So, Michigan fans, you finally got your wish. Rich Rodriguez was fired, and our long national nightmare has come to an end.Once a new coach is in tow, the Wolverines can fulfil their manifest destiny, their God-given right to pack Pasadena with Maize and Blue each New Year’s Day and conquer some unsuspecting West Coast opponent before tens of thousands of admiring onlookers.
Order will soon be restored in college football.
But before we break out our rendition of Hail to the Victors, let’s revisit the ugly past one more time and show exactly what Michigan can expect to gain from dumping their coach.
Under Rodriguez, the Wolverines went from three wins, to five, to seven in his three year tenure, and Heisman Trophy candidate Denard Robinson enjoys playing for the offensive guru. It would have been perfectly reasonable to expect a nine-win campaign under Rodriguez in 2011.
But under a new coach, expectations have to be tempered. In the last five years seven BCS teams have had their coach leave unexpectedly – let’s exclude Jimbo Fischer at Florida State and Joker Phillips at Kentucky, coaches-in-waiting that recruits had long anticipated playing for – after leading the program to a seven win season.
In those seven coaches’ last seasons, the schools went a combined 49-41. Their first year under the new coach: 40-53. That’s a 21 per cent decline.
Let’s get to the numbers:
OK, things are bleak. Especially if you’re planning on a quarterback change, and considering Denard Robinson’s lack of commitment to a U of M without Rodriguez, the Wolverines certainly should be. The lone exception to that bleakness is the 2008 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Can the 2011 Wolverines replicate the 2008 Yellow Jackets’ success?
Playing in a weaker than anticipated ACC, Tech shocked the college football world by going 9-4 (SI predicted a 3-9 finish), behind a new coach’s offensive scheme that compelled the incumbent quarterback, Taylor Bennett, to transfer.
Likewise, Michigan plays in an overrated Big 10 (if New Year’s Day is an indication of things, that is) and will bring in a new coach who drives Robinson out of Ann Arbor. We assume this to be the case, because Michigan’s first priority when looking for a coach won’t be offence, but shoring up the weakest defence in school history.
Speaking of defence, that’s where the similarities come to a screeching halt. Georgia Tech was coming off two consecutive seasons of top 20 defenses, including a 2007 campaign where they were 11th in the country. In Atlanta, the foundation for success was already in place. In Ann Arbor, Michigan ranked 108th in total defence in 2010.
What drove Georgia Tech’s surprise success in 2008, is that that they probably underachieved in 2007 (hindsight is 20/20). They won nine games the season before, and had a roster that had proven success in the ACC. Unsurprisingly, after their improved 2008, they won 11 games in 2009.
Photo: AP Images
But Rodriguez was still in the process of building that foundation, still waiting for his young recruits to mature, while he was busy establishing the cornerstone for BCS appearances in sophomore Denard Robinson.By letting Rodriguez go now, just three seasons into his tenure, Michigan is tearing down the framework for a 2011 season that promises more improvement. Granted, they’ll never win it all without better defence, but having shelled out all that money to buy Rodriguez out of West Virginia and then keep him under wraps for five years, it would make sense to let him plug away until the upward trend took a turn for the worse — as it had for Chan Gailey in Georgia Tech when the Jackets finished two games worse in 2007.
Right now Michigan more closely resembles the programs that regressed after a coaching change, than it does the lone exception.
So if history is any lesson, consider the new coach the first step in another rebuilding process, not the next step towards success. That’s bad news for the impatient and entitled Maize and Blue.
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