Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How far will UM let Rodriguez go?


So Rich Rodriguez proved he can get emotional Monday.

The Michigan coach cried heartfelt tears. He made it clear that he cares about his players. It wasn't Rich-Rod like you normally see him.

But don't let the coach's emotional moment fool you. Since he stepped foot in Ann Arbor, he's been about one thing — winning. If that means isolating some players, so be it. If it means breaking a few of the NCAA's rules, ones that aren't exactly followed strictly by many BCS programs, so be it.

Rodriguez has never been a players' coach, has never been a coach determined to graduate his players.

And, really, he can't be blamed for this. In today's top level of college football, only one thing provides job security, and it has nothing to do with keeping second-string players happy.

Maybe Bill Martin and company were ignorant, but they had to have a decent idea of what they were getting into when they hired Rodriguez, who immediately became embroiled in a buyout dispute with West Virginia upon leaving the Mountaineers program.

No more Lloyd Carrs were coming to town, no more coaches who, seemingly, were able to live a balanced life while still running a nationally competitive Division I program.

The Michigan administration then watched as Rodriguez was in charge of the Wolverines' worst season — ever. And they rightly supported him, and his coaching staff, through the misery of the three months.

After all, no coach — who is running a program correctly and within bounds — deserves to be given up on after a year. Or even two years. At least three seasons are needed to implement a style, get new players and reach expectations.

But all that is thrown out the window when violations occur. And now that Rodriguez, and his coaches, face allegations about overtaxing players' practice hours — by a lot — his job can't be considered safe.

To simplify, if Michigan's investigation verifies what current and former players said about the Wolverines being forced to spend way more than the allotted 20 hours a week during the season and eight hours during the offseason on football, then Rodriguez has to be fired.

Allowing him to stay after such violations would speak terribly about what college football's winningest program has become.

Just another school willing to do anything, within bounds or not, to win.

Actually, Martin and company aren't in the worst position. Especially if this season's team isn't great — and nobody expects that — he could use performance on the field as part of the reason for Rodriguez's dismissal (even if it's really all about the violations).

Michigan could escape this short era, call the hiring a poor decision, and move on to a safer choice that would, undoubtedly, yield better results off the field and, most likely, on them — unless the Wolverines come out of the woodwork to put together a great record this fall.

Crisis could be averted.

But that's far down the road. For now, it's pretty evident, if the allegations are true — and why wouldn't they be? The athletes have no reasons to lie — that Rodriguez is as dirty a coach as there is in the country.

He does whatever it takes, and pushes his players beyond their limits — ultimately resulting in some of them transferring — to win as many games as possible.

Last season, obviously, that didn't work. If it had, this probably wouldn't be as big of a story (though, still, notable).

If Rodriguez knew best, he would have realized from the 3-9 record that sometimes overworking players — in essence, turning them into full-time college-football players — isn't always the best recipe for success.

He could have learned a lesson from his predecessor, Carr, whom former players vouched for, never broke a single NCAA rule.

Winning lots of games, Rodriguez should know, can be done within the rules.

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