Rich Rodriguez, in the darkest moments of his career, seems to draw heavily upon his past experiences. Judged by the volume of the telling, he is particularly informed by his time at Salem, back in 1988, when he had to endure the cruel irony of losing his job after the football program permanently shut its doors. The way he speaks, without bitterness, is especially instructive to himself and to others. It conveys many of his feelings about perspective and preservation, and is a firm reminder that success rarely comes all at once.
But it also captures the sensibilities of a man who is presently isolated from many of the people and events that surround him. The tragedy of a coach—or any person, really—is that the institution will endure beyond the circumstances of any single person. This is particularly true for a man who was never truly been a part of the institution to begin with. Fans may eventually move on and remember only with distaste these few unpleasant years, but Rodriguez deserves better. He deserves to succeed.
Others, perhaps, have not been swayed by him, and won't mind if he is fired, but I have come to find that it is far more congenial to root for Rodriguez as a man. We have been conditioned to distrust someone who appears genuine. However, I think that he is simply a genuine person.
If he is, indeed, quickly falling out of favor, then the Gator Bowl certainly isolates him further to the fringes. Each successive blowout is a souring experience, and excuses alone, however well-meaning his mistakes, cannot keep him insulated for long. The last three years have eroded trust in his ability and demoralized loyalists, who have become increasingly small in number. Eventually, the negative aura will turn away recruits and become self-perpetuating. That cannot be allowed to continue.
In a better world, perhaps, Rodriguez would receive all the opportunities that could be afforded to him, but in reality the margin of error was always thin. And at the end of the day, there were too many things—the Woolfolk injury, the Cissoko freakout, Warren's draft mistake and the Pryor decision—that simply conspired against him.
For now, the fate of Rich Rodriguez is well beyond his control, if he ever had control of his fate to begin with. It is also, probably, beyond the control of Dave Brandon. This is now Jim Harbaugh’s program if he desires it. He has kept his cards very close to his chest, but the growing consensus around the NFL that Harbaugh may end up in Michigan at least bodes well for that potential alliance.
Harbaugh, for his part, has certainly been romanticized by Michigan fans and, as he continues to win, nearly mythologized. However, even romanticism has its uses. It creates the excitement amongst fans, boosters and potential recruits that has clearly been waning in the wake of so many demeaning losses.
But no matter what happens Michigan is dealing with the prospects of an uncertain future. If Harbaugh is hired, then he faces a steep rebuilding project and potentially a large turnover of players. I think that every Michigan fan will admit that they have been swept up in the possibilities of the Rodriguez offense, and it will be disappointing to lose that. Denard Robinson is an immense representative of the university; his fate would become unclear.
If, on the other hand, Rodriguez is retained, then it will feel as if Michigan has settled for a coach who they don't necessarily want in the first place, which could undermine his authority; the terms of allegiance will be very thin. The program will be weary and could go south upon the first signs of trouble.
One thing is for certain, however. This is the decision that will come to define Brandon's tenure, not longer after he was first hired. It is not an enviable position.