Posted by Walter
Fair points Frazier. Perhaps in my hast to debunk the “mediocre” label I went a bit overboard. By no means am I claiming that Nehlen is one of the college football coaching elite. However, he was a very good coach who brought a WVU program to its highest point, despite starting with much less than Rodriguez had. If you measure success by wins alone, Rodriguez’s tenure in Morgantown was unmatched. But if you consider longevity and influence on the program it is clear that Don Nehlan was the architect of WVU football.
Now, onto how Michigan screwed up. Here is my problem with the Rodriguez hire. The University of Michigan is the winningest program in the history of college football. They have been a consistent top 10 team for the better part of Lloyd Carr’s tenure, and were this close to playing for the national title last season. I understand that 2007 was nothing short of a debacle. I understand that Coach Carr’s time had expired. But NO, I don’t understand why Michigan felt they needed to pull a complete 180 and perhaps irreparably alter their program’s identity. Folks, this isn’t a moribund and mostly irrelevant University of Florida program hiring Steve Spurrier and his fun n’ gun offense here. This is the University of Michigan, the Maize and Blue, the self anointed Victors, abandoning everything that made the program great.
And believe me, this is nothing against Rich Rodriguez. I think he is a dynamic offensive mind, and there are few fans out there that admire his offensive creativity as much as I do. But one lesson we’ve learned time and again in college football is that the fit is as important as the X’s and O’s. Bill Callahan knows how to draw up some plays. Heck, he was a the head coach of a super bowl team. However he was the wrong fit at Nebraska. Asking the Cornhuskers not to hand the ball off is like asking a bird not to fly, a fish not to swim, a tiger not to turn back into a Chinese man at midnight (thank you very much Tracy Jordan). Callahan was an unmitigated disaster in Lincoln. It’s not because he forgot how to coach. It is because he was the wrong fit. I’m not so sure the same thing won’t happen in Ann Arbor.
Ask yourself, why is Michigan, or any iconic program for that matter, so great? Well you have to have a fertile recruiting base. Check. The Midwest is chock full of football talent. You have to have success sending guys to the NFL because, after all, college has basically become the NFL’s minor league. Check. Michigan has been a virtual factory for NFL drop back QB’s (Brady, Harbaugh, Grbac, Griese), physical wideouts (Howard, Edwards, Streets, Toomer), bruising tight ends (Tuman, Shea, Riemersma, Masaquio), and the their signature mauling offensive lineman (Runyan, Backus, Hutchinson Baas, Long). And finally, you have to have tradition. Check. No comment needed here. Add all those things together and you get a very rich team identity. One that has been successful for a century.
But you also get an identity that is wholly different from what a Rich Rodriguez team is. Think about it. Rodriguez has thrived at three jobs in his career: offensive coordinator at Tulane, offensive coordinator at Clemson, and head coach at West Virginia. His three quarterbacks at those jobs: Shaun King, Woody Dantzler, and Pat White. See a problem? Not exactly the classic Michigan quarterback eh? In fact, it gets worse. All three came from Southern high schools, where 6 foot 5 inch statues play tight end instead of QB. The high school game in the Midwest is very different from its counterpart in Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama (the home states of the three aforementioned QB’s). Michigan has a fertile recruiting base, but I don’t know if it can support the type of offense Rodriguez is known to run. Now am I saying that Rodriguez can’t go out and get the guys he wants? Of course he can. But I am saying that his hire may have already forsaken one of the greatest strengths of the Michigan program. Namely, its historic dominance of the Midwest recruiting wars.
Moreover, with Rodriguez at the helm, Michigan will no longer be the NFL factory is has long been. Rodriguez eschews the drop back passer for the runner, even though the NFL prefers the former. Rodriguez rarely uses his wideouts, limiting their ability to showcase their talents for scouts. Rodriguez recruits lighter lineman, proficient at pulling and getting up on linebackers which is nice in college, but limits a their pro potential. Think about it. Who are the signature Michigan offensive players of the past 20 years? I would say Tom Brady, Charles Woodson, Anthony Thomas, Mike Hart, Jon Runyan, Braylon Edwards and Steve Hutchinson. Aside from Woodson, NONE of them would get on the field for Rodriguez.
Perhaps Michigan made the right move because they need a change. We’ve commented that the Big 10 needs to be brought into the 21st century. And perhaps Rodriguez is the man to do it. Will his offense mystify the Big 10 with its speed (see Florida v. OSU last year)? Only time will tell, but I think we all also have to prepare for the possibility that Rodriguez will fit in at Michigan about as well as Callahan did in Lincoln.