A vote of confidence: Fans chant 'Rich-Rod-Ri-Guez!' as Michigan football team wins
Now the fans made a statement about their coach.
“Rich-Rod-Ri-Guez.” The name reverberated around Michigan Stadium, newly constructed luxury boxes perhaps bottling some of the sound that may have escaped in the past, and the players picked up on the momentum and waved their hands, inciting the crowd. Until that point, Rich Rodriguez stirred uneasiness that divided the program’s supporters into two camps: those that welcomed change and those that bristled at it. He had been the guy hired in a shotgun ceremony, an outsider honing in on turf long held by mythical Michigan men, a guy who clumsily gave away the No. 1 jersey. But there was no doubt Saturday, in a game that came nearly 20 months into his tenure as coach, that Rodriguez had been officially embraced. It took allegations that surfaced last week of possible NCAA rules violations and a lawsuit that exposed Rodriguez’s ties to a twice-banned Clemson booster to rally the fans behind a common cause, but hey, whatever works. And it didn’t hurt that his team turned in its most dominating performance of Rodriguez’s tenure. Two true freshmen playing quarterback, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, looked poised beyond their years. A defense pock-marked with problems last year appeared impenetrable for most of the game. A week Rodriguez had called the most “miserable” of his coaching career ended with a thunderous exclamation point, a 31-7 win that started the healing after last year’s blooper-reel badness. But this, ultimately, was not about the final score. This was about confidence, in the coach and in his future here. Even though athletic director Bill Martin bestowed a vote of confidence amid the turmoil last week with his “I’m all in for Rich Rodriguez” statement, the spontaneous eruption of cheers and chants Saturday seemed to matter so much more. “Oh man, yeah, we were hungry,” said wide receiver Junior Hemingway, who caught two touchdown passes. “Hungry for him. Not just him, but us. It was all that. We know he’s been down, and he came to us and (we wanted to) fight, fight, fight for him.” At the end of the game, another chant emerged from the student section: “Keep united.” That chant acknowledged the reality of the situation. That no one is Pollyanna, and Saturday wasn’t a fairy tale. Questions on the field may have been answered; the off-field ones remain. There’s still more to learn about the alleged NCAA violations, which came from 10 current and former players telling Detroit Free Press reporters that the team exceeded allowed practice times. Michigan has hired an outside firm to help in that investigation. There’s still more to learn about Rodriguez’s relationship with Clegg Lamar Greene, a twice-banned Clemson booster who was partners with Rodriguez in a failed real-estate investment. Those are legitimate questions that must be pursued. But for a few hours on Saturday, the weight lifted off Rodriguez’s shoulders. For the first time, public support swung behind him. And the fans are sticking with him, for better or worse.
Pete Bigelow covers sports for Ann Arbor.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or 734-623-2556.