The constant media coverage of Michigan’s football woes — both on and off the field — under Rich Rodriguez has given fans a lot of opportunities to think about the state of the program, and what they value as supporters of the Wolverines. Since the Free Press first “broke” the “story” that Michigan had exceeded their allotted practice time, I have been 100% behind Rich Rodriguez and his staff.
Now, after seeing Michigan self-impose sanctions against the football program, I feel conflicted as a fan.
Do I still support Rodriguez? Yes. He is still our football coach, and he is building a program his way in the face of constant (and often unfair) criticism from Michigan supporters and outside detractors alike. I don’t believe he is any more of a sleazebag than any other college football coach, and his awkward, bumbling attempts at facing the media have actually endeared him to me — he is clearly a football coach just trying to coach some football, and I can respect that. I believe that, if given the opportunity, he can build a very successful — and clean — program at Michigan.
Do I still think that will happen? I’m not sure. Whether it’s fair or not, Rodriguez will have to win now, in his third year, and avoid any further embarrassment in the process, to save his job, while facing a tough schedule with what is still a very young team. I truly believe that Michigan’s quickest path back to success is through Rodriguez, and starting over with a new coach will only prolong this period of discontent. At the same time, I’m tired of being an outspoken fan without a lot to say to opposing fans — “just wait ’til 2011” isn’t the world’s best comeback, and the constant mocking from Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State fans is getting close to unbearable. While the rational fan in me wants to give Rodriguez time, the irrational fanatic in me needs to see a powerhouse in progress or a change in leadership. Which side is right? I have no idea.
The coaching staff isn’t the only thing I feel conflicted about. How, as Michigan fans, do we view the Detroit Free Press? I know how 99% of Michigan fans will respond to that question, and I tend to side with them — the issues with the Freep’s initial story, how they went about getting it, and how overblown it became make it impossible for me to read their paper without expecting an anti-Michigan bias, and I can’t in good conscience support what they do there.
At the same time, while they missed by several degrees of magnitude just how much Michigan violated the rules, they did get something right — Michigan did violate the rules, and there were clearly major problems in the compliance department that led to a failure to properly monitor the football program. You could argue those rules are archaic, not followed by anyone, a farce, but they’re in the book, and as a Michigan fan I expect Michigan teams to follow the letter of the law — we are not Michigan if we are not one of the upstanding programs in the country. The Freep found a story they could run with, and run with it they did — I still think the way they handled the story was an embarrassment to journalism, but part of me is strangely glad they did it. I want to know if we’re cheating, whether it’s by 20 minutes a week or two hours a day, and now we can make the proper changes so that this doesn’t happen again, ever.
It’s a strange time to be a Michigan fan. We’ve been beaten down by the worst stretch of football in decades and an off-field investigation that feels like an attack on our status as a preeminent program in the country and an example for other schools to follow — not an example of how not to run a program. Our fanbase is divided over what to do about our coach, and what level of institutional failure is acceptable in Ann Arbor before heads roll and the direction of the program changes. One could easily make the argument that these past few years have been harder on Michigan fans than any other fanbase in the country.
Right now, all I want is to see us field a successful football team. How we do that, when it happens, and who is in charge when it happens, well, all that is very up in the air right now. I hope sometime soon we will find certainty.