University President Mary Sue Coleman publicly addressed the job security of head football coach Rich Rodriguez today, saying that any decision regarding the coach’s future is up to Athletic Director David Brandon.
“I hired a terrific athletic director,” Coleman said at her monthly fireside chat. “And I said, ‘Dave, this is your decision.’ And he said, ‘Yes, and I’m going to make a decision.’ And I said, ‘Great.’”
The question came amid recent media and fan speculation about Rodriguez’s job status after his first winning season as Michigan’s football coach and his third straight loss to Ohio State.
Some have speculated that Stanford’s football coach and former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh would be hired for the job should it become available. However, Stanford’s Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby said Sunday that the school offered Harbaugh a sweetened contract, which he says the coach has indicated he plans to accept.
Coleman’s response to the first question fueled several students to ask follow-up questions.
Asked whether she was happy with the overall performance of the Michigan football team, Coleman said all programs have high points and low points.
“All programs go through transitions,” Coleman said. “You can’t tell me that there’s any program in the country that hasn’t had its ups and downs.”
However, Coleman added that often the bad times seem to last longer than they actually are.
“When you’re struggling to sort of regain the former glories, it feels like it’s going to go on forever and we’re never going to get there,” Coleman said. “But we’ll get there again.”
Coleman went on to talk about several football programs across the country that she said have seen struggle recently — including Florida, which went 13-1 in 2009 but then went 7-5 this season, and Alabama, which was expected to compete for a national championship this year, but will instead be playing Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.
“This is the waxing and waning as you readjust to new things,” Coleman said.
In slight contrast, Coleman answered another student’s question about the criteria for success she has for athletics at the University by saying there are real expectations that do include winning.
“We have expectations for all of our teams that they’re going to compete regularly to be at the top,” she said. “We know that they’re not going to be champions every year, you can’t be, but we want to be.”
Coleman continued, “And that’s what we aspire to. You’ve got to keep believing. Don’t ever stop believing.”
But Coleman said winning doesn’t define a program’s value — athletic or academic at the University — describing University students and Michigan fans as being “big” when they face disappointment.
“We’re not defined by whether we win or lose,” she said. “We’re defined by being a great school that is competitive in everything it does, whether it’s the athletic arena or the academic arena.”
Coleman also explicitly reaffirmed her support for the Athletic Department overall, saying the University remains dedicated to its athletic programs.
“We are committed,” she said. “We’re committed to having great programs with great integrity in every sport.”
One sign of that commitment that Coleman pointed to was the recently completed addition of skyboxes and premium seating at the Big House.
“This is very important to Michigan and this will always be important,” she said. “We’ve made a huge investment in the facilities and it’s something that brings everybody together. I think it’s absolutely wonderful.”