I would hope that at this point I would've gained a reputation for being at the very least, fair, if not decidedly in the "pro" camp for Rich Rodriguez. All the essay-type posts I've typed up over the last three years, I would've thought some sort of credence would be given. But alas, the moment I started questioning things, the moment I dared to speak out, I had people questioning my fanhood, calling me fake, berating me, etc. I'm not terribly surprised - if there's one thing I've learned in the last three years, it's that the Michigan fanbase is ultimately spineless and afraid.
So, as it stands now, there are two camps: one still throws out offensive ranking statistics and "youth"; they want Rodriguez back. The other throws out defensive ranking statistics; they want Harbaugh.
Before the season, I was "all in"; I have since grown to despise this term, as it is disingenuous and screams of bleating by sheep who cling to whatever they can cling to. It's the same sort of thing the (sorry, about to get political here) Bush administration did when they questioned the patriotism of those who criticized the war and other things. Same sort of nonsense I hear democrats throw out when people criticize President Obama. The "all in" crowd has tried to blur the line. They try to say if you're not "all in" for Rich Rodriguez, then you're not "all in" for Michigan; that somehow you're not a true fan. Well, there's something to be said for loyalty. But there's another thing to be said for blind devotion and thoughtlessly following your leader into the fire.
I dare anyone to question my fanhood. I was at Purdue and stood through the monsoon as we yakety sax'd our way through the game and managed to stumble into a win. I was at Iowa and UMass when the defense couldn't stop a thing. I sat in front of my TV for every play of today's game. My heart hurt as yours hurt when OSU scored, when we fucked up, etc. So no, I will not tolerate anybody saying I'm not a real fan because I refuse to stand in lockstep with the Rodriguez supporters.
There are legitimate reasons for our incompetence on the football field, some that are indeed out of Rodriguez's hands. Once again, Rodriguez did not break Troy Woolfolk's ankle, didn't put JT Floyd in the ankle lock, didn't tell Donovan Warren to leave and go undrafted, didn't turn Boubacar Cissoko into a thug, didn't tell JT Turner to be lazy, etc. But he does employ Tony Gibson, who has shown not one iota of coaching ability. He did force some bastardized, pathetic version of the 3-3-5 on this defense. He has shown, in three full years, zero ability to put together any form of cohesion on defense. There is nothing redeemable there. No coaches, no scheme, no fundamentals. Nothing. After three years. What makes anybody think that's suddenly going to change moving forward?
And despite the screams from certain significant people about the statistical prowess of this offense...well, you saw what happened today. It wasn't some outlier. The offense was similarly squashed when it mattered by Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Putting up a ton of yards and points isn't really worth a whole lot when you don't do it until you fall behind by three touchdowns. Every single aspect of this team has proven to be tissue paper soft against the real Big 10 competition. So we're able to beat Indiana, Illinois and Purdue now. We look like "Michigan" against MAC teams. Congrats, our coach has built a MAC champion. Against every single Big 10 team with a winning record, the defense has been meek, undersized, and bulldozed into submission. The offense has been tenative, turnover-prone, and they make mistakes like they're still learning how to play football. Penalties, fumbles, dropped passes - against the physical elite in this conference, this offense turns to goo, because they're soft, both mentally and physically. The wide receivers are pretty good at catching the ball...except against legitimate, "old school" Big Ten defenses. Then they get alligator arms and start dropping everything. The running backs are physical...until they face physical defenses, then they go down on first contact and cough the ball up. The quarterbacks are accurate and make plays...until they play good defenses, then they turn the ball over and are wild with many of their throws.
So yeah, I'm off the bandwagon. I'm "all in" for Michigan, and that means I'm ready to abandon this wild experiment, admit it was a sunk cost, and ditch everything associated with it. And the whole "We can't go through another 3-4 years of rebuilding" is a red herring. If that's your best justification for keeping a coach, then that says it all.
I don't take pleasure in any of this, I hope people realize that. There are those who secretly (and perhaps not-so-secretly in some places) took delight in what happened today because it serves as more vindication for their stance. Not me. My heart is broken over all this. I never want to see Michigan swirling the drain like we are now. And I desperately wanted Rodriguez to win because I saw and am aware of how unfairly he was treated when he arrived, how he had essentially zero support on the inside when he took over. But I've reached the point where I no longer trust him to turn the corner. Getting revenge against no-counts like Illinois and Purdue was important, but, for me anyway, we had to show something more than we did against the upper tier of the conference. Watching the games against MSU, Iowa, Penn State (who isn't even upper tier this year), Wisconsin, Ohio State...I saw no difference in these games than what was on the field in 2008 and 2009. In some cases, it was even worse.
So, for those of you who remain loyal to the coach and still believe he is the man for the job and think he deserves more time, I admire your conviction, even if I no longer understand it. And for those who believe the time for change has arrived...I begrudgingly ask for a seat at the table.
At the end of the Vietnam War, there was no war at all, really. The violence had long since ended, the gunfire long silenced, the ambush attacks by the rebels long quieted. Instead there was a steady, solemn withdrawal by US forces as they realized everything they had invested was going to be for naught. And as the Communist forces finally closed in on the city of Saigon, the final helicopter loaded up what it could, trying to get as many people as it could to safety before the city fell. They were allowed to leave, and shortly thereafter, PAVN tanks rolled in, the final candle of democracy in Vietnam was extinguished, and all the blood, sweat and tears poured into the country in the name of freedom were rendered moot.
I'm certainly not comparing something as ultimately trivial as football to something as real and horrifying as war, but as a history major, I can't help but see the parallel. And right about now, Michigan football is reaching the point where the final helicopters are warming up on the roofs of the embassy, with refugees trying to board as enemy tanks and winds of change close in.
I predicted after the end of last season that 2010 would be the end for Rich Rodriguez. A year later, my prediction remains the same. And my heart is heavy.