ESPN's Shaun King says Rich Rodriguez can do his usual second-year magic at Michigan
Shaun King has seen Rich Rodriguez’s second-year magic first hand. A former NFL quarterback turned ESPN analyst, King led Tulane to a perfect season in 1998, his second year with Rodriguez as his position coach and offensive coordinator.
In Rodriguez’s first season - Tommy Bowden was the head coach - the Green Wave were a surprising 7-5, but failed to make the postseason. That’s not the depths to which Michigan sunk last year. At 3-9, the Wolverines are coming off the most losses in program history. But King said Rodriguez, who followed a 3-8 first season at West Virginia with a 9-4 record in Year 2, is on his way to turning things around at Michigan. “I’ve been around a lot of coaches in my tenure; I mean some good ones, too,” King said. “(Tony) Dungy, Denny Green. I was with (Rod) Marinelli. I was with Tommy Bowden. Some really good coaches. “They’re going to love Rich. When they start winning, they’re going to love Rich because he does the one thing that as an athlete you want. He’ll allow you to showcase your ability.” With the addition of freshmen quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, King said Michigan’s offense this year should more closely resemble the high-powered one he ran at Tulane a decade ago and the one Pat White made a BCS contender more recently at West Virginia. Last year, with Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet under center, Michigan scored the fewest points in the Big Ten (243) and averaged its fewest yards per game (290.8) in 45 years. “What was surprising to me was the lack of talent that he inherited,” King said. “It wasn’t like he inherited Big Ten championship-caliber talent. Not only is he changing the system, but he’s really trying to rebuild the talent level there.” That’s not an overnight process, of course, which is why Michigan won’t appear in any preseason top 25 or be anyone’s pick to win the conference. King predicted Michigan will win six or seven games and make a bowl this year, but said a quick start and a victory in their road opener at Michigan State could have the Wolverines “competing for the Big Ten championship.” “When you’re dealing with 18- or 19- or 20-year-olds, momentum plays such a big factor,” King said. “If they can get that confidence going early in the season - by that time the quarterback will have had four games of experience under his belt, the defense will have had four games in (coordinator Greg) Robinson’s system, maybe some of those incoming freshmen, Justin Turner or some of those guys will start to make an impact - you never know what could happen. You got to get through those first four games with not more than one loss and see where it goes from there.” Still, King said Rodriguez’s goals are bigger than that. “It’s one thing to be successful, it’s another thing to get the type of players in there where you can compete for national championships,” he said. “That’s what Rich is doing at Michigan. He’s going to get the type of talent that can compete in the Sugar Bowl or the Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, against a Florida, against an Oklahoma, against a Texas.”
Dave Birkett covers the University of Michigan football team for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org