Rich Rod’s Ann Arbor experiment is failing
I initially sat down at my desk to write a plea to University of Michigan athletic director Bill Martin to just admit his mistake for the good of the university, its alumni and fans. I have always held onto the belief that any new coaching staff should have at least three years to build a program and have a chance to see progress. But what transpired Saturday afternoon in Madison, Wisconsin, led me to believe that sometimes change—in this case, the philosophical change in playing style resulting in chaos for Michigan football—isn’t always for the best.
Then, I stopped. And I wondered if maybe dismissing Greg Robinson, in his first year as defensive coordinator, could be the answer to the Wolverines’ woes. The defense may be capable of a big play here and there, but the second-half collapses have been inexcusable.
I reassessed the situation because there could be no way that Rodriguez could not yet have made an impact as he’s done in his second season at every other stop.
So I thought, and I thought. But I ultimately have come to the realization that last year’s disaster may in fact not be a fluke. Robinson had nothing to do with 2008, so I’m confident he isn’t the problem in Ann Arbor.
Methinks the problem is head coach Rich Rodriguez.
After a 3-9 campaign to open his tenure, Rodriguez had the Wolverines off to a 4-0 start to begin 2009—including a win over Notre Dame that many thought could be a springboard to an unexpected very successful season.
But as the leaves began to turn, the losses started to accrue.
Back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Iowa on the road dropped the team to 4-2—but certainly the Wolverines didn’t shame themselves with the performances. Those losses were forgivable.
After a walk in the park scrimmage against Delaware State, the red flags began to get raised.
Blowout losses to Penn State and Illinois (yes, Illinois) dropped them to 1-4 in the Big Ten, and an inexcusable loss to Purdue at home followed. Sitting at 5-5 overall, the team had a chance to at least show some fight on the road against Wisconsin.
But the team reached its lowest point on Saturday in Madison, falling 45-21 to drop to 1-6 in the Big Ten. One win in the Big Ten in seven tries? Can even a win over Ohio State do enough damage control in a year that went terribly wrong so fast?
The last time Michigan suffered back-to-back losing seasons occurred in 1962-63. Without a win over the Buckeyes, the Wolverines will close the season with one win in their last eight contests.
There’s no question that Rodriguez is a quality head football coach—that can’t be denied when you look at his resume. After successful offensive coordinating stints at Tulane and Clemson, his stock rapidly rose as head coach of West Virginia.
After his three-win first season at West Virginia, Rodriguez never won less than eight games and finished with at least 10 wins his final three seasons.
That’s the perplexing aspect of this tenure in Ann Arbor.
Rich Rodriguez at Michigan:
2008: 3-9 (2-6)
2009: 5-6 (1-6)
Total: 8-15 (3-12)
Is it a spread option issue? It was successful when Shaun King, Woody Dantzler and Pat White ran it for Rich Rod. Perhaps Denard Robinson will fully wrest the job away from Tate Forcier when he is declared ready. But can it work in the Big Ten? Many experts thought Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack wouldn’t work in the ACC, yet the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have proved two years in a row that it indeed can be successful at a big school.
I understand that the full implementation of the spread offense takes time. But how come Johnson was so successful in year one with a quarterback, Josh Nesbitt, who was recruited to run former coach Chan Gailey’s pro-style offense? And how come we see revivals taking place in Year One of rebuilding projects across the country but not in Ann Arbor?
Is it a personality issue? The team dealt with player transfers, some of whom criticized the new staff. However, as we all know, there are always three sides to a story: yours, mine and the truth. Transfers occur often when new regimes take over programs.
There were then the alleged NCAA violations prior to this season, when anonymous players expressed to the Detroit Free Press that Rich Rod and his staff violated NCAA rules, including scheduling scrimmages and having the players put in more offseason hours than the NCAA allows. Late this past October, it was announced that the investigation would continue.
Up until Rodriguez’ arrival, violations of these kind never occurred within the Michigan football team.
Finally, this past week Forcier and Rodriguez had an apparent disagreement over Forcier’s missed study session, leading Forcier to believe that Robinson would in fact be the starting QB in Madison. That wasn’t the case, as Robinson was in at running back instead. Forcier says his relationship with the staff is fine, but it’s clear that Rodriguez isn’t happy, especially after already threatening to bench him earlier in the season.
Even though it was less than seven weeks ago, it seems like an eternity since Michigan was 4-0 in late September.
Sometimes, Bill Martin, things just don’t work out—for whatever reason.
Dave Miller is the Web Manager of the National Football Post. He enjoys coffee at any time of the day, CW teen dramas and has an appreciation for girls in boots. You can follow him on Twitter at Miller_Dave, where he constantly chronicles every moment of his mundane life.