Michigan's new head football coach is just over a month into his career in Ann Arbor. And while I fully support the decision to hire Brady Hoke, and I think he will be very successful, I do have a few problems with the way Rich Rodriguez was ousted. I am left wondering how Rich Rod's legacy will be remembered by the Michigan faithful in years to come.
I've always said that I was a Rich Rod supporter. More times than not I took the supportive role and tried to justify his decisions and defend his processes. It was not an easy task. Michigan football fans have been growing increasingly impatient...especially since our compadres in Columbus have been busy racking up Big Ten titles, BCS bowl games and national notoriety, while Michigan floundered to 3-9, 5-7 and then 7-6.
That used to be us on top of the Big Ten. And if it wasn't us, we were #2...and typically challenging and preventing tOSU from conference superiority.
I like Brady Hoke. I think he's a very good coach, an even better leader of men...and he should be able to right the ship and experience the success that we were promised under Rich Rodriguez.
Sure. I mean look at what Michigan did to get Rich Rod. Bill Martin essentially fired Lloyd Carr, all the while thumbing his nose at the "old guard", and saying to average Joe six-pack Michigan fan that things were going to be different in Ann Arbor. Gone are the days of the "3-yards and a cloud of dust". The Bo Schembechler style of football was dead, and it was time for Michigan to usher in new era. All we needed was a forward-thinking coach who could revamp the Michigan offense into a high-powered yardage-gulping juggernaut.
Enter Rich Rodriguez.
Rich Rod revolutionized modern college football with his spread-option style offense. He was the master-mind behind it. College and high school offenses from California to Florida to New England had adopted his style...or at least a version of it. The key to running an offense like that was having the right kind of athletes to do it. Michigan didn't have very many in 2007. That was just one part of the problem.
Martin wanted a new coach. Most thought Les Miles was the man for the job. Whether or not he was actually offered is a question that may never be truly answered. But what we do know is that Rutgers' Greg Shiano turned down the job.
So in a meeting room in Toledo, OH in mid-December of 2007, Mary Sue Coleman, Bill Martin and Rich Rodriguez sat down for a little chat. Shortly after that, Rich Rod was named the next head coach at the University of Michigan.
I don't really remember my exact thoughts at the time, but I do recall being cautiously optimistic. I remember feeling that this was forced, and that no one was really ready for this. And when Rich spoke at his introductory presser, I knew right away that things were going to be very different, and that a lot of people are going to have a hard time warming up to this guy.
Why? Because he was just different. He wasn't Lloyd. He wasn't Bo. He was an "outsider". His hiring revealed instantly everything that is good and bad about Michigan. The good is that Michigan is a great program steeped in lore and tradition. The bad is that when you tally up all those wins and all that history, you've realize that the expectations for someone not born or raised to be a Michigan coach to come in and pick it all up and make a seamless transition is just not possible.
Make no mistake, the biggest reason Rich Rodriguez was fired was because it was painfully obvious that he just didn't belong in Ann Arbor. His win/loss record was how the firing was justified, but not the reason he was fired when he was. The day David Brandon took the AD job marked the beginning of the end of the Rich Rod era. The heat was proportionally on Rich prior to Brandon on the job, but it was turned way up once an Brandon stepped in.
I said when Brandon was hired that the "old guard" got their man...
But hiring a guy like this says to me, a rather scrutinizing Michigan fan, that hiring a wild-gun-slinging West Virginia outsider like Rich Rodriguez was so outside of the typical "Michigan Man" comfort-zone, that they had to offset that hire with a guy who the "old guard" at Michigan can easily accept and get behind.I feel bad for Rich Rodriguez, I really do. Any new coach is expected to win...that's the point. But Rich Rod was hired to revolutionize the Michigan offense. Plain and simple. And guess what, 3 years into his tenure, he did. Michigan led the conference in many offensive statistical categories...many of which no Michigan team or player had ever even sniffed before, and he did it with basically freshman and sophomores. He recruited and groomed the 2010 Big Ten offensive player of the year in Denard Robinson...who made a case for having one of the best years any Michigan QB had ever had.
I'm not saying that hiring Rodriguez was necessarily a mistake, but two years in and a 8-16 record...do the math. I'm willing, as many others...including Brandon I assume, to give Rodriguez another year before we cast him out for new blood.
But after reading everything about Brandon and how well he has been groomed for this role since his days playing for Bo in the 70's, being on the board of regents for the bulk of Lloyd's tenure, it seems so very obvious that the clock is definitely ticking for Rodriguez. I don't think Brandon would do something as rash as fire him right now. But I think that the heat just got turned way up.
And when the clock does run out for Rodriguez, it's going to be Brandon handing him his pink slip.
But all of those records and achievements didn't equal championships...at least not yet. Before the ship had really left the harbor, a mutiny had occurred and the captain was thrown overboard.
It's going to be interesting to see how Rich's legacy is viewed in the years to come. It will be interesting because not many coaches leave Michigan to coach again. So the book on Rich isn't finished yet. I would be willing to bet that Rich will be successful wherever he ends up. And that really concerns me because what is it about Michigan that made a seemingly really good coach look so vulnerable and inadequate almost from the start? Is it the factions of the fanbase? Is it a disgruntled group of football staffers that just didn't like Rich so they took it upon themselves to sabotage him? Is it the media's fault? Is it the full weight of the "Michigan Man" expectations that Rich could just never live up to?
I'd say it was a combination of all of those.
The one overwhelming thing I keep hearing about Brady Hoke is that he "just get's it". What is "it"? Why is that so damn important to us? Why does a coach have to fit the Michigan mold and not vice-versa? Why was there no room for error with Rich Rod?
Hey look, I agree. Hoke does "get it". I follow the Michigan program very closely and have done so for many years and even I don't really know what "it" is. I don't know what a "Michigan Man" is either. But do I know that Brady Hoke has been accepted by the factions and the guard. And maybe that's all there is to it?
I'd say even more than Hoke getting it, Dave Brandon gets it even more. He realized that Hoke would be the glue that would mend the divisions. It's cliche. And it's an idea that is seemingly very complex and very simple at the same time. It's like the line from the movie Gladiator when Proximo tells Maximus: "Win the crowd, and you will win your freedom." The idea is that Rome is not about Casear or the glory of Rome. It's about the sand on the floor of the coliseum.
I digress. Brady Hoke is probably exactly what the doctor ordered, but he's here in spite of Rich Rod being prematurely run out of town. I won't speculate as to how good or bad 2011 would been under Rodriguez. With the way 2009 and then 2010 ended, that sealed his fate.
All I know for sure is that after watching the Rodriguez tragedy play out over the last 3 years, Michigan is unlike almost any other coaching position in college football. And depending on whether or not you're a "Michigan Man" or if you "get it", that is either a blessing or a curse.