Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bill Martin's Final Contribution

The collective dread that you heard race through the Michigan fanbase on Wednesday morning was the stunning announcement of Bill Martin's forthcoming retirement. Martin has done an exquisite job as Michigan's Athletic Director. He overhauled the Athletic Department's undisciplined spending habits to make it one of the most profitable in the country. Somewhere in his agenda of fiscal responsibility, he managed to bring renovation to Michigan Stadium to the tune of $226 million. He also built the program one of the premier practice facilities in the country which cost an additional $26 million. Martin's financial acumen served Michigan extremely well as he managed to simultaneously bring the Athletic Department out of the red while providing elaborate and dire renovations. Some of his best work, however, came when coaches needed to be hired. Both the Michigan football and basketball programs had long thrived on having better players. The Michigan name virtually guarantees recruiting success and the talented rosters that come with it. What neither sport has had in quite a while is an advantage on the sidelines. Martin sought to end that trend and did so with authority. His first major coaching acquisition was John Beilein who is widely regarded one of the top tacticians in college basketball. Beilein has surprised nobody by quickly restoring Michigan's basketball prowess. Martin's most controversial and possibly influential hire was his coup of Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia fresh off a near-National Championship season. Rodriguez, like Beilein, is widely regarded as one of the brightest minds in college athletics. While Martin's decision-making will surely be missed, it might be the loss of his political neutrality that will be felt the most in the immediate aftermath of his departure.

Perhaps only Alex Rodriguez can match the sheer volume and veracity of criticism that Rich Rodriguez has endured since he was hired at Michigan in 2007. Maybe it's that people subconsciously hate the name, "Rodriguez." Or, maybe they hate first names with four letters. Whatever it is, Rich Rodriguez has been blasted from every conceivable angle from lacking family values and overworking his players, to lying about grades and engaging in shady business practices. It sounds a bit conspiracy theory-ish but the firestorm that has followed Rodriguez is not an accident. Various Michigan factions are doing whatever possible to undermine Rodriguez's tenure. According to a Michigan-insider on one of the premium sites, there are no fewer than 10 political factions behind the scenes of Michigan Athletics and the only thing they can agree on is that they don't want Rich Rodriguez to succeed. That power struggle is why Rodriguez's name has been dragged through the mud over and over again with weak and contrived exposes by compromised media cronies. Hardly any of it is true and the people who orchestrate the lies and innuendos know it isn't true. But, they also know that people tend to believe what they read in the newspaper. Fortunately for Rodriguez, he has had the ultimate ally in Martin. Rodriguez is Martin's guy. He hired him. His legacy is somewhat attached to Rodriguez's success. With Martin at the helm, none of the mudslinging ever threatened to effect Rodriguez's job security. You can bet, though, that with Martin's departure, the people who want Rodriguez to fail are looking to pounce. They'll want to have influence in the naming of Martin's successor in order to seal Rodriguez's fate. The thought of life after Martin brings up fears of a wild west environment where lawlessness reigns and fairness is thrown to the side. The people who are fearful of the repercussions of Martin's departure have a right to feel that way. Until a successor is named, uncertainty will shroud over the football program.

That's the bad news. The good news is that Martin clearly thought about all of this ahead of time. It's likely not a coincidence that his retirement will be as of September 4, 2010. That means that Rodriguez will head into 2010 without even a hint of job security issues. Martin knows that Rodriguez is building something special at Michigan. He knows that it takes time to overhaul a major football program. He also knows that Rodriguez needs cover from his political adversaries while still in the process of building his program. If Michigan leaps into the upper echelon of college football next year as expected, then Rodriguez won't need any protection. Winning will shut everyone up and secure Rodriguez's place at Michigan for as long as he wants. Getting him to 2010 unscathed, though, is a necessity and Martin has ensured that by forward-dating his retirement date. The other piece of "good news" is that Michigan's President, Mary Sue Coleman, has a great relationship with Martin and fully supported the Rodriguez-hire. It's doubtful that any successor to Martin will be able to make any major changes without the blessing of Coleman. Through the blurry goggles of uncertainty, it seems as though there are a number of steps in place to make sure Rodriguez is not dealt a raw deal by an administration change.

While Martin's departure is not the most comforting news for the Michigan football program, it is not nearly as bad as some first impressions might indicate. A moderator from one of Michigan's Recruiting subscription sites said that Martin's departure likely means that Saturday's game against Penn State is a must-win. He said that it could be the difference between Rodriguez staying and going. Many informative things come from subscription sites but this is not one of them. Whether Michigan beats Penn State or not has absolutely nothing to do with Rodriguez's job security. Martin has secured Rodriguez the 2010 season at a minimum. Barring a total collapse where Michigan loses its final five games in embarrassing fashion, nothing that happens this season has anything impact on Rodriguez moving forward. Next season will be the earliest any of those issues come into play. Since Michigan is widely expected to take another giant step forward in 2010, it's doubtful that fans have anything to worry about. By next season, it will be obvious to everyone what Rodriguez is building at Michigan. Thanks to Bill Martin, even if someone with an anti-Rodriguez agenda replaces him or one of the jockeying factions has undue influence on his successor, by the time they're in a position to make decisions, it'll be too late to do anything about it. Rodriguez will be off and running. Hopefully, it's for 300+ yards a game.

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