the interminable defense of rich rodriguez
Bob Lipson: awesome
Part I of my interview with Michigan Replay producer Bob Lipson be here, and covers the history of the show up to Bo's last year as head coach.
At that time Don Canham had recently stepped down as athletic director and Schembechler had taken over. For the first 15 seasons of Replay there had been one coach and one athletic director; now would begin a series of new ADs Liposon would have to sell the show all over again. This was no small thing. The show was a considerable side job for the coach, and it needed access to the locker room and players to interview that no other outlet got, and all of this was predicated on the AD's trust of the show's producer. For now, no big deal, right? The new AD was the longtime star of the show, so maybe lose Budweiser as a sponsor and carry on? Not so, as Bo was not as hands-on as AD as he was as football coach, and that wasn't the expectation for him. Bo still made the big decisions, e.g. firing the basketball coach in '89, but behind the scenes, the nuts and bolts of the department at that time were handled by then-senior associate director of athletics Jack Weidenbach.
Canham liked television but was never in love with the show, after 15 years however he had adjusted to it. Weidenbach, who would follow Bo as AD in 1990, maybe liked the show a little less, and wasn't resigned to anything. Jack had been around the program longer than Schembechler, and in that time had controlled everything from OSHA compliance to marketing. He knew the department inside and out, but he didn't know Bob that well.
Twenty Tons of Turf (1989-1994)
For awhile now the show was being taped on Saturdays after the games so it could run on Sunday mornings. "Fourth" network Fox had taken over Channel 2, moving CBS to 62. Feeling bold, they put in a bid to have the NFL's NFC games, and to the astonishment of many (considering the might of the other networks) won it. Fox offered Lipson the 11:30 a.m. spot right before the Lions pre-game show, a perfect lead-in for them, and a perfect place for Michigan Replay to capture more fans as they settled down for Sunday football.
But college football was now leaving the once-hallowed 1:00 p.m. standard. Driving to Detroit and back every Saturday night after a game was trial enough for home games, but on away trips it was torture. It was for Bob as well, who would sit watching games and call in which plays he wanted. If they couldn't get it in before, taping Saturday night increasingly meant waiting until the studio was done with the 9:00 news. Routinely they'd be taping from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. After a game in the dump that Minnesota used to play in (Bob's words for the Metrodome, not the author's) a late taping was a guarantee.
Attributed by Bob to their live background, they would shoot the show straight through, seldom making a mistake and almost never re-shooting something. Occasionally the coach (remember: this is at 3 a.m. after a game day in another city) would refer to "today" instead of "yesterday" but that was about it. "In 33 years we maybe had to stop five times," Bob estimated. Since there were no re-dos, the coaches on the show got a lot of practice at speaking off the cuff for posterity; perhaps this attributed to the rarity of speaking gaffes by Bo or his successors when so many NCAA coaches stumbled over the adjustment to 24-hour television.
This was the routine: taping late at night with Bob and his universally beloved terrier Zipper keeping everyone's spirits high (Michigan wouldn't listen to students' attempts to formalize a mascot but there was no doubt who filled that role for Michigan Replay). Michigan's bleary-eyed head coach would be deposited back in his bed around 5:00 a.m., and the next morning millions would tune in to see what he had to say.
Weidenbach (right/UMHistory) had good reason to wonder if the show was worth it for the '90s. On the other hand, given the positive, semi-national exposure and the increasingly substantial bottom line the show provided, he had good reason to like Bob Lipson. Bob was about to give him another one.
Canham had put turf in the stadium in 1969. That was very cool at the time—the Astrodome opened in 1965—but by 1990 it was falling out of fashion, in part due to the negative effects it was thought to have on players' joints (I've heard suggested on boards, but not substantiated, that other coaches were using it to recruit against Michigan). One of Weidenbach's first moves was to return the Big House to dirt and grass. The turf came up after the '90 football season, was rolled, and put into storage.
Nobody knew what the hell to do with it. On one hand it was 30-year-old Astroturf sitting around being all useless and in the way. On the other hand this was hallowed ground where Bo had beaten Woody's best team in '69 and Anthony Carter had caused Bob Ufer to reference Fielding Yost and Viking folklore in the same sentence.
So Lipson told Weidenbach "You give me the turf and I'll find something to do with it." Bob came up with three items he could cut it into: coasters, picture frames, and floor mats. He used his connections from years of selling ads around the state to find companies who could manufacture these items, used his connections from years of acquiring schlock for the set to make them available to the public, and came back with $800,000 for the athletic department. Today this seems like a drop in the bucket next to department runs a profit up to 20 times that, but this was a serious windfall for the university from something that had been just taking up space. As some of you may have been told on your orientation tour, Weidenbach gave half of that to the library, figuring nobody really donates to the library. The other half went into the improvements the department was making to Michigan's facilities. Bob took home a grand total of $0.00 from the project. It was a magnificent gift to the university that he loved.
Lloyd Protector (1995-'07)
You're awesome. No You're awesome!
In 1995, Lloyd Carr became the head coach of Michigan and Michigan Replay gained a guardian angel. Bo overshadowed anybody you put him in a room with. Mo looked like an uncle trapped at a family event two hours after giving his wife the first "let's go" signal. In reality Moeller was less enthusiastic about the show even than he appeared. Yet the man who succeeded him may have been the most important single personality for Michigan Replay other than Lipson himself. With Lloyd the chemistry with Brandstatter was immediate and palpable. Here were too good buddies, both with evident love for their topic, chatting the same way their viewers had been during the game.
Of the people Bob says nice things about (too many to mention) the kindest words are reserved for Carr. Carr in turn had plenty of nice things to say about Bob's show. Despite more late-night tapings than any of his predecessors due to afternoon games or worse (e.g. flying home after a West Coast game) Lloyd was the show's biggest fan. What he loved about it was that the high school coaches loved it. Across the country wherever the show was on, athletes' parents and coaches saw Michigan's clean-cut, well-spoken players (and Carr's apparent honesty and affability to anyone not in a press room or a Sun Belt referee uniform), and equated Michigan with this idyllic student-athlete experience. Recruiting regulations at this time were piling up as quickly as coaches could think of new ways to pitch their programs, and then here's this big syndicated program (now at 11:00 a.m.) that's in its way a big Michigan commercial reaching Carr's target audience.
As '97 was the apogee of the Bo era, so was it the last peak of the show. Bo of course wasn't on it anymore, but episodes after the Penn State, Ohio State, and Rose Bowl victories that season were some of the most-watched in its history.
Despite its popularity with fans—mostly an older crowd—some in the athletic department were ready to throw out Replay with the rest of the anachronisms of the Canham era. Bob gave me little in the way of explanation for why a vintage Carr defense was necessary—perhaps he wasn't so sure what the fuss was about either—but he left little doubt there were people in the athletic department who were not fans of the show.
If I have to venture a guess, it was the result of several administrations coming through in quick succession, all with their own goals, versus this independent program they weren't really sure of their affiliation with, and which had gotten by all of these years because Bob Lipson had ingratiated himself with the principals. Gone already were the guys who remembered the turf thing, and gone too were their replacements. Now the athletic director was Tom Goss, a Michigan footballer of the pre-Bo era (he graduated after the '68 season) who had spent years in beverages and merchandising. Goss was determined to make not only the Big House but Crisler into a modern facility, and embarked upon the first of the modern round of renovations. The better known result of this was the stadium halo and what Bob eloquently called the "refrigerator magnet" letters on the stadium my freshman year (1998), the baby of a guy named Shapiro though Goss fell on the sword for it.
How this affected Michigan Replay was that the renovations came with a bigger video board and, importantly, a studio within the complex to take advantage of it. Summoning every ounce of goodwill he had left, Bob went to the athletic department to beg that they use the opportunity to build an honest-to-goodness TV studio, as opposed to the mini-booth they were planning. Perhaps with the intervention of a guardian angel (or guardian legend), this was approved. No more driving back and forth to Detroit, and the two hours out of the coach's game day it lost.
Bo used to sit on a stool, taping live in a Detroit TV station across from that network's (Sparty-inclined) sports anchor, while an intern flipped the reel and made Rick Leach look right-handed; now Lloyd Carr and Jim Brandstatter had leather chaise loungers in a tricked-out, purpose-built modern studio inside the Crisler complex. But Goss wouldn't long survive his expenditures, and while new A.D. Bill Martin didn't feel too strongly one way or another about the show—his job as he saw it was to fix the department's finances—more people in his department wanted to kill the show, and they were less shy about saying something. These people carried weight with Martin, and as the 2000s progressed so too did the seriousness of their opposition. What kept it going was simply Lloyd Carr, who would see Michigan Replay end over his retired body.
In 2007, ten years after his national championship season, Carr retired.
That's All the Time We Have (2008)
"Keep this replay going." –Lloyd Carr
People have come up with a lot of theories to explain the sudden and abrupt conclusion of Michigan Replay after 2007. Many claim Rich Rodriguez didn't want to do the show, either out of sansdeference for the well of Michigan or simply because his tantrumic post-loss regimen probably wouldn't play any better on TV than it did in John Bacon's Three and Out. More savvy Web browsers can discover the athletic department hired a new marketing company around that time, and extrapolate that the new agency shirts didn't think two guys sitting across from each other in lounge chairs and cutting through the mysteries of football were the right thing for the brand. There's even an erroneous reference on Wikipedia to "retiring the show in honor of Lloyd," which is impossible to reconcile with Lloyd's words to Brandy on their last show together.
Doubtless the end of Michigan Replay coinciding with the coaching change for fans created the sense that it was one more unnecessary break from Michigan tradition. Those who didn't like Rich Rod went with the reason that blames him. Those who hated Bill Martin went with that. Nature abhors a vacuum, so the public filled it with whatever fit the narrative of what they thought was going on in the erratic and nonsensical late-term Martin athletic department.
What happened was far more simple: folks in the athletic department wanted to be rid of the show long before, but Lloyd Carr had been holding them off. Said Bob, "When I lost Lloyd, I lost my protector."
He made this very clear to me and I'll try to be as clear here: Rich Rodriguez had nothing to do with the show being canceled. He wasn't any more thrilled with the idea of it than Moeller was, and he would only do it Sunday mornings, not Saturday nights (given the amount of late games Michigan now played and his post-loss demeanor, this was smart). The difference was Rich Rod had no idea of its recruiting power, didn't know Brandstatter, and didn't have the sentimental attachment to the show that Lloyd had. Rodriguez upon arrival didn't know the politics inside Martin's department, and certainly had no way of knowing the only thing that could save the show was nothing short of him demanding they keep it in his contract. The sum total of blame on Rodriguez for the end of Michigan Replay is nil.
Minus Lloyd, the elements inside had their way, and the show was canceled. Bob was rightfully sad to see his life's work suddenly ended, but stressed that he wasn't bitter: "There's nothing on television that lasts 33 years!" That's not entirely correct, since of his class of '75 we still have Wheel of Fortune, Saturday Night Live, and Good Morning America. But: Wheel of Fortune, Saturday Night Live, and Good Morning America! Lipson's idea for a chitchat with the local college coach survived exactly as long as Michigan's coinciding bowl streak, and (three channels, remember) was just as impressive.
Last year, under yet another new athletic director, David Brandon (who graduated from Michigan just two years before the show began), Lipson was invited back, this time for the Big Ten Network. However he declined, and also declined to give over the name of his show, hence "Inside Michigan Football." Bob's reasoning had nothing to do with who could control it, or when it would be taped, or anything like that. What had happened over the last three years was that Bob for the first time in his life found what a joy it is to sit on a bench surrounded by his grandchildren inside the Big House, and watch a game of Michigan football. And there's nothing in the world, he says, that's could be better than that.
Q&A and Errata
Seth: What do you think of Brady Hoke and his staff, and how do they compare to the coaches you worked with?
Lipson: I like Brady. I liked him very much during his time as an assistant…the players loved him. I don't know that much has changed now that he is the head man. I choose not to compare!!!
Seth: Something something Dave Brandon and the current state of the program/college football in general?
Lipson: Bo would not be happy. He believed games ought to be played at 1:00 p.m. and wouldn't like the night games and all of the other things. Dave Brandon is the antithesis of Canham in some ways, but that was a different era with different expectations and even though Bo wouldn't like it, there's a lot of things Bo wouldn't like. I think Brandon is doing the right things for Michigan, and that's what he should be doing.
Seth: This is WRONG!!!:
This is RIGHT!!!:
This is a question! ?
Lipson: When I switched songs I received a ton of negative mail and comments saying to go back to the original. After 3 years I did return. Much of the negative comments came from Doug Karsch during his days at WTKA.
Seth: "Whoa cool license plate!"
Lipson: The wife of a couple who sit next to us at the games [had that made for us]. She works at Jackson prison and had the plate made by convicts. We joke and say it was made by Kwame Kilpatrick during his stay there.
To WolverineHistorian for putting up most of the videos I linked to. To D.A. from my office (not sure if he wants his name out there) who provided the contact. To the readers who suggested questions (Bob read them all by the way) and shared their memories on that thread a few weeks ago. And to the incomparable Bob Lipson, for taking the time to humor a blogger with his story. Thank you!
Michigan is 7-1 right now with four winnable games on the horizon. We have an excellent coaching staff and a team and fanbase united behind them. We have a top 5 recruiting class, yet one of the cleanest programs in the Top 25, and one of the hungriest. A victory over Ohio State this year for the first time seems at least 50% likely. The defense is young but competent, the offense scares people. We have all the Denards.
It took me three sessions to get through Three and Out, and after each one I had to repeat some variation of the above mantra to recalibrate. The book is about the program and the team from the perspective of Rodriguez, it has a hard Michigan bias and got at least one minor fact wrong,* but as an RR-era survivor I couldn't help experiencing it again as a fan. Reliving the Rod years is not a particularly enjoyable experience.
* He gives the program credit for giving Kovacs, an out-of-state player, a scholarship despite out-of-state tuition being much higher, but the AD—and I'm 99.999% sure about this—pays the same (full) cost of attendance for every student athlete. Everyone costs the maximum whether they're suburban Toledo defensive backs, underclass volleyball strikers from Algonac, or intergalactic space punters in the B-school.
What struck me most when reading Bacon's book was how important those years made this all seem. He mentions match points a lot; there were a lot of match points, and not just the football game ones. Like every article in every rag across the country that ragged on our coaches meant organizing a counter-defense. We were blogging for our very lives!
The second, and longest, of those sessions ended around page 415, or Location 8691 for you Kindle readers. Rodriguez was giving his speech at the infamous Bust, moments before the Great Groban-ing finally tipped the scales. I quote the passage:
"We all need to be ONE Michigan. One Michigan. Proud of every era. Proud of every young man, every student athlete who went through this program…
After giving a nod to Michigan tradition, he was now speaking of what his coaches were doing to turn their players into a team of Michigan Men. Now that he understood Michigan traditions, Michigan needed to extend him the respect he needed to lead the program…
The raw emotion of the speech went up a notch.
"Is this worth it?" Behind that question stood all the personal and professional costs of the past three years. "Is this worth it for your family?" he asked, getting choked up.
The answer wasn't clear-cut. It wasn't a matter of feeling sorry for yourself, he said, though the temptation was always there. It was instead seeing "the pain in the coaches' faces and worry and anxiety in your kids' faces." He wasn't speaking just of the losses but also of the personal attacks and the seemingly endless public trial he and his staff and players had been put through.
But, unequivocally, Rodriguez said, the answer was yes. Yes, it was worth it. It was worth it because the differences made in the lives of everyone attached to the program, said, and because of his unquestioning faith in the future greatness of his players and team.
And right there I had to painfully leave it for a day of work. I knew as well as you do where this was going, but without its infamous conclusion I got to ponder the content of the Bust speech and mentally fill in my own ending. In it I had him define "Michigan" and confront the idea of factions…
"If you ask me what side I'm on it's for these players, and the ideals of hard work, excellence, education, loyalty, and honesty which they embody—in a word, 'Michigan.' If you ask our own living legend, Lloyd Carr, who stood as a rock of integrity in a business that makes a mockery of it, what side he's on, it's 'Michigan.' If you ask our millions of fans and alumni what faction they're with, it'll be Michigan! Michigan! Michigan!" etc.
…and then come back to "Is it worth it," where "it" isn't just poor Rich and his staff but the players and the program. This is the thing that Hoke "gets" that Rodriguez didn't: there's nothing that can galvanize Michigan fans like talk about how great Michigan is, and the unity of the fanbase is all-important.
Of course he didn't take that tack but before he Groban-ed himself out of the job Rodriguez did give us a question worth pondering: "Was it worth it?"
Well was it? All the battles, all the interminable defenses, all the GERG and gimpy Gibsonesque defensive backing? The transfers, the divisiveness, the losing, the jihad—were these all worth it if that was the price to chip off the hubris from our program's unique idealism?
The RR years left us with a defense so bad it would literally need the Baltimore Ravens' D.C. and more than one outstanding freshman to even get to okay. It also left a team and a fanbase more united behind our program and our ideals than anytime in recent memory. We may have had to throw one of the rare good guys who can actually coach under the bus to get there, but we did get there. Other than a bit of whining last February, the mistakes made in the last transition have not been repeated, either inside Fort Schembechler or outside of it. The liars and the leaks were exposed. And these players, man. Can you remember a team more worth rooting for?
I got to the end of the book feeling more favorable toward Rodriguez than I was before, but ultimately, like Brian, still glad we've moved on from all that. But in some ways, I'm also glad he came. Because that subtext, the possibilities left unrealized at every match point, all the stuff that was on the tip of the tongue right before everything went Josh Groban, weirdly enough we got to keep all of that, and move on.
Michigan is 7-1 right now with four winnable games on the horizon. We have an excellent coaching staff and a team and fanbase united behind them. We have a top 5 recruiting class, yet one of the cleanest programs in the Top 25, and one of the hungriest. A victory over Ohio State this year for the first time seems at least 50% likely. The defense is young but competent, the offense scares people. We have all the Denards. Hoke and his staff have a lot to do with that, but a lot of that comes from what was built before them. In his own completely inelegant way, Rodriguez left a program in better shape than he found it. Perhaps that can be my last thought on him.
If this was an editorial cartoon, Steve Martin would have "Michigan" written all over him and the phonebooks would say "alumni." Also it would be terrible.
You know, my immediate reaction to this AnnArbor.com headline…
Former receiver Braylon Edwards impressed by one Michigan coach, down on another following busy Friday
…was "great, more people talking crap about Rodriguez." Turns out Edwards was just talking crap about Mike Hart. Well played, Bigelow. It's good to know that we've stopped taking hardly veiled shots at Rodriguez and are ready to move on—
“Just more about the tradition,” Edwards said of Hoke’s message. “And he appreciates the alums, and he definitely wants to get us involved and do everything we can to educate the players who play there now.
“Because it’s sad to say, a lot of them don’t know the tradition at Michigan. Back in the day, players knew the former players. They knew the countdowns, the titles, Hail to the Victors. I’m sure if you ask some of the kids on the team now, I guarantee there’s a couple of kids that don’t know all of the words in full.”
Son of a bitch. People are talking crap about Rodriguez not respecting Michigan's tradition at the alumni flag football game he started. In related news, this year's Tunnel Of Victors will feature a special version of the MGoBlue banner that says "F.U. RICHROD."
Meanwhile… Braylon Edwards. He should probably stop talking and doing things. When you punch some dude or say your DUI for blowing twice the legal limit was because of tinted windows or that Cleveland "has nothing" while you have a "New York-type essence" or that your teammates quit and the starting quarterback should be different and your OC is bad or that people on the football team don't know the fight song, that doesn't reflect well on yourself or "Lloyd Carr's" University of Michigan. It's one thing to take swipes at current players who might not be great at football collectively. It's another when they're awesome dudes and you're someone people euphemistically dub "controversial" or "outspoken." Because bitching about Charlie Frye makes you Malcolm X.
Mike Hart also said some things about how Rodriguez didn't value the tradition but prefaced that with a statement about how he always felt welcome back; Breaston dismissed the "he wasn't accepted" bit and focuses on winning games; meanwhile, Ron Bellamy:
“We are ecstatic,” Bellamy said. “We know it’s a process. You can’t build up the program in a year or two. You have to give him a chance to bring his guys in the right way and play football in this conference the way it is supposed to be played.”
Edwards before last year:
"He has to make it work," Edwards said. "If he can't -- me being one of the alumni guys -- I want someone that can make it work. We've been patient. If it doesn't go right this year, we'll have to find a guy that can make it work with that winged helmet."
Since Michigan's tradition quickly became "screw you, Rich Rodriguez," I can't imagine why there was a disconnect there.
Who cares? We just watched a bunch of guys who essentially never beat OSU and/or quit en masse once they didn't like the head coach blame Rodriguez for the program's decline. Yeah, it declined. Yeah, Rodriguez had a lot to do with it. So did they. Jim Brandstatter of all people:
"He had a lot of strikes against him when he walked in the door and that was sad," Brandstatter said.
Whatever Rodriguez's failings were they were amplified by a culture that immediately rejected him. There was a rebellion the seniors on this year's team are pointing to as a Bad Idea. Someone sold him out to the Free Press. He was treated like garbage at alumni outings.
Meanwhile, the complainers were the reason Michigan had to go outside the family. The Great Tradition of Michigan had recently devolved into a 1-6 record against OSU and The Horror. The Great Tradition had produced zero plausible head coaching candidates to continue it. The Tradition is blaming it all on a scapegoat instead of manning up and looking in the mirror. They are collectively Edwards blaming his 0.16 BAC on tinted windows.
That's not a good way to run anything. Without a serious analysis of what you did wrong other than "hire that outsider," with how your culture is messed up, you become Notre Dame. Some guys were willing to be active with the program over the last few years and plenty more didn't sell it out publicly; the decision not to speaks to the player, not Rodriguez.
Carr's former players aren't the program. A subset of them think it's about them, but it's about Denard and Molk and Martin and Kovacs, the ones who stayed and worked hard and were emphatically not champions thanks in some small part to people like Edwards. Van Bergen:
"You know, it's just kind of unsettling that there's … it's great that they're back, but it's kind of, where have they been the last two or three years?" Van Bergen said. "We've still been wearing the same helmets since they were here."
Despite what they think, the alumni are just fans now. It's hard to imagine a big chunk weren't the loathsome sort glorying in a season-ending blowout.
So you'll have to excuse the rest of us who stood in those stands during the Fandom Endurance III game and are terribly sad about how the last three years worked out: we've got a phonebook to care about instead of Braylon Edwards's glorious return to the program.
[ROTE DISCLAIMER THAT WILL BE IGNORED: This is not a defense of Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez should have been fired. It is not a criticism of Brady Hoke. I wrote a big long post about how Hoke's three non-MAC coordinator hires constitute a real reason for optimism. Early indications are this staff is taking advantage of the opportunities placed before them in this year's recruiting class, and with what's going on at OSU the hypothetical ceiling on the program could blow off.
I look forward to this being interpreted as an attack on Hoke in the comments. Bring it, reading comprehension failures of America.]
Published reaction to the Day of Slight Reckoning has mostly fallen into two camps. One focuses on how the prideful block M has been brought low; addressing that is left for another post. The second shrugs at the end result, adds it to the ever-growing pile to strikes against Rodriguez, and quickly segues into a discussion of Rodriguez's presence on the proverbial hot seat, which is deemed hot indeed. Unlike last year, when a smattering of dips said Rodriguez was in danger of losing his job, there's no denying the reality of it: there are 2010 football seasons that end with Rodriguez getting run out of town on a rail.
How many are there? It will come as no surprise to anyone who's read this blog for a long time that I believe there are (and should be) considerably fewer than the popular conception does. Heck, I (and Dave from Maize 'n' Brew) just managed to convince Doug Gillett of this. For the last year and a half this space has been advocating radical patience.
For an example what seems to be the conventional wisdom, Bruce Feldman has a piece($) in which he repeatedly asks for much more than I think is reasonable for RR to deliver next year:
This is still Michigan, growing pains or not. This isn't a normal rebuilding job. Going 8-4 may not even be a strong enough sign that Michigan is rocketing back to the top and all of this tumult in the previous two years were worth it. …
Again, 8-4 might not be enough. Michigan needs to go back to winning like Michigan used to. Now.
Similarly, Dan Wetzel declares that setting the bar at a return to a bowl game is "incredibly low."
I had a twitter conversation with Feldman about this assertion a couple days ago. During that one of the tweets hit my main account—forgot the "d"—and thus the Facebooks, where it drew a chorus of raspberries because I asserted that going from 5-7 to 7-5 whilst replacing Baby Seal U with UConn would be "significant" progress. (It's since been pointed out that Michigan is playing a I-AA team next year so they're replacing with Eastern Michigan with UConn, but it's not like there's much difference between EMU and a horrible HBCU except when it comes to the entertainment provided by the marching band.) Patience is running low.
I know it's my role as the crazy fan blogger to demand the head of the coach when he fails to live up to my crazy expectations, but if we're seriously talking about an 8-4 regular season "not being enough" for Rodriguez to get a year four Michigan should have just fired him already. If this ends up being an 8-4 team the Mathlete's luck chart will have Michigan considerably on the happy side of the ledger.
- Aforementioned schedule upgrade.
- In games against non-baby-seals last year, Michigan was outgained 410-353 on average. They did not outgain any BCS opponent other than Purdue.
- The two-deep at safety, which covers three spots, has two walk-ons and zero upperclassmen. The corner depth is horrifying, as well.
- The quarterback depth chart also features zero upperclassmen.
- The scholarship breakdown looks like so: 11 seniors, 13 juniors, 20 sophomores, and 39 freshmen. The defense as a whole remains extremely young relative to competition:
The 2009 and 2010 classes make up about half of each unit for our rivals; for us it's about 75 percent..
- Only four seniors project as starters.
"This is still Michigan" is demonstrably false. Even in year three this remains a desperately young team with major holes in the secondary and no upperclass quarterbacks. Rodriguez's responsibility for the state of the state of the roster is limited to the absence of Terrelle Pryor, or any marginally acceptable option at quarterback from his first two months on the job, and a couple of would-be-sophomores Rodriguez did not add to the end of his first full recruiting class. You can wave your hands and say "Michigan! Rabble rabble rabble!" all you want but if you dressed these guys up like Generic State University people would expect them to go .500.
Progress is mandatory, but firing a guy because he's not healing lepers is unwise. This is a team that deserved to go 3-9 in 2008 and had four non-freshman defensive backs on the roster last year. Rebuilding from that is not a short-term operation. We've been through why this happened many times before; suffice it to say Rodriguez's margin of error to prevent a wholesale cratering was infinitesimal.
Later in Feldman's piece he says Rodriguez is an "excellent coach" and "proven winner" who "knows how to develop talent and motivate players." If this is the case—and everything in his coaching tenure before Michigan suggests so—why shouldn't Michigan give him the benefit of the doubt? They are not going to hire a coach with two BCS wins to his name next offseason. Patience is warranted. One year now (to be clear: 2011) has the potential to pay off with a 20-year stretch of success. While recruiting has suffered Michigan's classes are well within the range where Michigan can expect to compete for Big Ten championships when it is not operating with literally half the upperclassmen of its primary rivals.
My personal measuring stick for Rodriguez: yardage parity and a winning record. I would be displeased with 7-6 but willing to grit my teeth and give Rodriguez a shot in 2011, when he will return both specialists, every starter on offense save Steve Schilling and all but three starters on defense. That will seem exceptionally kind to many, I know, but literally no coach in the country could take the leftovers after Mallett's transfer and do anything other than flail as Rodriguez has.
2008 was a complete waste. To me, this is year two for Rodriguez, and 2011 is when I expect rubber to meet road.