"When Can We Fire This Guy?"

Submitted by Brian on November 9th, 2009 at 3:46 PM

A very special mailbag, with just one question. This one has been asked, or implied by people sending me reasons the play of the team is definitely the fault of the coaches, by many, many people the past couple weeks. If you sent one, I read it. I'm not responding except here. Sorry. Usually I try to be better about it.

The platonic ideal:

Just talk me off the ledge...

Please explain what it would take for you to no longer support Rich Rod.  What specifically has to happen?  And then, please state not just what you expect to see from the program in the coming years, but how the team will improve?  To me, that's why I just can't support Rich Rod anymore.  Show me where are the underclassmen who will show improvement and how you actually see the coaches making them better.

I just don't see it.  Instead, I see a mentally soft team, that while yes, has serious deficiencies, is currently losing to teams that also have serious deficiencies.  Our players seem to be all over the place and just poorly coached in general.

Like I said, talk me off the ledge..

I get emails like this because I've been a supporter of Rodriguez throughout his tenure at Michigan and am moving much more slowly towards the conclusion that Rodriguez should be fired than the rest of the universe. The emailer asks for specifics. To set ground rules, here are the assumptions I am working with.


Virtually nothing that happened in 2008 was avoidable, and it was mostly not Rodriguez's fault. Michigan's program had already been gutted by attrition and poor motivation by the time Rodriguez made it to campus, and the exodus of offensive stars in the aftermath of his hiring was an inevitable consequence of the radical shift in offensive philosophy.

I have it from reliable sources Ryan Mallett was gone no matter who was the coach and that Manningham was headed for the NFL after three years from day one. Arrington left because Mallett left. Boren left because he was asked to put in the same amount of effort as the rest of the team and not given special exemptions to go be Mr. Plow. If you want to blame Rodriguez for Boren, fine. Add him to the team last year and you still have a disaster of an offense that starts Nick Sheridan most of the year.

Arguments that Rodriguez should have stuck with a pro-style offense he's never coached and forgo the installation of his system in order to get to 5-7 when hardly anyone on the roster has even played in a pro-style system have been discussed already; I think they are silly.

Rodriguez is not responsible for the enormous holes on the roster. Rodriguez has had a single full recruiting class and had a brief window in which to patch some spread-type players onto Carr's last class. The gaping holes on defense and the lack of talent at outside receiver and offensive line are almost entirely Lloyd Carr's doing. The freshmen quarterbacks are a combination of Carr putting every egg for three years in Mallett's basket and the radical shift in offensive philosophy.

This has been discussed elsewhere on the blog; I won't belabor the point.

Hiring Scott Shafer was a terrible mistake, and the other hires are questionable. At the very least it was a misjudge of the guy's ability to fit in on the staff. At worst, he allowed his DC to get submarined and saw the defense implode because of his assistants' impatience.

This may extend to Rodriguez's other hires as well: Jay Hopson has recruited very few players as Michigan withdrew entirely from Mississippi after last year's debacle; Hopson also secured the commitments of both defensive tackles who went elsewhere on signing day. His linebacking corps has regressed horribly.

And while the jury is still be out (very, very out) on Robinson given the players he has to work with, but his track record since his salad days with the Broncos is one of relentless failure with a single good-not-great year at Texas mixed in.

It is worth noting that the guys who can really be considered DeBord-style crony legacy folk are Magee, Tall, Smith, and Gibson. Dews is a vagabond who was a grad assistant at WVU for a few years before wandering around to Holy Cross, CMU, and UNLV.  Frey was picked off from South Florida a year before Rodriguez left WVU and had no prior connection to Rodriguez. Hopson is obviously new. Fred Jackson was an enforced hire by the Michigan AD.

The crony guys are the offensive coordinator who everyone loves, the DL coach who is, IME, doing a very good job, the QB coach who helped Pat White be Pat White, and… well… Tony Gibson. At this point I'd rather see Rodriguez hire a guy he knows inside and out; the folk he brings in from the outside haven't done that well.

We are not at the point yet where the deficiencies in the team are clearly the doing of the coaches. It's pretty suggestive at linebacker, sure. But the secondary is just a disaster zone and would be a disaster zone if Monte Kiffin cloned himself eight times and had all eight players try to teach the safeties how to play football. The offense has improved greatly from year one to year two and has done so with true freshmen at quarterback. Since Rodriguez has a track record of success, he should be extended the benefit of the doubt.

They're not "soft." They don't play like mincing Frenchmen. They play like speed-addled kids with ADD. They are irresponsible and sometimes dumb. This is because they are terribly young or Michigan's linebackers. What does "soft" even mean? Jonas Mouton blowing coverages and cutback lanes game after game is not soft. Mike Williams overrunning everyone on Illinois is not soft. Michigan blowing assignments on the Illinois goal line stand is not soft.

It takes time to dig out.


Michigan was not a 3-9 team by accident; they had the talent of a 3-9 team. If you disagree with that, it's probably to suggest that Michigan was really a 5-7 or 4-8 team that Rodriguez screwed up into being a slightly more horrible team, right?

If you think that Michigan's downfall was entirely Rodriguez-made and you're pointing to the gutted recruiting classes that were in the top ten at their inception but have been ground down to dust, you can safely move on from this post since nothing in it will convince you. My opinion is that a combination of poor late stewardship from Carr and the wrenching transition to the opposite of Lloyd Carr in so many ways is what doomed us to this transition.


I expect Rodriguez to provide continual improvement until Michigan is back to being Michigan. That's my baseline. I'm not exactly thrilled with what's gone on this year but I think it's understandable. Given the roster situation and the chaos at DC—which Rodriguez is responsible for—this Michigan team is within the range in which Rich Rodriguez is not an idiot who got lucky with Pat White and Steve Slaton. It's towards the lower end of the range but it is in the range. It takes time to dig out from the hole they were in.

Next year, Michigan must be better than they are this year. I have no idea where the emailer is getting the idea that Michigan can't be a better team when they return at least 16 starters on offense and defense, with Donovan Warren a potential 17th, some combination of Dorrestein and Omameh a potential 18th, and Darryl Stonum a functional 19th.

Additionally, the players on this team are still extremely young. There are 11 starters on the team who are sophomores or freshman by eligibility, and many of the guys with redshirts in there are guys like Hemingway, Huyge, and Molk who missed large chunks of time with injury. The quarterbacks should take huge leaps forward in their second year. The only spot at which Michigan should be appreciably worse next year, excepting special teams, is Brandon Graham. That will be a major loss; it won't offset improved play at every position on the field.

So, sure. If you really don't think Michigan is going to be better next year I can understand why you'd want to see Rodriguez fired. I also think you're completely nuts.

If they aren't obviously better, then Rodriguez should be fired. If they don't make a bowl game, if they aren't obviously moving away from the Big Ten cellar, if they don't approach yardage parity against BCS opponents, Rodriguez should be fired. I think all of those things are seriously unlikely, and am willing to invest a year to find out. Where it is in black and white: acts of God nonwithstanding, Michigan has to go 8-5 next year or Rodriguez should be cut loose. 7-6 might be okay if the bowl matchup is obviously bad.

This is the last I'll say about it until next year.



November 9th, 2009 at 3:57 PM ^

thanks for providing some chalk to back up the comments. personally, i would be thrilled with an 8 win season next year. also, posted elsewhere on this blog was a link to a post made by (presumably) craig roh's father on the scout board:
this should be required reading for anyone with a pitchfork to grind. i always enjoy debate, but i can't stand a pissing match.


November 9th, 2009 at 4:02 PM ^

For attempting to be a voice of sanity and reason among those who want success and want it NOW because 9-4, 9-4, 8-5, 8-5, 9-4 etc. that we have seen for awhile is better than 3-9, 7-6/6-7, 9-4, 11-2, 12-1, etc. Sure, I hate seeing my team lose, but it's just plain stupid to think that things will not improve.

To not let Rich Rod make it through his 3rd year is absolutely idiotic. In fact, there is very little rational argument that can be made for not giving him a fourth year, in which his able-bodied freshmen of his first class will be seniors or redshirt juniors, and things should finally fall into place as to why the crazy fast small guys really are as good as crazy fast small guys tend to be under Rich Rod's offenses.

If we fold before Notre Dame folds, the terrorists win. They have allowed Weis to be absolute shit for his entire tenure, and now finally they are probably going to fold. To expect improvement is natural, Weis's regression from year one to this year has been pretty much constant, with talent gains being snuffed out by sheer idiocy on the part of the coach. Rich Rod is showing capacity for improvement, with year two actually being significantly better than year one. He is not the problem. I will not start even considering RR leaving as an option until the end of next year.

Plus, until he opens his bag of tricks all the way, we can't really judge him as a complete coach. There are things left that he ran at WV and hasn't gotten to pull out yet here. He has the personnel, but it takes time to teach freshmen an entire offense as complex as Rich Rod's.

Have a little patience, people.

STW P. Brabbs

November 9th, 2009 at 8:32 PM ^

10-3, 9-3, 7-5, 11-2, 9-4. Greater than 9 wins/year in the last five.

I'm glad your crystal ball tells you that we go 9-4, 11-2, and 12-1 the next three years (and that we win another game this year!) If I had one of those thingys I wouldn't be so disappointed about those losses to Illinois and Purdue.


November 9th, 2009 at 8:43 PM ^

if the new AD does cave in to panic and fire RR, it's not going to fix anything. In fact, it'll make things worse.

For one thing, there will be the usual attrition during a coaching change, just as happened between Carr and RR. Once again, the talent picture will get worse before it gets better.

For another, the luster of the job will diminish a bit, even if only because any applicants will realize that we a) told RR he would have time to turn the program around and then b) changed our minds. As we have seen at a certain school in Indiana, that can affect your ability to attract top-notch coaches, and certainly if you are going to be firing RR after two seasons, it better be for a top-notch coach.

And even if UM can attract a top replacement, if he doesn't want the same O/D that RR had, more attrition. Players who are/will be a good fit now will move on, maybe right away, maybe after a season.

So more than likely, a best-case scenario would have RR's replacement ... doing exactly what RR has done so far. Unless one thinks that somehow there is a coach out there who will do more than RR has done with less talent (after attrition) AND can find a coaching staff that will help him accomplish that AND that it can all be done without committing actual NCAA violation or signing 40 players per class and having a bunch of them catch enrollment flu or some such nonsense.

Am I happy with what's happened so far under RR? Not really. Do I believe things are turning around? Yes. Do I believe there are any other realistic options anyway? No.

Enjoy Life

November 9th, 2009 at 4:03 PM ^

As Brian (and probably everyone else) knows, I was never on the ledge. I am an engineer and therefore a numbers guy. I have to laugh at the ledge people (because that is much better than the alternative of what I would like to do to them.)

For instance, everyone is totally freaking about the Purdue game. I was totally pissed as I left the game (just ask about 10,000 people who heard me) but only because we lost. I was not upset at all with RR.

Why? Easy. Was it RR's fault that we missed an extra point? Does anyone believe "coaching" caused that? Was it RR's fault Purdue pulled another trick play (the onside kick) that worked? It is possible that "coaching" of special teams was at fault. But, I even think that is a reach.

So, we lost because of a missed extra point and an onside kick. And, you may think the game never should have been close (please ask osu about that one) but with this team that is simply silly.

In close games, a lot of times the winner is decided by everything except the "coaching".


November 9th, 2009 at 5:25 PM ^

It's easy to say we lost 38-36 so the difference was only two and one missed play here, one unlucky play there and we win the game. But this obscures the larger issue. When you look at it reductively the problem isn't one play here, one play there. It's giving up 500 yards to a meh offense- that's the bigger reason why we lost.

Enjoy Life

November 9th, 2009 at 6:28 PM ^

It is possible that M would have the same record without having TO margins of -4 (Iowa), -4 (PSU), -3 (Illinois). The Purdue game we finally ended up +1 in TO and figured a different way to influence the final score (yes, we still could have lost without the missed extra point and onside kick).

Possible but IMO not probable. I would like us to play the next 2 games without extraneous circumstances (unless they are all in our favor!) just to see what happens. At least then, we can all be certain why the results happened.


November 9th, 2009 at 4:03 PM ^

Well put.

I agree that now is not the time to call for his head. We need to give him at least one more year in order for him to properly be evaluated.

I guess this begs another question. If this seasons turns out to be expected (5-7), with the top rated QB supposedly coming in next season, do you think RichRod will be pressured to burn his possible redshirt and play him?


November 9th, 2009 at 4:18 PM ^

Agree, but...and I don't know why more people aren't talking about this...DG's mechanics are AWFUL. He throws wobbly ducks regularly, and thats just from the FNL highlights. His arm doesn't look nearly as good as Denard, and reportedly he's not as good of a runner. He may have decision making that is superior to experienced sophomores(I doubt it, but maybe) but theres no way his throwing puts him anywhere near the starting spot unless Tate (and probably Denard) are hurt.

Yinka Double Dare

November 9th, 2009 at 4:32 PM ^

Gardner probably won't be ready to step in (and frankly I'd rather he redshirt if it can be helped just to get him some time in the system and workouts and for him to have two years of eligibility after Forcier's runs out) but his arm is not a question at all, and it is indisputably better than Denard's. There is a reason that Devin Gardner is the #1 rated QB prospect (at least as of now) by Rivals, rated the #2 strongest arm by Rivals, while Denard Robinson was rated as an athlete and was not recruited as a QB by any top school other than our QB-desperate program.


November 9th, 2009 at 4:35 PM ^

For what it's worth, those aren't highlights in the Friday Night Lights segments. It's basically every relevant play for that player (e.g. we cut out runs by the halfback).

Also, the "reports" that he's not a good runner are ridiculous. I've been to at least 4 of his games this year, and almost every play he can go out and run for at least 10 yards, and he can make moves I've only seen in video games.

That said, if he could redshirt, that'd be rad.


November 9th, 2009 at 6:05 PM ^

are as much Tim as anything else. I think he said Gardner was somewhere between Denard and Tate both as a passer and a runner. Obviously DG could develop unexpectedly, but from watching the video you guys are posting I find it hard to be optimistic he can outplay Denard, let alone Tate. I don't think its an insult to say Gardner isn't the runner Denard is. Hopefully he makes better decisions with the ball...


November 9th, 2009 at 4:06 PM ^

And for the fans that dont have email and end up sitting next to me at the game in their pastel yellow Michigan polos and green rain jackets, yelling for me to sit down - I don't know; staple a xeroxed copy to their forehead.


November 9th, 2009 at 4:12 PM ^

If people are fuming b/c the transition/rebuilding has been as slow and bumpy as it has been, I get that. When they claim there is no way we'll be better in 2010 I wonder if they're being serious. Really? Sophomore QBs rather than true freshman - almost everyone back, a year older - schematic continuity?

Of all the foolish things I have read about Michigan football in the last several days, I think "2010 Michigan = 2009 Michigan - Graham and Minor" is possibly the prize-winner.

This is the NCAA. If you don't think a year of growth is significant for 18-22 year olds look no further than our favorite punching bag, Mr. Clausen. Fr: looked awful; So: looked mediocre; Jr: looks quite good. (don't deny it just because he's annoying)

By the way, speaking of ND punching bags. Do you know what Weis did his first 2 years? He won 19 games. That didn't certify his genius any more than 2008 and 2009 prove Rodriguez has been a fluke. I like to judge Weis on his 3rd season. I'll do the same with RR.


November 9th, 2009 at 7:24 PM ^

I am behind Rich Rod 100%. Give him at least 4 years and this program will be obviously turned around. Next year does have an uncomfortable chance of being a losing campaign though. It wouldn't take many bad bounces for the offense to lose games despite scoring 35 points per. The defense may very well look worse next year if Warren leaves especially. I am not entirely enthused with the prospective improvement of walk-ons and Williams and no matter what the defense will be paper thin. We really need GERG to have what it takes.


November 9th, 2009 at 4:11 PM ^

you know what's kind of awesome for the faithful? we now know what it means to suck! makes winning so much more exciting when it's rising up your back into a yell at points of scoring.


November 9th, 2009 at 5:12 PM ^

Strangely, this actually does make me feel better. Michigan's run of 40 consecutive years without a losing season is actually a remarkable accomplishment. When Bill Martin hired Rodriguez, everyone recognized on some level that Michigan football was in for an unprecedented rebuilding phase that would likely see more than a few streaks come to an end.

Nothing lasts forever, but I like to think that Michigan ended its previous reign of success on its own terms so that it could build a new foundation for another one.


November 9th, 2009 at 4:12 PM ^

Cant say anything more than that.

Patience, let it grow, recruit some defense.

We already have the best young offense in the league and its only getting better. The program's long term future is brighter than the short term, which sucks for the latter.....but its the first time we can say that about the former in several years.

If you dont have the stomach to root for this program when the chips are down, then, as I said last week, go cheer for someone else for a few years.

We'll let you know when you can come back. I promise.


November 9th, 2009 at 4:13 PM ^

RichRod deserves and gets time. Period.

There was already a diary about this, but the point bears repeating- RichRod gets at least 3 seasons to prove his worth, and somewhere before/during that 4th season the AD will have to make a decision.

If M does not renew his contract at that time, then that probably means RichRod's seat is on fire and 2011 is his absolute last chance. Unfortunately, that will negatively affect recruiting, so not renewing his contract is inviting more roster issues like the ones we're seeing now. So the bias is towards renewing the contract unless there are some gaping, consistent problems with the program that RichRod can't seem to solve.

Getting to 7-8 wins next year will demonstrate 2 solid years of improvement under very difficult circumstances. So I agree with Brian- get to 7-5 and a bowl game, preferably win that bowl game to earn some buzz and "momentum" going into Signing Day, and that's enough to earn an extension IME.


November 9th, 2009 at 6:25 PM ^

If you agree with Brian's assertion that 2008 was unavoidable (and I do), then progress must be measured after that season. This year was an improvement from last year, and presuming next year is better than this year then that makes 2 solid years of improvement, a bowl game, etc. Which is enough for me to extend his contract and keep the progress coming.


November 9th, 2009 at 4:13 PM ^

As always you are a voice of reason and sanity amidst the chaos of disappointment and frustration that clouds our maize and blue perceptions. At the risk of being seen as uncreative I can only say +1!


November 9th, 2009 at 4:17 PM ^

pick the wins and losses

9/4/2010 Connecticut - W
9/11/2010 @Notre Dame - W/L (Clausen pro? new coaches?)
9/18/2010 Massachusetts - W
9/25/2010 Bowling Green - W
10/2/2010 @Indiana - W
10/9/2010 Michigan State - W (def overhaul on their part)
10/16/2010 Iowa - W/L (ugh)
10/30/2010 @Penn State - W/L (new qb matter)?
11/6/2010 Illinois - W
11/13/2010 @Purdue - W (no way 0-3)
11/20/2010 Wisconsin - L
11/27/2010 @Ohio State - L

could be 8-4. could be 9-3. could easily be 7-5. could easily be 6-6.