The State Of Michigan (Football)

The University of Michigan Athletic Director, Dave Brandon, is facing a tough decision:  what to do about the Michigan football program and its coach, Rich Rodriguez.

Brandon is getting viewpoints from all sides. Rodriguez’s detractors cite his overall losing record during his three years at Michigan, its terrible Big Ten record during that same time period, and the team’s shockingly poor defense this year.  His supporters say that Rodriguez is bringing a new kind of football to Michigan, that the cupboard was bare when he arrived and he needs time to recruit athletes for his new system, and that the team’s success on offense this year shows Rodriguez’s system can and will work in the Big Ten.

If I were a Michigan fan, I’d be in the former category.  Three years is a long time in intercollegiate sports, and there really hasn’t been much progress.  Sure, Michigan’s offense was great this year, but as good as its offense was, its defense was even worse.  You simply cannot win football games in a major conference when you consistently allow opponents to score more than 30 points a game.  Rodriguez has shown no talent for coaching defensive football or being able to recruit or develop great defensive players.  Why would Michigan fans think the defensive side of the ball is going to be appreciably better in 2011?  And, as bad as Michigan’s defense was this year, it is going to take a night-and-day change to even bring the Michigan D back to minimal levels of respectability.

On the offensive side, Rodriguez’s scheme clearly has produced yards and points, especially this year.  He seems to recruit smaller, quicker players who can break big plays, which certainly happened this year.  It is fair to ask, however, whether such players can stand up to the pounding of a 12-game schedule when most of the games are against big-time schools.  Denard Robinson, as terrific as he was this season, missed lots of playing time with little injuries.  You also have to wonder how much of Michigan’s offensive output this year was due to Robinson’s exceptional play, rather than Rodriguez’s scheme.  When Robinson went out on Saturday and Tate Forcier came in, Michigan went from being a dangerous offensive team to a pretty ordinary one.

Finally, there are intangibles that should be considered.  Michigan is one of the most storied football programs in the country, rich with tradition and lore that helps to make Michigan Michigan, rather than some other school that has recently had a good run on the gridiron.  Does Rodriguez really “get” Michigan’s traditions?  And, speaking as an Ohio State fan who suffered through the John Cooper era, I would be leery about sticking with a coach who has gone 0-3 in his first three games against the school’s archrival when none of the games was particularly close.

Brandon has said he won’t make a decision on Rodriguez’s future until after Michigan’s bowl game.  I think it is wise to take some time for careful reflection.  It will be a big decision for a big-time program that has fallen on hard times.

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