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Posted on Sat, Oct 31, 2009 : 8:50 p.m.

Second-year turnaround? How about a U-Turn to last year for Michigan football?

By Michael Rothstein

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The fan stood in the front row at the 50-yard line behind Michigan’s bench, and his mouth wouldn’t stop.

He kept going. And going. And going. And if you were him in his white No. 7 Juice Williams jersey, why wouldn’t you heckle?


Illinois players celebrate at the end of the Illini's 38-13 victory against Michigan. (Photo: Melanie Maxwell |

“Rich Rodriguez, I love you, man,” the fan said as the final minutes ticked down on Illinois’ 38-13 win over Michigan. “If it weren’t for you, we’d be 1-7.”

This is what it has come to less than two seasons into Rich Rodriguez’s reign at Michigan. A once-feared offensive coach, a guy who was considered to have an innovative mind, is being begged to stay by opposing fans.

It feels like eons ago that Michigan was 4-0 and ranked in the Top 25. Remember that? Yeah, thought so.

Then Big Ten play started and the Wolverines unraveled. First, there was the close loss to Michigan State and then another one a week later to Iowa. And to think, those are the high points.

So maybe the fan had it right. Maybe the rest of the Big Ten is watching what is unfolding in Ann Arbor and secretly hoping Rodriguez is around in the maize and blue for the long haul. Because don’t forget, Rodriguez is the king of the second-year turnarounds.

Who knew it would be a U-Turn back to 2008?

Michigan has looked flat uncompetitive the past two weeks. Against Penn State, that’s understandable. The Nittany Lions are arguably the best team in the league and perhaps headed for a BCS bowl berth.

But Illinois? Yuck.

The Illini were 1-6 entering this game. They hadn’t beaten Michigan two straight years since 1957-58, more than 50 years ago. They hadn’t won against a Football Bowl Subdivision team in 364 days.

Two weeks ago, Stevie Brown was talking about a possible chance to run the table and get to the Rose Bowl. Now, Michigan should be happy with any bowl.

“We’re not getting wins that we should,” Michigan cornerback Troy Woolfolk said. “We’re just playing for pride now. We know we’re not winning the Big Ten, but we still have a chance to go to a bowl.

“Just one more win and if we do that, it’ll be a better season than last year.”

At the end of August, that might have been good enough - and yes, if Michigan makes a bowl it will constitute progress.

It is the way Michigan loses that is the problem. Defensively, Michigan consistently is burnt by receivers, running backs and mobile quarterbacks. The way cornerbacks play off of the line of scrimmage - some plays Saturday had cornerback Donovan Warren 10 yards from the line - is maddening and ineffective. Offensively, the Wolverines have turned into a circus show with turnovers and a freshman quarterback that looks, well, like a freshman.

And the coaching has been atrocious all around. Going for it on fourth-and-one was a coaching mistake that turned the game. Not playing Brandon Minor - Michigan’s best and hardest-running back - was an error. Clearly, he was healthy enough to play in mop-up time and on that fourth-and-one play, where Rodriguez said he wanted “a big, physical guy.”

The lack of a dedicated special teams coach is showing as Michigan lost a punt - again - on a fumbled attempt at a catch.

Again, the fans speak.

“Brandon Minor,” another fan yelled toward Michigan’s bench, this one around the 20-yard line. “I thought you would have played more today.”

“Rich Rod, it’s not all your fault,” the fan on the 50 bellowed. “Your defensive coordinator has a large role in this.”

It’s not. Blame should go all around, but it should end with Rodriguez. His team has gotten worse throughout the season, and it isn’t because of the quality of opponent. Michigan beat what will likely end up being the third-best team on its schedule, Notre Dame. It also lost to one of the worst in Illinois.

The latest loss also leaves you wondering exactly what Michigan got when it hired Rodriguez from West Virginia a little under two years ago.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 9:19 p.m.

I agree jrodz, he is still seen as an offensive innovator. He's just losing his grip on being seen as a good head coach.

J rodz

Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 8:27 p.m.

"This is what it has come to less than two seasons into Rich Rodriguezs reign at Michigan. A once-feared offensive coach, a guy who was considered to have an innovative mind, is being begged to stay by opposing fans." So one fan's comment is an indication of how he is no longer considered an offensive innovator? Really? Insightful stuff...


Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 3:30 p.m.

I agree with most everything said. What I do not understand is why everyone is so high on RRs recruiting. My belief is that his recruiting matches his coaching (ie. CRAP). None of his classes (including the one coming in) comes close to matching ANY of Lloyd's classes. It use to be 4 and 5 stars with an occasional 3 star. Now it's 3 stars with an occasional 4/5 star and a few 2 stars.


Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 3:26 p.m.

This team has no heart. This team has no desire to win. Heart and desire lead players to make every play count and never give up. I see none of this. Also, Barwis is a myth. Our strength and conditioning program should have paid off at 1st and goal from the one - It did not. There is also no team speed. Opposing players make Michigan look like their running with parachutes trailing behind them. And then there are the injuries, I thought a Barwis team avoided injuries - evidently not. Lastly, where's the leadership? There is none from the coaching staff and none from the players. I see the same issues every week. Not only aren't there improvements, the team is regressing! Let's see, a multimillion dollar stadium project, a new practice facility, a multimillion dollar coach and what do we get from this investment - EMBARASSMENT! Fool me once (3-9), shame on you, fool me twice (1-4 in the Big Ten), shame on me. Mr. Martin - Shame on you! Oregon, Cincinnati, Iowa, Boise State, Utah - I want what they have; players and coaches with some pride, some heart, some desire and some appreciation for tradition and school spirit! And with some knowledge that it's all bigger than them!


Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 1:26 p.m.

I was originally one of Rich Rod's biggest supporters two years ago. My wish list after Carr 'retired' started with Les Miles and Brian Kelly with Rodriguez a close third. But after almost 2 full seasons, I've seen enough. I'll admit I was wrong. Too many bad decisions and trends. First..bringing in two bad defensive coordinators, not eliminating turnovers in 2 years, making repeated questionable personnel decisions--i.e Minor coming in on 4th and 1 but otherwise not playing, and the worst thing of all, his team appears lost and confused and has QUIT on him in two consecutive games. Any confidence Tate Forcier had after the ND game is gone. This team is going in reverse, even though they supposedly have superior athletic talent stockpiled on their sidelines. Recruting is not enough. It's only 1/3 of the coaching equation. We just lost to a BAD Illini team that itself was looking for a reason to quit after an abysmal first half in which they were booed off the field. Bring in Brian Kelly, he was my first choice two years ago and he's only done more since then to improve his resume'. Do it before it's too late...IF he will even leave Cincinnati. I don't want to hear that he's not good enough for Ann Arbor. Pride goeth before a fall. Kelly will give our players the mentality to WIN. He will bring in guys that some other programs might not want and use that to give them an edge. The prima donna recruits Rich Rod has gathered don't have enough heart. That starts and ends with the man at the top. Sorry Rich're not the man for Michigan.


Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 10:26 a.m.

RR is not a leader!! RR is not a motivator!! RR cannot handle adversity!! RR does not have the respect of his players!! RR is WAY in over his head!! RR has failed in his 2 recruiting classes!! RR cannot manage the clock!! RR buckles under pressure!! RR cannot see the big picture!! RR must go!!! Martin's "Last Great Stand" could be letting RR walk!!


Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 10:13 a.m.

Besides a couple of amazing comeback wins at the feet of a QB running around with the team on his back, can anyone really tell me where there is any improvement from last year? I will say it until the day he leaves: Rich Rod was, is, and always will have been a bad hire. FIRE RR NOW!!


Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 9:54 a.m.

Michigan fans that had hope seem now seem to understand the problem for themselves. As an Illinois alum, we love the chance to beat Michigan now consistently. But I don't think RR represents Michigan's venerable and storied program and it is hard to watch this great and proud football institution reduced to what it has become.


Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 8:57 a.m.

aarox, I agree with you 110%. The game did not change on one play, it changed on how Michigan responded to that play...they mentally collapsed. AGAIN! RR's teams are mentally weak. RR is a scheme coach, not a leader of men. His players are completely unable to respond to adversity because their "leader" (and I use the term loosely) is unable to. He showed that in his last game against Pitt at WV. RR has three weeks to prove that he can respond to adversity, that he can rally his troops, and that they will fight with and for him to the bitter end. I don't think it will happen because I don't think it's in his DNA, but he's got that chance. Michigan should do no worse than beating Purdue and fighting to the bitter end against Wisconsin and OSU. Anything short of that, and I don't believe that RR is worthy of wearing the M any longer. These men need a leader, not a scheme.


Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 8:15 a.m.

ok I volunteer to be first to take Rothstein to task. First, I do not agree RR should have kicked a field goal on 4th and 1. Yes, this turned the game, but its just as big a momentum crasher to back down and give up the touchdown. These things happen in football, and a good team, even a decent team, rebounds and does not go into a coma over one play or even one posession. The decision to go for it on the 4th in 1 play did not turn the game. What turned the game was how we responded. Second, the game with MSU was anything but "close." It was an awful, lopsided, one-sided game the whole way. We stunk it up big time until the MSU defensive coordinator tried to give it away in the last 5 minutes. If you think the game was close because it went into overtime then you didn't watch it. I grudgingly concede Rothstein's implicit point that our ability to select and recruit coaches is suspect, to say the least. But we are not alone. Our li'l brothers had Brian Kelly in their hands and let him slip away. Though at this point I'd rather have Dantonio or even (gasp!) Tressler.

Man in the Mirror

Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 7:46 a.m.

Did'nt this new Defensive co ordinator have a supr bowl rng? Was'nt he supposd to turn this defense into something to be feared? Donovan Warren stayed to be coached by this guy because of his ring. Warren you should have left.

Man in the Mirror

Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 7:38 a.m.

CRAPPY WV doing better than MICHIGAN since RR left. Anywho...if it's a bad coaching problem then why blame the seniors, are they getting paid millions to coach turnover and fundamental skill problems with this team? PUT THE BLAME WHERE IT LIES and all you people INCLUDING RICH RODREQUEZ need to quit blaming these players!


Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 6:46 a.m.

UM is not like "crappy" WVU? You are correct. "Crappy" WVU has been more successful than "mediocre" UM. Thanks for keeping it real. PS - go to scout and rivals and check out your recruiting status. The "crappy" BE teams are doing the same, if not better, than UM. It is time for you to sweat.


Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 2:27 a.m.

First of all, gotta say I'm surprised by the negative tone towards RR here today. Normally, any time you say anything against RR, a ton of Michigan fans jump on you. No negative comments for Rothstein yet? I think it's hard to deny that coaching--all of the coaches--have got to be a problem right now. A lot of players have either retrogressed or are still playing like last year. And I'm having a hard time blaming Tate's sudden fumbling problem and other issues of sudden ineptitude on his shoulder or concussion. Something is really going on *inside* the program. Second--it has always gotten on my nerves that people point to the difference between RR's 1st year at schools and his 2nd year at schools. People don't seem to understand that Michigan is not like West Virginia, Glenville State or whatever other crappy schools RR has been at. Of course you can start winning right away in the Big East. I mean, it's a good conference right now, and most people aren't willing to admit that. I will admit it. But, sorry, nowhere else RR has been is as tough as Michigan in *ANY* way...from fans to expectations to media scrutiny to the conference Michigan's in. Going 5-7, which I'm sure is where we're going, is shocking to me, but not seeing RR "successful" in his 2nd year at *Michigan* NOT shocking to me. It's a shame to me that 6-6 is considered successful, too...still think we should have been 5-7 or 6-6 LAST year. And, frankly, I think RR came to Michigan thinking this would be a cushy job because Michigan automatically attracts the best players and, thus, he wouldn't have to work that hard to be successful. It's also pretty clear he didn't realize how much would be demanded of him in other ways, i.e. our traditions, how little a lot of fans tolerate, etc. I really think he's in over his head...I'm sure the pressure is affecting the team, and it's even to the point where I know of Ohio State fans who feel sorry for us, truly...not in a laughing way.


Sat, Oct 31, 2009 : 10:24 p.m.

I never thought this would happen - Michigan re-lives last season by allowing more points than any team in the Big Ten and looking totally ineffective on offense. I mean it's incredible. I never thought this would happen, but it's deja vu all over again.


Sat, Oct 31, 2009 : 10:20 p.m.

I never thought it would happen but Michigan Football is actually playing to the level of the local media.


Sat, Oct 31, 2009 : 9:40 p.m.

Unbelievable loss. I can understand RR barely having 2 recruiting classes, but a team that has continued to stuggle in the turnover department (even in only the 2nd year) is the result of BAD COACHING. I mean, they can't even hold on to the ball- thats fundumentals and that is blamed solely on the coach. I have been a RR supporter and I still think you gotta give the guy another year, but this is definitely one of those "red flag" moments that makes you wonder very hard. These guys have to realize that they have to go into every Big Ten game and play hard like its Ohio State every week. I think some of these seniors are still living in the "Lloyd" era thinking that teams like Indiana, Illinois and Purdue etc are automatic wins. RR's third year has to be stellar or he is out. For now we have to see how they respond the rest of the way- hopefully they wake up! This weeks practice-FUNDUMENTALS-STILL. :(