Where did Rich Rodriguez’s staff go?

Tag: Greg Robinson

6May 2011
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Where did Rich Rodriguez’s staff go?

Running backs coach Fred Jackson was the only coach to survive the Rich Rodriguez tenure. (Ann Arbor.com)

Adam Braithwaite (Safeties coach, 2010)
Braithwaite was fired along with the rest of the defensive staff in January.  He was recently hired by Christopher Newport University to be the team’s defensive coordinator.

Tony Dews (Wide receivers coach, 2008-2010)

Dews was hired by new coach Todd Graham at Pitt shortly after the staff was fired from Michigan.  He will be the Panthers tight ends coach.

Greg Frey (Offensive line coach, 2008-2010)
Frey was hired by new coach Kevin Wilson at Indiana shortly after the staff was fired from Michigan.  He will be the Hoosiers offensive line coach.

Tony Gibson (Defensive backs coach, 2008-2010)
Gibson was hired by new coach Todd Graham at Pitt shortly after the staff was fired from Michigan.  He will be the Panthers cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator.

Jay Hopson (Linebackers coach, 2008-2009)
Hopson was hired by Memphis prior to the 2010 season to be the defensive coordinator and safeties coach.  The Tigers were #116 in total defense and #110 in scoring defense prior to Hopson’s arrival.  Memphis finished 2010 with the #115 squad in total defense (460.67 yards/game) and the #117 scoring defense (39.83 points/game).

Calvin Magee (Offensive coordinator/tight ends coach, 2008-2010)
Magee was hired by new coach Todd Graham at Pitt shortly after the staff was fired from Michigan.  He will be the Panthers co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach.

Greg Robinson (Defensive coordinator, 2009-2010)
Robinson’s current whereabouts are unknown.  Rumor has it that he’s been auditioning for Just for Men commercials.

Scott Shafer (Defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach, 2008)
Shafer was fired after the 2008 season.  He was then hired by Syracuse to be its defensive coordinator.  Syracuse had been #101 in both total defense and scoring defense prior to Shafer’s arrival, but they improved to #37 in total defense and #81 in scoring defense by 2009.  Syracuse finished 2010 at #7 in total defense (301.46 yards/game) and #17 in scoring defense (19.31 points/game).

Rod Smith (Quarterbacks coach, 2008-2010)
Smith was hired by new coach Kevin Wilson at Indiana shortly after the staff was fired from Michigan.  He will be the Hoosiers quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator.

Bruce Tall (Defensive line coach, 2008-2010)
Tall was hired by Charlotte to be the program’s first defensive coordinator.

25Jan 2011
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Mailbag: How will Craig Roh be used?

Indiana sucks.  Craig Roh doesn’t.

My understanding is the he DC ran the 3-4 at Baltimore and I’m concerned what this means for Roh.  He doesn’t seem suited to play LB or DE in that system. Is he strictly a one-gap lineman and if so, how do you see him being used by the staff?

First of all, I think Roh is one of the top two defensive players on the roster (with Mike Martin).  He’s 6’5″, 250+ pounds, he’s strong, he can cover a little bit, he’s pretty quick, and he’s aggressive.  So I don’t blame you for being concerned about how he will be used.

Luckily, I think new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will put Roh in a position to achieve success this coming season.  In my opinion, the old coaching staff was almost criminally negligent in their use of Roh last season.  As a true freshman in 2009, Roh split time with Brandon Herron and notched 7.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.  As a full-time starter in 2010, Roh inreased his total tackles by only six (37 to 43) but his tackles for loss dropped to 5.5 and he had a whopping 1/2 sack.  That’s why I was so convinced that the spring 2010 practice rumors were erroneous or overblown that Michigan would be using a 3-3-5.  Sure enough, Michigan tried to play Roh as an outside stacked linebacker, which was a failure.  Rumors popped up that Craig and his father, Fred, approached the coaching staff about using Roh appropriately . . . or running the risk of seeing him transfer.  Almost immediately afterward, we saw Roh playing defensive end again.  I can’t vouch for the validity of those rumors, but generally, where there’s smoke there’s fire.

As for Michigan’s defense in 2011, recruits have reported that Brady Hoke has been relaying messages about running a 4-3.  Obviously, things could change or be misinterpreted, but that’s the word on the street.  On the other hand, Mattison did indeed run a version of a 3-4 this past season with the Baltimore Ravens, and I have a hard time believing that he would change schemes at the snap of a finger.  On the other other hand, someone with Mattison’s age and experience probably knows the ins and outs of both systems.

Really, it would be nothing more than a guess for me to say what type of defense Michigan will run in 2011.  There seems to be evidence for both.  But Roh has the size and skill set to play weakside defensive end in a 4-3 (Tim Jamison was 6’3″, 263 as a senior) or outside linebacker in a 3-4 (Terrell Suggs is 6’3″, 260).  My guess is that the defense will be a hybrid type of 3-4/4-3 in which we’ll see Roh deployed like he was in 2009, back when Greg Robinson had some semblance of a clue what he was doing with the defense (remember when Roh looked promising and Steve Brown had such a solid season?  You know, before Rodriguez forced the 3-3-5 on him?).  Once in awhile, Roh will drop back into the flat or pick up a running back in man coverage.  Once in awhile, Roh will stand up and blitz the interior of the line.  Most of the time, he’ll rush the passer.

I was wrong last year when I said that Michigan would probably run a 4-2-5, but after the defensive performance of 2010, I’m not convinced I was wrong that Michigan should have run a 4-2-5.  It’s not that the 3-3-5 can’t be successful in the Big Ten, but that assumes that the linebackers can be competent.  Obi Ezeh was a disappointment, Mouton was off-and-on, Roh was misused, and by the end of the season, only Mouton remained in the same spot (Ezeh was benched for Kenny Demens, and Roh was put at defensive end).  Rodriguez, Robinson, and the other defensive assistants had no clue how to work together and employ their personnel, and they were sent packing because of it.

Now that Hoke is in charge and brought in one of his guys – somebody he knows and trusts – I think the defensive coaching will be much smoother.  Michigan had an identity when Rodriguez brought Calvin Magee to run the offense.  They both knew what they wanted to do, and the offense improved steadily.  Conversely, Rodriguez brought in a 4-3 guy that he didn’t know (Shafer), forced him to run a 3-3-5 after two-thirds of a season, fired Shafer, brought in a 3-4/4-3 guy that he didn’t know (Robinson), forced him to run a 3-3-5 after a full season, and then got everyone fired.

I still believe in Roh’s talent, and sadly, a 3-3-5 is just about the only defense where he can’t fit somewhere.  I think 2010 was a bit of an aberration in Roh’s maturation, and we’ll see an explosive pass rusher and stellar athlete wearing #88 once again, rather than this:

Yes, that’s a 250 lb. defensive tackle lined up over Mississippi State’s left guard.  It’s also a touchdown.

6Jan 2011
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Top 10 Failures of Rich Rodriguez

1.  Losing games.  This is obvious, but it belongs on the list.  Rodriguez finished his three years at Michigan with a 15-22 record.  That winning percentage (.405) is the worst in Michigan history.

2. Losing to rivals.  Rodriguez was 0-6 against Michigan’s two biggest rivals, Ohio State and Michigan State.  If you want to include Penn State, he was 0-9.  He was outscored by a total of 317-140 in those nine games.  It’s unclear how much a couple victories against Ohio State or Michigan State might have affected Rodriguez’s tenure, but wins against Indiana and Purdue don’t carry the same weight.

3. Neutering Scott Shafer.  Shafer has proven to be a solid defensive coordinator at every other stop – Western Michigan, Stanford, and Syracuse.  The former two were prior to Shafer’s hiring at Michigan.  But Rodriguez’s other defensive assistants were proponents of the 3-3-5 and seemed to undermine his authority.  Late in the season, Rodriguez even authorized a mid-season switch of defensive schemes from the 4-3 to a 3-3-5; Michigan subsequently allowed 42 points to Purdue, a team using a converted running back to play QB.  Shafer could have been a good coordinator at Michigan and helped Rodriguez keep his job, but he was fired after the 2008 season because, well, someone’s head needed to roll after a 3-9 season.

4. Hiring Greg Robinson.  Robinson had intermittent success as a coordinator in the NFL and in college.  But just like Shafer, Robinson was a 4-3 or a 3-4 guy.  In my opinion, the defense showed some promise in 2009, when Robinson used safety Steve Brown as an outside linebacker and freshman Craig Roh as a rush linebacker.  However, Rodriguez used the 2009-10 offseason to convert to the 3-3-5, and Robinson was obviously uncomfortable and inexperienced with running that defensive set.  That resulted in 458 points allowed in 2010, an average of 35.2 points per game.

5. Not retaining holdover players from the Carr era.  Michigan was extremely short-handed in 2009, fielding a team of 69 or 70 players who were given scholarships right out of high school.  Some of those players were bound for a career of anonymity, I’m sure, but others were not.  Quarterback Ryan Mallett was vaguely in Heisman contention this season.  Justin Boren became an All-Big Ten guard at Ohio State.  Adrian Arrington chose to enter the NFL Draft (and became only a 7th round choice) a year early.  Rodriguez can’t shoulder the blame entirely for these departures, but there’s no question that a guy like Boren would have been helpful in 2008 and 2009, the former season featuring a starting guard (John Ferrara) that was a mid-season position switcher from defensive tackle.

6. Stretching too much.  The Detroit Free Press reported some trumped-up charges regarding Michigan’s practice schedule, and that sparked an NCAA investigation.  While the charges were blown out of proprtion, they were a black mark on the Michigan program and resulted in probation and some lost practice hours.  Rodriguez wasn’t responsible for everything that went wrong in the compliance department, but his staff did fail to keep track of its countable practice hours accurately and a graduate assistant watched some voluntary 7-on-7s, which is a no-no.

7. Not finding his Steve Slaton.  Pat White got a lot of hype at West Virginia, but running back Steve Slaton was almost as important as White.  And prior to White’s arrival on campus, Rodriguez used running backs like Quincy Wilson and Kay-Jay Harris to great effect.  Rodriguez never found “that guy” at Michigan, partially due to injuries and partially due to recruiting.  Therefore, the offense wasn’t as spectacular as it might have been.  The lack of a running game cost Michigan a couple games throughout his tenure.

8. Not developing top prospects.  Rodriguez seemed to have an abnormal number of high-end recruits bomb out of the program.  And it’s probably a coincidence, but most of them seemed to come from the defensive secondary.  Four 4-star players recruited by Rodriguez never made a significant positive impact at Michigan (Demar Dorsey, Boubacar Cissoko, Justin Turner, Vladimir Emilien), which resulted in five true freshman defensive backs seeing significant time in 2010.  Furthermore, arguably Michigan’s best prospect in the last few classes (William Campbell) has yet to make an impact at Michigan and just switched from nose tackle to offensive guard in the middle of the season.

9. Handing out the #1 jersey to J.T. Floyd.  Before Rodriguez ever coached a snap at Michigan, he tried to give the #1 jersey to true freshman cornerback J.T. Floyd.  He was either unaware of the jersey’s significance or chose to ignore that aspect, but it was nonetheless a mistake.  Nothing seemed to highlight the fact that Rodriguez wasn’t a “Michigan Man” more than the #1 jersey snafu, which pitted some alumni and fans against him from the start.

10.  Poor player personnel decisions.  Part of the heat falls on the assistant coaches, but Rodriguez shoulders most of this blame because he has the final say: Rodriguez didn’t put his players in their best positions to succeed.  Running backs Sam McGuffie and Vincent Smith played far too much when there were more productive and explosive backs on the roster (Brandon Minor and Michael Shaw for starters).  Obi Ezeh should have been an outside linebacker starting back in 2008; and at least according to their play on the field, Ezeh should have been replaced by Kenny Demens much earlier.  Cameron Gordon – who has linebacker speed – spent half the 2010 season playing free safety.  William Campbell spent two years toiling on the defensive line before making a permanent move to the offensive line, and he didn’t even redshirt to allow for a fifth year of eligibility.

8Dec 2010
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Effects of Coaching Carousel on Michigan

Several coaches from schools around the country have been fired, retired, or resigned recently, and some of those coaching situations may have an impact on Michigan.  Here I’ll discuss the ways in which the departures of Urban Meyer (Florida), Randy Shannon (Miami), and Dave Wannstedt (Pitt) might impact the situation in Ann Arbor.  I don’t think any of them necessarily signify impending doom for Rich Rodriguez (Urban Meyer isn’t coming to Ann Arbor), but they might affect the Michigan program in smaller ways.

All three schools I’m going to focus on harbor Class of 2011 commits who have Michigan offers.

  • Florida: RB Mike Blakely, SR Javares McRoy, LB Ryan Shazier, DB Valdez Showers, WR Ja’juan Story, CB Nick Waisome
  • Miami: DE Anthony Chickillo
  • Pitt: RB/SR Bill Belton, CB Terrell Chestnut, CB Kyshoen Jarrett, LB Ben Kline

The three players in the above lists who have shown the most interest in Michigan are Showers, Jarrett, and Kline.  Showers is from Michigan, and the other two seemed to be giving the Wolverines a fair look before committing to become Panthers.  Assuming that Florida’s head job is filled by someone with Florida roots (Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Louisville’s Charlie Strong), I doubt that many Gator commits will waver.  However, Pittsburgh’s open job will likely be filled by an outsider, and that means Jarrett and Kline might be ripe for the picking.  Jarrett has reportedly sent out feelers to other programs, including Michigan, and Kline had Michigan in his top few schools at one point.

Urban Meyer’s intentions are to coach the Florida Gators in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.  However, just like Michigan did with Rich Rodriguez back in 2007-2008, Meyer’s replacement might be hired prior to January 1.  That guy might be Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen.  And even though Mullen is familiar with the landscape of Florida and has only been gone from Gainesville for a season, I’m not sure that Florida’s athletic director would want to sacrifice several weeks of recruiting right near the end of the cycle.  I would not be surprised to see Meyer’s replacement hired within the coming week; if Mullen’s the guy, he probably won’t be coaching the Bulldogs on January 1.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Mississippi State would be a mess for the bowl game.  Going back to that Michigan/West Virginia situation in 2007-2008, interim head coach Bill Stewart led the Mountainers to a 48-28 victory over #3 Oklahoma.

It’s practically a foregone conclusion that, at the very least, defensive coordinator Greg Robinson will be gone before the 2011 season.  If it doesn’t happen prior to the bowl game, it will happen soon after.  But with the tenuous status of the entire coaching staff at Michigan, it’s not like some coordinator out there is going to accept a job at Michigan this very instant.  For now, Robinson is the guy.

None of Pitt’s staff is likely to come to Michigan, but the Miami and Florida staff changes may have an effect. 

Randy Shannon was a very good defensive coordinator for the Hurricanes for six seasons before becoming head coach.  He also has NFL experience with the Miami Dolphins, so heading back to the NFL isn’t out of the question.  Shannon seems like a long shot to come to Michigan as a coordinator, especially because Michigan has a tradition of underpaying coordinators.  Athletic director David Brandon might signal a new regime by shelling out some dough for a big-name coordinator, but I have my doubts.

More likely candidates include:

  • Vance Bedford.  Bedford was a defensive backs coach at Michigan for five total seasons, most recently in 2007.  He then joined the Florida staff and followed Charlie Strong to Louisville to become defensive coordinator, where he currently has the #12 total defense and the #15 scoring defense in the country.  If Strong becomes head coach at Florida, that might cause a shakeup in his staff, but I don’t see a significant reason that Bedford wouldn’t follow Strong back to Gainesville except for . . .
  • Chuck Heater.  Heater was a running back at Michigan from 1972-1974.  Though he hasn’t coached at Michigan, he’s still a “Michigan Man.”  He succeeded Strong as defensive coordinator at Florida, and has the #9 total defense and #31 scoring defense in 2010.  If Strong were hired, Bedford or Heater would likely head elsewhere for a coordinator position.  Since Bedford seems to be Strong’s “guy,” this might make Heater a free agent.

The availability of these guys is largely based on speculation and connections to Michigan, so I don’t have any inside sources saying that David Brandon is pursuing these guys.  However, they seem like fairly logical choices to replace Greg Robinson at Michigan.  As I said in a prior post about Rodriguez’s future in Ann Arbor, I stated that one of the caveats should be that a defensive coordinator should be hired and Rodriguez should be told to keep his hands off the defensive side of the ball.  Shannon, Bedford, and Heater have the experience and credibility to come in and run their systems without too much blowback. 

All of these dominos are unlikely to fall, but they’re things to consider as Michigan likely searches for a defensive coordinator and staff this offseason.

30Nov 2010
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Mailbag: Will Rich Rodriguez return in 2011?


Dear Magnus,

I’m a long time reader, first time writer.

I’d like to know if a) you think Rodriguez will be fired and b) you think he should be fired.  Please keep your response to 10,000 words or less.



Thanks for the e-mail, Matt.

These are difficult questions to answer, but I’m just a blogger, so my opinion really doesn’t matter.  So what the hell, let’s go for it.

Do I think that Rodriguez will be fired?  To put it bluntly, yes.  I think the din of disapproval has grown too loud.  People expected more when he was hired, and they expected it faster.  To the vast majority, THIS IS MICHIGAN, and Lloyd Carr couldn’t possibly have left the cupboard this bare.  And to an extent, they’re right.  I have a hard time believing that a Lloyd Carr-coached team would have wandered through a season with as little of a clue about how to play defense as this 2010 squad has, and the mind boggling amount of attrition over the past few years probably could have been stemmed in some way.  How?  I don’t know.  But other programs have gone through coaching changes without losing 17 players in their first three recruiting classes (2008-2010) like Rodriguez has, and that’s not counting the droves who were already in Ann Arbor and were subsequently driven off by Rodriguez’s rules, conditioning, or attitude.

Athletic director David Brandon has been publicly supportive for the most part, and I think he’s done a good job of standing by Rodriguez.  I don’t think Brandon had his mind made up when he was hired that Rodriguez would be gone after 2010, but he has probably reached that conclusion over the past few months.  The 0-9 record against Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State might have been the nail in the coffin for Rodriguez, who lost all of those games handily in 2010.  As I said in my post the other day, the 7-5 record this season was what I expected.  But just because Michigan people expected that season doesn’t mean that they’ll accept it.

Do I think Rodriguez should be fired?  The answer to that is a little murkier.  With even a halfway decent defense, this team could have been 9-3 or 10-2.  Wisconsin and Ohio State were tanks this year; Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan State were all fairly beatable, in my opinion.  If David Brandon sat down Rodriguez and said, “Look, we’re going to hire this particular guy to run a 4-3 (or 3-4 or 4-2-5 or even 3-3-5) defense, and you will leave him alone to do his own thing,” then that might be the difference.  But should an athletic director really have to do that?  If Brandon has to tell Rodriguez what defense to run, then Brandon might as well trade in his suit and tie for a whistle and a headset.  The defense was bound to be bad because of all the youth, but you can’t tell me that it had to be this bad.  Not 109th in total defense and 102nd in scoring defense.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s Harbaugh or bust.  I don’t want Brady Hoke just because “He’s a Michigan man.”  Les Miles’ road to Ann Arbor has essentially been blocked.  I don’t want a first-time head coach like Gus Malzahn, the offensive coordinator from Auburn (who would likely face some of the same resistance Rodriguez has).  Michigan shouldn’t hire some guy just because that guy’s name happens to not be Rich Rodriguez.

If Harbaugh balks, I think Michigan ought to keep Rodriguez and go after a proven defensive coordinator.  I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of bringing in West Virginia’s Jeff Casteel, who might be out of a job if WVU head coach Bill Stewart’s rumored retirement comes to fruition.  But whoever the new coordinator would be, he would have to be given some autonomy over the defense.

I know that’s not an extremely definitive answer, but without knowing Harbaugh’s intentions or the future of Casteel (among other moving parts), it’s difficult to make a decision right this moment.