Sunday, December 16, 2007

Martin's Atonement

Rich Rodriguez is the new coach of Michigan football. There aren’t too many names that could make that sentence a better one. Rodriguez kind of came out of nowhere in the search after being somewhat overlooked by the media, speculators and, by most accounts, Bill Martin over the last few weeks. Jim Carty—in a ridiculous post in which he attempted to use this blog as an example of incompetence—wrote over the summer that Rodriguez wasn’t even worth talking about from a fan-perspective. I’ve always liked Rodriguez as have a number of Michigan fans who have seen his results at West Virginia. I had him #2 on my list of coaches who I felt would be best for Michigan. Here is Carty’s quote—and subsequent reaction to my thoughts on Rodriguez—in all its glory:

“To continue down the linked list ... Rich Rodriguez has never worked with anything near the academic restrictions he'd face at Michigan and his flirtation with the Alabama job either showed he's totally committed to West Virginia or liable to embarrass the next school that contacts him. Big red flags either way.”

Point taken, Jim. I was clearly out of my mind for suggesting Rodriguez. Here is a bonus gem from the same article in which Carty again tries to cite an example of my incompetence:

“It's ridiculous to even suggest, for instance, that Bobby Petrino would be a candidate for the Michigan job. No one leaves the NFL after one season, and even if Petrino would, anyone with a passing knowledge of his background and personality knows he probably wouldn't fit at Michigan.”

To be fair, Petrino didn’t actually leave the NFL “after one season.” He only lasted 13 games. Considering Petrino is now the head football coach at Arkansas, I can’t imagine what I was thinking even considering the idea that Petrino might be coaching a college team in the near future. Well done, Carty. Well done.

We can all be thankful that Carty is not the A.D. at Michigan. However, in a crazy twist of fortune, we can all be happy that Bill Martin is. If Martin really handled the first 27 days of the search as poorly as it has been speculated, then all is forgotten because of the “home run” that is the hiring of Rich Rodriguez. If the Kirk Ferentz/Greg Schiano/Jim Grobe flirtations were just elaborate ruses to eventually get to Rodriguez, then I apologize for being previously critical. Only Martin really knows the answer to that. He had to balance a number of volatile situations including attempting to satisfy Mary Sue Coleman, Lloyd Carr, former players, boosters and alumni. Virtually every faction had a different vision for the program. Martin may have intentionally “slow played” Miles just to faux interest long enough to appease the right people or he could have “blown it” as many have speculated. Nobody knows if Martin played this whole thing perfectly or backed his way into the right choice. I don’t really care either way. He ended up with the right guy and he should be congratulated on a fantastic selection. Coleman deserves kudos as well since things started to pick up steam when she started to get involved in the search.

The addition of Rodriguez spells the end for Michigan football as any of us has ever known it. Rodriguez will undoubtedly slowly implement the spread offense into the program. The day after Ryan Mallet graduates, expect Michigan to resemble Florida or West Virginia offensively. Rodriguez is lauded for his ability to attack defenses at their weak points which is something “M” fans have been clamoring after for years. Don Nehlen--Rodriguez’s mentor and former college coach--said, "His offense is a no-huddle, get-after-you-real-fast, different-tempos offense. They attack you where you should be attacked."

Rodriguez has turned the WVU program into a relative powerhouse without the aid of top-tier recruiting classes. His defenses don’t get much credit but were very effective this season ranking 7th in the nation in points allowed per game and 4th in the nation in yards allowed per game. I’ll be interested to see which coaches he brings with him from WVU, which coaches he keeps from the previous UM staff, and whether he brings in coaches from around the country. There is already confirmation that he will be bringing his Strength and Conditioning Coach from WVU with him which would be a huge upgrade for the program.

When the Michigan/Rodriguez speculation started to heat up on Friday, I was skeptical as to why Rodriguez would come to Michigan—or more specifically, why he would leave West Virginia. Rodriguez at WVU is like John Calipari at Memphis if Calipari was a Memphis-alum. Rodriguez had built a powerful program in a mid-tier conference. He was making a good salary and very likely could have gotten more money if he wanted it. Most importantly, he was coaching at his alma mater. Michigan is a great job. But, it seemed like Rodriguez would have to walk away from a lot to take it. However, it is highly likely that Rodriguez’s connection--albeit a distant one--to the Michigan program had everything to do with why Martin was willing to offer Rodriguez despite more than a few concerns and why Rodriguez left his alma mater to come to Michigan. Rodriguez coached and played under Don Nehlen. Nehlen coached for Bo Schembechler at Michigan in the late 70s. This angle was never explored by anyone in the media or blogopshere previous to the hire as far as I know. I don’t think it’s merely a coincidence, though. Nehlen went on to say of Rodriguez’s decision, "I think it's tremendous. There are very few Michigans. When you coach at West Virginia, you walk on water in West Virginia. But when you coach at Michigan, you walk on water, period. There's a difference. Some people around here don't want to believe that." Martin had to overlook a number of well-known concerns regarding Rodriguez including some questionable recruits he brought to WVU. It’s likely that Rodriguez’s 2nd degree lineage to UM was all Martin needed.

Those of you who are familiar with my blog know that my number one choice for Michigan’s next football coach would’ve been Paul Johnson. Thankfully, Rodriguez is the functional equivalent of Johnson. Both had major success at schools with marginal talent levels. Both run the spread option. Johnson definitely has the “degree of difficulty” factor in his favor but Rodriguez is six years younger. If you thought Johnson would be a great fit for Michigan, then you have to feel the same way about Rodriguez and vice versa. Neither coach’s philosophy fits Michigan’s current roster in the slightest but you don’t hire a coach based on the current make-up of your roster especially in college when players only have four years of eligibility. You hire the best coach you can get and either guy would’ve been the right choice. Rodriguez will do more to revitalize the program in one day than anything the program has seen in six years. Plus—and possibly most importantly—Rodriguez likely has no interest in the NFL and certainly won’t be leaving Michigan for his alma mater.

Rodriguez-related links:

Wojo's take

Albom's take

Terrelle Pryor

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't think of a better hire and he was the first name I brought up when Carr looked washed up at the end of last season. This is a really brilliant move.


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