Note that this post is in sequence to "How to Fire a Head Coach", "Journey Into the Abyss – RichRod at Michigan", and "Westward Ho! - RichRod at Michigan". It is not necessary to read those posts to understand this one, but those who do may get a greater sense of continuity.
A storied college football team takes the field under the leadership of a new coach. This is not the first time it has happened in college football of course, nor even for this program. But this was not quite as normal a change as usual. The coach had been hired under circumstances which had been controversial.
On August 30, 2008, the Michigan Wolverines hosted Utah to open the college football season. The Utes pulled out a 25-23 victory. To the Michigan faithful, this was reminiscent of the previous season opening loss to Appalachian State – a real embarrassment. Utah would go on to have an undefeated season, but that wasn't known at the time. But some were encouraged. Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated (who on December 16, 2007 wrote that Michigan “scores a home run” with the RichRod hire) wrote on September 3, 2008 that the Wolverines' loss to Utah “wasn't that bad.”
On September 6, Michigan hosted Miami of Ohio and took them for a 16-6 victory. Not impressive, but at least a win. On September 13, the Wolverines went to South Bend to take on the traditional game with the Fighting Irish. The Notre Dame program had been in trouble in recent years, but was now purported to be emerging from it. Whether Michigan deteriorated or the opposition improved (or both) was hotly debated, but the Wolverines returned home having been doubled, losing 35-17.
The undercurrent of discontent with the program began to mount. Some who had taken a “wait and see” attitude were now being openly critical of the new coach. The Wolverines had a bye following the Notre Dame game, but whether this helped or stemmed the groundswell was debatable. The new coach was now subjected to personal attacks – primarily on the internet but some from catcalls from irate fans..
On September 27, Wisconsin came to visit. It was early in the season. Wisconsin had pocketed some impressive victories and was ranked ninth in the country. In a game marred by many errors on both sides, Michigan emerged with a slender victory 27-25. To have beaten a top-ten team in a rebuilding year seems to have allayed some of the criticism, but some of the most bitter fans were still firing both barrels at the coach. As the season progressed, it was clear that Wisconsin wasn't that good – and so Michigan's victory over the Badgers was less significant. The loss to Illinois (45-20) on October 4 only fed the flames of criticism.
The nail in the coffin of the season occurred in the next two games. On October 11, 2008, BigBlue lost to Toledo 13-10, even more like the previous season's loss to Appalachian State than the loss to Utah was. And on October 18, the Wolverines went to Happy Valley. They held the Nittany Lions pretty well in the first half, but fell apart in the second half and lost 46-17. The tidal wave of unhappiness and criticism which followed the Toledo loss grew to a firestorm after the Penn State humiliation.
But there were still games to play: a 35-21 loss to traditional cross-state rival Michigan State on October 25; a 48-42 loss at Purdue on November 1; a win(!) (29-6) for the Little Brown Jug at Minnesota on November 8; and a loss (21-14) to Northwestern on November 15. The criticism mounted – even after the win at Minnesota. Finally, three days after the Northwestern game, RichRod lost it.
On November 5 after the Purdue game, AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller writing in USA Today quoted RichRod as saying (apparently addressing sports reporters):
“Y'all want to make everything so much drama. This is just unbelievable. Every time something's said, everybody wants to make a big deal out of something and make so much drama about everything. That's why I didn't tell y'all too much. You think I tell you a lot. I think I've been pretty transparent, but sometimes I don't because I don't know what y'all are going to take and make a big deal out of a wee little thing.
“Seems like for nine, ten months, that's happened. Oh, he said this. Let's psychoanalyze this, psychoanalyze that.
“We're not going to a bowl game, but do you think we're going to pack it in? You think the guys are a bunch of quitters? I don't think we've got any quitters. You think the coaches are going to pack it in, not show up for work? Golly”
On November 18, 2008, he is quoted from several sources as saying,
“It's amazing some of the things that people would say [on a message board] or yell at you of a personal nature. You almost want to tell them, 'Get a life.' There's a whole lot bigger problems. Look at the economy.”