Fear and Loathing in Ann Arbor

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Fear and Loathing in Ann Arbor

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Michigan fans are spoiled.  I know this because I’m one of them.  The first Michigan game I ever watched was the 1997 opener, a 27-3 dismantling of #8 Colorado.  11 wins and one Heisman Trophy later, the team captured its first National Title since 1948.  I was hooked.

I’ve never seen my team have a losing season or not play in a bowl game, but I could tell that the program was slipping a bit in the last few years of Lloyd Carr’s tenure.  Besides the struggles with that team from down south and the debacles with Appalachian State and Oregon, the offense had gotten stale. 

Lloyd’s strategy, based on that of Bo’s, was that if you were bigger and stronger than the other team and out-executed them, you would win.  This philosophy worked pretty well, for the most part, against the Eastern Michigans, Minnesotas, and Iowas of the world, but when it came time to play teams such as Ohio State and USC, the results were usually not as pleasant. 

Enter Rich Rodriguez: successful coach, offensive innovator, and object of scorn for everyone from Morgantown to White Sulphur Springs.  He brought with him a playbook based on speed and deception, a legendary cage-fighting strength and conditioning guru with pet wolves as well as a youthful energy and change to a program that had remained essentially unchanged for 40 years. 

Fast forward to Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008.  Toledo (yes, Toledo has a football team) 13, Michigan 10.  Following the game, I hear grown men casting obscenities down on 18-22 year old collegiate athletes.  Among the more tame grumblings:  “Uhhhh, this s*** only works in the Big East!!!,” “Lloyd was a less predictable play-caller than Rodriguez,” “Go back to West Virginia.”

This last one was the one that irritated me the most.  Surely enough, it would be repeated in various forms on the internet, on sports radio, and in the local papers.  I’ve finally come to realize that there are more delusional, unrealistic, incorrigible Michigan fans than I thought.  In less than a week, I’ve come to dislike these people more than Domers, Spartys, and Bucknuts alike. 

These are people who believe that winning is a birthright. They see trying new things as a recipe for ruin and even though virtually every top program in the country has gone through a rough transition phase over the last 10-20 years, they think it won’t happen to us because, “We’re Michigan.” 

And, invariably, these are also the people who make fun of Notre Dame fans for their “arrogance.” 

The calls for RichRod’s axing are everywhere.  Yes, there are actually a lot of people advocating the firing of a coach who is six games into his first season at this school.  They claim that he is destroying the program, killing tradition, and that we’d be better off just getting rid of him now before he completely brings the House of Schembechler crashing to the ground. 

They’ve even started a website to spread their incendiary propaganda.  I will not dignify them by mentioning it by name, needless to say it has the word “fire” in it. 

Another discovery I’ve made in the last few days is that these websites are actually staples of every big-time college program.  There are sites dedicated to the epic crusades against Les Miles (the anti-RR people touch themselves when they think about him), Urban Meyer, Mack Brown, the man who wears the Vest, Bob Stoops, and even Pete Carroll. 

It does make me feel a little better to know that most fanbases have a group of hyper-delusional, over-critical summer soldiers and sunshine patriots.  I guess it just took a really bad season to see them in my midst for the first time.

Without further ado, I will attempt to further marginalize these people through my defense of RichRod.


Exhibit A: Firing him would show sheer stupidity and be counterproductive.

Let’s imagine for a moment that the Monday following this weekend’s game against Penn State (probably a loss), Michigan A.D. Bill Martin holds a press conference.  He announces that due to poor on-the-field performance, as well as pressure from alumni and fans, he has decided to let Coach Rod go.  Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee will finish out the season as head coach, and another hire will be made thereafter. 

There is absolutely no way that any decent coach would leave a stable job to come to Michigan knowing that the school fired Rodriguez only halfway through his first season.  Better coaches (Miles, Stoops, Meyer, Carroll) would avoid Bill Martin like the plague, as would most lesser coaches.  Inevitably, Michigan would be stuck either hiring from within or going out and getting a guy with much less of a track record than Rodriguez. 

Recruits, commits and non-commits alike, would drop Michigan like it’s hot.  Who would want to go to a school knowing that if you stayed for the full four or five years, you might end up playing for two or three or four coaches?

All in all, Michigan would immediately go from being a 1-2 year rebuilding job to a 3-4 year one at best.  Firing RichRod would create exponentially more problems than it would solve. 

Exhibit B: Rich Rodriguez is a very good coach.

The aforementioned sunshine patriots hate to admit this because it punches a big hole in their argument.  RichRod is arguably one of the top 10 coaches in the country.  If you don’t want to put him in the top 10, you cannot put him any lower than 15. 

This assertion is based solely on his track record.  He has had success at every single school where he has coached (minus his first job, Salem, where the school dumped the football program after his first year). 

As the head coach of D-II Glenville State, he led the Pioneers to four straight first place finishes in their conference.  As offensive coordinator at Tulane under Tommy Bowden, he helped the team to a perfect 1998 season in which the team went 12-0 and QB Shaun King set the NCAA record for single-season passing efficiency. He followed Bowden to Clemson the following year and proceeded to help turn QB’s Woody Dantzler and Willie Simmons (yes, THE Willie Simmons) into darkhorse Heisman Trophy contenders. 

Following a 3-8 initial season as head coach at West Virginia, the Mountaineers won no fewer than eight games every year from 2002-2007, including three straight 11-win seasons and two BCS Bowl wins from 2005-2007 (I know he didn’t coach the Fiesta Bowl against OU, but those were his players, his coaches, and his offense). 

Conclusion

The bottom line, although the Rod haters will not want to hear it, is that he will not be fired, nor should he be.  Bill Martin stuck by Lloyd through thick and thin, and the only times firing Carr was even mentioned came when the subject was brought up by a reporter or writer. 

Martin is not an idiot, although being out on a sailboat with his cell phone turned off while the whole Herbstreit-Miles-SEC Championship fiasco was taking place did not reflect well on him.  He will give Rodriguez plenty of time to build the program and prove himself.  Based on history and barring unforeseen events, success will surely follow. 

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."

RichRod is not going anywhere.  Sorry, Clemson fans.

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