“I think we took more of a businesslike approach to it at the start, as opposed to a more personal approach. And that’s something, in retrospect, I’d probably have done differently.
“They had no idea what our coaches were really like. They didn’t know us.
“Sometimes you get caught up [in the business aspect] at this level because, let’s face it, it’s big dollars, big importance to a lot of folks. And I see coaches, myself included, who don’t take the time and effort to be around the players more in a non-football atmosphere.”
— Rich Rodriguez
“The only thing I wish I would have had in the last seven, eight months, is I wish I had more time to spend with the players.
“My upperclassmen, I haven’t been to their homes. I haven’t had a chance to see where they grew up or lived or meet some of their coaches. I met a lot of their parents, but some of them I haven’t met.
“That’s the only regret, is that I wish I had been able to spend some time with the players — my assistant coaches and the staff members, too. You spend time with them, you know exactly what makes them tick.”
— Rich Rodriguez
Those two quotations look pretty similar, right? It’s the same person saying essentially the same thing.
But Rodriguez said them seven years apart.
Rodriguez made the first statement to the Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette after his first year at West Virginia in 2001. The second came at his weekly press conference two days after the Wolverines lost to Toledo.
Seven years later, Rodriguez is repeating the same mistakes that made the Mountaineers 3-8 in his first year in Morgantown, W. Va.
Michigan wasn’t going to be great this year ― not with just two offensive starters returning and the four leading tacklers of a year ago departing. But the Wolverines should have been better.
And much of the blame falls on Rodriguez.
Not because he didn’t adapt his spread offense enough. Not because he didn’t name captains before the season. Not because he took too long to identify which players should be starters.
Because Rodriguez forgot the little things a coach needs to do to build a winner.
Going 32-5 and playing in two BCS bowls in his last three years at West Virginia will do that to you. But that’s not a legitimate excuse for leading Michigan to its most losses in 129 seasons.
Rodriguez admitted he should have made the effort to know his players better on a personal level. He should have known better in the first place.
“He needs to know what’s going to motivate you, and he needs to know how he can do that best,” redshirt junior right guard David Moosman said. “And being a player, you need to know that it’s not personal. It’s not an attack against you.”
A few weeks ago, Moosman said there had been some separate issues between players and coaches, but they were being worked out.
But Rodriguez announced Tuesday that sophomore wide receiver Zion Babb is no longer with the team and, according to persistent rumors, sophomore safety Artis Chambers and freshman running back Sam McGuffie are also weighing a transfer.
It’s clear Rodriguez hasn’t ironed out all the problems. Distractions like these are unheard of during Ohio State week, when all focus is usually on beating the Buckeyes.
Getting to know the players should have been a larger emphasis in spring practice and fall camp. Rodriguez could have taken some time away from going over schemes and techniques to learn about the guys who would be executing them.
It’s hard to argue using all that time to prepare actually paid off. Just look at the product on the field.
Think the personal connection between a player and a coach doesn’t matter?
Just look at Michigan’s upset of double-digit favorite Florida in the Capital One Bowl on New Year’s Day, Lloyd Carr’s final game. As much as Carr tried to downplay that the bowl was his final game, then-defensive coordinator Ron English interrupted Carr’s halftime speech.
“Let’s play for this man!” English said, according to the Associated Press.
The Wolverines went wild and finished their throttling of the Gators.
That was a Michigan team that didn’t beat Appalachian State and lost its final two regular-season games. But those Wolverines loved Carr and weren’t going to let him go out with a loss.
Senior nose tackle Terrance Taylor talked fondly Monday about Carr’s habit of punching him every time the two crossed paths. Taylor said he doesn’t have a custom like that with Rodriguez.
Rodriguez will develop a similar rapport with his players over the next few years, but he should have known to force it sooner. He was just too stubborn, too set in his ways that had been so successful at West Virginia during the last few years.
This doesn’t mean Rodriguez won’t win in Ann Arbor. In fact, his headstrong nature suggests he will. Rodriguez is 9-31-1 in his first years at a job, but he’s 99-39-1 in his other 12 years as a head coach.
His track record suggested struggles this year, and it says he will be successful from here on out. If he sticks to his plan, there’s no reason his future at Michigan won’t follow a similar script.
But this is his fourth head-coaching gig. He should have learned how to handle this transition year better.
Shortly before last Saturday’s pregame Senior Day festivities, senior defensive back Brandon Harrison couldn’t find his parents, who he thought would drive up from Ohio for the game. Rodriguez saw Harrison’s concern, grabbed him and said, ‘C’mon, let’s go.’ Rodriguez walked by Harrison’s side under the banner and then hugged him.
It turns out an accident on the highway slowed Harrison’s parents, and they had just made it to the tunnel when he walked across the field. But he won’t forget the kindness of Rodriguez, who Harrison said could have told him to stay back or walk alone.
“I just see him a whole different way,” Harrison said. “I used to look at him as just my head coach, but now I look at him, it’s just a different type of bond.”
But it’s too late. The Wolverines will go into Columbus on Saturday with virtually no chance of upsetting Ohio State, and much of the reason is because their coach let them down.
Rodriguez was at Harrison’s side Saturday. But he should have been there all season.
— Feldman can be reach at email@example.com.