The biggest sign that the spread offense has arrived in Ann Arbor may be Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez’s recruiting.
Rodriguez signed six offensive linemen to National Letters of Intent yesterday, twice as many as at any other position.
Rodriguez also confirmed Michigan has lost senior offensive linemen Jeremy Ciulla and Alex Mitchell to graduation. Few of the Wolverines’ returning linemen saw significant playing time last year, and Rodriguez’s six signings mean the line will be inexperienced next season.
The team usually carries about 16 offensive linemen, and Rodriguez estimated the Wolverines already had 15 on scholarship after Signing Day. Though filling all scholarship positions can be difficult with a new coach, Michigan’s work before Signing Day ensures it most likely won’t have a shortage of offensive linemen next season.
Rodriguez repeatedly emphasized the importance of speed on the offensive front, and he said the new recruits are all “big guys that can move.”
“I think some people maybe still want that big, lumbering, 340-pound guy, but he can’t play in our offense,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t mind guys being 6-foot-8, 300 (pounds) – that’s great, as long as you can move and play at our pace. And those are the guys we have now on our team.”
His preferred build is epitomized in Dann O’Neill, a 6-foot-7, 295-pound offensive lineman from Grand Haven.
Recruit Elliot Mealer, who also played basketball in high school, is 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds.
The past revisited: The last Michigan football team to adjust to a drastic coaching change was more successful than expected.
In 1969, former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler’s first year, the Wolverines (6-1 Big Ten, 8-3 overall) finished tied for first in the Big Ten before losing to Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl.
At Tuesday’s team meeting, about 30 members of the 1969 squad discussed their experiences dealing with a new coach. The former players, including Dan Dierdorf and Jim Brandstatter, talked about the parallels between the coaching transition 39 years ago and now.
Rodriguez said the past players had his current team “on the edge of their seats” with their stories about the season.
“We had them list their height and weight in ’69 and their height and weight in 2008 – and they all lied, every one of them,” Rodriguez laughed. “How they all got a little taller and maintained the same weight, I don’t know how they did it. . They probably told stories for four hours – and I’m sure they didn’t embellish the truth, either.”
It’s not about the negative: Even at a press conference lauding Rodriguez’s new recruits, the West Virginia questions were inevitable.
But Rodriguez was determined not to talk about the controversy surrounding his departure, and the subsequent lawsuit.
He made a disgusted face when asked if his messy exit from West Virginia made recruiting to Michigan more difficult.
“I understand we live in a sensationalist society, and it’s almost a National Enquirer-type of mentality amongst some folks that like to read certain articles,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve tried to just do my job and not stay too concerned with what’s being written or said so everybody could just move on.”
Note: In addition to Ciulla and Mitchell’s departures, wide receiver Antonio Bass and tight end Chris McLaurin will no longer be on the team because of career-ending injuries. Both will remain on scholarship under a medical exemption.