Point Enough Is Enough…It’s Time to Be MICHIGAN Again
by Perry Suarez
Counterpoint Good Things Come To Those Who Wait
by Parker Cronin
Michigan fans thought they lived the full roller coaster of emotions after witnessing a tumultuous 2007 season that started with a loss to Appalachian State and ended (somehow) with a Michigan victory over Tim Tebow’s Florida Gators. This year’s seniors, freshmen in 2007, started off their career with two of the most embarrassing games ever played at Michigan Stadium. We thought, mistakenly, we had hit rock bottom. Looking back, a 9-4 season with a bowl victory looks like paradise, which is why it is time to re-examine our coaching situation.
Enter Rich Rodriguez, the coach who had taken a mid-level program in West Virginia to new heights. He was a rock star, bringing in a spread offense that promised to score often and quickly. Sure, there were questions about the matter in which he left West Virginia, but so what? He was committed to Michigan, and for a school that had gone ten years without a Rose Bowl victory, he was the fresh face everyone needed to see. Rich Rod promised to restore Michigan to its traditional glory, bring honor to the school, and beat Ohio State.
Fast forward almost three years later. We all remember Rodriguez’s first season here, a 3-9 disaster that featured the worst Michigan team by record ever. The Ohio State game was a joke. For argument’s sake, let us call that season a wash. We simply did not have the players or the system in place to succeed. Last season began with a glimmer of hope, only to come crashing down as a mirage. Still, as long as Michigan kept getting better, the UM community generally agreed to give our coach a chance. Which brings us to today.
There is no way around it. This team is getting worse, and I am tired of my Ohio State “friends” reminding me that it has been a ridiculous amount of days since our last victory over the Buckeyes. We are simply not improving, and we’re obviously regressing on the defensive side of the ball. A spectacular find in Denard Robinson initially hid a few of Michigan’s flaws , but as soon as real competition (or Indiana) came calling, those flaws were exposed. You may point to injuries, or you may point to youth, or maybe you just point to bad luck. But at some point, enough is enough and excuses become meaningless. Looking to “The Game” this year, my depression and sense of hopelessness with this team only deepens.
Case in point: the loss against Penn State. We witnessed a team that was totally unprepared to play in every facet of the game, even after a week off to prepare for a tough environment. Our Wolverines were undisciplined, unaware, and fundamentally poorly coached. Can you put some of the blame on Greg Robinson, our esteemed defensive coordinator? Absolutely—he should have been fired weeks ago. But who hired him? And who is ultimately responsible for making sure the entire team, offensive, defense, and special teams, is ready to play? That would be Coach Rich Rodriguez. We all watched as the two of them helplessly screamed at our defensive players last week, as they were not even lined up in the correct formations.
David Brandon, the new Michigan Athletic Director, has been extremely supportive of Rich Rod to this point, and rightfully so. Brandon is a smart and savvy guy, and he wants to give this program every opportunity to win. Firing a coach with such a unique system could set Michigan back three more years. The catch? Not firing him at this point could set us back ten. He, like all of us, is desperately hoping to claim victory in at least one of the last four games.
As if the performance on the field and a 13-19 record (with 3 Big Ten wins and a combined 2-5 against Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State) were not bad enough, the Rodriguez era has resulted in the first major infractions of NCAA rules in the history of Michigan football. Folks, that is a long and proud history. While Rodriguez managed to avoid penalties for failing to promote an “atmosphere of compliance,” he has admitted guilt in failure to report all practice hours, using too many staff members to supervise practices, and practicing longer than is permitted under NCAA rules. Nothing justifies the tarnishing of the Michigan name with this nonsense.
If you’re still not convinced, consider this list: Bo Schembechler. Fielding Yost. Fritz Crisler. Lloyd Carr. Rich Rodriguez? Seriously? Which one of these doesn’t belong? The University of Michigan is a big time program and requires a big time coach. This year’s team is blessed with great character and a top-notch core of senior leadership. Unfortunately, even they cannot act as players and coaches at the same time, and there is only so much Denard Robinson can do. Barring an Ohio State victory, with which I would reconsider my position, it is time for Rodriguez to go.
A lot of people don’t like Rich Rod. He’s a fiery, no-nonsense kind of guy, and because of that he might not always be so easy to get along with. But whatever you think of Rich Rod’s personality, none of that means that he is a bad coach. Granted, his first two years at Michigan were a bit of a disaster, and this year is not going to be amazing—we’ll probably finish with something like a 7-5 record. However, that's not a reflection on his coaching ability - it is a reflection on the fact that transitions are hard. The system that he has put in place is entirely distinct from the system Lloyd Carr established and relies on different players than those Carr recruited. This is the first year that Rodriguez has really had the players he needs to run his system. Because of that, the team has shown massive improvement. You cannot expect a coach to succeed immediately when he is changing everything about a team's offense. It takes a few years not only to get the players in place, but also to work out the kinks in the system. Not every player can play in every system, and expecting immediate results is simply unreasonable.
Moreover, the offense is firing on all cylinders in a way that we have not seen at Michigan for years. The most important reason for this is, of course, our dynamic quarterback Denard Robinson. Though it may not be obvious, Rich Rod is the reason that Robinson has been so successful. The spread offense—a strategy that spreads the opposing team thin across the field and maximizes the quarterback’s options—allows him the freedom to take advantage of his incredible athleticism, and the constant threat that Robinson will run the ball opens up passing lanes extraordinarily effectively. Less than two years ago, everyone wanted Robinson to switch to wide receiver or defensive back, but Rodriguez decided to keep him at quarterback, and this decision really reflects well on Rodriguez’s foresight and strategic thinking. You might not know it, but in high school, Robinson wasn’t much of a running quarterback. Rodriguez recognized his potential and got him into a system where he could be both a running and passing threat. In short: no Rodriguez=no Robinson.
Many critics say that the spread offense won’t work in the Big Ten, but this argument ignores a host of historical evidence. Ohio State (who supposedly had the best defense in the country) got destroyed in two straight national championship games by teams running the spread option. In fact, the last four national champions (Florida, Alabama, Texas, and LSU) all ran some form of the spread. The Big Ten is just 19-31 in bowl games since 2003 – largely because we lose to teams that run the spread.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest complaint against Rodriguez has to do with the fact that he just hasn’t won a whole lot of games. The offense scores at least four touchdowns every game, and we still lose. However, this is a problem with the defense – an area of the team that, thus far, Rodriguez has not really invested a lot of work in. It’s true that Rodriguez’s defensive recruiting has not been great over the past few years since he has focused largely on the offense. But recent press conferences prove that he realizes that this is the main problem, and it’s something that he has promised to work on in the recruiting season. Again, transitions take time and effort. It’s worth pointing out that if you look at his coaching career, Rodriguez’s first few seasons at a school are never pleasant. In fact, he took three seasons to get to a winning record at Glenville State and two years at West Virginia. But after that period, after he had his players in place and his system running at full steam, he did not have a single losing season.
And make no mistake: firing Rodriguez would only make things worse. In the last few years, he has recruited players almost exclusively for the spread. Even if we had no reason to believe the Wolverines’ performance would improve in the coming seasons, switching to a coach who does not run the spread would make the transition to a winning record even longer. It would take another three recruiting cycles just to get back to square one. But if we give Rich Rod more time—if we allow the players he has recruited to mature a bit and give him a chance to work on the defense—then this Michigan team will be a legitimate contender for the BCS championship in no time.
About the Issue
Point author: Parker Suarez is an LSA senior majoring in Communications and Linguistics. Perry is a lifelong Michigan fan and laments the fact that his four years at UM have been some of the worst four years in Michigan football history.
Counterpoint author: parker cronin is a sophomore at the University of Michigan majoring in history and anthropology.
Edited by: Aaron Bekemeyer and Tanya Rogovyk
Cover by: Rose Jaffe