CHICAGO — Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez stood completely surrounded by reporters in the hallway outside the interview room at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday with his back against the wall — literally and figuratively.
After Justin Boren left the Wolverines in March and said the program’s “family values” had eroded, many questioned the new coaching staff’s language during practice. But just as that discussion began to die down locally, Rodriguez went to Big Ten Media Days, where reporters from around the Midwest and the rest of the nation asked about the foul language in practice.
“I think that’s overrated,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know where all that came from. Sure, when there are times they’re upset, when coaches are upset sometimes there’s some salty language. But some of them don’t do it, use it at all. Some of them doing it occasionally, but it’s not like a tirade all the time. So I don’t know what y’all think, hear or believe, but it’s not like that.”
I don’t know why Rodriguez gave that response. Maybe his definition of what a large amount of screaming and swearing is differs from most. Maybe he got defensive because most the media’s questions were about his lawsuit with West Virginia or family values.
Whatever his reason, it was a mistake to downplay how much screaming and swearing goes on at his practices for one simple reason.
It’s not true.
Rodriguez, who not only prides himself on being very honest with the media, rightly or wrongly has an image problem. And a slip-up like this, while minor if it remains isolated (especially if it’s due to a difference in perception), further undermines his credibility.
I’m not saying the coaching staff’s swearing is a problem. In fact, I don’t think it’s a big deal at all. But Rodriguez misleading the public about it is.
The local media was introduced to the new language by offensive line coach Greg Frey’s “fuck”-laced tirade at redshirt junior David Moosman after the center snapped the ball over the quarterback’s head and into the end zone during the Wolverines’ first spring practice. And that was during the first 30 minutes of the practice the media got to watch. I can’t imagine the coaches got any friendlier after that.
The same controversy happened at West Virginia in 2001 when Rodriguez took over for Don Nehlen, who would “kill them with kindness,” according to Dennis Brown, an assistant under Nehlen.
“The coaches we had before them, they swear and all that, but it wasn’t an all-day, consistent thing,” said Corey McIntyre, who was a senior running back at West Virginia in 2001 and now plays for the Atlanta Falcons. “Just going and just yell, yell, yell, yell.”
In that first year at West Virginia, the Mountaineers were 3-7 on their way to finishing 3-8, and the coaching staff had come under fire for their language.
“I talked to the coaches — and looked at myself — in the area of language,” Rodriguez told the Charleston Gazette at the time. “Sometimes our language has not been the best. But it’s been better since I talked to the staff. And it’s been better from me in the last six or seven weeks. But we’re still going to coach hard.”
And it happened at Clemson in 2000 when Rodriguez was the offensive coordinator there. Tiger coach Tommy Bowden tried to limit his assistants’ swearing, and Rodriguez said he had trouble finding replacement words.
At both West Virginia and Clemson, Rodriguez admitted to swearing a lot. He didn’t downplay it, and that’s fine. This is football. Yelling and swearing aren’t foreign concepts. He doesn’t have to hide it.
Tim Jamison, a fifth-year senior defensive end for the Wolverines, said all of the assistants yell a lot. He also said Rodriguez doesn’t try to identify which players would be more motivated by positive encouragement than harsh yelling. The coach makes the players adjust to his style.
“That’s how you want it,” Jamison said. “You don’t want a coach babying one person more than the other person. So I like it.”
Me, too. So why didn’t your coach admit it?
— Dan Feldman can be reached at email@example.com.