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Rodriguez officially fired as head football coach

BY TIM ROHAN
Daily Sports Editor
Published January 5, 2011

The Michigan coach who led the Wolverines to their worst three-year span in Michigan football history was fired yesterday afternoon. Rich Rodriguez’s 15-22 record and plenty of off-the-field drama resulted in a tumultuous tenure that will not be forgotten anytime soon.

“Michigan is not used to this,” said University Athletic Director David Brandon in a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “Michigan fans expect more than this — so do Michigan athletic directors. And so we need to put ourselves in a position where we get ourselves competitive again.”

No coach has recorded a worse record in Michigan’s 131-year football history and no other Michigan football team has performed worse in a bowl game — leaving the 52-14 Gator Bowl loss as Rodriguez’s lasting impression in his lone bowl appearance.

His offense, led by sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson, re-wrote the record books this season. But the Wolverine defense was as bad as the offense was good.

Brandon said he concluded his evaluation of now-former coach Rodriguez on Tuesday night after meeting with Rodriguez for three-and-a-half hours to discuss the future of Michigan’s football program.

In an e-mail statement to The Michigan Daily Wednesday afternoon, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote that University President Mary Sue Coleman supports Brandon’s call to fire Rodriguez.

“President Coleman supports Athletic Director David Brandon, and this decision on the football coach was the athletic director's to make,” Fitzgerald wrote.

Brandon announced the basic criteria he used to evaluate Rodriguez: performance in competition, recruiting and retention, student-athlete academic performance and the coach's leadership.

Throughout December, speculation swirled around Rodriguez and his job status after an embarrassing 37-7 loss against Ohio State. At the press conference, Brandon revealed he didn’t make his decision until after the Gator Bowl in order to keep the players focused and give them their best shot at winning. However, he noted that the game was another test of the progress the program was making under Rodriguez.

From the start, the West Virginia native faced pressure from Michigan fans and the public at-large because he was replacing former coach Lloyd Carr, who retired after a 9-4 season in 2007. Carr had held positions as a Michigan coach for more than 25 years and was a former assistant coach for legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler. In comparison, Rodriguez was viewed — fairly or unfairly — by many as an outsider who didn’t understand the tradition of Michigan football.

Due to all the "drama," Brandon said he doesn't "think Rodriguez has had a peaceful night('s) sleep since he arrived in Ann Arbor" in December 2007.

“It seemed like it was one thing after another,” Brandon said. “It clearly impacted recruiting. It clearly impacted the positive energy that a team needs to be successful. It created a lot of hardships and a lot of distractions. Clearly, we need to put ourselves in a position where that is all history.”

Under Rodriguez’s watch, the Michigan football program received its first NCAA violations in program history for exceeding practice time limits and for members of the quality control staff overextending their duties and acting as coaches. The ultimate result included a three-year probation period and a 130-hour reduction in practice time, among other sanctions.

In his first season, in which his team went 3-9, Rodriguez struggled to transition the players left over from Carr’s regime to his new spread option offense. Brandon said one of the qualities he will look for in Michigan’s next coach is the ability to fit his scheme to the players he'll inherit.

The tide looked as though it was shifting in Rodriguez’s favor in 2009 when then-freshman quarterback Tate Forcier led Michigan to a 4-0 start and a top-25 ranking, only to finish the season losing seven of its last eight games. Rodriguez’s offense took another leap in 2010, and Robinson became the first quarterback in NCAA history to throw for 2,000 yards and run for 1,500 in a single season — all in Rodriguez’s system. But the Wolverines lost six of their last eight games this season to seal Rodriguez’s fate.