The Rich Rodriguez media tour is in full force. If you went all weekend without seeing or hearing from the new Michigan football coach, congratulations: You live in a cave.
Whether you saw him on ESPN, heard him on talk radio or ran into him at Friday night’s hockey game (Coach, we’ll forgive you for the 0-fer in Score-O if you beat Ohio State), Rodriguez has seemingly been everywhere the past week.
But as impressive and exciting as Rodriguez’s public antics are, his antics behind closed doors are even more encouraging.
When Bo Schembechler took over the program in 1969, he faced a similar situation. First impressions are everything, and Bo made sure his was a lasting one.
Some of the team’s best players, who lived in a house called The Den of the Mellow Men, moseyed into the team’s first January meeting about 10 minutes late.
How did Bo respond?
“From this day forward, you will sit up straight – no slouching – with both feet on the floor,” the first-year coach said, according to his book Bo’s Lasting Lessons, co-authored by University Prof. John U. Bacon. “You will have no hats on, and you’ll be looking straight ahead, paying attention, staring at me just like I’m staring at you. And from now on, you’d better be on time – every time!”
He didn’t stop there. Half of the team lived in Ypsilanti because the cost of living was much lower. Not on Bo’s watch.
“From now on, everyone is going to live in the city of Ann Arbor. Freshmen and sophomores are going to live in the dormitories, upperclassmen will live in apartments near campus and married students will live in university married housing,” he said, according to the book.
Needless to say, Bo immediately set the tone for his 20-year tenure. His players knew he meant business, and Bo had their respect for the rest of his illustrious coaching career.
At his introductory press conference, Rodriguez told the media that the mayor of Toledo gave him the book. If his actions since taking over the team are any indication, Rodriguez has already read it.
Many Wolverine players probably saw YouTube clips of Rodriguez chest bumping players on the field and thought, “Oh wow, this is a player’s coach.” Maybe they would get a little more slack than they did under Lloyd Carr.
But just like Bo did 40 years before him, Rodriguez made sure there would be no confusion about who was in charge.
Junior wide receiver Adrian Arrington text-messaged Rodriguez, telling him he was going to enter the NFL Draft. Text messaging your coach to tell him you’re quitting is sketchy by itself, but at least Arrington gave Rodriguez fair warning.
Freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett and junior wide receiver Mario Manningham, neither of whom specifically told Rodriguez they were leaving, failed to show up to the team’s first meeting.
Rodriguez could have given them the star treatment, but instead, he helped make their decisions for them.
Rodriguez decided Mallett and Manningham’s actions spoke just as loudly as words could. But if words needed to be spoken, Rodriguez covered that base, too.
“I don’t care,” Rodriguez said about Mallett. “He’s not playing for Michigan. I’m concerned with who is playing for Michigan.”
Does that have the Michigan football team’s attention?
If not, how about his decision to have his assistants visit each individual player’s home in Ann Arbor? Or the threat of personally enforcing a Thursday night curfew? Or the implementation of the hardest strength and conditioning program in the nation?
Yes, Rodriguez may be a player’s coach. But that bond with players won’t come at the expense of discipline.
Some fans are angry with Rodriguez for possibly scaring away the trio of Wolverines that left the program last week. But ask yourself this: If they weren’t on board with Rodriguez’s vision, are they really players you want on the team in the first place?
Rodriguez still has a lot to learn about Michigan tradition. He’s not Bo Schembechler, he’s not Lloyd Carr – he’s not even Les Miles.
But Rodriguez’s first full week in Ann Arbor was a home run all the way into the cheap seats.
And he couldn’t have picked a better Michigan Man to model his first week after.
Bell can be reached at email@example.com