He paused for a second at the podium, looking down for almost a minute as he attempted to fight back tears. Rich Rodriguez was about halfway through his 14-minute-and-change opening statement Monday where he defended himself and his strength and conditioning coach, Mike Barwis.Â
Clearly, the past 48 hours had weighed on the second-year Michigan football coach - so much so that he broke down and appeared to start to cry.Â
It was a scene surreal in nature for a football coach. Rodriguez was clearly hurt by the allegations put forth Saturday evening that he and his staff had violated NCAA rules regarding practice time and watching summer workouts.
He took all of this personally, the accusations that people think he and Barwis don’t care about his players.
“That is disheartening,” Rodriguez said, before the first of his pauses. “To say that is misleading, inaccurate and...goes against everything I’ve ever believed in coaching.”Â
If there’s one thing obvious out of Monday it is that Rodriguez does care.Â
The emotion he showed wasn’t contrived or fake. If anything, it was stunning in its rawness.
Rare is the day you see any coach cry with the notable exception of Dick Vermeil. This, mind you, isn’t a bad thing.Â
Usually it just happens when a special season ends, a coach is fired or retiring, or someone dies. Before this gets misinterpreted, there is no indication Rodriguez’ job is in danger.
Merely an acknowledgment that Monday was anything but normal around Michigan today or this week.Â
Scandal - at least ones of the potential football violation variety - just doesn’t happen around here very often. Neither do live shots every hour from ESPN for something that isn’t game-related.Â
And the hoopla started before Rodriguez spoke.
What’s left now is an investigation, one that Michigan athletic director Bill Martin said will be conducted by compliance along with the potential of an outside firm.Â
Players will be spoken with - offensive lineman David Moosman confirmed Martin told the Wolverines that when he showed up at practice yesterday.
But there’s also the underlying factor of team unity.
There were current Michigan players who spoke to ESPN and the Free Press about the harshness of the workouts
and the hours put in. So clearly, there are people still within Michigan’s football program who at least take some issue with what is going on.
Rodriguez said he’s never heard from a disgruntled parent or player and that his door is always open. No reason to believe that isn’t true.
Except how many parents - no matter the program -- are going to openly complain to the head coach, the guy who controls playing time, whether or not their child is unhappy.Â
That’s not the route to playing time. That’s the route to playing with your thumbs on the bench instead of having them grasp a football or an opponent.Â
For any coach to believe that - on a team of 12 to 112 - is naive.Â
“Sometimes it’s unfair to have these roadblocks and these things thrown out there that go against the very fabric of how we stand for a program,” Rodriguez said, choking up again. “So I guess I’m here to tell you that whatever you’ve heard or want to believe, the truth of the matter is that this coaching staff cares very deeply about the young men in our program.
“Always have. Always will.”Â
Thing is, though, that’s never been the issue - at least not now. Rodriguez proved, again, that he cares.
Caring, though, has never been equated with innocence or not committing violations. That's for judges and juries and panels to decide.
It merely means, and the tears showed it, that he's human.