The Rodriguez Redemption

By Johnny Ginter on December 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary ♬ When troubles come and my heart burdened be ♪ Then, I am still and wait here in the silence ♫ Until you come and sit awhile with me ♬

Oh happy day!

Two years ago, Rich Rodriguez stood at the end of season banquet for the Michigan Wolverines and did two weird things. The first was to effusively talk about his reliance on Josh Groban to get him through the hard times. Which was pretty weird in a goofy sort of way, but keep in mind that was the year that Greg Robinson revealed his stuffed animal fetish, so it doesn't rank super high on the weirdometer.

The other weird thing that Rich Rod said was this:

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez fought back tears, talking about the toll his job has taken on his family, and used passages from the Bible and a Josh Groban song during an emotional address that closed the team's banquet.

"I truly want to be a Michigan man," he said Thursday.

Why? Was it the implied jowly lethargy? The 1970s sense of malaise? The completely unearned smug sense of superiority?

If I, at any point in my life, utter the phrase "I truly want to be a Michigan man," it will likely be followed by the words "because I have lost all will to live and hate both myself and everyone around me."

It is ridiculous to me that a coach who took West Virginia football to two BCS games, winning both, and showcased some of the most dynamic offenses that the country had ever seen would be reduced to groveling at the feet of an imaginary ideal that only exists in the minds of old people who still remember being really skeptical of "this whole microwave oven business."

No, Rich Rodriguez was never the mythical Michigan Man. He is a backwoods hick with a goofy style of football that was fun and exciting (two words one must never associate with Michigan football or Michigan in general), and after being summarily dismissed by a group of people who never really had any inclination to allow him to succeed in the first place, he's now doing pretty well for himself in Arizona.

So now you have a choice, Buckeye fans. Do you root for the guy, knowing that each successive victory angers the Wolverine fanbase in a vague, irritating way? Or do you root against him, forcing him to walk the earth as a shadow, forever branded with the mark of Cain that is Michigan football?

I go for the former approach. You can't just hand wave away stuff like his less than amicable split from West Virginia, the (relatively minor) NCAA violations, or the Borens' attitude toward him in general. But I look at a guy who walked into an already extremely difficult situation and did everything within his power to make at least a semi-decent team out of what was essentially Lloyd Carr's table scraps, while simultaneously getting the business from alumni and a new AD that had no part in his hiring.

He failed, but as far as failures go, it was a semi-noble one. Let's be realistic: any coach that was going to have to take over after Michigan's Earle Bruce up and left for the fjords was going to have a difficult time, given the massive expectations of their fans. For Rich Rod to perform as poorly as he did, especially against the Wolverines' two biggest rivals (he never beat OSU or Michigan State), pretty much sealed his fate even before you get to the "he doesn't understand OUR CULTURE" stupidity.

Yeah, I waited five years to make this joke SO WHAT

That sucks. Rodriguez isn't, and never was, a bad coach. We here at 11W like to poke fun at Brian at MGoBlog, but he was an ardent defender of the guy, offering up justifications such as the cupboard being bare personnel wise, the lack of support that he had from the administration and alumni, and a general lack of patience from the fanbase in general.

All true, although that doesn't really negate some of the boneheaded and baffling moves that Rich Rod also made during his tenure. The most notable of which was the hiring of Greg Robinson and the defensive issues in general, but there were several other moves that were made that didn't exactly elicit the kind of confidence that Bill Martin showed in him while floating in the Atlantic on a skiff.

So he was fired. The Michigan faithful got to breathe a sigh of relief through their oxygen masks as the toddled their way to their living rooms for another Lawrence Welk marathon, happy in the knowledge that soon they could hire a REAL Michigan Man that would lead their program to glory.

And Rich Rodriguez, though he didn't know it at the time, got to shed himself of the unfair burden of having to be someone that he isn't.

Everybody got what they wanted! Brady Hoke yabba dabba dooed his way into the Michigan job, and Rodriguez now finds himself with an Arizona program that just won a bowl game in almost hilariously dramatic fashion and looks poised to be a very dangerous team in the very near future.

Meanwhile, the Wolverines are coming off a disappointing season that saw them lose to almost every decent team on their schedule, and have now just suspended three players, including their starting punter and a cornerback, for their bowl game against South Carolina.

I'm not trying to imply that Rodriguez shouldn't have been fired, or that Hoke was the wrong hire, but rather that bad situations, bad luck, and random chance can make a good coach look far worse than he actually is.

So anyway, I'm rooting for they guy. Not because I love his playstyle (he's gotten away from the mostly run-based offense which made him a star at West Virginia) or because he's a genuinely great guy or something; no, I want Rodriguez to be successful because the guy got a bum rap from Ohio State's biggest rival, and because I know that in 5-7 years the Buckeyes will be faced with the same dilemma that Michigan was dealing with in 2007. I just hope we handle it better than they did and don't fool ourselves into thinking that our next coach has to conform to some silly ideal.

Because Urban Meyers don't fall into your lap every day.

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