Some people are obsessed with Rich Rodriguez. I’m obsessed with why so many people seem to hate him. I wrote a half-tongue-in-cheek analysis of the RichRod haters (funny note: the stuff about vengeful West Virginia hillbillies was before finding out that WV leads the nation in RichRod Googlestalking). But with National Signing Day and the fallout from the Demar Dorsey questions during the press conference, I had to revisit the topic. I’m covering some old generation gap ground here, but dammit this is my diary so stop now if you like.
A quick note: Rodriguez should have been more prepared to answer tough questions about Dorsey and handle those questions with more cool. Yet he provided an answer, saying that he had checked the background of every player. So why wasn’t that answer good enough for Sharp, Birkett, etc.? Well, I believe that if Bo, Lloyd, or even Mark Dantonio had given that same answer, there would have been no follow-up. Because the press fears and respects those guys. Rodriguez? Not so much.
Why don’t people respect Rodriguez? The losing at Michigan is obviously a big issue, and winning will solve many problems. But not all of them. Beginning with Bo (and perhaps earlier; I’m no Bump Elliott expert), Michigan has been coached by a taskmaster field general. Demanding, strict, somewhat dictatorial. Moeller may have fit the same mold, but the incident at the Excalibur damaged him terribly – no longer was he the feared leader, he was the pathetic drunk. He was replaced by Lloyd Carr. More intellectual than Bo, he was still the tight-lipped fearless commander, the great lion, the general to lead men into battle.
Rich Rodriguez is not these things. He is a leader, and he has proven he can be an effective one. But he’s not the strict sovereign. He is the fun-loving, loosey-goosey, affable coach [EDIT: should probably just say "He has an affable and good-natured public demeanor, compared to his predecessors more known for withering stares sprinkled with the occasional dry wit."]. Players appear to respond well to that kind of leader. But the media, and many others, do not. Without saying so, they want the coach to be the fear of God disciplinarian. They want to be intimidated. Because when they feel intimidated, they are reassured. They secretly want old-school Dad, and they don’t know what to do with new school Dad.
Mark Dantonio, bless his soul, is the old school Dad that Rich Rodriguez (and John L. Smith) is not. When Drew Sharp cites the double standard, he’s basically saying “Me, Mike Rosenberg, and everyone else want a Dad I fear, not a Dad I play games with. We want Woody and Bo or Tressel or Saban. We want a Dad who listens to classical music or talk radio, not rock or R&B. Old school Dad reassures me that all is right with the world. New school Dad scares me, and reminds me of terrorists, recession, and the decline of all that is good in America.”
Don’t get me wrong – there are reasonable reasons to dislike things Rodriguez says or does (losing games being offense #1). But the generational gap amplifies every negative reaction. It’s not “Rodriguez didn’t answer the question”, it’s “Rodriguez didn’t answer the question and didn’t try to stand up to me or stare me down and where are all the real men in America and what is happening with this country and everything is so complicated now I can’t handle it and dammit RichRod I hate you.”
To sum up: Rodriguez, by being new school, invokes a series of complicated overreactions among people who aren’t quite sure where they stand anymore. Dantonio, by being old school, provides a refreshing, nostalgic respite from everpresent change. The media, and many of the general public, consciously or unconsciously gravitate to that reassurance, which is why we see such different portrayals of the two programs. And it helps explain why Michigan benefitted so much when its coach was old school and MSU was new school.