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SHOULD THE GAME BE A WATERLOO FOR RICH ROD?

by | Nov 20, 2009 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Saturday’s Michigan-Ohio State game is, football-wise, a wet rag. No championships are on the line. The two teams are miles apart.

But the overtones, for Rich Rodriguez, are louder than a marching band. Win the game and his job may be secure. Lose it, and the catcalls for his ouster will echo down I-94.

One game makes that much difference?

“It’s part of my job and I have to deal with it, so you deal with it as briefly as possible,” Rodriguez told me this week.

“Do you feel your job is in jeopardy?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

Of course, football coaches – like parents of teenagers-– are often the last to know. Check the watercooler, the radio, the blogosphere, and you will hear that Rich Rod is all but gone, that Saturday’s game, if lost, will be his last, that Jim Harbaugh is the new catnip.

Personally, I do not believe in using this space to get people fired. That’s what bosses are for.

But I will say this to the Maize-and-Blue Nation. Be careful what you wish for.

And ask yourself who you want to be. The price of a revolving door policy

Do you want to be a program that hires and fires football coaches with the frequency of a lousy NBA franchise? Remember, every time a college coach is fired, dozens of players who had a personal commitment from the man are left hanging. You don’t trade them. You don’t buy new ones. Meanwhile, dozens of high school recruits are tossed into the air of uncertainty. And money – which could be going to academic resources – is instead paid to men who are no longer on the job.

Which is why, with rare exceptions, you can’t find a college program that herks and jerks its coaches and wins with consistency.

Now, it’s true that Harbaugh, at the moment, is doing good things with Stanford. But is he doing even as well as Rodriguez did at West Virginia? Not yet.

Yes, Harbaugh is a Michigan Man. But didn’t we have this debate two years ago with Les Miles at LSU? Is the U-M football program supposed to stop and swoon every time an alum gets hot with some other team?

Oh, and by the way, does Michigan want to be known as a school that wolf-whistles at coaches who are under contract with other schools – as Harbaugh is?

That doesn’t sound like the Michigan people used to be so proud of. Hoping for signs of better days ahead

Of course that Michigan did a lot more winning. And winning is what this is all about. Yes, there is the NCAA investigation into allegations of excessive practices and workouts that violated the rules. And people may hoist that to say, “Throw Rich Rod the Rule Breaker out!”

But let’s be honest. Those violations aren’t as scandalous as handing out envelopes of money. And if U-M were 10-1, not 5-6, my guess is most fans would be minimizing the practice issue, not maximizing it.

“You understand that a lot of the talk shows and the bloggers are gonna state their opinion,” Rodriguez said. “But it’s surprising because if you really followed the program, you’d see the progress we’re going through …”

That’s the problem. Fans don’t see progress. They see a defense that can’t stop a tricycle in the second half. They see a freshman quarterback sending text messages to a reporter – something that, under Bo Schembechler, would have resulted in the kid having his phone smashed by Bo’s foot and his telephone service disabled until graduation.

But Bo hasn’t coached in 20 years. It’s not the same world.

“It’s an instant gratification society,” Rodriguez said. “They all want it right now. And so do I … but it’s just gonna take us a little longer.”

Whether he gets the “little longer” may have a lot to do with the final score Saturday. But it shouldn’t. One game is not a career. So who are you going to be, Michigan? Either the man is your coach or he isn’t.

Mitch Albom will sign copies of his latest bestseller, “Have a Little Faith,” at 10 a.m. Saturday at Borders, 3410 Lohr Rd., Ann Arbor. Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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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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