Three And Out: An Excerpt

Submitted by Brian on October 28th, 2011 at 11:25 AM

imageStrong language contained herein. Three and Out is a book about the short, tumultuous reign of Rich Rodriguez at Michigan.

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The week after Michigan collapsed against Illinois in 2009, they prepare to take on Purdue.

A weary Rodriguez wearily surveys his weary troops, because he has to or the media will write about other things…

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The Friday night before the Purdue game, Rodriguez dug at his meal like a hungry prisoner who was sick of eating the same gray food every night. When I told him I was surprised that the guys seemed loose, like they were still having fun and staying positive, he stared at his food, paused, and said, “I don’t care.

“I don’t care anymore about trying to analyze the psychology of these guys, especially for the press. I just want them to freakin’ play. I’m sick of it.”

Sick of what?

“Everything. I’m sick of the situation I’m in. I’m sick of the crap I’ve got to deal with every week. I’m sick of people not taking responsibility.” A case could be made that all happiness is feeling like you have possibilities. When someone wins the lottery, he’s happy not because he won the lottery but because he suddenly has dozens of options he didn’t have the day before.

But the corollary is also true: All unhappiness is feeling like your options are shrinking and the world is closing in on you. That you’re trapped. Rich Rodriguez’s options were shrinking. By the time he arrived in Ann Arbor, it was clear he could not go back the way he had come. But after only twenty-one games at Michigan, it had become just as clear there would be only one way he could stay: winning football games. And fast.

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Every Friday night, between the dinner and the movie, the offense and defense met separately with their coaches to go over the scouting report one last time. But this week, instead of reviewing the opponent, they reviewed a tape of their practices that week. The message was simple: The Illini didn’t beat the Wolverines. The Wolverines beat the Wolverines.

Job 1: Hold on to the damn ball. There was a reason John Heisman famously showed his players a football and said, “Gentlemen, it is better to have died a small boy than to fumble this football.”

But John Heisman never met Tate Forcier. On one play Rodriguez showed that night, Forcier held the ball like an oversized sponge and swung it around like he was washing his windows with it. Sure enough, the defense soon forced a fumble.

“High and tight, high and tight, high and tight,” Rodriguez said with relative calm. “Anything else is selfish. It shows disrespect for your teammates, and I know you’re not selfish, and I know you don’t want to disrespect your teammates.”

Here he was, going into the tenth game of the season, reviewing something they had covered on the first day of spring ball, the first day of summer practice, and just about every day since. It was pretty clear Rodriguez was tired of that, too.

But he knew it came with coaching young players, and he usually enjoyed the teaching process. But they were repeating the same lessons too often, which became especially aggravating when he had no idea how many lessons they would get.

Job 2: In the spread option offense, the quarterback has to take three steps and throw it. Not four steps. Not five steps. And no hitches, either. Three and throw. Three and throw. The timing was simple but exact—and it was everything. Any freelancing and incompletes, sacks, and interceptions soon followed.

And that’s exactly what Rodriguez saw next on the practice tape: Forcier taking three steps (an improvement), seeing his receiver open— but then hitching, which allowed the linebacker to cover the receiver. Rodriguez was calm but firm. “I’m sure I will not have to see on Monday any tape of any Michigan quarterback taking three steps and a hitch when he should be taking three steps and throwing.”

Next play, same thing, but this time Forcier threw it behind the receiver. The linebacker just missed making the interception.

“That one’s late. Why? Three and hitch instead of three and throw. I’ve been doing this for twenty years! I didn’t just wake up and come up with this thing. We have refined this over time. We know what works. We’re not guessing! Three steps and throw! THROW! You’ve got to trust the timing!”

But it was really more than that. The quarterbacks had to trust the system—and the coaches who had created it.

The flipside was just as simple: The coaches had to remember that Forcier was still a freshman. And even though Rodriguez’s quarterbacks on every team he’d coached eventually won Conference Player of the Year, not one of them did it his first season.

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If the Illinois game could be reduced to Michigan’s four tries from the 1-yard line, Michigan’s season likewise boiled down to four great chances to win just one game to secure a bowl bid: Michigan State, which ended in overtime; Iowa, which ended one pass short of a winning field goal attempt; Illinois, which broke on the 1-yard line; and Purdue, which looked like an eminently winnable game. But like the fourth-and- 1 play against Illinois, the pressure mounted with each failed attempt. This was Rodriguez’s last best chance at match point.

Blow it against the Boilermakers, and the odds would only get taller against Wisconsin, and taller still against Ohio State, still in the hunt for a national title. Collars were tight in Ann Arbor.

The quarterbacks didn’t think Purdue would be a pushover, either. “They’re good, they play hard,” Sheridan said later that night in his hotel room. “Much harder than Illinois.” And then, unable to let Illinois go: “I still can’t believe we lost to those guys.”

“Don’t let ’em beat you twice,” Forcier said, as a half- joking warning they’d all heard a hundred times. “Man, we just got to win again. That’s been driving me fucking nuts. We just got to win again.”

Comments

CompleteLunacy

October 28th, 2011 at 12:39 PM ^

#9 is vehemently wrong. I don't blame RR at all on that one. I'll let Section 1 rehash that for you.

#1 is wrong too. 3 wins was obviously bad, but his failures were in the next two seasons. Specifically, the match points that Bacon mentioned. Especially Illinois 2009, Penn State 2010. The meltdowns in those games, irrespective of the situation RR was in, were unacceptable.

#6 ... I mean, how the hell can you even think that?!? If RR didn't even have a chance to talk to the players before Carr says "You can leave right now if you want to", then how can you possibly blame RR on that? That is such a fucked up argument.

I have other quibbles...to say #8 is all his fault...I mean, come on. Former players is a two-way street. More former players come out in support (in the media) to RR, and things are completely different. Sure, it was a very bad assumption on RR's part that he didn't need to contact former players...but the former players could have easily helped him out there too.

Another quibble...poor coaching hires...yes, mostly on RR, but when your boss won't open up the check book for the guy you want, you're kinda handicapped.

Ziff72

October 28th, 2011 at 1:27 PM ^

I expected you to have -255 pts when I read this.  Come on.  

 

1. Haven't we been thru this.  You really needed that 6 wins?   We weren't winning 6 games that year.

2. This is a made up internet creation.   False.   I never recall him saying Tate Forcier blew this game.

3. Again are you 65 years old and get all your "scoop" from the Detroit News dropped on your door and the boys at the gym?

4. Ok

5. Yeah those 5 star guys Campbell and Turner were idiotic signings.  

6. Who left that would have had any impact on the teams success in 08?   Manningham was gone, Mallett was gone regardless of coaches.  Arrington?  He was the difference maker?

7. Did you read the book?  Bacon comments on how the team stuck together.

8. Not on him it was on the program.

9. You really believe RR was the reason for violations?

Just say you hate the guy and move on.

 

 

 

 

 

michgoblue

October 28th, 2011 at 2:44 PM ^

I could say the same of you.  Trust me, I watched every single game, read every single article on this and many other blogs, and paid as much attention to the RR era as anyone.  I wanted RR to succeed - I defended him for 2.5 years, raising many of the same points that you raise, hoping that he would finally get it together.  It was only when it became clear that he would not - for whatever reason - that I wanted him gone.  I liked RR when he was here.  But I love Michigan, and my love of Michigan trumped my like of RR.

Now, looking back, I feel that there were so many things that he did wrong here, many not intentionally, that undermined any chance of his success.  Any I acknowledge openly (and have said over and over again in posts) that RR dealt with more shit here than any new coach I can remember at a major program.  The fans, the media and even the former players for taking family business public did not do RR or the program  proud.  But, at the end of the day, RR made many mistakes, and ultimately did not serve his team well, so as Brian said, I am glad he is gone.

These are all matters of opinion - the whole why, who is to blame, who did what wrong, what would have been - we will never know the answers - hell, there are no answers, just conjecture.

What we do know is that RR's tenure here was not successful, and we will be digging out of it for several years.  It is good for our program that he is gone and that we can now move forward as a more unified fanbase. 

M-Wolverine

October 28th, 2011 at 2:17 PM ^

Bacon seems to think that if they can just hold on and take care of Utah, which he thought they were very close to doing, the momentum easily carries them to 6 wins.  And makes everything different. I don't know if he's actuallly right about that, but if you believe all his defenses, you have to add some credence to his assessments too.

michgoblue

October 28th, 2011 at 2:37 PM ^

But I like that you always provide good reasoning, so it is sort of enjoyable to discuss this with you:

1.  Yes, those 6 wins would have made a big difference.  Everyone accepted that 2008 would be rough.  But it didn't have to be 3-win rough.  That was a great way to lose the support of much of the fanbase.  Not saying that he lost on purpose, but the guy has a history of coming in and having 2-3 wins in his first year at stops.  At other schools, there is probably more tolerance for that - but, at a school that hasn't missed a bowl in 3 decades, he would have been better served to bring about change more incrimentally if it meant winning 2-3 more games.  There were games on that schedule that, Sheridan and all, we shouldn't have lost.  You can't tell me that Toledo had more overall talent on their roster.

2.  No, he never called out SPECIFIC players.  But he did say that he hoped to find a kicker on the way to the 2010 WISCO game - that's pretty specific.  He did say that Vince Lombardi couldn't win with his defense - that's not calling out players?  Honest question:  When you heard those comments, how did you feel?   

3.  The traditions thing - I said that this was sort of silly.  But, still not a great way to get acquainted to a new fanbase, especially one that is known to be into their history.  Hell, Bacon had access to the program - Rich could have pulled him aside and asked for a quick "must know" list over breakfast.  Or Big Jon Falk - he knows ALL of this stuff.  Why not sit down for a meal and ask what he absolutely needs to know to not piss off fans.  But, to be clear, I actually agree that this should have been a non-issue - he was new in town and people should have given him some slack. 

4.  I see your ok and agree - ok.

5.  Maybe I overstated - I am not saying that he didn't recruit ANY defense, but he certainly didn't recruit enough.  Also, correct me if I am wrong - always a possibility - but didn't Carr recruit Campbell?  New point, so not really a rebuttal, but he also neglected in-state recruiting, which has allowed MSU to get some pretty talented players that otherwise would have come to Michigan (allowing MSU to be pretty good this year and last). 

6.  Who left?  Aside from some of the guys that you mentioned, even the less talented players that left would have provided much needed depth to ease the terrible transition.  You don't think that the level of attrition over RR's 3 years was unusually high?

7.  The team stuck together.  I never said that they didn't.  What I said is that RR's defeated demeanor impacted the team's phyche.  The two are not related.  You watched the games.  You don't recall many announcers commenting that the team looked confused, defeated and chaotic? 

8.  Former players - so it was not RR, it was almost every single former player that played for Michigan (and of course Lloyd Carr, as well)?  Is it possible that when so many different people all have the same reaction to someone, the fault is not with the so many different people, it is with the someone?  I actually agree with the view that if players weren't happy, they should have kept it internal (as Lloyd actually did by not saying a single negative thing about RR), but that doesn't change the fact that he must have done SOMETHING to piss off SO MANY former players.

9.  Violations - I concede - not his fault.  But, blame goes to the boss, and it happened under his watch.  It is not that different than being the president of a company that goes bankrupt on your watch.  Even if you didn't directly cause the problem, it happened under your watch.  But, I agree that he shouldn't get DIRECT blame for this.

I await your response.  I have given up on getting much done today.

los barcos

October 28th, 2011 at 12:23 PM ^

Completely Agree.  And as I mentioned in another thread, the book seems so focused on a narrative that shady dealings brought down RR that it neglects most of RR’s poor football decisions.  Bacon does address the blundered press conferences but only to the extent that it brought on more heap from the outside.  What he does not address, however, is what I thought was the biggest mistake in the RR era: firing Shaffer and bringing in GERG.  All of a sudden in the book,Schaffer kind of disappears and GERG is in his place – without any mention of what that caused.  The bottom line is this:  if RR could have cobbled together a semblance of a defensive staff, he would have been here today, regardless of the muffed coaching search, the WVU drama, the negative press, the “cockroaches.”  He couldn’t do that because he brought in Shaffer, fired him, brought in GERG, and eventually forced him into 3-3-5 with defensive coaching assistants that were inept at best.  This latter part is hardly mentioned in Bacon’s book, which to me seems like a glaring omission. 

los barcos

October 28th, 2011 at 12:53 PM ^

Before Shaffer is fired, RR says he is going to evaluate all the defensive coaches and if I remember correctly, one or two were in very hot water.  Later he says that Shaffer was the only one that he, RR, did not meet before he was hired.  (I think it paints the picture that defensive problems were on Shaffer.)  And then he is fired and GERG comes in without a single mention (I believe) of the month long coaching search or GERG’s previous crater at Syracuse.  As the book progresses (I’m not done yet) there is talk about a growing friction between GERG and RR (notably in personnel decisions) and  how bad the defense is but there is no real analysis as to how it got that bad.

Tapin

October 28th, 2011 at 1:01 PM ^

On page 147 there're a few paragraphs about Shafer leaving ("...Shafer announced his resignation"; I didn't remember that detail, although it's obvious he was pushed out).  And there's plenty of ink used to talk about how the defense kept getting worse and worse year after year, and the proxy battle that was Robinson's man Obi Ezeh vs. Rodriguez's man Kenny Demens in 2010.

But it's certainly not one of the main themes of the book (through the first 375 pages, anyway -- I'll finish it on the commute home, I'm sure), which I suppose is mildly surprising.

Blue2000

October 28th, 2011 at 12:27 PM ^

Whether or not you agree that the aforementioned things made it impossible for him to perform his duties, you'd agree that they must have had at least some negative effect, correct? 

It's unreasonable to conclude that Rodriguez was in no way responsible for the shortcomings of the team during his tenure, but it's equally unreasonable to evaluate his coaching performance without some consideration of the effect that the extraneous noise he was dealing with had upon that performance.  I don't think the book is trying to "rob[] Rodriguez of any agency he had in what occured," although I admittedly have not yet finished it.  I think the book the point of the book was to provide some insight into his tenure in its entirety, so that we can have the "conversation about how Rodriguez performed his job" in conjunction with the "conversation about Carr, Martin, Rosenberg," etc.  They're obviously related.   

chitownblue2

October 28th, 2011 at 12:30 PM ^

I haven't read it, so I'm unclear on what Martin did to make his life harder. I know what's said about Carr, and I guess I disagree, but I'm biased towards Carr. The Rosenberg stuff unquestionably made his life unjustifiably harder.

That said, I don't think it even goes a fraction of the way to explaining 15-23. At least not nearly as much as an explanation of why he fired a demonstrably good DC for a bad DC, and why both played a defensive scheme they had never coached. An explanation of THAT would be illuminating.

Blue2000

October 28th, 2011 at 12:37 PM ^

I argee, the lack of discussion about the defense's failures is a serious shortcoming of the book, esepcially since the defense's failures appear to be a direct result of RR's meddling/shortsightedness. 

That being said, I'm not sure that calling Shaeffer a "demonstrably good DC" after the defense's performance in 2009 is entirely reasonable, regardless of his performance since.  At the time, the defense was terrible, and just like RR was accountable for the team's overall performance regardless of distractions, etc., the same can/should be said for Shaeffer and the defense.  (Full caveat, in retrospect, I desperately wish that RR had kept Shaeffer if for no other reason than to avoid the hiring of GERG.)

Erik_in_Dayton

October 28th, 2011 at 12:52 PM ^

The '08 offense failed, but the offensive players were less impressive on paper than their defensive counterparts.  Maybe more importantly, RR had prior relationships with his offensive staff (and he helped design the offense, of course).

As to the defense, RR did not have a prior relationship with Shafer and saw him failing with what seemed to be decent players.  My guess, after reading part of the book, was that Shafer had a disproportionate amount of guys who were not on board with the coaching change (the defense was much more upperclassmen) but that that was not necessarily apparent to RR at the time.  I think he likely therefore blamed Shafer for problems that were not of Shafer's making. 

SoullessHack

October 28th, 2011 at 1:53 PM ^

According to the book, Bill Martin and Mary Sue Coleman promised RR that the university would cover up to $2.5 million of his buyout from WVU. At the time, neither MSC, Bill Martin nor RR though WVU would actually seek to recover the whole $4 million buyout after RR left WVU. But they did.

Not only that, but neither Bill Martin nor MSC informed the regents that they had made RR the $2.5 million promise. So they made RR go through the entire ugly, protracted lawsuit/arbitration process of trying to get the buyout reduced just so they wouldn't get busted by their bosses. It was one of the many things RR took silently on the chin at the direction of the school while being vehemently criticized by former players as not being a "Michigan Man."

dcmaizeandblue

October 28th, 2011 at 12:34 PM ^

That's not the point of this book.  We've discussed Rodriguez's failings the last 12 months those aren't new, that conversation is over.  The stuff revealed in this book show that the program itself was dysfunctional which was a revelation to me. From the coaching search that brought Rodriguez here in the first place to the end of his tenure there were failures all around the department.

My take is that Rodriguez didn't produce on the field and that is why he is gone and if he had any insight into running the defense or hiring the right people this crap would've gone away with wins.  BUT it would be stupid to ignore the failures by the athletic department and former players during this time.  Bacon's book was to highlight these other failures because we all know about RR's because we saw them on the field for 3 years.

2plankr

October 28th, 2011 at 12:36 PM ^

Man, from reading some of these comments, you would think that Gene Chizik, who was met with a lot of resistance from inside and outside his program, would never have had a chance to have success at Auburn.

I mean with prominent alums saying things like "Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst résumé.", it must have been impossible for Chizik to have any kind of success, right?

dcmaizeandblue

October 28th, 2011 at 12:59 PM ^

You think that team wins that many games without Cam Newton?  I wasn't aware that Alabama was such a gold mine for football talent either.  I also can't remember any real negativity after his initial hiring.  Boy you sure proved me wrong with that single example.  How could we not think to call on the Benny to Bennie connection to save our season!

Ziff72

October 28th, 2011 at 1:42 PM ^

The negativity would not have brought RR down and he could and would have succeeded here given time, but it took more time than was given because.....

1. The roster was depleted because of timing/bad luck/attrition

2. No problem RR is a big name coach at a prestigous school.

3. RR lands several big name players

4. Freep Shit storm hits

5. Hard to snag anymore big name players to increasing media shit storm.

6. Perfect storm continues as the big name players he got before shit storm turn out to be not good at footbnall....Turner and Campbell.

7.  Your secondary looks like a high school team

8. Good Luck.

Chzik overcame the shit storm because of Cam Newton and Gus Malzhan.  If Chzik does not have Newton last year and 16 other senior starters in place he is in a world of hurt and he would be on many hot seat lists this year.   If RR landed Cam Newton his 1st year he would still be here.   Some people refuse to believe luck or outside factors play a role at all.  It probably is 80-90% of it, but most people don't feel it play any role. 

RR had 20 years of success behind him but people think he lucked into that 20 years and Michigan exposed him as a terrible coach.  That makes sense.

UMich87

October 28th, 2011 at 2:40 PM ^

20 years of success before he got to Ann Arbor and he bumps his head getting off the plane at Metro, wiping out all of his football knowledge and coaching skills.

Now, that's bad luck.

jmblue

October 28th, 2011 at 4:04 PM ^

RR had 20 years of success behind him but people think he lucked into that 20 years and Michigan exposed him as a terrible coach. That makes sense.

This is a straw man, and moreover, it's misleading. RR had been a head coach at exactly one I-A school, for seven years, before coming to Michigan. That one school was his alma mater, so obviously he was a good cultural fit. That school also played in a weak conference, made all the weaker by the departure of three of its best schools after 2004 (at which point RR's WVU teams suddenly went from regular 8-5/9-4 records to 11-2/12-1). And at that school, he happened to have one of the few dedicated disciples of the 3-3-5 defense (Casteel) at his disposal.

Michigan is not RR's alma mater. (He had never even been here before he took the job.) He did not understand the culture of this school. The Big Ten is not the Big East. The level of competition here is greater. And Jeff Casteel never came here, and with him not around, some of the shortcomings that he had masked at WVU were glaring. There are plenty of reasons, in retrospect, to understand how RR could succeed at WVU and fail here.

yoopergoblue

October 28th, 2011 at 7:21 PM ^

Thank you for that moment of sanity jmblue!  I wanted Rich Rod to succeed as much as any sane Michigan fan, but I couldn't take it anymore after last season.  He just had to go.  RR was in over his head at Michigan and I think most people would agree.  You are only going to see the expectations that Michigan has on the football field at maybe 10 universities.  It takes a hell of a coach to be able to live up to those expectations and not every coach is cut out for it.  Brady Hoke might not have the big-time experience that the Saban's and Stoop's of the coaching world have, but he surrounded himself with big-name assistants to make up for what he lacks in experience.  RR didn't and part of that is on him and part of it on the university for not ponying up enough for Casteel.  

mtzlblk

October 28th, 2011 at 12:42 PM ^

How much all the negative attitude DID impact the coach, the team AND the subsequent results. It is convenient for the fair-weather M fans that were RR detractors from day one to separate on-field performance/results, with everything off the field, but they are and always will be intimately intertwined. 

The environment created by those with an agenda against RR impacted the coach, the team, the trust they had in their coaches and the system and most certainly had a detrimental impact.

HenneGivenSunday

October 28th, 2011 at 12:55 PM ^

..But from what I'm readying so far, I'm probably going to need to stock up on alcohol just to get through the deep depression I will be in as a result. 

..Anyone else think Forcier's comment makes him seem like even more of a brat???

Hannibal.

October 28th, 2011 at 1:09 PM ^

This book is like the "C" ending from the movie "Clue".  Everybody goes into it wondering "whodunnit".  Turns out, everyone's guilty. 

Instead of continuing our three year old argument about whether Rodriguez got a fair shake, we need to adopt a "NEVAR FORGET" approach towards the whole three-year fiasco.

lexus larry

October 28th, 2011 at 1:23 PM ^

I'd kinda think he was doing much of this already...

But then he goes off and dishes another snarky "the UTL unis are one-offs" sort-of-lying-butt-not-strictly-lying tale, while giving us an even uglier away version.  He bounces mascot ideas around, sells water to heat-stroke victims, et al, and I can't get a handle on whether he's a robber baron or a great uniter and healer (and robber baron!).

Hannibal.

October 28th, 2011 at 1:36 PM ^

Based on his performance to date, I would say that Brandon didn't learn much.  The coaching search that produced Hoke didn't appear to be taken any more seriously than the coaching search that produced Rodriguez.  If Hoke ends up being a great Michigan coach, I hope that people will remember that Brandon is a buffoon who had a solution fall into his lap.