Knowing Rich Rodriguez is a good guy who never lost his team – no matter how many games they lost – makes it more difficult to hold him in disdain. Plenty of the problems that dogged him at Michigan were outside of his control, and some he could have addressed were outside his perception. I admit I was one of those longtime fans who was glad to see him go, and pleased when he was replaced by a “real Michigan Man,” Brady Hoke. When Hoke was replaced by Jim Harbaugh – who is among the detractors named in this book – I was ecstatic to be present in the stadium for his debut, a loss to Utah, just like Rich Rod’s.
Rodriguez is now coaching Arizona, so Utah has the opportunity to beat him annually (Arizona put Utah away in double overtime last year). He’s the guy on the opposite sideline, so it would be easy not to like him. But his players did, and I do like them. Mike Martin and Taylor Lewan were teammates on the Tennessee Titans for a couple of years; Martin is now lining up with Brandon Graham in Philadelphia. Denard Robinson and Patrick Omameh are playing together in Jacksonville along with Chad Henne, the quarterback that Rodriguez struggled to find a replacement for until Robinson emerged from backup to repeat Offensive Player of the Week and Heisman hopeful. Unlike some of the QBs before him (Ryan Mallett, Steve Threet), Robinson did not transfer from Michigan when there was a coaching change, although he did try to meet with athletic director Dave Brandon to voice his support of Rodriguez (he wasn’t given the chance).
Those players who remained loyal to Michigan produced for Hoke in 2011, beating Notre Dame and Ohio State to go 11-2 (they lost to Michigan State and Iowa), and beating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Greg Mattison returned as defensive coordinator under Hoke, and the defense improved from 107th to 6th in scoring defense. Same players giving their all, different scheme, better results. Hoke was Big Ten Coach of the Year, and Michigan was back. As the roster changed the results regressed each year of Hoke’s four year tenure, sliding back to a 5-7 season without a bowl game. Hoke was replaced, and now coaches in the PAC-12 as Oregon’s defensive coordinator.
Harbaugh was also a PAC-12 coach at Stanford before taking over the San Francisco 49ers. He returned to the college ranks and his alma mater after the 2014 season. Harbaugh retained Mattison as defensive line coach, but brought in D.J. Durkin as defensive coordinator. Tyrone Wheatley, a former star running back, joined the staff as running backs coach. Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. came along as a tight end recruit, and was coached by Harbaugh’s son Jay.
Michigan lost the opener at Utah, shut out BYU at home, suffered a fluke loss to Michigan State, and got thumped by Ohio State to finish the year 10-3. The only loss I accepted was the first one, but routing Florida in the Citrus Bowl helped the progression from 2015 to 2016. Harbaugh’s first quarterback, Jake Rudock, is now a Detroit Lion, along with his center, Graham Glasgow. Harbaugh has not yet named his starter for 2016, but it won’t be long now!