Rich Rodriguez’s introduction as the new head football coach at the University of Michigan surprised some people, but after having lived in the world of intercollegiate athletics, I don’t think anything of a coaching nature will ever shock my system. In a world of “stay one step ahead of the posse,” coaches are constantly on the move.
Not that Rodriguez was close to having his head on the chopping block. Au contraire, he was revered at his alma mater, West Virginia, and probably could have retired there if he chose to do so. Therein lies another facet of college coaching. Looking for the perfect place - the coaching “nirvana” - where you have that chance to “win it all” on a yearly basis. Rodriguez leaves self-proclaimed “almost heaven” for The Big House and one of the most storied football programs in the land.
The tradition at UM (the last time they had fewer than 110,000 fans at a game was before they expanded the stadium), the fact that coaches last there pretty much as long as they want to, the fertile recruiting area and the dream of nearly every Michigan-born boy of becoming a Wolverine and wearing the maize and blue (not to mention getting fitted for that ugly helmet) must have been too much of an enticement.
Keep in mind, the last time we saw this guy (after WVU’s “incredible beyond belief” loss to a pretty poor Pitt team, causing them a shot a the national title - and a serious threat of heart failure of many, if not all, of the BCS cronies), people were making calls to the suicide prevention hot line. Most coaches handle press conferences in one of two ways - take the high road (”We had a great season and this loss, while disappointing, doesn’t diminish that one bit”) or becoming downright hostile (blaming referees or ranting about how when the chips were on the line, “We didn’t execute and that’s my damn fault and I take full responsibility for it” - knowing that not for a second does he believe that and doesn’t want to wring a player’s or coach’s neck for a bad performance or call). Instead, we saw a coach who was absolutely devastated, at a loss for words and, reading between the lines, a coach who felt like he might have just lost the only chance he’d ever have at West Virginia to accomplish such an monster goal. Now he had a reprieve - he could coach at a school where they felt the national championship was theirs to lose. If he recruited well (one of the highest rated hgh school quarterbacks in the country, the type of QB he needed to run his system, publicly came out and said he was adding Michigan to his list after Rodriguez signed on at UM). If he brought his wide open style of offense to a Neanderthal conference still of the belief the team that wins is the one that pounds people into submission, well, it just could be successful, interesting and a lot of fun.
Another factor being reported that may have played a part was a deterioation of his relationship within the athletics department, something that does surprise me because West Virginians love their own and I can’t think of another major state institution that has two of its graduates coaching the two most high profile sports (Rodriguez and Bob Huggins). But relationships are built on trust and trust, once violated, can seldom be regained.
Although he probably could have stayed for many, many more years at WVU - and it would have been the “safe” choice for him, Rich Rodriguez may just feel there’s another challenge with higher rewards. And when it comes down to it:
“There are two kinds of people - those who want to get things done and those who don’t want to make mistakes.”