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Michael Rosenberg Kicks Rich Rodriguez On The Way Out

From time to time I read Michael Rosenberg's work over at the  I dislike most of what is written, mainly because I think the work is largely unoriginal, uninformative, poorly researched, and perhaps most surprisingly for a local newspaper organization in such close proximity to the epicenter of events,  frequently wrong. 

These aspects are especially true whenever Mr. Rosenberg's labors broach the subject of Michigan football and former head coach Rich Rodriguez.

Now, I admit that I have been, and continue to be a Rich Rodriguez supporter myself. I like the man. I think he's a good football coach and a good person.   He's not eloquent, nor the most polished person you'll ever meet in his profession perhaps.  But I like his offensive strategy, as well as his philosophy about college football player conditioning.  I also like that he genuinely cares about his players, their education, their families, and their well-being.

But I also agree with Rodriguez's many critics that he was stubborn at times and made many poor coaching decisions at Michigan that lead to his undoing.  Rich Rodriguez was fired this week, and it was Mr. Rosenberg who spent a great deal of his time and energy the last 4 years convincing the world how unworthy Rich Rodriguez was. 

Today's article was a surprise to me that the Freep and Mr. Rosenberg apparently remain restless. Rodriguez has been shown the door, but there's still some need to convince or remind people just why it was that Rich Rodriguez failed at U-M.

Rosenberg's piece is wordy and takes the readers all over the place, starting with tiresome stops about Michigan's recently launched national coaching search along with some pointless, uninformed guesses about Jim Harbaugh's career aspirations.  It's only at the end that we finally get to the real reasons. I summarize my understanding of the arguments why below:

Why Rich Rodriguez Failed at U-M according to the Freep and Mr. Rosenberg:

1. Because Rich Rodriguez forgot to coach overnight. (Rosenberg needs to start using a spelling and grammar checker on his editing program).

2. Because Rich Rodriguez was under-qualified. He had 3 good years at West Virginia and that's it.   It was not good enough for Michigan, ergo he should never have been hired.

3. Because Rich Rodriguez won most of his games against lousy competition.

4. Rich Rodriguez was 43-43 over last 7 years at WVU and Michigan (math error)

5. Rich Rodriguez failed at hiring assistant coaches.

6. Rich Rodriguez failed at recruiting.

7. Because the University of Michigan is "so much better" than Rich Rodriguez.

I think Rosenberg is right with No. 5. I agree half-heartedly with No. 3 because it's easy to damn Rodriguez and WVU's strength of schedule over that period, particularly in hindsight after RR's horrid record and coaching failures at UM.  If Rodriguez had won more games though, argument No. 3 would be irrelevant . This same approach could be applied to any coach's strength of schedule history really.  Why doesn't anybody care about Urban Meyer's strength of schedule while at Bowling Green or while at Utah? Does all of that disqualify him from the Florida post? Would Gary Patterson's work at Kansas State discount his undefeated TCU season in 13-0? No. Doing so just blows up the argument that insists Rich Rodriguez really is a good-for-nothing low life.

The remaining list of reasons by Rosenberg I consider to be a combination of stupidity, laziness and mean-spirited elitism.

I've got more to say about his article after the jump.

Why Rich Rodriguez failed at U-M


Six weeks ago, the two people who seemed most likely to coach Michigan in 2011 were Rich Rodriguez and Jim Harbaugh. It won't be either. So who is next?

Let's say this, up front: Michigan remains a premier job. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise. Don't let them say that if Rodriguez couldn't win in Ann Arbor and Harbaugh doesn't want to be there, Michigan has lost its luster.

OK, Mr. Rosenberg. We won't let them tell us these things.  Thanks for the tip.

Most of Michigan's current recruits are still coming to Michigan regardless of Rodriguez's departure and his unknown replacement. There will no doubt be attrition from the current UM roster.  We'll all be sure to read from the Freep how that player attrition is all  Rich Rodriguez's fault. Meanwhile, Colin Cowherd and other ESPN talking heads might say things like "Michigan has lost its luster" to boost listener delight/rage and thereby program ratings, but the fact is that Michigan's athletic programs  and facilities are still regarded with great esteem nationally and many still await planned upgrades.  This fact is still especially true for football. Thanks for pointing out the obvious to readers though.

After firing Rodriguez, athletic director Dave Brandon evaded questions at Wednesday's news conference about whether he had talked with Harbaugh recently about taking the job. Brandon also said he thought Harbaugh would go to the NFL. Do the math: Brandon knows Harbaugh isn't coming to Michigan.

Another brilliant deduction. As for "doing the math", we'll need to correct some math below?

For a while, I had reason to believe U-M had a real shot at Harbaugh. And if Harbaugh, who turned 47 last month, wanted to be a college coach forever, I think he would have jumped at the Michigan job. But he knows if he goes to U-M now, it will take him at least two or three years to reach a level he has reached at Stanford -- and would delay any chance to go to the NFL. Scratch him off the list. It sounds like Brandon already has. Related: Michigan fires Rich Rodriguez

I don't understand the reason to give readers instructions about the coaching search. Scratch what off?  If something important is known about the coaching search, then why stammer around on the subject?  Just write about it.

I am amused by people who say Rodriguez "didn't forget to coach overnight." OK, fine. But why should his ability be defined only by his three excellent years at West Virginia and not the other seven years of his Division I career?

I think Rosenberg means "didn't forget how to coach overnight".  Because the expression"to coach overnight" would have almost certainly implied a "major" NCAA violation - an important subject matter about which the writer and his crack research team at the Freep know nothing.

And being "amused" by the conversations and debates one is having within one's own skull could be a sign of psychosis. Who could it be framing such counter-arguments on Rodriguez's behalf about his short-term memory problem associated with coaching football?   Is it Mark Twain? Boba Fett?  I knew it.  It was Boba Fett, right?

2005-2007 seasons at West Virginia happen to still be excellent selling points for Rich Rodriguez as a head coach. They would be for any college football coach. They are not the only selling points, of course,  but the writer is eager to discount any and all of Rodriguez's past successes. Why? And compared to what?  Les Miles?  Jim Harbaugh?  Lou Holtz? Before arriving to Michigan Rodriguez won more games as a head coach than Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr and Les Miles combined before their respective first years of head coaching at major programs.  Rodriguez was not perfect, but he "didn't forget how to coach overnight".  There were many other factors as to why Rodriguez failed at Michigan.  His previous head coaching experience is not a valid reason. Color Mr. Rosenberg skeptical until Rodriguez demonstrates success anywhere else but Michigan.

Rodriguez's record in those seven years at U-M and WVU is 43-43. In 10 years at two major-conference schools, Rodriguez has won seven games against teams that finished the year ranked in the top 25 -- and only one against a team that finished in the top 10. (Those numbers jump to eight and two if you give Rodriguez credit for West Virginia's victory in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl after he left for Michigan.)

Talk about "do the math", sheesh! Where in the world does 43-43 come from?  The writer states "seven years at UM and WVU".  Well, this means 2004 through 2010 seasons. Rodriguez was 65-31 during this period - 9 losses coaching at WVU and 22 losses coaching at Michigan. Not 43-43.

And why not perform a like comparison of strength of schedule for Lloyd Carr, Urban Meyer, Les Miles over a 10 year period? Why leave that out? 

Then we get to the part where the writer needs to take remedial courses in logic and argument. Applying one set of critical standards to Rodriguez in this paragraph that were not applied when Bo, Gary and Lloyd were hired as head coach at Michigan is unjust. Schembechler's record at Miami (OH) before Michigan was 40-17-3. Not bad, but not exactly setting the world on fire either. The highlight of Gary Moeller's early career was a 29-13 win at Northwestern in 1979. He was a pathetic 6-24-3 as a head coach before coming to Michigan.  Lloyd Carr was never a head coach anywhere before being dubbed UM head coach successor to Moeller.  The writer thinks 65-31 is Rodriguez rolling around in pig excrement.

Acknowledged. So the writer cannot avoid being disingenuous. But if one is going to criticize Rich Rodriguez and all future Michigan coaches about the merits of their past victory count and strength of schedule, then one must at least have the decency to apply that same critical measure fairly and equitably to predecessors (and successors) for proper contrast.

I'm not saying Rodriguez is as bad as his Michigan record -- he did have three wonderful years at West Virginia and three other decent ones. But he is responsible for his failure at Michigan. For all the complaining about the Les Miles crowd and Lloyd Carr's disgruntled players and the media and "the drama," Rodriguez failed at the most important tasks for a coach: hiring assistant coaches and recruiting.

Congratulations on another unoriginal and obvious double conclusion.  Everyone under the sun understands that Rodriguez failed in hiring quality defensive coordinators and defensive staff. However, the second conclusion about failing at recruiting is patently false 

Rodriguez actually did a good job of recruiting under very difficult circumstances, including losing records, repeat losses to key rivals, an organized media vendetta, an internal and NCAA investigation into improprieties about practice hours, negative recruiting and negative commentary from past players.  Rodriguez also experienced an unusual amount of player attrition in 2008 and from his own recruiting classes of 2009 and 2010. Most of this attrition was bad fortune and not related to Rodriguez  himself.  Lloyd Carr had similar bad fortune with the ridiculous attrition of his highly-ranked 2005 recruiting class. 

We should pause to remember that we are trying to frame an argument about "Why Rodriguez failed at UM" but no evidence has been cited.  No concrete examples given to make the case clear, like this: Rodriguez signed recruiting classes ranked 6th, 14th and 12th ( in the land respectively during  in his 3 years at Michigan (while Michigan faced heavy negative recruiting tactics in the field).  Lloyd Carr's last 3 recruiting classes were ranked 6th, 13th and 12th (also while Michigan faced different, but still heavy negative recruiting tactics in the field).  Oh, did I just blow to smithereens the "failure to recruit argument" right there by using actual recruiting class rankings? So, Carr and Rodriguez's recent recruiting classes were ranked similarly?   Do you believe that 15 seconds of research online can make the commentary of highly paid journalists with Michigan degrees look incompetent?

That's why this regime was not salvageable.

To his credit, Brandon saw that. Brandon said at the news conference that he did not decide Rodriguez's fate until Tuesday night. On Tuesday afternoon, the Free Press, plus two other media outlets, reported that the decision already had been made.

If you're a Michigan fan, do you even want Brandon's version to be true? Would you really want Brandon to wake up Tuesday morning unsure of what he would do?

I don't fault Brandon for saying it. He needs the perception that he gave Rodriguez a fair evaluation until the end. And if there is any evidence that the decision was made before Jan. 1, Rodriguez could try to recoup another $1.5 million in buyout money from Michigan. (The buyout for his six-year contract dropped from $4 million to $2.5 million Jan. 1.)

Brandon needs to move on from the Rodriguez era as quickly and painlessly as possible. Rodriguez wasn't shy about blaming factions, Carr, etc., when he was still employed by Michigan. Now that he needs another job, do you think he will sit back and take full responsibility?

This is just shameless stomping on Rodriguez's grave, man.  For what? The writer should be ashamed of himself.  Seriously. Did he even read Rodriguez's statement released today (January 6, 2011)?  Were those the comments of a con-artist, blaming everyone else but himself?  Has he listened to nothing that the Michigan players have said over the last several months?

Rodriguez already publicly accepted full responsibility for Michigan's losing seasons and lack of success on the field.  A better question would be this: When do people start taking responsibility for failing to pay attention?

That should be enough. But what the writer wants is some kind of grandiose public apology from Rich Rodriguez, to which Rodriguez is not obligated, and one that the writer doesn't deserve.

Rodriguez's people got a head start on the spin campaign by leaking a document to that read, in part: "Rich Rodriguez was right when he said not even Vince Lombardi could solve the current problems (at Michigan). At least Lombardi was able to send men to battle men; Rodriguez has had to send teenagers to battle men." That story was published the day before the Gator Bowl.

Who are "Rodriguez's people" and please cite the sources and evidence to back up this assertion.  This is the part where the writer could at least feign to know something about investigative journalism. And so it's true. He didn't read Rich Rodriguez's official statement.

The last three years have been such a debacle -- some day, it all will seem like a bad dream. There has been too much blame, too much paranoia and not nearly enough true leadership. The University of Michigan is so much better than this. Now Brandon has to find the guy who can prove it.

In closing I find it remarkably sad that Michael Rosenberg believes it must be people like himself and the media outlet he works for are the ones to frame the discussion around what makes the University of Michigan "so much better than this".  I highly doubt that subscribers of the Detroit Free Press want to pay money to read about the University of Michigan's innate superiority over Mr. Rodriguez.  Rich Rodriguez failed at his charge.  He did not make good decisions in hiring assistants.  He recruited his players and installed his offense, defense and conditioning program at Michigan.  The three Michigan teams he coached were either very young, very inexperienced or both.  These things combined to undermine Rodriguez's rate of success on the field. He is responsible.  

I would congratulate Mr. Rosenberg on his success in running Rodriguez out of town, except I would be unsurprised he already has congratulated himself. For what exactly, I do not understand.  It cannot be about anything remotely related to fairness, integrity, conscience or good, informative, investigative journalism.