Top 10 Failures of Rich Rodriguez

Top 10 Failures of Rich Rodriguez

January 6, 2011

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.


  1. Comments: 21383
    Jan 06, 2011 at 7:09 PM

    I agree with that list, and I think that it sums it up very nicely, which extra emphasis on #1. It may seem too obvious, but I don't like the developing meme that RichRod failed because he was betrayed and the Michigan nation never gave him a chance. Let history accurately show that he sucked as Michigan's coach.

  2. Comments: 21383
    Jan 06, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    My opinions:

    Totally agree on Schafer. That was probably his biggest mistake/regret.

    Otherwise, he should probably have kept some of the old guard defensive staff around at the start and focused on revamping the offense. It would have been a major peace offering and public sign that he wanted to update, not revolutionize, Michigan football. Defensive coaching wasn't the problem at Michigan.

    I still refuse to blame Robinson or the 3-3-5 for the 2010 defense. The personnel was too weak to pass judgement on scheme or coaching.

    For public perception fiasco, I'd put Josh Grobin higher than the #1 jersey thing, even though arguably the last nail was already in the coffin by then. What a disgrace.

    I'd also add recruiting too many slot receivers to this list. Theres simply no reason for that many guys at one position when people like Roundtree and Teric Jones can slide into it.

    I'd also add taking too many chances on defensive recruits. Rodriguez should have recognized faster not only the talent deficiency in the defense, but also the depth problems. He needed to find more Vinopals and Morgans sooner and laid a reliable base on defense from the outset.

    I'd rank #10 much higher.

  3. Comments: 21383
    Michael S
    Jan 06, 2011 at 8:39 PM

    Mallett was gone even if Carr had stayed.

    I think the main thing was "not having enough talented upperclassmen." Look at how many UM players have been drafted in the last three years vs. the 3 years before that.

    The cupboard was bare. A coach is only as good as his players.

    • Comments: 21383
      Aug 28, 2013 at 1:37 AM

      Mallet was not gone. That's a Rich-ism. Never reached out.

      Rich 2010- 7-6. All losses by double digits and the embarrassment against OSU and in the bowl.
      Brady 2011- 11-2. Beats OSU and beats a team with a pulse (Rich?) in the Sugar Bowl.

      Essentially the same cupboard, Rita.

  4. Comments: 21383
    Jan 06, 2011 at 9:57 PM

    Generally that is a good list. A couple of comments however:

    — The #1 jersey thing needs to be explained. To me this wasn't RR's fault. How was he supposed to know? A guy like Fred Jackson or John Falk should have told him – that's how.
    — Some of the DB situation was his fault and some wasn't. Either way that lead to his downfall, but Cissoko probably can't be blamed on him (and he deserves credit for booting him and Feagin). Can he be blamed for recruiting guys like Witty and Dorsey who never made it? Can he be blamed for Warren leaving early? Can he be blamed for Vlad and Turner being busts? I have no idea on any of those answers.
    — I think defensive recruiting in general should be on the list. Partially because of so many guys not making it to campus and partially for failing to land impact players.
    — I think special teams needs to be on this list. I'm not sure what went wrong, exactly, but they have had a horrific special teams in his entire tenure (except punting).

  5. Comments: 21383
    Jan 06, 2011 at 10:54 PM

    I will always go back to last season as the downfall of Rich Rod. There was two games we could have won (MSU and Purdue) and with a 6-6 or 7-5 record plus the extra bowl practices we probably have a much better 2010 season. That MSU game where we came back and lost in OT will forever be on my mind. I will always wonder what might have been if we went for two and won it in regulation.

  6. Comments: 21383
    Rob Pollard
    Jan 06, 2011 at 11:12 PM

    I largely agree that these were RR's issues, but I take issue w something people, like yourself, state regarding #2.

    Notre Dame is clearly in our "Top 3" in terms of rivalries. In some years (certainly when ND was better and MSU was worse), it was easily in the Top 2.

    There is no way Penn State is more important than ND.

    Doesn't change the fact RR was 0-6 against MSU & OSU, but I think by ignoring ND and including PSU, you're not being accurate.

  7. Comments: 21383
    Jan 07, 2011 at 2:36 AM

    @ Rob Pollard 6:12 p.m.

    Historically, yes, I agree that Notre Dame is a bigger rival. However, they suck. And they have for a long time. I think Penn State is a better measuring stick, and PSU has the advantage of being an intraconference rival.

  8. Comments: 21383
    Jan 07, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    @ Lankownia

    Regardless of personnel, 35.2 points per game is embarrassing. That's a huge failure.

    And I really don't care about the Josh Groban thing. I definitely think that was blown out of proportion. The difference is that the #1 jersey got Rodriguez off to a bad start with regard to PR. The Groban thing was just the cherry on top.

  9. Comments: 21383
    Jan 08, 2011 at 2:49 AM

    The #1 thing was blown out of proportion. RR has a legit excuse for not knowing about a tradition that only recently came to exist and the criteria for it is vague at best – your recent post indicates the degree to which even M fans disagree on who should or shouldn't get it.

    The Grobin thing, while irrelevant (as if a jersey number is…) just indicates being totally out of touch with a what is appropriate for Michigan culture.

    Timing obviously plays a significant factor here. But the #1 thing was quickly acknowledged and addressed…the Grobin thing – ugh.

  10. Comments: 21383
    Jan 08, 2011 at 3:36 AM

    Why was Mallett gone even if Carr had stayed?

  11. Comments: 21383
    Jan 08, 2011 at 10:06 PM

    @ Lankownia 9:49 a.m.

    I think you're too wrapped up in the Josh Groban (and it's Groban, not Grobin) thing. You say that the #1 jersey thing was blown out of proportion…

    …but here you are lamenting a song that was played during the end-of-year banquet.

    Let's see, what's more important – a jersey tradition or a song at a dinner? Hmmm…

  12. Comments: 21383
    Jan 08, 2011 at 10:08 PM

    @ Rick 10:36 p.m.

    There has been much talk that Ryan Mallett was planning to leave Michigan even before Rich Rodriguez was hired. He was not a fan of the weather, and he wanted to go to Arkansas all along. The only reason he didn't commit to Arkansas out of high school was that the highly touted Mitch Mustain was already there, and Mallett didn't want to sit. Once Mustain decided to transfer to USC, the rumor is that Mallett was out the door, regardless of the coach.

  13. Comments: 21383
    Jan 09, 2011 at 5:09 AM

    Scott Shafer

    I recall reading/hearing that Shafer had done a good deal to oust himself at UM. He apparently got into frequent arguments with the other coaches and managed to piss off several high school coaches while he was here, too.

    Also the #1 jersey thing – I'll never understand why that was such an issue. It was never a "tradition" until Carr made it one when Braylon Edwards was here. Or am I crazy?

  14. Comments: 21383
    Jan 09, 2011 at 5:12 AM

    If you want to include Penn State, he was 0-9.

    Penn State? Since when are they a rival? They are not, IMO, anywhere near the level of OSU, MSU, or ND.

    Also Sam McGuffie is listed in your Labels. He left for personal reasons unrelated to football, IIRC.

  15. Comments: 21383
    Jan 09, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    @ Anonymous 12:09 a.m.

    You're not crazy. I didn't really understand the #1 jersey kerfuffle, either. But some people were pissed about it and it was kind of a PR mess at the start of his regime.

  16. Comments: 21383
    Jan 09, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    @ Anonymous 12:12 a.m.

    I don't think Penn State nears OSU or MSU, but as I said somewhere above, they are a better measuring stick than Notre Dame. I don't think ND or PSU nears OSU/MSU, but ND has sucked for awhile and PSU has been pretty good throughout the years (except for a couple).

  17. Comments: 21383
    Jan 09, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    @ Anonymous 12:12 a.m.

    Regarding McGuffie, he's in the labels not because he transferred away from Michigan, but because he was yet another player that Rodriguez played extensively despite being an inferior runner to Brandon Minor.

    McGuffie averaged 4.1 YPC and scored on 3.2% of his touches.

    Minor averaged 5.2 YPC and scored in 10.1% of his touches.

    But McGuffie had 15 more carries than Minor in 2008.

  18. Comments: 21383
    Jan 09, 2011 at 9:10 PM

    Thunder, its obviously a totally subjective issue. I'm saying both are equally unimportant. That said, one troubles me more than the other because of how it reflects on RR, not necessarily related to the magnitude of fan reaction.

    Its seems to me the jersey thing was easily explainable as being unaware of a local tradition, and once informed, it was quickly rectified. If you're going to blame someone for this its probably Fred Jackson for not giving RR the heads up. In other words, you make a mistake, accept it, learn from it, and don't do it again. I can't kill a coach for an honest (and trivial) mistake like this.

    As for the song – it just speaks to not only poor taste, but being out of touch and unaware of perceptions. After 3 months, thats excusable – 3 years at Michigan and he's still choosing poorly and oblivious to what works and what (obviously) won't. Not that I want RR being too focused on what people think of him, but he had to be somewhat aware of a certain toughness that is expected out of coaches in B10 country. It wasn't just wins and losses it was the culture that led to his downfall. That song and Lion King don't help his reputation no matter how its received by players. The fact that 3 years in, he still didn't get it, makes one wonder if he ever would.

    Anyway, yes, just a song, yeah. But the decision-making, if you want interpret it the way I do, is suspect.

    Spelling correction noted.

  19. Comments: 21383
    Jan 27, 2011 at 10:34 PM

    #11 — constant annoying crybabying to the media with excuses…. didnt help his perception among Michigan fans who were used to Head Coaches who didnt make public excuses

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