For the past 271 days,the length of Rich Rodriguez’s tenure as the Wolverines’ head honcho, one word has surfaced more than any other in the hype surrounding the Michigan football team: “uncertainty.”
Football analysts have been uncertain about the returning talent and the implementation of Rich Rod’s spread scheme. Fans have been uncertain about abandoning 40 years of tradition and welcoming a new regime. Hell, even the mystique of Michigan Stadium and the famed maize-and-blue uniform have been uncertain coming into the 2008 season.
But while it seems the Wolverines are wading deep into uncharted waters, their current situation isn’t nearly as unfamiliar as some might think.
Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg’s new book, “War As They Knew It,” chronicles the 10-year battle between Bo Schembechler and Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, the culture on both campuses and the political turmoil across America during that time. Both hardcore Michigan fans and the casual college football watchers will be engrossed by the book and its fascinating stories.
The first chapter that really got me thinking, specifically, what it had to say about Bo’s inaugural year as Wolverine coach.
First, Bo had players quit in dramatic fashion.
Ok, none left Ann Arbor for Columbus — which I’m sure would have been seen as a life-sentence-worthy crime by the ol’ coach — but Bo had a bumpy first few weeks at Michigan.
In one of my favorite stories in “War As They Knew It,” John Prusiecki quit the team, and on his way out of the Wolverines’ locker room, wrote “… And those who leave will be doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, bishops, generals, statesmen and captains of industry,” under Bo’s famous “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions” sign.
The only difference between that and the few players who fled once Rich Rod was introduced as Michigan’s head coach? Bo’s defections weren’t blown out of proportion by the local and national media.
Also, Bo didn’t realize how drastic a leap Miami (Ohio) to Michigan would really be.
When I read about this, I couldn’t help but be amused.
Schembechler felt pressure to win at Michigan 40 years ago? I’d love to see how he would handle the heat now. I dare anyone to argue the must-win pressure on the field and the personal judgment a coach faces off of it were heavier in 1969 than they are in 2008.
I don’t know about anyone else, but if I faced the immediate onslaught of negativity and judgments upon taking a job as Rodriguez did when he came to Michigan, I would seriously reconsider my decision to leave my old job. Especially one as cushy as Rodriguez’s West Virginia gig.
I’m not saying Rodriguez didn’t understand the high-profile nature of the Michigan job — just that there’s no way he could have predicted he would have been greeted the way he was.
Lastly, Bo wasn’t perfect right off the bat.
Everyone remembers Bo’s first Ohio State game — no one seems to recall that the year started out with a 4-2 record and a loss to Michigan State. Or that a few players nearly mutinied after that game, going into Bo’s office and asking him to let up in practice.
Things aren’t perfect right now. But they weren’t 40 years ago when Schembechler took over either. Rich Rod just needs time.
—Reid can be reached at email@example.com.