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Posted on Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 2:57 p.m.

Former Wolverines felt disconnected from Michigan football under Rich Rodriguez

By Pete Bigelow

Former Michigan football players pride themselves on maintaining a connection with their alma mater and passing down traditions they consider sacred to current Wolverines.

That didn’t happen under Rich Rodriguez, several said.

While former coaches and players were welcomed with open arms in previous eras, players said they felt unwanted at Schembechler Hall over the past three years.

“There’s definitely been some disconnection,” said Aaron Shea, a fullback and tight end at Michigan who now works for the Cleveland Browns.


Reuben Riley played at Michigan from 2003 to 2006.

File photo

During his press conference announcing Rodriguez’s firing, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon acknowledged that a rift had developed within the school’s family.

“We have been divided to a large extent, and we continue to be divided,” Brandon said.

Part of that rift has been the alienation former players have felt from the football program. Rueben Riley, an offensive lineman from 2003 to 2006 who later played three years in the NFL, said former players have not been included in the program as they have been in the past.

“When I was around, you’d see guys like Hutch (Steve Hutchinson) come back and talk, (Gary) Moeller come back, and you could just see their passion,” he said.

“For a coach to have Lloyd Carr on campus and never have him back to talk to the team? That’s unbelievable to me.”

Following stints with the Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins and New York Giants, Riley moved to Belleville in 2009.

While staying in shape for his job with the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League, he also volunteered to tutor student-athletes in Michigan’s Academic Success Program.


In that respect, he was involved with Michigan athletics. In other ways, he felt unwanted.

When he worked out at the current facilities, he found an atmosphere quite different than the one he remembered.

“I remember guys lifting with (former strength coach Mike) Gittleson, and it was ‘everybody gather up’ and listen to Jeff Backus for two minutes or A-Train (Anthony Thomas) for two minutes,’” Riley said.

In the past year?

“You could tell, it felt like they were doing you a favor,” he said. “But I didn’t consider it a slap in the face, because they didn’t reach out to anybody.”

Riley and others thought Rodriguez underestimated the role former players and coaches play in the Michigan program.

They tried to give him the benefit of doubt - conceding that Michigan alumni are more active in their program than former players at other universities and they understood an outsider may not know that.

But that involvement, they say, is part of what makes Michigan special.

Embracing the history of Michigan and its players should go with the territory of coaching the Wolverines, said Jon Jansen, a two-time all-Big Ten player at Michigan. “Coaching the team might be the easiest part of the job,” he said. “Trying to live up the legacy of coaches who came before, Bo, Mo and Lloyd, and dealing with a lot of former players that are very passionate about the university is a big part of this.”

Jansen, Shea and Riley agreed they’d prefer Brandon hire a coach with Michigan ties. Beyond that, they want someone who respects the past.

“I have the utmost respect for Dave Brandon and know he’ll do a good job,” Shea said. “He’ll get whoever is the best coach out there, someone who knows this is a dream job. This isn’t an NFL job that comes open every few years, this is a sacred job.”

Pete Bigelow covers the Michigan football team for He can be reached at (734) 623-2551, via e-mail at and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.



Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 10:56 a.m.

Rich Rod's biggest problem was on the defensive side of the ball. He did not pay enough attention to it, leaving it in the hands of Greg and company. He was brought in to Michigan to change the culture. I understand to a degree why he spent so much time with the offense, however, he neglected the defense. The 3-3-5 is a good scheme vs other spread base teams. What the Tigers did last night defensively was shut down the run with a 4-3 base scheme. That does work well against the run but it leaves you with holes in the secondary. The Ducks got off some good passing plays against it but they are not really a passing team. That's the same scheme Ohio st, Wisc, Iowa and State used against us. We had some things open in the passing game but with Denard not being a great thrower yet, they were able to stop us. I, personally, don't wanna give up on that type of offense. If we had kept the status quo and kept Mallet, yes we would have won some games, but when bowl season hit we would have lost. Look what happened to him against Ohio st, Alabama etc. He was a sitting duck back there. Think back a few years when we played USC. They brought the corner blitz time after time. Time after time we got sacked. And that is the easiest blitz to throw against.


Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 10:07 a.m.

Was Fred Jackson (19th season with UM) not aware of the Michigan traditions. Either Jackson did not educate his colleagues on the UM traditions or the program was purposely trying to move in a different direction. I somewhat agree with "Brian" that 8-4 & 9-3 seasons were the norm at UM and that "speed" and "mobile Qb's" would kill UM in bowl games. So the cry was to update the offense and bring speed to the B10. UM did that but 3 years into the "transition" the program decides to go back to its tradition.

J. Dean

Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 8:40 a.m.

One thing is for sure: whether it's Miles or Hoke, you can bet that tradition for us will come back to life. In that sense, either man would fit the job as the coach.

1st Down

Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 6:18 a.m.

We saw tonight.. (again, sigh) what a fast, strong defense will do to the manby-pamby, finesse zone read type spread..... SHUT it down. LSU runs a power spread... spread HD, spread on the juice...whatever someone wants to call it...that is a solid, strong running game there not based on trickery but still letting players make plays....all bodes well here at Michigan if the proper hire is made. Stay tuned.

Sean T.

Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 5:51 a.m.

Mo, Boise runs a "Multiple O", that means they use a pro-style offense also. There is nothing conventional about the spread, but there are many variations. You speak about the National Championship game having two spread offenses but you forget about last year's National Champ; Alabama! What I watched in the NC Title game was two sloppy teams that over-used the bubble screen, poorly executed zone-read's and a whopping 22-19 score from two high powered offenses. Now I'd never claim that any one offense is more superior to another but that's the score I see from two boring "3 yards and a cloud of dust" offense's.

Mo the Educator

Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 10:46 p.m.

1) The offenses you see tonight are the future. There's no coincidence that the best college programs in the country all incorporate aspects of these offenses or employ them exclusively. Offensive college football in the 21st century has to be creative to be effective. That's the reason why the wishbone is extinct. 2) The coach doesn't have to be Rich Rodriguez for us to run it effectively. 3) These players who want to watch Michigan go back to two tight ends, three-and-out, defense yelling out our plays at the line of scrimmage and stuffing them football are just being nostalgic. All that said, send the Michigan jet to Boise, ID and go get our next coach!


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 10:18 p.m.

Pete: Thanks for the article. I would love to see an update offering different views, but it is interesting that players who were part of successful Michigan history were so open about criticizing the Michigan program of recent years. I would think it breaks their heart to do so, much as seeing the program they built and contributed to decimated by losses and turmoil. Interesting stuff. Don't forget, Breaston, Feely, and Branch? were tweeting during the OSU game pretty critical stuff. I'd love to hear what Braylon Edwards says, or Carter, or Wangler, Morris, Messner or any of the other stars of the last few years. Even Harlan Huckleby was critical.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 10:01 p.m.

My favorite tOFU..I mean tOSU tradition was the one where all the fans hung their heads in shame at the end of the annual OSU - UM game when Cooper was your coach. Here's hoping you are able to bring back that storied tradition in the near future (compliments of a new era in UM football).


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 9 p.m.

Good article! And, I might add, Bo got it right off the bat. As the story goes, he and his assistants show up and the facilities were less than ideal--I believe the locker room was upstairs in what was a dingy Yost Fieldhouse at the time! Schembechler looked at the hooks on the wall for clothes and reminded those around him that those weren't just any hooks, those were hooks were Yost, Friedman, Oosterbaan, Harmon, Kramer, etc. hung up their clothes. If you don't get UM tradition, you don't last---but if you get it, you could have played at Miami of Ohio and coached at OSU and still be a huge success at Michigan.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 8:59 p.m.

There's that arrogance again, haha. First off im 35 and I've been sitting in front of the tv watching Michigan for at least 29 of those years. Second, no I do not wanna go 10-2 then get waxed by usc or app. St or whoever. We have two spread teams in the chip. This going back to the dive on first, swing pass on second and bootleg on third then punt on fourth is not gonna get us anywhere. But go ahead and listen to Shea


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 8:57 p.m.

Did any of you attend the games the past three seasons? How many former players were introduced in the endzone during the games! While I do believe R. Rodriguez did not do his homework in the beginning, he realized that VERY soon. But very soon was obviously too late. Those who did not want him initially fed on that. In his defense, (for example) RR was the one who started having an alumni game before the spring game. You can ask any of the guys who participated, how great that was for them. I do not believe his staff alienated former players. While things did not work with RR, as he was responsible as Head Coach, I believe the one most DISCONNECTED from tradition and not a true Michigan Man was the former AD. He only cared about new construction for the stadium. Period. Let's just hope that the best happens for both our Michigan family and for RR and his family.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 8:11 p.m.

We should only spend our time discussing coaches that coach at Michigan.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 7:37 p.m.

And sometimes traditions don't mean much to the current players. Didn't Terrell Pryor sell/trade his gold pants?


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 7:27 p.m.

What EXACTLY are these sacred Michigan traditions? I've followed the rivalry pretty close all my life but I'm not really familiar. Here's just a few of tOSU ones. The Tunnel of Pride: Where the cuurent team runs through a tunnel of former players before the last home game. The Buckeye Grove: A grove of Buckeye trees for each tOSU All-American. The Skull Session: Attending the band's last practice to receive support before the game. Singing the alma mater: Immediately after the game before heading to the locker room. The Golden Pants: For beating Michigan. These are the FB team's public traditions. I haven't even touched on the school's traditions. (PS Please don't try to convince anyone that the "floating M" your band does in any way compares to Script Ohio.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 7:27 p.m.

Interesting...It has to be Miles now. Recruiting is terrible now.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 7:24 p.m.

The last time I watched UM game few months ago, our AA heroes were running about and into one another. It was called defense. Everybody keeps blaming Rich for it, as if he had anything to do with it.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 6:54 p.m.

Michigan History means a heck of a lot. Does the next coach need to be a "Michigan Man" from the tree of Bo, Lloyd or Moeller? No, but the next had coach needs to be a "Michigan Man" in respect to the fact they need to embrace the traditions of the Michigan program. RR did absolutely none of that during his tenure. You can't completely disregard tradition when you are coaching at football's all time winningest school. I know Brian Kelly hasn't disregarded the traditions at Notre Dame since he took over. I know Tressel maintained traditions Ohio St had developed since he took over at OSU. Mack Brown didn't disregard the traditions of Texas football when he took over there. The fact is to be a good college coach at a traditional power you need to embrace a schools traditions and build upon them. RR did very little of that. Does the school get some blame for that? Yes. I'm not sure how the school administration (ie Athletic Department) didn't tell him about the tradition with the #1 at UofM. That falls on the school as much as RR. I stand by my comments that I really don't care if the new coach has a previous tie to Michigan. What I need to see out of the new coach is embracing Michigan's traditions. Michigan's success has always been built on defense. That would be a good place for the new coach to start. RR started a tradition on defense during his tenure. That traditional is one of weakness and getting pushed arourd, which the defense did. I don't think yu will ever see major college programs allowing under 10 points per game like the 1997 team allowed. The college football offenses are too explosive now for that. I would be happy with a defense that allows under 17 points per game. The last time Michigan's defense allowed under 17 PPG was in 2006 when they went 10-2 and lost to two very good football teams, USC and Ohio St. In fact since the 1997 national title season, Michigan has had only 2 seasons allowing under 17 PPG, 2006 ad 2003 when they went 9-3 losing to Oregon, Iowa, and USC. Defense needs to be the cornerstone of the return to tradition at Michigan.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 6:53 p.m.

I think this story shows - college football coaches know little about college football outside their program and their next opponent. I know coaches cannot watch games on Saturdays (for obvious reasons) and they are disconnected to things even casual fans understand. The hardcore fan could watch 5-6 games on a Saturday and wathc other highlights, watch the specials on the players and coaches and schools and know more about football than the average coach. I would surmise only during bowl season do coaches actuall watch games, sans the Thursday night games... I am not saying they dont know "football" because, obviously, they do. But the things we take for granted, as fans - they dont have the time to deal with. I think I would make a better voting ranking member than any coach - simply because I watch more than they do. The traditions and folklore we take for granted they dont get the time to deal with. Having said all of that, that is the HR persons responsibilty - to prepare someone for a new job to make sure they succeeed. Does anyone think AD Martin talked tradition with RR or did he just show up with a blank check, as has been reported? Anyone who is not prepared for the realities of a job is not prepared to succeed- similar to one sending an employer to work in another country. Its proven if you prepare them they will know what to expect and perform better.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 6:40 p.m.

It's sad that the creation of an inclusive atmosphere for the great alumni of Michigan players, something that should have come naturally and could have been beneficial to today's team, was beyond Rodriguez in one way or another. I hope his successor, amid recouping this year's recruiting class, breaks out the rolodex of Michigan alumni to converge the divide and bring the Michigan family together. Go Blue


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 6:33 p.m.

Shane, I respectfully disagree. What teams are good on a regular basis? Texas, Oklahoma, USC, Alabama, Ohio State? What do all of these teams have? A long history of success, and they use that history to recruit new players. They get to point out to future recurits, how many of the past players have won championships, gone off to the NFL, were idolized, etc... and that if you come to the team... the team will do that for you also. Teams can succeed without that history, but it's much more difficult, and they succeed less frequently than the teams with a history. You need to embrace that history, while looking to the forward. They both go hand in hand.

shane smith

Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 6:20 p.m.

Just get a coach that can WIN,and don't worry about the Has beens.Michigan history means nothing nowadays.Thats your guys biggest problem,you keep living in the past.There is no future in the past.You just ran off a guy,that almost had the same record that Harbaugh had at Stanford.Your problem is you think the Big Ten is the only place that can play football.You guys lost 5 bowl games,and won one,and should of lost that one.There Coach was dumber that Sweater Vest was.You lost six if you count the Cornhuskers game.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 6:10 p.m.

If you are a new head coach, an outsider that doesn't know tradition... why would you not ask former players, for the sole purpose of bringing you into the "family". By not doing that, just shows your lack of appreciation for what was done before you. Little things like this are being done at MSU by Dantonio. He brings back a former player, coach, etc to be an honorary captain for each home game. When they built the new football facility, they specifically built a wall showing all former players that went on to the NFL. They honor their history... with the intent it will help build the future. The fact RR did not try anything like this just shows how little he understood about UM.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

Rich Rod aka cry baby alienated ex players and fans with the exceptions being Lorain Steelman PortuBlu,Theo and Tater. It has to be Hoke or Miles or it will be another failure.

Rob Pollard

Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 5:03 p.m.

I know Rueben. It should have been like old-times, when future hall-of-famers like Steve Hutchinson visited you all the time...wait, what's that? "This fall, Hutchinson will attend his first Michigan home game since finishing his college career in 2000." (May 17, 2009) Maybe Hutch came back just to speak to them (i.e., not a game) from 2001-2007, but to act like RR was shunning Hutch (or other alums) is factually wrong. Riley's situation just applies to Riley. Also, I couldn't find it, but about ~4 months ago, I saw a show on BTN where Hutchinson visited the new facilities (he was admiring the new practice facility, weight room, etc.) Who does he run into? Why, it's RR, working out on a treadmill! They exchange a nice quick greeting (i.e., it wasn't the first time they met) and Hutch was on his way. This is but one example. There were certainly reasons to fire RR, but this whole "they didnt reach out to anybody" is nonsense. You don't want him as a coach b/c he didn't use two TEs - fine. But stop w/ the bs. One other example, remarkably similar to Riley's: Pierre Woods, literally getting back in the NFL b/c Michigan's staff took the time to prepare him when he w/o a team. Money quote: "They treated me like family. You play at Michigan, you come back, they treat you like family. I got nothing but love for those guys and I appreciate what they did." I agree with Michboy - RR didn't realize the political nonsense he would have to put up with at Michigan. I hope the next coach is better at it.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 4:47 p.m.

Pete, This was a great article. It speaks to what is wrong and needs to be fixed with UM FB. The former coaches and alumni players are what make up the legacy of UM FB. No one else has it and that is why it is so special. The current and future players are so fortunate to have that resource available to them if the "right guy" comes in and understands that concept and brings all the F"amily Members" back in. Depending who becomes coach, this so called "Mystique" can cure you or kill you. It killed RR. A true Michigan Man understands, believes in and embraces this "Mystique." Call it what you will but the "Mystique" is what UM FB is all about for the former, current and future Wolverines. The new coach must know or be made aware, and come to believe that it exists, they must embrace it and use it to turn this ship around. Thanks.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 4:28 p.m.

@Brian Johnson You mean the year they finished 10-2 in 2006, or the year they finished 12-0 in 1998, or even 8-4 in 2007. Seems like that would have been a good goal to shoot for in ANY of RR's first three years. I guess you prefer 3 wins with losses to Toledo over 8 wins with losses to USC. I know which one I will take, and you have shown now which you want.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 4:23 p.m.

RR is really bad at politics.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 4:05 p.m.

Why not ask guys like Larry Foote and Mike Hart that came back and were around Schembechler Hall? Why the one sided reporting?

1st Down

Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 4:02 p.m.

M86... your question reminds me of the Beatles song "she said, you dont understand what I said...I said no no no your wrong"... Kinda like the comments and fighting that goes on here...;) anyway looks like its Shea said


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 4:02 p.m.

I'm so tired hearing about MICHIGAN tradition and everything else. These former players like Shea and Braylon saying this and that. Let me remind people, we have 1 chip in forever! We would go 8-4 or maybe win the Big 10 and get smoked by USC. WHAT TRADITION??? I know that one year when we lost to OSU and thought we deserved a rematch but instead got blasted by USC. Then we followed that up with a loss to App. St. It's not tradition, it's arrogance.

1st Down

Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 3:58 p.m.

Very telling comments here...also very true. RR did nothing to reach out to former players and coaches, other than what was required of him to do by his contract. Ruben's quote "For a coach to have Lloyd Carr on campus and never have him back to talk to the team? Thats unbelievable to me. Absolutely...RR never once acknowledged Carr, and often alluded to blaming Carr for his failures.... he was his own worst enemy at Michigan and it finally, and thankfully...caught up with him.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 3:54 p.m.

Maybe if RR hadn't fired the entire staff his first day on the job there would have been some people around who could have clued him in to all the traditions on which he trampled. He brought this on himself.


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 3:52 p.m.

That is normal when there is a coaching change and the new coach is an outsider. Like it is or not, many former players and coaches will be alienated. The best way to minimize this was to have an internal replacement so that the transition will be smooth. But the then AD wanted a new guy to do a new culture.

Mumbambu, Esq.

Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 3:44 p.m.

That's what Shea said. :)


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 3:40 p.m.

In the last paragraph is it "She said" or "Shea said"???


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 3:22 p.m.

Interesting story and observations by the former players. Before we condemn Rodriguez too much on this issue however, it's very likely this type of atmosphere is not common at other schools like West Virginia. So, Rodriguez and his assistants may have not completely understood this Michigan tradition. At the same time, he probably should have picked up on it. BUT, it was also important for others like the AD or ex-player community to explain it to him. Maybe that didn't happen. Who knows?


Mon, Jan 10, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

Pete, It's Mike Gittleson not Steve. I really wonder if the case was that Rich Rod didn't have Coach Carr speak because he didn't want him or if he asked and was turned down? Perhaps a personal rift in any case. Hopefully, if it's Les Miles or another candidate the program will be unified behind him and learn from some of the toxic dissension in the program the last few years.