Monday, November 1, 2010

Mailbag: Will Rodriguez keep his job?

Maybe it's too early to speculate, but do you think RR has any realistic chance of being back next year? I don't know what Mary Sue Coleman and David Brandon think, but the mediocrity of the product on the field, especially the defense, combined with the violations related to practice time, lead me to believe that he's in trouble.

But I think the most troubling sign for RR is that he seems to have completely lost the support of the very, very large alumni fan base. As an alum ('91) I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but even with this 5-0 start, I saw a lot of the same problems as last year, ie with the defense and the complete inability to retain recruits. But this defense is ridiculous, with the inexperience, lack of pass rush, and stubborn, blind devotion to the 3-3-5.

Personally, I think he should be gone. Bu do you think that'll happen? And do you think there's any realistic scenario with the last month of the season where he ends up saving his job? I'd ask you about potential successors, but I sure we'll get to deal with that on November 29th.

As for the first question, yes, I do see a realistic chance for Rich Rodriguez to retain his job into 2011.  Michigan has a realistic shot at beating Illinois and Purdue, although both will likely be shootouts.  I think Michigan has a chance to win any game they play, if only because of the big play abilities of the offense.  That doesn't mean that the Wolverines should be favored in all four remaining games, but anything can happen when you put up 400 or 500 yards on a weekly basis.  I said before the season that I expected Michigan to have a 7-5 season, and I always thought that would be enough to save Rodriguez's job.  This is gut-check time, but I don't think the final nail has been put in the coffin.

Rodriguez hasn't done himself any favors this year.  The abysmal play of the defense could have been avoided; I've never seen such an inexperienced defense, and yet this inexperienced defense has run so many fronts and coverages that they can't possibly know what's going on every play.  Rodriguez has continued to suffer from attrition (Vlad Emilien, Austin White, Justin Turner, Anthony Lalota, etc.), and arguably the best player in their 2010 class - someone who would have immediately been the best athlete on defense - failed to qualify (Demar Dorsey).  Even some of Rodriguez's decisions on offense have been questionable, although it's hard to argue with the production of that unit.  Overall, Rodriguez hasn't done a great job of coaching this team, but ten freshmen (redshirt and true freshmen) played defense for Michigan on Saturday.  I have no idea how to feel about Michigan's defense from that perspective.  I mean, it's partly Rodriguez's fault that so many freshmen played and so many potential upperclassmen have departed.  At the same time, I don't know that those departed players would be much better than 18-year-olds.

The bottom line is that winning cures all.  Rodriguez may have alienated a large fan base, but if he reels off wins in 3 out of these last 4 games or wins a bowl game, maybe the fan base starts to come around.  I like to think that Michigan fans are classier and smarter than other teams' fans, but the truth is that Wolverine fans would love Carrot Top if he could coach this team to 9 or 10 wins.

I have to admit that although I've been adamant that Rodriguez needed at least three seasons to establish himself in Ann Arbor, Michigan's performance on Saturday really shook my confidence in his ability to be at Michigan for the long term.  I used to cling to the notion that Rodriguez needed at least one season with an upperclassman quarterback before we could really determine whether he could be successful.  Well, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson will both be juniors in 2011.  But guess what?  Even with junior quarterbacks next season, this defense will be littered with oodles of sophomores.  Waiting for experience seems to be a never ending cycle under Rodriguez, because any kid who doesn't earn playing time by his sophomore year decides to book it for Rutgers or Temple or Colorado.  I honestly have no clue whether Rodriguez will be here in 2011 or not, but my gut feeling says a resume highlighted by Big Ten wins over Minnesota, Indiana (twice), and 2008 Wisconsin - and that's it - probably doesn't make powerful people very happy.


  1. While its not ideal, the model for this team (at least in 2011) is Oregon. Their offense is a Machine, but their D kinda stinks. All 3 quality teams they've played have put up over 30 points.

    Its not feasible for Michigan's D to be great next year, but its possible, I'd even say likely that they're not terrible.

    This team can win a big10 title with a well below average D. I thought 6 or 7 wins this year before the season started. Next year I think 9 or 10...assuming no significant attrition, which probably isn't wise.

  2. I don't get what really changed Saturday. Did people really expect no upset losses this season?

    Most reasonable people thought we'd be at 5-3 and here we are. Most reasonable people thought this D would be at least as bad as last years and it is. I realize PSU is down but this was the first truly disappointing defensive performance of the year that the team didn't win in the end (Indiana and UMass were the others).

    The D overachieved against Notre Dame, Iowa and probably UConn. It underachieved against PSU, Indiana, and UMass. Did anyone really expect consistency with this secondary? With these linebackers? After the freshman switching positions on the bye week?

    I'm not surprised by the frustration, but I'm surprised at how many people see a close loss to PSU, on the road, at night, as a good trigger point to jump off the bandwagon.

  3. @ Lankownia

    I expected an upset loss - I predicted that Indiana would beat U of M, and that would have been an upset.

    What I didn't expect is for PSU to torch Michigan for 41 points with a third-string, walk-on quarterback; after a bye week; missing its top two tight ends; missing its free safety; missing a starting tackle; missing a starting defensive end; etc.

    This Penn State team isn't good and they're beat up...and they still made Michigan's defense look like chumps. This isn't just an upset win. It was practically a blowout victory by a team riddled with injuries and lacking talent in the first place.

  4. From the mail bag: "But I think the most troubling sign for RR is that he seems to have completely lost the support of the very, very large alumni fan base."

    Completely is a pretty strong word. I'd certainly say that a *majority* would like to dump Rodriguez, based on my sample of 10-20, but most have made the same points that TTB makes in his post here.

  5. Magnus, it doesn't seem like the coaching dispersion has been commented on part of the issue. Yet, I really think we're seeing the problems with it. Currently, there are 10 coaches on staff.
    Rich Rodriguez - Head Coach
    Calvin Magee - Associate Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator
    Greg Robinson - Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach
    Adam Braithwaite - Safeties Coach
    Tony Dews - Wide Receivers
    Greg Frey - Offensive Line
    Tony Gibson - Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Backs/Special Teams
    Fred Jackson - Running Backs
    Rod Smith - Quarterbacks
    Bruce Tall - Defensive Line

    If you look at the breakdown [and count RR as offensive coach], then that's 6 coaches for offense and 4 coaches for combined defense and special teams, including glorified graduate assistant Braidwaithe. It's no wonder that our special teams and defense suffer from both a skill issue (even considering they are largely freshman) and recruiting.
    Thanks, TriFloyd

  6. Lankownia, if you think the D "The D overachieved against Notre Dame and Iowa," you're setting the bar incredibly low. We gave up 535 yards to a very average ND offense, one playing without its starting QB for nearly half the game. If I'm not mistaken, that's ND's highest yardage output of the season.

    Iowa, meanwhile, scored 38 points. In no way is that overachievement. Yes, they gained "only" 383 yards, but that had a lot to do with them having good field position. We had very few actual defensive stops.

    Truth be told, this defense has been horrendous since week 2. There has been nothing resembling overachievement. Even against a terrible PSU offense, it couldn't get off the field. I don't know how you can't be troubled by that.

    As for people being bothered by an upset loss . . . well, where are the upset wins? Can we ever beat a good team with this coaching staff?

  7. I guess my that I'm willing to accept the PSU disappointment when its balanced by surprising competence against Iowa and UConn and even Notre Dame (though that was helped by Crist getting hurt).

    I don't think PSU was a blowout. Despite no turnovers and making them punt only twice, we were within one score late in the 4th. ONE STOP and we have the ball late with a chance to tie. That doesn't spell doom to me, especially considering what the PSU games felt like in '08 and '09.

    I guess my expectations were so low based on personnel (and losing Woolfolk and Martin) that I see no reason to flip out the first time the defense costs us a game we should have won.

  8. Thank you all for the responses to my post.

    I have a few comments. First, as one poster said, I beg to differ with the assertion that I'm jumping off the bandwagon - I have to sheepishly admit that I have never really been on the RR bandwagon :D That being said, in 1995, I wasn't that excited about Lloyd either. But I'll say this for Lloyd - he won me over, not with his dull personality or pedestrian offensive schemes, but with his penchant for winning big games. I mean, in 1995 and 1996, at the end of somewhat ho-hum seasons by U of M standards, he beat OSU. I mean, how the heck did we beat OSU in 96 at the Horseshoe? They were awesome. We were not. Was it coaching? Luck? Was the talent gap actually not as great as I had thought going into that game? All of the above? So how come RR and his team aren't pulling out these kinds of games? I have no idea...

    I also don't feel like I or anyone else are "flipping out" about the D losing a game we could've won. I'm simply disheartened by the continued lousy performance of our defense, dating back to last year. Yeah, I know about the injuries and recruiting attrition, about the astonishing youth and inexperience on the D, but I just hoped I'd see a little more improvement. I also thought playing against an injury depleted offense that was mediocre to begin with (22 points against Temple at home) was an opportunity for the D to step up and show some moxie - or at least show the ability to make a key stop. Flipping out would imply to me that I was surprised by the performance of Michigan's defense. Sadly, that is not the case; I was not the least bit surprised.

    Second, perhaps I may have overstated it a bit by saying RR has "completely" lost the fan base. I don't know about where other posters are reporting from. All I know is that in my current home of Chicago (aka U of M West) and among my late 80s-early 90s group of alumni friends, it's really hard to find anyone who thinks RR should be around next year. For sure, it's a skewed sampling of fans. However, that sampling does include people with loud voices and deep pockets, people who, in numbers, will be difficult for those in power to ignore in the offseason. FYI, I have neither a loud voice nor deep pockets...

    I also echo your sentiment, Thunder, that this game shook my confidence in RR's future, due in large part to the defense's inability to stop - well, anyone. I too thought 7-5 would be a realistic record at season's end, but based on last week, where will two more sure wins come from? I thought Illinois would stink, but they have exceeded expectations this year on both sides of the ball, in my opinion. And yes, Purdue's offense is absolutely terrible, even before they lost their first string QB to injury. We should beat them too, even on the road. Wait...that's what I thought about the PSU game. As for Wisconsin and OSU, two teams with real offenses, well I shudder. Yes, our offense could keep us (theoretically) in every game, but unless either of those teams' offenses beat themselves with mistakes, it could get real ugly.

    I'd love to see 9-3. I'd love to see Denard get 500 total yards of offense while the D sacks Terrelle 5 times and forces 4 INTs, leading us to a rout of OSU. Unlike some of my friends, even this RR non-fan is does not dare root against Michigan to go 0 for November. But the way this defense has shrunk from every occasion this season, I wouldn't completely be surprised if that's exactly what happens. I hope not.