Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Case For and the Case Against Rich Rodrigues

I was reading through some of my old posts in a effort to get a feel for where I was (mentally) when we hired the Rod back in 2007. Was it really that long ago? Has it been 3 plus years that we've suffered? It seems longer and in a weird way, shorter too... It's longer when I think about how long it's been since I have truly thought that we were a team that could compete with anyone in football. And it's shorter when I think about...well, I guess it isn't shorter. But I do believe the time is getting short when you look at what Rich Rod has and more specifically, HASN'T accomplished since he's been at the helm.

Here was my take on the hire in 2007.

Now, there are literally dozens of blogs that have either evaluated, tried, measured, or told us how good or bad Rodrigues is. A sampling:

Attention to Detail - Genuinely Sarcastic (admittedly not his own work, but a good read, anyway)
The Trial of Rich Rodrigues - Zach at Maize and Brew
The Illusion of Progress - Maize and Brew Dave
Time for Change or Why Progress Has Not Been Made - Beuaford at Maize and Brew
Aren't We All Michigan Fans? - Yost at the MZone...
And they all have extremely valid, well thought out points. There's more out there, and mgoblog has his usual "BUT LOOK AT THE NUMBERS!" take on why we need to keep Rich...

Look - it's simple, really. When Michigan was a winning program, we didn't have the flashiest offense or the most incredible defense...Okay, there was 2006. And 1997. But I'm talking about in general, year in and year out, we were COMPETITIVE. We were never out of a game before it started. We played tough, hard nose Big 10 football. We were competitive. We had skilled athletes at critical positions. And because we were never out of a game - okay, 2007 Oregon - we always had a shot. Or it seemed like we had a shot. But the 2007 (6) Rose Bowl against USC changed my mind about a lot of things. That and the 2008 Citrus Bowl when we came out in the spread and I observed how effective it could be! I remember thinking that there was no way that was the same Michigan team that lost to App State and Oregon...No way...

And I started thinking that Michigan maybe needed to change it's ways from a play action - 3rd down pass offense to a something a little less predictable. Oregon literally had their way with us. And we didn't exactly have a bad defense at that point. Was this the direction of college football?

In comes Rodrigues, one of the father's of this offense, after a couple of successful years at WVU with two offensive athletes that wowed everyone with pretty, shiny things that make you go, "oooooooohhhhhhhh!" And I'll admit, being on the receiving end of those pretty shiny things can suck when you lose (Again - Oregon and Northwestern come to mind) and you start to think that maybe there's other ways...

So everyone gets on the bandwagon and exclaims that the athletes we have are too big and slow (but that didn't exactly make sense as I had just watched a bunch of big, fairly quick athletes take down an SEC power in the Citrus bowl) and it will take at least three years of conditioning, recruiting and learning for the personell to "get" with Rich Rod's program.


I got it. I needed to support this team when everyone else is going to long for the days of Carr. Long for the days of 10-2 when we were, "This close!" to something bigger and better. Becuase the way of the future requires that you completely rip up the sheet and start from scratch to get to the promised land of National Titles every 2 to 3 years. So I did what loyal Michigan fans are supposed to do: I kept my head; I said give it time and I patiently waited for this elixir of smaller size, speed, and trickery to establish itself and for Michigan to take over and dominate college football. Everyone said by year 3 there would be vast improvements and visibile signs of the future with a 9 win season and some crushing losses...

I was ready. I was prepared. I wasn't going to like the 2008 season where we went to a lesser bowl..I didn't accept the fact that Michigan wouldn't win at least 6 games as "anyone could come in and coach Michigan's talent and win 6 games". Well, that was quickly reduced to a 3 win season that had everyone bent over hurling up their Maize and Blue lunch. But I kept reminding myself and reading the "believers" blogs, looking for the things that they said were happening. And some good things were happening. Yes...I believe!

In 2009, I was ready for a return to a bowl, assuming that the defense simply couldn't get any worse and that with a better defense, well, the offense would take care of itself. And frankly, we were in a lot of games in 2009. Iowa was winnable. MSU was lost on a terrible offensive mistake in OT. OSU and Wisconsin were again different matters, but once the DEFENSE improved a little more, clearly the offense was there to take us where we needed to go. And I finally saw improvement and realized that maybe Rich Rod was getting it. You need a defense with heart and desire. And they have to improve as much if not more than your offense. Offenses will take care of themselves with great defenses, right? Had the Rod figured it out? Yes...I believed...

This year, my hopes were high. Everyone else was looking at the offense, but clearly, the biggest pile of dung in the Michigan camp was the defensive mess that we were trying to dress up, slap on some lipstick, and make it work. If I was a head coach, I would be spending 100% of my time there, or as much as possible, working with kids that might not be as good, hoping that they could learn quickly and using the knowledge that no one expected us to be good on defense as a surprise tactic. I would be teaching and coaching the fundamentals: Tackling, leverage, being in position. And I would give them the best scheme that I could give them to make it work. Nothing too complicated. Basics. Man to man. Well timed blitzes. Defensive calls that I would have prepared and gotten ready for from watching hours and hours of the opposing teams' films. Knowing and recogninzing any tells that they might be giving that would help my defense overcome their deficiencies.

That's what Head Coaches that are coaching kids are supposed to do. They don't make excuses. They build kids up to more than was advertised. Yeah, it's about talent, size and skills. But it's also about heart and determination.

I got a chance recently to witness something special. It might not seem like much to a lot of you. And frankly, I really didn't understand what had actually happened until after it occured. And then I was really impressed.

A group of young girls in 6th grade were playing against another 6th grade team. These girls were all shorter than the other team by nearly a head for every player. The small school only had a total of 8 kids on the bench. The large school had 13. In fact, the large school started the 2nd and 3rd string figuring it would be easy to dismiss this little team. The small team left their starters in and they took a 6-0 1st quarter lead. It definitely looked like a bad omen when the larger team's first string came in and they towered over their opponents. But a funny thing happened. Those little girls - the short ones - stayed scrappy. They pressed. They played aggressive DEFENSE. There was no offense. Because unless the little team scored a transition or press basket, there was simply no way to get the ball inside and get a shot off. And if they did get a shot off and they didn't make it, rebounds rarely got down to their level. But you know what? That little team simply didn't know they were smaller. And they were coached to believe that the other team's size made absolutely no difference. And they played that way. They stayed scrappy. They pushed and pressed. They ran hard. They lost the lead in the 3rd quarter, but continued to listen to their coach. They went up by a bucket in the 4th quarter and held on to beat the obviously more skilled, more talented team.

And I found out after the fact that this team of Giants, this program of Titans, this team everyone figured would destroy this little team, hadn't lost a game in over 2 years! They had seen personell changes of course, but their program hadn't known defeat for that period of time...Until they ran into a gritty little team with heart, conviction, and was coached to WIN! To not let anyone's size or "skills" get in the way of playing like a team with conviction!

Where am I going with all this? Rich Rod simply doesn't inspire - you can see it, or rather, the lack of it. And these are still young, college age kids that will believe ANYTHING! It's one of the main points Schembechler felt worthy of putting on the wall:

"What the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve and those that stay will be Champions!"

Nope...I haven't seen that kind of heart or desire on a Michigan defense in a long time that 5 little girls showed me still exists...when the right coach is coaching.

So, it's simple. Yes, he's a great offensive strategist. He no doubt will be successful again. But if you can't coach their hearts and get them to believe, well, you can't be the head coach at Michigan.

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