For the last two seasons, Michigan fans have been waiting. Some patiently...most very impatiently. But since I'm just as much of a fan, but somewhat removed due to my blog and the objective view that I try to maintain, it's tough to really see something for what it really is.
No one will argue that Michigan football has been pretty tough to digest these last 2 seasons. When Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez, some part of me was happy and excited, another part of me what kind of like "really?". But in the end, I made my peace with it. Watching Rich's first press conference the day he was hired, I quickly realized that everything I thought I understood about Michigan football was about to change.
Bo, Moeller and Carr were tough, hard-nosed guys. Real football types. Guys who were schooled in the old style of coaching. To the media, they were tight-lipped. Only the information they wanted you to know is what you knew. If they didn't like the question, they didn't answer it. If you could get a glimmer of a smile from Lloyd Carr, you knew you were alright.
But to their players, these men were giants. Each player would happily go through a brick wall for these coaches. It's no mystery that there is a special bond that is created between great coaches and their players. Ask any of Bo's former players about what kind of man he was. Ask any of them about the lasting lessons that stick with them after all these years. Odds are you'll get some big smiles, and probably a few tears.
Change is tough for a tradition-rich place like Michigan. Let's face it, for the last 40 years or so, we had it pretty good around here. Winning was a way of life. Bowl games were a ritual. Losing 3 times in one year would be considered a down year. Not going to a Rose Bowl was failure.
And then 2008 happened.
It's hard really to describe "how" and "why" Lloyd Carr left his coaching job as he did. Be as it may, we did our best around here to figure that one out. But to this day, I believe there is more to it than we'll ever know. But one thing is for sure: When Lloyd left and Rich was hired, most Michigan fans forgot to do one thing - manage expectations.
Or brace for impact.
Bill Martin, Michigan's AD at the time, was attempting to bring Michigan into the modern era by hiring a coach who was vastly different from the "3-yards and a cloud of dust" style that has become synonymous with Michigan. Clearly, Martin was looking for something new and different. What he got was most certainly that. Rich Rodriguez was nothing close to resembling the much-hyped "Michigan Man" mantra. Rich was from the south. He said "Ya'll" a lot. He was so different from anything we've seen at Michigan since the days of Fielding H. Yost - who was also from West Virginia, by the way.
Rich had to break his ties and his contract from his home-state of West Virginia in one of the ugliest coaching departures ever. He had to refill the cupboards in Ann Arbor which were emptied as soon as he showed up with his spread-option offense that did not fit the mold of the current system or its players. He's had to battle legal disputes in his personal life over some ill-managed real estate ventures. And then of course, the NCAA investigation which has been nothing short of a nightmare for both Michigan and Rodriguez even going back to his West Virginia days.
In short, Rich left anything resembling a "comfort zone" to coach at Michigan. Without really knowing it at the time, he literally jumped head-first into the lion's den.
2009 was a very odd year. The NCAA scandal hit the week before the first game. Rich's job was in question all of the sudden. And then he went on to win his first 4 games of the season in dramatic fashion, silencing his critics for a short while. And then once the meat of the Big Ten schedule hit, the wheels fell off the bus.
For as much as Rich was praised at the end of September, he was vilified by the end of November. Fans were calling for his firing. But Michigan said he deserves one more year to prove he's the man for the job.
I don't think Bill Martin could comprehend at the time that this hire could result in such chaos for his football program. No one thought that all of this would happen. But a perfect storm gathered around Schembechler Hall. Two years into the job the worst possible scenario had been realized: The hire of Rodriguez was a disaster.
That brings us to today. The 2010 season is still months away. Bill Martin is retired, Dave Brandon is the new AD. Brandon has said he fully supports Rodriguez - for now. The entire Michigan fan base is watching with baited breath to see if Rodriguez can pull off the turn-around. I would argue that some fans are hoping for more losses in hope that Rodriguez will be fired.
This fan does not feel that way.
For reasons passing understanding, I am confident that this year will be the year we see the dramatic difference. 2008 was a disaster. At times in 2009 we saw the flashes of brilliance that we were promised when Rodriguez was hired. I think 2010 will be when those pieces finally fall into place.
I'm not saying we're going to go undefeated...not at all. But We should be able to win those games that we're supposed to win, and just like Wisconsin in 08 and Notre Dame in 09...we'll pull off a win or two that would generally be considered unexpected.
We have the rest of the off-season to dive into specifics like "how" and "who", but for now, I'm just typing away at what I think could happen. I have a really good feeling about 2010. I've had that good feeling about this season ever since Rodriguez was hired. I don't know why, but year 3 seemed to make sense to me. Most experts were confident that year 2 would see the rise of Michigan football under Rodriguez, but the scope of change that he's brought to this program will take longer than two years to develop.
Sure, there are a ton of obstacles in the way of success for Rodriguez at Michigan. There will be no shortage of speculation, especially on this blog, about how things will look for 2010. I have many doubts, and I have a lot of hope. Anything can happen. But in the end, we're just a fan blog.