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Rich Rodriguez, A Lesson In Humility

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Rich Rodriguez, Getty ImagesNever before in the history of University of Michigan football has the program lost seven games in consecutive weeks. In terms of losing seasons and bowl absences, many other streaks of success have been snapped that began during the Kennedy administration.

3-9 one year; 5-7 the next. I like to think the futility coincided with my move; I settled in Washtenaw County the same month as Rich Rodriguez, albeit in a one-bedroom apartment instead of a god-knows-how-many-square-feet house. Until the public catches on about this, the blame will instead fall squarely on the coach.

Over at FanHouse, Clay Travis gives UM a way to end the Rodriguez era, for reasons that only indirectly have to do with wins and losses:

"[T]he school can allege a major violation of NCAA rules or intentional misconduct and show him to the door. … [T]he NCAA and Michigan are already investigating Rodriguez and the football program over the amount of hours that players have spent playing or practicing football each week."

Travis argues this point and appeals to fans of Michigan who are dissatisfied with the results on the field. It's not a bad rationale; these potential violations could fester and hurt the program long-term. More could also surface, sinking the Wolverines further into the NCAA doghouse. (The food dish in the NCAA doghouse, for some reason, says "Sampson.")

So, again, that's a legitimate reason to dismiss a coach. But it undercuts the football reason, which is: he's going to make this program very, very good.

Look at the youth. Quarterback Tate Forcier: freshman. Two of their top three receivers? Sophomores. So is their leading receiving tight end. This young team began 4-0 with a soft schedule and finished 1-7 against stronger teams.

More to the point, of all the things Michigan had never done in their rich history, running a spread offense is among them. Going from Lloyd Carr's pro-style offense to a smaller, faster, more wide open scheme takes time. At West Virginia, RichRod's first year was a 3-8 season; the next, 9-4 and a final ranking of No. 25. The situation was similar, replacing a legend of WVU's own scope, Don Nehlen. It took two years to start winning at a school exactly one tier down from Michigan. And it took five years to reach a BCS game.

Is two years really the going rate for success or failure? Three? Charlie Weis is in his fifth season at Notre Dame. He flushed the entire team of anything Tyrone Willingham-related right down to the wallpaper. Five years seems like an absolutely reasonable slice of time, and most schools should probably accept this when they fire and hire.

It sounds like Michigan won't fire him this year, but this goes beyond that. Rodriguez's contract has four years left on it, so he has plenty of time to recruit the right football player and adjust the playbook accordingly. If the team flounders around .500 again in 2010, it's unfortunately still not enough time to make a final decision, so drawing conclusions in two years is just silly.

Urban Meyer was able to win a national championship at Florida in two years. While he is probably a better coach than Rodriguez, Meyer also had the advantage of inheriting Ron Zook's talented team, who was already well ingrained with a spread-type offense.

I don't envy being a Michigan football fan. Patience is not a strong suit for supporters of their team, nor has it been necessary. The same goes for fans of a handful of programs like Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Miami whose demands are to win a national championship every year simply because once upon a time they did just that. Unfortunately, the Boise States and TCUs have usurped precious spots at the big boys' table, so perhaps those fans are not so much impatient as they are melancholy. No school can be elite forever. And at this period in history, Michigan is a team that perenially draws national interest, but they no longer elite.

In a few years? Maybe they will get there. But not if they keep replacing coaches quicker than the country elects a new president.

(Photo credits: Getty, AnnArbor.com)

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  • Tony

    Matt, I’m sorry to say but you’re idea that R-Rod is going to make Michigan good is completely wrong. The amount of high school teams that run the spread are minimal in the midwest. He will never recruit the profile of players necessary to fill this offense simply because of the weather. HS teams in Michigan simply can’t throw as much as teams in the south. When I played high school football we ran that flex-bone. While that was 10 years ago and more teams run a shot-gun offense the best teams in the mid-west are primarily run first, conservative offenses.

    And his bad relations with players goes way beyond the transfers like Ryan Mallot. Two weeks ago he didn’t let Forcier take a single snap with the first team in practice and than started him. And Tate has already once asked for his transfer papers.

    It was a mistake to hire R-Rod in the first place and every real Michigan fan knows it whether they’ll admit it at this point or not. Part of being the head coach at Michigan is understanding the passion and tradition behind the program. “A Michigan man for a Michigan team.” Les Miles should be the coach; they screwed up.

    Weis has stayed so long because: a. he went to the BCS in his first two seasons and b. because he gets high profile recruits who most people assumed would eventually perform on the field. But Kevin White, the athletic director who gave Weis that extension is no longer at the school.

    Michigan needs to cut its losses with this guy and move on before the program sucks for 15 years like the Irish. And honestly, I hate the Wolverines so there is no bias here.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Then how did he build a program that went to two BCS games in West Virginia? It’s wetter in Morgantown.

    I don’t know what to make of his recruiting class, but they seem to have a really good running quarterback from in-state.

  • Tony

    But it was warm in west virgina. You can throw a wet ball. All the way from pee wee football they run comlpicated offenses year round. Even the best football teams in Michigan i.e. Catholic Central, Farmington Harrison, ect throw sometimes but mostly use I-formation and option sets (wish-bone, flex-bone, ect).

    They will always have good running backs and lineman. I think Kevin Grady is still there and he was a studd in high school. But they will never have the elite, speed players that you get down south.

  • zwaaa

    Warm in WV? Really? Ever been there?