Ya Think?

Former Michigan head football coach Rich Rodriguez has told CBS Sports that you could look back and conclude that his leaving West Virginia for Michigan was “a mistake.”

Rodriguez had been successful at WVU, which was his alma mater.  When he decided to leave for Michigan, he earned the everlasting enmity of Mountaineer fans and became embroiled in litigation about his departure.  At Michigan, he quickly made some gaffes that hurt his reputation and, of course, his record with Michigan was dismal — marked by blowout losses to archrival Ohio State, a pathetic record in the Big Ten, and a crushing defeat in the Wolverines’ bowl game this year.  Rodriguez became the whipping boy for a huge swath of Michigan fans and was drummed out of his job after only three seasons at the helm.

So yes, I think you could fairly say that Rodriguez’s decision to take the job at Michigan was “a mistake”– just like you could say that the captain of the Titanic made a “minor navigation error” and Marie Antoinette’s comment about eating cake was “ill-advised.”

Cleaning Out The Gear

Last week the University of Michigan cleaned house by firing former head football coach Rich Rodriguez, and now Rodriguez is engaging in his own kind of housecleaning.

Rodriguez donated 432 items of Michigan apparel — 12 bags full — to a Salvation Army store in Wayne, Michigan.  The assortment includes caps, shirts, and jackets, ranging from medium to 2XL.  The Salvation Army store is planning on having a sale of the materials today.

Twelve bags of Michigan stuff seems like a lot, but maybe every college football head coach keeps a kind of clothing store at their house, at the ready in case some stud recruit and his parents drop by.  In any case, after he got the axe Rodriguez didn’t need the stuff any more.  I don’t think he’s going to be wearing UM gear any time soon, and he probably doesn’t want to look at any Michigan stuff that would remind him of his grim three-year run as the head coach.  It was generous of him to give the Salvation Army got the benefit of his housecleaning efforts.

Michigan’s Point Of Decision

The University of Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon said that he would decide the fate of Michigan head football coach Rich Rodriguez after the Wolverines played their bowl game.  The bowl results weren’t pretty — Michigan got waxed, 52-14, in the worst bowl loss in the program’s history — and now Brandon says that he will take his time making his decision.

I’m not sure what factors Brandon considers important, but it is hard for me to believe that any factors would point in favor of keeping Rodriguez.  He has a losing record.  He has never beaten Ohio State, or even played a competitive game against them.  His conference record is awful.  His defenses have gotten progressively worse from year to year.  His offenses put up flashy numbers against poor teams, but tend to come up empty against the better teams.  And Michigan’s game yesterday against Mississippi State demonstrated all of those problems.  Michigan scored twice in the first quarter and then was shut out for the rest of the game.  In the meantime, the Bulldogs dominated the Wolverine defense and scored 42 — 42! — unanswered points.

I think Michigan’s AD should be asking one question:  In three years, has Rich Rodriguez done anything to indicate that he can lead the storied Michigan program back to greatness?  I think the answer to that question is clear.


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.

Spare The Rod, Spoil The Program

I’ve posted before on the potential NCAA violations committed by the Michigan football program, which initially were reported by the Detroit Free Press.  Some nine months later, Michigan has now completed its “internal investigation” and admitted to certain violations.  It concluded that there was a breakdown in communications and it fired one staffer and reprimanded seven other people involved in the football program, including Head Coach Rich Rodriguez.  It also put itself on two years of probation (although not of the double-secret variety). The school clearly hopes that its self-administered punishment will cause the NCAA to refrain from imposing other tougher sanctions that further sully Michigan’s reputation. 

It’s hard to believe it took nine months for Michigan to figure out that there was a breakdown in communications, but it doesn’t surprise me that Michigan didn’t ultimately hold Rich Rod accountable for the failings in his program.  Michigan took a big risk in hiring Rodriguez rather than a “Michigan man,” and so far it has been an embarrassment and a disaster for one of the most storied, respected programs in college football.  The team has been terrible, players have transferred and raised questions about Rodriguez, and scandals like the Free Press articles seem to be lurking around every corner.

Let’s hope Michigan has fixed those communications breakdowns and established appropriate supervision over its football program, because Rodriguez surely understands that if the Wolverines don’t win this season he is gone.  Coaches whose jobs are hanging by a thread often are more attentive to wins than compliance.

I Know Michigan Needs All The Practice It Can Get, But . . . .

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez

The Detroit Free Press has broken an interesting story in which unnamed current and former players claim the University of Michigan football team has violated NCAA rules regulating off-season workouts, in-season demands on players and mandatory summer activities. The allegations center on strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis and off-season conditioning requirements. Michigan has launched an investigation, and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez apparently reacted emotionally to questions about his treatment of his players at a press conference today.

I don’t know the truth of the allegations, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Rodriguez and his staff bent NCAA rules to the breaking point. Big-time college football is extremely competitive, and Michigan fans have high expectations and enormous pride in their program. Last year, Michigan had a nightmarish season in which the team lost 9 games and got absolutely crushed by the Ohio State University Buckeyes. It’s safe to say that another year like last year would considerably shorten Rodriguez’ career at U of M.

Lord knows that after last year Michigan needs all the practice it can get. What it really doesn’t need is NCAA sanctions imposed for rules violations following a year of such dismal failure. It will be up to the coach and athletic department to rebuild the Michigan program the right way. I seriously question whether Rodriguez is the right man for that job.