Posts Tagged ‘college football’

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Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez Coaches Last Game for Wolverines

01.01.11

I’ve argued in favor of keeping Michigan football head coach Rich Rodriguez around for another year, but nothing I can say will help him now.  He’s just coached his last game for the Wolverines.

It’s not official yet.  And there’s no guarantee on who will take his place.  Though, it’s all just formality at this point.

You can’t get embarrassed on a national stage, losing by 38 points to a solid-not-great Mississippi State squad, after three years of record-breaking futility for the winningest program in college football history and expect to keep your job.  And since Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon has stayed mum on whether or not he’d be keeping RichRod around for another season, it seems highly unlikely that, based on this performance, he’d be swayed in his favor.

The one thing going for RichRod all year has been the potent offense – namely: Denard Robinson.  Unfortunately, one player doesn’t make up for 10-plus ineffective (Mike Martin has been solid when healthy) guys on defense who would have trouble stopping a pee-wee team if given the challenge.  That and special teams killed our season.

Although, us RichRod apologists can’t even point at the offense to save his job anymore, either.  The last two games have shown an out-of-sync offense that only put up a combined 21 points while their opponents racked up an unbelievable 89 ticks on the scoreboard.  Granted, they’ve had unrealistic expectations since they’ve known they needed to score a touchdown on every single position to even have a chance in every game given the pathetic display by the defense.  Still: it’s not going to cut it.

But those things can be remedied.  Even those who can’t stand RichRod and haven’t from the start know that those are fixable issues.  If we had gotten one kicker (should be easier than UM has made it seem), senior cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk doesn’t get injured in the beginning of the season and Donovan Warren doesn’t leave early for the NFL, and we’ve got a vastly different scenario.

That’s not the issue.

The issue is that there’s no confidence in Rodriguez and his program anymore.  People have been calling for his head for nearly all of the barely 36 months that he’s been coach.  Hallowed former Michigan players like Desmond Howard aren’t even all-in on the coach.  Judging on just Rodriguez’s own body language over the weeks, I don’t even know how much confidence he even has anymore in himself and the program.

While I’ve been in favor of giving Rodriguez one more year to build on the success that he’s made every consecutive year in rebuilding the Michigan program virtually from the ground up, I have to concede that another year won’t matter.  Not that he doesn’t have the talent to coach a winning program; he’s proven he can do that at West Virginia University.  But in the current environment, after all of the negativity surrounding the Wolverines over the past three years, with the insanely minute scrutiny that Rodriguez and his coaches and players would have on them (even more so than an average Michigan squad), it would take a miracle to sooth the naysayers.

Even then, I’m not sure that would be enough.

And so, the Rodriguez era ends with a 7-6 record in a calamitous loss to an SEC team that the Wolverines made look like national title contenders.  I suppose it’s for the best: now there’s not even a decision to be made on Rodriguez’s fate for Brandon.  It’s been made for him.

Which leaves the next decision up to him: who will be Michigan’s next head coach? If you listen to the sports pundits across the board, it will most likely be either Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh or San Diego State University head coach Brady Hoke – both Michigan men who have had run strong programs at non-traditional schools.  And that just might be the missing component that Rich Rodriguez would never be able to fix.

Let’s see if it’s enough to bring Michigan back into national contention.  As a huge Wolverines fan, I can only hope so.

Image courtesy of One Raised Eyebrow’s Flickr Photostream.

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Michigan Football Deserves Better From Fans

12.11.10

Michigan fans at the moment generally consist of two separate camps: those who are skeptical of head coach Rich Rodriguez’s ability to win but are willing to give him another year to see; and those who have zero confidence in him producing a competitive team ever in Ann Arbor.

Both parties want the same thing: to win.  It seems that the different lies mainly in patience.

Joe Okubo at Bleacher Report writes his piece as if he’s from the former group, but he really is a member of the latter. His main point is that RichRod has not had a single signature win nor has he fielded a team that competitive in big games once in his three seasons coaching the Maize and Blue:

How do you let a walk-on QB with a plethora of injuries to almost five starters still pass for 250 yards and look like a Heisman candidate?  How do you let a team you know is going to run the ball torch your defense for six TD’s and almost 600 yards on the ground?  These are just a few things that have been bothering me and we’re only talking about this year.

It’s extraordinarily frustrating how we managed to lose to both Penn State and Wisconsin this year, I agree.  As a Michigan fan, it was difficult to watch and tougher to stomach afterward.  The thing is, though, the issues that Joe brings up are both results of the same issue that affected the team all year: the ridiculously green defense. So when Joe says that these are just a few things that have been bothering him, he’s really saying this is the one thing that’s been bothering me all year long.

It’s one thing – admittedly, a big thing – but one, nonetheless.  It wasn’t as if Michigan inability to stop Wisconsin once during their 30 straight running plays in the second half of that contest was due to Rodriguez not expecting Badgers coach Bret Bielema to run Clay/Ball/White up the gut; it was because the freshmen-led, smallish Michigan defense was no match for the bruising front line and bowling ball halfbacks from Madison.

You could argue that the 3-3-5 defensive scheme is deeply ineffective, and I would agree — though, would any formation have made our rag-tag group of barely-out-of-high-schoolers any better at stopping opposing offenses?  I doubt it.

The fact of the matter is with Rich Rodriguez at the helm we are not competitive.  It was never more apparent than in this year’s OSU game.  A friend and I were talking about what adjustments he could make to have a fighting chance of winning this game.  We had none.  Sure there are injuries to some key players, I understand that.

The teams’ performances against OSU over the past three years have been abyssmal.  We had a decent first half this year, but failed to capitalize on our rare defensive stops and couldn’t put it together on offense either.  But, basing the team’s level of competitiveness based on one game isn’t fair.   We can point to other games where we were clearly competitive, notably both games against Iowa this year and last.

Back in Iowa City in 2009, against a formidable Hawkeye squad ranked 14th in the nation, our true freshmen quarterbacks not only kept us in the game, but nearly marched down the field to a last-minute win if not for an ill-advised interception toss to seal the deal.  It was an extremely entertaining game; and also one in which we had a shot at winning the entire time.  Fast forward to this year against much of the same returning Hawkeyes who were now seniors and ranked 15th in the nation and, while the Maize and Blue started off rusty and got down early, they rallied back within striking distance until — again — interceptions sealed their fate.  Wolverine mistakes kept them out of the “W” column, but not for lack of trying.  Both games could’ve been won.

Same for the 2009 game against Michigan State — we lost in OT.  The 2008 game against Wisconsin, where we managed to actually secure a win, which didn’t happen much that season.  They’ve also beaten Notre Dame two of the past three years under RichRod (a team that ended up being quite competitive in their own right, finishing strong this season).

But for fans like Joe, none of this matters.

For those of you who think he’s winning 9 games next year, great, I appreciate your optimism.  But unless he’s beating MSU, PSU, Iowa and of course OSU, I won’t be happy.

Nine wins and a solid bowl game victory with a bunch of sophomores and juniors should be something we all are happy about. It would mean national title aspirations for 2012, something every Michigan fan wants to get back to.  Joe and I want the same thing; except he seems to want this current young squad to be there already, or, at the very least, no later than next year.  And hey – anything is possible; our offense went from flashes of excitement to 5th in the nation from last year to this year — maybe our defense will make a big leap, as well.

Also, his wishlist for wins is admirable — we’re well overdue for wins over all of those opponents, especially MSU and OSU — but, it’s an extraordinarily tall order even from an experienced, 10-win squad like the 2003 Wolverines who beat OSU, MSU, and Notre Dame… but dropped one to Iowa.  That team went to the Rose Bowl following at 10-win season, pretty much what Bo Schembechler dreamed for every single season.

That said – I’d love to see Michigan beat all of those teams he listed.  It’s been 13 years since a Wolverines squad beat all of them in the same season, not coincidentally also the same year that they won the national title.  I don’t imagine our team will be quite there next year, and if they don’t, I won’t consider it to be a total failure like others.  Nor should they.  If Joe had said that he wanted to see us competitive in all of those key games, I’d have stood behind his words wholeheartedly.  But no good fan can rationally expect a national title every year, calling anything less to be a disappointment.

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To Michigan Fans Still Unhappy Even After a Win: Get Over Yourselves

11.13.10

Michigan won back-to-back Big Ten games for the first time in recent memory by defeating Purdue 27-16 on the road today.

This comes after a monster win over Illinois, smothering the Illini’s two-point conversion attempt on the last play of the game that needed three overtime periods to determine the winner amongst two teams that kept waiting for their defenses to make that one stop that would give them the victory.

Surprisingly: it was the Maize and Blue squad that provided that one crucial goal-line stand after having not done hardly anything of note for… well, pretty much the last two-plus years.  And, it was one of the most thrilling and maddening games I’ve seen the Wolverines play.

After a three-game skid that threatened to look like the futility of the past two seasons, the Wolverines are 7-3, bowl eligible, and even winning games because of their defense (rather than in spite of).

There are fans out there who haven’t been happy with Rich Rodriguez since the day he was hired.  Well, they were probably unsure at that moment but they were for sure unhappy when UM started out his first season with a loss and went on to having an embarrassing 3-9 record.  And it’s been hard to convince them since.

Michigan fans are extremely proud of their school, their football program, and – possibly even more importantly than anything else – their winning tradition. I get it.  I went to Michigan.  I love that we have the winningest program in all of college football history.  I love that we have the biggest football stadium in the country.  I love that we have 11 national titles, 42 conference titles, and 3 Heisman trophy winners. I love that we have had the longest active streak of going to a bowl game.

It’s what’s made these past two seasons that saw only three wins in the Big Ten and no postseason berths (not to mention extending the losing streaks against rivals MSU and OSU) even tougher pills to swallow.  No one likes losing. But when you’re not used to losing more than three (four, tops) games a season, you get spoiled.  You get a sense of entitlement.

Since we’re Michigan, we must be great.  Since we’ve always won a ton of games, we should continue to win a ton of games.

After last week’s win, I saw all kinds of comments on Facebook and on news articles from Michigan fans angry over the win.  Despite the fact that Big Blue scored one in the ‘W’ column after a three-game losing streak and became bowl eligible for the first time in three years (and hopefully starting a new record-breaking streak), people were still calling for RichRod’s head for the fact that the team allowed 65 points to be dumped on them.

People in the comments sections also bemused that anyone would bother being excited for a win over Illinois — you can practically taste the lack of respect dripping off the words, as if beating even an arguably solid (UI has had a defense that ranked in the top-20 in the nation) Big Ten team was below them, because historically we’ve had Illinois’ number so therefore they’re always unworthy of beating us.

Larry Lage described the excitement as such:

“The Wolverines, meanwhile, celebrated as if they had clinched a Rose Bowl bid instead of just a trip to some second-tier bowl. Forcier jumped and screamed as he ran off the field, then slapped hands with fans along the tunnel before racing to the locker room.”

Why shouldn’t everyone rejoice? I’m sure if I had been there, wrapped up in the excitement and intensity of the game, rolling with all the ups and downs of the inherent drama, going from crushing defeat when Forcier lost a fumble on his first play to total elation when the defense stopped Scheelhaase’s pass, I’d have been beside myself, celebrating with my fellow Michigan fans in every way I knew how.  It’s why you go to games.

And, of course, after this week’s win, the Michigan fans that I saw on Facebook and even with whom I texted throughout the game, the messages were all negative and pessimistic.  They declared it an ugly win; as if it were still embarrassing and unacceptable to not play a flawless game despite winning by 11 points, on the road, in the rain and wind, and holding Purdue to not a single offensive touchdown. How cynical and impossible-to-please are we when all we do is focus on the negative in a victory?  Sure we had five turnovers on offense, for the second week in a row.  But, c’mon: leave that for the coaches.  They’re the ones who are supposed to never be happy, even in a win — but not us fans.

I say to those cynical people: get over yourselves.

I think it’s because many of these people aren’t fans of RichRod, so they have to justify their dislike even in the face of his success.  We won?  Well, yeah, but look at those turnovers.  Our defense held Purdue to only field goals?  Great, but they still racked up nearly 300 yards against us.  We outlasted Illinois in triple-overtime?  Did you see the score, though!? At this point, they’re too proud and have been too vocal in their opposition to Rodriguez as head coach that they can’t now admit that our team is improving.  So they have to just focus on the negative and miss the entire joy of watching a team grow before our very eyes.

The fact is that we’re 7-3.  We’re .500 in the Big Ten.  And we’re going to a bowl game.  We are improving.  Our offense is ranked 5th in the nation.  Our rushing offense is set to break all kinds of Michigan records — a school known for its rushing prowess.

To not enjoy these past two victories is to miss the fun in being a fan of a team.  The point of being such a huge fan is that your day is either made or broken by the outcome of this weekly game.  Winning brings euphoria; losing drives you to bitterness and finding yourself irritated by anything anyone does around you all day.  Winning – for us fans, not for the kids who play the game – is everything.  There are no moral victories against your arch-rivals.  There is no consolation in almost.

And, these past two Saturdays in November, we won.

So, let’s enjoy it.

Image courtesy of larrysphatpage’s Flickr Photostream.