Topic of how Rich Rodriguez treated former players remains a sensitive one for former members of Michigan football team
When Rich Rodriguez first took over the Michigan football program, LaMarr Woodley wondered how an outsider would handle the legions of former Wolverines who remain active alumni.
He didn’t wait long for an answer.
“The first thing he said was I want all the alumni to come back, because this is home to them,” Woodley said. “Rich and Mike Barwis, they always took the time for the former players.”
A month after Rodriguez’s three-year tenure ended, the topic of how he treated former players remains a sensitive one.
Shortly after the coaching change that resulted in Brady Hoke’s hiring last month, several former Wolverines said a disconnect had developed between Rodriguez and former Michigan football players.
Offensive lineman Rueben Riley, who played three years in the NFL, sensed he was unwanted around the program, but that he “didn’t consider it a slap in the face, because they didn’t reach out to anybody.”
He was one of several who echoed that sentiment.
But when other former players read those comments, they felt compelled to speak out on behalf of a coach they had never played for, but one they say always extended invitations to former Wolverines and welcomed them around the program.
“Honestly, I read that some of the players said that Rich Rod didn’t make them feel comfortable, and you know, I felt like that wasn’t true at all,” said Woodley, who will play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in tonight’s Super Bowl.
“A lot of players have been back training, and I felt like he welcomed us with open arms.”
Rodriguez was fired on Jan. 5, four days after Michigan lost to Mississippi State, 52-14, in the Gator Bowl, his first and only bowl appearance during a 15-22 tenure.
At a press conference announcing his dismissal, athletic director Dave Brandon acknowledged that the Wolverines program had been divided over Rodriguez, the first coach to be hired from outside the program since Bo Schembechler in 1968.
Shantee Orr, a former Michigan defensive lineman, was among those who felt Rodriguez had treated former players well and wished he would have kept his job.
“I love Rich Rod,” Orr said. “I met with him, spoke with him and talked with him. He’s a good person all-around. It’s just a different for outsiders to understand the situation. I wish he could have gotten another opportunity.”
Former Wolverines offensive lineman Jon Runyan, who now representes New Jersey’s third district as a U.S. Representative, said his contact with the Rodriguez regime was limited - but that’s on him.
He met the coaching staff at the annual golf outing hosted by Brian Griese and Steve Hutchinson each May that benefits the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital
“I actually spent some time with the offensive line coach (Greg Frey), and was made sure to telll me, ‘Any time you’re in town, call me. We’d love to have you come in and talk,’” Runyan said.
“The unfortunate part is that I never got back.”