Things continue to heat up for Jim Harbaugh, after Michigan football’s upset loss to Michigan State on Saturday. One person who knows what Harbaugh is dealing with in Ann Arbor: former Wolverines head coach Rich Rodriguez.
Rich Rod served as head coach from 2008-10, leading the team after the retirement of longtime head coach Lloyd Carr. It was probably the worst of the post-Carr era. Rodriguez went just 15-22 with a 6-18 Big Ten record in Ann Arbor. He had one winning season, his final 7-6 campaign in 2010, but he was just 3-5 in Big Ten play that year, and ended the season with a 52-14 Gator Bowl loss to Dan Mullen and Mississippi State.
After an impressive run at West Virginia, Rodriguez chose Michigan over Alabama, a decision he admits was the wrong one. He would later serve as head coach at Arizona from 2012-17, until a sexual harassment accusation from a former administrative assistant led to his dismissal.
“…Despite maybe what many fans may be saying or people that follow college football, I do not think Michigan has a coach problem!” Rodriguez said on the latest episode of his “Hard Edge Football” podcast, when asked about Michigan football’s 27-24 loss to the Spartans. “It’s not a coach problem. It’s different than that.”
New episode out now! @RealCoachRod and @raquelrod_23 talk about this week in the world of college football and take a deep dive into Coach Rod’s experience with the University of Michigan with the help of @DustyRutledge64. Listen now! https://t.co/DSGcwcZhD1
— Hard Edge Football Podcast (@HardEdgeFB) November 5, 2020
“He’s 48-18 going into that game, he’s won a lot of games,” Rodriguez said in defense of Jim Harbaugh, via WolverinesWire . “Certainly he’s had struggles against Ohio State – who hasn’t, right? Michigan State’s beat them a few times. But Jim Harbaugh is not your problem, Michigan. He’s got an outstanding coaching staff. I think he’s an outstanding football coach.”
Rodriguez dove pretty deep on issues in the Michigan program. He said that there was institutional resistance to any major change away from the Bo Schembechler way of doing things, which prevented him from installing the same kind of “edge” his players had at West Virginia. He also cited academic requirements at the school, and mentioned that he had to battle to try and get some key players into school, even when they were full NCAA qualifiers.
“We felt, too, that there was some battles within that we shouldn’t have to battle,” Rodriguez said. “You got enough to work to do to battle the people outside who are trying to beat you every day in recruiting and in the games and all that kind of stuff. So the administration, everybody within should be, ‘Coach, what do you need to have success? What do you need to win?’ But instead it became about, ‘Boy, you’re – this is not Michigan tradition. If you’re having game captains instead of a permanent season-long team captain, that’s not tradition.’ Well, they did that before. Those are little things that are a big deal. We weren’t disrespecting tradition, they had done it before, but that was the kind of thing – golly – we wanted to have a bunch of captains, not four captains. So it was little stuff like that that became more of a pain in the ass than it needed to be.”
What is probably disconcerting for Michigan football fans is that Harbaugh comes right from that historic Michigan tradition, having played for Bo Schembechler from 1983 to 1986. He also had a ton of success in college, turning Stanford into a national power, and maneuvering much more stringent academic requirements at that school than Michigan has. If any coach was built to win at Michigan, it is Jim Harbaugh, which makes his relative struggles surprising, and calls into question what the actual ceiling for that program is.
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