Posted Dec. 17

New Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez sure picked an interesting way to usher in a new era of Wolverine football.

The 18th Michigan coach in the 100-plus years of the program started his press conference with a joke.

“Great crowd,” Rodriguez said. “Must be giving away free hats or something.”

Not really the response you would expect from the guy stepping into a program steeped in tradition.

But maybe Rodriguez’s lighthearted approach is just what Michigan needs to reassert itself as a national powerhouse once again.

Throughout his 35-minute long press conference, Rodriguez came of as a sincere, passionate man with a sense of family and humor.

He went back and forth between moments of sincerity – like when he implied he really didn’t want to coach West Virginia in its bowl game – and hilarity with his answers to questions concerning the timeline of events leading to his hire.

“There’s an old movie called The Lion King,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a scene in the movie where a monkey hits the lion over the head, and the lion says, ‘What’d you do that for?’ and the monkey says, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s in the past.’ “

In one simple response, Rodriguez showed exactly what he will add to Michigan: A new perspective.

Rodriguez is no Lloyd Carr, but then again, who would even try to compare the two?

There is the retired Carr, who spent the last 13 years retaining the legacy of Michigan legend Bo Schembechler, and then there is Rodriguez, who uses Lion King analogies.

Thus ends the comparison.

Carr, who attended the opening Rodriguez press conference, took time afterwards to defend his sense of humor.

“I always manage to tell a lot of jokes,” Carr said with a laugh. “You’re getting the same kind of guy, but I’m not getting into all that.”

Carr got his fair share of laughs from the media members during his weekly press conferences, but he used a sarcastic demeanor and a long stare to make his point. It was fitting then that the traditionalist didn’t change his ways when he described Rodriguez as the “same kind of guy.”

Rodriguez arrived in Ann Arbor unfamiliar with the Wolverines’ tradition. That’s not to say he was unprepared. He’s already taken steps to acculturate himself with the Michigan history. He borrowed a Bo Schembechler book from the mayor of Toledo and planned to read it on the flight home to Morgantown.

A coal miner’s son from Grant Town, W. Va., Rodriguez is not a Michigan Man on the same level as a Les Miles.

He doesn’t have to be.

For those Michigan fans that saw Miles as the first and last choice for the Wolverines, get used to Rodriguez and his candid demeanor. He may not wow you with his rendition of the history of the Little Brown Jug like Carr could, and he probably won’t inspire you with his description of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry simply as “one of the greatest.”

But don’t worry. Michigan fans will forgive Rodriguez when he brings the Wolverines back to national dominance.

Athletic Director Bill Martin missed his chance at Miles. He then failed to secure Rutgers head man Greg Schiano. To those outside the coaching search, Rodriguez was Martin’s third choice.

And when asked about that very situation, Rodriguez ended his press conference the way he started it – with a joke.

“I might have been my wife’s third choice too,” Rodriguez said. “She wasn’t mine. She was my first. I didn’t ask, and I don’t care.”

Besides, like the monkey in The Lion King said, it’s in the past.

– Wright can be reached at kpwr@umich.edu

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