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.
Rodriguez also didn’t fare well in what Brandon called, “benchmark games,” or “red letter games” against Notre Dame, Michigan State, Iowa Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State, which resulted in a 3-15 record. And the Wolverines needed late-game heroics in 2009 and 2010 against Notre Dame and a 19-point comeback in 2008 against Wisconsin.
“First and foremost, the goal of the Michigan program is to win the Big Ten championship and go to the Rose Bowl — every year,” Brandon said. “You’re going to be ranked in the top-10 or better. You’re going to be in BCS bowls. You’re going to, from time to time, have the opportunity to play in the national championship.”
The national search for Michigan’s next head coach began after Brandon met with the media on Wednesday. And though he didn’t give a specific timeline for selecting a coach, Brandon said he would “go fast, but do it the right way.”
Brandon detailed a few characteristics that he would look for in Michigan’s next coach: head coaching experience, the ability to adapt a system around the inherited players and someone who can handle the pressure of coaching at Michigan. He added that the new coach doesn’t need to be someone who has experience in a BCS automatic-qualifying conference.
Brandon also said he will hire a coach to help Michigan’s 108th-ranked defense.
“Is there a thought of getting a defensive-minded head coach? — There’s a thought of getting a defensive-minded everything,” Brandon said. “I want the ball boys to be defensive minded.”
Current Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, who is a popular coach candidate at both the college and NFL level, has been linked to Michigan at times, but Tuesday's rumors for a potential replacement didn’t include his name. Brandon said he believed Harbaugh would end up in the NFL and explained that he had not yet talked to other rumored candidates, including Brady Hoke from San Diego State or Les Miles from Louisiana State.
With the end of Rodriguez’s tenure in Ann Arbor, the University will pay the coach’s $2.5 million buyout clause, and Brandon made it clear that money will not stand in the way of finding Rodriguez’s replacement. In the athletic director’s opinion, the job still has the same prestige.
“I do not believe we’ll have a shortage of interested candidates,” Brandon said. “I think that this program is still one of the most premiere programs in the country. When you look at the facilities here, when you look at the fan base here, and the passion that exists here for Michigan football, the role that it plays in the athletic program here, the Big House and everything that comes with it is something a lot of coaches aspire to be a part of.”
"So I believe there will be very qualified, interested candidates out there, and it is my job to select the right one.”
— Daily News Editor Joseph Lichterman contributed to this report.