, this is the best you can do for a less-than-vaunted Mississippi State offensive squad? That simply won't cut it.

But there are several other major reasons that Rodriguez needs to be fired.


First, backup quarterback Tate Forcier was ruled academically ineligible for the New Year's Day bowl game.

Don't get me wrong, I respect Rodriguez for keeping him out of the bowl game after Forcier didn't "meet university standards." In fact, maybe the NCAA could learn a little something from it based on the way that they've treated Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes found guilty of their recent violations.

But a big part of this falls on Rodriguez. He's the one responsible for cultivating an environment within the football program in which Forcier—and all of the other players—takes his studies seriously enough to want to work hard enough in the classroom to continue being a part of the program.

Would Forcier have made a difference in the bowl game against Mississippi State? Probably not, but this kind of thing can't happen.


The second piece of damning evidence against Rodriguez? The Wolverines offense was terrible!

After the first drive, Denard Robinson ran nine times for 12 yards. The consistently underachieving running back corps of Michael Shaw, Vincent Smith, Fitz Toussaint and Kelvin Grady ran a total of 14 times for 27 yards.

There were at least a half-dozen dropped passes as Robinson tried to force the ball into wideouts down the field.

For being such a purported offensive mastermind, RichRod's crew didn't show up on New Year's Day.


Third, special teams was disastrous. A missed 35-yard field goal on Brendan Gibbons only attempt of the game? A blocked punt on Will Hagerup's only attempt of the game?

There's a reason teams use special teams, all the way up from high school to high-end college and professional football: Punting and kicking field goals are more effective than going for it on fourth down every time.

This Michigan team is clearly incapable of doing either, and that's not going to win you a lot of games against top-25 opponents.


Another piece of this horrendous loss to Mississippi State is the negative effect it will no doubt have on recruiting.

With wunderkind running back Dee Hart trying to decide between Michigan, Alabama and Florida, which school do you think he'd most like to attend following Saturday's bowl results?

One just one season removed from a national title that crushed a one-loss Michigan State team 49-7? One that beat Joe Paterno and Penn State 37-24 in the Outback Bowl?

Or one that lost by 38 points to a middling Mississippi State squad?

I'm not sure Hart has made his decision yet, but something tells me Michigan's blowout loss hasn't helped its chances of getting him.

And this is the larger problem. Nothing Rodriguez has done since he was hired has helped the program in a lasting way.

Yes, we've seen a bit of progress over the last three years, but it's not enough for one of the finest programs in college football. Unless, of course, Brandon and the higher-ups in Ann Arbor are content no longer being one of those elite programs.