Opinion: Questions just got a lot harder for Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan football program
And we thought Rich Rodriguez was tired of talking about quarterbacks.
The second-year Michigan football coach might still be annoyed at the constant conversation regarding who will start Saturday’s opener against Western Michigan, but here’s thinking he’ll give just about anything to have quarterbacks be the most controversial topic at his weekly Monday press conference.
Quarterbacks, clearly, will be a secondary topic.
Michigan and Rodriguez have bigger issues to deal with after the Detroit Free Press’ report released Saturday outlined how Rodriguez and his staff exceeded NCAA guidelines regarding practice time limits and how staff watched summer workouts.
Then there are the insanely long Sunday workouts, spoken about on the record in the Free Press package by former Michigan player Terrance Taylor, and the talk about how graduate assistants called players about missing “voluntary” workouts while they were in class.
These violations - potentially the first major violations in Michigan football history - change the tone of the Wolverines’ season.
No longer is this year merely about winning and losing for Rodriguez and Michigan.
It’s about survival.
It’s about trying to keep a team together -one that apparently has issues since at least one current player talked with the Free Press. While the voluntary-but-really-not summer workouts go on at pretty much every program around the country, players rarely talk about it. Let alone complain or take enough umbrage to chat with reporters. And it’s about character.
The final point has been a major issue at Michigan both before Rodriguez got there and after. Throughout the course of the program’s storied history, it has maintained the perception of a clean program, one that goes about its business with integrity.
Yet since Rodriguez was hired, there has been this:
- A messy divorce from his contract with West Virginia that played out in very public fashion and resulted in an agreement where he’ll pay $1.5 million to his former employer and Michigan will pick up $2.5 million.
- A 3-9 season - one of the worst in Michigan history.
- Players, as they were leaving the program, questioning the “family values” of the coaching staff.
- The failed cocaine deal that led to the dismissal of former wide receiver Justin Feagin, a Rodriguez recruit.
- And now this, the potential of the first major NCAA violations for football in school history.
That’s just the big stuff. There have been some minor player arrests and the fiasco regarding giving away the vaunted No. 1 jersey that created furor soon after Rodriguez arrived.
Looking at those things singularly, none raises a red flag. But combine them, and in the less than two years Rodriguez has been here, it has been nothing short of negative upon negative upon negative.
It is worth wondering about. That list of negatives is going to be one of the big themes of this Michigan season. Who, really, is Rich Rodriguez and who are the people he has tethered himself to both at West Virginia and Michigan? If the NCAA decides to go after Michigan - and who knows what it’ll do considering the organization has been scattershot at best when it comes to enforcement and punishment - what will the school do? Will there be scapegoats under Rodriguez?
Could this undo the head coach himself?
Could they make an example of the Wolverines because unlike with former players, they could coerce current players to talk? That might not take all that much considering one former player, citing anonymity, told ESPN’s Joe Schad that he believes former players, if asked, would tell the Big Ten and NCAA what they had gone through under Rodriguez.
That’s a bad sign for Michigan, for a compliance department that said it didn’t see anything wrong, and more importantly, for Rodriguez.
He’ll get his chance to defend himself Monday. And by the end, he might beg to talk about quarterbacks. On Friday, the biggest questions surrounding Michigan were all about play on the field.
This season isn’t about just football anymore. Rodriguez’s alleged actions made sure of it.