RichRod’s real response
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The University of Michigan slapped itself on the wrist Tuesday. Michigan imposed light sanctions on its once pristine football program over allegations it engaged in extra practice sessions and other transgressions.
The school admitted it had broken some NCAA rules and said it should be put on probation for two years, lose 130 hours of practice time that it previously exceeded and voluntarily cut the number of “quality control coaches” (low level assistants/interns) from five to three. One of them had been fired previously for lying to NCAA investigators.
Long-term it’s a virtually meaningless punishment, which isn’t to say it isn’t appropriate. It’s not like Michigan had to give itself the death penalty in a case that quickly delves into the arcane sections of the NCAA rule book concerning CARA (countable athletically related activities) limits and allowable 7 v. 7 activities. Michigan needed 79 pages to explain itself; Coach Rich Rodriguez another 89 after that.
The NCAA will determine if the penalties are sufficient in August.
“Coach Rodriguez is surprised and disappointed that violations occurred in his program,” the official “Rich Rodriguez Response” declared before noting that “ensuring compliance with complex NCAA bylaws is not a one-man job.”
Indeed it isn’t – Michigan “disciplined” seven employees in the case to various degrees.
One of them was Rodriguez, who received a “letter of reprimand,” which is a lot less damaging to his future than another loss to Michigan State.
Tuesday, when the school released its NCAA response, was just the latest in the bizarre slide of Rodriguez, who was the hottest coach in America just a little more than three years ago before taking over the winningest program of all-time after the 2007 season.
It’s difficult to imagine how the Rodriguez-Michigan marriage could go so bad. If RichRod could pile up 11-win seasons at West Virginia, if he could recruit some of the fastest athletes in America to Morgantown, then how couldn’t he succeed with the Maize and Blue?
Give a young, innovative coach all the power of the winged helmet, the Victors and the Big House and success was sure to follow. Or not.
From the start there was a silly soap opera concerning Rodriguez breaking his West Virginia contract. It brought daily stories of embarrassing, unnecessary sniping and strange document shredding that didn’t mesh with Michigan’s reserved tradition. There was a disastrous 3-9 opening season that ended the school’s 33-year bowl streak and a 5-7 “rebound” last year. Rodriguez has lost to Ohio State by a combined score of 63-17.
And now there is this, hardly the worst scandal in NCAA history but still the first major violations in the program’s 130-year history. Worst of all, it’s led to all sorts of cackling jokes by Spartans and Buckeyes about how exactly Michigan could be practicing too much.
So welcome to the hottest seat in college football heading into the season.
Rodriguez will not be fired for this case. Michigan athletic director David Brandon reaffirmed his temporary job security and the school even disputed the NCAA claim that Rodriguez didn’t foster a culture of compliance.
Know this, though, he will be gone if there isn’t dramatic improvement on the field next fall.
To say a return to a bowl game is enough sets the bar incredibly low. More than 70 percent of BCS conference teams reach some bowl game. All you need is a 6-6 record and Michigan has seven home games, including one against a team from the FCS.
This is what it’s come to, though, proof, once again, in college football that without the proper coach, any school is capable of struggling. When USC, Alabama, Texas, Miami and others haven’t had the right guy, they’ve faded fast.
All have found a replacement and promptly returned.
The question is whether Michigan can rebound under Rodriguez? Or does the 2010 Wolverines season amount to this year’s Charlie Weis/Notre Dame last chance campaign where any loss is considered a referendum on the future? It’s no way to operate a college football team, but after eight wins in two seasons you don’t get to set the guidelines.
Rodriguez has had three recruiting classes (although only two full ones) to change the skill sets that he said was necessary. He has three of his preferred quick, elusive quarterbacks, although two are sophomores and one a freshman. Through extensive weight training his linemen have gone from the traditional Michigan muscle to leaner, swifter blockers. He has some of the personnel he thinks is needed in his defense, although who knows if that spread-out scheme can ever work in the physical Big Ten.
In the past, when he got his players, he won big. There remains plenty of optimism that he’ll do it again. He better.
In the season with no room for error, one of those watershed games looms in week one. Michigan will celebrate its nearly quarter-billion dollar renovations to the Big House. It will host a tricky Connecticut team that is a way better program than many Wolverines fans realize. It’s not unlike his first game at Michigan when Utah, a team that would wind up 13-0, won in Ann Arbor in front of many fans who neither recognized nor respected its stature.
Amidst the grumbling that fine fall day was that soon enough Rodriguez would get it turned around. He hasn’t.
Tuesday the school and its football coach made public its answers to the NCAA over these allegations.
The more important questions about the state of the on-field Wolverines still await the “Rich Rodriguez Response.”