Rich Rodriguez’s fatemaize & who?

by | Jan 5, 2011 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

In ugly, out ugly. Why wouldn’t Rich Rodriguez be fired? In three years, he didn’t win a single important game. He couldn’t coach defense. He got hit with NCAA violations. And he made a lot of people squirm when he talked – or, on occasion, swayed to a Josh Groban song.

So no one should be surprised today (even though no “official” firing had been announced). But they shouldn’t have been surprised last week or last year, either. It never stopped raining under Rich Rodriguez. He arrived in a messy cloud and he apparently is leaving in the same.

In ugly, out ugly.

When the whole story is written, it will look surprisingly symmetrical. Rodriguez had barely stepped off the plane here before stones started landing from West Virginia. He was a turncoat. A traitor. A man who couldn’t be trusted.

Now, he reportedly will depart, the stones this time are coming from Ann Arbor. He makes excuses. He’s overrated. He doesn’t do things the “Michigan way.”

Michigan began its tenure with Rodriguez by helping buy him out of another school’s contract. It will end its tenure by giving him money to go away.

There was noise when Rodriguez was hired and noise when he’s (reportedly) being fired.

In ugly, out ugly.

Wrong from the start

And if it feels like the whole Rodriguez era was like being on a ship in storm-tossed waters, that’s because it was. For that I blame not Rodriguez but the man who hired him, Bill Martin. As Michigan’s athletic director, Martin got it all wrong. Fans were screaming for a new approach. Martin should have known better. He should have realized part of the reason Michigan is the winningest football program in history is that it doesn’t listen to its angriest fans, it listens to itself, its history, its legacy.

Instead, Martin, playing the more popular card, ignored Lloyd Carr’s suggestions, moved away from Carr’s staff or even his recommendations, and went after the hot new thing, which is the kind of behavior most schools exhibit. And it explains why most schools don’t stay on top for very long.

In fact, what most schools do is what Michigan is doing now. Firing a guy with time left on his deal, looking for someone on the rise.

Michigan doesn’t want to be like most schools. It wants to be like itself – or at least its old self. I’m not sure this is possible, by the way. Even if it hired a Jim Harbaugh or a Brady Hoke. The continuity of the Bo-Mo-Lloyd daisy chain has been shattered. From coaching staff to support people to players with younger brothers, it all went away several years ago, and it doesn’t just resume because you hire a guy with a maize-and-blue sweatshirt in his closet. This isn’t putting a band back together. This is trying to put a philosophy, a style and an approach back together. Humpty Dumpty may look easy by comparison.

Live and learn

But that, apparently, is what Dave Brandon wants to do. There is a certain “magic” that Michigan faithful believe in – call it a philosophy, a way of doing things, whatever. Brandon subscribes to it. And now apparently so does most of Wolverine Nation.

But three years ago, it was a different song and many of these same fans were singing it. Back then, they wanted a hot new scheme, 21st-Century speed, national championship hopes. Now look. They yearn for the days when beating Michigan State wasn’t a major upset.

In short, people seem suddenly nostalgic for the Bo Schembechler days. But remember that when Bo was hired in 1968, the next day the papers read “Bo Who?” It’s more than pedigree. It’s integrity, style, discipline, character and experience.

And if guys with all that were so easy to find, everyone would have a clean, winning program.

In ugly, out ugly. I do feel bad for Rodriguez, only because I think he wasn’t ever anyone different than the man who arrived three years ago and who most likely departs today. It’s the people around here who changed and are now changing again. The winds blow. Maybe today we’ll find out which way.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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