The Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan ended today. The only remaining question is precisely which day next week we will learn officially that he has been fired.
What hurt was not merely the fact of the loss, but the way it happened. With five weeks to prepare, Rodgiuez did not roll out any offensive or defensive surprises. Everything Michigan did, Mississippi State was ready for.
Compare this to Lloyd Carr’s last game, in which Chad Henne ran an offense we had never seen before, and the Wolverines shocked the favored Florida Gators. When you’re the underdog, coaching your final (or likely final) game, and have a month to plan, what exactly are you waiting for? If you have any ideas, what do you have to lose by trying them?
I am not the first person to point out that Dave Brandon probably had his mind already made up. Rodriguez’s 37th game, win or lose, was never going to tell us a whole lot that the first 36 didn’t. One would have to be awfully naive, not to believe that the so-called “evaluation” was already 99 percent done. The argument that Rodriguez deserves a fourth season is at least tenable, although I think its adherents are in the minority right now. The argument that this game was going to decide his fate never held water.
But to the extent Brandon needed air cover to defend his decision, this game certainly provided plenty of it. Even with more preparation time than for any opponent except UConn, the game was practically an instant replay of most of the team’s other losses, minus the second-half comebacks that made a few of them look more respectable than they really were.
Michigan’s won–lost record may have improved marginally in each season of Rodriguez’s tenure. But during a given season, Michigan has tended to regress. Even the vaunted offense, clearly the team’s strength, was held scoreless for three out of four quarters by both Ohio State and Mississippi State. In its final eight outings, the offense played a “complete game” only once: the triple-overtime thriller vs. Illinois. The team was not merely beaten, but thrashed, in its final three games.
I was never one of the so-called “haters.” Three years ago, I thought that Rich Rodriguez was a premium hire. He was a winner wherever he went, and I believed he would win in Ann Arbor. I remain perplexed as to why he has not done better. But there is a reasonable body of evidence that when you are taking over a program that is already a national powerhouse, as Michigan was when Lloyd Carr retired, you shouldn’t be turning in three consecutive seasons that are worse than any of the prior twenty-three.