Carty puts his stamp on UM football hireWritten by Dave Woolford | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The welcoming of Rich Rodriguez as Michigan’s new football coach in some ways rivals the utopia described in Aldous Huxley’s novel, “Brave New World.”
It’s out with the old, in with the spread.
Those caught up in Rich Rage are impulsively welcoming Michigan football to “The New Millennium” and the “21st century” as if it needed a savior shipped in via overnight express, and don’t worry about the cost of the postage.
It’s not only the man, but also the machine that has the wings on UM fans’ helmets flapping with new vigor. It’s out with the cloud of dust from the traditional sod-busting, off-tackle three grueling yards and in with the spread offense, where anything goes, most notably the quarterback, if it’s functioning properly. It rewards speed in many ways. It’s fun to watch. It’s no fun to defense. No one knows that better than the Wolverines.
Coach Rod, as he was affectionately known in West Virginia, has now become Coach God in many circles of Michigan football, coming from the state that is described as “Almost Heaven.”
And he arrives with the blessing of former West Virginia and BGSU coach Don Nehlen, who recently told one ink-stained wretch, “When you’re the coach at West Virginia, you walk on water in West Virginia. When you’re the coach at Michigan, you walk on water, period.”
Welcome to the “Great Lakes State,” coach Rod.
Despite a few fumbles along the way, Michigan came up with its best possible choice. Rodriguez is not a “Michigan man,” and that’s probably a good thing. The Wolverines’ football tradition is ready for a face-lift and manicure, heavy on the polish. Rodriguez is also a Mountaineer. Yikes! That’s the mascot of Appalachian State, and we won’t soon forget that bolt from the blue.
One fervent Michigan fan who is drooling over the hiring of Rodriguez is Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. The same goes for his trusted companion, Scout.
Rodriguez actually met with Michigan officials, including UM President Mary Sue Coleman and athletic director Bill Martin in Toledo on Dec. 14 to possibly consummate the deal.
Finkbeiner said he wasn’t aware of that meeting or where it took place, but surmised that it occurred at the Toledo Club, Inverness or the office of another local Michigan backer and Finkbeiner friend, whose name Finkbeiner didn’t want to release.
In his acceptance speech on Dec. 17, Rodriguez held up a copy of former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler’s book, “Bo’s Lasting Lessons,” completed just days before Schembechler‘s death the day before the Michigan-Ohio State game last year.
“I actually got this book last night from the mayor of Toledo, who is a big UM fan,” Rodriguez said.
Finkbeiner said he met with Rodriguez and his family in Toledo Dec. 16 at the home of a friend who shall remain nameless. It was one of those, “friend of a friend of a friend” arrangements, Finkbeiner said.
“I sent Bill Martin an e-mail stating that I thought he had every reason to consider Les Miles (LSU coach with strong Michigan ties), but in the end he made the best decision,” Finkbeiner said. “Rich is very energetic and he’s still very hungry.”
Miles, who served as an assistant coach under Schembechler at Michigan, was heavily courted by UM to replace retiring coach Lloyd Carr, but Miles reportedly wasn’t the first choice of a couple of UM athletic insiders, including Carr.
Finkbeiner said he got a call Dec. 16 from his friend, who said he had someone on the line who wanted to say hello. “There was a little silence and then the person on the phone said, ‘This is Rich Rodriguez,’ ” Finkbeiner recalled earlier this week.
Again, without naming names, Finkbeiner said Rodriguez was visiting with mutual friends within a couple of minutes of where Finkbeiner lives. He said he took his copy of Schembechler’s book and visited with Rodriguez, giving him the book.
“I wish I would have had that book 15 years ago,” Finkbeiner said. “I might have done a couple of things differently as mayor.”
Rodriguez said during his news conference that he was going to read the book on his way back to West Virginia. He might then want to do some things differently, too.
Rodriguez has said, “If you want to know our system or philosophy, if you’ve turned on your TV and watched us over the years, that’s what you’ll see.”
Here’s the rub. When we’ve turned on our TV sets and watched Michigan football over the years, what we’ve seen is size, strength and a lack of consistent overall speed. And we’re just talking about the quarterback here.
The spread offense might revolutionize football in the more southern climates where its speed and deception can be fully utilized. But on the frozen tundra of the November north country, it’s hard to believe that the timeworn philosophy that you first have to be able to run the ball and stop the run, the credo by which Michigan has lived by and won by, will become obsolete.
Purdue coach Joe Tiller, a Toledo native, brought his “Fast Break on Grass” offense to the Big Ten from Wyoming. It was initially felt that to keep up, everyone in the Big Ten had to adapt accordingly. But over time, while Tiller’s new-fangled approach helped the Boilermakers achieve a higher level of success, it wasn’t creative enough to overcome the conference’s old codgers: Ohio State and Michigan.
One recent headline concerning the arrival of Rodriguez at Michigan read: “Coach will tweak spread to fit personnel.”
He might have to tweak the personnel to fit the spread. For instance, can heir-apparent 6-foot-7-inch quarterback Ryan Mallett, who weighs 252 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in less than a day, be “tweaked” into the mold of current West Virginia quarterback Pat White, who was his team’s leading rusher with 1,185 yards and 14 touchdowns, while passing for 1,548 yards and 12 touchdowns?
It’s a stretch to say the spread will catch on quickly at Michigan, but it appears the Wolverines are headed in the right direction in regard to spreading their wings.