In the past week I finished the novel “Three and Out” by John U. Bacon, which recounts the slow and painful story of Rich Rodriguez’s tenure as the head coach of the Michigan football team. If you consider yourself a big Michigan football fan this is certainly a must read.
When Bacon first started following Rich Rodriguez, almost 4 years ago, he planned on writing a book about the great success story of the coach and how it all culminated with his finally reaching the top of the mountain at Michigan. This did not turn out to be the case. Instead Rodriguez walked into a program that was in massive turmoil internally since the passing of its patriarch, the great Bo Schembechler, and was extremely divided on who should take over the coaching duties following the retirement of Lloyd Carr.
In late 2007 when it came to hiring a replacement for Coach Carr the Michigan family was very divided on who should take over, but almost everybody agreed that it had to be somebody who had ties back to Michigan and was a “Michigan Man.” Rich Rodriguez was not this. Rodriguez was a homegrown West Virginia boy who was the coach at West Virginia University, his dream job, and had made them into one of the best football programs in the country. Needless to say, when Michigan hired Rodriguez there were a lot of people who did not approve. It almost gave off the feel around the country that Rodriguez was not wanted in Ann Arbor.
Adding to his dislike in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez led the Michigan football team to an appalling 3-9 record, its worst season in over 40 years. Heading into his second season Rodriguez felt a lot of outside pressure and was not given a chance by the public to do much better than he had in his first season, but behind closed doors Rodriguez was making great strides that people weren’t aware of. To any of the members on the team and coaching staff, the Michigan football team heading into 2009 was a confident bunch. The players were finally comfortable in the new coach’s system and they were buying into what Rodriguez and his assistants were preaching.
Any positive strides that Rodriguez may have believed he made were all wiped out when allegations that Michigan was breaking NCAA practice rules by practicing for more than twice the allotted practice time per week. The blame fell squarely on Rodriguez. The Michigan coach was being ripped apart left and right from everybody, whether it was inside or outside of the program.
What people do not know is that Michigan was not doing anything different than any other football program when it came to practice hours. In the end, it was a serious paperwork mishap on the part of a few people in the Michigan front office that created this issue. The root of the issue was with Michigan being unable to differentiate to the NCAA between hours of practice which were deemed voluntary or mandatory. The coaches were not doing anything wrong, they were making sure to follow protocol and NCAA rules but the Michigan front office did not have the paperwork to back it up.
This serious cough up had almost nothing to do with Rodriguez. The coach could have publically criticized the people who messed up, but he did not. At no point in Coach Rodriguez’s tenure did he lash out at others, he always took responsibility for everything even if it was misplaced.
Another situation involving Rodriguez taking serious public criticism unjustly was when he had to pay West Virginia University a $4 million fee for breaking his contract. Behind closed doors Rodriguez came to an agreement with Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin, and President Mary Sue Coleman, that the University would pay $2.5 million of the $4 million. When it came time to pay the buyout, media outlets were harping on how the Rodriguez “debacle” was forcing the University to pay a large sum to cover up for Rodriguez. Neither Bill Martin nor President Coleman said anything publicly to defend Rodriguez on this issue. At no point did they make a statement saying that this was agreed upon when they hired him. The coach took a beating from the public on this issue.
Throughout Rodriguez’s time at Michigan there were several instances where he could have defended himself, but at the expense of the University. He could have revealed to the country just how divided the Michigan football family was but kept quiet because he knew it would only bring down the program he was trying to help resurrect. How does this relate to the topic of ‘Dirty Hands’? Is this a case of ‘Dirty Hands’ in which Rodriguez is harming himself and his own standing for the greater good of the Michigan program? I think so. Rodriguez did a lot to help heal the Michigan football program, but at his own expense.
One could argue that in the end Rich Rodriguez was the type of person Michigan would be proud to call a “Michigan Man,” it just did not work out. Coach Rodriguez was recently hired by the University of Arizona and I hope he is successful this time around, I wish him the best of luck.