I've been a Michigan football fan all my life. I attended my first game at the age of 8, celebrated in the stands after AC pulled out a victory over Indiana in '79, remember when the Rose Bowl MVP went to the entire O line, and still haven't gotten over the loss to the unmentionables in 2006. But I've had my greatest doubts (in the same sense as in the movie with Meryl Streep) as a fan in the past year. And it's not because of the losing. It's an identity crisis.
Until Lloyd Carr retired in 2008, Michigan football had been led by exactly three head coaches in my lifetime. And I'm no spring chicken. These three coaches were undeniably related - not by blood, but by football family. Gary Moeller had spent more than a decade under Bo, and likewise, Lloyd Carr spent more than a decade under Bo and then Mo. It was like nepotism, at its best. When coaches changed, it was seemless - there was no "clearing house", no radical change in style, no player exodus, and certainly no head coach who had to read a book to find out what Michigan football is all about!
When Carr retired, I had my heart set on Les Miles as his successor. Why? Because Les Miles was a Michigan man as I understood it - he'd played for Bo and coached under Bo and Mo. But, Rich Rodriguez was hired, and brought Morgantown to Ann Arbor. For the first time ever, I recognized almost none of the coaches (thank goodness for Fred Jackson...), had to come to grips with a complete change in style (there was no "spread" in those three dusty yards), and watched players who really shouldn't have, leave before their eligibility was expired. Understanding the significance of the Rose Bowl or the Brown jug etc. doesn't and can't come from reading - as RichRod and his staff reportedly did. I suppose Rodriguez understands the urgency of beating the round, hard-headed rival. At least, I assume so since coaches have been fired over that game.
Last year, Michigan fielded a team I could hardly recognize. It was so undisciplined - even the Pop Warner ball handling basics seemed to be forgotten. Is this a Rodriguez coaching staff characteristic or just a symptom of a really bad year? I guess the helmets are still the winged helmets, the fight song is still the best in the Nation, and the stadium is still the Big House, but when will the real identity be back? Or maybe it is, and I'm still waiting for the ghost of Bo.