FOR MICHIGAN, GET A WIN BEATS ‘GET A LIFE

At this point, Rich Rodriguez is like the guy who gets too drunk at the bar, goes staggering through the wrong neighborhood, gets knocked down, kicked around and now just wants to crawl home safely.

He is one game away from the end of his first season, after which he can take a breath and stop the bleeding. That’s the good news. The bad news is that one game is Ohio State, the worst team to be playing if your Wolverines are likely to be outmatched. Getting humiliated by Toledo is bad enough. But to endure what’s becoming an annual beat-down by the Buckeyes, yet again, after the record-setting losing season Rodriguez already has orchestrated, well, that just begs for mercy.

Which may be why, early this week, the coach suggested that some Michigan fans should “get a life.”

Here was his quote at his weekly news conference: “It’s amazing some of the things that people would say” on a message board “or yell at you of a personal nature. You almost want to tell them, ‘Get a life.’

“There’s a whole lot bigger problems. Look at the economy.”

Well. Look at the economy.

Yuck.

Look at Michigan football.

Yuck.

I don’t hear folks saying good things about either one. A nasty form of communication

But I am of two minds on Rodriguez’s comments. On one level, he is absolutely correct. The venom that you find on blogs or on talk radio is beyond fandom. It comes from a darker place: Anger, frustration, jealousy spit out in almost murderous tones – all of it masked by a Web name so no one has to admit who he is or where you can find him.

Previous coaches in the Michigan pantheon didn’t have to put up with this. For 20 years, Bo Schembechler largely escaped it. Sure, there were grumbles when he called three straight running plays. Sure, fans bristled when his teams lost to Woody Hayes’ Buckeyes.

But those comments were uttered in the stands, on the car ride home or around the dinner table. They weren’t broadcast across the state or typed in capital letters for a global Internet audience.

Now they are. So Rodriguez, the first coach in decades to truly be blasted for losing at Michigan, is being blasted at unheard-of volumes.

No coach deserves to have his anatomy dissected or his place in hell discussed, but that’s the kind of stuff you can find on message boards. Some of it comes from Michigan haters who think it’s fun to pose as a fan and “infiltrate” a discussion. Some of it comes from people who take football way, way too seriously.

After all, these are college kids. They don’t get paid; they are, in some cases, one year out of high school. Compared to real issues – the economy is just one – their losing games is minor. Rodriguez is right about that. It’s just part of the business

On the other hand, if things were going well, no amount of hype would be too much for Rodriguez. The bigger the hoopla, the higher the ratings, the more precious the tickets – the happier he would be. The same guy who is saying “look at the economy” wasn’t trying to keep football in perspective when he broke his contract with West Virginia and took a huge one in Ann Arbor, including millions the school had to pay to free him from his WVU obligations.

Plenty of people were calling for a sense of scale then, asking how a coach could be worth all this – especially if we’re trying to teach kids about values – but Rodriguez just took it as part of the business. He couldn’t understand why people made a fuss over that, either.

So he danced with the devil, and now the devil has the floor. If Michigan loses to the Buckeyes in Columbus on Saturday, it will be a whole new wave of anger, humiliation and bitterness – one Rich hasn’t seen yet. The only silver lining is that it’s the last time in 2008.

He came here fluffed with hype, a whiz kid set to turn around a solid but stodgy program and gun the motor to a national championship. Instead, he got a little drunk on his own reviews, took a few shots to the chin and the gut, and is staggering home as night falls. He says “get a life.” The fans say “get a team.” And all most people want is to get this season over with.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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