The new public face of the University of Michigan didn’t seem to know the lyrics to “The Victors” when he was hired.
Rich Rodriguez says he has since learned them, but someone should make sure he knows the part about being the leaders and best, because Athletic Director Bill Martin has given him a big responsibility.
Like it or not, the football coach is the most recognizable representative of this university and its values. While only a few reporters watch University President Mary Sue Coleman at regents meetings, a legion of television cameras follows former head coach Lloyd Carr, whose last day on the job was Tuesday.
This column’s on the opinion page, so let’s assume that Rich Rodriguez is the best coach in the history of football, that he makes better inspirational speeches than Vince Lombardi, that he will be able to transform quarterback Ryan Mallett into a hero and that his spread offense will remake the Big Ten.
There’s a lot more to this job than that.
Even Carr, whom the administration and media have lauded as the height of integrity, could have done better. His team’s graduation rate (73 percent, according to the most recent numbers) isn’t that terrific when you consider that it’s 10 points below student athletes overall at the University of Michigan. Notre Dame’s football graduation rate is 93 percent. Martin should have been looking for someone who will improve on Carr’s legacy, not someone who might uphold it.
No one seems to have any reason to believe that Rodriguez will be the next Gary Moeller, who made way for Carr by punching a cop. Maybe he’s a saint. But is it unreasonable to hope that Martin would hire someone with at least some investment in the Michigan tradition?
At his first press conference, Rodriguez said he has seen this year’s team play “a little bit.” An Athletic Department press release touted his connection to Michigan football as having grown up five miles from the birthplace of Fielding H. Yost and having played for a coach who was once an assistant to Bo Schembechler. His first trip to Ann Arbor was in December. He’s “studying” Michigan tradition.
Apparently, though, he only cares about it enough to retain one of Carr’s nine assistant coaches. He’s jettisoned the other eight, at least for now.
“That’s 128 years of history gone, with no one with any recollection of that the tradition,” senior running back Mike Hart told The Detroit News. “If these guys get to know the history and tradition, they will learn that Michigan is a lot different than any other place.” Hart’s not talking about x’s and o’s, either.
A Michigan head coach needs to be attached to the school – not just his own career.
Michigan shouldn’t be a career stepping stone; here coaches should be expected to do more than bolster their own résumés. If skipping a top recruit because of character issues is necessary, a Michigan man should do so without thinking whether it will cost him a few games and thus a shot at the New England Patriots job. If suspending a star quarterback on the night before a bowl game because of some moderate academic offense is necessary, he should do that too.
Rodriguez doesn’t have the best record on loyalty. After declaring his undying affection for the school a year ago, he deserted West Virginia, where he played, where he coached for seven seasons, where his wife was a cheerleader. He says he hopes he’ll retire at Michigan, but what if NFL franchises start calling? There’s not much to tie him down in Ann Arbor.
To his credit, Rodriguez seems to think that Michigan’s values can be learned, and he’s right (though it would be nice to keep a few more of those assistant coaches around). Rodriguez is not the problem; he’s only a symptom.
The real problem is that being versed in the University’s standards isn’t one of the top qualifications for the job. The real problem is Martin, who seems to care more about the offense than the values of the institution. The real problem isn’t that Rodriguez didn’t know the lyrics to The Victors – it’s that Martin doesn’t care what that signifies.
Bo Schembechler was in a similar position when he was hired (he had more of a connection to Ohio State than Michigan). And perhaps Rich Rodriguez will be the most Michigan of Michigan men.
If so, don’t credit Bill Martin.
Karl Stampfl is the Daily’s editor in chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.