Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fighting to Live, Waiting Around to Die

There are those inside the walls in his workplace who have tried to force him out. More inside those walls who despise him for what he's done and long for the day where they get to pass his office and see him packing his personal effects into boxes, whereupon they shall stop and offer their superficialities and then scurry to their own offices and secretly celebrate what they will amount to a personal victory. Outside the walls, he has seemingly fewer friends and allies each day, to the point where it seems special when a supporter speaks up. The other day, one of Michigan's most trusted insiders told a tale of being at practice in the spring and seeing the wives of a couple coaches watching. So he goes over to say hello, and when he tells them he still believes in their husbands' work, one of the ladies begins to cry, because support is so fleeting nowadays.

Also outside the walls, those who carved out their own unique legacy during their time inside continue to wage their war, determined to drive this "hillbilly" away, their own xenophobia pouring from their mouths, and their own ignorance too enormous for them to be aware of it. And those who created careers here now turn their swords inward, using their positions and pens to spread exaggerations and mistruths in an effort to drive out a man they aren't even trying to pass judgment on anymore. For them, judgment has come and gone.

The cloud of toxicity and poison that hovers over Schembechler Hall builds by the day, and while it serves to destroy those beneath it, it serves to aid and comfort many observing it. 64 miles to the northwest, the Official Owner of the State of Michigan feasts on it. He channels it and spreads it as he pleases, because in reality he isn't the Official Owner of the State of Michigan, he in fact has to fight and scratch and claw for what he gets, and he does whatever he has to do to do that.

And through all this, Rich Rodriguez continues to put on a happy face, gets into his plane, and continues to promote his dream and vision to recruits. He continues to sell the virtues of the university, knowing full-well he could very well be months away from unemployment. He's confident, make no mistake about it. All these coaches are. They're confident, arrogant, and cocky. All football coaches, good or bad, have egos bigger than the average man, the good ones even larger than that. And despite what's happened the last two years, I believe Rich Rodriguez is much closer to "good coach" than "bad coach." And with that comes an ego, and a belief that things will be better. If you have the fortune to be in Schembechler Hall and speak to one of the coaches before fall camp starts, you will encounter eternal optimism and grisled determination. Not "coachspeak" optimism, but a real, genuine belief that this team is going to be capable of winning enough games to ensure the future for the coaches. But while that optimism exists, these are not stupid people. Rodriguez knows, although he won't discuss it openly, he knows there is a real possibility that this will be his final stand. And he will still sit in kids' living rooms and put that smile on his face and sweet talk recruits and their parents. He will speak to them as if there is no chance that he will be fired before the kid arrives on campus. He will talk to these recruits knowing that he may not ever coach them, that they may never end up at Michigan. When coaches at rival schools tell recruits like Ed Davis and Anthony Zettel, "Oh, you don't wanna go to Michigan, they're gonna fire their coaches. You don't wanna commit to a school that's gonna bring in a coach you've never spoken to", Rich Rodriguez and his assistants can't really do anything to refute that. He can't tell recruits "Don't worry, I'm going to be here, guaranteed", because there is no guarantee. None can be given by anybody. Not Rodriguez, not Dave Brandon, not Mary Sue Coleman. The best Rodriguez can do is say, "I'm not gonna lie to ya son, it's possible...but I promise you, we're gonna win this year, and I'm gonna be around for a long time." That's the best thing he can say. The rest is up to the recruit, and his parents.

Nobody signed up for this. Rich Rodriguez didn't leave the place that worshipped him for what amounted to a rebuilding project and two years of hell that has his name raked through the coals. The brass at Michigan, both present and past, didn't sign up for an ongoing firestorm that results in ugly, fractured in-fighting that produces an NCAA investigation, costs the university millions, and puts a nebulous stain on the cleanest football program in history. The former players who once donned the prestigious winged helmet, both those who have shot their mouths off and those who have fumed silently, didn't sign up to see the program they put so much blood and sweat into seemingly come undone in two short years. The fans and alumni of the university didn't sign up for this. While some of us have stayed loyal, and others gave up about midway through the Utah game, we all feel the same pain. It's been over 2400 days since Chris Perry bulldozed Ohio State's defense and sent Michigan to the Rose Bowl. Since then, that final game in November has brought us one nightmare after another, and while it's debatable as to how much Rich Rodriguez is to blame, there is no doubt that we are well, well below them at this point. There is so much to theoretically be miserable about as a Michigan fan. The quarterbacks are still young. The defense is young and still not that good. The recruiting has promise but it's all shaky because the coaches could be gone after this season, and if Lloyd was still here, our commit list right now would most likely include Anthony Zettel, DeAnthony Arnett, Justice Hayes, and Trey DePriest.

Perhaps the worst part of all? Nobody knows what it will take for Rodriguez to be safe. How many wins? Eight? Nine? Is seven acceptable? If so, do certain teams have to be beaten? We all know a bowl is required; is a bowl win mandatory? Or is the unthinkable that has been promoted by certain people in certain corners of the Michigan internet possible, and David Brandon has already decided that vast, sweeping changes will be made after the season? For now, I reject that notion outright. If Michigan wins eight games, and among those eight wins are Notre Dame, Michigan State, and a bowl game, the vast majority of people on the fence for Rodriguez will fall into his camp, along with many in the anti-Rodriguez faction defecting. Those who remain against him will always remain against him, and will be nullified. Simply put, it would be outrageous for Brandon to fire him if such a season should unfold, and thus, it is an outrageous assertion that he has already made up his mind.

But on the other hand, that doesn't mean he's going to go out of his way to do Rodriguez any special favors. Brad Labadie and Scott Draper are still employed in the athletic department despite their egregious abdications of duty that led us down the path to NCAA violations, which in turn led to Rodriguez laying down on the sword at the press conference (which, as an aside, almost cost Michigan one of their most valuable recruits this year). At the end of the day, I would like everyone (and I mean everyone) to remember: Dave Brandon is, above all else, a politician. Aside from the fact that that means he is very opinionated (and very stubborn), you cannot dismiss the possibility that he may still have an eye on political office down the road. With that in mind, you know he will demand immediate results, and could possibly want them from his own people. You could definitely make the case that if Rich Rodriguez rights the ship and starts to win, Brandon gets credit for aligning the factions within and smoothing things over. But it would be much more dramatic, and he would get much more credit, if Rodriguez fails this year and Brandon sweeps him out and brings in someone (like a certain friend of his currently coaching on the West Coast) who revives the program. In that scenario, Brandon is everybody's white knight, and his stock is sky high, and he's able to ride the wave of momentum into a cushy political office.

(Disclaimer for those who like to create tags on their blog disparaging me: That last paragraph is just me thinking out loud. None of the scenarios I mentioned are "confirmed" to exist. I'm conjecturing.)

I spoke to a friend the other day. This friend has a friend who once said to my face, "I'm a bigger Michigan fan than you." This person apparently refers to Rich Rodriguez as "Rich Dick", which, like...I dunno, I guess that's supposed to be demeaning. Anyway, I would love nothing more than to actually have a face to face discussion with this person, because I could tell just from a few snippets of what he said, he's the type of guy who still reads the Free Press, because he's oblivious to how badly they tried to burn Rodriguez with Stretchgate. He's the type of Michigan fan who listens to Jeff DeFran and Mike Valenti. He still believes so many untruths and lies, I would love nothing more than to take him to task in a debate. But I realize, he's not the only one. I don't believe it's a majority - at least I hope not. But there's still a sizable portion of Michigan fans who are still in the dark about the man coaching their football program and the events and actions that have gone down over the past 30 months. They're the type of fans who get their news from print newspapers, don't subscribe to paysites or anything, and simply tune in on Saturdays and expect victory. That latter part, I get. I understand that feeling, and I miss it, believe me. But to be so in the dark and not even try to acquire all the information you can, I don't get. I'm not saying the information from Rivals and Scout should be taken as gospel. Trust me, they have their biases just as everyone does. There is a moderator over at UM's Rivals site that is virulently anti-Rodriguez, to the point where he showed a stunning display of hypocrisy when voicing his opinions on separate incidents on the playing field involving Rodriguez and Beilein last season. Over at GBW (Scout), there is a very, very pro-Rodriguez atmosphere, to the point where sometimes you have to step back and take a deep breath. The Kool-aid flows freely there, that's for sure. So you always have to be careful. But to completely ignore the real "insiders", which these sites are, and to rely on a known and admitted anti-Rodriguez shill (DeFran) and a Spartan (Valenti) for your Michigan football news - that's borderline irresponsible.

It's July 1st. In one month, our favorite team will hit the practice field once again, gearing up for the most important season of our lives. In two months, that most important season will begin. In three months...? In four? In five? Where will we be in six months? Will we be replaying a late-December bowl game in our minds and on our Tivos? Will we be anxiously preparing for a marquee January bowl game against a formidable opponent? Or...will we be reeling from another culture shift and another coaching change, while impatiently waiting to see how our once-promising recruiting class is salvaged by the new guy?

The most important months in the history of Michigan Football lie ahead, my friends. And while it's easy for us fans to be nervous and hectic and apoplectic and borderline psychotic at times, the man who will lead us into the inferno - the man who has everything to lose from the flames of that inferno - will be upbeat and positive and fiery and determined. All while secretly furrowing his brow and lightly kicking the dirt because ultimately, his fate is out of his hands.

Fighting to live. Waiting around to die.

64 days.


UMTailgate said...

Great stuff man.

Mahesh said...

Great Article... sums up my thoughts perfectly.

Markus said...

Great piece. I enjoyed reading it.

I can identify with the frustration that Rodriguez must have, along with his coaches and families. The things written up to now must be very hurtful to them.
Worse, apologies cannot undo it.

Frankly, detractors that are MSU and OSU fans don't surprise me at all. The UM-fan detractors are what disappoints me.

In my view, people see and believe what they want. There are those who think American cars are the best in the world, that the World Series is THE WORLD SERIES (despite awesome teams in Mexico, Cuba and Japan), and that the house they bought in 2005 really should be valued at 15% annual appreciate despite a zero wage growth where they live and evidence of a national credit bubble.

Personally, I try not to waste too much time trying to reconcile the significance of such delusional views. Like Malkovich in Dangerous Liassons, "It's beyond your control".

My view (not delusional) is that things are unfortunately going to get a lot worse for Rodriguez before they get better, namely the NCAA will likely praise UM but admonish RR personally. Then RR's team faces the best UConn team ever in the stadium inauguration game, followed by a road game at Notre Stain - a team you know is just dying to don "Kelly Green" again, get revenge, and somehow bury their own past disappointments.

Michigan could easily start out 0-2 this year.

The 2010 team is very, very young, but it's not devoid of experience and talent. Robinson is a good DC and all he has to do is improve the rush defense. MSU limped into a bowl game last year with a much worst pass defense that Michigan had.

I predict a 0-2 start and then a major turnaround against MSU and Iowa in the Big House followed by one other upset win either at PSU or vs. Wisconsin.

To the chagrin of the many haters, the numbers can't be ignored - and they are finally starting to line up on Rodriguez's side of the ledger (roster size, experience in system, talent quotient, depth, returning QB, OL depth, improved turnover ratios).

This year Michigan will beat the teams it's supposed to: Indiana, Illinois and Purdue and thereby gain bowl eligibility.

Just my own $0.02. Maybe it's delusional too.

Markus said...

Great piece.

I fear it will get worse before it gets better for Rodriguez, namely the NCAA will likely commend UM and admonish Rodriguez. Then, Michigan face the best UConn team ever assembled in the stadium inauguration game, followed by a road game at Notre Stain - a team just dying to don "Kelly Green" again, get revenge, and somehow bury their own recent past.

Unfortunately for the many UM haters out there, the numbers are finally starting to line up on Rodriguez's side of the ledger. To expect the same results from young, talented team with now lots of system and game experience is wishful thinking at best. I'm not saying Michigan is close to OSU, PSU or Iowa. Certainly not defensively so. But let's not pretend that MSU didn't limp into a bowl game last year with the worst pass defense in the conference.

If Greg Robinson's defense just slows down the run this fall, then I believe Michigan's bowl drought is likely over. Offensively, Michigan will probably lead the league in rushing yardage for the first time since 2006.

Tater said...

Good work, Brian. The way I see it, Michigan really misses Bo's presence. If Bo was still alive, he would tell those trying to undermine RR that they are either for Michigan or against it, and to support the current coach, just as Bump Eliott did when Bo was hired.

I hope I'm wrong, but I still can't shake the feeling that Lloyd Carr isn't doing what Bump or Bo would have done.

cuda said...

Tater read this.

Brian said...
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