BY DEREK BELL
Published September 4, 2009
As a graduate of the University of Michigan and a former Michigan football player, I have had the distinct privilege of both playing and working for the Michigan football program. From 2001 to 2004, I played under Coach Lloyd Carr’s staff. As an intern strength coach from December 2008 to June 2009, I volunteered as a member of Coach Rich Rodriguez’s strength staff. And during the 2008-2009 academic year, I worked as a learning coordinator and intern strength coach for the team.
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Since their arrival at Michigan, Rodriguez and his staff have received a great deal of criticism. But the criticisms regarding his program’s values, principles and ethics are simply unwarranted. These criticisms, including the recent allegations that Rodriguez’s staff exceeds NCAA limits on practice time and football-related activities, are part of a larger effort to undermine both this year’s team and Rodriguez.
These allegations are particularly unsettling because Rodriguez is a "Michigan Man," and his program continues the Michigan tradition of transforming young men into champions. Rodriguez and his staff actively participate in community activities, passionately promote family values and genuinely care about the well-being and development of their players.
The various service-oriented organizations that Michigan student-athletes participate in distinguish the University of Michigan as the leaders and best. One such organization, Michigan From the Heart, is composed of Michigan student-athletes and coaches who volunteer their time to visit patients at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. The majority of these young patients face life-threatening medical conditions. During visits, athletes meet with the children and their families, talk about the children’s interests, sign various sports paraphernalia and give tickets for upcoming Michigan sporting events to the children and their families. Rodriguez has whole-heartedly embraced this organization by signing autographs, posing for pictures, talking with the families and even giving his personal tickets to families.
Following every home game, Rodriguez’s commitment to the visiting families at the hospital (both as guests of Michigan From the Heart and as his personal guests) never wavered. One event that was particularly telling of Rodriguez’s character came after last year’s 35-21 loss to Michigan State. Despite the immediate sickness he must have felt after the loss and subsequent media onslaught over disappointment with the game and the 2008 season in general, Rodriguez took the time to socialize with the family attending the game that Saturday. The patient at the game was particularly touched by Rodriguez’s actions and started to tear up as he signed a football. Rodriguez gave the kid a big hug and said, “I really appreciate you coming out to support our team, and we’d love to have you come out to another game.”
This instance represents Rodriguez’s character as a Michigan Man. Moreover, the members of Rodriguez’s staff share this commitment to community service. Many make weekly visits to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. In particular, Coach Greg Frey has been instrumental in leading both coaches and players to the hospital and has consequently become a fan-favorite at the hospital.
Family values are both practiced and preached by Rodriguez and his staff. In addition to stressing family values like honesty, accountability and the importance of caring for one-another, Rodriguez and his staff set an overwhelmingly positive example for their players to follow as husbands and fathers. On a daily basis, the players see Coach Mike Barwis with his wife and kids at Schembechler Hall. This is essential in the cognitive and pedagogical development of young men, who are very impressionable and often emulate their surroundings. Due to the frequency with which the wives and children visit, the young players see first-hand what healthy husband-wife, father-daughter and father-son relationships should be like.
During coaches meetings, the conversations about individual players are never exclusively about football. In fact, the conversations regarding players always revolve around maximizing each player’s potential in all facets of life. In addition to dedicating an extraordinary amount of time to discussions of this nature, the coaches are always thinking about ways to maximize each player’s experience as a Michigan football player. The topics range from community service to team functions to academic support. The coaches receive daily reports on each student-athlete’s academic performance and frequently follow up with the learning coordinators, asking pointed questions about the developments of the student-athletes in the academic arena. Consequently, the overall team GPA is the highest it’s been in years and student-athlete participation in community activities has also risen.
I have complete confidence in the current coaching staff and that the NCAA will find the staff innocent of any rules violations. Rodriguez and his staff have overwhelmingly demonstrated that they are cut from the same moral fabric as past Michigan Men. As a former player, that means more than a first year win over Notre Dame, Michigan State or Ohio State. And with this foundation, the victories will come, and those who stay will be champions.
The viewpoint writer is a University alum and former football player.