One Last Blind Stab In The Dark

Submitted by Brian on December 30th, 2010 at 1:28 PM


Let's make a deal.

Saturday Michigan takes on Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl and Sunday something may or may not happen involving the throttling of an infant Denard Robinson in his cradle and the tears and lamentation that may or may not result. That would hypothetically also mean the reign of terror Greg Robinson's hair and the zombie minion that goes by the name of Greg Robinson would be over. The city of Ann Arbor emerging from its cocoon of upper middle class ennui to shoot AK47s in the air would at least partially offset the tragic, still hypothetical loss of baby Denard. I have taken too long on this bit.

Two days later Jim Harbaugh and his Stanford Cardinal take on Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. After he may or may not be destined for Michigan or the 49ers or the moon. The latest from Harbaugh is reminiscent of one Brian Kelly last year:

"I only talk about the job I have now," Harbaugh said when asked if he or his representatives had spoken to the 49ers about their coaching vacancy.

He acknowledged having a "dual focus"—


--on his team, which will play Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl on Monday, and on his daughter, Katherine, who was born just before Christmas.

Aw, come on, Harbaugh.

So what's going to happen? I still don't know. No one does. Last time on this show I said I didn't have anything solid and probably wouldn't because of the nature of the "search" but that the mystical aura wasn't looking so hot:

I'm not inclined to put much in the widespread chatter that had RR out the door after the OSU game and seems to be continuing since its sourcing seems to be pissed-off-you-guys folk clearly unhappy with the state of the program taking small interactions and interpreting them as they desire. However, the vibe I'm getting from other people who seem to be on the fence about what to do—or at least close to it—also makes it seem unlikely Rodriguez is back. Emphasis on all the qualifying words in the previous sentence, please. I've got nothing solid because no one does.

I also said that Brady Hoke would be named Michigan's coach over my dead body and the last semblance of sanity in the universe but that wasn't based on inside information. It was more a "has everybody gone CRAZY!?!" moment, and if the threat of Hoke didn't linger in the air I'd apologize for it. As it is I'm on the battlements with an axe* waiting to behead anyone who pops up and says "my name is Buh—." Bill Parcells is duly warned.

With less that a week left before the month of limbo is over, I haven't received anything that pushes my opinion much one way or the other. To reiterate, that's:

  1. There is a nonzero chance Rodriguez is fired, otherwise there would have been an announcement.
  2. Schools do not start coaching searches on January 2nd.
  3. There's only one guy out there that could plausibly be socked away or all but in time for Michigan to have a reasonable finish in recruiting and could justify yet more chaos in a program that is pointed in the right direction, even if vaguely.

So it's Rodriguez or Harbaugh and we'll probably know the day after the Orange Bowl. With all due respect to people who would argue otherwise, it makes no sense to fire Rodriguez in January if you do not have a coach lined up immediately. Since the list of people other than Harbaugh who Michigan could install within a week reads "Buh—[blood theatrically spraying from neck]" your alternatives are between rushing someone through without pause for consideration—which worked out so well last time—or dragging the search almost up to Signing Day, leaving your recruiting class a smoking crater and possibly dooming the next guy, who will forever be Not Jim Harbaugh, to repeat the cycle.

I have heard some things that push me more towards Harbaugh:

  • Some connected guys at Cal email that Tedford is aiming to poach Harbaugh's OL coach since he has "agreed to go elsewhere already" as of the 17th of December. Caveat: the Cal rumor mill bears no animus towards Rodriguez but would love to see Harbaugh anywhere but Stanford, so as things get passed down the chain they get more certain.
  • A player who split his career between RR/Carr years tells an emailer that Harbaugh will be installed on the fifth. Caveat: why the hell would some former player know?
  • An emailer who reports things second hand but has been reliable in the past suggests that Mary Sue Coleman isn't a big fan of Rodriguez, which isn't much of anything to go on but just adds to the pile.
  • Media people I talk to generally say the best thing is probably to give him one more year but that they don't expect he'll get it. Also not much of anything but vibe.

The only thing pointing the other way is the generally sunny disposition coming from within Schembechler Hall, but with recruits the coaches are saying they've got no idea what's going on but if they're still around after the bowl they'll still be around forever, or something to that effect. That's a hard sale right there.

If I was 55-45 Harbaugh a month ago I'm 65-35 Harbaugh now. I wish I could be more certain and wouldn't make the decision I think is likely if I was king of the world, but that's life. We'll know soon enough.

AWFUL BONUS: If there is a change you can go start the Denard transfer watch at DEFCON 2, since Robinson knows what he is—the Big Ten offensive player of the year as a sophomore at quarterback—and where he fits. How screwed up is a program that manages to get both Ryan Mallett and Denard Robinson to transfer away from certain starting QB jobs in the course of three years?

This hasn't happened yet. Breathe. I am talking to myself mostly.

*(To avoid a Tucker Carlson moment let me clarify: I am not going to cut Brady Hoke or anyone's head off with an axe.)



December 30th, 2010 at 3:46 PM ^

I've read this board for a long time, and I have immensely enjoyed the intelligent commentary, until all the incessant CC posts starting coming.  There is a lot I could say about this topic, but I will leave it at this:

If Rodriguez is fired after three years, with his recruits finally getting experience and returning in large numbers, we will have become Notre Dame: a whiny, entitled fanbase that has no patience.  It kills me to think that we might not give a coach even four years to get his players in place.  The next two years look very promising.  I want to see this offense back.  With even an average defense, the Wolverines are on the way.


December 30th, 2010 at 4:37 PM ^

I couldn't agree with DakotaBlue more. I will be the first to say that I'm less than thrilled with many aspects of Rich Rod's tenure...but if we just keep beheading our coaches as their find their legs we're going to go from a "rebuilding" powerhouse to a "historical" powerhouse pretty quickly. 

And ANYTHING that makes us similar to Notre Dame makes my heart sad.


December 30th, 2010 at 8:05 PM ^

and to an extent, I agree with you.

But a couple of things.

Firstly,  there normally is not a legendary ex-player who is the hot coach, waiting in the wings to unite a fractious fan base. Do not overestimate this in considering the reasons why RR may not receive a fourth season.

Secondly, the defense is as atrocious as the offense is amazing. For UM to be elite again, the defense will have to be at above average.Rich Rodriguez has failed in three years to field even an average defense. It simply does not take 4 years to build an average defense.There really is no reason to expect that the defense is getting better if you use the data, because it has gotton worse each year.

 You cannot be  selective on how you use the data and this is what defenders of RichRod do. That simply does not fly. Any honest evaluation will apply consistent standards to both sides of the ball and not assume positive growth when  the data indicates that such an expectation is not  realistic Simply saying added maturity does not account for the substandard coaching that UM has gotton on the defensive side of the ball. Older players can and are as bad as younger players. The fix here is an entire new defensive staff and scheme.

People are clearly in awe of this offense and I understand why. I also understand the uneasiness about firing a guy--particularly one who has been treated rather poorly by many in the media and in the Michigan family--after three years. It does look like we are inpatient zealots.

But I think a closer inspection of the situation can reveal a reasonable argument for why Rodriguez should be fired. NCAA violations, substandard performance on the field, the lack of support for Rodriguez among the influential alums and many fans, and lastly, the availability of a legend who has shown signs of potentially being an elite coach. I think that if there were no Harbaugh, there would be no discussion of a coaching change--yet. The Harbaugh dynamic changes everything.

I honestly have mixed feelings about this situation. On one hand, I feel that RR deserves one more shot IF he brings in a new DC. But I cannot help but feel giddy over Jim Harbaugh--the first UM QB I can remember--coming home to coach my beloved Wolverines.  What a terribly emotionally confusing situation this is.

Whatever happens, I'll support the coach because with him lays UM's chances of success or failure.

st barth

December 30th, 2010 at 3:50 PM ^

Here's my theory: Mgoblog (& other media outlets too) is just milking this non-story because it is generating bucketloads of internet traffic & ad revenue.  Gotta pay those year-end bonuses somehow, right?

Clearly, in this game, silence is gold.

Broken Brilliance

December 30th, 2010 at 3:55 PM ^

I want another post that gets me excited for the GAME we have in two days, and also gives me hope that the short-sighted, soothsaying fans and media will not ruin what I've been waiting for since Rich came here. After working a midnight shift and catching a cold yesterday, this is not what I needed to read today.


December 30th, 2010 at 3:59 PM ^

The "conventional wisdom" around here seems to be that the bowl outcomes will make little difference and DB has already made an irrevocable decision. I find that hard to completely accept. Consider the following two scenarios:

Scenario A: Michigan wins impressively in the Gator Bowl and Stanford gets thumped by Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

Scenario B: Michigan is embarassed by MSU in the Gator Bowl and Stanford wins convincingly in the Orange Bowl.

I would estimate a 20% chance for each of these scenarios, with a better than even chance that something less decisive plays out. Scenario A would make it very difficult to justify a coaching change and Scenario B would make one very difficult to avoid. At the very least, the popularity of the ultimate decision would be greatly affected by these outcomes. Whether that would ultimately matter to Brandon, I can not say, but it is at least possible that his mind is not fully made up and part of the reason for his extended timetable is to see how the bowls play out (thus keeping potential pitchfork mobs at bay).

Personally, I would like to see RR back, but if Scenario B were to transpire, even I might be inclined to hop the fence.


December 30th, 2010 at 4:04 PM ^

If Harbaugh comes, Rich Rod will be an ESPN analyst for a year and then will take the HC job at Clemson.

When he got hired by Michigan, Tommy Bowden (a mutual friend of the family) told me that we made a great hire and that the fans in Clemson love Rich Rod.

He'll do just fine there and that's the type of program that he needs to be running.  


December 30th, 2010 at 4:10 PM ^

I am a RichRod supporter, and I hope DB keeps him.

However, I have come to accept the idea that he is probably history.

If we get Harbaugh, he is a great coach.

Michigan and its fans win with either coach.


December 30th, 2010 at 4:36 PM ^

It all depends how you look at another transition. If you are okay taking another hit short term to get back to old school michigan football then you will love Harbaugh. But if you love the new fast offensive style you will be sad with the change. I for one will be sad, especially if Denard and a few other key speedsters leave town.


December 30th, 2010 at 4:25 PM ^

I'd rather let RR finish the job here, though now I'm wishing he had got on rebuilding the defense a bit earlier and letting  the DC run the defense.

I hope Brian is right. If I cannot have my first choice RR, then JH is my second choice.  The 49ers job will be very tempting for JH and if he decides to head in that direction, I would be happy to keep RR.  But I am fearful that RR is gone no matter what happens to JH. I think DB has his short list and we will see a new HC. I will not be very happy if someone other than RR and JH are not our coach.  But I will support our new coach and wish him well!


December 30th, 2010 at 4:27 PM ^

I was thrilled to have RR come as Michigan's coach because I was tired of M and Big10 losing to Pac10 and SEC in the biggest games. I felt (and feel) that updated schemes on O and D are needed to compete nationally. Yes the 3-3-5 too.  I don't have the emotional energy to care anymore should RR be let go (my wife is considering intervention re. my time on mgoblog...). The Michigan fan base seems to me unreasonable and unrealistically "entitled". Should RR go, I'll bet there are only more years of lamentation and wailing, not real support for the team and it's development.

D.C. Dave

December 30th, 2010 at 4:38 PM ^

I believe we are 7-3 in bowl games against the SEC, including wins in 3 of 4 appearances in the Cap One bowl, which includes a 2-0 record against Florida and another win over Auburn. Indeed, we own the SEC.

It's the Pac-10 teams that have given us trouble.


December 30th, 2010 at 4:38 PM ^

Cool as ever, Brian. One point that jumped out:

"Media people I talk to generally say the best thing is probably to give him one more year but that they don't expect he'll get it."

Really glad you said this, Brian. Too many people are hellbent in their (false, cave-dweller) belief that every reporter who ever stepped foot in Michigan has been "against" Richrod since day one. 



December 30th, 2010 at 4:41 PM ^

I don't care what happens as far as the head coach goes but I hope that we do not lose Denard to a transfer somewhere.  If he shows the same amount of improvement over the summer that he did for this  If he has to sit for a year and just has a chance to work on his passing for somewhere else.....double man.  And personally, I don't think Harbaugh coming here means that Denard is out.  I think Harbaugh should be able to work with him and maybe he wont using him as the running back as much.  Especially if he improves his long floating passes....


December 30th, 2010 at 6:14 PM ^

Why would Denard, Mr. Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (and, if our team had been better, a possible Heisman contender), sit out a year? He's a proven star right now, and his transferring would sideline him for a full season. That would be a career disaster, in my opinion. I think Denard is staying regardless. Maybe that's just wishful thinking, because his departure would already worsen by Football OffSeason-al Affect Disorder.


December 30th, 2010 at 4:50 PM ^

And that man is ... Bill Martin. Putting aside for the moment my opinion on whether RR: a) should have been hired in the first place, b) should be fired now, c) should be replaced by JH, d) should be fondled by DB, this entire mess began because our former AD couldn't put together a decent search committee to save his life, and wouldn't know a good search process if it bit him on the ass.

At the very least, the apparently herky-jerky nature of the search, interview, vetting, etc., led to the inevitable distress in the program over the past three years. I've seen, or been a part of, many working level and executive hirings in my career, and from the outside looking in, this was appalling. From news stories published in 2007, it seems RR was hired after a phone screen and an in-person interview with Bill and Mary Sue, on the strength of RR's resume and reputation. In other words, even if there had been a good process to screen and hire a candidate, it was likely shit-canned in the effort to hire RR (which smelled to everyone like a "Just-hire-someone-you-guys!" move made in desperation).

RR has said on several occasions that he didn't know what kind of personnel he'd find on the football team before he got here. In other words, he didn't do his due diligence, either. If he had, he might well have said, "Thanks, but no."

Which is really, really too bad for everyone. Because, just when the offense is on the cusp of being truly frightening to opponents, (as opposed to the fans who witnessed the 2008 product through barely-spread fingers covering their eyes) we'll probably never know what this team could have been.

Section 1

December 30th, 2010 at 6:09 PM ^

I guess I am always amazed at the low regard for Bill Martin from average fans.  I see it in the + and - votes in this thread.

I think that Martin is held in exceedingly high regard by donors and the University Administration.  He will no doubt go down in the considered history of the University as a truly great Athletic Director.

On the other hand, somebody like Drew Sharp predicted that Martin would be judged ultimately on the success or failure of Rich Rodriguez, alone.  Which is a stupid idea, but the sort of thing one might expect from Drew Sharp and indeed, among a kind of lowest common denominator of fans, Sharp might be right in that appraisal.


December 31st, 2010 at 12:33 AM ^

Obviously no AD who served 10 years is going to be judged on one thing. But Martin leaves a mixed legacy at best. Again, you can actually love the RR hire and still hate everything about what Martin did from that period.


December 30th, 2010 at 5:13 PM ^

The problem was not hiring Rodriguez. The problem was all the crap that took place before it and divided people (contrast the monkey's tea party we saw three years ago to Florida's swift "this is who we want and you're gonna like it" hiring of Muschamp this season). After the hire, it was the total incompetence regarding how to defend against horrible public relations over the buyout thing. It was the lack of coaching on what to say and what not to say to endear RR to Michigan's odd duck fanbase.

Martin had NO leadership qualities. He was the antithesis of a fans' AD.



December 30th, 2010 at 5:29 PM ^

U-M made the offer, and RR accepted, before either party knew enough to make an informed decision or plan for the introduction and transition. If Martin had a process for hiring a new coach, he likely threw it out the window by the time of the RR candidacy. Either that, or the "process" extended only to the point of identifying viable candidates, not the vetting, the offer, etc. How else to explain the manner in which the hiring actually took place? Didn't it seem - to everyone - more than a bit rushed at the time?

As a consequence of it all, there was inadequate opportunity to talk through the buy-out in the WV contract, and to mitigate that related silliness. Not to mention how RR's introduction as U-M's next head coach was "stage managed". It was disjointed to say the least.

I believed at the time (still do) that RR was a great hire. But, because the entire thing was so mishandled, it got his tenure off on the wrong foot, and he's never recovered.

Section 1

December 30th, 2010 at 6:03 PM ^

It was a problem created, hashed out, and ultimately settled by, several groups of attorneys.  The only real substance was that it was a distraction to Rodriguez, for a short time, and made some headlines in the press, first on the part of an enraged, jilted West Virginia press and later a hostile-to-Rodriguez Detroit media.

So you otherwise didn't like the "Stage managment"?  That's a reason to condemn Bill Martin, and wave bye-bye to Rich Rodriguez?


December 31st, 2010 at 1:28 AM ^

You missed the point. Had there been a proper interview and hiring process, steps could have been taken to ensure it (the buyout) never became a problem. Every HR manager worth anything knows you always discuss with a job candidate issues which may affect the separation from his/her current employer, and you have a plan for dealing with them in advance. That was obviously inadequate in this case.

You have also completely misread my statements. I never indicated whether I believe RR should be fired. Personally, I don't want him to be. But, to your question whether the RR hiring is enough to "trash" Martin, yes, I believe it is. Martin did some good things for the University. He had a huge mess to clean up after Tom Goss, he was well liked by donors, and he brought home some great new facilities. However, his most important personnel action, by far the biggest of his tenure, was not competently handled.


December 30th, 2010 at 4:55 PM ^

This "But Denard will transfer!" crap is paranoia at its worst from a neurotic fanbase recently trained to expect Murphy's Law.

It would be UNPRECEDENTED for a decorated, established player such as Denard to transfer. Name ONE other case in the history of college football (or college basketball) where a player has willingly transferred after an All-America caliber season.