The ball’s in your court, Rich Rodriguez.

Now that the Michigan men’s basketball team has finally toppled Ohio State, all focus shifts to your newly inherited team’s struggles against the pesky Buckeyes.

That’s what four straight losses will do. That’s the weight that will be on your back when you’re fighting to prevent Ohio State’s first-ever five-game winning streak in this series when you travel to Columbus next November. That’s the nature of this rivalry.

And though you steered clear of making a Tressel-esque guarantee when you addressed the fans at yesterday’s basketball game, you clearly understand that you’ll ultimately be graded on your performance against “the school down there.”

But since you won’t get your first true set of grades for another nine months, I figured I’d do my best to give a progress report on your first full month as Michigan’s head honcho. Don’t worry about the negative ones – my Anthrobio professor tells me even a failing grade around midterms can be salvaged down the road.

Recruiting: A-

We’re not going to get Terrelle Pryor. For those of you still stuck in Denialville, read that sentence again and move on. That’s the only reason this isn’t an A+ class – because the job Rodriguez did is simply amazing.

Not only did he keep the class he inherited from Lloyd Carr mostly intact (he didn’t lose anyone who would have had a serious impact), Rodriguez also nabbed some last-minute recruits to give the Wolverines a top-10 class in a transition year.

The speed and pure talent in this class will excite a lot of fans and may have taken away an entire year of growing pains that often occur when programs have to be retooled.

Media openness: A-

Lloyd Carr was great, but come on, toss us a freakin’ bone every once in a while. It’s tough for media and fans alike to get to know a team when the doors of Fort Schembechler are boarded shut, padlocked and guarded by military personnel.

Rodriguez seems set on opening these up, though, and the program should reap the benefits. Over the past month, I’ve come across Rodriguez speaking candidly on the radio or on television more than Carr did during his entire time as head coach.

This would be an A, but publicly crying on television the first month on the job knocks you down just a notch. It’s football, after all.

School image: C-

This is where Rodriguez might want to hire a tutor. A lot of this is out of control because most of the negative press coming from West Virginia was unpreventable, but that doesn’t undo the whole situation.

It also doesn’t help that he’s following Carr, one of the most respected and controversy-free coaches in recent memory. But again, that’s the situation he’s in, so no excuses.

With Rodriguez’s personality (see openness above), this perception should improve. But first impressions are lasting, and fair or not, Rodriguez’s breakup with West Virginia was far from amicable. Rodriguez needs to keep striving to improve his public image, and as a result, restore Michigan’s reputation as one of the more squeaky-clean schools in the Big Ten.

Making appearances in public without a wizard hat and snake oil is also a plus.

Forming a staff: B+

Mike Barwis. Mike Barwis. Mike Barwis. It’s a name that puts smiles on the faces of Michigan fans and fear in the eyes of Wolverine players. Michigan’s revolutionary new strength and conditioning coach is exactly the change this program needed to get it up to speed (see what I did there?) with the more modern programs in the NCAA. His intensity and personality will not only help motivate the strong and weed out the weak, but it has also already excited many potential recruits.

Most of Rodriguez’s other assistant hires seem solid, too. But the inability to keep Erik Campbell on staff knocks him just out of A range (don’t worry, I haven’t been there since high school.) Campbell had strong Michigan ties and an amazing track record, and I think he was overlooked because Rodriguez may have been just a tad too loyal to his old staff in Morgantown.

But I’ll bump it from a B to a B+ to satisfy Mike Hart, who probably loves the fact that defensive coordinator Scott Shafer was stolen from Jim “no longer a Michigan Man” Harbaugh and Stanford.

– Bell can be reached at

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