It’s easy to get angry with Michigan football Coach Rich Rodriguez about what looks to be a second losing season in a row, and it’s easy to be displeased with Michigan Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson and a defense that is one of the worst this program has ever seen. But to lay all the blame on them is naive. A number of factors combined to create the situation the Michigan football program is in today.
Think back to the Michigan football team after the win against Florida in the Capital One Bowl, which sent Lloyd Carr into retirement. Michigan was going to lose a lot of talent — Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Jake Long and others were off to the NFL. However, the team was still in good shape. We had one of the best rising quarterbacks in the country in Ryan Mallett, and Mario Manningham would have been a key player if he stayed another year. All we needed to do to compete was upgrade our offensive line.
On the other side of the ball, the back seven was depleted. It’s the main reason we got destroyed by Oregon and dropped the opener to Appalachian State. We had a very solid D-Line, though, more than enough to anchor even a championship-caliber unit.
Enter the coaching change. Manningham runs to the NFL, Mallett transfers, and suddenly, we need skilled offensive players and can’t focus recruitment on the defensive back seven. With half of a recruitment year, it was going to be ugly anyway. We weren’t going to get enough talent to solve all our problems, but it still didn’t need to be as ugly as last season.
This isn’t Rich Rodriguez’s fault. Everyone knew Rich Rodriguez would need a different player base to build the new offense. He came into Michigan with a stock of offensive talent he couldn’t use, and very little defensive talent.
It also isn’t Lloyd Carr’s fault. What was left of Michigan’s offense was plenty to carry a team while the defense progressed. He had no responsibility to prepare the team for a completely different offense before his retirement.
The fault lies with Athletic Director Bill Martin. Not for hiring Rich Rodriguez — he’s a good coach. He beat big-name BCS contenders with the less-than-mighty recruiting draw of West Virginia. The fault was the timing. You can’t plan to strip away your offense when your existing talent is going to be instrumental in ensuring your team is competitive. Simply enough, it’s not that the spread doesn’t work in the Big Ten, it’s simply that the football program wasn’t in a position to make the transition to the spread, and it was Bill Martin’s responsibility to see that.
So, where are we now? We have offensive talent. Tate Forcier needs to get more comfortable in the pocket and learn to get the ball out much quicker, but then again, he’s a freshman. The offensive line play has been highly questionable, but when you lose your extremely talented starting center, that tends to happen. We have more depth at receiver positions and in the run game than almost any program in the Big Ten. The offense has sputtered but still puts up a fairly reasonable number of points each game.
On defense, we need to recruit. For the most part, it’s not scheme that’s messed us up, it’s a lack of quality consistent play. Some truly talented linebackers, a large nose tackle capable of facing Big Ten interior linemen, a corner to support Warren and another solid safety should be the biggest priorities of this recruiting season.
If we don’t get ten wins next season, then perhaps the new athletic director, whoever he or she may be, may need to look in another direction. However, for now, keep the blame away from our coaches. Greg Robinson, Rich Rodriguez and Lloyd Carr all performed well, and the problems our team has now really can’t be attributed to their actions.