I had a post on this topic written, then held off on posting it because I felt everybody else in the hemisphere had already distributed their opinion to the internet, and I would just be piling on. But then this happened:
And since my cancer blog exists for you, not me, I'll oblige.
But I don't really know what to say. I've generally been a supporter of Rich Rodriguez. I really haven't changed my position that much. If anything, I've gone from, "I'll be upset if he is fired" to "I really don't care if he's fired."
Arguing this issue is pretty much futile at this point. I'm not going to convince you; you aren't going to get me to pick up a torch and pitchfork and join the mob. I guess if I had to put my position in a nutshell, it would be this: I still think Rodriguez gives us the best chance for success in the near future, and while I'm watching the same crap on the field as everybody else, I don't attribute it all to Rodriguez to the degree that others do.
I pretty much just feel sorry for the guy. Some people just hated him from the get-go. I talked to one such individual the other day who argued that he didn't like Rodriguez because of the "baggage" he brought with him from West Virginia (although he didn't articulate what that "baggage" was) and because he wasn't a "Michigan Man" (whatever that means). He inherited a roster depleted by disastrous recruiting and attrition from 2005-2007 (see here, here, and here). He lost two major players - one who didn't like his offensive system and one who didn't like doing work. A local-newspaper-which-shall-not-be-named launched a hit piece against him in 2009 (see here and here), which torpedoed recruiting for two years (why commit to a coach that allegedly runs his players into the ground and a program facing possible sanctions?). Things got to the point where he couldn't even make a completely reasonable comment at a press conference without it getting stripped of all context and twisted into absurd headlines.
And I just think a lot of the VenomRage spit at Rodriguez is silly. I mean, I think 95% of it is objective bullshit. And it's really all the same stuff: Describe what everyone sees, say "IT STARTS AT THE TOP" OR "THIS IS MICHIGAN," add some conclusory statements, and voila! You have an argument against Rich Rodriguez. Here, I'll try a few just for my own amusement:
Winless against MSU and OSU, our two biggest rivals. This is unacceptable. This Big East crap will not work in the Big Ten. To win a Big Ten championship, you need to focus on defense! Instead, we have a coach who only cares about his offense, and he can't even get that right. Sure we rack up yards, but then we end each drive with a killer turnover or penalty. That's on the coaches! This team isn't tough, focused, or disciplined. Oh and seriously, we can't find a kicker? This is Michigan, dammit! We're better than that.That argument is simple enough for everybody to understand, and I get it. You're angry. You need a target for your rage. And as the old saying goes, "if you can't fire the players, fire the coach."
I get your argument, folks. I disagree with it, but I don't think it's terribly unreasonable. You're unhappy with the way things are going. So am I. If firing Rich Rodriguez will make you happy, fine. If you've stuck with this team for the past three years, you've earned the right to feel that way.
But here's what I think: We fire Rodriguez...and then what? "Hire Harbaugh" is the response of roughly 90% of the Fire DickRod crowd, I would guess. Which...you would think the last three years would suck some of the arrogance out of the Michigan fanbase. At least to the point where we wouldn't assume that we could simply point at any coach in the country and have him drop everything and come running to us at a moment's notice. And then what? Is Harbaugh bringing pixie dust with him? Is it the same pixie dust Obama brought with him in 2009? Are you cool with another rebuilding process? Are you sure we're not going to lose any key players or recruits? Are you ok with Denard Robinson playing WR or RB? Are you aware that we were all just as giddy about Les Miles three years ago, and now he's an afterthought because his stock has dropped with our fanbase even though he wasn't even our coach? What kind of offense does Harbaugh run? How about his defense? Oh and what if we don't even get Harbaugh? Who's your choice then? And do you preemptively promise not to start screaming again in three years that we haven't made enough "progress" to please you?
If you have considered all these things and have halfway decent answers, then good for you. But my guess is that most people who want Rodriguez fired have been too busy screaming at their TV to consider all of the above.
But here's why I don't think any of this crap matters: Athletic Director Dave Brandon is a businessman. And in business, the customer is always right. And right now, half of Brandon's customers despise Rich Rodriguez - rightly or wrongly - and the other half are indifferent to his firing. (Actually it's broken up by thirds, with 1/3 wanting him gone, 1/3 wanting him to say, and 1/3 unsure. But I would argue the people who want him to stay aren't exactly willing to fight to save his job. And that most of the "unsure" portion hates the guy but is too afraid of another rebuilding process).
Michigan can't go on with a fan base this polarized. Do I think Brandon would fire Rodriguez just to appease a fanbase? Probably not. But it would certainly factor into his equation. A good chunk of the fanbase didn't like the guy from the get-go. Why would they change their mind on him after one more year?
I'd be more confident in Rodriguez sticking around if Harbaugh wasn't out there. But Harbaugh is out there. And a coaching change at this point would please at least half of the Michigan fanbase, and piss off pretty much nobody. There's a huge benefit with little risk. Of course, there's always the risk that Michigan will undergo another three year rebuilding period. But I have a feeling the fanbase would me much more patient with Harbaugh than they have been with Rodriguez.
I don't think much of it makes sense. The disappointment, yes. The unabashed, unarticulable hatred, no. But in business, it doesn't matter. The customer is always right.
For what it's worth, the thing that pushed me right near the edge was Groban-fest the other night. Whatever you think about it, it was far too close to this:
For my tastes.
The one thing I fear is the one thing I have always feared: that Michigan will become permanently irrelevant. It's bad enough that we've already become a laughingstock. I place a chunk of the blame for this on Rodriguez; not as much as some others do. But many others don't care about that sort of analysis and have hated the guy since day one. I'm not engaging those people in this discussion.
But the real question is who is the best choice going forward. This question isn't any easier, and it's pretty distinct from the first question. I still think it's Rodriguez. I don't think many others have thought this question through. But I'm not sure it matters.
If and when Rodriguez gets the ax, I'll feel bad for the guy. But I won't be breaking down Dave Brandon's door.