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The Closing Argument for Rich Rod

January 3, 2011

So this is how the Rich Rodriguez era will end.  Not with a dominant performance or even a stirring comeback, but with an embarrassing loss to a middle of the pack SEC team.  In the end, the cliché was true – a leopard can’t change its spots.  The defense which was pathetic all year long, was awful again yesterday, as they once again made an average offense look like Fielding Yost’s point a minute teams.  The special teams, another Achilles heel, thwarted any possibility of a comeback with miscues like blocked punts and missed field goals.  On a day when the offense sputtered after the first quarter, the defense turned in perhaps its worse performance of the season, despite having a month to prepare.  It was the closing argument for a case that many thought was closed after the final testimony in Columbus.

I imagine that like most of you, I went into yesterday’s game hoping for a win and expecting a competitive game.  Though an 8-5 record wouldn’t have been up to Michigan standards, a New Year’s Day Bowl win would have created some solid momentum to head into next year, and nice memory for the seniors who have been through so much.  But somewhere in the 4th quarter, I came to the realization that yesterday’s blowout loss was probably the best thing that could have happened for the long-term health of the Michigan football program.

Over the last several months, the fans, the media, and I’m sure to some extent David Brandon, have debated back and forth about what the proper course of action was regarding the future of Rich Rodriguez.  Are the youth, lack of talent and non football obstacles Rich Rodriguez has faced reason enough to give him another year to prove himself?  Or should we cut our losses and move on to the favorite son, Jim Harbaugh?  For many, including myself, it was a tough call.

Had Michigan won yesterday, or worse yet, won by the margin that Mississippi State won, that call would have gotten tougher.  Even if Dave Brandon had already made his decision, firing a coach whose team had improved every year and had just won a New Year’s Day bowl game would have garnered plenty of criticism from the media.  It would have created further divide among fans who are already split on whether or not Rodriguez should be fired or retained.  And it would have been tough to explain to the current players, who presumably love their coach, why steady improvement, an 8-5 record and a bowl win wasn’t good enough to save his job.

But yesterday’s result made a decision that a month ago seemed like a toss-up into a no-brainer.  With a month to prepare and a healthy team, the defense somehow looked worse.  For the third consecutive game Michigan lost by 20 points and the game was over by halftime.  Michigan lost 6 of its last 8 games, and its most impressive wins came in Weeks 1 and 2 against UConn and Notre Dame.  But those are just distant memories now.  To return to a previous post, much like last year, the revenues dried up, the costs were never brought under control, and though we “turned a profit” by winning more games than we lost, the shareholders have major gripes about their return on investment.

And so its time to move on.  The media frenzy, the fanbase, the record, and the empirical evidence make that a virtual certainty.  Even if Jim Harbaugh wasn’t available I think Michigan would be coach shopping now.  Thankfully, Harbaugh is available, and I fully expect that once he has finished coaching his Stanford team in the Orange Bowl, Jim will be announced as the Head Coach at Michigan this week – perhaps as early as Tuesday.  Of course there could be a hiccup in this, like San Francisco making Harbaugh a Godfather offer or the contract details getting in the way, but by many accounts – including some people I’ve spoken to who would know – this has been in the works in outline from since before the season.    There are other subtle hints – like Harbaugh’s unwillingness to sign his Stanford extension, or his name not being mentioned by NFL insiders in connection with NFL jobs.  Throw in the fact that the NFL may not even have games next year because of the lockout and Harbaugh is a Michigan Man and connecting the dots gets very easy.

And while a month ago I might have felt that this wasn’t the right decision, there is no other rational course of action now.  There is just too much negativity associated with Rodriguez at this point.  Some of it is his own doing, some of it is due to things he never had any control over.   But ultimately what did him in was his inability to be competitive in any of Michigan’s games against marquee opponents.  MSU, Iowa Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Mississippi State weren’t just losses, they were bad losses, and each was worse than the previous loss.  At a place like Michigan where tradition and pride sometimes mean as much as wins and losses, that was just unacceptable.

When the ax falls later this week, I’ll feel bad for Rich Rod, for his family, for his coaches and for the players he recruited.  In many ways, they all got a raw deal.   But the events of yesterday coupled with the way the end of the regular season played out is just too damning an indictment of how far this program is from where it once was, and how far it is from where it wants to be.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Bill Costello permalink
    January 3, 2011 12:36 PM

    This may mark the end of the RR era but it is going to be a long struggle back even if Harbaugh is the new coach. Demographics tilt all the advantages to SEC and west coast teams. Warm climates and better economies rule many decisions for talented, smart high school players. Keep your fingers crossed and Go Blue.

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