I hear a lot of talking heads say that the Rich Rodriguez experiment has failed at Michigan because he and his audience failed to see eye to eye “culturally.”
Whether or not the common fans or the true stakeholders (big boosters) have led this uprising, we’ll never know. After all, which came first: the chicken or the egg?
You and I both know Rodriguez was never given a fair shake since he landed in Ann Arbor more than three years ago. The skeptics grumbled initially, then probably helped expose his faults just one disappointing season into the rebuilding process. This all boiled over into “self-imposed sanctions.” Whatever that means, many claim it was the first big, black-and-blue eye for the program.
He’s not a “Michigan Man.” He’s more of a bro — a native son from a place where “wild and wonderful” once constituted a state slogan. I’m pretty sure I heard the student section start chanting “read a book!” as he walked the periphery of Michigan Stadium during the Big Chill, his prize quarterback at the flank, his head lowered.
The point is that, apparently, there are great expectations on this campus.
I must say, however, that there is no short, results-based list of why Rich Rod’s Blue never crossed our particular hype threshold. Holistically, however, the football team under Rodriguez just never satisfied our personal taste for the top shelf.
Here are a few reasons: He made few concessions. He consistently neglected two sides of the ball — special teams and defense. He didn’t recruit defensive players well enough. He perhaps insisted on a 3-3-5, when that won’t cut it in the Big Ten without the accompanying talent — or ever. His offensive play calling in the red zone was ineffective. Perhaps he also lacks in the equivocation department.
Some have argued that the consummate Michigan Man is one of unusual integrity. But maybe this criterion is either too tall an order or a dying breed these days.
Today’s NCAA and its member athletic departments, all hankering for a piece of the TV revenue pie, make honesty a rare corporate commodity.
A local barber of all people initially told me that Rodriguez is scantly visible within the Ann Arbor community. This came in stark contrast to sightings of former football coach Lloyd Carr making keynote speeches at worthy student organization events, such as a fundraising banquet for Camp Kesem — a student-run summer camp for children with parents who have or had cancer.
I swear, even Michigan basketball coach John Beilein, a fellow West Virginian, has been seen roaming the Michigan Union, helping student-athletes pick out the perfect computer from the computer Showcase and leading tours for recruits at the second-floor Billiards and Games Room. These persons, and some of their predecessors, most likely approach Michigan Man status.
Coaches are traditionally supposed to emblazon the University. Despite our sky boxes and future night games, Ann Arbor may still be a place where these values matter. Attention to corporate social responsibility, therefore, can be checked and affected by the consumer — in this case the ardent fans — as well as less conspicuous financial boosters.
Surely, the time is now for the University’s Athletic Director David Brandon to find a new head football coach, justified alone by that abysmal win-loss record in important games. A fitting conclusion to a historic, if suddenly infamous, stint for Michigan’s student body.
Interestingly, we will never know if Rich Rod could have silenced the critics by just spitting out a winning product.
Which comes first, egg or chicken?
Michael Berthenthal is a Ford School of Public Policy senior.