My Favorite Things: Episode 9, You Raise Me Up

By Ramzy Nasrallah on May 20, 2020 at 1:05 pm
jim tressel and rich rodriguez

Welcome back to My Favorite Things.

We're isolated from each other, trying to survive a global pandemic. Each day brings more uncertainty and terrifying news, as we take shelter from an invisible global scourge. A single cough can send your mind to a dark place. Life is paused. Sports are on hold. This sucks.

My Favorite Things is an escape from all of that. The philosophy is simple:

When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad

So let's do that. Today we're attending the Michigan football banquet on Dec 2, 2010.


Michigan would be celebrating its 1985 team's 25th anniversary that evening.

Those Wolverines allowed more than 17 points just one time, to No.6 Nebraska - whom they defeated 27-23 in the Fiesta Bowl. Many former players from that team were in town for the banquet.

The current edition was a stark contrast. The 2010 Wolverines allowed more than 17 points in 11 games that season. They gave up over 30 eight times, with a 52-17 loss to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl yet to come. Their current head coach, completing his third season, openly wept on the dais.

“My name is Rich Rodriguez,” he said. “I’m honored to be the football coach at Michigan. I hope you realize I want to be a Michigan man.”

The Wolverines' decade of decline had hit bottom. It could not possibly get worse than this.

A canonized version of how Michigan arrived at this moment has already been written. It is thorough, honest, insightful, descriptive - and if you're into spicy details, John U. Bacon captured all of them. My Favorite Things is much lazier. We will enjoy the view of this fire from Columbus.

To begin, we'll head back to mid-December 2007 when Michigan, which had operated beneath the comforting shade of the Woody Hayes coaching tree for 38 seasons, made the difficult decision to upgrade into something a little younger.

A little different. A little exotic. A little bit country. 

As rumors swirled of his pending departure, Rodriguez would hem and haw, dodge and deny that he had the seven-year itch in Morgantown, right up until he left his alma mater for Ann Arbor.

If you're into foreshadowing, here's something RichRod blurted out in his introductory conference that you can watch above:

I don't know all the particulars about how things were run (at Michigan) but I do know you had great success.

Don't know the particulars? A Michigan Man™ should know all about Michigan particulars. Glenn Edward Schembechler famously stepped on campus in 1968 after acing his 15-minute interview, saw the dilapidated state of affairs and immediately romanticized about inheriting Fielding Yost's facilities. He was prepared. He adulated the establishment.

That's how it's done. A google search before you step on stage, sir. Instead, Rodriguez basically told the locals I own a television despite being from West Virginia and have seen y'alls helmets. Strike one. That's not the song you play to start the show.

Lloyd Carr would be carried off the field a Capital One Bowl champion two weeks later, having bested Urban Meyer's Florida Gators. Carr had planted no coaching tree whatsoever, which made an in-house succession plan futile. Michigan would be outsourcing and altering its DNA. Risky? Nah do it, you cowards.

RICHROD WAS a little younger. A little different. A little exotic. A little bit country.

Pro-Style would become Spread. 12 Personnel would become 10 Personnel. Ryan Mallett would become *fingers crossed* Terrelle Pryor. And long-time strength coach Mike Gittleson would become Mike Barwis. MGoBlog was all-in:

Over time, everything in your program is shaped by the attitude you bring. Michigan recruits are committing in the full knowledge Barwis is going to kill them, and they are eager to be killed. In time, this will manifest itself and the only things separating Michigan from national title games will be blind luck and Jim Tressel.

Recruiting would have to be updated to fit this plan, and the result of the grand reupholstery would be Michigan tradition plus cutting edge strategy - the bleeding edge of college football. Ohio State, which had taken six of seven in the rivalry was officially on notice.

The roster shakeup began almost immediately. Lineman and legacy Justin Boren left the program to walk on at Ohio State. His father Mike had played for Bo. Justin had two little brothers who loved football. Stay tuned, that one could turn out to be interesting.

From our vantage point RichRod's Wolverines had frightening potential. Florida of that era operated similarly; the Buckeyes had faced the Gators in a bowl game recently and it did not go well. The 2008 season arrived and we were already bracing for the first non-Bo era edition of The Game since Woody Could Not Go For Three a full 40 seasons earlier.

The Buckeyes are the state of Ohio's football boss level. Michigan had to beat Toledo first.

toledo beat michigan in ann arbor hahahahahaha

Which it failed to do. Here's Toledo in Victory Formation at the Big House. *deep inhale*

This was much, much worse than the Appalachian State loss a season earlier, and we do Toledo a disservice for glossing over its second of three total wins that season. 

And all of a sudden, RichRod's first team was 2-4 with home losses to Utah, Illinois and Toledo. The first half of his first season was salvaged by a come-from-behind triumph against No.9 Wisconsin (lol Bert) but the honeymoon never started. It was always overshadowed by his messy Morgantown divorce. Losing just made it bumpier.

And Mallett never become Pryor. He transferred to Arkansas and RichRod's first pilots would be Stephen Threet/Nick Sheridan as Pryor chose Columbus. The two would reunite there when Rodriguez's 3-8 Wolverines and their historically-bad-defense-despite-having-Brandon-Graham arrived in town.

They were - still to this day - the feistiest 3-8 team the Buckeyes have ever hosted.

heard you were talkin shit

Ohio State's wins over Michigan in each of the previous two meetings had vaulted the Buckeyes into BCS Championship games. This time, they were just locking up a shared title and a garden variety BCS appearance in Glendale. An off-year. It happens.

Beanie Wells had ripped off memorable TD runs against Michigan in 2006 and 2007. There would be no reason to break from tradition in 2008. The song remained the same.

beanie beanie beanie beanie

Tressel dialed up several Dave plays early in the game that had only produced modest yardage. He must have seen something, and Beanie got his third-straight memorable TD romp against the Wolverines in which he reached the endzone without the hassle of breaking a tackle or stiff-arming anyone's face off of their neck.


At one point in his recruitment it was widely believed Sam McGuffie, high school teammate of J.B. Shugarts, would eventually make a memory together in Ohio Stadium. That came true, as McGuffie landed at Michigan and they would see each other annually. 

Here's that memory. Alas, there would only be one.

he dead

McGuffie survived the hit but eventually transferred to Rice. He later became an Olympic bobsledder.

Meanwhile Pryor, the former top recruit in the country and absolutely perfect for the type of offense Rodriguez planned to bring to Ann Arbor chose to follow Troy Smith's development path with Joe Daniels in Columbus. Unfortunately, Daniels was on medical leave battling cancer for the entirety of Pryor's college career. The head coach would be his unofficial position coach.

In his first Michigan game Pryor found Ohio State's current WR coach for a long TD. Pretty good ball!

a dime to hartline

That's a perfect pass against a very generous defense. How generous, you ask? Here is every play of a 91-yard touchdown drive, captured in a single GIF.

apparently they don't teach tackling in General Studies

On the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes found themselves in what was basically a live simulation of Senior Tackle. Michigan's protection schemes: Also generous!

lil animal taking free shots

Why bother accounting for James Laurinaitis at all, really. That sounds exhausting. Skip it.

The Buckeyes got their share of the 2008 conference title, while Michigan ended the longest postseason streak in college football by going 3-9 and missing the postseason. Strike two.

In 2009, Ohio State returned to Ann Arbor having already clinched a Rose Bowl trip. Michigan was 5-6 in Rodriguez's second season - a two-game improvement! - but needed one more W to get bowl-eligible. Throw out the records - this edition has consequences!

The 2009 game opened with, as everyone predicted, a Cam Heyward touchdown.

lol Cam scored, that was hilarious

That is Michigan QB Tate Forcier with the unforced fumble. He was the first true RichRod QB threat with the Threat/Sheridan bridge crossed and discarded.

Rodriguez had been forced to shake things up defensively after the 2008 disaster, and he replaced DC Scott Shafer with Greg Robinson. Robinson's defense was better in the same sense that being trapped in a vat filled with donkey vomit up to your neck is better than being trapped in a vat of that vomit up to your eyebrows. You know which vat you'd choose.

But Robinson (whom history refers to as GERG) was a motivational visionary who has still never been given the credit he deserves. Years before Miami's Turnover Chain, Tulane's Turnover Beads, Florida State's Turnover Backpack, Texas A&M's Turnover Cane there was GERG's Tickle Bear. Look how psyched Kenny Demens is here that he made a big play.

tickle tickle tickle hee hee hee hee hee hee tickle tickle

Outside of coordinator upgrades and sideline tickles, history was also on RichRod's side in 2009. The most recent Michigan coach to lose his first home game against Ohio State? Harry Kipke in 1929.

Literally, the Great Depression. Nothing to worry about during the Great Recession.

brandon saine was covered in syrup

That's Brandon Saine, one of the fastest Buckeyes of the decade absorbing seven tacklers and morphing into Pete Johnson for exactly one play. Man, what couldn't the Michigan defense do? (tackle. They couldn't tackle).

Recall how McGuffie had the special teams highlight of the 2008 game on a kickoff return that ended violently. One year later this honor went to Darryl Stonum.

fall down go boom

Like McGuffie, Stonum survived the play and eventually transferred to another school in Texas. He did not take up bobsledding. By the way - if you ever saw Faces of Death, this kickoff return was inspired by the scene where that dude gets eaten by an alligator. Don't look it up.

Survivors of John Cooper Era Michigan games can attest to at least one perfectly-timed, back-breaking screen pass in every loss. The Buckeyes pulled off one of their own in 2009 for a touchdown, with Boom Herron punctuating his score by barking at a former Michigan player as a celebration. 10/10, this should happen on every visit to Ann Arbor.

perfect screen pass and trash talk

It was the sunrise, and as it turned out, the sunset of Forcier's QB1 Experience, on a day where he would amass five turnovers. Tressel sensed the instability early on and began running out the clock in the 1st quarter, confident Michigan wouldn't be able to score enough points even by accident to win the game.

Here's Forcier completing his only pass of the day in the endzone. Devon Torrence only needed another yard of sideline to take this 100 yards in the other direction. The Buckeyes didn't need the touchdown.

devon torrence INT

Rodriguez's program was kind-of-sort-of starting to round into form, emerging from the malaise of Carr's twilight. Robinson would stay in Ann Arbor another season until he was fired along with Rodriguez by Dave Brandon to clear the deck for new savior Brady Hoke. We had only one question at the time.

Mattison would not retain the bear. Whereabouts unknown. He didn't bring it to Columbus.

Let's continue to Rodriguez's final appearance in The Game.

TP lol no way man

Pryor was unfair throughout his career at Ohio State, routinely turning bad and broken plays into magic like this. There was no one he couldn't run away from and his accuracy was absolutely decent. Imagine what Daniels could have developed him into had his health cooperated.

Our special teams kickoff moment of 2010 did not contain the violence of the McGuffie or Stonum plays, but it did star Jordan Hall. Ohio State watched so much film of Pryor in high school they were forced to acknowledge his backfield mate and eventually lured him to Columbus too.

"Ohio State scoring touchdowns without being touched" was another hallmark of the RichRod era.

jordan hall has the ball

Rodriguez's final Ohio State game was somehow more boring than his first, with both crowds largely quiet for the duration of their 2nd halves. The only late drama in 2010 was Dane Sanzenbacher being called for a bullshit holding penalty here after executing a flawless 85-yard blocking assignment on what should have been a Herron touchdown.

dane sanzenbacher for president of earth

Notice how Sanzenbacher is focused on downfield blocking right from the snap, blindly feeling the play developing behind him - and compare that to Dee Stanley on Pepe Pearson's squandered touchdown in 1996. We must emotionally dunk on ourselves like this to drain any arrogance about dominating the rivalry from pooling in our heads.

As it turned out, this wasn't just RichRod's final appearance in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Vaya con dios to these legends, too.

vaya con dios tress, TP and rod

Let's ring up the total from the RichRod Era. Final aggregate score: Ohio State 100, Michigan 24.

2008 Utah, @ND, Toledo 2-6 2-5 1-4 L 21-35 L 7-42 N/A
2009 N/A 1-7 4-4 0-4 L 20-26 OT L 10-21 N/A
2010 N/A 3-5 4-3 2-3 L 17-34 L 7-37 L 14-52 MISS STATE

We're now back at that 2010 football banquet celebrating the 1985 team (Jim Harbaugh was a no-show) and the establishment's displeasure with the interloper it brought in from Morgantown is palpable all around.

Rodriguez knew he was behind schedule. He knew his defenses were awful. He knew that messy divorce had set everything back in his new marriage. He had failed on many fronts, even schematically as college football became better acclimated with defending the spread and his own offense failed to evolve beyond its origin.

The Michigan establishment also refused to coalesce behind a ratchety outsider who didn't sound like he was from Ohio the way Michigan Men traditionally sounded, which had a negative impact on the collective psyche. Buckeyes and Wolverines from their respective fan base underbellies are basically the same people with one exception - those OSU fans know they're rubes and celebrate it, whereas those Michigan fans will tout academic superiority while emptying fry grease into a vat behind a Hardee's.

Michigan football got just a little trashier with RichRod running things, and that upset everyone from the ivory tower on down. He brought everything Michigan fans were willing to tolerate in order to evolve, but without any measurable upside or results. Rodriguez became the jump-off mistress they almost immediately regretted, and the fans longed for the cool comfort of the Schembechler branch of the Hayes tree - someone who gets it.

They wanted Harbaugh. They got Hoke. The Chosen One would have to wait a few more years.

But before Brandon offered Hoke a salary that completely ignored the tired concept of market value and prior to Mississippi State putting up that video game score - Rodriguez had one more song to play, and it came after that tearful speech on the dais at the annual football banquet.

Does this moment make up for the entire 1990s? Not all of it. A significant, non-zero amount of it.

The RichRod era was a hinge in and of itself: Ohio State has fallen short of double-digit wins six times since 1993, when Penn State entered the Big Ten. Michigan has failed 17 times including all three seasons under Rodriguez. If the Wolverines had been a stock, they would have been delisted.

As for Rodriguez's final bit of schmaltz, it went over about as well as could be expected.

Indeed. Welcome to the Jungle, RichRod. It gets worse here every day.

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