When Rich Rodriguez was hired to replace Lloyd Carr as football coach of the Michigan Wolverines, part of me wanted to believe it could succeed. But a big part of me knew that it wasn’t going to work out. As we all know, it didn’t work out and Rodriguez only lasted three seasons before being replaced by Brady Hoke. But was this a doomed experiment all along?
The biggest thing you have to understand about the whole mess is that Rodriguez was never prepared properly for what he was going to experience in Ann Arbor. Take away his job with the West Virginia Mountaineers since he is an alum and he has never had a coaching job of any kind at a major FBS school. That is important to remember because when you are the coach of a major school, let alone the winningest program in college football history, it isn’t just another head coaching job.
What a certain fraternity of college football programs have in common is a kind of passion toward the game that the rest of the country’s teams don’t possess. These are the teams that have been around almost as long as the game itself. They are the programs whose names and rivalries mean football more often than not when they are spoken of. It means the most passionate fans, alumni, boosters, sportswriters and so on. It is the kind of campus where every Saturday is a ritual revolving around the game, no matter the circumstances.
It also means the most pressure to succeed that a head coach in college football can receive. That combination of passion and a constant need for success equals impatience. This may have been the biggest contributor to the Rich Rod experiment being a quick one.
On the offensive side of the ball, what Rich Rod was attempting to implement was a quantum leap from what the Wolverines’ primary offensive approach had been for nearly 30 years. On defense, it was almost an instant slap to the face for many Wolverines fans that their new head coach was far from a defensive whiz, as were his people. Almost the entire Wolverines football history had been built on a good balance of offense and defense: an offense that functioned both on the ground and through the air and a defense that was fierce and productive. Rodriguez ended up bringing out the opposite of both.
Understanding is not a fanbase’s most used trait when something as ugly as the 2008 Wolverines season or the second half to their 2009 season. What people never understood was that this experiment was going to take time to succeed. The team was getting better each season after 2008 and Rodriguez had begun to do some good recruiting in the Big Ten at the time he was fired.
But again, you’re not afforded patience or time when you are at a school like Michigan. Rodriguez was afforded such time when he coached the Mountaineers. Alumni tend to give a coach some rope when you actually went to the school and played on the football team like he did.
I’m not saying the whole thing would have worked out, but I am saying that it wasn’t given enough time. Some may point to the historically bad record during this three-year period, the penalties from their practice time violations or how the team lost more traditional quarterbacks Ryan Mallett and Tate Forcier during this time. You got me there. However, let’s not forget that it was Rich Rod who brought Denard Robinson to Ann Arbor.
Robinson was a perfect quarterback for Rodriguez’s offense, but ended up making his mark at the university after his firing. It was Robinson who lead the Wolverines as they began their climb back to prominence. This also included the Wolverines’ first BCS bowl game win since the 2000 Orange Bowl.
I guess that’s the silver lining I can always give to fellow Michigan fans: the whole thing was a complete disaster, but we ended up with Shoelace and a BCS bowl win one year after it was over. No rock bottom hit, no years of recovery needed. It was simply an experiment gone bad and now we just move on.