The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.
And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you. - Jules Winnfield
As the off-season drags into it's sixth month we've finally hit the point where the only thing left to talk about is the job security of the nation's high profile college coaches. And for Michigan fans, that means yet another nauseating round of unsupported speculation about Rich Rodriguez's future at Michigan. We know how it will go down. It will be mean spirited. It will focus solely on the negative aspects of Rodriguez's short tenure at Michigan. It will talk about his messy departure from Morgantown. They'll probably be a mention or two about how he isn't a "Michigan Man". As you can see, this ain't our first rodeo.
So it's probably not a surprise Rodriguez's supporters are ready to go all Jules Winnfield on people outside the program speculating in print about Rodriguez's future. Just like with all the talk about Big Ten Expansion, no one outside of Dave Brandon's office has a clue what awaits Rodriguez after this season, but it won't stop the rumor mill from churning.
Ever since the conclusion of the 2009 season all Michigan fans have gotten to listen about from the media is wild speculation about the future of their head coach. Will this be his final season? Will the Wolverines hire Harbaugh, Miles, raise Bo from the grave, or use all that state funding to clone a combination of Yost, Crisler and Bo to lead the Wolverines out of their doldrums?
But no one has facts. The only support for everyone's assertions are conclusory and self serving statements like: "And Michigan Fans won't take much more of this," or "After decades of winning this could be it." Despite repeated responses from the Michigan Athletic Department, the media refuses to believe what it is told over and over again: Rodriguez isn't going anywhere. It's as if they think there's a darker secret waiting underneath David Brandon's statements.
What gets to Wolverine fans more than the losing is the Detroit and national media's seeming obsession with creating problems where none exist. Heaping on made up problems where the situation at hand doesn't warrant them. We're actually doing all right here in Ann Arbor, and most of us really like the guy wearing the head set. We're just tired of people trying to tear him down for no reason.
We know there's so much more to Rodriguez than he's given credit for. Sadly, we also know those things will never see the front page of a newspaper because it doesn't serve the purpose of tearing him down. No one talks about the fact that it was Rodriguez and his wife that approached the Athletic Department about turning the Spring Game into a fundraiser for a local hospital. Working with the athletic department the Spring Game raised over $300,000 dollars for charity. Oh, and if you're wondering what my source is for that, it's David Brandon. See what I did there? I directly attributed information that I used in an article to support my position. Imagine that.
Everyone wants to focus on the negative things that have been said about Rodriguez, but no one pays much attention to the support he gets from his players. For every Morgan Trent there's a Brandon Graham. For every Justin Boren there's an Elliot Mealer and his brother Brock. No one in the Detroit media talks about how Rodriguez staff work with Brock to help him regain his ability to walk, and how Brock will lead Michigan out of the tunnel when the Wolverines start their season against UConn. But it's out there. And as Michigan fans we're proud of our coach for that.
What it all comes down to for Rodriguez are wins and loses. This is year three. These are his players. This is his system. Unless improvement is shown, and god forbid a regression occurs, he will be on the hot seat but only to the extent his on-field performance has been sub par. All this extraneous nonsense, the ancillary speculation, the mean spirited "investigations"... we've had enough.
As much as Michigan fans hate to lose, I doubt anyone within or without this program hates losing more than Rich Rodriguez. He is not a coach accustomed to losing. Lost in all the speculation about his job is the fact he is a hell of a football coach. He didn't return West Virginia to prominence by accident. Those Mountaineer teams weren't winning BCS games by luck. They were dominant. Look further back and you'll see his success at Clemson and before that at Tulane.
Rodriguez won five games last year (and lost three games by six points or less) with two freshmen quarterbacks, a young offensive line missing it's best player, and a defense struggling to fill gargantuan holes left by substandard recruiting before Rodriguez arrived. While it's true the pressure is on him to win, it's not like the pressure would be any less had Michigan won 6 or 7 games last year. The pressure is always there.
Rodriguez recruiting to Michigan has been stellar. His football players are doing better in school than they have in 20 years. If there is pressure to win in 2010, it is because he now has an experienced offense to work with. The defense, while improving, is still a work in progress. But it should be capable of making enough stops to keep Michigan in games. So the pieces are there for Rodriguez to silence his critics for at least another year.
As the discussion rolls on, people will point to the pending NCAA investigation and the pending announcement of self-sanctions on the program as a reason Rodriguez is on shaky ground. To an extent, they would be right. No one who gets their program sanctioned in any way can be considered indispensable. But if the infractions were that bad, Rodriguez would be long gone by now. If the athletic department felt he was in the least bit culpable for significant violations of NCAA code, he'd have been fired. That's how it works at Michigan. The fact he remains the head coach speaks volumes about the NCAA investigation and about the faith this administration has in him.
Another thing that plays in Rodriguez favor is that Michigan does not want to go through another transition on the field. The present transition has been rough enough, and the prospect of changing systems again will likely set the program back another three to four years. Also lost in the local media clamor for a coaching change is how outsiders will look at the Michigan job. Prior to coming to Michigan, Rodriguez was one of the most respected and desirable coaches in all of Division 1. He had a sterling record, a history of charity work, a great recruiting prowess, and the list goes on. What coach in their right mind would take this job if someone like Rodriguez is run out of town on a rail after only three years? What happens to that coach if the local media takes a dislike to him, the way they did with Rodriguez? It's a fair pair of questions and ones David Brandon will have to address before any thing happens with Rodriguez's future.
Rodriguez did not get this job by accident or mistake. He was the best available coach in the country at the time of his hiring. He is also the best coach to lead Michigan back to prominence. If his future is in doubt, it is because Michigan has losing seasons two straight years and a third straight losing season is unheard of at Michigan. But that future hasn't been written. And as far as we're concerned, as long as this team continues to improve, Rodriguez job is safe. If it doesn't, then it's not.
So please, media people, stick to the facts. Don't drag things through the mud. Just look at the bottom line. Wins and losses. And by the end of this year, you'll have your answer.