You can never go back: the myth of the MIchigan Man

Submitted by StephenRKass on September 3rd, 2009 at 3:22 AM
I just finished reading an article by Jim Litke (national AP writer) in the Chicago Tribune about R. Rodriguez and what it is to be a Michigan Man. (cf.,0,6515622.story.) There is much I disagree with in the article. I do not believe that Rodriguez' job is in jeopardy. I don't believe that there is a paper trail of non-compliance leading back to Rodriquez. I don't believe that Rodriquez will be labeled as a cheater.

However, there is one section in his article with which I resonate. Litke writes,

Rich Rodriguez was never going to be "a Michigan man."

Not when he was hired, not when he cried after being accused of pushing his players too hard, not even if he wins nearly every game for as long as he lasts in the job.

That's not a slam on Rodriguez. No one in charge of a topflight major college football program anywhere else qualifies as "a Michigan man," either. The last one, Lloyd Carr, resigned at the end of the 2007 season, when he realized he could no longer be both. Trying to uphold a winning tradition while following both the letter and spirit of NCAA laws finally wore him out.

I think Litke is right. Carr, the Michigan Man,  the man who read Kipling, who retired to travel and do other things, who is a personal friend of Russell Crowe, who required players to look up a new word in a dictionary, is a vestige of a past I loved, but which is no more.

Rodriguez came in, was brought in, to win. No more, but no less. Was I supportive of this move? Yes. Do I continue to be supportive? Yes. At the end of the day, I want Michigan to win. I want MY school to compete for the MNC. I choose Rodriguez, and 10&11&12 wins every year, over Carr and 7 or 8 or 9 wins every year.

However, the romantic and the elitist in me is saddened at the cost. I loved the idea of Coach Carr who read Newsweek and read books and was conversant in National Politics and listened to NPR and cared about his players, loved them, while still competing. I loved the idea that you could work hard, play hard, win, but still have a life. Those days, I think, are over. It's stupid to moon and pine over a lost past. But a small part of me died when Carr retired. Even Bo&Woody had life beyond the gridiron. Nowadays? I don't know.

I think this is why I was not thrilled by the "General Studies" brouhaha of a year or so ago. GS was one more sign that FB players were barely students, were largely segregated from the regular student body, so they could focus on their job of football, and not be bothered by homework and competition with the typical Michigan student.

In other words, I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want a coach like Carr, a well read Renaissance Man, a literate Michigan Man who is also a winner. Alas, this day has passed. Somehow, I wonder if this is what grieved Rosenberg. The reality is that we have entered a New World, and we can't go back home again. This world represented by Carr, by Bo, by Woody, is the past I mourn losing. I wonder if our team is now interchangable with Florida or Alabama or Florida State or USC. I always thought Michigan was "better." Not in terms of wins & losses, but in terms, somehow, of quality.

If there was a way to have it all, I would. But I don't think there is a way to have to all. So, we have Rodriguez, and hopefully, the boatload of wins that come along.



September 3rd, 2009 at 4:07 AM ^

The rose colored glasses suggest that Bo, Carr, et al were about more than FB. RR seems to be all about FB, but only about FB. The analogy is Dustin Hoffman in Rainman. Hoffman played an idiot savant . . . extremely good at one thing, but only one thing. The fear with RR is that he is extremely good at one thing, being a FB coach, but only one thing. The myth of the Michigan Man is someone who while being a good FB coach, is also very good in many things. I don't know whether this myth ever had any basis in reality, but to some, it is a wonderful myth. The acceptance and resignation in ref to RR is that he will be a superb, winning, FB coach, but little else. Is this acceptable? Yes. Is it preferable to Carr in the latter years? Yes. Is it ideal? No. Is the analysis of RR & Carr correct? As a fan, I don't have a real clue.


September 3rd, 2009 at 4:30 AM ^

My take on it is, the masses are restless. The whole 3-9 thing has a lot of people in shock. If Michigan had gone 6-6 last year, it would still suck but not so much shock. People who did not want RR are in "I Told You So" mode and people who were ok with him are now second guessing. In the end, RR needs to win while running a clean program. If he does that, this will all go away.

The King of Belch

September 3rd, 2009 at 6:49 AM ^

They were one decent QB away from 8-4 if you axe me. Utah. Toledo, Purdue, Northwestern, MSU, and in all likelihood Notre Dame.

Wow, bad math. One decent QB away from 9-3. And, IIRC, leading PSU and Illinois at the half? Who knows!

I really believe that if UM had (not gonna say Mallet) Henne for one more year--that makes the whole team quite a bit better, and really, REALLY helps out the defense. Not to mention if you had a solid QB who was a veteran--there is some leadership there--the offense had NONE--and you also potentially have a veteran who was ALL IN. That would have meant a lot to that team.


September 3rd, 2009 at 10:57 AM ^

Bo was all about football. Carr, as a renaissance man was the exception. Bo shares far more in common with RR than he did with Carr. But what all three men share is a passion for their players.

I know a few players from the Bo era and what they have indicated was that under the gruff exterior was a man who loved his players and was always there for them. I think that we see this from RR now.

When it all comes down to it, the Michigan Man ethos for the Head Coach is about playing by the rules, taking care of the players and having their interests at heart.

If this crap storm gets washed away by on-field success and RR is here for 8+ years, he will be known as a "Michigan Man".

The King of Belch

September 3rd, 2009 at 6:01 AM ^

It's one of the great things I have learned from watching a movie.
Billy Crystal's angst-ridden character is wondering about life and shit, and (Jack Palance) says something like, "You know what the secret of life is?" "No. What?"

Palance holds up one finger and says, "One." Then he says (paraphrase) "You learn ONE thing and get really good at it"

Well, that's Our Man Rich. Football Coach. But even if Rodriguez is "all about football"--in today's world of Big Time Athletics, it's still a job that is extremely detail-ridden. And there is a myriad of duties (alumni tours, anone?), the hours and pressure are extreme (You have NO idea), and you sacrifice a lot of time with family and friends You do it under a microscope, and you are always simultaneously beloved and hated, a genius and a retard, funny and insensitive, and they want to build a shrine to you yet run you out of town.

I'll tell you what: If Rodriguez is "just" a football coach, and no one really knows anything about what he reads or talks about at dinner parties, the "just" part is a complete insult.


September 3rd, 2009 at 6:22 AM ^

IMO, this echos the national perception of the Michigan program...fallacious as it is in many respects.

The term "Michigan Man", coined by Bo in 1989, is RARELY used by anyone connected to the program these days, or the alums or fans, students...

but the clueless media have adopted that term and attached unattainable meanings and definitions to it that do not play in reality.

Rich Rodriguez is NOT perfect....he is far from it... but at the same time, he is not a crook and is not trying to screw people

Les Miles is not perfect either... neither is Harbaugh, etc
(insert name of coach here)

No one is one can live up to the media's perception of Michigan Man.

So we should just blow that fucking term up...along with "Little Brother"... neither are relevant any longer.

I like RR because he is about winning football games, and IMO has a program in place that will not cheat and the investigation will show this. He is hard nosed on the field and that is all that fking matters to me. He has a loyal team and a program in place that WILL win big time here at Michigan, if just given the chance.

There is no Michigan Man. Its not possible.


September 3rd, 2009 at 7:45 AM ^

Bo was not a Renaissance Man. Bo changed the culture. Bo didn't inherit the job because he was the next assistant in line... Lloyd is gone and its the best thing that has happened to the program since 1997. Those who stop whining, will enjoy watching RR build champions.


September 3rd, 2009 at 8:23 AM ^

is ridiculous. To imply that Lloyd was some sort of intellectual because he quoted Kipling a few times, read Newsweek and tried to expand his players vocabulary through a word-of-the-day, is a stretch and quite frankly it gives way too much credit to his intellectual achievements. Lloyd was a coach first and foremost, it is not like he went Ivy League, or even U of M (Michigan, not Missouri, mind you), and his players were GS majors (or similar) in the majority as well.

I will take results over some illusory vision of intellectualism and present to you a fact- highest GPA in the history of Michigan football. More discipline. Higher expectations.

Rich Rod, at the age of 24, was the youngest college Head coach in the country at Age 24 at Salem College.

The man gets results and to somehow imply with Rich Rod at the helm you CANNOT HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO....makes you sound like a crab-ass A2 elitist (albeit a self described one), without a clue.


September 3rd, 2009 at 8:47 AM ^

"I think this is why I was not thrilled by the "General Studies" brouhaha of a year or so ago. GS was one more sign that FB players were barely students, were largely segregated from the regular student body, so they could focus on their job of football, and not be bothered by homework and competition with the typical Michigan student."

OP was not thrilled with the "GS brouhaha" because reality conflicted with his fantasy world of Michigan football. General studies is not some creation of Rich Rodriguez. Mario Manningham was not a Rhodes Scholar. Lamarr Woodley was not an electrical engineer. Jake Long did not intern at the White House.

Looking up a word in the dictionary or quoting Kipling is only a gesture of intellectualism.


September 3rd, 2009 at 8:31 AM ^

Look at the ongoing Diary series...McBean Ratings...and you will understand how much talent was squandered during the waning years of the Carr regime...just because our kids were not pushed to the maximum...

Coach Rodriguez will become a "Michigan Man" as soon as he does two things...

Post back to back nine win or better seasons.
Beat Ohio State back to back.


Contend for the National Championship.


September 3rd, 2009 at 8:53 AM ^

History lesson. Actually more of a reminder.

The idea of a Michigan Man stems from Bo's press conference in which he explained why he would not allow Bill Frieder to coach the basketball team in the NCAA tournament after agreeing to take the job at Arizona State.

"A Michigan man will coach Michigan, not an Arizona State man."

It's a fine tradition. But it's become overblown. A Michigan man is not some kind of Renaissance man, chiseled in granite and marble and standing above humanity itself. The got-damn NCAA rulebook does not define a Michigan man, nor do the majors of the players he coaches. You don't have to read fine literature and pal around with the stars. You don't have to be well-versed in etiquette. You don't have to be the very model of a modern major-general. Bo said it himself just before he died:

That night, Bo delivered his traditional Thursday night pep talk before the Ohio State game. According to the Detroit News: "Bo's speech was not about Ohio State, the Big Ten title or a national championship. The whole speech was about Tom Slade and how, if the players worked hard, listened to their coaches and stuck together as teammates, one day they might be as good a Michigan man as Slade. That was the goal at Michigan, not national championships."

It doesn't take a Renaissance man. It takes hard work, dedication, and loyalty to Michigan. If Rodriguez coaches here for as long as Lloyd did, nobody will be able to doubt these qualities in him.


September 3rd, 2009 at 1:59 PM ^

Agree that this notion has become overblown (or at least misunderstood). All Bo is really trying to say here is that a "Michigan Man" is someone with a PROVEN supreme devotion to Michigan above all else. In the case of Frieder, he clearly thought there was somewhere better to the case of Slade, he was saying that devotion to the Michigan Team (and all that goes with it) is more important than the Team's wins and losses.

Whether RR is a "Michigan Man" has yet to be determined. You have to earn it, demonstrate it, are not inherently a Michigan Man just by exhibiting or lacking certain traits ahead of time.

In the context of Frieder, many forget that Bo was once approached by Texas A&M (late 70s?) and offered a massive some of money to leave UM (especially at that time when coaches did not make big bucks). He mulled it over and decided, "no, I cannot leave here. This is the pinanacle of college coaching." Bam - a Michigan Man was born.


September 3rd, 2009 at 9:04 AM ^

Bo was a Renaissance Man? Bo was a great coach, a great representative of The University, and had integrity and class, but I don't know if he was some professor in a coach's cap a la Lloyd. I don't remember ever hearing Bo quote Shakespeare or talk about his other interests....he didn't seem to have any outside of football and his family. Sound familiar?

Gerald R. Ford

September 3rd, 2009 at 10:18 AM ^

My opinion has been all along that Coach Rod and Bo are strikingly similar. I still beleive that. When my son is older, he will ask me what it was like when the Coach Rod came to Michigan. I will lie and tell him that Michigan fans were excited and welcomed him with class - just as anyone would expect of the great Michigan fanbase.


September 3rd, 2009 at 10:26 AM ^

Prior to the 1981 season, U of M was ranked No.1 preseason. They came out and lost their first two games and the team was in disarray. At this point it was brought to Bo's attention that a lot of players were unhappy with the amount of work they were asked to put in, how hard practices were, etc. Bo found out the malcontents included his captains (names escape me at this point). He calls them into his office and points to pictures on the wall of past great players and asked them if they thought those guys would agree that they worked too hard....just dressed these guys down. Brought them to tears. Bo said they went on to be two of the best captains he ever had and Michigan finished the season strong. I can only imagine what Bo would think of this fracas if he were alive today.


September 3rd, 2009 at 10:50 AM ^

"Bo was a Renaissance Man? Bo was a great coach, a great representative of The University, and had integrity and class, but I don't know if he was some professor in a coach's cap a la Lloyd. I don't remember ever hearing Bo quote Shakespeare or talk about his other interests....he didn't seem to have any outside of football and his family. Sound familiar?"

While Bo was no professor (he loved to coach football and that was his passion), I think his image as a sweatshirted gym teacher is overblown. According to John Bacon's book, as well as statements from Lloyd Carr and Jack Harabugh, Bo was a voracious consumer of knowledge, if not a heavy reader or lecturer. Bo loved to insert politics and current events into staff meetings and get everyone's opinions. His broad range of interests was a factor in courting his second wife.

(Woody had a similar appetite for history books.)

I am speculating here, but I bet Lloyd's cerebral nature was a point in his favor with Bo - Bo had to be a Decider, and he was smart enough to leverage staffers like Lloyd to do some extra thinking.

Why we didn't hear about it? Unlike Hollywood celebrities, Bo didn't feel the need to use his visibility to project his interests and opinions onto the populace at large.

Also I think the "Michigan Man" thing is overblown - the protests that RR is not a MM are unwittingly ironic, since the Original Michigan Man was hired away from Miami in 1969 and had never coached outside the Four-Letter State.

True Blue Crew

September 3rd, 2009 at 9:22 AM ^

Think about this... Many people are saying that if RR leaves this year or next it will set the program back for YEARS due to the fact that we will then be set up for a spread offense. Would it be inconceivable that we would look for another spread coach to help keep the program viable??? Brian Kelly?!? Would we turn to another pro style coach? Les Miles, another "Michigan Man" (I hate that term)?!? These are the things that keep me awake at night... I'm obsessed with Michigan Football!!! Go Blue!


September 3rd, 2009 at 9:22 AM ^

understand. A michigan Man is not someone tied to Bo's legacy or coaching tree. It's not someone who, in addition to coaching/playing football, is a worldy person. It means nothing more than a man of integrity who gives everything he has to be the best he can be for himself, his team, and Michigan. I think RR's show of emotion at the podium earlier this week reconfirmed to me that he is a Michigan Man.

mad magician

September 3rd, 2009 at 9:59 AM ^

Our coach should come from the English Dept., not West Virginia! We need a literary man at the helm, and so I would like to propose a new head coach, someone we can all be proud of, Mr. John Updike


September 3rd, 2009 at 10:29 AM ^

Mr. Kass, I've no doubt you're a fervent Michigan fan, but I have to say that your image of Bo Schembechler as a man who had a life beyond football while he was coach is pure, ridiculous fantasy. Don't take my word for it, read this article:

From Sports Illustrated, September 14, 1981…

O.K., from a distance Bo comes on like a yahoo. And that's Bo's public image. He has had horrible problems with the press, which has this nasty habit of wanting to talk to him when he loses, his mother's advice notwithstanding. But even if the media's timing were better, it probably wouldn't make much difference, because Bo hates the press. Not just a little. A lot. The Voice of Michigan Football, Bob Ufer, says he has tried to get Schembechler to be nicer to the media. "But he told me," says Ufer, " 'Bob, if I win, I don't need the press, and if I lose, they can't help me.' " Ufer defends Schembechler, whose record at Michigan over 12 years is 114-21-3; Bo's teams have won the Big Ten title twice and tied for it seven times.

Says Ufer, "Bo has two categories of things in his life: what matters and what doesn't matter. What matters is football. What doesn't matter is everything else. Bo is the kind of guy who is so dedicated that he doesn't realize how he's coming off." So while some coaches like to go out and drink with sportswriters, Bo would prefer to break out in warts.

Until a couple of years ago, he would routinely storm out of press conferences, kick reporters out of the sessions ("Don't be offended," says one of Bo's friends. "He'd kick Millie out, too"), make himself unavailable and order his players not to talk. Talking very softly once at a press conference, he was asked to speak up. "I'm speaking as loudly as I can," said Bo softly—and arrogantly. And in a memorable set-to on Oct. 1, 1979, Schembechler gave an absolutely unnecessary push to a publicity-seeking college newspaper reporter.

Yet too much is read into all this. As Don Canham, athletic director at Michigan, says, "Bo is oblivious to life."


Furthermore, Mr. Kass, you seem to be one of those people who, against all evidence, believe that Rich Rodriguez somehow embodies football values that are completely alien to your gauzy memories of what's transpired here in Ann Arbor over the last 40 years. I suggest you read the following and tell all of us how Rich Rodriguez is somehow so very different from the reality of Bo Schembechler, not your fantasy.

From Sports Illustrated November 16, 1970…

Meet Michigan's Meanest Man

....""As Bo says, he runs a tough football program," Dierdorf explains. "Run and run and run. The track team doesn't run as much as we do. And their coach isn't as mean, either."..."When something goes wrong during a practice a whistle blows and Schembechler roars in, wielding words like whips. Betts waits until the point is well made and the rage has ebbed."....

"This is a rough tough hard-nosed football program," says last year's Coach of the Year. "We run their tails off. Maybe three miles of sprints on Mondays. Then Tuesday and Wednesday we really hit. We bring the freshmen in and we go after them for a full two hours. But this is an easy team to coach. They are bright kids and we have some fun. If they don't like something, they know they can say it. That doesn't mean I'll change. But if I don't, I'll be sure they know the reason why."

Except for his open-door policy, Schembechler might have lost it all last year when he arrived from Miami of Ohio to replace Bump Elliott, who became assistant athletic director. He called in the team and said there was nothing ahead but hard work, a lot of hard work.

"And he changed everything," said Newell. "I remember I didn't like that and I didn't like him. I thought it was cool the way Bump ran things."

The Monday before 1969's opening game with Vanderbilt, Schembechler called in his defense. He wanted to know what was wrong. There was a lot of talk but nobody really said anything. Players began to leave. Finally the only player left was Newell.

"Pete," said Schembechler, "for 15 minutes you've been standing there telling me everything would be all right. But you're lying to me. What is the trouble?"

Newell looked at him. As he remembered later, he was sweating like a soaked sponge. "O.K.," he said, "I'll tell you. I think you are an s.o.b."

"Fine," said Schembechler. "Now tell me why."


I was a freshman in 1971, which means I was here for all but two years of Schembechler's career. From what I've gathered in listening to the radio and spending way too much time here on MGoBlog, I think it's pretty clear that the most vocal demographic group hostile to Rodriguez are those of my generation and older. All that means is that it's a sad commentary on the aging process and what it does to cognitive abilities and memories, because anybody who actually pulls his head out of his aging butt and looks at historical reality will dispense with the mythology that's been built up about Bo Schembechler. Whether Rich Rodriguez will be able to replicate Bo's record on the field is obviously an open question; he hasn't proven anything in Ann Arbor yet. But a look at reality should tell everyone that RR is closer in football personality to Bo Schembechler than either Gary Moeller or Lloyd Carr.


September 3rd, 2009 at 12:25 PM ^

In my OP, I thought I was clear, but I will reiterate:

It was time for a coaching change some time ago. Carr had to move on. I want Michigan to win, and to compete for NC. I believe that RR is the right coach to lead in this direction. I believe that given a few years, he will regularly be competing for a spot in the top five teams at the end of the year. Any ridiculous notions I might have had about a Michigan Man need to be put to rest.

What I was trying to say, and failed to convey clearly, was that we all need to move on, and embrace the future. "All in for Michigan," under RR, is what the program needs, and what I support.


September 3rd, 2009 at 12:36 PM ^

Don -

Glad to have you set the record straight. Regarding RR & the future, I want to be clear. We had to move on. Carr's days were over. There's no point in living in the past. I believe RR is a great coach, and will lead Michigan to a good future.

While I liked Carr, I don't for a minute regret that he has retired. If I had a choice of Carr and 12 win seasons or RR and 12 win seasons, I would go with Carr. But there is no such choice. The game had passed him by.

However, I didn't realize how single-minded Bo was. I suppose it makes sense. The phrase "jack of all trades, master of none" applies here. To be a successful coach at the highest level, there was be complete and total commitment and focus.


03 Blue 07

September 3rd, 2009 at 5:18 PM ^

Now THAT is one hell of a comment, Don. Bravo. It is incredible how people's memories seem to morph over time. That is why one of the things I recall from History courses at U of M is that it is usually vital to look at reporting/accounts from the actual time of events to best delve into what really transpired. This is an excellent example, which the SI pieces you cite and quote illustrate quite well.