Michigan Wolverines: Rich Rodriguez May Be Safe But Assistants Should Not
In his season-ending press conference, Rich Rodriguez said he would evaluate all of his coaches and make changes as he saw fit. I’ll believe that when I see it.
Rodriguez also said before the Capital One Bowl that he would adapt his system to his players...we can all agree that didn’t happen. The interesting thing is that Rodriguez has been described as being extremely loyal to his staff, loyal to a fault. Almost all his staff has been with him from the start, and I don’t see him cutting longtime friends after one year.
Ironically enough, Lloyd Carr’s critics said the same thing, even though he let go of Jim Herrmann and Terry Malone, among others. Here is my breakdown of each position coach and how I would change the staff. If RichRod makes no changes to his staff, I have no idea how he will sell that to the Michigan fan base, but if he can pull that off he could sell sand in the desert.
Calvin MaGee—Offensive Coordinator
Michigan’s offense ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten, and the entire country for that matter, the passing game was horrific, and the running game was OK at best. What was most concerning was the fact that there didn’t seem to be any adjustments throughout the season.
Rather, it seemed Michigan ran the same three passing plays-bubble screen left, bubble screen right, deep ball on the sidelines-and three running plays-sweep right, sweep left, and up the middle, all season long. The tight ends were an after thought and apparently you are not allowed to throw over the middle in RichRod’s spread. Add to all that McGee throwing Threet under the bus in the media by saying the QB was “consistently inconsistent, same as always” and McGee is as much to blame for Michigan’s woes this season as Rich.
However, McGee has been with Rich from the start and he calls Rich’s plays. They have a track record of looking like a terrible high school offense in year one and then turning things around in year two. They better hope they repeat that feat in Ann Arbor in 2009.
Coaching status—totally safe
Greg Frey—Offensive Line
One of the main reasons for Michigan’s struggles moving the ball this season started up front. The line lost four starters, including number one draft pick Jake Long. The only returning linemen was Stephen Schilling and the team went with six different starting combinations throughout 2008, including converting a defensive tackle into an offensive linemen.
Frey gets a break for the youth of the line, however, this is still Michigan and it’s not like Lloyd Carr was recruiting offensive linemen whose offers read Eastern Michigan, Rice, Temple, and Michigan. The guys waiting in the wings were all 4 star guys who had offers from Michigan, Ohio State, and Texas among others. It’s also not like Michigan just switched to a zone blocking scheme this year, Carr made that switch back before the ‘06 season, so they were familiar with the system.
The line was perhaps one of the most disappointing parts of the team, it also didn’t help they they didn’t improve all that much either. Still, with 4 new starters you give Frey the benefit of the doubt, next year he won’t be able to play the inexperience card.
Fred Jackson—Running Backs
The lone holdover from Carr’s staff, and for good reason. Jackson completed his 17th season at Michigan and is regarded across the country as one of the best running back coaches in the country. He has coached Michigan backs from Hart, to Perry, to Thomas, to Wheatley.
This year he inherited two true freshmen in Shaw and McGuffie and two players who did not see the field much behind Hart last year in Minor and Brown. Jackson also had to adjust to a new running scheme-mainly running more to the outside and out of the shotgun formation.
McGuffie started off with a bang, being the started for much of the first half of the season until he hit a wall and Minor took over the job from there. Shaw showed flashes of brilliance, but like McGuffie, needs to put on some weight in the off season. Brown, who battled injuries all year, showed he is a capable back in the Northwestern game.
Considering the backs were running behind one of the more porous lines in Michigan history you have to tip your hat to the job Jackson did both developing his group and getting yards in games.
Coaching status—totally safe
Tony Dews—Wide Receivers
The receiving core took a hit when both Arrington and Manningham decided to forgo their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft early. Greg Mattews stepped into the No. 1 spot and true freshmen Odoms and Stonum filled out the rest of the spots.
Right up there with the offensive line, the wide receivers were a major disappointment. Yes they were young, but there was almost no improvement from the Utah game to the Ohio State game.
This is where you question RichRod by letting longtime Michigan receiver coach Erik Campbell go in favor of Dews. Campbell was regarded as one of the top coaches and he did his job well. He coached a long line of great receivers at Michigan including Manningham, Arrington, Breston, Edwards, Avant, Walker, Terrell, and Streets. Under Campbell, you knew Michigan receivers were going to run clean, crisp routes, come back to the football to help out the QB, and run block, because if you didn’t, you did not play.
This year the receivers failed at all three of those things. Their routes were sloppy, they got almost zero separation from the defensive backs, they hardly ever came back to the football, and the run blocking left much to be desired. Setting up the block on the wrong side is acceptable only in the first few games; it is not acceptable as a year long trend.
Yes, losing Manningham and Arrington hurt, but Matthews was a solid receiver last year and Stonum was a highly regarded WR prospect out of high school and he was hardly ever noticed on the field. Odoms got most of the passes but a majority of these were behind the line of scrimmage and he struggled to catch the ball down the field.
Coaching status—should be let go
Should we really be calling Smith a “quarterback coach”? Maybe we should just call him the second running backs coach. Pat White’s throwing ability leaves much to be desired and there is a reason why NFL scouts are looking to him as more of a WR than a pro QB. This will be the trend of Michigan QBs. No longer will Michigan fans see the Hennes, Navarres, Hensons, or Bradys of the football world, but rather a QB who can run first and throw second.
Much of the success to those great Michigan QBs can be credited to Scott Loeffler who is now coaching QBs in the NFL. No doubt Leoffler would have been able to help Threet and Sheridan with their throwing motion, delivery, and decision making.
Did we really see any improvement in these areas with Threet and Sheridan? The answer would be an empathic no. There seemed to be a common trend this year where there were no noticeable improvements in any area of the team as the season moved forward. Threet and Sheridan are pretty much the same QBs now as they were in August.
However, what Leoffler would have been able to correct in the passing game he would not have in the run option part of the system, and let’s face it, this is what Rich wants to run, and thus, is the most important part of the quarterbacks coach’s job. It hurt to see Leoffler leave, and I am sure he will find himself as an offensive coordinator one day, but you knew his leaving was inevitable once Rich took the job. We can only hope Michigan finds a “quarterback” who can make all the runs and just be efficient enough in the passing game.
Coaching status—totally safe
Bruce Tall—Defensive Line
This is sort of the good and the bad. The defensive line was undoubtedly the strength of the 2008 Wolverines, but they also underachieved. You took one look at the line on paper and it looked like one of the strongest units Michigan had ever had; it didn’t turn out that way.
With names like Jamison, Johnson, Taylor, and Graham, the line was going to carry the team and keep the Wolverines in games. What ended up happening was the line would play great for a half or so and then get ripped by the running game in the other half. Or, as we saw against Ohio State, they would bottle up a running back and then—BAM—one run for 60 yards and a touchdown. A part of this was the time of possession that put Michigan’s defense on the field for the majority of the game every Saturday, and that wears on any team.
However, the thing that made most Michigan fans scratch their heads was the use of three down linemen throughout the year. When you know your front four is your best unit why would you intentionally take away one of those players and use only three of them? And Taylor was rotated out in favor of freshmen Martin, who played great as a true freshman, but he is no Taylor, who should have been out there on every 3rd down.
The three down linemen is inexcusable as far as I’m concerned and who ever pushed to use it should be fired. There is no explanation that could possibly warrant taking away one of your best players off the field in key situations. More on this latter.
Coaching status—on the hot seat, but safe
Who knew the loss of Crable would make this unit such a weak spot? Ezeh was a man among boys to start the season but seemed to struggle as the season wore on. However, this was the one spot that was pretty bare by Carr’s staff.
Last year Crable was able to use his speed to cover mistakes made by his fellow linebackers and Ezeh was just starting to come along. Other than that the unit was weak and thin and Hopson didn’t inherit much. Unlike the other units you saw steps from the linebackers, they may have been baby steps, but they were steps none the less. Mouton was able to correctly fill gaps and make tackles as the season moved forward and Ezeh was solid in the middle.
Yikes. I guess if we are to fully understand the secondary issue we must go back a few years to 2006. Michigan has the best defense in the land, except for that pesky secondary giving up huge yards. Carr tried to hide it by saying Michigan stopped the run so well teams were forced to throw more and that resulted in the yards threw the air. Then came Ohio State and USC, who torched the secondary into oblivion.
Carr then hired Vance Bedford, who was last seen in Ann Arbor coaching Charles Woodson to the Heisman Trophy. Bedford worked his magic and turned Trent into a shutdown corner and made Warren look like the next great Michigan DB. The secondary was the best in the conference and eighth best in the country in 2007.
Rich let Bedford go, who is now at Florida, and Gibson inherited two shutdown corners. It all went wrong from there as Trent regressed back to his '06 form and Warren looked like a true freshman. The safety play was horrendous all season long as they bit on every single play action called. The secondary constantly took bad angles, did not stay in their back pedals long enough, and opened their hips too early.
No improvement at all as the season went on, in fact, they might have gotten worse. All of this is magnified because of the unbelievable job Bedford did in his one year at Michigan. This unit was without question the worst of the Michigan team.
Coaching status—should be let go
Scott Shafer—Defensive Coordinator
The strength of Michigan’s ’07 team became the biggest weakness, and that wasn’t supposed to happen. The offense was the unit that was to struggle, the defense was there to bail them out and keep Michigan in games, it didn’t happen that way.
In fact, Michigan’s defense was the more disappointing unit, and that’s with an offense that ranks dead last in the Big Ten. No doubt there has to be changes made on this side of the ball, but which coaches? Gibson should be gone regardless, but what about Shafer?
Usually when a defensive coordinator is hired he is given the green light to hire his position coaches. That didn’t happen with Shafer. Everyone on the defensive staff came with Rich from West Virginia and was in place when Shafer was hired. You could tell that there were differences in opinion of how the defense should run, should it be four or three down linemen?
West Virginia ran three down linemen and you could tell this was the problem. Shafer wanted four, but with all the struggles Michigan suddenly went to a 3-3-5, which is what West Virginia ran under Rich and Michigan was torn apart by a QB who was playing running back two weeks before. The next game against Minnesota it was back to four down linemen.
Something has to be done here. In my eyes there are two solutions 1) you allow Shafer to fire/hire all his position coaches and run the defense he wants, or 2) you let Shafer go and you bring in a guy who also runs a 3-3-5. Michigan cannot have another season of defensive ball like 2008. I’m betting scenario No. 2 plays out since Shafer is not part of the RichRod family.
Coaching status—most likely gone
Could we hire a special teams coach, too? Just sayin’.
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