Michigan Football: The Myths of Why Rich Rodriquez Failed at Rebuilding

Andrew MurphyContributor IIIJanuary 18, 2011

Now that the RichRod haters in Ann Arbor and Morgantown, WV are high-fiving themselves and buying another round at the bar for their buddies, because Rich Rodriguez has been fired from the Michigan job, its time to step back and separate the myths concerning his struggles while at Michigan.

The sports media,bloggers and fans are all chiming in on why the RichRod experiment failed, however most of these reasons are not supported by facts

Myth No. 1

RichRod's style of offense only works in 'over-rated Big East'

Similar arguments were made in 2005 when Urban Meyer was hired by Florida, two National Championships later, very few in the SEC still make arguments that a spread offense can't work against 'strong, physical' defenses. One should also point out two spread teams played for the BCS National Championship this year, Oregon and Auburn.

But more to the point, offense was not an issue at least this year for Michigan, despite their lackluster 7-6 season, Michigan ended up with 6353 yards of total offense for the 2010 season. Michigan went in 3 years from being 111th in total offense to sixth in the nation. Every single year, RichRod had been at Michigan, there had been an improvement in Big Ten wins, scoring, rushing and passing offense.

And much to amazement of those who don't follow Big Ten football, Michigan was not the only one running a spread offense in the conference. Penn State runs their own version of it(Spread HD) as does Indiana, Illinois and Northwestern. Joe Tiller until he retired in 2008 ran a very pass happy spread offense that got Purdue to the Rose Bowl in 2000 and nine other bowl games. So a spread offense does and can work in a big time conference like the Big Ten.

Myth No. 2

3-5 Stack Defense doesn't work in the Big Ten

No question that the Achilles heel of Michigan's 2010 season was its defense. Frankly, it leaked like a sieve. If Rich Rodriguez can point to one thing this year that probably cost him his job, it was having Michigan's defensive coordinator, Greg Robinson try and run a 3-5 Stack defense. Robinson had never run that style of defense before.It was obvious Michigan did not have the horses and Robinson was over his head, trying to run the Stack properly.

One of the biggest "What If's" of the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan is what would have happened if Jeff Casteel, the Defensive Coordinator at West Virginia had followed RichRod to Michigan instead of staying on Bill Stewart's staff. Casteel is one of the most under-appreciated defense coordinators in college football. His 3-5 Stack defenses at West Virginia have always finished in the Top 20 in total defense. The 2010 season Casteel's Mountaineers finished 2nd in the nation, allowing only 12.8 points a game.Casteel has been named Defensive Coordinator of the Year in 2007. Those who say the 3-5 Stack only works against 'soft' Big East opponents must have conveniently forget how West Virginia shut down Oklahoma's high octane offense in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl or this past season loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, Casteel's defense held LSU's offense nearly 10 points below their average for the season.

Florida Gators under Urban Meyer ran what was called a 'Joker Package' which is essentially 3-5 Stack under then Defensive Coordinator, Charlie Strong. The 2009 Gator defense led the SEC in sacks and holding other offenses to an average of 12.4 points per game.

Those who claim Michigan's failure at running the Stack after one year is proof it doesn't work in conferences like the Big 10 are simply misinformed.

Myth No. 3

RichRod was wrong to take the Michigan job and he got what he deserved

Rodriguez was the head coach for West Virginia for seven years. Just by comparison, Nick Saban stayed with LSU and Michigan State for five years each, Bobby Petrino with Louisville for four years and Urban Meyer with Utah for two years.

West Virginia is a great program but the fact of the matter is that there are some programs out there which nearly every head coach dreams of coaching for; Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, USC, Texas, Florida etc. RichRod had already turned down Alabama and as his relationship with the University about having total control of his football program at West Virginia deteriorated, RichRod obviously decided when Michigan called, he would listen.

And speaking of loyalty, while West Virginia fans and the University still are bitter about RichRod 'betrayal', the Mountaineers have not exactly shown loyalty in the post-Rodriguez era. Native son, head coach Bill Stewart is being forced out next year to make room for Iowa-born Dana Holgorsen. This all despite Stewart's 28-12 record at WVU plus a BCS bowl win under his belt. Another native son, Jeff Casteel, the defensive coordinator was once again passed up and not offered a chance to be head coach.

Many West Virginia Mountaineers can talk a good game about loyalty but it would be nice if they practice what they preach.

Myth No. 4

Change is easy

Fans and boosters expect change, immediately these days.Rodriguez came to Michigan and faced many obstacles. One of them was many boosters did not like him from the get go because he was not a "Michigan man". Second, Michigan has always been a smash-mouth, physical Big 10 program. Former Michigan coach, Bo Schembechler used to say after every loss, he should have run the football more.When Michigan hired Rodriguez they were not just hiring a new coach, but making a 360 degree change in the recruiting and philosophy of Michigan football. It is simply foolish to expect Big 10 titles and BCS Bowls after just three years. Even the much sought after Jim Harbaugh which has done such a great job at Stanford and who's name was whispered by Michigan fans as their football saviour never had to change football philosophy at Stanford. The Cardinals were already running a Pro-set offense when Harbaugh was hired.

Furthermore, many Michigan fans argued if Urban Meyer, Les Miles and Jim Tressel could win championships after two or three years, why couldn't Rodriguez?

Timing is everything.

Urban Meyer inherited a very talent rich, underperforming Florida team from Ron Zook, not to mention one of the best quarterbacks in the game at the time, Chris Leak. Les Miles similarly inherited some great talent signed on by Nick Saban and his staff Miles never changed fundamentally what Saban had been doing on offense or defense at Baton Rouge. Jim Tressel much like Urban Meyer, took an underperforming, Ohio State program which had 15 first round NFL draft picks on the roster, recruited by the former coach John Cooper and made them national champs the second year.

Perhaps Rich Rodriguez and Michigan both bit off more then they could chew. Rodriguez assumed that Michigan would tolerate the fact that things would at first get worse before they got better as he change the culture and philosophy of Michigan football. And Michigan thought they could get a quick fix, in no time they will be winning the Big 10 and having an high octane offense running up the score on Ohio State and Michigan State.

The Rodriguez experiment started off with a bang and ended with a whimper after three years, it didn't have to and its unfortunate because it could have worked, given time.



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