It was a stretch of Michigan football that most Wolverines supporters would like to forget: Rich Rodriguez’s three-year tenure as head coach.
But that era is in the rearview mirror, as Brady Hoke has done a superb job in recruiting and restoring some of the luster Wolverines football had before he arrived. Hoke has won 19 games during his first two seasons—including a 2012 win that snapped Michigan's four-game losing streak to Michigan State. That is four more wins than Rodriguez managed in three years (15-22).
Far from the so-so recruiting classes under Rodriguez, Hoke's 2013 class was No. 5 in the nation, according to 247Sports.com, and his 2014 class is No. 1 and includes Jabrill Peppers, the No. 1-ranked athlete in the class.
That’s no coincidence, either.
Michigan’s place among big-time programs has been reclaimed because of the extraordinary efforts by Hoke’s staff. Although the Michigan name sells itself in many cases, Rodriguez couldn’t peddle the brand well enough to crack the top 10 in 247Sports.com’s rankings, landing No. 11, 16 and 26 classes from 2009 to 2011.
Judging by that trend, it’s safe to assume that Rodriguez wouldn’t have fared much better in 2012 and 2013. Instead of top-tier collections, the Wolverines' roster probably would have been filled with similar talent not geared for the type of power football that’s made Michigan a household name.
Transfers are not uncommon after a coaching change. And upon Rodriguez's arrival, offensive guard Justin Boren and quarterback Ryan Mallett both left for greener pastures—Boren went to Ohio State and evolved into an All-Big Ten lineman; Mallett, the No. 2 quarterback of 2007, according to Rivals.com, joined Arkansas and later entered the NFL.
What if Mallett stuck around? Would his presence have commanded the attention of high-caliber wide receivers, prompting a resurgence in Michigan’s offensive firepower?
What impact would Boren have made?
That’s up for debate, too.
Rodriguez didn’t exactly recruit no-name guys, but his spread-style offense and desire for smaller, faster defensive players was his downfall. Some of Carr’s players didn’t welcome the change of operation, on or off the field.
Before packing for Columbus, Boren expressed his frustration in Rodriguez’s tactics during an interview with the Associated Press (via ESPN.com) in 2008:
Michigan football was a family, built on mutual respect and support for each other from [former] Coach [Lloyd] Carr on down. …I have great trouble in accepting that those family values have eroded in just a few months.
Would the lack of “family values” deter the likes of 2013 star recruits such as quarterback Shane Morris and Derrick Green? What about 2014 gems such as Lawrence Marshall, Drake Harris and Peppers?
If Rodriguez was still running the ship in Ann Arbor, those players probably wouldn’t have committed to Michigan.
Important Rivalries, Lack of Competitive Fire
Michigan State and Ohio State are must-win games for Michigan, regardless of who’s coaching.
Carr knew it. Gary Moeller understood. And Bo Schembechler—perhaps more than anyone—had an ironclad comprehension of what beating the Buckeyes (and the Spartans) meant for the Wolverines.
Rodriguez, though, didn’t—that was the popular thought. But he disagreed.
Regarding the Ohio State rivalry, Rodriguez told reporters in 2009, via former AnnArbor.com writer Dave Birkett:
Just because I did not coach here before, I did not play here, I'm not from the state of Michigan, doesn't mean I don't understand the rivalry Trust me, I understand the importance of the rivalry.
Zero—that’s how many wins Rodriguez had against Ohio State, which was embroiled in NCAA difficulties under Jim Tressel, and Michigan State, which was rebuilding under coach Mark Dantonio.
Rodriguez’s comment of “I understand the importance of the rivalry” rang hollow.
Hoke is 1-1 against the Buckeyes. Ohio State has owned the Wolverines for the past decade, but Rodriguez would likely be sitting at 0-5 versus his program’s bitter rival.
The same could be said for Michigan’s series with the Spartans. If not for a 12-10 win in 2012, Michigan would be suffering through a five-year drought against its in-state foe.
Rodriguez never had Michigan ranked higher than No. 18. Hoke’s Wolverines are No. 9 entering 2013, according to ESPN.com’s preseason poll.
The What-Would-Be Under Rodriguez
Michigan fell short of expectations with an 8-5 record in 2012. That was a far cry from the 11-win campaign Hoke engineered in 2011.
But, in hindsight, Hoke’s first two seasons were superior when compared with three-, five- and seven-win seasons under Rodriguez. With Hoke in charge, expecting 10 wins each fall is the norm. Had Rodriguez maintained the reins of the program, Michigan’s forecast wouldn’t have been as promising.
Michigan would be a middle-of-the-road team with fans begging for more if Rodriguez still called the shots. Losses to Ohio State would only beckon cries for the good old days when the two programs challenged each other for national and conference titles.
Ohio State has gotten back on track under Urban Meyer, who would have feasted on Rodriguez year after year.
With Rodriguez, who is now the coach at Arizona, the future of Michigan football would have been nothing like its glorious past.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81