Is There More to The Michigan Story?

Donald FincherAnalyst IAugust 31, 2009

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 25:  Fans of the Michigan Wolverines cheer from the stands during the game against the Michigan State Spartans on October 25, 2008 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan State won the game 35-21. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

On it's face, the violation that the players are accusing the coaching staff of; abusive practice times way beyond the NCAA allowed time frames, are not that much of a bombshell.  Assuming this is the only violation and that more doesn't surface, it will most likely be met with only minor sanctions.  However, I don't think the violations are necessarily the big story.

Think about it...  UCF had a player die last year in practice.  Anyone that knows anything about Bear Bryant or who has seen the movie "The Junction Boys" knows how hard he worked them.  Several were hospitalized and at least one had to quit football.

This was prior to heavy NCAA regulation and before it was politically incorrect to question someone's manhood.  So excessive workouts were very common then and still are.  So that is obviously not the entire story.

I believe the real story is in the timing and the source of the story.  I understand that every journalist is about making a name for himself and a bombshell story like this one is good for one's journalistic career.  But for Michigan's largest newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, to voluntary do this expose' and release it to coincide with the week of the first game where it will wreak the most damage smells of something much beyond some some players practicing long hours.

There are those that think that Lloyd Carr still hasn't taken his hand off the program and that he didn't agree with the Rodriguez hire.  Many of the Michigan faithful are still upset that they could have had Les Miles and blew it.  For this reason, there are boosters that weren't happy with this hire on day one and they have gotten even more disgusted with it.  And Rodriguez has done plenty to make the fanbase and some very prominent boosters very angry.  Let's check off the litany, shall we.

He spent the first 6 months on the job being a part-time coach (while still drawing full salary) and part-time legal case participant against West Virginia (his former school) in a case that had no merit to start with.  He drug Michigan through the mud and they finally settled.

It was later learned that he left because of demands that West Virginia would not meet such as allowing him a website to communicate with paying patrons (which got Coach Fran at Texas A&M fired), allowing students to sell school textbooks and keep the money (which just got Alabama put on probation and cost them scholarships and prior wins), and some facility upgrades that turned out to be grandstanding as they have been completed as promised.  One of the things Michigan offered him was more control than he had at West Virginia.  Well, it turns out that West Virginia knew exactly what they were doing when they didn't allow him the control he sought.

He cast aside a tradition of awarding the #1 jersey to a well-deserved receiver...even though there was a scholarship and benevolence program associated with this that Rodriguez didn't even bother to learn about.

He has had some of his recruits convicted on drug charges and have to leave the team.

He has had players such as Ryan Mallet and Justin Boren and others leave the team and complain about Rodriguez creating a negative environment for the players.  For a star quarterback to leave when Michigan desperately needs one and a legacy player who had other family play at Michigan transfer to none other than Ohio State speaks volumes.

So, what am I getting to here?

Rodriguez is abrasive and is not being accepted well by either the players or the fan base.  He was a bad fit.  Had he come in and had a great year, some would look the other way.  That's no knock on the character of Michigan's fan base any more than it is a knock on anyone else's.  Winning cures a lot of ills and ills is what Rodriguez left at West Virginia and brought to Michigan.  They seem to follow him around (which is no surprise considering he is a man of no character or integrity).

But instead of winning, Rodriguez had the worst year in Michigan football history.  Now he may land them on NCAA probation for the first time in their history.  This in a short season and off-season.

And this year looks like it will only be a slight improvement.  That was before this story broke.  Now the team and the coaching staff will be dogged by it all season.  It could well cost them a game due simply to distraction which might spell the difference between a bowl game or not.  This story was certainly unnecessary but, given its terrible timing, it could be argued that it might be an intentional assault.  There is almost no other way to explain the timing.

Although I'm sure one could look up the exact terms of Rodriguez contract, I will admit that I haven't because I don't really know where to look, I find that kind of thing somewhat unseemly, and I really don't need to know specifics to continue my line of reasoning.

That line of reasoning is that most contracts have language that calls for a school to be allowed to fire a coach without paying the buyout if he brings NCAA sanctions or investigations or jeopardizes the good name of the school.  Alabama fired Mike Price for his strip club escapades before he ever coached a game.  They cited that his behavior was unbecoming to the University and they got away with it.

The bottom line here is that I believe that the timing of this story is a setup.  If Rodriguez has another losing season or even a 6-6 or 7-5 season, there are powers that have ties to the program that want an excuse to fire him without consequence.

The ink is hardly dry on the University's check to West Virginia to pay for that buyout.  The last thing they want in this economy, especially in Michigan where the economy is much worse, is to write another big check barely a year later.  I believe this is a setup to exchange very minor NCAA sanctions that won't do permanent damage for a way out of the Rodriguez hire and allow the University to save face and save the money they'd have to pay Rodriguez for their next coach's buyout.

This is pure speculation on my part, I admit.  But while I'm speculating, let me go full circle with it.

Les Miles had a disappointing season last year at LSU.  They lost 5 games after winning the national title the year before.  Some of this was just the ball bouncing the wrong way a couple of games and some was because Miles suspended the troublemaker star quarterback because he was a cancer that Miles saw just wasn't going to get better so Miles cut his losses.  One has the goodwill to do that even when one knows it will cost the team 4-5 losses when one has just won the national title.

This year will be a better year for LSU but there are many in the LSU fan base that are very vocal about the fact that Miles won with Saban's recruits but isn't winning as much with his own.  This will be compounded if, as expected, LSU loses again to Saban's Alabama squad.

The SEC is a very tough neighborhood and, even though Miles is a great coach, he is going to have trouble winning against Florida and Alabama as long as Meyer and Saban are there.  Ole Miss beat LSU last year and is on the rise.  Arkansas has beaten LSU twice in a row and Petrino is probably a better coach so this may become problematic for Miles.  There is writing on the wall to be read and Miles may thus be looking for a way back to Michigan where he will be at his alma mater and only face 2 tough teams a year and start each year in the national title picture.

I believe that there are people in the power structure at Michigan that think Miles is vulnerable to an offer and that the athletic department might not otherwise fire Rodriguez if he shows a little improvement.  Therefore, they've come up with a way to force the AD's hand and give the AD cover simultaneously.

Time will tell if this is the real motivation going on here and if it works.  For Michigan's sake, I hope it does.  My wife's a huge Michigan fan and has been distraught since they hired Rodriguez.  

Miles would be the perfect fit there.  And all of college football would be better off seeing the "sweatervest" (Tressel) and the "hat" (Miles) squaring off at the end of every fall.  If we could just think of a clever clothing-related name for Joe Pa, we'd have an entire coaching wardrobe in the Big Ten.


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