NOTE: This is not an impartial analysis. Before he signed with UMich, I knew very little about R. Rodriguez. I was skeptical of his hiring, but much of that skepticism was directed at the athletic director who hired him rather than the coach. But things have changed. Here is the story as I see it of how the changes in my attitude came about.
Any new coach coming into an established college football program will have huge shoes to fill. Many new coaches do not make it. This is particularly true for Michigan which has a pedigree going back almost a century and a quarter. One piece of folklore on the Ann Arbor campus is that Michigan taught Notre Dame how to play football so they could have a good nearby opponent.
Coaches coming to Michigan have failed. One notable example was Bump Elliot in the nineteen sixties. He had a Michigan history and connections, and had the skill set. But he did not seem to understand the “Michigan way” even though he had played on the team when he was a student. His tenure as head coach is not remembered like the successful tenures of Fielding Yost, Fritz Crisler, and Bo Schembechler.
Michigan usually hired its new coaches from within the “Michigan family.” A notable recent exception was Bo. All new coaches have to face skeptical fans and demonstrate they are worthy of the past history of the sports programs there. And a “non-family” member has an added hurdle in this respect. This time the athletic director felt there were no viable candidates within the "family" for the job Lloyd Carr left, and so started looking outside the Michigan cadre.
It has been reported that feelers were sent to the current coach at LSU – a “Michigan man.” Les Miles already had a good program there and the timing of the offer was bad. No deal.
Coaches at Syracuse, and Rutgers were apparently considered and that led to offers. The offers were rejected. It then seems that the Michigan athletic director began to panic since he had promised the Michigan faithful that there would be a coach in place soon. A last (apparently unvetted) offer was made to the West Virginia head coach with a lot of pressure behind it for a quick decision.
There are various opinions on why RichRod said “yes” to Michigan's offer. I have presented one alternative in "How to Fire a Head Coach." I do not claim that the scenario laid out there corresponds to the actual situation, but it is one possible way in which the statements of various West Virginia people and of their coach can be reconciled – even though the statements seem to be at odds.
In any case, accept Michigan's offer RichRod did. Since both teams had bowl games, RichRod was a nonparticipant at bowltime. This was especially ironic since a score of years before, Michigan had lost its basketball coach while heading into the NCAA tournament. An assistant coach piloted the team to the national championship – but the Wolverines had to give it up years later as an NCAA penalty. Michigan had felt the pain of having someone recruited from the family only to do it themselves years later.
Will RichRod be able to reach out to the fans? Will he be able to develop and use the talent left to him by Lloyd Carr? Will RichRod be able to lead the “Michigan family” into another era of excellence in football and sports in general. This will be the subject of the next blog on the subject.