By John Veasey
For The Register-Herald
Rich Rodriguez is beginning to get back to his roots more — the roots of Grant Town, which he called home for many years.
West Virginia was his home until 2007. That’s when he left his secure coaching job at West Virginia University to take a not-so-secure job at the University of Michigan.
He never dreamed it wouldn’t be as secure as it was at West Virginia — where he had it made for the rest of his life. He just didn’t realize it at the time.
Now it appears that Rodriguez will be out of coaching for the first time in many years when the teams all line up this fall. Instead of calling plays for his team, his current plans call for him to being doing color work — or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s analyzing — for college football games on a cable network sponsored by CBS Sports.
It’s not the life that Rich Rodriguez would have selected for himself. But it’s the one he currently has.
Life he was dealt
This is the life he was dealt when the new University of Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon severed ties with him on that January morning following the 2010 season.
Rodriguez said he thought he was in fairly tight with the new Wolverine AD. But he just didn’t think it through enough.
“We thought right until the end we would be OK,” he said this weekend in a telephone conversation.
“I had never played that many freshmen before, especially on defense,” he said. “We kinda thought the corner had been turned. But obviously some other folks thought otherwise.
“We spent a lot of time together. I thought he felt comfortable with how we were doing things. We can talk for four days on everything that went on. Last year, I thought we got off to a great start, but then we had six true freshmen playing on defense. I knew Ohio State would be very tough for us. We lost something like 37-7 to Ohio State.”
And when you’re Michigan, you’re just not supposed to lose to Ohio State — certainly not three years in a row as Rodriguez’s team did to the Wolverines’ biggest rival.
His firing came over one afternoon meeting and another the next morning.
How much coaching does Rodriguez believe he has ahead of him?
“I hope I still have 10 or 15 years of coaching in me,” he answered without hesitation. “The whole experience at Michigan has just made me hungrier for my next job.”
Rodriguez would really have enjoyed having quarterback Denard Robinson on his team for two more years. Robinson actually was being considered as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate the way he played early in the 2010 season.
But then after winning their first five games, the Wolverines went flat, losing their next three. Robinson turned up injured, which hurt the Wolverines’ chances in several games.
Michigan finished with a 7-6 record. The Wolverines entered their Gator Bowl matchup with Mississippi State on New Year’s Day and were routed, 52-14.
One of their victories came in a three-overtime battle with Illinois on Nov. 6. The game was the highest scoring contest in Big Ten Conference history, with Michigan pulling out a two-point victory, 67-65.
Unless something opens up in the coaching field soon, Rodriguez will not be coaching this fall for the first time since 1985. His career has taken him to Salem, Glenville, Tulane, Clemson, West Virginia and Michigan. Several jobs opened up early this year, including those at Connecticut, Maryland and Pitt, but none of those positions were filled by a coach named Rodriguez.
His overall coaching record stands at 120-84-2.
Robinson a good one
“I really thought that we had turned the corner,” Rodriguez said, “and we could enjoy the next few years. That was the frustrating part. Denard Robinson has two years left. He was a mighty good one.”
Rodriguez says he had no trouble with the fans.
“The fans were really great,” he said. “Even people I’ve talked to since January. There were some that were a little more impatient than others, but overall, the Michigan fans were terrific. But the administration wanted to go in a different direction. When athletic directors change, a lot of them want to bring in their own guys. That was probably the case with this one.
“A guy comes in and wants to do their own thing. I don’t want to say politics are involved in every Division I situation. But sometimes people will form an opinion on you from something they read in the paper. They haven’t even met you, but they form an opinion.”
But Rodriguez says he has some good friends in Michigan.
“I have some very good friends in Michigan,” he says. “I’ve met some good people there.”
At what point did Rodriguez realize that leaving West Virginia was a major mistake on his part?
“I knew after the first month on the job that it would be a lot more difficult getting them where you wanted them to be. I said those things would be taking more than three years. I knew it would be more of a project. Like everyone else, they just throw them (coaches) out if they can’t win nine or 10 games.”
Hoke is appointed
On Jan. 11, 2011, University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon announced Brady Hoke as the 19th coach in the 131-year history of Michigan football. Hoke, a UM assistant coach for eight years (1995-2002), returned to Ann Arbor after spending the past eight seasons as a head coach at Ball State (2003-08) and San Diego State (2009-10).
“It’s like none other in football,” Hoke said when he was introduced as the leader of college football’s winningest program. “Being engaged in that battle for eight years and growing up in the state, you knew Bo (Schembechler) and Woody (Hayes) and the great fights they had. It is the most important game on that schedule. Not that the others aren’t important, but it is the most important game on that schedule.”
Michigan has now gone seven years without beating Ohio State.
Time drawing near
The Rodriguez family stayed in Michigan after the coach lost his job. But the time is drawing near when they must decide whether to move to Naples, Fla., where Rich hopes to spend the summer. Or back in Michigan, where young Raquel and Rhett have made friends and aren’t anxious to move once again.
Rhett is in the ninth grade now and is involved in all sports. Raquel is a freshman in high school and a varsity cheerleader.
“I’ve pretty much recruited the entire state of Florida,” he said.
“I have several good friends there who live in Naples, so we’ll probably take up residence there this summer. This will give me the opportunity to look at Florida. Rita and the kids will come down in mid-June when school lets out.”
Rodriguez is planning on working with CBS Sports this fall —its cable network. There will be studio shows on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then games on the weekend. He doesn’t anticipate working any West Virginia games this year but could do a Marshall game or two.
This weekend, he plans to be in Glenville, where members of the first gridiron squad he coached are holding a fundraiser.
“Chris George and Jed Drenning — I haven’t seen those guys in years,” he said. “This is my home. But even when I was at WVU, you were so busy with the job that you don’t get to see as many people as you would like to see.”
Did Rodriguez ever feel totally comfortable at Michigan?
“My happiness usually is related to winning football games,” he said. “So my first year was miserable. Things were a little better the second year. But it wasn’t like it was at West Virginia. West Virginia is my home. It always will be my home.”
— John Veasey is Editor of the Times West Virginian