Note that this post does not depend on the previous posts in the RichRod at Michigan series: How to Fire a Head Coach, Journey Into the Abyss, Westward Ho!, and Circling the Wagons. Reading one or more of those might provide an additional sense of continuity for those who wish to make the effort.
On November 15, 2008 the Michigan Wolverines hosted the Northwestern Wildcats at the Big House in Ann Arbor. Northwestern was not considered a collegiate powerhouse, and demonstrated it by beating the once mighty Wolverines by only 21 - 14. But for Michigan, it was only another nail in the coffin of a disastrous season. They were not going to a bowl for the first time since 1974 and had the worst W - L (3 - 8 and counting) record in the history of football there.
The next game on the schedule (and clearly the last of the season) was at the Horseshoe against Ohio State. While there are those who might argue that this rivalry falls short of being the most intense in college sports, even those who favor such classic rivalries as Texas-Oklahoma or Notre Dame-USC (and, of course, many others) are likely to rank Michigan-Ohio State in the top five.
The hype leading up to the game was as intense as always. It was on November 18 that RichRod was quoted as saying (in reference to some?) fans, "Get a life." Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News went on to quote him further on whether he understood the importance of the Ohio State game, "Maybe I have and you all don't know it. I didn't make any public statements, because there are whole lot of things we're trying to do. I'll never diminish the importance of the Michigan-Ohio State game, ever. Never have, never would. Just because I don't say something my first day on the job doesn't mean I don't understand the importance of the game."
And with that, town marshall RichRod had drawn his weapons and began firing, seemingly at random. It is not clear whether he hit any targets. Many followers of BigBlue scrambled for cover, drawing the curtains, sending the children to safety, and hiding under the bed. But the Clanton gang began to return fire with gusto. The reaction was swift and terrible - a counteroffensive of shock and awe. A bit of a sampling follows.
LZ Granderson of ESPN's Page 2 wrote on November 19, "...Rodriguez's sin isn't thinking that some of the Michigan fans need to get a life. His sin was being stupid enough to say it. That's the equivalent of doing the worst job performance anyone in the history of the company has ever done, and then flipping the boss the finger for being overly critical. Especially when you and everyone else in the world knows you were not the company's first or even second choice for the job...."
MCNEGROPOD of firerichrod.blogspot.com, also on November 19, wrote, "Get a life? ...coaching Michigan football isn't your job. It's your life!"
But perhaps the unkindest cut of all came from Detroit Free Press sports commentator Mitch Albom. Maybe you remember his book Tuesdays with Morrie which topped the New York Times nonfiction list for over a year. On November 20, he wrote, "At this point, Rich Rodriguez is like the guy who gets too drunk at the bar, goes staggering through the wrong neighborhood, gets knocked down, kicked around and now just wants to crawl home safely."
Thus occurred the Shootout at the Big House. While the bullets were still flying, the hopeful looked toward one last game. The game at the Horseshoe in Columbus would likely not be a shootout - at least not for the Wolverines. But maybe the season was not beyond the pale. A win against Ohio State - or even a gutty loss - might salvage some fan support and provide a platform to build on for the coming season. Ohio State had only two losses on the season, a blowout at USC early on and a closer loss to Penn State more recently. Michigan went into the game with emotion. Emotion is absolutely necessary to win a game that has the intensity of Michigan-Ohio State. But wining it also takes skills which fit a game plan.
The outcome was as predicted. Michigan's "moral victory" was a 42 - 7 loss to the Buckeyes. The season wasn't saved, but instead suffered what was arguably the worst loss of 2008. The animal from which the Michigan team name originated is said to be the most vicious animal on earth when considered pound-for-pound. But the football Wolverines weren't even close to that description.
Michigan fans have emerged from behind their curtains and from under their beds. Occasional bullets still fly, but the sense of the times is now kind of like the quiet before a really big storm. The black clouds are gathering in the west and heat lightning brightens the horizon from time to time. RichRod has made it this far, but it is clear now that he is in survival mode.
We have picked up his journey from West Virginia where he seems to have gone through much of what he has since experienced at Michigan. He has lost some players here from the team as well as "decommitments" and marginal recruiting (as he did at West Virginia). He has also landed a few players who he feels have the skills he wants for his team. He continues his inability to accept criticism and his ability to dis those who do offer constructive comments.
An assessment of his future at the Big House will be the subject of the next post on this subject. It will be in the form of an open letter to RichRod. Whether it will be the final post in this series or whether there will be more that needs to be said down the line depends in large part on how effectively RichRod will be able to perform during the coming season.