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Time for Change or Why I Tentatively Believe That Progress Has Not Been Made

I'm having trouble writing the title to this post because it's tough to summarize concisely what I want to say.  My actions and thoughts are often paralyzed by the virtue (curse?) of being able to see both sides of an issue.  This rears its head politically more often than not, but has recently been applied to Michigan Football more than anything else.  Thus, I am completely torn on the question of what to do with Rich Rodriguez.  I consider myself a "smart" fan who doesn't do things knee-jerkingly terrible except on game day where my volume does tend to get a bit out of control.

This is the part of the post where I make some disclaimers. 

One:  Maize n Brew is made up of different posters, all of whom have different opinions.  Mine does not reflect Dave's unless he somehow endorses it.  This is nowhere close to an official Maize n Brew stance on the subject.

Two:  I am a Michigan fan.  I also like Rodriguez.  I will openly cheer for him to succeed both while he is still the head coach at Michigan, or anywhere else except if they play Michigan.

Brian's sentiments at Mgoblog are summed up, if I may (and please correct me if I'm wrong):

I've said before that if Rodriguez is broomed and Harbaugh installed here my reaction will be "meh" quickly followed by "what about Denard?" Because this is Michigan football Rodriguez will take Clemson to the BCS four times, but even that certainty doesn't dull the shine on Harbaugh.

But it's pretty hard for me to go back to what I thought before the season [BEAUFORD - Brian predicted 7-5], see what it is, see what we got, and think Rodriguez didn't put himself in position for Put Up Or Shut Up 2011. Barely.

If we take this thought process, and flip it, you get my own:  Rodriguez should get broomed and Harbaugh should be installed here, but if that doesn't happen my reaction will largely be "meh."  In the three years that he has been the head coach, the offense have demonstrably improved, just as we thought it would.  The problem is that the defense has actually regressed each year.  Even before the Woolfolk injury, this defense was set up to be likely the worst in program history.  This is not a reflection on the effort put in by the players - they never quit.  However, the slew of events that got us here are dismaying.  Justin Turner failed to develop into a Big 10 player despite hype.  Vlad Emilien transferred.  Cissoko turned out to be a petty thief.  Warren bounced to the NFL.  This isn't all on coaching - certainly Woolfolk's injury wasn't.  However, the slew of player departures on the defensive side of the ball, whether it be by virtue of failing to develop as a player, or by being a bonehead, has something to do with coaching.  I know Rodriguez's offense has shown improvement, but the defense has shown regression.

Compounding this is the fact that Rodriguez is now 0-2 on defensive coordinators.  He has not shown the ability to evaluate that job at Michigan.  What makes you think that his 3rd coordinator in 4 years is going to change that pattern?  He continues to inexplicably shoehorn the 3-3-5 defense into this situation, despite his coordinator not having any experience with it.  I know that defense is young and that schemes are way overrated, but if you're coaching a young defense, why would you put them in a situation that they probably never ran in high school, and your primary coach has no experience with?  The results are regression.

Special teams are another area where we clearly are not competitive, and again have shown regression.  The kicking situation is laughable.  The coverage on kickoffs were just begging one to be returned to the house throughout the season until Ohio State finally obliged.  Punting has been largely fine, until Hagerup went and got himself suspended for the most important game of the year.  And kudos to Rodriguez for doing it, but it probably cost us 10 points.  The results, again, are regression.

Even the win-loss total, which did improve, is a little bit of a smoke-screen.  Consider:

  • Rodriguez has never beaten a team that finished in the AP top-25.
  • Rodriguez's conference record against teams ending with a winning record is 0-12.

Yes, we won 7 games this year and got bowl eligible, but the teams we beat (barely) were bad teams.  The games we lost were not competitive.  So, in year three, we're barely beating bad teams to get bowl eligible, but losing non-competitively with teams that are in the upper echelon of the conference.  The win-loss improvement may get Rodriguez another year - it's certainly the baseline by which to judge improvement.  I would just like to see the manner in which we've won and loss games be hinging a little more towards the competitive side of things before we declare victory.  Keep in mind that the Illinois game hung by a thread, and at 6-6 I'm not sure we're even having this conversation civilly. 

The problem is that when you predict 7-5 at the beginning of the season, you expect it to go a certain way.  I thought we'd lose to Uconn, or Notre Dame, and start the season at 1-1.  When Michigan ran out to a 5-0 record, don't expectations have to change slightly?  I'm not saying that a Big Ten Championship was on the line, but with a 5-0 record, don't you at least expect to play competitively in the Big Ten and maybe steal one from Penn State playing with a walk-on, or Iowa who turned out to just not be very good?  Rodriguez's teams consistently lose to teams that they should lose to, and I have no problem with this.  The problem I have is that when a Rodriguez team lines up against teams that are coin-flip games, or even games that Michigan should have a slight advantage in, they tend to lose those too. Quite simply, there have been just too many 2009 Purdue and Illinois, and 2010 Penn State loses on Rodriguez's Michigan record.

Michigan under Rodriguez is not only losing, but they're losing uncompetitively in his third year.  The offense has improved leaps and bounds - but only enough to mask the defensive and special teams regression for 7 wins.  What's more, I have little faith in Rodriguez's ability to right the ship in either area after whiffing on 2 coordinator hires. 

As I said in the disclaimers portion of this post:  I am a Michigan fan, and I actually like Rodriguez.  I think he's a genuinely good guy who, despite the assertions of his detractors, has kept the best interest of Michigan and his players in good standing.  He has had monumental hurdles to overcome since day 1 on the job, both on and off the field.  He has, in this regard, been phenomenally unlucky.  Could he have succeeded at Michigan under different circumstances?  Maybe.  Will he be given one more year to prove it?  Maybe.  But at some point you've thrown out enough bathwater so as to have no choice but to throw the baby out with it.  I have reached that point.  As I stated before, if he stays, my reaction will largely be "meh" and I'll continue to root for him to succeed - I want him to succeed.  It's just that now, after year three, I think there's enough evidence that this isn't working, and we need to get some new blood in here.