No less than three years ago, as the head coach of West Virginia University, Rich Rodriguez spearheaded arguably the nation’s best team to a Fiesta Bowl victory over the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners. Though the Mountaineers were led on the field by then-interim coach Bill Stewart, there was no denying that the team and its performance on the field, an absolute white-wash of the perennial power Sooners, was a product solely that of Rodriguez’s handiwork.
My, what a difference three short – and for many very, very long – years can make.

Once one of the most highly sought-after and respected coaches in the nation, Rodriguez is now unemployed, relieved from his head coaching duties after three turbulent years at the University of Michigan. Based on pure results, it’s hard to argue with Athletic Director David Brandon’s decision to fire Rodriguez. Three seasons that fell well below the expectations held in Ann Arbor, no noticeable development on the defensive side of the ball and of course the embarrassing NCAA investigation that has left a blemish on the once – pristine program, all occurred with Rodriguez at the helm.

Many feel, however, that the entire mess could have been avoided by not hiring Rodriguez in the first place. From sport pundits to alumni, many criticized Rodriguez’s move to Ann Arbor, stating that it was a clash of game philosophies and, at an underlying level, a mismatch of cultures. Simply put, he was not a “Michigan Man.” As a result of this not-so-discrete elitism, Rodriguez never got the 100 percent support that a coach with a 10th of his accolades would elsewhere.

From day one on the job, Rodriguez faced an uphill battle not only on the field but off it as well. The roster he was left with was in absolute shambles after former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr’s retirement. This was painfully evident during the Wolverines’ abysmal 2008 campaign in which the Maize and Blue only notched three victories while setting a slew of school records that no athlete wants to be a part of. Meanwhile, as soon as he set foot on campus, Rodriguez had to contend with an underground faction within the University community that resented the fact that he was allowed into the hallowed fraternity of Michigan coaches. The faction resented this interloper with his spread schemes and smaller, speedy players who buzzed around like flies. This was not “Michigan football,” they cried.

Rodriguez, by all means, did not share many qualities with his predecessors. He never had any prior connection with the University; he played college ball at West Virginia and held a variety of coaching positions at other small schools before making it big with the Mountaineers. He lacked the stoic demeanor that characterized those before him. He was visibly emotional during press conferences and perhaps was not as articulate as Lloyd or Bo. He brought a new, fast-paced offensive mindset that challenged all that those before him stood for. These reasons, which many may deem trivial, prevented Rodriguez from gaining full support from the community and, one may argue, led to his downfall at the University.

At the end of the day, Brandon had no choice but to let Rodriguez go. The Wolverines have not been competitive with their Big Ten counterparts, and a coach’s job status is directly linked to results on the field. After three consecutive years of losing to the Buckeyes and Spartans, it was time for a change.

However, it’s hard to argue that Rodriguez got a fair chance to turn things around here in Ann Arbor. He never received the support that most coaches are guaranteed simply because he didn’t fit, which is strangely hypocritical at a school that prides diversity. Who knows what might have been had he received genuine support? Perhaps we would be in the same situation we are now. Or maybe, without the constant pressure, Rodriguez would have been able to lead the Wolverines to become national championship contenders. There’s no denying the fact that he is a quality coach or that he put every ounce of his soul into this job. It’s unfortunate the way things transpired, both for Rodriguez and the University, but it is a situation that could have been, and should be, avoided in the future.

As the football program searches for its next head coach, it’s important that no matter who is selected, we as fans give the coach as much support as he needs in order to succeed. It would be great if we land a certain former Wolverine and recent Orange Bowl victor. But if things don’t pan out quite as well as we’d like them to, then we should move on and still truly be”‘all in” for the Maize and Blue. As we can see, if we don’t do so, the results can be disastrous.

Athrey Krishnakumar is an Engineering junior.

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