The University of Michigan Wolverines football program never settles for less. But when Louisiana State University Head Coach Les Miles refused Michigan’s offer to be their next head coach, many maize and blue faithful worried about the future.
If Miles, a former player and coach at Michigan under Bo Schembechler, didn’t want the job, what did that say about the winningest program in college football history?
In short, it signified that Big House smash-mouth football had grown stale. That’s why the hiring of Rich Rodriguez, formerly the coach at West Virginia, should be welcomed as a breath of fresh air in Ann Arbor.
Rodriguez, 44, likely didn’t settle for less either. Lloyd Carr made $1.5 million this past season. And while the terms of Rodriguez’s new deal at Michigan were not announced, all indications are that he will bring in well over $2 million per year as coach of the Wolverines.
Spread the wealth, Rich
Since 2005, Rodriguez’s teams at West Virginia have gone 32-5 and 2-0 in bowl games. Over the same span the Wolverines have gone 26-11 and 0-2 in bowl games. Rodriguez’s Mountaineers have dazzled opponents with his version of the spread-option offense, and the coach intends to bring that plan of attack with him to the Big Ten.
It will be a new brand of football for the Wolverines, who operated a more traditional pro-style offense under Coach Carr, featuring a power running game and strong-armed quarterback.
Now it’s a matter of finding players to fit the new coach’s scheme starting at quarterback. Freshman Ryan Mallett received valuable playing time this season at Michigan, but the 6’6”, 247-pounder does not fit the typical mold of a spread offense quarterback. While the Michigan faithful may not want to see Mallett jettisoned from Ann Arbor, the arrival of a prized recruit could lead to his departure.
Terrelle Pryor of Jeannette High School in Jeannette, Pa., is considered the number one quarterback prospect according to scout.com. He also had a suddenly renewed interest in attending Michigan once he learned Coach Rodriguez was the new coach. If Rodriguez succeeds in landing Pryor, the Wolverines will be on their way toward making this transition a successful one.
Time for a change
The change of pace could not come at a better time for the Wolverines. Their 2006 season came crashing down with losses to Ohio State and USC. Then the Wolverines, who began the 2007 season ranked number five in the nation, opened with back-to-back home losses. First, they suffered a shocking defeat against Appalachian State and then a 32-point blowout loss to Oregon.
In the four game losing streak that spanned two seasons, the Wolverines were exposed. For all their star power, Michigan was deficient in at least one key area – team speed – and programs across the country were blazing past them on the field and in the polls.
Coach Carr was and is part of the Michigan family. He followed in Bo’s footsteps and played a traditional, conservative style of football that won games, conference titles and even a national championship in 1997. But that was ten years ago. And his last victory over Ohio State? That came in 2003.
As much as Michigan is about tradition, the program needed a jumpstart. Along with the departing Coach Carr, the Wolverines will lose a heap of leadership from this year’s team: Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Jake Long, Shawn Crable and Jamar Adams headline a star-studded list of departing seniors.
That’s why Rodriguez’s hiring makes sense. The fact that he may have been the third candidate offered the position after Miles and Rutgers’ Greg Schiano is irrelevant. And the fact that he comes from outside of the Michigan family is not a bad thing.
With a big contract comes big expectations
Next year was going to be a rebuilding season regardless of the coach. Look for growing pains to surface early in 2008 as a young team tries to learn a new system. In fact, expectations should be tempered for the next two seasons while Rodriguez implements the new scheme and brings in fresh recruiting classes to fit his style of play.
His first few seasons at West Virginia were likewise lackluster, but after he brought in the athletes capable of running his system at a high level of efficiency, the Mountaineers took off. So while patience is not often practiced when it comes to college coaches, Rodriguez deserves two years free of frustrated fans calling for his head.
Clearly Rodriguez knows how to recruit talent (see: White, Pat and Slaton, Steve). Now that he can sell the tradition of the Big House and the Wolverines, he has no excuses. He should be able to land several top prospects each year and build the Wolverines back into a contender by 2010.
That will be his third season as coach, which means he’ll have three years of recruiting classes on the roster. By that point, his style of play should have them punishing teams throughout the Big Ten. Within four or five years, Rodriguez needs to have the Wolverines in the hunt for a national title.
Those are reasonable expectations for a school that has more wins than any other in the history of college football. Michigan fans don’t just crave success – they demand it. And for the maize and blue faithful, success is defined by winning national championships. Rodriguez’s hefty contract means he is being charged with delivering that success. Michigan fans will not be satisfied with anything less.
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