In case you haven't heard by now Rich Rodriguez can't coach in the Big Ten. That's right, you heard it here: Coach Rod is in over his head in a major powerhouse conference.
Of course, these statements are meant to be funny, but for the past year and a half, most of us Michigan fans have been subjected to these types of comments frequently.
These assertions usually come either from one of our rival schools, or an extremely jaded Michigan fan upset about a 3-9 season. With the former, I generally take the trash talking in stride because I assume it is meant to get under the skin of the Wolverine fan base, in which case I tell the troll to go back under her bridge or simply ignore her completely.
In the case of the latter, there is often even less you can do, other tell them to be patient. In any case, most of these ideas about Rodriguez' inability to coach at a high level stem from a single source, and I'm not just talking about envy and fear.
With the recruiting game having such a heavy focus these days, we have to explore the possibility of negative recruiting. It's ugly, but it's as common as any political ad out there.
The idea that coaching staffs and opposing fan bases would like potential commitments to embrace is that the Spread Offense is gimmicky, or at least how Rich runs it.
The perception being created (by some) is that Coach Rod has only had marginal success, and only at one institution (West Virginia)—that he has never been successful at developing players for the NFL, and that no one would draft his players.
Assuming the Big East is the paper tiger of BCS conferences, and that Pat White was an irreplaceable, one of a kind athlete, we can logically conclude Rich Rod's success was just an aberration, not Michigan's 3-9 season.
Or can we assume anything? I think the only fair way to settle the debate is a little fact-based logic. To gauge whether or not Coach Rod can coach at a high level, we need to dig a little deeper into his resume!
TULANE GREEN WAVE (1997-1998)
In 1997, Rich Rodriguez went from being mostly a small school coach to a Division I-A (now FBS) coach. His first stop at this level was as an offensive coordinator for Tulane University, where Rodriguez also served as the quarterbacks coach.
Tulane was 7-4 in 1997 (second in Conference USA), with Shaun King throwing for 2,577 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Tulane posted a record of 12-0 in 1998, with the offense scoring 540 points total, averaging 45 per contest! The Green Wave also finished the season in the Top 10 in the nation—number seven in both the AP poll and the Coaches poll.
King threw for 3,495 yards and 38 touchdowns with an NCAA efficiency record of 183.3! He was also drafted in the second round by The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
CLEMSON TIGERS (1999-2000)
After his stint at Tulane, Rich Rod then moved with Coach Tommy Bowden to Clemson University. He was not only the offensive coordinator, but was also named Associate Head Coach. The first season was average in terms of their final record (6-6), but Clemson was second (5-3) in what was at the time a highly respected ACC.
In 2000, Clemson finished second again in the ACC with a final record of 9-3, and they also played in the "Bowden Bowl" losing 17-14 to national contender Florida State. Woody Dantzler would go on to become the first QB to both pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (2001-2007)
This was Rich Rodriguez' first opportunity to be a head coach on what is now the FBS level. Certainly, his resume before this time warranted this type of offer, as did his history as an alum, former player, and graduate assistant at West Virginia.
His first season wasn't anything close to a success on paper, with a record of 3-8.
The next season, West Virginia bounced back with a 9-4 campaign—losing their bowl game, but finishing second in the Big East (6-1), a six game increase from 2001.
West Virginia would go on to win eight games in each of the next two seasons, sharing the conference title in both 2003 and 2004.
Then from 2005-2007 West Virginia finished with 11 wins all three seasons. They also won BCS bowl games against Oklahoma and Georgia during this time period, going 3-0 in bowl games. Many attribute this to Pat White, but Rodriguez also pulled in a few excellent classes between 2002 and 2004.
Many people would like us to think that Rich Rod's only success as a coach came in 2005-2007, or that his accomplishments before that time 'aren't that impressive.' I tend to disagree for a handful of reasons, aside from four conference titles Rod won at Glenville State I haven't even mentioned yet. (Rodriguez' was NAIA coach of the year in 1993.)
First of all, he played a major role in the development of stellar teams before he coached at WVU, particularly teams that excelled offensively (his role on said teams). In 1998, Tulane was a top 10 team nationally with a very efficient passing game, and had a QB who was drafted into the NFL because he was coached and prepared for that level.
Clemson won nine regular season games in 2000 in an ACC that rivaled other major conferences at that time. This was also a time when teams played only 11 regular season games without scheduling as many cupcakes, so is pretty much a 10 win equivalent—quite an accomplishment for a school that was 3-8 in 1998.
In addition, Rich Rodriguez had already won two Big East titles before Pat White ever took a snap, and before Steve Slaton ever had one carry. West Virginia finished in the top two in their conference the final six years of Rich's era. T
he major difference over the last three years was bowl victories, which was a product of finding the right type of guys. This is something that can be easily done at a school like Michigan.
They did so playing the likes of Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College annually, and without the talent of guys like Pat White and Steve Slaton. In fact, if you look at who they played over Rod's entire time there, it was a very tough slate.
Pittsburgh, South Florida, Louisville, Rutgers, Connecticut and Cincinnati have all had some good teams over the past five years.
Of course, there will always be detractors. There will always be those who point to one or two specific games where the play calling seemed suspect, and more power to them. A coach should never be above reproach.
Jim Tressel, for example is one of the best coaches out there, but has a reputation for being too conservative. So...
Ohio State can't win the big games, Lloyd Carr couldn't beat the Buckeyes, John Cooper couldn't beat Michigan, and Rich Rodriguez didn't feel he could rely on throwing downfield with his personnel, so he became predictable at times at West Virginia.
You can always question a coach's decisions, and you should, but ultimately, the best look at the man to see what he's made of is from the big picture standpoint.
That is simply something we don't have enough of to judge Rod at Michigan yet.
P.S. Michigan fans who don't support Coach Rodriguez, or no longer want him...I'll leave you with these words from The Rolling Stones.
"You can't always get what you want...I said you can't always get what you want, but if you'll TRY sometimes, you might FIND...you get what you NEED!"
All in for Michigan 2009 and Go Blue!!!