And you think you're crowded at Michigan Stadium
11/22/2008 – Michigan 7, Ohio State 42 – 3-9, 2-6 Big Ten
I gave you the emotional appeal for patience with Rich Rodriguez on Friday. Then Michigan went out and got clubbed to death like everyone expected, though the killing blows took a longer to get home. Michigan is 3-9, the season is over, etc.
So what happened? Who's at fault? How does this affect Rodriguez going forward?
What happened. In retrospect the optimism about the season was comical. At some point in fall camp it became clear the coaches did not think the one viable scholarship quarterback on the roster was obviously better than a walk-on who looks like the wimpy guy in a barbershop quartet. This should have been a HEAD FOR THE HILLS moment.
Instead, I saw (and participated in) a classic moment of irrational fan optimism: it's not that bad. He was injured as a senior, he could be okay. He slipped through the cracks. He's a better fit for the system. And so on and so forth.
Meanwhile, a defensive tackle was moved to the offensive line and ended up starting. Michigan lost one of its only viable starters in the preseason. Stevie Brown would reclaim a starting job, and the other safeties would be 1) a guy who had been playing corner and 2) a guy who couldn't hack it at corner.
People say "Michigan shouldn't be that bad with all that talent!" and I say "I would like to see some of this talent!" There is obviously none on offense except that which is underclassmen. Sure, the defensive line is great but it doesn't matter when none of your linebackers can cover worth a damn and the safeties give out long touchdowns like candy. This thing was doomed from the start, and even if Rodriguez screwed up all he did was make it slightly more doomed.
Who's at fault. Everyone:
- Lloyd Carr put all his eggs in Mallett's basket, leaving Michigan with David Cone as upperclass QBs this year. His recruiting was obviously rotting slowly, too.
- Angry Michigan Mobile Quarterback Hating God blew up Antonio Bass's knee.
- Bill Martin scheduled Utah instead of Sam Houston State.
- Rich Rodriguez thought Steven Threet was worse than Nick Sheridan.
- Angry Michigan Fan Sanity God also thought it would be funny to see Michigan fumble every ten seconds.
There's plenty to go around.
The one criticism being launched on the internet and elsewhere that I think has some validity is directed at the defensive staff. They had one and a half viable linebackers and a returning senior who spent the last two years of his career as a LB/CB/S hybrid. Maybe Thompson plays against UW, MSU, and OSU, but the switch to a nickel package against the spread took nine games and was only spurred by a move to a 3-3-5 that Justin Siller shredded for 48 points. Much of the year Michigan ran out three-man fronts on potential running downs and was gashed.
If they keep Thompson off the field and go with a nickel all year and never, ever go to a three man line on a potential running down Michigan probably wins another game or two more games and this year is not nearly as ugly. Is that on Shafer? I don't know. I suspect there was some major conflict between the various guys running the defense, as two of them were new to Rodriguez and two were holdovers.
I'm willing to grant a first-year coordinator a mulligan when he doesn't know the strengths and weaknesses of his players; next year I hope to see a more coherent idea of what Michigan can and cannot do and what players are good.
What now. A favorite media complaint of late has been that "it didn't have to be this bad," inevitably followed by "why didn't Rodriguez run Mike DeBord's offense?" The latter idea has already been debunked here. The former is not a complaint for Rich Rodriguez, it's for Bill Martin. If Martin wanted he could have hung on to an assistant or grabbed Brady Hoke or picked up any number of coaches who would have changed the culture and offense less radically.
Once you decide to bring Rodriguez in, though, you are committed to some degree of rebuilding, and when your hotshot QB recruit transfers leaving nothing behind him that degree is "lots." This is not Rodriguez's fault. I'm sure there were any number of things he could have done better, and that in some way he has personality flaws that make transition years under him more brutal than they usually are. Okay. Those are a sunk cost. 2008 is a sunk cost. This is a sunk cost:
In economics and business decision-making, sunk costs are costs that cannot be recovered once they have been incurred. Sunk costs are sometimes contrasted with variable costs, which are the costs that will change due to the proposed course of action…. In microeconomic theory, only variable costs are relevant to a decision. Economics proposes that a rational actor does not let sunk costs influence one's decisions, because doing so would not be assessing a decision exclusively on its own merits.
Even if Rodriguez did run off Mallett and Manningham and Arrington and Boren and various other players and is just really horrible at transitioning football teams, all that already happened. We suffered the consequences of it. Booting Rodriguez before he's been given a chance to show what he can do with a roster of his guys makes this year in vain.
I mention it because the ridiculous "BCS with a sophomore QB in 2010 or DEATH" meme has spread beyond the addled brain of the Worst Columnist in America and to some of the more Little Wayne-obsessed parts of the Michigan blogosphere:
We're predicting a sloppy 7-5 campaign … and a loss in the Alamo, setting up a situation in Year 3 that he MUST reach a BCS bowl. No pressure, though.
I generally like the Realests, but no. This horrible season should not have much bearing on Rich Rodriguez's job security. It's sunk and gone. As long as Michigan improves consistently and Rodriguez strides towards the excellent program he had at West Virginia, his job should be safe. Firing him after three years if he goes 3-9, 6-6, and 8-4 would be the first step towards the doming down of the program.
Because. Because I have to tell you, the state of the program right now is not good. 19 scholarship defenders return. Not on the two-deep. On the roster. In all likelihood, a freshman will start at quarterback next year and the skill position players will be mostly underclassmen. Michigan should obviously be better next year. They probably aren't going to be good.
I'm sorry to harp on this, but in my mind it's the primary danger facing the program right now. They've grabbed a high quality coach with 20 years of experience young enough to stay at Michigan for 20 years, which is a combination you never see. Getting rid of Rich Rodriguez for not moving the program in the right direction enough would be the biggest mistake Michigan has made in over 40 years.
Suck it up and ye shall reach the promised land. As Ninja Football says: WE ARE GOING TO BE A MACHINE.