on Rich Rodriguez

I’m still waiting to hear a rational explanation of how firing Rich Rodriguez is going to result in a better Michigan football team in 2011 or beyond.  In three years under RR, Michigan has made enormous strides on offense, to the point where I believe most observers would have to admit that on that side of the ball Michigan has the talent and scheme capable of winning a Big 10 championship.  On defense, not so much.  It’s pretty clear that drastic changes need to occur on the defensive side of the ball, but this can be done without firing the head coach.

Rich Rodriguez’s last two West Virginia teams averaged over 450 yards & 39 points per game.  The first season without RR, despite 8 returning starters on an offense led by one of the best spread QBs in history (Pat White) those numbers dropped to 360 yards and 24.5 points per game.  In the following two years the WVU offense has produced virtually identical numbers.  WVU did not change systems, they still run a “spread” offense and most of their key contributors the last three years were RR recruits.  Texas Tech under Mike Leach averaged over 500 yards and 40 points a game in his final three years, but with 8 returning starters (including both QBs) and an OC who was supposedly going to continue TT’s “air raid” system those numbers have dropped significantly this year.  This is the difference between having a system innovator in charge instead of one of the myriad of copycats who spring up afterward.  The innovator created the system and can adjust on the fly to the schemes of the opponent, whereas the copycat can only plug away with their limited understanding and wait to copy again from the innovators.  Even if our new head coach claims to be committed to running the same system, the odds are high that it will be run by another copycat.  Thus, by firing Rodriguez you are virtually guaranteeing that the only part of the Michigan football program that is currently functioning near a championship level will suffer a significant drop in effectiveness.

Jim Harbaugh is your savior?  Harbaugh’s record his first three seasons at Stanford:  4-8, 5-7, and 8-5.  The guy you want to run out of town:  3-9, 5-7, and 7-5 pending the bowl game.  In other words, your savior is a guy who going into this season had a record that was virtually identical to the guy you want to fire right now.  Whatever you want to say about Harbaugh’s resume, it certainly isn’t as good as Rodriguez’s was before RR got to Michgan.  Harbaugh’s primary influence on his team is on offense, and he is philosophically drawn to a power football style that frequently utilizes a fullback/H-back and multiple TE sets. These are positions where Michigan has virtually no depth in the existing talent pipeline.  Stanford’s top three tailbacks average over 210 pounds, Michigan has only one back on the entire roster who fits this profile (Hopkins).  How long is it going to take for Harbaugh to build a roster capable of effectively running the power football people appear to be so nostalgic for, and if they were too impatient to endure the three years it took Rodriguez to get his offense functioning at a high level why would they be patient with Harbaugh?  And defense?  The Stanford defense under Harbaugh had allowed on average over 400 yards and 27 points per game the previous three seasons, essentially indistinguishable from what the Michigan defense has been doing under RR.  In other words, there is no evidence that on defense Harbaugh will be bringing a “decided schematic advantage” with him to Michigan.  Yes Stanford has improved significantly on defense this year, but it’s also a defense filled with juniors and seniors in a fourth season that apparently RR doesn’t deserve.

Michigan football in its current incarnation is not that far off from being competitive in every game, all it would take is improvement on defense from “terrible” to “mediocre”.  Furthermore, Michigan won a national championship in 1997 with essentially the best defense in the country and a marginally competent offense whose primary objective was to not lose ballgames.  I don’t see any reason to think that the opposite arrangement could not achieve the same result.  With Denard here for two more years, and virtually the entire offense returning in 2011, Michigan football only needs regression to the mean from the defense in order to compete for a Big 10 championship.  I’m not willing to flush that for masturbatory Harbaugh wishcasting.

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