Perhaps we shouldn't have expected so much.
To the dismay of many a Michigan fan, the Wolverines were simply outplayed by Mississippi State in every way in this year's edition of the Progressive Gator Bowl. After grabbing a 14-10 lead early in the game, the Bulldogs scored 42 unanswered points and beat Michigan 52-14. The Wolverines were ineffective on both sides of the ball, with an inability to tackle (in space or otherwise) on defense, and a lack of production on offense. The anemic offense was especially painful, after all that we were promised as a part of the spread offense coming to Ann Arbor.
I'll allow other writers to cover the game itself. The discussion among the Michigan faithful now turns to the fate of Rich Rodriguez.
Athletic director Dave Brandon has said that he will evaluate Rodriguez and his coaching staff after the bowl game. Many have said that the Gator Bowl was simply the final nail in the coffin for Rodriguez, after three seasons with records of 3-9, 5-7, and 7-6, including a 6-18 record in Big Ten play. Not only that, he's 0-3 against Michigan State, and 0-3 against arch-rival Ohio State. His only winning record against a rival is a 2-1 record against Notre Dame.
In addition to poor records, highly recruited players have left, the NCAA has been put the program on probation for extra practice time, and Michigan has simply become an afterthought in college football, a sort of "Remember When?" institution.
To top it all off, Rich Rodriguez is not a "Michigan Man."
All of this would seem a damning indictment of Rodriguez and his attempt to modernize Michigan with the spread offense, and with that, it appears reason enough to bring Jim Harbaugh, Les Miles, or someone else to Ann Arbor to return Big Blue to glory.
However, I believe a closer look is in order.
Yes, two losing seasons and losing record for three years is extremely for a mighty program such as Michigan. However, many fans have truly underestimated the difficulty of bringing in a new system after decades (in fact, over a century) of running a single system. I realize many will say that this is just a lazy excuse, but no coach in the history of Michigan football has had to make such drastic changes, with Rodriguez having to go against the grain of not only players, but fans as well. Michigan has been improving record-wise, and this can continue with more work.
The loss of recruits is, unfortunately, an inevitable part of this sort of change. These were players recruited for Lloyd Carr's pound-it-out, pro-style offense, and simply didn't fit in the fast-paced spread. Many players actually left the program on good terms with Rodriguez and his staff, with the exception of a few. This allowed Rodriguez to fill holes with his own recruits, which fit better in the spread. Despite a lack of on-field production, a continued push toward the spread will certainly yield results in the future.
The NCAA investigation of Michigan has become one of the biggest bones of contention among the anti-Rodriguez lobby. Michigan has never dealt with such things, they contend. He's brought the stain of probation upon the school!
Hold on a second. What exactly were the violations, anyway? The NCAA found that Michigan allotted too much time for practice, and they apparently paid a few too many coaches. Rich Rodriguez himself was never found guilty of the single brought against him, that of "failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance." Much of this controversy stems from the "reporting" of the Detroit Free Press, namely Michael Rosenberg. Rosenberg was never a fan of the Rodriguez hire, and has had no qualms about making that known to his readers. He clearly had an agenda in talking to the players who leaked this information, and he was all too ready to ruin Rich Rodriguez's attempts to coach the team. The violations were most certainly overblown, and cannot be taken at face value.
My biggest bone of contention comes from the assertion at Rich Rodriguez is not a "Michigan Man." To many, this means that Michigan's coach must come from the Bo Schembechler coaching lineage, like Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr. After all, it was Bo himself who coined the term!
This is a shining example of taking someone's words and twisting and distorting them to fit into others' agendas. The term originated in 1989, when Bill Frieder, head coach of Michigan's men's basketball team, took the job at Arizona State, but stated his intent to coach through the NCAA tournament. Schembechler, then athletic director, immediately fired Frieder, proclaiming that "only a Michigan man should coach Michigan."
What angers me is that Bo's words in no way discourage non-Michigan-affiliated from coming to Ann Arbor to coach. What Bo Schembechler is really speaking out against are people who come to coach, and then proceed to not honor their commitment. Frieder made the mistake of leaving Michigan for another school. What Bo wanted was dedication.
Almost all of the coaches in Michigan's history came from outside the Michigan system; Bo himself coached under Woody Hayes at Ohio State, and even admitted to still having his Gold Pants from beating Michigan back in those days. The great Fielding Yost came from West Virginia, just like Rich Rodriguez. The only coach to come from Michigan was Harry Kipke. Gary Moeller played at Ohio State and coached at Miami of Ohio and Illinois before settling down in Ann Arbor, and Lloyd Carr played at Missouri and coached at several high schools and the University of Illinois before coming to Michigan in 1980.
The myth of the "Michigan Man" has been created over the years as a means of mitigating change and staying locked in tradition. In reality, it has only served to limit this teams progress and prevent need change from coming.
A far better off-the-field gauge of saying is Bo's idea of loyalty and dedication. Someone who is "All In for Michigan." This is the saying we as fans need to live by. Rich Rodriguez may have had a messy split with West Virginia, but since coming to Ann Arbor, he has shown himself to be a dedicated coach who seems genuinely concerned with bringing Michigan back to contender status. He appears to be "All In for Michigan," and he is doing the best he can in the face of adversity. No matter where our coaches come from, all we should ask of them, besides good on-field performance, is loyalty and dedication. With enough hard work and the support of players and fans, Michigan can be successful under Rich Rodriguez. All he needs is the chance to do so with his players and personnel, free of the baggage of the previous system.
I certainly don't envy Dave Brandon's task, but in the end I only hope that the decision he makes is the right one. Just like every other else, I only want what's best for, as Bo once said, "the team, the team, the team."