Saturday, January 8, 2011

Reflections on Rich Rodriguez, 2007-2011

He couldn’t get the job done. His winning record of .405 (15-22) is the worse in the history of Michigan football. He lost 13-10 to Toledo. He lost three times to Ohio State, three times to Michigan State, twice to Penn State, twice to Wisconsin, got blown away by Mississippi State. You get the point.

A Michigan football coach has three responsibilities: winning, winning cleanly without violations, and a high graduation rate.

The previous athletic director, Bill Martin, hired Coach Rodriguez with the expectation he would charter a new course for the Wolverines, the spread versus the Pro-set. Rodriguez failed to understand that winning was part of the job.
Some of the criticism is misplaced, especially the claim Rich is not a “Michigan Man.” Neither was Bo, who coached under Woody and earned a Masters at Ohio State. Bo’s successor, Gary Moeller, played football at Ohio State.

Neither Fielding Yost not Fritz Chrisler were Michigan men. Yost came from West Virginia and Chrisler from Princeton.

The phrase “Michigan Man” came from Bo, as Athletic Director, in 1989 when the basketball coach Bill Frieder announced he had accepted the coaching position at Arizona State prior to the NCAA Tournament. Bo promptly fired Frieder saying he wanted a Michigan Man to coach the team. The 1989 team under interim coach Steve Fisher won six straight games to win the NCAA basketball title. That is a Michigan Man.

If Rich had won, no one would have cared that he was not a Michigan Man.

Yet, Rich wanted to be a Michigan Man. At the December 2 football bust, the annual football banquet, he cried out “I truly want to be a Michigan Man,” and then played Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up. The purpose of the bust is a tribute to the players, not to raise the coach up.

Bo understood Michigan’s traditions when he accepted the coaching position at Michigan. His assistant coaches complained that some of the facilities at Michigan were not as good as those at Miami of Ohio, which they just left. Bo’s response was that this is Michigan and this is the hook Fritz Chrisler hang his coat on.

We anxiously waited for the unveiling of the new Wolverine football team in 2007.

The first year started out with a disappointing, but exciting loss, to Utah. Michigan trailed early, rallied, but lost. Utah was the only team to finish the year undefeated. The offense showed potential, and the sensational freshman Sam Mcguffie was as sensational as expected. Rich though was hung up on Nick Sheridan as the starting quarterback. Sheridan may have been a great practice QB in the spread, but he failed under game conditions.

The first signs of Rodriguez’s stubbornness had appeared.

The lack of an offensive line (Bowen transferred to Ohio State) resulted in Mcguffie and others receiving concussions during the season. The offensive scheme over three years resulted in a high injury rate on the skills players.

The season seemed to turn around when Michigan, down 17 points, pulled out an incredible come-back victory against Wisconsin. The season deflated when Michigan lost to Toledo 13-10, the first time Michigan ever lost to a MAC team. Michigan led at halftime, but went scoreless in the second half while Toledo scored two field goals. Michigan’s kicker misses a field goal which would have sent the game into OT. Toledo was so bad that the coach was fired at season’s end.

The Toledo game showed several problems, which plagued Rodriguez’s three years: 1) failure to make adjustments at halftime, 2) the collapse of the offense in the second half, and 3) the consistent failure of special teams.

Offensive coordinators soon recognized that Michigan had a mediocre pass defense.

The team went 3-9 for the season.

The next year, with Tate Forcier, as QB, the team went 4-0 with a dramatic victory against Notre Dame. The team then lost to Michigan State, and Michigan only won one game over the remainder of the season. Every opposing QB played like an All-American against Michigan.

This year, the team under the explosive Denard Robinson, started 5-0 with another dramatic victory over Notre Dame. Then came a large loss to Michigan State, and the team collapsed, winning only two more games, getting blown out, once again, by Ohio state. The defense deteriorated over the year, and Denard underperformed by injuries and teams watching film.

Rodriguez never learnt that one of Michigan’s traditions is defense. He also stubbornly clinged to an ineffective 3-4 line. He thought small, quick linemen could make his system work. As Wisconsin showed, with 28 running plays in the second half, large, quick linemen can beat small quick linemen.

Defenders often had trouble playing their positions and tackling. Thus, another failure was coaching the fundamentals.

He concentrated his recruiting effort on skills players from Florida, losing the Michigan recruiting battles to Michigan State.

The final problem was thus his inability to change and adapt. He obviously believed that given time and his 6 year contract he could make his system succeed at Michigan, as it had at West Virginia.

He ran out of wins, and thus time.

Michigan is a university which has proven that excellence in football is not incompatible with academic excellence. Notre Dame and USC are two other examples. Both have also fired coaches who failed. Michigan is a university of traditions. Excellence in football is part of the tradition and heritage of Michigan.

Several of us figured pre-season that a 7-5 record and a New Year’s bowl game would save his job. The consistent failure of the special teams, and a pathetic defense which lead to blow-out after blow-out including Michigan’s worse loss ever in a bowl game, sealed his fate. And he knew it.

We do not know yet who the next coach will be. We do not though that the Michigan fan base need a few years of patience. The program, especially on defense and special teams, has to be rebuilt.

No comments: