The Tenuous Case For Keeping Rich Rodriguez Comment Count

Brian November 2nd, 2010 at 2:55 PM

AATP copyWhere I'm at. The previous "when can we fire this guy" post?

(illustration via reader Brian Louwers)

I promised I wouldn't talk about Rich Rodriguez's job status until the season was over but apparently I'm going to. I blame everyone.

Three Questions

Too many posts in the Fire RR vein argue things no one is disputing. This one titled "The Buck Stops at Rodriguez," argues that a head coach is in charge of his program. This is not very enlightening. Neither is restating his record. We're all aware of Rich Rodriguez's record. We watched it. Saying "but this happened and I was sad" means you're answering the wrong question. You're answering the question "what will make me feel better?" Sometimes you're answering the question "who would have been the best choice for 2008?"

These are the questions I'm interested in:

  1. Which football coach will give Michigan the best record in 2011?
  2. What about 2012?
  3. What about 2015?

You hire a coach for the long term. I think you fire a coach for the short term, though, and the point at which you boot the last guy is when you think the next year isn't going to meet a reasonable minimum threshold of progress. I completely understand people who have hit that point. You can save your comments about how he needs to go—neither I nor anyone else cares to hear it for the one millionth time in the last three days. It's an understandable position. If Rich Rodriguez is cut loose after the season and Jim Harbaugh comes in I will not be in the streets with a bullhorn.

But I wouldn't endorse that move (at least not right now), because I think the answers to questions one and two are conditionally "Rich Rodriguez."

Upperclass Denard: How Does It Work?


Michigan has a unique talent on its hands in Denard Robinson, and they've acquired a mobile offensive line, slot receivers, and tailbacks to complement him. Some of these players can easily transition to another scheme. Stephen Hopkins can I-back with anyone. The outside receivers are just outside receivers. Taylor Lewan is going to hate donkeys in any scheme.

Others can't. The gaggle of tiny waterbug types—including Dee Hart, though he probably won't end up at M if there is a change—are going to be marginalized. I'm not sure how well the offensive line will hold up in an offense that prizes power over movement. Michigan isn't going to be able to materialize an excellent fullback and tight end depth out of nothing.

And then there's Denard. He could move to receiver or tailback, I guess, or more likely transfer, or you could bring in a spread guy, or you could try to keep Magee, or you could just ride with the guy who has already made Denard the all-time leading QB rusher in the Big Ten, will make him the all-time leading QB rusher in NCAA history, and turned Pat White into one of the best quarterbacks in college football before that. One of the "Smiths or MGoBlog" posts contains an argument I've made before:

For everyone that wants RR gone, I submit a short rebuttal.

1 Oregon 8 2488 2095 625 4583 7.3 572.9
2 Oklahoma State 8 1471 2747 615 4218 6.9 527.3
3 Nevada 8 2407 1754 584 4161 7.1 520.1
4 Michigan 8 2204 1943 563 4147 7.4 518.4
5 Boise State 7 1500 2111 473 3611 7.6 515.9

This team (could) return 22 of 24 starters next year.  The #4 offense in the country will return every skill position player except Martell Webb and the offensive line should improve even with losing S. Schilling.   The 2011 schedule is set up for a Big 10 Championship.   Rodriguez will finally have experience and depth at his disposal on offense.  No freshmen(even redshirt freshmen) save possibly Hart will see the field.  Don't you want to see what could become of this offense and the stars it could attract with stability up top?    If you broom RR then what?   If you bring in Harbaugh, Denard is either gone or a slot back.   I have no idea how much attrition you get but this offense has been molded by RR for 3 years,  it will not be as good.

I think that's indisputable: you will lose offensive firepower by making a change. Over the course of his career Rodriguez has established he is standard deviations above the mean as an offensive coordinator. Criticisms about the offense exist but are limited to suggesting that this group featuring two seniors and a sophomore quarterback isn't really the fourth-best offense in the nation because they're not scoring enough. That's true—Michigan is only 19th in scoring offense—but the blame for that rests largely with a defense that doesn't force turnovers (or punts) and the nation's worst kicker situation. If you adjust for all the vagaries that make straight yardage and scoring statistics unrepresentative, pile on a strength of schedule factor, and average it all out this is not, in fact, the fourth best offense in the country:

Michigan is still ranked #2 nationally in rushing and #3 overall in Points Above Normal but the game scores are coming down.

While Michigan's performance over the last three games is not that good, it would still be top 25. If you're wantonly throwing that much data away to make that your conclusion you've just gone Nanking on math for little reward.

Whatever you lose had better be made up for by better play from special teams and defense, but if we're rebooting the defensive coaching staff what does it matter who's doing ninja stuff on the other side of the ball? Unless Anonymous New Coach, who we'll call "Jim Harbaugh" for simplicity's sake, brings in someone who can play instantly the only way that will happen is by bringing in a better defensive staff. Michigan can do that without disrupting something that looks like it's going very right on the other side of the ball.

The obvious argument against that is Scott Shafer, Jay Hopson, and Greg Robinson. That's why the conditional case for bringing RR back rests on either 1) grabbing Jeff Casteel, probably in the event of a Bill Stewart firing, or 2) clearing everyone (or almost everyone) out, bringing in a defensive coordinator with a track record of established recent success on the college level, and giving him carte blanche to bring in the people he wants to bring in. This will be expensive but I hereby volunteer a dollar from each Michigan season ticketholder to make it happen.

The Convincing Argument Against

i hope i'm not having an aneurysm—YEAH SMOOTHIES

Recruiting, basically. Rich Rodriguez is chased around by a horrendous narrative caused by a lot of losing and a lot of other stuff. Jim Harbaugh has to deal with a DUI and some self-serving statements about Michigan's academics—these don't live up. If Michigan goes 9-3 next year under Harbaugh, people are delighted. If Rodriguez does it there remain many, many grumbles. Michigan can throw away the last three years and start over.

Even if this reduces expectations short term, the narrative is totally different and recruits might be more amenable to jumping on board. Fuzzy Dunlop, who amazingly does not have a tennis ball avatar:

Many of those saying the defense is not Rodriguez's "fault" miss the essential point.  It doesn't matter whose fault it is.  What matters is who has the ability to rectify the situation.  And we are fast approaching the point where Rodriguez will no longer have that ability (if he ever had it).

The defense sucks.  Let's say it's not Rod's fault.  Fine.  So how does he fix it?  Get great defensive recruits?  If we lose out, or eke by Purdue, what makes anyone think the good defensive recruits will be rushing to come to Michigan this year?  Perception becomes reality -- our defense is perceived to be a joke, with terrible coaching -- this is not a situation talented players are going to rush into.

He gets a little more negative than I am but the point is valid. Unfortunately, at some point the baggage in your past becomes an active detriment to your future. Rodriguez is either already there or one season from it.

The Gibson Issue

Defensive backs coach Tony Gibson is a lightning rod for criticism because the secondary is a disaster zone and the internets have it that he and Rodriguez have a Clinton-Blair style "special relationship," with all the charges of cronyism that brings. Even Michael Rosenberg is making that argument after years of blithely ignoring the DerpBord era. (Q: What's the difference between a Free Press columnist and a message board poster? A: Editors.)

Unfortunately there's no statistic you can point to that definitively says he's good or bad but the vague outlines provided by the NCAA's site aren't exactly damning:

Stat 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001
Pass Eff 114 126 116 107 121 116 99
Pass Eff Rk 28 63 30 20 45 47 8
Pass 189 243 201 198 260 214 137
Pass Rk 14 109 34 32 104 55 1
Sacks 3 2.4 2.4
Sack Rk 15 38 46

That's not great aside from the bizarre first year (West Virginia was terrible at run defense so teams just ran) but it's consistently above average. In six years Gibson had three players drafted, one of them (Ryan Mundy) a guy who transferred away from Michigan because he wasn't going to get playing time. That's about one per slot he was in charge of, assuming that the spur and bandit were not his responsibilities. The rest of WVU's team saw eight guys drafted across nineteen spots.

None of this is definitive but it's at least an indication that Gibson isn't the anchor certain FFFFFUUUUUUU sorts make him out to be. The debacle here could be a coaching issue, but Occam's razor suggest it's talent (and attrition). Cbuswolverine put up a diary looking at the experience of the top five and bottom five secondaries in the country with the expected results—everyone but LSU averages at least 3.5 years on campus, and LSU is at 2.75. It is possible that Tony Gibson is a huge problem, but even if he was we wouldn't know. His reputation as a great recruiter is commonly stated, but we have even less data on that.

I put in a Mathlete request for a fancy math version of the above statistics that would adjust for schedule strength and maybe parse out the sacks in the three years they're available.

The Most Insane Thing Ever Said About Me

It's days like this that I envy Brian.

What I'd Do At 7-5 Or 6-6, Probably—I Mean If We Lose By A Billion In Three Games, Probably Not, But Let's Just Say If The Season Plays Out Like It Looks It Will

I'd fire Robinson. Then I'd bring in Casteel if he's available post Stewart firing or broom most of the defensive staff and bring in someone making SEC dollars along with two other established position coaches, and then I'd give Rodriguez 2011 and hope like hell. Michigan's in a bad spot either way, but at least Ivan Maisel's with me.

Yeah, that's right: Ivan Maisel.


Other bits: for folks complaining about the O/D coaching breakdown, Touch The Banner surveys the Big Ten and finds that literally every team in the league has four defensive assistants and all but one (Purdue, which has a dedicated ST coach) has five offensive assistants, or would if they hadn't fired their head coach already. Maize And Go Blue is here:


Wojo on matters:

Rich Rodriguez didn't fire or demote his defensive coordinator Monday, and to some, that's a sad surprise. Frankly, I'm not sure it makes a big difference.

Greg Robinson has done a poor job, and his position certainly should be in jeopardy. But full accountability sits where it always sits, where it now shifts uncomfortably — on the coach.


Jeffy Fresh

November 2nd, 2010 at 3:32 PM ^

I have started going back to church recently.  This is something I am praying for.  Without 2 more wins, this shit could get ugly and I will fall into a deep deep depression.  I just look at FSU's defensive improvement with a little time to mature, and I am still holding onto hope.  Just need a couple more wins to give RR more time.


November 2nd, 2010 at 3:13 PM ^

Keep in mind the statement "it's not about who's fault it is, it is about who can rectify it".

Many assume that if Rod is fired, Harbaugh will be bounding in as the white knight to save the program. And who knows? Really? Maybe it will be him. But there are certainly other scenarios in which Harbaugh does not land here. Then what? 

We find ourselves in the uncanny situation in which the hottest mid-major type coaches (Peterson, Patterson, Wittingham) seem content to be the Schembechlers of their school and may never leave. 

So then what? Is there really someone out there who can maintain the offensive production? I don't see it. More likely, we find a D coordinator that fits. 

Dr. Johnny Fever

November 2nd, 2010 at 3:58 PM ^

Harbaugh is as close to a perfect fit as we're going to find. He's a Michigan legend. He's the hottest young coach in college football. By all accounts, he wants to come to Michigan. But he's probably only available this year as he's apparently highly sought after in the NFL. Word has it that he's waiting to find out what happens at Michigan before entertaining any other possibilities. So this is probably the only chance to hire him in the near future. If you give RR one more year, and he flames out (and there's lots of potential for this as others have pointed out-- is the D REALLY going to improve much with this talent level and yet a new defensive coordinator? Is that going to make THAT much of a difference for a coach who hasn't managed to achieve one high quality win in 3 years?, etc.), then you're out in the wilderness next year searching for a coach with no clear replacement in sight.

Even Brian's post makes it pretty clear: it's a close call right now on whether or not to fire him. If Harbaugh will come, you fire him. It's that simple. It's probably our only chance to get him.


November 2nd, 2010 at 4:31 PM ^

Harbaugh coming to U-M could be the college football analogy to Roy Williams leaving a pretty successful gig at KU for UNC.

All except for the whole "throwing your alma mater under the bus" thing.

Oh, and Williams demonstrating success over a much more prolonged period.

Crap...and the DUI.

Wait...did you say close to perfect?

In the end, I just don't think Jim wants to come as badly as you suggest.

Bando Calrissian

November 2nd, 2010 at 4:47 PM ^

Here's the thing, though--many of the people in the Athletic Department Harbaugh ticked off with his comments (which may have seemed initially a little valid, but grew more and more irrational the more he decided to talk about it) are now gone.  And it seems to me that there's been a rather consistent effort in the past year on the part of the Harbaugh family (his dad and his brother), as well as JIm himself, to drive home just how much Jim loves Michigan.  They're posturing and repairing, and it seems plausible it could work.


At the end of the day, past transgressions aside, I don't think anyone can argue the fact that a for guy with Harbaugh's ego, who's a Michigan person since childhood (dig up that picture of him patting Rick Leach on the back in '76), it seems like a no-brainer that if the job were lobbed his way, he'd jump at it.  I know there's a lot of people who think he wouldn't want in on this mess, but I think Harbaugh sees that he could have a nice career with a limited ceiling at Stanford and get bandied about for destined-for-failure NFL jobs for the rest of his career until he bites and gets chewed up in the League (like so many before him), or he could have a chance to be the knight in shining armor "Bo, Jr." at his alma mater.  Which seems more attractive?  


And if Michigan has a coaching vacancy to fill, after the culture shock of the previous transition, what seems attractive if you're David Brandon?


November 2nd, 2010 at 5:35 PM ^

That would certainly be a different tune from the one he was singing as soon as he got the Stanford job, when he was pronouncing that Stanford was his dream job and that's the place he really wanted to go to college and only went to UM because Stanford didn't offer him, etc etc etc.

I've never disputed that he's a good coach, but Harbaugh strikes me as the kind of guy who will say anything, regardless of whether he really believes it or not, as long as he thinks it will smooth the path he happens to be on at the time. Hardly the only human to exhibit that trait, to be sure. I also know that there are plenty of people who take issue with things RR says, too.

I'll be interested to read it when you post the article.

Ben from SF

November 2nd, 2010 at 7:38 PM ^

SI's editors knew that the Harbaugh brothers' story will help them sell the magazine, with the name recognition and the success of John in the NFL and Jimmy in Stanford.  Jimmy also knows that such a story would help recruiting (Stanford or Michigan).  While John would go along with whatever as long as he can help Jimmy out.  I don't think this is a conscious campaign, but the tone can only help.

Bando Calrissian

November 2nd, 2010 at 5:28 PM ^

Let's start with this, from an Angelique article in September, quoting Jim on GameDay:

He was asked if his coaching is rooted in his family or in Schembechler...

""I'd say in both," Harbaugh said. "My family, because that goes back to the first memories (of football). And Michigan and Bo -- that was my foundation in football and the coaches that I had there. Just the way I look at the world view of football comes from my days at Michigan."

Bando Calrissian

November 2nd, 2010 at 5:31 PM ^

Found it, from Palo Alto Online, December '09:

Jim Harbaugh:

"There are two people in my life, my dad and Bo Schembechler, where now that I'm 43 years old I feel like the things that come out of my mouth and the ways that I think - I can hear Bo Schembechler talking," Harbaugh said. "I'll say something and turn around and say, 'That's something Bo would have said.' Both of those people are individuals with such strong will and tremendous character. It's not like you take notes on how to be like Bo Schembechler or Jack Harbaugh. It's almost like they will their DNA on you."


Jack Harbaugh:


"I think he's very, very happy at Stanford and Stanford is where he wants it to be. But I would say this: that still Michigan is the place that he loves, the place that for him was his foundation. It's where, the five years he spent there, his education there at Michigan and his associations with Bo and the other coaches on the staff, that' the place that he will always call home."

Following Stanford's win over USC, the elder Harbaugh also said: "I can just see Bo up in heaven, he's talking to Woody (Hayes) and he's got a big old cigar and he and Woody are looking down on the game and he looks over to Woody and he says, 'That Jimmy Harbaugh, that's the way the game's supposed to be played,' taking real pride in it, and I truly believe that he does take pride in it."


November 2nd, 2010 at 5:46 PM ^

Very interesting, thanks. It would be even more interesting to know what David Brandon thinks about Harbaugh, since that's the only opinion that matters.

I do think that Harbaugh would have to address his own comments about the academic things he criticized at Michigan before he would get any offers. If I were Brandon and whoever the UM president is, I would certainly grill his ass about all that first, in private.

One thing is for sure: after all the sweet nothings Harbaugh whispered into Stanford's ear about how they were the only one for him and that's the only place he ever wanted to be, if he then up and left for Michigan (or any other school) he would instantly become the most hated guy on Stanford's campus, at least among those who care about football there. I think I'll buy some shares in Palo Alto Torch & Pitchfork just as an investment with lots of growth potential.

Ben from SF

November 2nd, 2010 at 6:08 PM ^

I live in Palo Alto.  Stanford is a lot of things, but they are not into football.  There is no buzz, and they sell out once per year (USC or Notre Dame).  My brother attends graduate school at Stanford, and we typically buy our tickets at the gate when we decide to watch a game.

However, Harbaugh is immensely popular in the community.  He spent his jr and sr years in high school here in Palo Alto, and, unlike his predecessors (other than Ty Willingham), he was able to integrate an emphasis on academics and entrepreneurship to a brand of tough, physical football.  The few hardcore boosters, like the Jim Plunketts and the Rod Gilmores, love him, but they also understand that this is not a destination job for him.  In fact, most people believe that David Shaw (the OC, Stanford alum) is being groomed by Harbaugh to replace him.


November 2nd, 2010 at 7:22 PM ^


Dave Brandon might say, "I don't want to fire RR unless I know Harbaugh is in the bag first."

I'm sure there could be some backroom discussions where DB tells JH the job is his if he wants it, but if he doesn't he needs to shut up about it.  If JH says yes, then DB can all but wrap up the deal before RR knows about it.  If JH says no, then the talk never happened.


November 2nd, 2010 at 3:14 PM ^

If Brandon decides to retain RR for 2011 with a change at defensive coordinator, Casteel may be the only real hope here. If Stewart and staff lose their jobs, this could happen. One (more) reason to root against WVU.

I would assume few coordinators worth their salt would want to come on to what could potentially be a one year stint (provided success doesn't arrive in 2011).

The only other hope would be some former player (I'm looking at you Trgovac) with D-coordinator chops looks at his old program and the state of its defense and wants to be a savior.

Mitch Cumstein

November 2nd, 2010 at 3:19 PM ^

What D coordinator would come into a job that has almost no job security.  I think the best we can hope for is someone that just lost their job (potentially Casteel).  Otherwise, I don't see someone leaving a job to come here for RR's final stand (which is what next year is setting up to be).


November 2nd, 2010 at 4:43 PM ^

I don't know much about Casteel either, but I don't think there's much precedent for firing a head coach while promoting someone from his staff.  Stewart got promoted to Head Coach after Rodriguez left voluntarily, which is entirely different.

In my opinion, it's a pretty safe bet that if Stewart gets canned, his entire staff is out the door as well.  But who knows, stranger things have certainly happened.

Blue In NC

November 2nd, 2010 at 3:36 PM ^

You make a good point but I am not sure I agree.  Sure, UM will likely not get a high-profile established DC.  But even if it's a MAC level guy (some rising star), wouldn't someone like that be willing to take a chance on Michigan (especially if given a three year contract)?  Money (and opportunity) talks.


November 2nd, 2010 at 3:51 PM ^

How well did Casteel and RR get along at WVa?  If Casteel does come to AA, what are the chances that he is able to clean house on 'd' so to speak when many our defensive staff are people he's coached with before? 

This sounds good on paper, but I am wondering how well they'd be able to mesh together after 3 years apart and lots of pressure to produce.


November 2nd, 2010 at 3:53 PM ^

I think that a DC would look at what we did this year, see that all he has to do is hold teams under 28 points and he has a job (we'd be 7-1 right now looking at 2-4 more wins). Any DC worth their salt would know they can do that and would jump at the raise for him and his staff.

Blue 8198

November 2nd, 2010 at 4:41 PM ^

Big East pedigree DCs haven't been working too well lately.  Rather than Casteel we should look ideally to the Big Ten for people familiar with facing Big Ten type offenses.  It will cost $$ but I, for one, am willing to pledge not only $1 but even as much as $2 for each of my season tickets during the telethon!

Icehole Woody

November 2nd, 2010 at 3:17 PM ^

How did Michigan's defense get to where they are now and how do they get back?  I know it's been covered before but I think it's important to review this so that mistakes are not repeated and we find ourselves here three years from now.


November 2nd, 2010 at 3:17 PM ^

every three minutes there's a new post about why we should or shouldn't fire RR, and when.  then people w/ the opposite viewpoint attack the OP and commenters and it all turns into lots of fun.  so i'm in search of a cause for firing we can all rally around. 

i propose pam ward.  we all hate her.  she says stupid things and can't pronounce anyone's name.  she sounds like a man and is nothing to look out.

so here's a plean for lots of "fire pam ward" posts.  hooray!