Rich Rodriguez wasn’t a Michigan man, a break in the modern Wolverines football factory that stretched from Bo Schmebechler to Gary Moeller to Lloyd Carr.
“Do you have to be a Michigan man to be a Michigan coach?” Rodriguez said at his introductory press conference in Ann Arbor after the 2007 season. “Gosh, I hope not, they hired me.”
And they fired him three years later.
“He was totally miscast,” CBSSports.com national college football writer Dennis Dodd told me Monday night. “I think even he agrees with that now, culturally, scheme-wise, everything. Then you throw in the NCAA stuff. He was doomed from the start.”
Good news for RichRod is that there is no such thing as an “Arizona man.”
If Rodriguez didn’t fit in with the tradition of Michigan, he doesn’t have to worry about that here, where the football vibe is way more laid-back and Rose Bowls are still a wished-for dream, not a yearly demand.
“It was different at Michigan,” Dodd said.
“They are a little bit different at Michigan, a bit haughty, a bit arrogant, and he had no ties to that tradition.
“He will fit in perfectly at the UA. It’s his kind of town. It’s a little big city. It’s a friendly city. It’s a college town. When he goes out and meets people, he will be great. He will be very involved in the community, as will his wife, Rita. He will love it.”
And, of course, there is the read-option offense that is the signature of Rodriguez’s coaching tenure.
“He will make Arizona exciting again, which it wasn’t under Mike Stoops,” Dodd said. “I think if he gets a handle on the defense, he’s win in a very winnable Pac-12 South.”
Here is a sampling of what others are saying from around the country:
Ted Miller, ESPN.com:
First take: Good hire.
Don’t be fooled by what happened at Michigan. That’s a mirage. So much didn’t fit there, and it’s never good when the vibe on both ends is negative practically from the start. Know that Rodriguez will be plenty motivated to fix his coaching legacy. Recall he was once one of the nation’s hottest coaching prospects, one who was offered the Alabama job in 2006.
His no-huddle, spread-option attack also should work well at Arizona, though obviously it won’t be much of a novelty in the Pac-12, seeing his version approximates what Oregon runs.
The timing is also very good. It means he can meet the current players, set expectations, get the lay of the land and quickly start recruiting. Other programs that will be looking for new coaches — a couple likely in the Pac-12, too — will be behind.
Stewart Mandel, SI.com:
There are many reasons to believe the oft-maligned former Michigan coach will achieve better success at long-suffering Arizona, but chief among them is this: Arizona is not Michigan.
Arizona doesn’t have a long list of stuffy traditions it expect its coach to memorize before he arrives. There are no ghosts of coaching legend past by which his every move will be compared. There will be no collective freak-out if he dares utters the word “ain’t” at a press conference, and considering it just withstood eight years of Mike Stoops sideline tantrums, there shouldn’t be much outrage over animated coaches using salty language at practices. There may be reporters monitoring his teams’ practice hours, but after last year’s NCAA wrist-slap, here’s guessing he does the same.
Steve Greenberg, Sporting News:
The 48-year-old Rodriguez now has the platform from which he can proclaim—only by winning again, of course—that he hasn’t completely lost his touch. …
Known for his innovative spread offenses, Rodriguez seemed to some an oddball fit at Michigan from the start. In his time there, the Wolverines not only lost much of their identity on offense, but they also faltered almost unimaginably on defense—bottoming out with a national ranking of 110th in total defense under beleaguered coordinator Greg Robinson in 2010.
Bud Withers, Seattle Times:
Rodriguez brings name familiarity, although not all of it was positive at Michigan. He did attract Denard Robinson to the Wolverines’ program, but there were all sorts of problems, probably starting with whether Rodriguez was ever really a fit for Michigan. …
Two concerns: Rodriguez’ spread-option is heavily run-based, and it’s difficult to make a transition in and out of it. Even with (Matt) Scott, there will be some growing pains after the Foles-dominated throwing offense Arizona has been running.
Second, Rodriguez is making the jump to the West. That’s not insurmountable, but it’s another challenge in staff hiring and targeting recruits.