Yesterday, The Associated Press released an article in which Rich Rodriguez was quoted as saying that he wants to tell Michigan fans to “get a life” and “take a look at the economy.” As a University graduate and football season ticket holder, these statements insulted me. Rodriguez is a highly paid state employee and he should think twice before he suggests that Michigan students, alumni and fans “get a life” and “look at the economy.”
The state of Michigan is perhaps the state hardest hit by the troubled economy and the Michigan students, alumni and fans don’t need to be reminded about the sad state of the economy. Many of those fans live in Michigan and are personally hurt by the situation. A lot of those Michigan taxpayers (the same folks who indirectly pay Rodriguez’s mega salary) turn to Michigan football as a way to escape the major problems they’ve been facing in their lives for several years — not just the last 6 months. Does Rodriguez actually believe that Michigan fans, of all fans, don’t understand that General Motors is about to go out of business?
The most disappointing observation of all is that, after having been part of the University for 10 months, he still can’t understand one of the things that makes the University such a special place: the immense pride the students and alumni have in the University of Michigan, including its football program. It may not have been the most dominant program in the country in the last few decades (though it once was), but it’s certainly been the most consistently strong. For 40 years, the students, alumni and fans have known that on any given Saturday, they would be able to take pride in watching Michigan football and on about 77 percent of those days, feel good having done so. This year, that all changed.
Being the best in the country at something is very special and provides people associated with that experience a little more to feel good about. That’s especially important when people have tough challenges to face. The Michigan football program was No. 1 in the country at four things: longest period of time since last losing season, longest streak attending a bowl game, most number of weeks being ranked in the AP poll and most successful program of all time based on wins and winning percentage. Under Rodriguez, the program has already managed to lose two of these accomplishments, is on the verge of losing a third and, if things don’t change quickly, will lose the fourth.
All of Rodriguez’s immediate predecessors had years in which the program was “rebuilding” its talent pool or depleted by injuries, but each of those coaches figured out a way to best use the talent they had to remain competitive and win ball games. Rodriguez has proven that he’s either unable or unwilling to do so. In fact, he wasn’t even able or willing to retain some of the better talent in the program in an effort to be more competitive.
In addition to not understanding the immense sense of pride among Michigan students, alumni and fans, Rodriguez also seems to have misunderstood the intelligence of the Michigan fan base. Somehow, he hasn’t recognized that many of these fans are students or graduates of this top university and, therefore, are pretty darn smart. When he says stupid things, like suggesting they get a life and take a look at the economy, he only makes things much worse for himself.
At some point, Rodriguez needs to stop blaming this disaster of a season on the inexperienced talent and take some responsibility for the failure. He also needs to recognize what impact that failure has had on the pride of the largest alumni base in the country, many of whom pay his salary while living in the state with the second worst unemployment rate in the country. He needs to at least act like he cares about the reputation of this university and its football program more than his reputation as a coach.
I think he owes us all an apology — if not for our loss of pride during this disaster of a football season, then at least for the insinuation that we don’t understand the state of the economy.
But let’s not forget: It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine.
Josh Weingast is a University alum.