January 05, 2011
Let's try this again: As of Wednesday morning, Rich Rodriguez has been officially fired as Michigan's head coach, per the Detroit News, AnnArbor.com and ESPN. Official word will come from athletic director Dave Brandon when he addresses "the state of the program" at a 12:30 p.m. ET news conference that might more closely resemble a firing squad. [Update, 11:56 p.m. ET: A university press release makes it official.]
Thanks to the premature reports of Rodriguez's demise on Tuesday, the obituaries have already been written. But they probably could have been written more than two years ago, in the midst of his first team's descent into an unthinkable, 3-9 tailspin in 2008. Aside from a couple of fast starts out of the gate – 4-0 in 2009, 5-0 in 2010, with two exciting early wins over Notre Dame – the thundercloud that began forming over the program during the first half of Rodriguez's first game, a 25-23 loss to Utah on Aug. 30, 2008, never really left.
He presided over a 6-18 record in Big Ten games, didn't beat rivals Ohio State or Michigan State, didn't beat Penn State, lost back-to-back games to Illinois, Purdue and Wisconsin, oversaw the worst offense (2008) and worst defense (2010) in school history, struggled to develop or even retain some of his best talent (especially on defense), and watched the program land on NCAA probation for the first time, however minor the charges. Even his one true star player, Denard Robinson, couldn't keep this season from going off the rails in spectacular fashion at the end.
Rodriguez divided the program from the beginning – this not-especially-articulate West Virginian with no ties to Bo Schembechler or the state of Michigan is installing a spread offense? – so much so that even after three full years, he still had to insist that, yes, he really did "want to be a Michigan man." But he never really was, and after the 52-14 debacle at the hands of Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl, it doesn't really matter whether another Michigan man is already in the fold as his successor or not. Rodriguez had a spectacular run at West Virginia, and may go on to have a spectacular run somewhere else. But in retrospect, it's obvious it was never going to happen in Ann Arbor.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.