Tag Archives: Rich Rodriguez

A Cold Winter in Ann Arbor

The calendar turned to December and Michigan’s football season was already over. That’s still hard to believe. But after a 3-9 season that was disappointing even for the most cautious Wolverine supporter.

They fell well short of my 6-6 preseason forecast. They lost to Toledo and were humiliated by Ohio State. They lost an unthinkable five games in the Big House and six games against the Big Ten.

There were very few bright spots during coach Rich Rodriguez’s debut season in Ann Arbor. The historic comeback against Wisconsin to open the Big Ten season was one highlight, but Wisconsin was clearly overrated back then as they needed overtime to defeat Cal Poly and finished the regular season 7-5.

The biggest concern for Michigan has to be inconsistency from virtually every position on the field. No quarterback looked like he had a firm grasp of the offense. The defense surrendered 35+ points on five occasions. And turnovers were a season-long plague.

No one expects another losing season in 2009, but it won’t be easy for the Wolverines to get above .500. After all, a 6-6 mark next year would mean doubling the team’s win total.

While the focus will be on recruiting this year and what kind of players Rodriguez can land after a 3-9 campaign, player improvement will be the real test for the coach. A new bunch of freshmen can’t be expected to turn the program around all on their own next year. How will the players who have now been in the system for a full year show improvement in 2009? If they don’t get any better, that’s a serious cause for concern.

Michigan has already seen several players depart the program (in addition to graduating seniors), so it’ll also be interesting to see who steps up as a leader of this team. Running back Brandon Minor seems to fit that mold, but he shared carries with several backs during his junior year. Will be step up as a senior to restore pride to the maize and blue?

On defense, all eyes are on Brandon Graham. The defensive end led the team with 10 sacks this season. He could enter the NFL Draft, but if he returns, he would give the Wolverines a great anchor on their defensive line.

When it comes down to it, expectations will be low again next year. Undoubtedly, Rodriguez will feel the pressure, especially if Michigan struggles out the gate. But no one seriously expects them to contend in the Big Ten next year. What they have to do is so progress and not in the form of a one- or two-game improvement.

The program and coach Rodriguez deserves a one year pass. It would’ve been tough for anyone to overcome the loss of Jake Long, Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Ryan Mallett, Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. But next year, there’s no excuse to miss a bowl. After the worst season in the history of Michigan football, Rodriguez better improve in a big way. Otherwise people will be calling for his head. Patience is short in the what-have-you-done-for-me-now world of college football.

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

Wolverines Get Rich: Rich Rodriguez named as the new football coach at the University of Michigan

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.

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.