When he arrived in December of 2007, it was a brave new world for all of us. For the majority of us, we saw it as the melancholy-but-necessary closing of one book and the exciting opening of another; the time where Michigan would finally join the 21st century and shake up the rusty sense of malaise that had slowly but surely crept into all the nooks and crannies. We needed new blood, we said. The country club atmosphere had to go, we said. The program needed a shot in the arm, we said.
32 and a half months later, and it wasn't a shot in the arm that was given to the program. Instead, it was a full-on enema. Short of a plague of locusts descending on Michigan Stadium, you name it, and it's probably happened in Rich Rodriguez's tenure. There have been many exits, as a certain mouth-breathing corner of the internet likes to remind people. There have been controversies, back-stabbings, deceptions, lies, character assassinations, message board meltdowns, shouting matches, newspaper exposés, and above all, some pretty bad football, which in itself has produced an entire subsection of who's to blame, how much said people are to be blamed, what has to happen for it to be fixed, and why the hell was it broken in the first place.
As this firestorm unfolded, logic, common sense and reason were the first casualties, as they always are. I spent halftime of the Utah game in 2008 pressing my head into a wall, murmuring to myself about how it's just one half of one game, and anybody who passes judgment based on such a laughably small sample size probably doesn't have the brain capacity to argue coherently anyway. It was probably right around then that I fell into the pro-Rodriguez camp. Maybe in a sense, I always was. I suspect that even if most of us don't realize it, the majority of Michigan fans formulated an opinion of Rodriguez one way or another very early on, well before the 2008 season started, and every event that has occurred since then has been spun to fit our pre-determined mindset.
West Virginia buyout lawsuit?
Pro-RR camp: The Michigan brass is working behind the scenes, trying to get out of paying all of the buyout.
Anti-RR camp: Rodriguez is trying to weasel out of paying the people he just turned his back on.
Justin Boren spewing feces from his mouth on the way out?
Pro-RR camp: Finally, the country club is gone and players aren't being coddled!
Anti-RR camp: Who the hell is this guy to come in here and start throwing around these obscenities and insults and hurting our players' feelings?
Changing the policy regarding team captains?
Pro-RR camp: This isn't the kind of tradition worth getting upset over.
Anti-RR camp: WTF is he doing changing things?
The #1 jersey snafu before the 2008 season?
Pro-RR camp: Why did nobody sit down with him and explain some of the things like this that he needed to know?
Anti-RR camp: Why did he not do research on his own to acclimate himself to his new job?
And so on and so forth. The largest and most obvious of this split is obviously the on-field results. People who support Rodriguez try to rationalize some of the ineptitude. In an amusing case of real life imitation, there are those who blame the previous leader for today's problems, and those who lay the blame entirely on the current man in charge. As is the case with pretty much everything, the real answer falls somewhere in between. But because the debate is so heated, the psychology of it sometimes prevents usually rational people from "straddling the fence", so to say. When emotions run high, you're viewed as a coward taking the easy way out if you try to use common sense and say that Lloyd Carr left a roster with no good quarterbacks behind Ryan Mallett, no especially competent linebackers or safeties, and an atmosphere of sloth, while at the same time saying Rich Rodriguez has failed completely on the defensive side of the ball regardless of the personnel he inherited. See, it's no fun if you lay blame at both men's feet. The nature of the beast requires you to take a side as battle lines are drawn, even if truth and reason are on the front lines and are the first to be cut down.
And ultimately, it's irrelevant. In about three months, one of two things will happen. Either Rodriguez will have overcome the odds and secured a future here, and the senseless bickering will end, or he will have failed, and blogs like this one will compose mournful lists of reasons why he's gone, and bloggers like this one will forever bear some kind of stigma for having been a "Rodriguez supporter", even if that label is miscast. Well, sort of miscast. Don't get things twisted, this is personal for me (and for most of us). I'm a cold-hearted jerk 99% of the time, but one of the decent qualities I possess is unrestrained disgust for situations in which genuine people are treated unfairly by forces usually out of their hands. If you've ever spoken to Rich Rodriguez, if you've ever had any amount of time to actually speak to the man or listen to him, you'll know what (seemingly) precious few of us know, that he is NOT a degenerate or an asshole or whatever. He's just a coach. He's a simple guy, but he's a good guy. He has a passion in his heart that we could all use, and his desire to win is one of his best qualities. Those who cast him as a villian, as a cheater, as a moralless dog, I would wager have either never met him, or are operating on a set of pre-determined views that support a negative viewpoint they want to exist. Like those people who see the Virgin Mary in danishes and crap like that, they see what they choose to see, even if it's not there, because they make it there.
Rich Rodriguez is, in many ways, the worst man for this job. He's also, in many ways, the best man for it. He's a simple man in unsimple times at an abstract place. All he wants to do is coach his football team and do his job. Unfortunately, at a place like Michigan, you can't just coach a football team. This is probably the one area where Bill Martin failed most of all. He looked for a man who would satiate the public's desire for "change." He ignored the political aspect, the one that Lloyd excelled at. "Factions" have existed inside Schembechler Hall and the UM Athletic Department long before Rich Rodriguez got on a plane in West Virginia on a cold December night. And they will exist long after he's departed, whether it's in three months, three years, or three decades. Lloyd Carr was, in all aspects, a successful coach. He had his flaws, but if you took "coaching approval polls" like Presidential approval polls, I'd wager that Carr's approval rating would've steadily been in the high 60s and above, with a brief dip in early September 2007. And yet despite that, there were always grumblers in the AD who disagreed with his methods and pushed for a new direction. That's the nature of the job at Michigan. You will never have 100% approval, no matter what you do. You have to play the game behind the scenes, you have to negotiate and bend to make certain people happy. You have to play politics, and in that sense, Rich Rodriguez is the last guy you'd want. He's not capable of it, and worse, he's not interested in it. But at the same time, the number one factor in making people happy, in reaching that high approval rating, is winning on the field and dedicating yourself fully to reaching excellence on Saturdays in the fall. In that aspect, Rodriguez excels. He's obsessive to the point where nothing else matters to him. At a place where you have to be a coach and a politican, Rodriguez is 100% coach and has had to have on-the-job training when it comes to the politics. It's unfair in a sense, but it is what it is.
When I do these songy type posts, I always try to find some sort of song that fits the mood and tone. Sometimes it's difficult. Sometimes I have to bend and twist it in my own mind for it to fit. With this one, it's real simple, especially if you're familiar with the song I chose. For the first time since Rich arrived, we can see the light in the distance. The difference is, it's coming from two places. There are two suns in the sunset: One holds the promise of nirvana, the relief that comes with a successful 2010 season and the propelling into the future with a successful Rodriguez as coach. Some people don't buy this, but those people are beyond convincing because they're entrenched, but it remains true that if Rodriguez defies the odds and wins enough to save himself, we will jetison into the stratuosphere in every aspect. We look at programs like Ohio State, Texas, Alabama, Florida, etc, with jealousy, because we either envy where they are, or we envy the fact that we used to be there. The best case scenario involving Rodriguez involves a Michigan joining those elite ranks, at a plateau above even Lloyd Carr's zenith. Recruiting will reach levels even our lofty expectations don't reach. The vast majority of the Big Ten will quiver. The three-part series I just completed will be rendered 100% moot.
The other sun in the sunset, however, carries both the end of days and the promise of the future. It is the apocalyptic flash of Rodriguez flaming out this year and the entire thing being nuked. If the worst should come to pass and the Era of Harbaugh is ushered in under a greasy layer of hypocrisy, we will start again and listen to our coach speak about the process and the promise of a brave new world in which Michigan's quarterbacks once again line up under center. Ultimately, it's a test of our faith. For those of us who are personally invested in seeing Rich Rodriguez succeed: at the same time, realize that the world is not a warm, fair place. Sometimes good people don't succeed because they're good. Sometimes, against all the standards of justice, good people are struck down in their prime. To that end, it's best to place your undying faith in David Brandon. Don't believe that he is on the side of Rodriguez or the side of those against him. To help sleep at night, believe that he is our white knight and is above the battlefield and is on the side of Michigan. Don't believe the theories that an 8-4 season could still get Rodriguez fired because Brandon is one of those who have already judged. Believe that no matter what happens, Brandon will do what's best for the future of this football program. If that's a future with Rodriguez, so be it. If it's a future without him and a new voice for a new time, so be it.
I enter this season not with lofty expectations nor cynical apprehension as I wait for the other shoe to drop. No, I enter this season with the narcotic ecstasy that regardless of what transpires in the next 13 weeks, there will be a light at the end of this tunnel. Instead of an ellipsis at the end of this sentence, there will be a period. Don't quibble about the details, relish the greater good. No matter the question, answers are just around the corner, and knowing is always better than not knowing.