While I think this latest Rich Rodriguez scandal could do some long term damage to his tenure at Michigan, I'll start this post by saying that I think there's a mountain being made out of a mole hill here to some degree with this Rich Rodriguez stuff. I mean, let's be real here. EVERY school (and by every school, I mean every single school out there) is doing this same stuff. Are people really that naive to think every school in the country isn't violating these mandatory practice time limit things?? My HIGH SCHOOL does this stuff!! We used to have to come in on Saturday and Sunday for film sessions, weightlifting, scouting reports, meetings, etc. By the time you added all that up, it was probably 7-8 hours of being at the high school on the weekend.
If high schools (and it's not like I went to some national power high school) are requiring their players to come in on the weekends and stay all day for various things, is there any doubt that college football coaches are requiring the same thing?? Does anyone really think Nick Saban isn't bringing the fellas in for 10 hours on a Sunday to watch film, do a workout, get a read on the upcoming opponent, do a little school work, and maybe do some training table stuff?? Of course he is!! Maybe they aren't in full pads doing the Oklahoma drill for two hours on a Sunday morning, but I bet they are doing work in some capacity. I'd be willing to bet that most football players spend their entire day at the football facility. Some of it is just unwinding from the game the day before, but there's also business to take care of. Major college football is 7 days a week, 365 days a year these days. If you aren't doing what it takes to keep up, your program probably isn't going to be very good.
If you think these coaches stand there with a stop watch and kick everyone out after two hours of film study on Sunday morning, you are KIDDING YOURSELF. The whole notion of the "voluntary" workout is laughable. It's not voluntary. Anyone who has ever participated in organized team sports knows that "voluntary" is code for "mandatory." Do you really think Charlie Weis or Mack Brown or Jim Tressel just sends the kids off for the summer without knowing what they are doing as far as workouts go?? Cmon. If you blow off the summer workouts or don't put in the extra time, you're probably not going to have a very good season. And the coaches all monitor this stuff and who is participating. It's not voluntary in any way. As Dan Hawkins would say, this ain't intermurals brother. Everyone is "cheating" if you even want to call it that.
Honestly, I would be disappointed if my team WASN'T bending those time limit rules!! I'm dead serious about that. If I found out that my favorite team was hanging at the local tavern on Sunday afternoon watching the Ticket, I'd probably be pencilling them in for a losing season. The more work you put in off the field, the more games you win on the field. So if I was a Michigan fan, I'd probably be quietly pleased to hear that Rodriguez was working his team that hard in practice. Rodriguez came to Michigan to tear down the "country club atmosphere" of the Lloyd Carr era. Apparently, that meant extra work on Sundays that some guys weren't used to doing.
Ok, with that out of the way, I do think the bigger problem for Rich Rodriguez is the perception problem. This story has everything that people have suspected about Rich Rodriguez since he's been at Michigan. Player dissension, bending rules, abusive atmosphere, factions of alumni who aren't happy with the program. It seems like Rich Rodriguez can't get out of the quicksand at Michigan.
With all the problems that he has had, the last thing he needed at this point was a huge cheating scandal. Could you imagine being a recruit who was looking at Michigan?? Wouldn't you be leery about what was going on up there?? Not only are there rumors of disgruntled players, but there's also the possiblity of NCAA sanctions.
While I'm not ruling out the possiblity that Rich Rodriguez will end up doing very well at Michigan, the name that keeps popping up for me is Billy Clyde Gillespie. The similarities are there. By all accounts, Gillespie was a great coach at Texas A&M and UTEP, but he just never fit in at Kentucky. He never understood what it was like to coach at one of the crown jewels of college basketball. The kids who go to Kentucky don't go there to be broken down and remolded. They are already great basketball players who just want to be well-coached and win games. Gillespie tried to use his model for building a team, but it never really caught on with his players at Kentucky.
When things started off poorly (Gardner-Webb, etc) for him at Kentucky, things just started to snowball downhill. Every time it seemed like he was turning the corner, they'd have a setback that killed their momentum. In the big picture, it never seemed like he was taking them toward their ultimate goal: getting back to the Final Four.
That's kind of where I see this Rich Rodriguez saga heading. I think he's a very good football coach, but it just seems like he does not fit in culturally up there. I don't know where that program is going. If he stays there, is he going to get them back to being a top 10 program even though his recruiting has not been spectacular to this point??
The other problem for Rodriguez is the strong faction of Michigan people that wanted Les Miles instead of Rodriguez. They seem determined to create as many problems for Rich Rodriguez as possible. And I get why they feel that way. They have a vision of what Michigan football should be all about, and Rich Rodriguez doesn't fit that vision. Big, physical offensive lines, good power running game, big quarterback with great pro style receivers, and a big physical defense. They've been like that for as long I can remember. Rich Rodriguez is the complete opposite of that. He wants speed, scat backs, dual threat QBs, quick linemen, and a speed-oriented defense. Some older Michigan guys probably just can't get past that. That's not Michigan football.
For whatever reason, sometimes good coaches don't fit in everywhere. I wouldn't be shocked if Billy Gillespie wound up at some Big 12 school and did a very nice job. You don't do what he did at Texas A&M if you can't coach. He just wasn't the right answer at Kentucky. Kentucky fans want the rock star head coach. The flashy guy who goes after the best recruits and charms the fans and sells the sizzle. Deep down, UK fans don't care about probation or cheating. They just want to win. Calipari is the perfect fit for them. It just took them a couple tries to get the right guy.
I think that might be where Michigan ends up after this year. Rich Rodriguez is a good coach, but he doesn't fit the Michigan Man ethos. He's a country boy who thought he could come in and do his "I'm going to make you a man" act. That stuff can work at a place like West Virginia where there's more of a blue collar environment, but Michigan is a different animal. Michigan is one of the blue blood programs out there, and it might require a little different approach than what Rich Rodriguez has to offer. Rich Rodriguez might end up back in the Big East or the ACC and do well there. But I'm starting to wonder how long he will at Michigan.
If I was Michigan and it becomes patently obvious that Rich Rodriguez is not the answer, I would move heaven and earth to go get Les Miles and bring him to Ann Arbor. The timing wasn't right last time, but I'd be willing to bet that Miles still wants to be the head coach at Michigan someday. I don't think Miles is the best coach in the game, but he's a Michigan kinda coach. The type of guy who will embrace the "Michigan way" and the Michigan style of play. He'll bring in the assistants that he needs to recruit and win, and they'll get back to 9-10 wins a year with an occasional run at better than that. At the end of the day, that's about as good as it gets at Michigan these days.
The other guy I would look at is Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh has a lot to prove at Stanford, but I could see him getting them to a bowl this year. Say what you want about the guy, but he can recruit and sell a program like no one else. Harbaugh would get out there nationally and sell Michigan's program. Michigan has to recruit nationally to be successful, and Harbaugh is the type of guy who would do that. Harbaugh is hungry to succeed, and that can be a powerful thing. Of course, he is a huge risk at this point, but I have a feeling that he will be a hot commodity in the next couple years.
I've written a few times on this blog that Rich Rodriguez would change the face of Big Ten football and wreak havoc on the league over the next 3-5 years, but I've completely changed my tune at this point. I think they're headed for another shaky year and a new coach in 2010. In the long run, that might be the best thing for that program.
I am headed up to Ann Arbor next weekend for the ND-Michigan game, and would love nothing more than to see the Irish drive that first nail into Rich Rodriguez's coffin at Michigan. It would be nice to see the Irish being the team that ends coaching careers instead of the other way around.