I know that yet another retrospective/plea for patience with Rich Rodriguez is probably overkill, but after continuing to read comments to the effect that RR is “on notice” if he doesn’t turn this team around by the end of next year or, at the most generous, year 3, I couldn’t help but put these thoughts down. If you’ve had enough with this debate and want to instead focus on recruiting, UM Hoops, or playing more Literati, by all means skip this article.
Notre Dame and Nebraska, two schools that hold special places in UM’s fans spleens (Nebraska because of the MNC, Notre Dame because disliking arrogant, overly-pious Midwesterners never goes out of style). Both used to dominate college football, and yet now both are middling through a near-decade of abject mediocrity and irrelevance. And the one aspect that really stuck out to me was the diminished patience both teams have had with their head coaches, especially when said coaches are trying to install new systems or, at the very least, transition away from an ultra-conservative one currently installed.
First take a look at Nebraska – They won 3 NCs under Tom Osborne, who then retired and ushered in the Frank Solich era. Though he had some notable flameouts (against Miami in 2001, 2003 against, well, everyone at the end of the year), the guy still went 58-19 but was canned for not winning “enough.” So in comes Bill Callahan, a hot-shot NFL OC who tries to drag Nebraska into the 21st century with the introduction of the forward pass on 1st and 2nd down. With virtually no viable receivers on the team, difficult recruiting hurdles (Lincoln is a nice city, but no picnic), and an administration/fan base unaccustomed to such sweeping change, he was let go after going 27-22. Now they have Bo Pelini, who has gone 8-4 this season and, I am sure, will start hearing the cries for his removal if he continues the team’s struggles against OU, Texas, Texas Tech, Missouri, etc.
Now let’s look at Notre Dame – They won a butt load of NCs under Rockne, Leahy, and Parseghian (a butt load defined as 9), then 1 each under Devine and Holtz. Holtz retires, though, and is replaced by Bob Davie, who proceeds to go 35-25 but loses too many games against ranked opponents (even though his seasons were pretty consistent with respect to Holtz’s last few years), and Ty Willingham steps in. Bringing in a West Coast offense that many NFL players have trouble adapting to, he was given all of 3 seasons to implement this system with players previously culled for an option attack, and not surprisingly went 21-15. So then comes Charlie Weis, who is currently 28-21 in 4 seasons but who also tried to implement a completely new pro-style offense (which worked with an NFL-quality QB and at least some players recruited to play a similar style of offense) with a horrendous offensive line and a freshman quarterback who may be one of the more overrated high school “phenoms” in recent memory. In all likelihood, Weis will be gone before you finish reading this article.
Notice a theme here – a new coach comes in for a retired “legend”, and after trying to win using the old system is replaced by someone with a “hot” new system that is strikingly different from past regimes. After some initial success with a veteran team, though, fans become disillusioned and charge that this coach needs to go because his system doesn't work, even though in the most generous of circumstances it would take at least 2 years for the right types of players to be integrated into the new system. Yet, instead of employing well-rationed patience, the coaches are let go, a new coach is entrusted to step in an employ a new, “better” system, and the fan base lines up for another spin on the Carousel of Mediocrity.
So what does all of this mean for UM? I'm deathly afraid that a similar fate will befall the UM program and its faithful. Sure, UM wasn’t running the option under Carr, but the conservative pro-style offense he employed never meshed well with the spread, especially the one run by RR. Next year, this offense will either be run by a second-year player with Exploding Elbow problems or a true freshman, and the defense will suffer losses at its one consistently good area (DL). So miracles probably won’t happen. That brings us to the aforementioned 3rd Year of Judgment, and with it cries that RR's system doesn't “work” in the Big Ten, that the experiment has failed and some new coach, with some new system, should step in. Of course, that new coach, let's call him “Smes Smiles”, will step into a program with a bunch of midget WRs, a scrambling QB, and a bunch of scatter backs and try to run a pro-style offense. You see where I'm going with this? Heck, at least above-named coaches enjoyed some early success because they inherited veterans teams; RR was left with a relatively bare cupboard, especially on offense.
Now, I'm sure there are holes with my argument. Heck, I know one already – Weis never was an HC in either college or the pros, Willingham is a horrible recruiter, Davie couldn't coach himself out of an awkward first date, Solich couldn't recruit or coach like Tom Osborne, and Callahan was an unmitigated disaster both because of the type of offense he was trying to install and his abject failure in maintaining the strength of Nebraska (its defense). And, yes, RR has already proven to be a better coach than all of these men before he even stepped into Schembechler Hall. But my point isn't that RR isn't a good coach; it is that I worry the AD and the fans won't give him the time and support necessary to really transform this program into one that can succeed. As we have seen with Nebraska and Notre Dame, a school and fan base has to be willing to accept a transition fully and without reservations, and give it proper time to take hold. If, after 4 or 5 years UM is still going 7-5, 8-4, or 9-3 and they haven't made The Leap, then by all means look in another direction. But aborting a transition, no matter how painful it may initially be, before it has a chance to occur doesn't end the pain – it just changes the source.
Bill Martin is not a bumbling idiot all the time. He gave Ellerbe too much time. He gave Amaker too much time. He turned around the entire AD and got the renovations through. I'm not too concerned that he'll can RichRod before 5 years.
Exactly. The dude's a millionaire who does the AD thing out of the goodness of his heart more than anything... odds are if things really did crash and burn, he'd be out before RichRod.
I've thought this for a while but never said it. I trust Bill Martin.
I know that many people lost a lot of faith in him after "Boatgate" (I hate how everything has to be blank-gate) but he stepped up and got us RichRod who I think will truly be great here given time. Back to my point, however, which is that even if fans are idiots and want RR fired, it will still take Bill Martin wanting to fire RR before anything will actually start to happen.
Bill Martin appears to be a levelheaded man with, most importantly, the ability to look at the long term. Our basketball program had its worst season ever (I think) last year but there were no signs that Martin was looking for a new coach. He knew that Beilein was new and that he needs time to fix our lagging basketball program.
Martin also got us to start renovating the Big House. He knows that right now it's ugly or at least not Michigan quality but he saw that something had to be done for the FUTURE or we would have problems. He looked ahead rather than at the moment.
Now Martin is working on new football facilities because our were lagging behind. We weren't the worst but if we didn't do something soon we would be very far behind which hurts recruiting which makes winning in the future harder. The decision was based on the future rather than the present.
The point is, if you somehow missed me clubbing you over the head with it, that Martin knows how to look at the future and see what will be depending on his actions. I trust Martin to be level headed and not take any rash actions.
gave RR a 6 year deal. he wont fire him until after year 4 if things dont turn around, but they will!!
I never said that Martin would act irrationally, but he also doesn't act in a vacuum. With basketball, there was such a backlash after the Fisher/Ellerbe disaster that Amaker was going to get extra time simply because he ran a clean ship. Plus, the average UM fan/alum is not busting down the door when the team goes 14-20. When the football team goes 3-9, and will likely only be around .500 next season, those voices get a great deal louder and closer to home. Listen, I didn't write this article to freak everyone out or to claim that I have lost faith in the program - in fact, the exact opposite was my goal. I wanted to draw people's attention to program's that allowed fan and alumni outcry bypass common sense, and as a result doomed themselves to more years of struggle.
like basketball is the bomb. Go Blue! Beat the terps!
Thanks for skipping the article - I don't blame you. And for the record, yes, UMHoops is great.
Bill Martin will be too busy sailing to fire anyone. Fear not Wolverines, all will be right in time. The day of reckoning approaches.
Those who stay will be champions