Rich Rodriguez recently found himself out of a job. His path leading to quasi-retirement is one of the most fascinating stories in college football. Rich Rod started in the old Big East and eventually found himself in the PAC-12. His offensive philosophy revolutionized college football and earned him a job as the head coach at one of the highest profile jobs in all of sports. Between West Virginia and fishing, Rodriguez would ultimately change the landscape of college football.
My fascination with Rich Rod started with a game that he lost. With West Virginia on the verge of a BCS title berth, all the Mountaineers had to do was beat lowly Pitt. That game is where Rich Rodriguez’s adventure truly began.
Rich Rod lead the Mountaineers for seven seasons. His last three seasons were his best. He was their guy. Pat White and Steve Slaton played a big part in WVU rising to national prominence. In Rich Rod’s spread option, these guys thrived. 2007 had WVU in prime position to earn a berth in the BCS title game.
Then, something weird happened. The 100th Backyard Brawl featured a WVU team destined for glory against… Pitt. Pitt was awful. WVU was a legit threat to win the title. Pitt would win 13-9 (somehow) and West Virginia’s title hopes were dashed. They would go on to crush Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, without Rich Rodriguez who had taken the head coaching position at the University of Michigan.
Michigan fans will still cringe at this.
Lloyd Carr was a Michigan man. He coached under Bo, he took Michigan to a national title in 1997. When it came time to replace him, Michigan needed to make a splash. They did that with Rich Rod. With Rodriguez watching, Michigan triumphed over Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators in the Capital One Bowl in Lloyd Carr’s last game. Rodriguez took over in 2008.
The Rich Rodriguez era kicked off with a home loss to Utah. For the first time ever, Michigan lost back to back home openers. The rest of the season would not be much better as Michigan went 3-9. The Big House had not experienced this type of mediocrity since before Bo. Rich Rod’s system ultimately failed because he did not have the players required to run a spread. Michigan had a ton of talent that year and Rodriguez failed to utilize the roster to its strengths.
The strength of the team was the defense. Despite the number of points allowed, the Michigan defense was generally strong. An offense stuck in the mud left a stout defense out to dry. Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan simply could not direct the offense the way Pat White did for three years at West Virginia.
The one bright spot of this season was the Wisconsin game. Down 19-0, Michigan would storm back to stun the Badgers. This is still the biggest comeback in the history of Michigan Stadium. In the 500th game at the Big House, Michigan found a way to win.
Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson. The legend of ‘Shoelace’ was born in the first game of the 2009 edition of Michigan football. I was watching the game live and could not believe my eyes. Robinson dropped the ball and looked for running room. He found none. Ultimately, he found the end zone.
Tate Forcier out of San Diego was a force for Michigan early.
Michigan went from having two QBs who were completely foreign to the concept of the spread option to two that fit perfectly in Rich Rod’s system. However, Forcier and Robinson would end up on two very different trajectories after the 2009 season.
After a 5-7 finish, Rodriguez’s seat would start to warm up.
Rich Rod’s last stand. Denard Robinson came out as QB1 and Forcier sat the entire opener, a win against Connecticut. The UConn game featured Brock Mealer walking onto the field and touching the Go Blue banner. Brock is an inspiration and a fantastic person. The Mealer family story is both harrowing and beautiful. It was truly the highlight of the day.
Denard Robinson would further cement his status with a win @ Notre Dame the next week. Michigan would beat all of their opponents until they met Michigan State. Paul Bunyan would remain in East Lansing. Big Ten play would not be kind to Michigan as their 5-0 start would fizzle out to a 7-5 finish.
After a 52-14 drubbing in the Gator Bowl at the hands of Mississippi State, Rich Rodriguez was fired. Michigan is a fickle beast. I have always been in the school of thought that Rich Rod deserved one more year. Overreacting to bowl games is one of the biggest mistakes anyone can make.
Michigan would go on to hire Brady Hoke.
Look at this idiot. He took Michigan to a BCS bowl and won the damn thing. Michigan was set up to be really good. Brady Hoke is the worst hire in the history of Michigan football. Rich Rodriguez should have gotten at least one more year. Also, Michigan actually gave Brady Hoke money to coach football. That happened.
Rich Rodriguez obviously failed to live up to expectations in Ann Arbor. Furthermore, he had a tendency to lose his mind on the sideline. When your team is struggling, it sends the wrong message when you display too much negative emotion on the sideline. It sends a bad message to the players, assistants, boosters and fans. Ultimately, it factored in to Rich Rod losing his job as the head coach at Michigan.
Rich Rodriguez is the name of roughly 43% of dads in the state of Arizona. Let me preface this section by saying that Arizona was never good while Rich Rod was there. They were fine. 2012 looked really bad in spots. Honestly, no season was all that impressive.
Then you consider that he was coaching at Arizona. Expectations are never a thing. This isn’t basketball. In his best season, he went 10-4 and lost the Fiesta Bowl. That’s a very good season for Arizona.
Rich Rod brought the spread out to the desert. The PAC-12 cares not about defense or shitty, cold weather. The Midwest is firmly out of Rich Rod’s mind. The fact that Arizona was able to even be in the conversation for the PAC-12 South is phenomenal.
Khalil Tate gave life to Rich Rod’s dying career.
Rich Rod is no longer the head coach at the University of Arizona. He might not find work again at the FBS level. However, his impact on college football is undeniable. From Pat White to Khalil Tate, he found ways to utilize mobile QBs. Given more time at Michigan, he may have been the coach they needed to carry them into the new era of college football.
Chew on this, had West Virginia not lost to Pitt on the last night of WVU’s season in 2007, he could very well be the head of a dynasty in Morgantown. Thanks a lot, Pitt. #EatShitPitt